The winter months had again approached with their usual lack of fanfare, the colder weather settling in to coax most citizens back into the warmth of their homes.
Most, but not all.
Chat Noir and Ladybug sat poised atop the edge of one of the many nondescript Parisian rooftops, their legs dangling in the snow-dusted air. Their standard patrol had ended about an hour ago, yet they found themselves reveling in the simple joy of each other’s company.
“So, Chat Noir, any particular plans for Christmas?” Ladybug asked, her legs kicking out one after another to keep her blood flowing in the chill.
It was an innocent enough question — particularly as it followed their earlier conversation about their favorite holiday drinks (hot cocoa for both, it seemed) — and yet Chat Noir went rigid in response.
“Can’t say I do, Bugaboo,” he replied, his breath ghosting in front of him. “I suppose I’ll just enjoy the evening in my room with Plagg. Maybe I can ask my classmate to make a tiny Santa hat for him, though I’ll have to tell her it’s for a pet hamster or gerbil or something.”
While Chat Noir had dropped hints here and there that he wasn’t overly fond of his time spent at home, Ladybug was still startled to hear that his isolation would extend to the point of the holiday season.
“Wait, you won’t be with your family for the holiday?” Her eyes creased in concern, her head tilting to one side as she tried to catch his eye.
“No. I won’t.”
Normally, Ladybug wasn’t one to poke or pry at the subject of Chat’s life. The secrecy of their identities was essentially her one Golen Rule, and any breach of information would send her straight into deflection mode. But this? This, she found particularly distressing.
“Chat, you’re going to be alone for Christmas?”
“Well… Things just aren’t the same this year.”
“But they’re different enough that you won’t even be around your family?” Ladybug put a hand on his shoulder. “Or what about your friends from school?”
“Well, they all have their own lives and families,” Chat said as he leaned back on his hands, his face tipping up in an effort to avoid his partner’s unabashed look of concern. “And with Father, well… nothing has been the same since… Anyway, he’s not exactly a jolly guy to be around, even when he is around, so it’s really no big deal.”
Ladybug pursed her lips in thought.
“Well, that simply won’t do.” She removed her hand from his shoulder to poke his nose with her forefinger. “That settles it, we’re just going to have to have a little gift exchange, then.”
Chat perked up, finally turning to look her in the eye.
“A gift exchange?” A small smile emerged. “Between the two of us?”
“Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get a gift for one of Paris’s best heroes,” she said. “Of course, this does mean we’ll have to give each other at least three facts about ourselves so that we can come up with some good gifts. But don’t get any funny ideas.”
She had to throw in that last word of caution, taking note of the now-wider grin and upturned eyebrow of her partner.
“Why, M’lady, no funny ideas here,” he quipped. “We’re all business. All bright and merry business.”
Ladybug didn’t make any attempt to smother her smile. Any joy she could infuse into Chat Noir’s holiday invariably infused joy into her holiday, which was somewhat a gift in and of itself.
“Okay, then I’ll go first.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm, well, my favorite color is pink, I love hamsters, and… Jagged Stone is my favorite musician. So that makes three!”
She swung her legs back up, crossing them and turning so that her knees bumped closer to Chat’s.
“Now it’s your turn, Chaton. ”
“Alright, well, first things first, please don’t buy me camembert,” he laughed. “Plagg will kill me for saying that, but seriously, I think I’ve already had my fill of stinky cheese for a lifetime. But, other than that… well, I love Ultimate Mecha Strike III!”
Ladybug perked up this time. “So do I!”
“You do? Well, M’lady, we’ll have to have ourselves a little battle sometime,” he said, playfully punching the air before continuing. “Let’s see, number two is that I also love anime.”
“Number three… well, I don’t really get much of a say in what I wear.” His earlier enthusiasm slowly faded, his hand coming up to self-consciously cradle the back of his neck. “I always have to follow certain rules with my clothing. Don’t worry, I won’t say why, but it would be nice to just… wear something a little more personal for once, you know? Something silly or fun. I don’t know.”
Chat looked sideways at a deflated Ladybug.
“I’m so sorry!” He threw his hands up. “This is supposed to be fun, and I’m just dragging it down.”
“No, it’s okay, I’m just really sorry to hear that you don’t get to express yourself like that,” Ladybug reassured him. “Clothing is one of my favorite ways to express myself.”
“Really, Bug, it’s okay.” Chat Noir affixed his signature smile in an attempt at blitheness. “Anyway, that makes three facts for us both, and it’s getting late. I hate to take away such a handsome view from you, but this cat is feline pretty tired.”
Ladybug rolled her eyes, smiling despite herself. “Oh please, I was over the view hours ago.”
Chat Noir stood, holding out a hand to help Ladybug up before extending his baton.
“Sure you were.” He winked, turning and bracing himself to vault to the next rooftop. “Stay warm, M’lady.”
Ladybug remained in place after he left, watching his silhouette bound and disappear over the rooftops.
“Stay warm, Chaton ,” she whispered.
While Ladybug was usually late to her meet-ups with Chat, she did her best to arrive on time the night of their gift exchange. Not only did she not want to leave him waiting, but she was also exceptionally excited to see his reaction to her gift.
She had spent almost every evening for the last two weeks trying to perfect the handmade garment. The pads of her fingers were still sore from constant pinpricks, and her eyes remained persistently dry from the nights she stayed up late to design, edit, and sew for hours at a time.
But it would be worth it. She knew .
Of course, her partner just might have been more excited than her, considering he was already sitting on their favorite beam of the Eiffel Tower.
“Someone’s early,” she noted as she recalled her yo-yo, landing gracefully a few feet away.
“And someone’s not late!” Chat Noir sat up straighter, careful not to drop a crisp red envelope into the thin air.
Ladybug bit her lip to try and suppress her smile as she approached him, her own package hidden in her hands behind her back.
“Well, I suppose there’s no use in waiting.” She edged closer. “So … Merry Christmas, Chaton. ”
She pulled her gift from behind her back, holding it out with both hands.
“Why, M’lady, you shouldn’t have,” Chat jokingly chided her, standing and extending his hand to trade off his own gift. “This was all your idea, so you should open your gift first.”
“Well, if you insist,” she said, handing off her package before sliding her thumb beneath the fold of the envelope.
Chat watched with a bright grin, his eyes scouring her face for the first hints of a reaction. His ears twitched forward in excitement as he heard her gasp.
“VIP tickets to Jagged Stone’s next concert?” Ladybug looked up in shock, the tickets gripped tightly between her right thumb and forefinger. “Chat, how ? This show was already sold out, let alone with the chance to buy tickets like these !”
“Just trust that I know how to work some Christmas magic of my own.” Chat bowed elegantly, his hands fanning outward as he winked up at his partner.
“Okay, kitty,” Ladybug giggled before tucking the envelope inside of her yo-yo. “Now it’s your turn.”
She found herself bouncing on the balls of her feet in similar anticipation as she watched Chat tear easily at the package with his clawed hands. And as he unfurled the wrapping to reveal the soft fabric beneath, his lips tugged of their own accord into a look of unrestrained mirth.
He let the inner tissue paper fall to the side and held up an ugly Christmas sweater in both of his hands.
“Do you like it?” Ladybug asked shyly.
The base of the sweater itself was black with a gaudy, neon-green paw print sewn into the center. Bright circles bubbled out from the center, mimicking the appearance of a Cataclysm — only mocked up to resemble that of Christmas ornaments. Small Christmas lights were sewn delicately into the hem around the sleeves, neck, and bottom of the fabric.
“Like it?” Chat Noir sputtered. “This—this is amazing!”
He began to pull the garment hastily over his head, prompting a cautious grimace from Ladybug.
“Careful, now, Chaton , otherwise you’ll—”
Chat Noir froze, stopping in dismay to inspect the way two claws had snagged and hooked straight through the seam near to the sweater’s neckline.
“Oh no! No, no, Ladybug, I’m so sorry!”
Ladybug just smiled and shook her head patiently, reaching out to once again rest a placating hand on his shoulder. “That’s okay, Chat Noir. I can just—”
Beep beep beep
The two startled before looking down toward Ladybug’s yo-yo.
“An akuma alert.” Chat gingerly extricated himself from the fabric.
“The sweater will have to wait. Right now, we have a job to do.” Ladybug turned out to scan the skyline. “Just don’t wear it until I have the chance to fix it, okay?”
Marinette arrived at school the next morning about as groggy as usual. While the akuma battle hadn’t taken all too much time for Paris’s illustrious heroes to defeat, it still hadn’t left her with much time to make up for nearly two week’s worth of lost sleep.
“Geez, girl, devoid of caffeine, much?” Alya poked one finger into Marinette’s exposed cheek. The other was pressed to the desk as she attempted to grab whatever fleeting moments she could with her eyes still closed.
“Just, uh, stayed up late sewing again.” Marinette failed to stifle a yawn.
“Well, you can sleep later,” Alya teased her. “You prince charming just walked in. Don’t you want to wish him ‘good morning’?”
That merited a slight raise of Marinette’s head (albeit the movement was devoid of her usual frantic energy), and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust before a small gasp caught in her throat.
“Hey, nice ugly Christmas sweater, Adrien!” Alya called. “I’m surprised your father let you out in anything that wasn’t trademarked as an Agreste original.” She discreetly elbowed Marinette in the ribs as Adrien took his seat.
“Y-yeah!” Marinette stuttered. She sat up stiffly, bracing her hands on the desk as a light blush bloomed across her face. “Um, where get you it? I mean, w-where did you get it?”
Adrien beamed. “From a friend.”
“A friend? Like… in our class, friend?”
“Oh, no,” he clarified. “Just someone I had a little gift exchange with last night.”
Marinette’s blush turned cold, her whole body going icy as her eyes caught on the frayed fabric near the sweater’s neckline.
Then she began to sweat.
“Marinette,” Alya interrupted softly, leaning in to inspect her friend’s face with mild concern. “You good, girl? You look… kind of sick.”
“Yeah!” Marinette took a slow, shuddering breath, pausing a moment to school her features into something resembling that of an assuring smile. She then glanced at the boy who had turned back to face the front of the classroom. “I’m totally fine.”
Several minutes passed by wherein Marinette could only quietly watch the back of her classmate’s head, inwardly comparing him — the tilt of his shoulders, the lilt of his voice — to that of her partner’s. And there was simply no mistaking it.
Not anymore, at least.
In front of her, Adrien began to rummage through his bag, searching for a class item that was apparently nowhere to be found. Sighing a little, he stood up to address Nino, who had just taken his own seat beside him in the front row.
“I’ll be right back, I forgot something in my locker.”
“Me too!” Marinette stood quickly, struggling to tame the warmth that had returned with a vengeance to her cheeks. “Not ‘me too’ as in I, uh, forgot something, too, but as in I… I’ll come lock you to the withers! I mean, come with you to, um, to the lockers!”
Alya sat gaping at Marinette before she remembered to throw her an encouraging thumbs-up. Meanwhile, the rest of the classroom sat watching in silent interest before the girls began knowingly whispering to each other, muted giggles erupting before being shushed by one another.
Adrien, blessedly, seemed oblivious to his peers’ varied reactions.
“Sure, a little company sounds nice.” He gestured forward politely, allowing Marinette to step down the stairs before him. Her legs felt wooden beneath her, and her tongue had gone dry in her mouth.
What do I say? What do I say?
The two exited the class silently, Adrien glancing curiously at Marinette as she mentally tested her words. She kept her face fixed forward for the duration of their walk, and it was only when they had finally entered the locker room and Adrien reached forward to grab his textbook that she gently grabbed his outstretched wrist.
Adrien was startled but didn’t recoil, providing Marinette with the opportunity to steel herself before meeting his eyes.
“I like your ugly sweater.”
“Yeah. But I thought I told you not to wear it until I could fix it for you… Chaton.”
Adrien paused, his eyes wavering over Marinette’s in brief panic before the warmth of realization set in.
And then he smiled.
“So you did… M’lady.”