“Thank you, dear” Tom grabbed the box of pastries from Marinette’s hands, handing it to Sabine to unpack “I know you wanted to spend the night designing”
Marinette shrugged “It was no problem papa. I was a little blocked and the walk helped me clear my head so...”
“Well then we won’t keep you. Thank you again for bringing these on such short notice. We had no idea your papas new macarons would be such a hit!”
Instead of leaving out of the kitchen, Marinette decided to use the front door. The main hall was crowded with people anyway so she’d be able to slip by relatively unnoticed. And besides, this was her idol, Gabriel Agreste’s house! Who knew if she’d ever have the chance to set foot in here again she at least wanted to have a look. And all the people! So many designs, it was a veritable well of inspiration that Marinette couldn’t pass up.
The hall was huge. Even packed full of people, it was obvious how large the space was and on any normal day it must seem so...cold, Marinette thought. Everything was white. From the floor to the walls to the ceiling and all the furniture and ornaments. The only colour in the room came from the outfits everyone else was wearing.
She was so absorbed in her surroundings, taking in all the outfits around her, cataloguing the different techniques and prints and styles that she didn’t notice who’s elbow she knocked until the response to her muttered apology was an incredulous “Dupain-Cheng?”
Marinette winced. Chloé. Of course.
And Chloé wasn’t quiet either. Sensing the chance to humiliate her in such a public way, she raised her voice to catch the attention of those around her “what are you doing here? This party isn’t for poor little bakers girls you know!”
“Yes, I know that Chloé,” she said quietly, “I just came to drop something off for my parents. The Caterers, okay?”
“What, they weren’t prepared enough?” Chloé sniffed disdainfully “well now that’s just unprofessional.”
Forcing down an angry retort, Marinette grit her teeth and ignored the girl, turning and pushing through the people who seemed to have closed in on her. Where before the colours had seemed beautiful, now they were stifling, outrageous designs and stiff fabrics sticking out and seeming to hem her in to stop her from leaving. Their gazes lingered on her, some curious, but most of them judgemental.
Yeah, sure, come look at the little peasant who infiltrated your fancy party she thought sourly it’s not like you have anything better to do.
Pasting a fake smile on her face, Marinette kept pushing through the crowd, nodding at anyone who looked at her too long, trying to focus on the door she could see in the distance. God, why did it suddenly seem so far away?
Finally breaking free of the smaller crowd, she glanced back one last time to scowl at them. Chloé was still watching her, her lips pursed, hands on her hips and beside her was...
Chat Noir? Or, his civilian form Adrien, at least. What was he doing here? He looked amused, his lips ticked up in a smile.
They hadn’t known each other's identities that long, but Marinette had been relieved to see that he wasn’t someone she knew in her real life. Adrien had been disappointed for the same reason. But why was he here? And hanging out with Chloé of all people. She clearly needed to have a talk with him about his taste in friends.
She’d deal with that later. Turning to leave again, she caught sight of the humongous family portrait that hung on the wall. There was something familiar about the boy though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it…
Her head whipped around to find Chat again. Looking back and forth between the portrait and him, it finally clicked. Chat Noir was Adrien Agreste! No wonder he’d been surprised when she hadn’t immediately recognised him! His face was only plastered on every billboard in the city. And she, a fashion designer, hadn’t realised who her partner was.
She was a hack. There really was no other explanation.
Marinette could tell the moment he saw her realise, because his grin widened and she could see the laughter in his eyes. She stared, transfixed, and then he..winked at her, breaking the spell.
Oh, that stupid alley cat! Marinette stormed towards the door, not caring who she bumped into anymore, her mind racing. And completely missed the table she was about to walk into.
“Oof-” she grunted, her hands coming down hard on the table to steady herself. In the process, she managed to hit the vase of flowers that was on it, sending it crashing to the ground where it shattered into a million tiny pieces.
If they weren’t looking at her before, they certainly were now.
She could see Chloé, smirking at her in the crowd, and oh no that was Gabriel Agreste! And he was frowning at her! Because she had broken one of his vases!
It was probably his absolute favourite and now she’d destroyed it and he would never let her intern for him or even work for his company. Maybe he’d even blacklist her from all the fashion houses and she’d never get to be a professional designer and start her own fashion house all because she broke his favourite vase!
Face burning, Marinette looked up, taking in the shocked expressions of everyone around her. Smiling weakly, she lifted one hand to wave “Happy Birthday?”
The next day, Marinette accompanied her parents to the Agreste mansion when they went to get their cheque.
Or rather, she had to be pulled along behind her maman after she stood frozen at the gate, staring up at the scene of her crime.
“Marinette-” maman said, rubbing a hand comfortingly on her back “just apologise, and offer to pay for the damages? You can do this. We won’t be long, we’ll just be in the office with Nathalie.”
“Right! Right, I’ll just be...in and out, it’s easy” unless he doesn’t forgive me and demands that I swear never to set foot in the fashion industry ever again. But that wouldn’t happen...right?
Watching her parents go, Marinette wandered over to perch on the plush leather sofa beside the stairs to wait for M. Agreste. There was a small pile of books on the coffee table along with another vase though it was much smaller than the one she’d broken.
“Mademoiselle Dupain-Cheng? I believe you requested to speak to me?”
Gulping, Marinette nodded and stood up, wringing her hands together.
“Uh-i-uh” she stuttered “I came to apologise for the vase I broke” when his expression didn’t change, she elaborated “...at your party? It’s just that...I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer and seeing all those different clothes, I couldn’t stop looking at the designs and then I got distracted and uh”
“Marinette” her papa’s hand landed heavily on her shoulder and she flinched. Turning slightly, she saw that her maman and papa had finished with their business and were standing behind her. “You’re going off topic, dear”
Well what did he expect? She was talking to her fashion idol! Any and all coherent thoughts had fled her mind the moment she met him! Clearing her throat, Marinette turned to face Gabriel again. His expression hadn’t changed, but she could have sworn he looked a little...bemused?
And that’s when she looked up.
“You!” she gasped “get out, why must you be here?”
Because coming down the stairs behind Gabriel Agreste was Chat Noir. Adrien Agreste. Whoever he was. For a second he looked just as surprised to see her as she was, his eyes flickering over the scene, and then his lips curled up in a wicked smirk.
Marinette snapped back to attention, her eyes widening in panic “no! No, not you! I only meant—” Gabriel glanced over his shoulder but Chat ducked down behind the banister, hiding from view. Scrambling for words, she remembered what maman had said. “I didn’t mean to break such a big vase, and-and- I’m completely willing to pay for it of course!”
She crossed her fingers behind her back. But please, please, please don’t make me, she begged internally I really don’t want to know how many months of savings it would cost.
“M. Dupain, it really was not that big a deal, why don’t you explain it to-”
Glancing up again, Marinette’s eyes narrowed when she saw Chat miming playing with a yoyo, swinging it around and around before pretending to trip over his own feet.
“Stop that!” Marinette burst out angrily “This is all your fault anyway!”
Behind Gabriel, Chat made a face at her, scratching his head sheepishly before shrugging and making to continue down the stairs.
“No!” she exclaimed “that is-I’m so sorry and uh, thank you for seeing me today, but I’ll be going now, come on maman, papa! Bye monsieur!” peering around him so she could see Chat, Marinette waved at him as well “you too! Bye!”
Chat nodded back at her but then almost flattened himself against the staircase when Gabriel turned to see who she spoke to. Stifling the urge to laugh at his panicked expression she began to follow behind her parents when she remembered something else. “Oh and monsieur, please don’t blacklist me from the fashion world for this i-” spinning around on her heel to face him again, her foot slipped out from underneath her and Marinette could only watch in horror as her momentum caused her to fall onto the small coffee table.
Two tables in two days. That was going to bruise.
But she couldn’t think of that right now. Not when her landing had toppled the pile of books which then knocked over the vase which fell off the table with a crash.
She didn’t know how long she stared at the shards on the ground, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. Another vase! She’d broken another vase! Wasn’t she supposed to be Ladybug? What happened to all her stupid luck?
The silence was broken by a strange keening sound starting low and seeming to get louder the longer she stared at the vase. Marinette was hardly aware of the hands on her shoulders that helped her back up; her parents guiding her towards the exit, but she couldn’t stop looking over her shoulder at the shattered remains on the floor, at Gabriel Agreste looking...slightly irritated. Chat Noir’s head popping up over the banister, his shocked eyes tracking her movements…and still, there was that shrill sound echoing in her ears—what was that?
Marinette clapped her hands over her mouth and was horrified to find that the sound was muffled and oh god, it was coming from her!
Pressing her hand down harder to contain the wail that she could already feel rising in her throat, Marinette turned tail and ran.
“Sir” Nathalie knocked on the door to his office “there’s something you should see”
“Enter” Gabriel said without looking up from his tablet. “What is it Nathalie?”
“it’s about...that girl”
“The one who broke those vases”
Sighing, Gabriel fixed her with his most unimpressed stare. “Nathalie you know that’s hardly worth my time.” to be perfectly honest, he’d been glad to see that first vase break. It had been a gift from Audrey and was too gaudy for his tastes. Which was why he’d felt gracious enough to meet with the young girl who’d broken it. Of course, he felt less gracious when it resulted in even more property damage
Miss Dupain-Cheng seemed nice enough, he supposed, if a little eccentric. He’d chalked some of her nervousness up to her design aspirations since she clearly looked up to him, and he would have been flattered if he wasn’t still annoyed about the vases.
Even so, that fiasco was over and done with. There really was no point in rehashing it.
“Oh no, you’ll want to see this” holding back a smile, Nathalie stepped forward and presented her tablet to him, showing a video “we found this on the security feeds from yesterday.” she pressed play.
And well. Now wasn’t that enlightening.
Gabriel cleared his throat “Nathalie, call Adrien for me, will you?”
She didn’t even try to hide her smile this time “yes, sir”
“You wanted to see me, father?”
He wasn’t at his desk. Stepping into the office, Adrien let the door click shut quietly behind him. Finding his father stood looking out of the window, his back to the door. It wasn’t often that Gabriel called on him. Whatever it was must be important enough that he wasn’t just scheduling an appointment for later in the week.
“Yes.” father turned to him. Tablet in hand, he gestured towards the chairs in front of his desk “I was shown something very interesting today. Take a seat, Adrien.”
Nervously, Adrien lowered himself into a chair, watching out of the corner of his eye as his father came to stand behind him, holding the tablet in front of his face.
Adrien blanched. The screen showed a paused video, but it was pretty clear who the focus was.
Damn! He’d been having so much fun messing with Ladybug (even if he knew she was probably going to skin him during their patrol) that he’d completely forgotten about the cameras mounted by the stairs.
The footage clearly showed her catching sight of him, and him goofing off and distracting her. Acutely aware of his father’s presence behind him, Adrien sat, frozen. He didn’t dare to turn his head and see his father's disappointment in him.
Gabriel let the video play twice before stopping it. Moving back around to his side of the desk, he sat down, steepling his fingers before speaking. “Such an interesting video, wouldn’t you say?”
Adrien could only nod, mortified.
“I may not have been on the ‘dating scene’ as you call it now, for a long time now, but Adrien somehow I doubt that you will win the affection of a girl by embarrassing her in public.”
“Father..?” Adrien gaped at him “w-what are you talking about?” was he implying what he thought he was?
Gabriel hummed, “I suggest you take her some flowers to apologise.” pulling out some files, he began flipping through his designs. The dismissal was clear.
“Oh and Adrien?” father called as he was halfway out the door “If you get a large arrangement, don’t take it in a vase.”
Ladybug was already waiting for him when Chat arrived for patrol. She sat looking out over the city, her legs dangling over the side of the building.
It really was a beautiful view from up here and any other day he would have stopped to admire it a little longer. As it was though, he had a lady to appease.
Landing softly behind her, he approached quietly, noticing with a wince that her shoulders had tensed at his approach.
Well. It was now or never.
“Ladybug! Fancy seeing you here!” could she hear the way his voice was a little higher than usual? He hoped not. She didn’t move, didn’t even acknowledge that she’d heard him, though she stopped swinging her legs. Laughing nervously, Chat came to sit beside her, leaving enough space between them for a third person.
Adjusting his grip on the flowers he held, he observed her for a moment. Ladybug’s lips were pressed into a hard line and her brow was furrowed adorably as she tried not to look at him.
He knew she was mad at him but really. How could he have resisted? The first vase had been an accident, but the way she’d gotten so flustered when she saw him at the mansion...well he’d just wanted to see what kind of reaction he could get out of her. And boy what a reaction!
Curiosity did kill the cat after all.
But maybe he could delay his death a little while. Scooching closer, Chat handed her the bouquet. “Pretty flowers, for a pretty lady!” he exclaimed when she leaned back in surprise. Maybe he shouldn’t have shoved them in her face like that. Waiting for her to grab them, Chat continued “ You're favourite. I know how much you like roses”
Smiling triumphantly when she took them from him, Chat moved back again, watching carefully as Ladybug took a deep sniff of the roses, sighing happily, a beautiful smile on her face. He could have watched her for hours with the way she seemed to glow in the moonlight, an ethereal being. Even if she was eating rose petals, but hey, who was he to judge?
They sat like that for a little while, the only sounds in the night of Ladybug’s slow chewing. Flopping onto his back, he let himself relax for the first time in hours.
Finally Ladybug turned to face him, and the look in her eyes was Not Kind. He’d seen that look before.
“Chat?” she said sweetly. Too sweetly.
He didn’t need to be told twice.