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Every good game starts long before anyone makes a single move. The dance of a rivalry, an invitation, the setup, all important to the tone of a match between two opposing forces. There are stakes there, there is tension because they have years of built-up interactions to account for.

 

Love stories, and specifically a relationship akin to our two lovers, is no different. The best romantic tales are rich with interactions, history, and missteps on both sides. Romeo and Juliet, the most well-known love story in western culture, is fraught with history and hardship, and background built long before the first move is made. All Love stories begin with the smallest choices. They begin with turning left when one would normally go forward, or arriving at a party one might have stayed home for. Perhaps they began long before that. If one person had not said this or that to another, then perhaps they would never have found themselves on that crossroad. They say history spins on small hinges, and every good love story has to begin somewhere.

 

Perhaps Marinette and Adrien’s love story truly began the moment Gabriel chose to become Hawkmoth, or perhaps even further back when he met and married Adrien’s mother. That moment led to the unfortunate circumstances with Emilie’s coma and thus becoming Hawkmoth. However, that’s beside the point is it not? Because the true moment the love between Adrien and Marinette began much later. On a balcony in the evening where two lovesick teens bore their hearts to one another and came to understand the other in a better way. This moment was merely the earliest stages, the dance leading to an invitation. The invitation begins thusly.

 

It’s a hot day in Paris, certainly too hot to wear a black leather catsuit, and Chat Noir is wilting. The sun should be setting soon, but for now, the sun is beating into him, and the Akuma just won’t go down. Adrien was supposed to be studying for his final exams. Instead, he watches as Ladybug stares in confusion at a shiny polka-dotted key chain. He can see her fatigue is making her sluggish. He knows she needs time, but the Akuma is coming at them with the full force of their radiating ‘heatwave.’ The Akuma was too hot to engage with in close combat, so distraction was Chat Noir’s best tool. He jumped from his lady’s side towards a nearby fire hydrant, destroying it with a quick call of his cataclysm. The red metal gave way to black dust and water began to gush from the ground. The Akuma flinched away from the urban geyser keeping his eye on the water inching closer to them. Chat Noir saw Ladybug sit up straighter, and he swore her eyes began to sparkle like the magical anime girl he knew she was.

 

She dashed over to a nearby shop and grabbed several bottles of beer. He grinned and began using the baton to try to splash the Akuma from a distance. They began to back away from the water.

 

“Well, Helios don't you know the best way to beat the heat is a nice swim? Come on, the water feels great!” He yelled. “No! No more swimming! I need a break.” Helios yelled, a new and disgruntled lifeguard.

 

“Yeah, Chat everyone knows you just need to open a cold one with the boys!” Ladybug yelled as she opened one of the bottles with her lucky charm keychain and used the bottom of the other bottle to tap the opening. The beer began to shoot out, and Ladybug used her thumb to spray the Akuma in the face as they turned around at the sound of her voice. Startled Helios began stumbling backward, and Chat took the opportunity to slide through the water and kick the Akuma's legs out from under them. Ladybug snatched the lifeguard float that the Akuma dropped and began tearing at the vinyl plastic cover. A small black butterfly began to flutter away, but Ladybug quickly caught it, purified it, and tossed her lucky charm in the air to fix the damage done by the Akuma.

 

Ladybug and Chatquickly settled the poor victim down. Chat insisted that he be the one to take them home. Neither Superheroes had beeping timers after both reaching 18 this last year, so they often took turns helping victims after they got de-akumatized. A small part of Chat Noir taking a long cold bath, and several sugar-free popsicles. He set the person up at their front door and began the long journey home, stopping occasionally in a cool shadow. The cool rush of water from the fight had managed to cool him down slightly, but that had all gone back to the pipes once the miraculous cure was completed.

 

During one of these breaks, he heard a voice calling his name. He looked around to find an exhausted and sweaty Marinette waving to him from her balcony. He smiled widely. He hadn’t seen his friend in months. He and Alya had ended up in the same lycee, but Marinette and Nino hadn’t. Nino’s parents had found a better apartment further from the city center, and Marinette was on the other side of the boundary separating her from the same Lycee. After Alya moved, she and Nino had broken up.

 

He never fully understood the exact reasons behind it. Nino had said something about ‘long distance’, it was a ‘40 minute train ride one way', and needing to be ‘young and single’, all of which seemed like a petty excuse to him. After that, it became harder to hang out with Marinette, even when he did have the time. He didn’t realize how much he had relied on Alya and Nino's relationship to spend time with one of his favorite people until it became too awkward to try forging their own bond separate from their friends. He now only rarely saw her, and often it was during an Akuma attack as Chat Noir.

 

However, here was a perfect time to just spend a few minutes resting in the shade of her canopy catching up with a friend. And by the looks of it, she had a jug of cool water tempting him further. He vaulted over and landed on her railing in a crouch.

 

“Well, Princess! It’s been absolute ages! What can I do for you on this blisteringly hot day?” He said, crawling off the railing and posing theatrically against it. She smiled and rolled her eyes.

 

“I noticed you looked hot-”

 

“As usual,” He quipped quickly, kissing his biceps and smirking before she could continue. She scowled but chose to ignore him,

 

“and I thought you might like something to cool you down.” She pointed towards the jug of water, and he noticed a small cooler under the table she had set up as well.

 

“Well, if you don’t mind the company…” he said slowly, eyeing the condensation on the outside of the pitcher.

 

“Of course! Sit down. Have a glass.”

 

“Thank you,” he said appreciatively as he sat under the shade and picked up the pitcher. He could hear ice swirling around in there. He poured a glass and quickly drank it, the cold water biting his tongue. He quickly poured another, as Marinette offered him a popsicle from the little cooler. “Why are you out here with all this stuff? Wouldn’t it be cooler inside where there isn’t any sun?”

 

“Maybe in a normal house, but during the day when the ovens are all on in the bakery, it’s a sauna. Papa bought a little window cooler for the living room but we don’t turn it on until the ovens are off for the day. It’s a waste of energy otherwise. So I sit out here with ice water and popsicles to work on homework on hot days.” she shrugged and flipped the page of a textbook she wasn’t really looking at.

“What about you?” She asked, taking her eyes off her book for just a second to look him up and down, then quickly looking back at the text. “Why are you still out? I thought the Akuma ended like 15 minutes ago.”

 

“It did. But the gentleman who was akumatized lives pretty far away, and I didn’t want him to have to walk all that way, so I took him. I stopped to sit in the shade on my way back. It’s hot walking around in all black. It’s a magical suit, but somehow it doesn’t come with air conditioning.” He said this last bit sarcastically. He had talked to Plagg about it a few years ago, and the suit was quite breathable for how thick and sturdy it was. The problem wasn’t his suit really, it was the boy in the suit overheating and there was little Plagg could do about it.

 

She scowled, not taking her eyes off the page. “Why didn't you ask Ladybug to do it? You should have gone home and cooled down.”

 

“I know.” He traced patterns into the condensation on his cup. He could see her dark hair through the glass. He watched the way the slight breeze blew through her bangs. “I just like being out of my house.” He hadn’t meant to say it. It probably sounded pathetic. Marinette didn’t seem to pay any mind to it though. She merely hummed in acknowledgment and scribbled something down in a notebook.
“Well, feel free to be out of your house here. I’m just studying for my history exam.”

“When’s your exam?”

“Next week, it’s my last one, and the one I've studied for the least.”

“Are you excited to graduate?”

“Yes, and no.” She reached into the little cooler and pulled out a popsicle, offering it to him silently.

“Nervous about university?” He asked as he unwrapped the popsicle. He wasn’t looking at her so he couldn't see the sadness in her face, but he did hear her sigh defeatedly. He looked at her curiously as he took a bite of his treat.

“Not exactly.” She said, rubbing her arm nervously. “I’m not going.”

He nearly choked on his popsicle, “What? Why not?”

“I have things I need to do. I’m taking a year or two off. Once I'm finished I’ll go.”

“What are these all-important ‘things’?” She shifted nervously and flipped another page. He wasn’t sure she was actually reading anything with the way her eyes darted around the page. “Just some projects I wanted to get finished, saving money, stuff like that.”

She seemed to not want to talk about it, but he wanted to stay and talk to his friend but wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Thankfully, she asked him a question from her textbook, and they spent several minutes chatting amiably as he helped her study {with only slight distractions}. His heart felt extraordinarily light as she hugged him goodbye. Marinette quickly let go, face red, and began apologizing.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hug you. It’s just a habit for me to hug my friend goodbye when she leaves, and I must have just gone based on habit. That was weird, I’m so sorry.-”

"It’s fine,” He said, cutting her off. He smiled. “Thanks for helping this Chat keep his cool.”

She rolled her eyes as he stepped onto the railing of her balcony to dash away. “If you stop by enough you might actually become a cool Chat.”

He gasped dramatically, “Princess, such cutting remarks, they hurt! I think I’m feeling faint!” He brought the back of his hand to his forehead and dropped backward off her balcony. He expected her to gasp or call his name, but when he flipped and launched himself away with his baton he looked to see a very unimpressed Marinette shaking her head as he leapt away.

He ran quickly back to his house, and slipped through the window, and quickly transformed. The quiet of his room was quickly filled with the loud grumbling of his very annoyed Kwami.

“I can’t believe you made me stay transformed in that heat just to talk to your girlfriend.” He grumbled loudly from inside his cheese cabinet. “She’s not my girlfriend!” Adrien shouted back indignantly.

“I haven’t seen her in ages and we’re friends! I’m allowed to say hi to my friends.”

“Why couldn’t you say hi to her as Adrien? Trying to impress her with your superhero persona? News flash, she’s not that impressed.”

“She was the one who waved me down.”

“And you’re the one who stayed for over an hour when you should have been studying.” Adrien knew Plagg was partially right. He should have been studying, and he’d stayed longer than he should have, but he forgot how nice it was to talk to Marinette. She was funny and kind, had excellent taste in tv, books, music, you name it.

Adrien rubbed his face and sighed. He was still too hot. There was no way he would get any real studying done until he stayed in a very cool bath for twenty minutes. He checked the time and realized he’d have to study later that night because his languages tutor would be there in 30 minutes. Adrien stripped and started filling the bath. He resolved to figure out a way to talk to Marinette as Adrien sometime soon.


The rest of his week was long and packed with schoolwork, extra lessons, photoshoots, and the ever-present Akuma attacks. Saturday morning and afternoon were filled with the normal activities, but he had somehow managed to convince his father to let him have the evening off for a sleepover at Nino’s house. He was quickly grabbing a few necessities and putting them into his bag while trying to keep Plagg from packing his whole stash of stinky cheese when he heard a knock on his door. Plagg hid, and Adrien cautiously opened his door, disappointment sitting heavily in his chest. It had to be his father changing his mind about letting him go. Adrien sighed when he saw that it was indeed his father on the other side of the door looking as nonplussed as ever.

“Yes, Father?” He asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

“Adrien, I wanted to speak to you about university.” Gabriel stepped into Adrien’s room, forcing his son to take several steps back.

“University?” He asked, suddenly confused. “What about it? I applied to all the ones you asked me to and got into the best one in Paris. What else do we need to talk about?”

“Plenty.” Gabriel pulled a packet from behind his back, handing it to Adrien. He continued into the room, only sparing a quick glance at the half-packed bag on the bed, and settling himself on the couch.

Adrien looked at the packet, noticing it was a welcome booklet for the university, as well as what looked like a movie script and several different spreadsheets and contracts. Adrien joined his father on the couch and began flipping through the university booklet. He noticed a second smaller booklet wedged in its pages. It was for the physics program. His heart dropped.

“I thought we agreed that you would be studying business so you could work for Gabriel once you graduate. I did not consent to send you to the top university in Paris to study Physics.” He spat the last word out like a swear word.

Adrien’s hands were trembling. “I never said I wanted-”

“This isn’t about what you want. It’s about what's best for you.” Gabriel was very obviously restraining himself and failing.

“Being a physicist is a good career, Father. It’s something that pays well, and I enjoy it.”

Gabriel scoffed and stood abruptly causing Adrien to jump slightly. Adrien was not afraid of his father hurting him (though he definitely should be), but after years fighting for his life, sudden movements triggered his superhero fight or flight instincts. He had to physically restrain himself from putting space between him and his pacing father. “What do you know about a good career? You have one laid at your feet, one that will not only pays you well but keep you amongst the highest circle of society! Instead, you want to debase yourself with a career where you spend your free time locked in a lab begging for the funding you need to complete useless experiments.” Gabriel took a deep breath, visibly clenching his hands and jaw. “You will be studying business. I already have several important projects you are to work on during the year, and I’ve spoken to the business professors who are willing to let you attend remotely so you can take part in them.”

“Father, please!” He sounded like a child with his voice threatening to crack, not an adult who should be allowed to make his own decisions. “I want to study physics. I know it’s not what you imagined I would do with my life, but I’m an adult. Shouldn’t I have some say in my own future?”

“Your brain hasn’t even finished forming, you're barely an adult. You’ve never lived on your own, you don’t have any real-world skills. I suggest you don’t test me on this. You wouldn’t last long on your own.”

Adrien felt anger pooling in his chest. “Are you saying that if I don’t study Business and work for your company you’d kick me out?”

Gabriel didn’t say anything but gave him an emotionless look that said it all. Adrien suddenly couldn’t take it anymore. He stormed over to his half-packed bag and shoved the remaining things he’d packed into it. He then pushed several more things from his desk and closet into the top.

“What are you doing?” His father said in a warning tone.

“Exactly what you want me to do.” He said bitterly. “Leaving.”

He slammed the door behind him as he angrily pushed past a weakly protesting Natalie. He saw Gorilla on his way out the door, but his bodyguard made no move to stop him. He half walked, half jogged about a block and a half before he realized he’d gone the wrong direction. He refused to turn around and risk his father seeing him walking past the house. He ducked into an alleyway and checked the inner pocket of his shirt for Plagg.

“Kid, I understand you’re upset. I’m about a second away from doing something Tikki will yell at me for, but you need to think this through. Where are you going to live? What are you going to do for money, how-”

“I don’t know and right now I don’t care.” he interrupted. Plagg opened his mouth to ask more questions Adrien really didn’t want to talk about, so he quickly called his transformation, and began bounding across rooftops. He made it to Nino’s apartment building in less than half the time he would have if he had been driven by his bodyguard, so he spent several minutes pacing a few buildings over working on the grounding exercises he’d looked up on the internet. Once he was calm enough to thoroughly suppress any negative emotion he was feeling, Adrien jumped down into an alley and called off his transformation, and began running before Plagg could start talking again.

“AAADRIEEEN! Get back here!” he heard his kwami call after him.
“No!!” He pushed the buzzer several times, hoping that Nino was close by. He was buzzed in almost immediately and was once again on the move, skipping the elevator and running up the stairs.

“Adrien, I’m just as fast as you! I can fly. The counselor lady at school would be very upset that you’re avoiding your problem instead of talking it out.”

Adrien was slightly out of breath but was almost there. “I don’t have to outrun you. I just have to get to Nino’s. Also, I doubt I’ll be seeing her for a while after today, so she can’t be upset with me.”

He burst into the hallway and sprinted the last few feet to Nino’s door. Thankfully it was unlocked, and Plagg was no longer able to try to make Adrien think about the fight he’d just had with his father. In all honesty, Plagg was right. Adrien knew it, and it was especially concerning that Plagg actually wanted to talk about it. Plagg wasn’t exactly a big fan of talking through Adrien’s problems, so when he made the effort to do so it was always a really big deal.

Which was exactly why Adrien did not want to talk about it.

Adrien was glad to be back in Nino’s small apartment. It was small, cramped, filled with clutter, but clean and warm. He saw Chris and Nino Playing a game of Mario Kart on the couch, but was much more interested in Mrs. Lahiffe taking her signature Moroccan Chicken pie out of the oven.

“Hey, dude! You’re here early! I thought for sure the old dungeon master would keep you home for a lot longer.”

Adrien grimaced slightly at the mention of his father, but quickly schooled his features to a morse pleasant expression. “Who says I didn’t just sneak out? You know you can’t keep me pinned for very long!”

“Well, we’re very glad you could come, dear.” Mrs. Lahiffe said as Nino hooted at the game from the living room. “Would you mind helping me set the table? You know my crazy boys won’t help until their race finishes.”

“Of course!”

She handed him plates, and silverware, and brought the cups over to the small table that had been shoehorned into the small space between the living room and kitchen. He set four places on the table as Mrs. Lahiffe began bringing over dishes overflowing with food. This was his favorite part of staying at Nino’s. Hearing Nino and Chris bickering in the background while their mother lovingly set out dinner, humming a song he had only heard her sing. He felt like a part of their family, like he was wanted, rather than a guest actor acting on a stage too large to feel like home. He had to fight the moisture in his eyes, trying very hard not to think about the spectacle he’d left his house in.

He felt a soft hand on his elbow and saw the woman he considered a second mother looking at him with a soft warmth that made his heart constrict. He smiled tightly at her, and she pulled him in for a tight hug. He had to bend slightly to hug her back. He hadn’t had to do that the first time he met her, but he’d grown so much in the last year that he was taller than all of the women in his life. He wondered what it would be like to hug his own mother now that he was this tall. Would it feel foreign, like hugging a stranger? Or would he be able to sink into her arms and feel like the naive and unburdened child he’d been?

Adrien quickly pushed that thought away and hugged Mrs. Lahiffe tighter.

“Hey, quit trying to steal my mom away, dude!” Chris pushed lightly on Adrien’s hip. Adrien let go and wiggled his eyebrows at the boy to hide his internal distress.

“Too late! She’s my mom now! Maybe if you’d appreciated her more it wouldn’t have been so easy.” He joked, picking Chris up and slinging him over his shoulder. Chris squealed, squirming to get out of Adrien’s grasp.

“Oh, no Chris! You’ve done it now!” Nino laughed as he sat at the table. “Adrien’s going to put you outside in the dumpster and steal your room!”

“No!”

“Mrs. Lahiffe, I’m just going to take the trash out to the chute. I’ll be right back!” Adrien joked, adjusting his grip on the very squirmy 10-year-old as he walked toward the front door.

“That’s fine, dear. Just make sure you wash your hands after!” She called after him.

“NOOO!!!” Chris cried. It was getting harder to keep him in place because Adrien was laughing too hard. He made it to the door before Chris managed to slip out of his grasp. When Adrien took one of his hands off the back of Chris’ knees to turn the knob, Chris bucked and crashed to the floor and landed on his butt. He quickly scrambled up before Adrien could grab him again, and hid behind his mother. He was glaring at Adrien from behind his mother as he rubbed his sore bottom.

“Adrien, that’s disgraceful! You dropped the garbage all over the floor.” Nino said, fighting a smile as he dished food onto his plate.

“Darn it! I guess I’ll have to do it after dinner then.” He replied, sitting down at the table. He reached for the spoon for the vegetables when Mrs. Lahiffe slapped his and Nino’s hands away.

“Wash your hands! I know for a fact that Chris’ clothes are not clean, and those controllers are filthy!” All three boys quickly jumped to wash their hands. After all hands had been washed, everyone tucked into dinner. They all chatted happily about school and work. Adrien ate way too much and laughed hard enough to make his sides hurt, but he found himself a little sad as they cleaned up dinner. Mrs. Lahiffe asked Nino what the boys were planning on doing for the rest of the evening.

“Well, I was talking to Clara this morning, and she said that Alexandre was having an end-of-year party at his house tonight. Would it be alright if we went?”

“What kind of party?” She asked as she handed him a clean plate to dry. “Just a small one at his house to celebrate graduation. She said only a handful of people are going to be there.”

“Why didn’t I hear about this party?” Adrien asked as he put the leftovers into dishes. “Because it’s small and everyone knew if your old man caught wind of it he wouldn’t let you leave the house at all this weekend.”

Adrien scowled but nodded in understanding, Turing away so they couldn’t see his face.

“How late and how drunk are you planning to come home tonight?” Mrs. Lahiffe said sternly.

“That depends, how late are you planning on staying up to wait for us?” Nino said, walking a fine line between cheeky and cautious.

His mother put the dishes she was washing back in the sink and pointed a long soapy finger at Nino. Nino attempted a smile but it came out too wide and forced to be comforting like he probably wanted. “I am your mother. I will stay up the whole night if I have to to make sure my boys are safe. So how late and how drunk are you planning on coming home.”

“Before two and not very?” Nino said nervously.

“If it helps, ma’am, I don’t drink at parties so I’ll make sure he comes back safe,” Adrien interjected.

Mrs. Lahiffe's expression softened, and she stepped forward and placed a still wet hand on his cheek.

“You are a good boy, Adrien. You deserve to have fun.” She sighed and returned to washing dishes. “I suppose you are both adults now, and I can’t really stop you.”

Nino cheered.

“But you must listen to Adrien! If he tells you to leave or to stop, you do it!”

“You’re making him my babysitter?”

“Yes! Because you are a baby! My baby! And he is too responsible for his age. So make sure he has fun! But not too much fun. He is my baby too.”

Oh, great. Here comes the waterworks. He thought as he tried to discreetly wipe the excess moisture from his eyes.

Nino let out a loud whoop and began running to his room to gather his things. His mother quickly called him back to help finish cleaning up dinner.


The party was in full swing by the time they got there. Adrien stuck close to Nino’s side as he walked from one group to another. He had plenty of friends at the party but always felt more comfortable with his best friend by his side. It was not a “small” party. There were several dozen people Adrien had never met hanging around the house and small shared courtyard. He knew most of them were looking at him and most likely recognized him, how could they not when his face was plastered all over Paris. He wished he’d brought a disguise, though nothing short of actual magic would probably help him. Plenty of very lovely girls and a few boys tried to come to talk to him if they thought he wasn’t engaged in the conversion of whatever group he was in.

The conversation went one of two ways every time. They would come up, and say, “Hey, sorry! Do I know you?” or “Hey, pretty boy. Do you want to ditch this party and talk somewhere else?”

He would always respond with a polite, “No, I don’t think so.”

Then they would likely try to introduce themselves, and the more forward would say something wholly inappropriate, and the more sly ones would slip a little innuendo into the conversation. He would get wildly uncomfortable and would find an excuse to tap Nino into the conversation. Nino was a godsend in these conversations. With his years of DJing, he had learned the art of smooth-talking. He still used the word dude too often, but it usually worked in his favor.

The only problem with passing fawning girls off on Nino is that occasionally he would really hit it off with one of them. They would laugh and talk about things that Adrien had never been able to get them to talk about. It made him a little sad to see them be so open and interesting with someone else. They were often too busy trying to make a good impression on someone famous to be a real person.

It happened after about an hour this time, pretty quick for a party of this size, but Nino was a little drunker and a lot more smooth than usual. He left to go get a drink with his new friend Daliah and Adrien was left standing against a wall chatting with a couple people from one of his science classes. They were talking about the programs they’d been accepted into, some getting coveted spots in the best schools in Europe. As they all talked more about their plans for life after graduation his gut twisted more and more. It got to the point where he felt like he might throw up, so he excused himself. He wandered around the slightly too dark living room looking for Nino amongst the chatting groups, and the few couples making out in corners. He was about to move to the Kitchen when a loud commotion from the front door drew his eye.

“NETTIE! You made it!” Adrien saw the host, Alexandre pulling a dark hair girl in for a tight hug. He smiled wistfully. He then noticed the brunette standing behind the first girl and felt like shouting himself.

“ALYA!” he began pushing toward her as she began looking around for the source of her name. Her face lit up when she spotted him.

“Marinette! Look, it's our second favorite blonde!” She grabbed the shoulder of the girl currently being crushed by Alexandre, prying her away to reveal Marinette. Adrien quickly scooped both girls into a hug.

“I can’t believe you’re both here! It's been forever!”

“I know! I’ve missed everyone!” Alya said excitedly as they untangled themselves from their group hug. “It’s been ages since I’ve been able to make it over here for anything other than an Akuma attack, and that’s even pretty rare these days.”

Marinette rolled her eyes at Alya’s pout and shoved her face playfully. “Yeah, and it’s been ages since I’ve had a panic attack about you getting hurt in the process.”

“Adrien! Tell Marinette that I do important work for Paris by reporting on the action and that I’m always fine!”

“Well….” He thought back to all the times Alya got in the way, or purposefully put herself in danger (without the fox miraculous, of course), “Seeing as I'm only your SECOND favorite blonde, I’m going to have to side with Marinette on this one.”

“Haha! Suck it, Alya.” Marinette stuck her tongue out, and pulled Adrien in for another side hug, “It’s two against one, you have to stay safe and out of the way, that’s the rule.” Adrien laughed at the pure betrayal on Alya’s face. He squeezed her closer to his side briefly before she let him go.

“Wait, Nettie. You know Adrien?” Alexandre chimed in. Adrien was so happy to see his old friends he honestly forgot Alexandre was there, and now he’d butted into the conversation. Adrien kind of wanted to just push him away. Was it so wrong that he wanted to talk to two of his best friends for a few minutes without interruptions?

“Yeah, I do. We’ve been friends for a while now. We actually worked on that movie project I was telling you about the other day when you came to the bakery.” Marinette quickly explained. “But I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“Yeah. He abandoned us to the wolves, and now we only get to see his face on billboards.” Alya had her arm wrapped around his waist and was hugging him affectionately. He returned the gesture and laid his cheek against Alya’s head. He missed how affectionate Alya could be and was happy to bask in it.

“Uh, if I recall correctly you’re the one who moved, so if anyone was abandoned it was ME.” He said.

“NOPE. I was abandoned. You should have used your influence to get my parents not to move across town. Or snuck me into your giant house to be your live-in maid so I could stay.” She responded.

“Apologies. I can’t believe I was so selfish.”

“Oh, no. How will she ever forgive you?” Marinette said dramatically, their head back and resting the back of her hand on her forehead. Alexandre took the opportunity of Marinette stepping away from Adrien to wrap his arm around the small of Marinette's back. This move was annoying, a little possessive, and Adrien was bothered by it for some reason. Probably just because it was a weird thing to do in a group setting.

“I don’t think I can,” Alya replied, mimicking Marinette’s impression of a swooning old-fashioned Hollywood actress, and taking it a step further by pretending to fall into Marinette’s arms. “I’m too weak from this betrayal for forgiveness.”

“If the lady is weak, then perhaps the fine snacks and drinks provided for party goers will give her strength to consider it? You must be famished from your long train ride.” Alya pretended to think about it for a moment, then jumped up from Marinette’s arms.

“Apology accepted, on the condition, there are some good snacks and decent drinks.”

Adrien laughed and turned to Marinette. “Do you want me to bring you back anything? Or would you also like an escort to the snacks?”

“I can grab her something. Don’t worry about it.” Alexandre interjected before Marinette had a chance to respond.

“No, it’s okay Alexandre. I’ll go with them. I thought I saw Kai going into the kitchen and I needed to talk to her about something for my maman anyway. Besides, it looks like you guys were about to leave.” Marinette smiled kindly at him as she stepped away. She looked pointedly at the small group of boys waiting by the door, looking at him expectantly. He looked slightly put out by this development but tried to play it cool.

“Oh, that’s cool. We were just going to get some ice cream from the store and maybe get a movie to watch later when the party dies down before the stores close for the night.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “That sounds wonderful!” Marinette said happily.

“Oh, pick a good one! Nothing too sappy!” Alya said as she began pulling at Marinette and Adrien's arm. Alexandre waved pitifully as they backed away. Adrien almost found the compassion to feel a little sorry for the dude. He’d seen it plenty of times with other classmates. Marinette was an easy girl to like, with her big blue eyes, and dark black hair that contrasted beautifully against her porcelain skin. If Ladybug hadn’t come crashing into his life, Adrien would probably have been one of the dozen smitten teens vying for her attention in College. He shook those thoughts from his head and focused on his two friends as they chatted on their way to the kitchen and Alya immediately dived into the snacks and poured herself a drink.

“Do you want anything, Marinette?” Adrien asked.

“Hmm. I’m a little thirsty, do they have some juice?”

“They have cranberry juice. I could make you a vodka Cranberry. I'm very good at those.” Alya said, coyly.

“It’s literally the easiest cocktail, of course, you can make it. But no. I don’t want to drink tonight. Not with Alexandre here.” The last part of her sentence caught his attention and made his gut twist with sudden anxiety. “Why not with Alexandre here? Do you think he’d try something?” Alya asked. Adrien edged closer and kept an eye out. He knew Alexandre wasn’t there anymore, but he suddenly;y felt extremely wary.

“No, nothing like that. He’s always been a perfect gentleman. He just likes to talk a lot, and there are a lot of things I would rather he not talk to me about right now, and I don’t know if being drunk will help with that.”

“It might. You don’t know until you try! Come on! I've never seen Drunk Mari, and I just know she would be so much fun!”

“I'm sure she would be, not tonight though.”

“I think I saw some lemon soda in the fridge earlier. Let me get some for you.” Adrien said, stepping between the two girls.

“Thank you, Adrien. What a good friend, listening to what I want.” Marinette said pointedly.

Alya grumbled something into her drink that Adrien couldn’t quite catch. After all three of them had gotten a drink and Alya had grabbed a plastic bowl and filled it with several types of snacks they made their way to the back yard and sat on a few free lawn chairs in the back. They all chatted happily about school and exams. Alya was in the middle of telling a very interesting story about someone getting locked in the janitor's closet while trying to play a prank on the principal when Nino finally made a reappearance. He was walking arm in arm with the girl he had saved Adrien from earlier. They were walking towards a dark corner, and she was being very handsy. The sight made Alya stop her story mid-word.

Marinette quickly jumped up and tried to pull Alya up from her chair. “Hey, how about we go inside for a bit? Maybe I’ll let you make me that Vodka Cranberry after all.”

Alya tried to wave her away, “It’s fine. I’m happy for him. He was the one who didn’t want to break up in the first place, I'm glad he found someone.” She turned to Adrien, “How long have they been dating? She seems lovely, I hope she’s nice because he's a great dude and he deserves someone nice, and- yeah.”

“Well… I don't really know, I’m sure she's nice, but they aren't dating. They met like two hours ago.”

“Oh,” was all Alya managed to say to that. She was staring intently at her drink and biting her lip. She took several deep breaths. “I'm going to go refill my drink. Do you guys want anything?”

“Alya, we can all go inside. We don't have to sit out here anymore if you are upset. I can even take you back to the bakery if you want.” “Seriously Marinette. I’m fine. I just need a minute to breathe. I'll be back in just a few minutes.” Marinette backed away, still looking skeptical as Alya went back into the house.

She huffed and sat back in her chair, a crease forming between her eyebrows.

“Sick of the whole break-up drama, too?” He asked “Ugh, yes! She’s being weird about it, and won’t tell me what happened.”

“Nino’s the exact same way! I know he misses her like crazy, not that you’d notice after that display. He gives me some lame excuse why they broke up, looks into the distance like a dramatic soap opera character, and then changes the subject.”

“Right? She is seriously being weird about it. ‘It’s just too far, We’re too different, It’s what we both wanted, I don’t need to date the same dude my whole life, I need to branch out.’ Blah, blah blah blah. It’s all a bunch of bull if you ask me.”

They both sighed and sunk deeper into their chairs. Adrien kept sending mildly concerned glances to where he could see Nino and the girl standing very close together, and back toward the door hoping Alya wouldn’t come back quickly.

“She still loves him, you know,” Marinette said pensively.

“He definitely feels the same.”

“Ugh, I just wish they would get over whatever their problem is and get back together, they would be so much happier. I would be so much happier not having to hear about every little thing Nino used to do when they were dating.”

“Cheers to that.” He extended his cup and Marinette lightly bumped the cups against his. He sighed heavily. “They just need a little push. It doesn’t help that they never run into each other in settings where they have to interact. Then maybe they’ll get talking and realize that they were perfect for each other.”

Marinette froze and looked at him with a hint of mania sparkling in her big blue eyes. “Well, maybe a little push can be arranged.” Her smile was wide, devious, and a little frightening.

“What do you mean?”

She leaned forward practically buzzing with excitement. “I’m her best friend, and you're his best friend, so we have a lot of influence on where they go and when. Alya is always at the bakery, and she’s going to be over at my house basically the whole summer. My parents have even made up the spare room for her because she has an internship at Nadia Chamack’s news station and needs to be nearby for work. Nino will probably be so excited that you are able to hang out with him. He'd got just about anywhere. We can orchestrate a run-in whenever we need to.” She grabbed his arm and shook him excitedly. “THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES!!!”

He laughed at her manic excitement. “Okay! Okay. We can try, I would certainly love to get them back together,” He stopped. The argument he’d just had with his father rang painfully through his ears, causing him to slump. “But who says I’ll be available?”

“Pfft. We’ll work around any crazy schedule you have.” She waved him off. “Plus, you’re an adult. You have money, you can get a job. You don’t have to do everything your father wants you to. He just thinks he has leverage on you because he always has. We can figure something out.”

“Yeah, but he’s my father and despite his faults, I do love him. I don’t want to drive a wedge between us more than there already is. Although, That ship might have already sailed anyway.”

There was a moment of tense silence where Adrien was very pointedly NOT looking at Marinette and regretting saying too much about the very thing he did not want to talk about right now. He could feel Marinette’s intense gaze on him, and he wondered when she got so bold around him. It felt like she could see right through him. All she had to do was poke and the facade he had built out of balsa wood, denial, and bits of chewed-up ego would crumble, revealing the sad 13-year-old who missed his mama underneath. He honestly wasn’t sure if he could handle Marinette seeing him like that, so he reinforced the walls with pure avoidance.

Unfortunately for him, Marinette could tell he was hiding something. She lifted up her chair and placed it so she was facing him, and gently took one of his hands from their death grip around his cup.

“Did you two have a fight? Did he do something?”

Adrien’s throat was tight, easily blocking his automatic denial from slipping between his lips.

“Adrien, look. You don’t have to tell me.I know I haven’t been around all that often, so I don’t know what’s been going on, but it might help to talk about it with someone else.”

He could feel Plagg patting him encouragingly through the pocket of his shirt. He swallowed, and took a couple deep breaths, focusing on Marinette’s hand massaging his palm while she waited.

“Ye-” his voice was dry and cracked. He hated how broken that one syllable sounded to his ears. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. We fought before I left for Nino’s.”

“About?” She continued to rub his palm and the repetitive motion soothed his aching heart.

“School. He wants me to go for business and work for the company the whole time, and I-” He suddenly felt silly, but the burning in his eyes made it very hard for him to see anything. He quickly rubbed his eyes.

“And you don’t.” Marinette finished for him. He simply nodded. “What do you want to do? I know you always really like science, maybe chemistry or physics. Something like that?”

The surprise at her remembering what kind of classes he liked shocked the building tears back just enough for him to see her clear blue eyes piercing into him. She looked so concerned and so open and kind it sent a stab through his heart.

“Yeah, Physics. Apparently, that’s not good enough for an Agrest though. I’m going to spend the rest of my life ‘begging for funding’ from people who are actually ‘successful’ like a vagabond, according to my father.”

“That’s bullshit.”

He laughed at her blunt phrasing.

“No seriously, Adrien, that’s a bunch of shit, and he knows it. First of all, plenty of people make lots of money with physics degrees, and they don’t necessarily have to work at universities. Second, you probably have enough money to still be in upper society no matter what you do for work, and having an advanced degree in something other than a business makes you seem fancier, like with that American actress with a Ph.D. in Neurobiology. And third!” She punctuated her sentence by shoving her first three fingers into his face, finally breaking him fully from his gloom. “You could probably do both. You’re smart enough, and,” She leaned in conspiratorially, “Business degrees aren’t that hard. My dad went back to school part-time when I was a kid to help learn how to run the bakery better, and he said he already knew most of the things they taught.”

He found himself smiling at the mischievous twinkle in her eye. “You seem to have thought about this a lot, how about you go talk to my father for me?”

“Don’t ask me like you think I won’t. Who was the one who got him to let you go to New York? That’s right, me, so tread lightly my friend.”

“That was really cool. It’s too bad Hawkmoth ruined it,” he sighed.

“Yeah, screw him. And screw your father.” Hearing her say that sent an uncomfortable prickling sensation across his skin. He tried not to let it show, but his face must have given him away. She looked away guiltily. “Sorry, that was rude. True, but rude, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, It’s okay. It probably looks really bad to other people, but I know he’s just trying to do what’s best for me.”’

“Yeah, but what he thinks is best for you might not be right. You should be happy. You deserve to be happy. Also, you deserve to have enough time to help me manipulate our friends into getting back together for our own sanity. It’s for the greater good.”

“Hmm, I don’t know if he’ll consider helping Nino and Alya get their act together a part of the greater good. I could be doing fragrance commercials instead, and that is invaluable.” He joked.

“He will understand, he has to!!! This is a matter of life or death!” She draped herself dramatically across his lap, almost knocking his drink out of his hand.

“I doubt anyone will die if we can’t get our friends back together.” He said sarcastically, trying fruitlessly not to giggle at her theatrics.

“Oh, someone will die for sure.” She looked up at him from his lap with an intense gaze filled with more weight than he felt the situation called for. “If I have to hear how good of a kisser Nino was in that same sad defeated tone one more time, either Alya will die at my hand, or I will.”

Adrien let out a startled snort of laughter, which made Marinette start laughing.

“Oh my God, Nino is the exact same! ‘Adrien, dude. She was the perfect girl, and her butt was out of this world.’” He said, using his best Nino impression.

Marinette let out the loudest and least dignified snort he’d ever heard, which only added fuel to Adrien’s giggles. They kept exchanging mocking impressions of their best friends until they were both laughing so hard Marinette toppled off her chair, pulling Adrien with her onto the cool grass. Every time one of them started to catch their breath the other would look at them and their laughter would start all over again.

It got so bad that Nino and his new ‘friend’ came over to see what was the matter with them. Which of course made it that much worse.

“Are you guys okay over here?” he asked in concern. Adrien just pointed at Nino and wheezed, tears leaking from the corner of his eyes. “Seriously, what happened?”

Marinette let out a pained giggle and grabbed Adrien’s arm, and just whispered, “Oh, his- but his lips!”

Adrien choked on his own laughter and grabbed the shoulders of Marinette’s shirt and shook her in punishment for making it worse.

“N- No! No m- No more! I- I can’t” He managed to sputter out through laughs.

“It hurts!” Marinette cried back.

Nino looked so confused, and the girl he’d been talking with looked absolutely baffled, and a little disappointed at the crack in the perfect Adrien Agreste facade. There were others there, several curious party-goers had gathered wondering what the commotion was. Adrien was definitely starting to feel self-conscious but was trapped in a cage of his own giggles. It really wasn’t that funny, but the combination of being tired, tense, and weirdly free for a few minutes was like lighter fluid on a campfire. He couldn’t stop even as he hid his face into Marinette’s shoulder to prevent anyone filming him having a giggle fit at some random party. The sensible part of his brain reminded him it wouldn’t be good to get caught at the party, even if he had threatened to move out just a few hours earlier.

“Alya?” Nino exclaimed from somewhere over his head.

He managed to compose himself just enough to start filling his lungs. He might even be able to speak a complete sentence if he could just forget about Marinette’s face for one sec- and he was back to square one after Marinette made the most ridiculous strangled cackle he’d ever heard.

“Okay, everyone move on. You standing here is not helping,” Alya snapped at the gathered crowd, her militant tone effectively pushing them back. “And you! Delete that! I doubt your five followers will be interested in two weirdoes having a laugh. Back off!”

He soon felt Alya’s firm hand pulling him away from Marinette and rolling him to his other side. She pushed their heads apart and sat between them so they couldn’t look at one another and waited for them to calm down. Adrien forced himself to take long deep breaths. His body was starting to relax. This was probably the hardest he’d laughed since the time Ladybug had tripped off a building while they were on patrol and somehow ended up tangled in her yoyo above a large group of tourists.

“Care to share the joke?” Alya asked when Marinette and Adrien were calm enough to speak.

“Nope,” Marinette said.

“You probably wouldn’t find it funny anyway,” Adrien added.

“I don’t know, I think we would all like to hear it.” Nino cut in, his new friend had left and it was just the four of them- Adrien, Marinette, and Alya all on the ground and Nino towering over them with a stern look on his face. Adrien chuckled at his best friend as he pulled him unceremoniously to the ground.

“Hey!” He protested, but sat cross-legged in a position that looked like he was facing Adrien, but would give him a peripheral view of Alya.

“To be fair, it wasn’t all that funny. I’m just super tired so everything is funny.” Marinette assured their two best friends.

“Ah, the famous late-night Dupain-Cheng Giggles. That explains you, but what about Agreste over here. He’s usually so composed. What did you do to him? Spike his drink perhaps?” Alya accused Marinette jokingly.

Adrien noticed Nino’s eyes flicking towards Alya occasionally as they spoke, like he wanted to see her but didn’t want to get caught staring. “I’m just as tired as she is apparently. I’ve been going non-stop all week. I’m too weak to fight the influence of the late-night Dupain-Cheng Giggles.”

“We should probably get going if you’re so tired.” Nino attempted to stand but was quickly pulled back down by three sets of forceful but friendly hands.

“No!” Adrien shouted. “I’m having a good time, and I haven’t seen Alya or Marinette in ages. We’re going to hang out like old times.” He then leveled Nino with a pointed stare, daring him to say something. “Unless you have a problem with that?”

“No, no, no! That’s fine.” He said quickly. “I just don’t want you to be dead tomorrow.”

“Uh-huh,” Adrien said, unconvinced.

They ended up talking for several hours, with only a few awkward pauses between Alya and Nino, but Marinette more than made up for it. She had grown into her confidence over the last year, that was for sure. She had always been a little weird at times In college, but now she was vibrant and funny. She was still occasionally weird, but they seemed more purposeful now like she was settling into herself as a person. He grinned the whole night, even as he herded a sort of sober Nino home. As they waited for the final train of the night Adrien heard Nino sigh. Nino’s face was illuminated by the light of his phone as he stared at a picture Alya insisted they all take.

Adrien rolled his eyes and sent Marinette a single text message that simply read:

“Project DJWifi is a go.”