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“Ladybug?”

Paris’ spotted heroine jumped slightly after being pulled from her thoughts. She’d been staring out over the city’s glittering lights, lost to the maelstrom of voices and recalled memories swarming her mind with a thoughtful (at least she hoped it was) frown on her lips. So much so, that she hadn’t noticed when her leather-clad partner had shown up to sit next to her on a night he was supposed to be taking off.

When the hell had he gotten there? She wondered, looking around quickly for any indication of how long she’d been stuck in her own head. 

“Hey Chaton, what are you doing out here? It’s my night to patrol.” She asked as another entirely panicked thought came to mind - that she’d been so dazed she’d missed the tell-tale signs of an Akuma.

But, before she could freak out any further, she took in Chat’s relative ease - or at least, he didn’t look like he was on the verge of jumping into a fight. He did seem apprehensive, though. She could tell in the way it tensed and squeezed his shoulders together like he wanted to be close, but wouldn’t dare come in contact with her.

Which made her wonder if she’d said or done anything recently to give him the idea he was overstepping his bounds. Or maybe he was mad at her for something? And wasn’t that just the icing on the cake that was her day? 

First, Lila had caused a major scene that got Marinette detention for the rest of the week (it all happened so fast, she barely remembers what the hell had even happened). Now she was having a panic attack over whether her partner was mad at her for something she didn’t remember doing? Who else was she going to piss off today?

“What’s your stance on sharing your identity?”

Panic attack on momentary pause, a dark brow shot up at the question, and if she wasn’t so wary of the way he’d said it with that uncomfortable look on his face, she probably would have been angry. But he seemed so off tonight that it was throwing her usual emotions for a loop. So, choosing not to go off on her partner, she sighed heavily, trying to keep her focus on him despite the bubbling irritation, “Chat, I’m sorry, but we’ve talked about this. Our identities are a secret for a reason.”

For the first time since he sat down (she thinks), she sees him glance her way if only slightly. The uncomfortable look on his face had softened a bit but he still has something unreadable in his eyes that makes Ladybug anxious, “So... you’ve never shared your identity? With anyone? Not accidentally or otherwise?”

If she didn’t know any better, she’d say his words were a little accusatory. 

Which, okay first off, what the fuck? And second, why was he suddenly giving her the third degree? 

Again, though, the entire display was throwing her and she knew she had to be rational about this. 

“No. Of course not. I promised you didn’t I? Once Hawkmoth was defeated, you would be the first person I told.” She stated as calmly and resolutely as she possibly can. She’d been clear from the start where she stood on the subject. 

As soon as the words left her mouth, Chat Noir visibly relaxed. Shoulders slumping and a breath heaving from his chest as he nodded, “Right. Right, of course.” He finally managed to turn to look at her and the discomfort was quickly hidden by a small smile.

The shift in his attitude was almost as disconcerting as his arrival.

“What is this about, Chatton?”

That smile faltered a bit as he looked away from her again, “There’s this-” he began but his words died before he shook his head, “No, it’s - it’s nothing. Sorry for bothering you about this. It was stupid.” 

Chat made to stand, but Ladybug caught his wrist before he could get away, “Obviously not if it brought you out here as upset as you looked. I know I can be a real stickler about the secret identities thing, but Chat, I’m not doing this to hurt you. I promise!” She implored, feeling like she’d missed something major. “If you’re being hurt or-”

Blonde hair flew as he shook his head quickly, “No, no. Nothing like that. Really. I know why you do. I won’t pretend it doesn’t suck, but I get it. Really, I do.” He tried to assure her, and while it did seem like he understood and he was being honest with her, he was still hiding something. Something that had driven him to come out and ask her these strange questions.

“Then what was all of this about?”

He had the decency to look apologetic at least as the corners of his mouth pulled up and he shook his head again, “It’s too personal - talking about it might give me away, Bugaboo, but I really am sorry about this. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Ladybug’s eyes darted back and forth as she watched him closely, but eventually, hesitantly, she let go of his wrist and allowed him to get up.

The whole conversation left an unsettling anxiousness over her and a rather uncomfortable tenseness in the air between them as he backed away and saluted before she even had the chance to say anything - disappearing into the night.

That unease followed her home and through her restless sleep and when she woke up the next morning, she couldn’t help but let it consume her thoughts. Distracting her as she made her way to class earlier than usual.

Distracting her so much, in fact, that she almost didn’t notice the crowd gathered around two individuals crammed into her usual seat next to Alya giggling and talking loudly.

Almost.

As much as she hated it, Marinette had developed something of a sixth sense for the Italian exchange student Lila Rossi. A personal radar to warn her of the liar’s presence.

And it was going off big time.

It wasn’t uncommon for Lila to try and steal her spot when she could. Usually, it resulted in some sort of argument between Marinette and Alya when her supposed best friend defended the other girl for just wanting to hang out, and why didn’t she try being nice to the girl for once?

This time, though, Marinette was quickly made aware of three things:

1. Lila wasn’t alone.

2. Whoever this other girl was, she and Lila were already very close and that didn’t bode well for anyone - especially Marinette.

3. Adrien, who was an unfortunate captive in the crowd around his desk, looked really uncomfortable - more so than usual as he openly frowned at the desktop in front of him, trying not to associate with the things going on around him.

What the hell was going on? Marinette had only been gone from class for one afternoon! 

Alya was the first to notice her entrance to the class, giving her an unsure look from her seat (she had been pretty mad at her yesterday for whatever it was that landed her detention for the week), causing a ripple effect as Lila and her ‘guest’ looked up at her too, quieting down and catching everyone else’ attention.

The unfamiliar girl sized the noirette up before speaking, “Is this the girl you were telling me about?”

Lila put on her biggest, fakest, puppy-dog eyes and nodded softly, watching Marinette like she might lunge at her any second now. 

Like parting the red sea, the unfamiliar girl stood from her place at Marinette’s desk and the crowd around her gave her room to move, allowing her to make her way to stand haughtily before her. The girl was a tad taller than Marinette, but the platform sandals she wore made it so Marinette would need to look up at her slightly. She had dark, almost black, shoulder-length hair that hung loosely, but the color of her brows made it clear that it wasn’t natural. She’d dyed it, recently too, if the lack of root discoloration was any indication.

Marinette watched her approach with a raised brow, unimpressed by the superior gleam to the girl’s blue-green eyes.

“I heard you’ve been bullying my best friend.” She said, authoritatively, her hands propped on hips clad in Gabriel branded jeans.

There was a collective gasp among her classmates like this was some big reveal in a soap opera. 

The class rep merely blinked a moment, brow still raised because who the fuck even was this girl and why was she squaring up to her like she even had a chance? Actually, no, she didn’t care.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Marinette asked, but her tone gave away how few fucks she actually gave about the girl’s answer.

“For your information, it’s Bianca. I just transferred yesterday. But don’t change the subject. I’ve heard that you’ve been bullying my best friend Lila.”

Before Bianca had a chance to say any more, Marinette gave her a deadpanned look, “Well, sorry to inform you, but your best friend is a liar.”

Lila could immediately be heard breaking out into sobs somewhere in the background but Marinette was quickly losing interest in this conversation. 

“I don’t think she is. I think you’re the liar. In fact, I think people like you are what’s wrong with Paris. Always trying to hurt others so they get Akumatized and I have to clean up your mess.”

I’m sorry, what? 

That had Bluebell eyes snapping to focus on the girl in front of her. Interest piqued. 

“I’m giving you one chance. Stop being a menace to society or my partner and I will take action.”

There was quite a bit to unpack from that. Like... a lot. Menace to society? Partner? Take action?

Who did this girl think she was? Ladybug?

The one thing that seemed clear to Marinette after reviewing the word choices in her own head a few times, was that this was not a friendly recommendation.

“Are you threatening me?”

She probably should have sounded a little angrier. In fact, anything would have been better than bored. But she just couldn’t find the energy. 

A triumphant smile spread over Bianca’s face, as she disregarded the lack of fear in Marinette’s voice, “I don’t threaten people. But that is a promise.”

Marinette was left to blink at her a little longer. 

Because what even was happening here? What on earth had she done that the universe saw fit to drop this steaming pile of bull on her morning?

And why did it feel like the girl was hinting at something she wasn’t picking up on? Why was her body telling her that she needed to react while her brain was taking its sweet time to catch up with everything?

“Dude,” someone from the peanut gallery stage whispered, finding it in their heart to give her a helping hand, “That’s Ladybug!”

Lila shushed them loudly, “Guys, not everyone is supposed to know! We don’t know who we can trust!”

Oh.

oohhhhh!

Wow. When she’d made that comment in her head before, she’d been joking but... seriously? Did she really just?

“You’re Ladybug?” Marinette asked, wanting to clarify and make absolutely certain that she hadn’t just imagined that last forty-five seconds of her life.

Bianca’s chin raised, literally looking down her nose at Marinette, “Normally I wouldn’t share that information with someone like you.”

Behind her, Adrien stood from his seat looking absolutely livid, but Marinette barely had a moment to even register the malice in the gaze he pointed at Bianca before - 

Pfft...

Marinette covered her mouth with her hand to stop it, but nothing could hold back the onslaught now. 

They were giggles at first, tumbling from her in waves as she tried to clear her throat and treat this seriously. But before long, she couldn’t help it. She was laughing out loud, doubling over, completely ignorant (maybe not completely, but she didn’t care at this point) to the looks of confusion on the faces around her.

She made the mistake of looking back up at Bianca and that only renewed her laughing fit until it literally brought her to her knees, clutching her sides as she laughed so hard she cried.

Fucking cried.

It was a solid five or six minutes before she could breathe again. Sitting back up, wiping the tears from her eyes, she beamed at the girl standing awkwardly before her, “Wow. Thanks. I really needed that.”

She cleared her throat, clearly unsure of the strange behavior. She couldn’t blame her for that. “I don’t see what’s so funny.”

“All of it. Really.” She stood up from the floor, making a show of dusting off her pants before turning her full attention back on the girl. 

Because this was going to be fun.

“So, Ladybug, tell me this; if I’m such a menace to society, why would you entrust me with a miraculous?”

Bianca's smirk faltered, her eyes darting over to Lila for a moment, both of them looking a little lost for words. As was everyone else for that matter.

Even Alya, whose mouth hung open at this revelation. But the reporter flew to her phone, swiping quickly, "when?! There were no new heroes! How do we know you're not lying?"

Oh good. They were playing right into it. One thing you could always count on with sheeple... they always follow.

"Huh, well, then I guess if you can’t believe me at my word, it would be pretty easy to fact check." Her tone was a bit forced on those words and the reporter had the decency to look taken aback, "You could always just ask Ladybug, here."

"Well I-"

"Or you could ask her partner. Seeing as how he saw me transform."

Bianca's mouth snapped shut. It was still hit or miss whether or not Marinette was bluffing. And it's easy to claim something like that when the only other person who could confirm or deny the facts was not present.

This had been Lila’s game the whole time. The difference was, Marinette wasn’t lying.

But neither of them could take that chance.

Because neither of them knew what she knew.

And Ladybug was definitely in this room, but it wasn’t who they all thought it was.

"I asked her to give you a chance. Because I wanted to help you. I thought being a hero would make you a better person. But you just kept bullying me!"

"E-exactly."

Ah, so they were going to go this route, hmm? She could work with that. And given Lila’s proclivity for being Akumatized, maybe she could mess with Hawkmoth too while she was at it. 

Because it was only a matter of time before someone was targeted.

"How very generous of you, Lila," She said in her sweetest voice possible, but even to her own ears, it sounded fake. How did Lila keep this up all the time? “But, that’s not what you said on the tower when we fought that Akuma together.”

"What did you think I would say when you were obviously unfit to be a Hero! I didn’t want to risk you turning on me.”

“You didn’t think I was unfit when I helped save you and Chat Noir.” This time, it felt a little more realistic when she put the hurt look on her face, glancing away.

In the process, she caught sight of Adrien giving her a strange look. One she couldn’t really put a name to. But it was different than all of her other classmates. Why did he seem so much more confused than the others? 

The girl scoffed, "leave my partner out of this." She demanded, and it felt like a desperate attempt at redirecting the conversation. 

Fine. She could work with that too.

"You... do know that your 'partner' is my best friend, right?" She turned an apologetic look to Alya she only half meant, "sorry Als, but - you know," Marinette pointed between the two of them indicating the distance that had grown between them. They weren't nearly as close as they'd used to be. And while they were still friends, Marinette had a hard time categorizing her as her 'best friend'.

And the implication wasn't wasted on the reporter either. She was left staring wide with bewilderment and hurt. But Marinette was less positive it was because of not being best friends anymore and more that she hadn't told Alya that she spent time with one of the heroes she loved to chase.

"My partner would never hang out with someone like you."

God, she was just a broken record, wasn’t she? Did she really still think she was bluffing?

With a scoff and a soft shake of her head, Marinette pulled her phone from her pocket and swiped through her pictures until she found what she was looking for.

She wasnt trying to be smug about the way she flipped her phone around so she could show the class, but she definitely couldn't help the little smirk that pulled at her lips as the class gasped again, pulling closer so they could study the photo.

A photo of her and Chat Noir sitting a little too close together on her chaise lounge. Marinette sticking her tongue out at the camera, while chat gave the overly kawaii victory peace sign over his left eye like he was straight out of an anime. It was one of her favorites. They'd spent nearly the whole night binging on shows together after a particularly stressful day. The pictures had been a side effect of too much sugar, not enough sleep, and good company. And for some reason when Chat found out she’d been Multimouse, that increased her ‘coolness factor’ and they had something in common.

Of course, she couldn’t tell him that wasn’t the only thing they had in common.

Either way, it had brought them closer together as friends and they hung out often. 

Which was a reprieve given that most of her friends had abandoned her anyway. 

As Bianca stared a little blankly at the picture, a number of voices all began to pick up around them.

"You're actually friends with chat noir? That's so cool!"

“Does that mean you hang out with the other heroes too?”

“What is Chat Noir really like?”

"Wait, then that means you really were a hero? I thought heroes had to keep their identities secret."

That’s the one she’d been waiting on. Quickly silencing the others with a pointed look back at Bianca, "They do. But I'm not a hero anymore, am I Ladybug?"

"I-I..."

"Why was it again that I’m not allowed to be Multimouse again?" She put a thoughtful finger to her chin, but she felt her own fire building in her core, “I’m pretty sure it was nothing to do with being a menace to society.”

She tapped her chin a few more times, looking around deep in thought. Catching another glimpse of Adrien studying her carefully, but she refused to let his perfectness distract her because fuck these people.

Fuck the high road.

If he was going to be mad at her for standing up for her alter-ego then fuck him too.

But he didn’t seem mad. 

In fact, as soon as she locked eyes with him, a slight smirk pulled at his lips. It was roguish and totally out of place on his angelic face, but goddamn did it do things for her.

But the smirk paired with the slightly raised brow aimed at her said, ‘Yes, what did Ladybug say?’

It’s sarcastic and playful and familiar in ways her heart is not ready to admit.

But that would have to come later.

Marinette spun back to the imposter, narrowing her eyes dangerously, "Oh right! Because I'd accidentally revealed my identity to Chat Noir. Because identities are supposed to remain a secret."

"W-well th-there are exceptions!" Bianca tries to defend, but Marinette isn’t going to let her.

“No, I think you, just like your supposed best friend, are a liar. You’re not Ladybug. You don’t know a damn thing about Ladybug. Because if you were, you’d already have been beaten. You’ve been in this classroom all of what, one day? And the entire class already knows your ‘identity’? We’re all lucky you aren’t one of the heroes, otherwise, Hawkmoth would already have won!”

She was fuming now. All of the emotions finally catching up with her. She thrust an accusatory finger at Bianca, making the girl stumble back slightly, “You don’t know a damn thing about what it takes to be a hero. What they have to sacrifice to keep people safe. Besides, Ladybug and Chat Noir don’t even know each other's identities - why the hell would Ladybug share something like that with a classroom full of people who’ve been Akumatized at least once and not share that with her own partner?!”

Whatever fear she’d instilled in the new girl quickly swapped for something much closer to fury as she reclaimed her balance and advanced on Marinette with a fire burning in her eyes. “How dare you call me a liar, you little fucking brat!” 

Surprised at the outburst, Marinette didn’t move when she saw Bianca raise her hand to strike her, instead, closing her eyes and bracing for the blow.

A blow that never connected. 

A gasp brought Marinette to peak open her eyes before they widened at the scene.

Bianca stood where she had previously, hand raised and poised to strike. But just behind her, Adrien had moved - impossibly quick, seriously when the hell had she gotten up? - and grabbed the girl’s arm, hand clutching tightly at her, keeping her still.

“A-Adrien!”

“That’s enough.” He hissed at her, voice low and threatening. “If it wasn’t clear before, it definitely is now. You’re not Ladybug. She would never raise a hand to a civilian like that!”

“B-but - !” Lila tried to come to her ‘friend’s’ defense but was silenced when he shot her an equally terrifying look.

“I’ve had enough of you trying to turn everyone against Marinette. I knew you both were lying when you ‘accidentally’ revealed Ladybug’s identity to me yesterday, but I didn’t have proof to prove it. You’ve been lying to everyone about everything!”

Wait... The way he’d said accidentally... why did it seem so familiar? 

Her thoughts of the blonde-haired, green-eyed model were very suddenly replaced with thoughts of a similarly blonde-haired, green-eyed superhero who’d come looking for her on his night off, asking if she’d ever ‘revealed herself, accidentally or otherwise’.

“Adrien! Y-you’re hurting me!”

Marinette’s eyes were drawn to the boy’s hand, still tightly clutching Bianca’s in a vice grip that would likely leave bruises.

But that’s not what she was focused on. Instead, it was the familiar shape of his silver ring that drew her eye. Familiar because she’d seen him wear it since the first day she’d met him and never took it off. 

Except for the day they’d done the shoot for her website.

The day she and Chat had to switch Miraculouses.

Adrien.

Adrien was Chat Noir.

Her kitty had been there the entire time.

That’s why he’d been so angry. That’s why he’d looked so upset. That’s why he’d come looking for her and asking such strange questions!

Because Lila and her lackey had chosen the one person who’d know for a fact that they were lying.

And if she thought she couldn’t love him any more than she already did, she was sorely mistaken.

“What is going on in here?!”

Great. of course the teacher would walk in then.

She didn’t pay much attention to the chaos that ensued after Madame Bustier had walked in the room. Lila and Bianca had claimed Marinette attacked and Adrien had stepped in to help her and they were both sent to the hall because a number of people started speaking up and coming to their defense, suddenly not blinded by Lila’s lies any longer.

But now, she was standing in the hall next to her crush and her partner

“I’m so sorry Marinette.”

Her thoughts came to a startling halt as she turned wide eyes on him.

“I shouldn’t have ever told you not to call her out. I was stupid. I just hope you’ll forgive me someday.”

Marinette couldn’t help the smile that pulled at her lips, because how could she not have noticed? Model or not, that was the heart of her partner beating in that beautiful body of his. 

“There’s nothing to forgive, Adrien. Besides, at least you checked your sources.” She chuckled, finding so much irony in that statement. If he hadn’t come looking for her, she probably wouldn’t have put it together.

He turned a confused look on her.

The smile she turned on him in return was brighter than she’d given anyone in some time, “I told you, didn’t I? You’d be the first to know.”