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All's Fair in Love & War

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If Adrien Agreste had been told that he'd be in this position 24 hours ago, he might have called that person crazy, maybe even demented. Because the implications of something so farfetched actually coming to pass would have terrified him. 

Of course, as usual, hindsight was always 20/20, wasn't it?

After everything that had happened, though, he really should have expected this. He should have anticipated that the last 24 hours were leading to something like this; showing up to a photoshoot and finding her there. And of course, she had the audacity to turn in her chair and smile at him like nothing was wrong. Like nothing had happened. Like she hadn't nearly been the root cause of the largest akumatization event since Hero's Day. 

Nope. Here she was, drinking in the attention of the photographer and stylists like she'd invented the art of modeling despite her own confirmation of inexperience. 

But frankly, that was probably for the best. It saved him the trouble of tracking her down later and telling her what he needed to say.

Dropping into his own seat after asking for a moment alone with the woman, he found himself struggling to maintain the cool aloofness he'd perfected over the years. Not this time.

She'd done far too much damage, and there was no way he was going to pretend she hadn't.

“I warned you once already Lila, but you didn’t listen.” Adrien glared straight ahead at the water of the Seine, his voice dropping in a warning tone, refusing to look at his female companion as his anger seethed and boiled just under his skin. 

He was pissed.

No, pissed was too pedestrian to even come close to describing how truly livid he was with Lila Rossi.

The girl he’d given far too many chances to turn her sorry attitude around.

It wasn’t even fair to say that he was angry at just her, either. Though, he did direct ninety percent of his current wrath towards her in his current goals of vengeance and retribution. There would be plenty of time for self-loathing later.

Out of the corner of his eye, he’d seen her shift to look at him, an expression of surprise at his overall demeanor. It was rare for anyone to see him this angry, afterall.

But before she had a chance to speak, he continued, “You hurt Marinette, and that’s not okay,” He all but hissed, remembering in vivid detail the events of the previous twenty-four hours.

Marinette had been expelled from school, reputation smeared by accusations set forth by the very person he was now sitting next to. 

The worst part was, even when he had stepped up to vouch for his friend, he’d been ignored. The ‘evidence’ having been too damning in the principals’ eyes. And while he was beyond certain Lila was responsible, there was no evidence to prove it. She’d covered her tracks well. And with everything stacking up against Marinette, it was their word against Lila’s.

“Me?” She put an indignant hand on her chest, her voice rising an octave as defensiveness entered her pitch at his accusation, “Hurting Marinette? But she’s the one-!”

A soft growl escaped him, his lips twitching up as he forced the need to snarl at her back as he finally faced her, cutting her off before she could lie to him again, “I don’t know how to prove you lied, Lila, because you’re good at it ,” He added a little extra bite to the words, furious that he was forced to acknowledge that she’d won this round, “So you’ll have to come up with another lie. Just as convincing. Only this time, it’s going to prove Marinette’s innocent.”

There was a caustic silence that stretched between them as she stared at him, still feigning her shock at being called out. But he wasn’t having it. He wouldn’t fall prey to her lies any longer. And no amount of crocodile tears could dissuade him.

Something she seemed to catch on to rather quickly as her facade melted from her features as she narrowed her eyes on him dangerously before turning to face forward, mimicking his stance earlier. Her mask had completely slipped now that she’d been exposed.

A regular she-wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The tiniest hint of a grin pulled at the corner of her lips as she glared ahead, her voice dropping as his had, “Why would I do that Adrien?” 

What’s in it for me?

He could read between the lines. 

She’d already won. She’d driven one of the kindest most reliable and trustworthy people he’d ever met out of their school in the blink of an eye. And it wasn’t wasted on him that she could do so much more.

Even if they did prove Marinette’s innocence, there was no telling when Lila would strike next. 

She was more than just a threat. And she would destroy anyone in her way. She’d proven that she was more than capable in a ridiculously short amount of time.

She had all the cards. All the pawns lined up begging for her favor.

All, except the one she really wanted. 

He’d admit to being a little socially slow, but he wasn’t so oblivious to the signs to not know she was still trying to win his favor despite the fact that he’d called her out before. She was sitting next to him at a closed photoshoot for fucks sake. He wasn’t stupid to the fact that she quite literally threw herself on him every chance she got - whether to make herself look better or try and win his affections, he wasn’t sure (nor did he really care to know).

She wanted him

And he knew this was his only chance. His only leverage.

He had to give her exactly what she wanted.

He turned back to stare at the water, frown never leaving his lips, “Because we’re friends , aren’t we?” He voiced back, matching her tone.

The offer was on the table. An unspoken arrangement between opposing forces.

The seconds ticked by as she considered his offer. And he tried so hard to ignore the shift when Lila’s grin pulled up further as she claimed complete and utter victory.

He hated it. He hated how much power she had. He hated how much he’d allowed her to get away with in the name of pacifism. He hated how much Marinette had been made to suffer because of this power-crazed viper. He hated that he had to lose to her.

But in this twisted game she was playing, in order to win, he had no choice but to lose.

He could practically feel the triumphant smile in her voice as she spoke up, solidifying his fate.

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

Adrien just wanted a few minutes of silence.
 
Was that really so much to ask?
 
Just a small respite. A short period of peace so that he didn't lose his goddamn mind.
 
"God, I just can't get over how cool you guys look!"
 
Fucking hell - if he had to hear that one more time...
 
"I know, right? Adrien is just such a great teacher." The compliment was sugar sweet slipping from Lila's mouth as she managed to squeeze in closer to him on his bench despite him having purposely sat on the edge so she couldn't, so now she was practically pushing her way into his lap and that knowledge made him physically ill, "And with the fall lines nearly finished, I've been asked to sign on full time! Adrien and I will be representing Gabriel at Paris Fashion Week. We really do look great together don't we?"
 
Adrien clamped his teeth down on his tongue tightly to keep from growling under his breath.

There it was.

Hawkmoth send an akuma now. He'd gladly accept it at this point because he was fucking miserable

Not that he should really complain - or had any right to. Not when he'd willingly put himself in the line of fire. And there wasn't a doubt in his mind that he would do it all again if necessary.
 
That didn't mean he had to enjoy it though. 

It had been a long month dealing with Lila Rossi on a near-daily basis - at school where she clung to him and dragged him around the moment she got her claws on him, at photoshoots where he was forced to pose with her and smile and act like his universe revolved around her. And more recently, at home, where he found that she'd somehow managed a rare invitation from his father on select evenings where she was supposed to be tutoring him in math but found herself trying to get him into compromising positions that made his stomach turn. 

And all of it was really starting to get to him.
 
He felt trapped in ways that made his previous house arrest seem like total and complete freedom in comparison.
 
He felt like he never got to spend time with his friends anymore. Nino often invited him out only for Lila to show up with some excuse for why she needed him. The upcoming fashion week, the shoots, the tutoring. And while Nino and Alya and the rest of the class seemed totally fine with accepting this, he wasn't. Not by a long shot. He was never alone for more than a few minutes or after dark, and even then, his nights were used for catching up on schoolwork or patrolling.
 
Not that the patrols weren't a welcome distraction. He'd always loved spending time with his Lady just wandering the Parisian city skyline, but more recently than not, he just wasn't in the game. His focus was almost entirely devoted to keeping his emotions in check so that they didn't have to worry about an akumatized chat noir. And even that was a full-time job.

It didn’t help that Ladybug had taken notice too.

She was very observant like that. And of course, she was worried. 

And didn't that just make everything so much worse? He was supposed to be protecting her, and yet, here he was making her worry.

She’d ask, but the whole ‘secret identities must be kept secret’ rule often made him hold back. She’d encouraged him to talk to her, tell her as much as he could without giving too much away, but it was impossible. Not just because any detail would be too much, but because of the guilt he felt for letting it get as bad as it had. How would his lady feel after finding out his involvement in something like this? Would she think him a complete disappointment? Would she demand he return his miraculous? 

So he’d taken to lying - even more than usual. Telling her it was stress and that he’d be fine and she had nothing to worry about. 

Something deep down told him someone should worry though. Because suffice it to say, Adrien was floundering. And it was starting to show both in and out of the mask. Lack of sleep, agitation, lack of appetite, anxiety. 

And he couldn't say anything to anyone.
 
He'd done this to himself to protect one of his best friends. And it angered him that he couldn't just swallow his own pride to deal with it until something could be done about it.
 
All he wanted was a few minutes of silence.
 
So when Lila was being distracted by a couple of girls from another class who'd come to gush over their most recent shoot, Adrien saw an opportunity and took it. Slipping out of his bench without a word and heading straight for the door. Freedom beckoning him like a siren’s song.
 
"Adrien? Where are you going?" Lila asked sweetly making him freeze, but he could hear the venom in her tone. How anyone else was so taken with her, he had no idea. All he ever heard now was the poison-laced through her words. Subtle, sweet, but deadly when used on her unsuspecting victims.
 
Damn... he'd hoped she hadn't noticed, but of course, she had. It was like she had a radar for him.
 
Managing an easy painted-on smile, he pointed over his shoulder to the door, inching toward it, "bathroom." He remarked quickly, turning on his heel without waiting for a reply and bolting out of the classroom and down the stairs, ignoring the strange looks he received from students finding their way to their classrooms before the final bell could ring.

Once his feet hit the main floor, though, he found himself at a crossroads.

He could have done exactly what he said he was going to do. He could have found the nearest restroom, splashed his face, gave himself the pep talk of the century, and returned to the class and pretended he was okay. He could have swallowed his pride and done exactly what he promised himself he was going to do - protect Marinette from the viper that was Lila Rossi by allowing the witch to slither all over him and think she'd won him over.
 
But he didn't.
 
He couldn't.
 
He couldn't take it anymore. He needed to be free for a little while and get ahold of himself. He needed to feel like he had some semblance of control, even if just for a little while. 
 
So he ran.
 
He bolted towards the front doors of the school in a full-on sprint with every intention of skipping the day on some roof somewhere. Taking his mantle of Chat Noir to bring peace to more than just the city of Paris. But to himself as well. Remind himself why he was doing this in the first place, school be damned.

All he had to do was get through the front door.
 
What he hadn't planned on was the collision - running full speed into another body running full speed at him. They collided hard, knocking heads before falling to the ground just outside the doors to the school with a loud thunk.
 
"Ouch..." came a soft grumble and Adrien rubbed his forehead as the stars cleared from his vision.
 
"S-sorry... I wasn't looking where I was going," he heard again, and this time he managed to blink past the pain of the growing headache to see Marinette Dupain-Cheng absently rubbing her head too, looking up at him in surprise and gasping as she took him in.
 
"Ah! A-Adrien! I-I'm so sorry!" She squeaked moving impossibly quick to recover and roll up on to her feet to offer him a hand to help him to his.
 
In the time she'd been juggling some strange reactions to having collided with him, he had just started at her and her offered palm like it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
 
This was perfect. An answered prayer. A godsend if he'd ever seen one.
 
"Marinette..." he whispered in reverence, finding that just saying her name did wonders for the turbulent cacophony of emotions raging under his skin.
 
There was a soft squeak at his use of her name, "y-yeah?"
 
Adrien took her offered hand and stood, never taking his eyes off her. He knew out of anyone, she would understand. Even if he couldn’t tell her… She’d never turned him away before.
 
"Marinette can I please hide out at your place for a little while?" He asked suddenly, receiving a very confused stare back. "Please?"
 
Deja vu suddenly washed over him as he recalled asking her this same question before for almost entirely similar reasons. And he stored that information away to examine later - why he felt out of anywhere and anyone, Marinette and her home felt like a safe place for him, he wasn’t sure. Like a stray seeking refuge from the rain. 

And right now it was pouring.
 
She watched him, brows pulling together in her confusion as she glanced up at the school just beyond him, "but-but class is about to begin."
 
"I-I know that... but please. I can't go back there right now."
 
There was a momentary silence between them that made a knot form in the model's core. 

Maybe she'd say no. That this was too much for him to ask for. He hadn't exactly had a chance to spend much time with her since the whole expulsion ordeal, no thanks to Lila. Maybe she thought he'd betrayed her. Maybe she thought he wasn't actually on her side. Maybe by trying to step in, he'd only destroyed his friendship with her.

And wasn’t that just the worst thing to pass over his thoughts while he was on the precipice of a mental breakdown.

Losing the friendship of the sweetest girl he’d ever met would be like losing one of his senses - the world would be so much duller and dark without it. 
 
Maybe it was the pleading tone or the absolute desperation in his eyes, but confusion shifted to a softened determination as Marinette glanced up again at the school building, and then grabbed his hand and started pulling him in the opposite direction of the school, towards her family’s bakery. And Adrien couldn't even begin to express the pure elation that flooded him when she did all of this without so much of an explanation.
 
They practically ran the whole way there, only stopping once they'd reached the bakery door and Marinette pushed it open to give her parents a tempered smile and timid wave.
 
"Marinette? What are you doing back here? Why aren't you in class?"
 
Fuck. He'd almost forgotten about her parents.
 
He couldn't do anything right, could he?
 
Before she had to make an excuse for him, he stepped up, "Please, don't be angry with her, I asked if I could hang out here for a bit."

He was being selfish again. Of course, his actions were causing her trouble. Why couldn't he just follow through? Why was he such a fucking coward? "We shouldn't have come. I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking straight." He grumbled softly and went to turn back to the door before a heavy hand clasped his shoulder, keeping him in place.
 
Adrien glanced back to see Tom Dupain giving him a careful look, having moved very quickly from where he'd been working near the bakery's counter. 
 
The blonde model had done a lot of growing in the last couple years (a fact that deeply aggravated his father), but no matter how tall he grew, Tom Dupain remained ever the imposing giant. He was a beast of a man, and Adrien briefly wondered if Marinette's unusual strength came from him. Or if he'd have to worry about said hulking strength at present as he was held to the spot.
 
They continued staring at each other before a soft smile spread over Tom's face, "Adrien, right?"
 
He couldn't speak as he was afraid that the man would pulverize him for taking advantage of his daughter's kindness, so he just nodded quickly.
 
What he hadn't expected was the quick wink the man shot him, "Thanks for bringing Marinette home since she's obviously too sick to go to class."
 
Adrien merely gaped at the man as Marinette groaned a quick ‘Papa’ at his side but chuckled nonetheless.
 
What's happening here?
 
Marinette was sick? Adrien glanced back at his friend who rolled her eyes. From where he was standing, she didn't look very sick. Why did he feel left out of some inside joke?

"You know, though," Tom put a thoughtful hand to his chin, looking between Adrien and his daughter, "Unfortunately, neither Sabine or myself can keep an eye on her until the doctor can come." He sighed heavily before his gaze came back to the blonde and his eyes lit up like he'd just had the best idea since sliced bread, "Would you mind keeping an eye on her, Adrien? I know you'd miss some of your classes but Sabine and I will vouch for you."

There was a musical chuckle from the small woman behind the bakery’s counter, but Sabine didn’t say anything, just merely nodded in agreement with her husband.
 
Oh. Now he understood. And the realization hit him two-fold. He was not only allowed to stay and hide out for a while, but should it get back to anyone at the school or, god forbid, his father, the Dupain-Chengs would cover for him.
 
It brought tears to his eyes as he gave a soft smile and nodded quickly, “Y-yes sir.”
 
A new hand grasped his other shoulder, and he turned to see Marinette grin softly at him with a tilt of her head that said they should take this upstairs. "Go make yourself comfy in my room. I'll bring us some snacks," She said with that grin still firmly in place once they'd made it to the apartment, pushing him towards the stairs to her room before turning to the kitchen.

That sounded like the best idea anyone's had all day.

Chapter Text

It had been some time since Adrien had found himself in the comfort of Marinette’s bedroom. He couldn’t actually remember the last time he’d been over, or why, but he clearly recalled the warmth the Dupain-Cheng home had always brought to him. 

There was always so much love here. You could feel it practically radiate from every surface. Like the place was somehow imbued with the kind of homeyness you'd only find on the Hallmark channel. 

And it felt lived-in, compared to the nearly clinical cleanliness the Agreste mansion always seemed to have. Even his own bedroom felt more like a sterilized lab than a teen-aged boy’s living quarters.

Those who got a chance to see his room joked and swooned over all the things he had.

But none of that mattered to him. Those possessions meant nothing when he had no one to share them with. He’d gladly trade everything he had for a single night in a room like the one he was about to enter.

Climbing up through the trap door, he glanced around and smiled at how much it screamed Marinette. The bright pink walls, the half-finished designs cluttering the floor and the multitude of sketches still in progress and design aesthetics pinned to the walls around her desk. The room was, in a word; organized chaos. Okay, two words. Everything having a proper home in piles and stuffed in overflowing organizational bins and drawers. Things that could not fit or had no propper place found refuge on hooks or dangling from the support beam that stretched from floor to high-vaulted ceiling. 

This was a place of creativity and unabashed pride and passion, and Adrien couldn’t help but allow himself a moment to breathe it in, noting the undercurrent of vanilla and sugar that always seemed to make up Marinette’s natural smell. 

One of the perks of being the baker’s daughter, he supposed. 

“This place smells like the inside of a sugar cookie,” a small voice complained, interrupting Adrien’s thoughts, quickly reminding him of the ever-present being resting in his pocket.

Plagg hadn’t said anything the entire morning, so he’d nearly forgotten he was in his shirt until then, “Some of us might actually prefer that over smelling like cheese all the time,” Adrien mumbled, keeping his voice low to keep from alerting Marinette to the extra presence she’d unknowingly invited into her home.

The little black kwami peaked out, looking around sleepily like he’d just woken from a long nap. Probably had, with how unusually quiet he'd been. “Too sweet for me,” He groaned, but the scenery change must have finally caught his attention as he turned a curious look on his chosen, “My, my, Casanova, finding yourself in a young lady’s bedroom in the middle of a school day?”

Okay, sure, to anyone who wasn’t in the know, this definitely looked bad. But it wasn’t like that. Not that it kept the heat from his face at the insinuations Plagg was making to the contrary. “Sh-shut-up Plagg. It’s not like - I-I didn’t know where else to go.” He sputtering, before meandering to the chaise, allowing himself to drop into its plush cushion and take in not only the room but his thoughts.

Because, again, he was reminded of the lingering question: why was this the place he'd run to in a moment of crisis? But he just didn't have the mental capacity to explore those thoughts in full right now.

Especially not under the watchful gaze of Plagg. No way in hell he’d give him any more ammunition to tease him with. 

His shirt shifted slightly as the black cat Kwami released himself from the model's pocket and came flying up to hover in his face, and for a moment it almost looked like he was concerned as he took in the blonde’s features. “You know I’m only kidding, Adrien. Frankly, I’d hide from that liar too. Maybe even much more,” he muttered that last part, and Adrien would have missed it if the room wasn’t so quiet.

It brought a small grin to his face, despite the implications of such a statement, “Thanks Plagg, but I don’t think Ladybug would take too kindly to us using cataclysm on another living being.”

No matter how much said living being might deserve it. 

And yes, the thought had occurred to him. Not that he’d ever admit it out loud.

“Offer’s still on the table.” There was a slight shift in his tone that honestly made Adrien believe he was serious.

A scary prospect.

But duly noted.

Adrien chuckled, rolling his eyes, trying not to linger on the idea too long lest he gives in to temptation, “Yeah, yeah. Make yourself scarce. Marinette will be back any second.”

Plagg hesitated only a moment, zooming up to head but him softly on the cheek in a rare show of affection before whizzing off somewhere Adrien hadn’t been able to track.

Despite his insistence otherwise, the Kwami of destruction had been rather soft on him the last couple of weeks. The teasing lacked its usual dig. He'd complain less when Adrien needed to transform - hell, he practically encouraged it. And regardless of Plagg's distaste for getting too emotional, he'd been rather talkative as of late. Coaxing Adrien into talking to him; even if Plagg could only handle 'talking' about that sort of thing for a short period of time. Honestly, his Kwami was probably keeping him saner than he'd given the creature credit for. Left to his own devices and thoughts, there was no telling where Adrien would be right now.

Mentally, the model made a note to himself to pick up some extra cheese for the little glutton. He just hoped the little ball of mischief would stay out of trouble while they were here.

It was quiet again, then. Leaving the blonde to look around the room once more and all the things and feelings it represented that he longed for on a constant basis. The ability to be messy and creative. To be able to stretch out and just be himself. Not having to worry about who would see or judge him or his Father’s business if he messed up or stepped out of line.

No strict rules or diet.

No fashion shows or photoshoots.

No handsy stalker admirers to ward off.

In the process of getting cozy, he found he’d snagged a small decorative pillow that he cradled close to his chest as that last thought hit him.

Everyone just assumed that because he was a model, it was fine to hang all over him. Like he was just another piece of his father’s fashion line someone could try on.

Like he wasn’t even a person.

And of course, he was a guy. What guy wouldn’t want every eligible lady fawning all over him, right? Wrong . Sure, over the years, he’d grown almost numb to it, but that didn’t mean it didn’t bother him. Just cause he was a guy didn’t mean he wanted everyone's hands on him all the time. 

It felt like no part of him was sacred. He belonged to his father, and the masses, and more recently; Lila - and the memory of her trying to worm her way into his lap that morning had his stomach twisting uncomfortably. 

"So..."

T he blonde startled as he realized his host had appeared while he was lost in thought, tray in hand with a number of croissants and a couple of glasses of juice, sitting it carefully between them on the chaise as she joined him. She didn't look right at him, preferring to stare at the floor as her eyes darted slightly, seemingly trying to find the right words.

Adrien squeezed the pillow he'd been holding a bit tighter, clearing his throat of a lump he hadn't realized had formed, "So..." he mimicked awkwardly, not quite able to look at her either, except in quick glances.

One said glance made him pause as he watched her wrestle with something internally before taking a deep breath and looking back at him with resolution. A kind of steely look that reminded him of a certain spotted heroine and the thought made him pink a bit.

"Adrien... you asked if you could hide here for a bit, and I want you to be able to work through whatever is bothering you. But..." she swallowed, having to reaffirm something in her own head before continuing. 

"We're friends... right?" She asked suddenly, changing the direction of the conversation and making Adrien's brow shoot up questioningly. It was such a soft inquiry and he was suddenly frantic trying to recall if he'd given her any indication that she wasn't one of the most important people in his life.

Maybe he was right that he'd done more damage than good stepping up to Lila. Or not stepping up sooner. Those photoshoots and the attention Lila demanded of him didn't exactly make him out in the best light.

"Of course, Mari! Why would you even ask that? You're one of my best friends!"

That earned him wide bluebell eyes, softly accentuated by a rosy tint warming her cheeks before Marinette smiled at him again. The same smile she'd given before she'd shooed him up the stairs, "Then, as one of your best friends, I'm not going to just let you hide."

The confusion was more than evident on his face as Adrien regarded her now.

Did this mean she was going to make him leave?

She must have read his thoughts because she backtracked quickly, "W-what I mean is - over the last month... I've been really worried about you. I see the looks you give when you think no one is watching." That steely soft expression dissolved slightly as she bit her lip at that last part, "no offense... but you look like a caged animal some days."

He had to sputter a chuckle at that. She wasn't wrong.

And the fact that he moonlighted as a cat-themed superhero made it comical if not a bit ironic.

But it wasn't a moment after those first chuckles left him that he felt his vision blur on him and something slipping down his cheeks without his permission.

Tears? Seriously?

He was crying! Like a goddamn child.

"Sorry-" Adrien mumbled, quickly wiping away the offending moisture from his face.

Because of course, he'd choose now of all times to breakdown. In front of the one person who managed to see right through him and see him for what he was. The only person who seemed to look past the fake smiles and the carefully crafted emotions to the guy drowning beneath.

And of course, it would be the very same person he was trying so hard to protect.

At seeing those wayward tears, Marinette's soft features turned concerned, and she brought a tender hand up to wipe the remaining streaks from his skin, "Please don't apologize. You need to talk to someone, Adrien. Even if there wasn't a psycho maniac out there who can take advantage of your emotions, holding things in like this... it's not healthy.” She gave a wry smile that was anything if not a little self-deprecating, “Trust me on this."

God, how did she do that? 

How could she be so right all the time? 

How could she see right through him and cut straight to the point like that? Like he hadn't spent the last month trying to convince himself of that very same thing. Knowing he was a liability at best and a ticking time bomb at worst. 

How was one person allowed to be so amazing?

They sat there a moment in silence, both staring. He stunned and captivated, she searching and careful.

"Do you trust me?"

He wanted to reply so badly. He wanted to confirm for her in the same resolve she seemed to radiate when she got that look of determination in her eyes, but could only find himself nodding in her presence.

"Then, talk to me.” She encouraged softly, tentatively. As if she were afraid the very notion was going to be taken as an insult on his person. She reached out, placing a hesitant hand on his as it perched on his own knee. “Nothing you say leaves this room. I promise. Not even to Nino and Alya. Not even to my parents."

His lips parted, his mouth dry as he was suddenly forced to come to a decision, all while trying to ignore the sudden warmth that blossomed under his skin where her hand met his. 

He'd done all of this with the intention of making Lila leave Marinette alone.

Though, if he were being honest, he was also paying penance for his involvement. For basically having told Marinette to leave well enough alone until Lila walked herself into a corner she couldn't lie herself out of.

Was he really protecting her if he told her the truth? 

Was it really a punishment?

And if he did tell her- 

Adrien's heart plummeted to his stomach as he was bombarded with the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.

How would she react? Would she hate him? Would she see it for what it was? His attempts to help her in the only way he knew how?

He found himself too afraid to speak. What if he messed this up too? What if by telling her the truth it only made things worse? Marinette was such a strong person. Would she hate that he'd imposed like this? Assuming she couldn't handle all of this on her own? Was that what he'd assumed?

Wouldn't it be better to just keep his mouth shut?

All of that fear came to a startling halt when Marinette wound her fingers with his and grasped them tightly like a lifeline. Gentle. Encouraging. Like she could sense his quick and violent spiral - and for all he knew, she could. She'd proven herself to be extremely observant in the last couple of minutes. Scary observant. Almost Ludybug level observant, which was an even scarier prospect.

Frankly, if she told him right then that she knew he was Chat Noir, he'd be less than surprised.

"I have... a confession..." he muttered before he could stop the words from falling from his mouth. And given his last train of thought, he mentally sorted which confession he meant.

You know, preferably not the one that meant he’d have to give up his miraculous.

Her expression never changed as she willed him to continue.

"The-the reason you were able to come back to school after being expelled. The reason Lila changed her story. I was the one who told her to do that." He chanced, watching her the entire time.

The shift was so subtle. Starting with a couple of fluttering blinks that cued her shock and surprise at this news, like maybe she hadn't heard him correctly and needed a moment to process what he'd said. Then she seemed more confused and concerned with every passing second in the silence that stretched after his confession.

"W-what?" She muttered finally, her voice softer than he'd heard all morning.

He swallowed hard. He'd come this far already. He couldn’t back out now even if he wanted to - and he definitely wanted to. "I told Lila to come up with something to prove your innocence. I made a deal with her so that you could come back."

With each word, there entered a bit of panic in Marinette's eyes and face as she suddenly brought a hand to her mouth.

Here it was. She was upset.

Of course she was upset.

He'd spoken up for her without asking what she wanted. Again. He'd stepped in her way, and now he was going to lose the only person who could see him.

And that knowledge ached painfully deep in his chest.

But that didn't matter right now. He'd take anything Marinette threw at him. It was the least he deserved.

"Adrien... why? Why would you do that?"

His mouth dried as he watched the glistening of tears well up in her bluebell eyes, trying to find the right words, "she was going to destroy you. I-I couldn't just stand by and let that happen. Not again."

He expected a lot of things to happen after that. A slap. A stern glare and talking to. Maybe even a swift banishment from her room before being permanently banned from the bakery for life for his assumptions and actions.

He hadn't expected for the girl who was oddly strong for her size to practically tackle him as she lunged across the chaise and wrapped her arms around him in a crushing hug.

His eyes blew wide at the sudden contact, taking a sharp breath through his nose and finding his mind fogging slightly and warmth flooding his chest and face as he was enveloped with her scent and a sense of... safety. That's the only thing he could call it. Safe. 

It was nothing like what he felt when Chloe or Lila or any of his other fans touched him.

He shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as he did. But if this were his punishment, he'd gladly take it. 

It was an oddly satisfying sensation that seeped through him; made him relax into her without much thought or effort. His eyes fluttering closed as any semblance of will melted like putty in the girl’s embrace. Tentatively, almost shyly, he wrapped his arms around her smaller frame. Enjoying the feeling of someone he cared for neatly tucked against him.

He’d always known Marinette gave some of the best hugs. But this - this was something else. Something meant only for him.

It was a feeling someone could get addicted to. This feeling of completeness.

So of course, it jarred him when it ended too soon and felt too cold when the girl squeaked before pushing herself back. Staring wide-eyed at him like he'd grown horns or something.

He was suddenly wondering if hugging her back had been a bad idea.

Maybe he’d overstepped his bounds.

Why was this whole situation so confusing?

He was opening his mouth to start apologizing when Marinette scrambled back to where she’d sat previously and began smacking her own cheeks, “Stupid! Stupid!”

No, not just the situation. Why were girls so confusing?

Confusing or not, if there was one thing Marinette Dupain-Cheng was not , it was stupid. And he wouldn't stand to hear her talk about herself that way. “Hey! Stop that!” He grabbed her wrists to keep her from smacking her cheeks again, “Why are you hitting yourself?”

“B-because… you came here looking for someone to help and I wanted to be there for you and then I just throw myself at you!” She groaned loudly, throwing her head back dramatically. Like this was the worst thing she could have possibly done.

And Adrien could only stare.

And then he had to purse his lips together tightly.

Because it was downright comical.

He wanted to laugh out loud in relief and elation. 

After everything...   

He shook his head at the girl still in his grasp, “You don’t have to worry about that Mari!” He chuckled despite himself, unable to keep it back anymore. Because he couldn’t help but find her antics endearing in the best of ways; even when she assaulted herself. Though, he kept a gentle hold of her writs in case she decided to start slapping again. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ve always really enjoyed your hugs.”

She peeked at him from under her lashes and a pout on her lips as she slowly righted herself. Unsure of something. And for the life of him, he couldn’t make heads or tails of what could possibly be going through her mind to make her look at him like that. But he couldn't deny how adorable she made it look.

But he had another more pressing question on his mind.

“Not to embarrass you or anything, but why - why did you hug me? I thought you’d be angry.” He asked, finally releasing her wrists when he was sure her face was safe from their wrath.

“Angry?” She sputtered, then thinking for a moment she continued, “I mean… I might be a little angry, but not because you did it.” She paused after emphasizing the words, rolling her eyes at her own train of thought, her brain working just as quickly as the words forming on her lips, “Okay, yes, fine, maybe I am a little mad because you did. But mostly I’m just upset you did it alone . If you’d told me from the start, you wouldn’t have had to suffer that witch by yourself this last month. I could have been there to back you up.” She sighed, glancing back at him with a darker shade of pink splashing her cheeks, “But… I could never be angry at you, Adrien. Not for long, anyway. Not when you did it to protect me.”

He noted that she’d managed to sid-step his first question, not really answering him. But given the way her body seemed to buzz with anxiety, he left it alone. “Well, I’m glad for that, at least. The last thing I would ever want is for you to be mad at me,” he mumbled, finding more truth in those words than he expected as he rubbed the back of his neck in nervous habit. “As long as you’re not disappointed too. Because every teenager knows that’s much worse.”

There was a second before Marinette all but fell off the chaise in a fit of giggles that sounded like music and Adrien couldn’t help but chuckle with her.

“God, you’re such a dork!”

At least she wasn’t a ball of anxiety anymore. He liked being able to talk to her like this - openly, honestly, or at least as honest as possible given the number of secrets he had to keep. It made him hopeful that nothing would change between them. Or, at least, if things did change, they’d change for the better. It made him hopeful that they’d be able to grow closer as friends.

"You mean it though?" even with the joking, he couldn't help but try and confirm. He wanted no room for misinterpretation. "You're really not angry?

Marinette’s giggles slowly died and she was left side glancing him with a decisive nod from where she sat, “Of course, I mean it. Adrien, you're one of my best friends too. I wouldn't lie about something like that."

And it was like she'd given him his birthday and Christmas all on the same day.

He knew - or at least, he'd always hoped. But hearing it out loud like that was probably the best thing he'd experienced in a very long time. And it was not wasted on him how sad that was as a concept, but he'd address that another time.

Marinette giggled at what must have been the dopiest grin he'd ever given her, "But seriously. I just… I can’t believe you’d do something like that for me. I mean, it all makes sense now - why she’s been so attached to you the last couple weeks.”

Adrien blanched at the reminder, swapping grins for grimaces at Lila’s advances. She sure as hell wasn’t being subtle about it. He’d actually questioned whether the definition of ‘friends’ had changed without his knowledge as she’d taken the concept as an invitation to invade nearly every aspect of his life and personal space. But he shook that thought away. He’d put up with it for a reason. “I just couldn’t believe she actually got you expelled. And after I basically told you to leave it alone, I just couldn’t bear not doing something.”

Marinette’s eyes widened slightly before glancing away, a strange mixture of emotions entering her gaze, almost making her look... guilty, “A-actually… I-I have a confession too.”

A blonde brow rose curiously at her sudden shift, at the nervous tension that overwhelmed her posture again.

“I-I actually,” she cleared her throat, “That is to say, I feared she’d do something like that eventually. I just… hadn’t expected the lengths she’d go to.”

“What do you mean? Why would you assume she’d try something like that?”

The girl bit her lip nervously, watching him, gauging how much she wanted to share. He could see her mentally weighing her words before coming to a decision with a heavy relenting sigh.

“Adrien, Lila threatened me.”

Chapter Text

Now it was Adrien’s turn to blink at the girl in shock. 

No. There was no way he’d heard that correctly.

But the trepidation reflected in those usually clear blue eyes quickly confirmed that he had in fact heard every word exactly as she’d said them.

So that shock was very quickly being replaced by the same burning fury he’d felt when confronting Lila at their first shoot together. It was festering low in his gut, like a pulsing smoldering ember. Reluctant to flare into an inferno because he was still hesitant to believe he’d heard what he thought he had.

“What do you mean ‘threatened’ ?” He asked, momentarily regretting the dark turn of his tone after watching Marinette flinch slightly. But he couldn’t stop it.  

Marinette fidgeted under what he could only assume had morphed into an intense gaze. 

Because he was watching her. 

All of her.  

Studying the little ticks and movements her body made that advertised her discomfort. The way her lips parted and she’d begun to breathe unsteadily through her mouth - fuck , he could practically hear the pounding of her heart in those breaths. The way her eyes darted away from him, like she couldn’t keep in contact with him, but not out of shyness.

This was not the timidness that made up Marinette’s usual interactions with him. 

As much as he’d been disappointed at the beginning of their friendship that that shyness kept her from being able to talk to him, he’d grown to embrace it. Accept it. Communicate around it. Eventually, they’d fallen into their own sort of language because of that and that eventually developed into the friendship they had now.

But that meant he knew what it looked like. 

And this was not it.

“Marinette?” He pushed and he recognized the look in her eye instantly. There was a desire to run. To walk away from the conversation. Hide from it. Pretend it didn’t happen.

He recognized it because he’d had that same look not ten minutes ago.

But she seemed to come to the same conclusions he had. 

Silence wasn’t going to fix anything. 

Which was even truer since she’d already mentioned something to him. Even if she did run away from him now, it wouldn’t stop him from pursuing the truth later. 

Eventually, she groaned loudly, body releasing the tension it had been hoarding in her shoulders over the last couple of minutes so now she looked like she was nearly limbless as she relented to her fate. 

“Look, you’re not the only one who’s been doing things on their own.”

He wanted to fire back a snarky ‘I see that’ , but knew it would do him no favors. She didn’t deserve that. She’d been so patient with him when the tables were turned. So he kept his mouth shut, waiting for her to gather her thoughts and continue.

“The day Lila came back after… wherever the hell she went, and the class seating got moved around?” She glanced at him, her mouth forming something else, but looked away, choosing to leave it at that.

His eyes narrowed on her. 

Of course, he remembered. 

And he knew exactly what she’d omitted.

“You mean the day I told you to leave Lila’s lies alone?” His brow rose, unimpressed, making her scowl at him, “ Yeah , I think I recall something about that.” The sarcasm was an unintended side effect, but they were talking about the thing that had driven him to do all of this in the first place. 

So as kind as it was that she was trying to spare his feelings, he needed to hear the truth. All of it.

She pouted again, her mouth pulling to the side in another scowl, unhappy that he’d called attention to it, but continued anyway, clearing her throat, “Yes. That day. Right before the Akuma attack, Lila cornered me in the bathroom and threatened me.”

“Threatened how ?”

“Why does it matter?”

He stared at her incredulously for a moment, “Are you serious right now?”

They stared again, but Adrien wasn’t backing down. This was important. And frankly, he couldn’t understand why she was suddenly being so stingy with the details.

They stared a bit longer. Their gazes stuck on the other in a battle of wills. 

One the blonde was determined to win. 

A frustrated groan erupted from her finally, accompanied by a heavy roll of her eyes that seemed to drag her head along with it, “It’s stupid, alright?” She spat, her tone matching his as they fed off of each other’s shifting moods.

It wasn’t what he’d wanted, but if it got her talking, he’d take it and would deal with the repercussions of her temper later.

“I-I thought she was being petty and trying to psych me out because I wasn’t falling in line like everyone else. She said that she’d make everyone hate me, okay? And yeah, I was definitely upset - but come on! I’ve known some of our classmates since we were in diapers. I had more faith in everyone than to just believe she’d turn them on me. And then after school, she managed to catch me before I left and said I’d made my choice and that we were at war.”

She breathed heavily after finishing, trying but failing to maintain a hard look back at him, quickly losing steam as her face softened once more.

She really couldn’t stay mad at him for long, could she?

Interesting Info for another time.

It was a lot to process. A lot to unpack. But Adrien was starting to understand why she’d seemed so hesitant to share at first. 

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Why didn’t you?” She countered without missing a beat, arms crossing defensively over her chest.

He’d inhaled for his next round of comments and that breath caught in his throat like he’d been sucker-punched below the belt. But he wouldn’t concede to that. “It’s not the same.” His head tilted with the pointed look he gave her. 

Because there was no way she actually believed-

“Isn’t it?”

She did. She actually thought they were the same thing. 

“No! Marinette, she threatened to take away your friends!”

Her eyes were wide, shoulders hunching in an exaggerated shrug - her entire body conveying her indifference, “But it was a stupid threat!”

And they called him the sunshine child. 

He nodded at her point because it wasn’t like she was wrong. It was stupid in that, in a perfect world, it would have been impossible. Lila could have threatened something much worse. But that wasn’t the problem, was it? “Fine, but it was a threat she was making good on.”

That had her hesitating, opening her mouth to argue but closing it again. There wasn’t anything to argue. They weren’t talking in theoretics here. This wasn’t a perfect world.  

“Even before she managed to convince the school to expel you - I’ll come back to that in a moment - she was making you out to be a bully. Every time you argued against her, she managed to turn it on you. I wasn’t there for everything, but I heard about some of it from Nino later on.” 

He took a breath, watching her take in and consider his words.

But he wasn’t done.

“But let’s go back to what brought us here today in the first place. Marinette, she actually convinced the school administration that you, a.) cheated on a test where you have perfect scores in the subject, b.) pushed her down a flight of stairs in a jealous rage, and c.) stole her personal property. Even some of our class was convinced.”

None of that was conjecture. Every single point he made, which he’d ticked off on his fingers to further enunciate was unexaggerated fact. It hadn’t just been a lie or a story that was turned around to make her look unpleasant. There had been evidence .   

Lila hadn’t just threatened to turn people against Marinette, she’d struck a masterful blow to Marinette’s reputation with little hope of recovery. It could be done, but it would be like clawing her way out of hell. 

A frown had made its home on her lips, hands balling into fists in her lap, “As I said, I figured she’d try something. I just didn’t expect the lengths she’d go to.”

Her blue eyes were clear as she met his searching gaze then and he understood. It hadn’t been indifference he’d seen in her before. It was acceptance. She’d already come to these conclusions on her own. She was smart like that.

And that at least granted him a small bit of comfort. 

But it still bothered him. Because she didn’t have to do it alone. Just like him, she wasn’t alone in this fight - she didn’t have to suffer all of this by herself. 

The high road only went so far. 

He swallowed, willing that heat that radiated from his anger to ease from his words, allowing them to get softer, “I get why you didn’t say anything to the class, especially after they’d sided with Lila as much as they had. But why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know? Because I thought I could handle it? Because, you were right?” she shrugged, having retreated within herself a bit more at this inquisition.

“No, I wasn’t! Lying about who you know or where you’ve been, that’s one thing. But she attacked you. If - if I had known, I wouldn’t have said those things. I wouldn’t have told you-”

“Adrien, stop. Your advice is not the root cause of all my problems, okay? And it’s not like you were wrong! I mean, that entire day just proves it. You said it yourself, trying to out her did nothing but paint me to be the bad guy.”

“Okay, sure, but-”

She put a hand up, effectively silencing him, some of that confidence and resolve he knew so well coming back to her features, “But nothing. At the time, it had been nothing more than a stupid threat. And while, yeah, okay, your advice was a little ill-timed and I took it a little too much to heart, you had the best intentions with the limited information you had.” She allowed for her lips to pull up, “If anything, you confirmed for me what I’d already known at the time. No matter what Lila did, she couldn’t turn everyone on me. I had you on my side and I had faith that I’d have the others as well. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”

She’d had faith that even if Lila made good on her threat, that her friends would stand by her. That he would stand by her. And that kind of trust was something he didn’t feel like he deserved. But she’d been right. In the end, he had been there - no matter how little he’d been able to do at the time. 

And the way she was looking at him now told him that no matter what he had to argue back at her next, it was a moot point. She didn’t blame him, no matter how much he blamed himself. And she wouldn’t hear anything else on the matter.

This was… a lot. But he’d needed to hear it. All of it. Which, despite how determined she was to end the conversation at that, he pushed with one last question.

“Is that everything?”

It was clear she hadn’t expected him to ask the follow-up. And while it was also clear she wanted very much to say that it was, to put this all the bed, Marinette hesitated, biting her lip after a moment of prolonged silence.

Oh no. “What?” he asked and was surprised at the pleading in his voice. 

“I’m… pretty sure that the Akuma that infected Lila that afternoon is the one that had been meant for me.”

And wasn’t that the icing on the goddamned cake?

Twice. 

Lila had nearly caused Marinette to be Akumatized twice. And the second time, she’d nearly succeeded.

All that fury and rage he'd been denying himself came back full force, mounting and building on itself. It was an anger that surprised even himself. What surprised him the most in all of the tumultuous emotions ringing through his head was the growing desire to-  

“I’m going to kill her,” he muttered decisively. 

Wide bluebell eyes met him and she nearly squeaked, “W-what?! Y-You can’t do that!”

Oh, he begged to differ. The overly possessive need to protect his friend was telling him otherwise.

“Can’t or shouldn’t? Because I think I’m more than capable of committing murder.” And he knew Plagg was more than happy to comply at this point. Hadn’t he offered his help just a bit ago? Why had he turned him down again?

“No! I’m not going to condone the murder of another person - no matter how much I might hate them.”

“No one said you had to condone it.”

She pursed her lips for a moment, gaze darting over his features, “You can’t be serious, right now.”

“On the contrary, I'm quite serious. In fact, I’d be doing you and everyone else in Paris a service." He'd be doing himself a service. Both sides of himself. "You know who’d back me up? Ladybug and Chat Noir. Lila’s as bad if not worse than Chloe when it comes to being an Akuma or causing them. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to know they have one less psycho they have to worry about.” He’d crossed his arms over his chest during his rant, taking a breath to watch her before something sprang to mind, making his eyes narrow on Marinette conspiratorially as a devious grin took form, “Aren’t you friends with Chat Noir? You should ask him to help and see what he says. I’m paw-sitive he’d agree with me.”

The pun was a little much, but it had the desired effect as the Baker’s daughter sputtered with a roll of her eyes.

“I’m not asking Chat Noir to murder someone for me! He’s a hero! Murder is a crime!”

“What is it they say in the US? No body, no crime? Cataclysm is such an uncontrollably destructive power. What if he 'accidentally' called for it while giving her a handshake or high five?” God, now he was sounding just like Plagg. The little kwami was rubbing off on him, but he couldn't find it in himself to care.

Not with the way Marinette seemed to struggle with keeping that growing amused grin off her face. “Stop it. You’re being terrible.” she tried admonishing him, but her words held no actual heat. She was enjoying this as much as he was it seemed. And that helped soothe him a bit from his murderous intentions.

Not that he wasn’t completely serious. No one messed with his friends. Especially someone as kind and caring as Marinette.

But for now, he could leave the premeditation for later. “I’m just saying, Marinette. Wasted opportunity.”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

She chuckled then with a shake of her head, eyes finding him. The sound was humored and her gaze danced with mirth despite the darker turn their jokes had taken. “I didn’t take you for the vindictive type, Agreste.” her stare swept over him as if taking him in for the first time. Reevaluating long drawn conclusions of his character, but the sly upturn of her lips told him she was not disappointed to find a bit of darkness to the so-called sunshine child. 

“It’s pretty hot, actually.”

No, apparently not disappointed in the least .

Adrien's brows shot up to his hairline, green eyes wide before he had to suck his lips in and clench them shut with his teeth in shock and utter amusement.

So shocked in fact, that he couldn't actually process the fact that she'd been talking about him. Because that was a whole other can of worms he was definitely not prepared to address at the moment. Because HOLY SHIT Marinette had just essentially checked him out and called him hot. Not like he hadn't been called that before, but this was Marinette Dupain-Cheng. And if anyone was as innocent as him, it was her.

And poor, sweet, (maybe not-so) innocent Marinette looked like she might die of heat stroke the way her face flushed the loveliest shade of crimson as her own words finally dawned on her.

Scientifically speaking, it really shouldn't be possible to turn that color naturally. But she did.

“Forget I said that.” he was surprised when she managed to speak clearly, normally when she got even a fraction as flustered as she looked right then, her words turned to riddles. “Oh my god, please, please forget I said that. I-I didn’t-”

He could have consoled her. He should have consoled her. Told her she was fine and it was okay, he wasn't offended. In fact, the part of him quickly coming to terms with the fact that he too had misjudged the girl sitting front of him and, fuck, she'd called him hot , was more than a little flattered. But all this rebellious talk and spite had his Chat Noir showing and he couldn't help but scrutinize her as that signature teasing grin took over his face.

“So you do have a type. Good to know. I never would have guessed you preferred the bad boy genre.” his grin deepened dangerously as she sputtered uselessly in response, egging him on further. It was just too much fun messing with her like this. “Though I am starting to understand the friendship with Chat Noir.” his finger came to tap his chin before turning the Chat Charm up to 11. “It’s the leather, isn’t it?”

"A-Adrien!"

Huh, interestingly enough, it was possible to get even more flushed as Marinette seemed to go at least another three shades darker. If he wasn't so busy laughing at her expense, he might have been worried for her health. Or, at the very least, morbidly fascinated at such a scientific discovery.

There was a rustle of movement as Marinette snatched the pillow he'd maintained his grasp on and began pummeling him with it, but all that served to do was make him laugh harder as his arms came up to help block the onslaught.

“You’re. The. Worst!” She yelled with every hit.

“You’re not denying it!” He laughed out in response, finally managing to catch the makeshift weapon and throw in a soft hit of his own for good measure, keeping the pillow out of her reach when she dove for it again.

The look of complete and utter embarrassment mixed with the determined fire in her eyes made it so much more enjoyable. Any other time, he would have apologized, but this back and forth was everything he’d ever wanted out of a friendship with Marinette. And it was like breathing fresh air. Both of them goofing off and just being themselves .

It made him appreciate her in a whole new way. Made him give her a quick (maybe not-so-quick) once-over as well as he memorized the look she was giving him. Memorize the constellation of freckles over her nose and cheeks. Memorize the specks of dark blue in her otherwise sky blue gaze.

But all good things had to come to an end eventually.

The end of their little pillow fight came with multiple chimes from both of their cell phones that had gone largely forgotten in their time talking together.

It broke them out of their stare-off, scrambling away from each other to find their devices. 

A peek at the screen was enough to ground Adrien back to reality as he saw nearly a dozen missed texts from Nino, Alya and a couple from Lila all asking where he’d disappeared to.

He peered up to find a frown on Marinette’s face as she too examined her phone, “Looks like our absences have been noticed.”

He nodded, pulling up the messages from Nino:

Nino 7:55 am

Hey man, where’d ya go? Lila said you ran to the bathroom but that was like 10 min ago.

 

Nino 7:58 am

You feeling alright? Need me to cover for you? Get some meds from the infirmary? 

 

Nino 8:00 am

Dude, I’m gettin a lil worried. Give me a sign or somethin?

 

Nino 8:02 am

The bell rang like 2 mins ago and you still haven’t even read these. Where the hell are you? Mari isn’t here either.  

 

Nino 8:09 am

Alya can’t reach Mari and we’re both pretty worried, so please once you see this, give us a sign you’re ok?

 

Nino 8:30 am

Okay seriously. Imma call the cops cause this isn’t like you, Bro. You haven’t been like kidnapped right? I don’t even know what to do in this kind of situation!

 

Nino 8:32 am

PLEASE BRO. I’M LOSING MY SHIT RIGHT NOW. PLEASE. Just tell me you’re bein’ rebellious and not like kidnapped. Or dead. Please don’t be dead.

 

Nino 8:45 am

Dude. I… don’t think I’d be able to handle finding out you were dead all this time.

 

Nino 8:48 am

Like I don’t knw that my heart could take it

 

Nino 8:50 am

I’d have to write a eulogy and talk at your funeral.

 

Nino 8:55 am

FRIENDS DON’T MAKE FRIENDS TALK AT THEIR UNTIMELY FUNERALS, BRO. DON’T DO ME LIKE THIS.

 

Nino 9:00 am

Okay… like all jokes aside, I’m really freaked out. No one can get in contact with you or Mari and if I don’t hear anything in the next 10 minutes I will call the cops.

 

Nino 9:08 am

Don’t think I won’t! I’m dead serious, Agreste. If you are pranking me right now I’mma kick your ass.

 

Adrien chuckled all the way through his messages from Nino. The guy was usually so chill. It was funny - if not totally heartwarming - to see him freak out over his sudden absence.

As he re-read over the last messages another came through:

Nino 9:09 am

Last chance.

 

With a loving roll of his eyes, Adrien set out to relieve his friend of his overactive imagination.

Adrien 9:09 am

Don’t call the cops Nino! I’m fine! I just didn’t see the messages until just now. Sorry Bro, didn’t mean to freak you out.

 

The response was immediate.

Nino 9:09 am

FUCK DUDE. I WAS SO CLOSE TO CALLING IN THE ARMY. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN???

 

Adrien 9:10 am

I did go to the bathroom. On my way back to class, I ran into Mari who looked really sick. I was worried, so I helped get her back home.

 

He frowned as he hit send on his last message to his best friend, but tried to not let it get to him. He hated lying to Nino like this, but it had to be done. At least for now.

He peaked back up to find that Marinette had swapped out her phone for one of the nearly forgotten snacks she’d brought up for them as she sat patiently waiting for him to finish, nibbling slowly at the end of a croissant. 

“Is Alya freaking out as much as Nino?”

She chuckled with a nod, “Yeah. Threatened to post about me being missing on the Ladyblog.” 

Another chime caught his attention, bringing his eyes back down to the device in his hands.

Nino 9:11 am

Oh geez - I hope Mari’s okay. Looks like she just messaged Alya and said she almost fainted? Scary. So did you just decide to be her nurse for the day or something?

 

Adrien had been in the process of reaching for a snack as well when he nearly choked. 

Adrien 9:12 am

WHAT?! NO! Her parents asked me to sit with her until the doctor got here. You can ask them!

 

Nino 9:12 am

XD Dude, I’m just messin. Seriously, tho - way to be a hero man! I’m sure she super appreciates it.

 

Nino 9:13 am

But, you do plan on coming back to school right? Like if she’s really that sick, it’s prob not best to hang around too long.

 

He had a point. Even if the illness was fake, hanging around more than necessary would be just as suspicious. No matter how much Adrien wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the day in this newfound safe haven. 

“It’s probably about time you headed back to class, huh?” Marinette brought his attention back to her while also somehow reading his mind.

She’d slipped back into that soft smile she seemed to have for him today, all jokes and embarrassment forgotten. 

He nodded, standing up slowly and stretching to bring his body back to alertness, “I suppose so. Thanks again for all of this. I - I really needed it. The escape and the talk.” His arm snaked back to rub nervously at the back of his neck as she too stood and stretched.

“You and me both needed this, so please don’t worry about it. We should do it again sometime.”

There was a moment of hesitation and thickness in the air between them. Something unresolved. Something neither of them wanted to leave hanging there, but neither knowing what to do with the beast of burden.

Well, he didn’t know what to do. But leave it to Marinette Dupain-Cheng to know exactly what to say as she reached out and squeezed his arm, “We’ll figure all of this out, Adrien. Not right now, but soon. I promise.”

He nodded, because how did someone follow-up after such encouraging words? He couldn’t. She said it all and so much more and it helped him quell any lingering dread having to go back to class without her. 

But that still meant he’d have to say goodbye and leave. Which he was finding hard to convince himself to do. But he knew he had to. He just didn't want them slipping back into those old tense habits. He wanted the fun fiery Marinette all the time. He wanted to be able to keep talking with her. He wanted to have contact with her. 

He wanted to hug her. Like she'd hugged him earlier. But pouncing on her was probably a bad idea. They'd made so much ground in such a short time. He didn't want to scare her away.

“Can-can I hug you again?” He asked instead, opened his arms in invitation, a shy bubbling hope filling his chest and making him anxious as he watched her eyes go wide and her cheeks flush again.

But she didn’t leave him hanging. 

Marinette smiled softly before stepping into the space, wrapping her arms around him and almost burying herself in his frame like he was one of the pillows on her bed.

Who was he to deny her the same?

Adrien wrapped her snuggly in his own embrace, resting his chin happily on top of her head and closing his eyes. Resisting the urge to purr in delight.

Oh yeah. He was quickly developing a need for hugs like this from now on.

“Hey,” her voice came out muffled from his shirt. Quiet and timid once more.

He hummed in response, feeling all that boiling rage from their earlier confessions cooled and tamed while she was wrapped safely in his arms. Not just their conversation. He felt the tension of the last month had been soothed from his body and he felt stronger, calmer, in control of himself. 

Imagine that. Talking about your problems actually helps.

“Are you mad?”

He found that while all those emotions had been tamed, yes, he was still angry . But not at her. Never at her. They’d both done something stupid, but that was the essence of what it meant to be teenagers, right? Being stupid and making stupid mistakes. But this could be fixed. He knew it could. He just wasn’t sure how yet. But that was a problem for future him.

For now, he was content to chuckle softly through his nose at her question, “No.” The corner of his mouth pulled up slightly, “I am disappointed though.”

Her arms tightened around his middle and he could almost feel her cringing against his chest before she peaked up at him with her nose scrunched up and a small grin of her own, “You’re right. That is worse.”