»Okay, girl, breath. Inhale. Exhale. Like we practiced.«
Marinette loved her best friend, but there were times when she felt that Alya was patronizing her. Well, she probably had every right to do so, and at least tried to sound not to amused at the sight of Marinette hyperventilating (again) at the slightest glimpse of the latest Gabriel marketing campaign. Larger than life-sized photos of Adrien at every Parisian street corner and in front of the school were so not good for her heart. Even more so, when the model was looking directly into the camera, only the slightest smirk on his oh so kissable lips- this time she remembered to exhale, while taking a step forward. What she didn't remembered, was that she had stood on the topmost step of the schools stairs, facing downwards.
Alya, bless her heart – and her reflexes – got hold of Marinettes backpack and pulled her friend back up.
»One day, girl… one day, you're gonna break your neck, staring at Buttercup there.« Alya nodded towards Adrien, who, accompanied by Nino, already had reached his fathers sedan.
»At least I'd die happy«, Marinette said dreamily and managed to overcome the stairs-obstacle without further incident.
And then Adrien turned around, presumably to wave Nino goodbye, but he also saw her and Alya, and smiled. »See you tomorrow!«
»Uh, you- tomo- see, ehehe-« Blush and stutter hit her instantly, and while Marinette tried to figure out how to say a grammatically correct sentence, someone forcibly knocked into her from her right, sending her into Alya, who tumbled upon the sudden impact.
»Hey!«, exclaimed the brunette angrily, and for a second, Marinette though it had been directed at her, but then she realized that Alya was shouting at the dark clothed man who kept running, a spot of pink at his side.
Marinette got back to her feet, and tried straitening out her jacket, when she realized with the coldest feeling of doom, that her purse was missing. But she wasn't the only one to make the connection, because in front of the open car door Adrien suddenly bellowed »THIEF!« and sprinted after the ominous guy.
She didn't even thought about it for a millisecond. Marinette ran as if her life depended on it. And it did! At least her secret life, because Tikki – poor, tired-after-a-pre-school-Akuma-fight Tikki – had been asleep in her purse!
Adrien was furious. As a superhero he made sure that Paris was a safe place for all it's residents, fighting day and night, whatever akumatized victim Hawk Moth decided to pull out of his hat – and still there were some ungrateful non-super villians, who'd make his life even more difficult. And the nerve of that guy! Stealing in broad daylight, in front of a school, from his friend Marinette!
»Freeze!«, he yelled, as he managed to come closer to the still fleeing thief. Startled that his pursuer had already caught up to him, the thief tripped, which gave Adrien the opportunity to jump right at him. Together they fell onto the stone pavement, but without his suit and the associated powers Adrien had no chance against a full grown man. The guy wrestled himself loose and made a run for it. But at least, Adrien proudly realized, he got Marinettes purse back. The pink pouch lay sprung open, but not spilled on the sidewalk, and he quickly gathered it up.
And then he blinked. Twice. But it didn't change what he was seeing. Inside Marinettes purse a sleepy, rattled, red Kwami opened up her eyes, wider and wider and even wider, when the realization hit, that the person starring down at her in disbelieve was definitively not her owner.
»Tikki?«, Adrien coughed nearly inaudible, remembering her name because she was Ladybugs kwami, and he prided himself on knowing everything about his lady but her civilian identity. Also that time where they had switched kwamis and-
»Adrien!« A concerned shriek behind himself made Adrien all but jump in panic. He closed the purse at once, shutting Tikki inside, still trying to piece together what all of this meant.
Marinette breathlessly came to a skidding halt beside him, and he watched her face, as first the instant relieve washed over her, that her purse was safe. Immediately after, her expression changed to what he could only assume was barely concealed horror. »Did you took a lake inside?«, she jumbled her words and letters as she often did, grabbing the purse from his limp fingers. »T-take a look inside, I meant.«
»Uhm, I- no«, Adrien said, and avoided her piercing gaze. »It was closed. So, uh, … all your belongings must be still inside.«
»G-good. I- thank you, Adrien, that was-«
»Aaaaadrikins!« Marinette stumble backwards a few steps when Chloé pushed her aside, in her tow Sabrina, Alya and some other classmates who did see the whole ordeal. »Adrikins, are you alright? Oh my god, playing the hero – and for what? Dupain-Cheng's utterly ugly purse!«
The others were talking all at once, and that only contributed to Adrien not understanding another word they said.
Before he had even time to open his mouth, much less say anything to reassure his friends of his well being and begging them to slow down, Nathalie appeared by his side, behind her on the curb the sedan with an agitated gorilla at the wheel. »Adrien, did you hurt yourself? Do we need to take you to the hospital?«
Finally he got a chance to speak: »What? No, I- i'm fine. Not even a scratch, really.« His eyes searched for Marinette, but his friend had taken even more steps away from him, avoiding everyone and frantically clutching her purse. Her face was still flustered and she looked apologetically at him. He could read the faintest »Thank you, Adrien«, from her lips, but then Natalie directed him towards the waiting car. He felt almost dazed, and couldn't focus much on anything Natalie said to him in the car, because the second he sat down, one and only one thought filled his head.
Why had Tikki been in Marinettes purse?
»Oh my god, that was so embarrassing!« Marinette dove face first into the pillows on her bed, and her next words were barely understandable. »Being mugged and then Adrien stops the thief and I can't even talk straight sentences around him. I didn't even thanked him properly!«
»You said 'Thank you'«, Tikki cautiously reminded her owner. She pondered with herself about telling Marinette what had happened. But how could she do that, when that would lead with near certainty to the conclusion that Adrien was Chat Noir? She was in no position to reveal that identity, nor did she want to. Her best bet would probably be, to wait till the next school day and talk with Plagg about what Adrien had said and what he planned to do about it. But right now there was nothing more for her to do than comfort Marinette and maybe snack on a few macaroons to regain her full strength. After all, the next Akuma attack was not a question of 'if', but 'when'.
Adrien tried really hard to not slam the door behind him, when he finally was able to get away from a concerned Natalie, and into the solitude of his room.
»Plagg«, he said at once, holding his outer shirt open so that his black kwami friend could fly out.
»Boy, that tackle hurt! I expect extra cheese tonight!« Plagg floated in the rough direction of the Camembert-cabinet, yawning en route. He didn't even stopped when Adrien spoke up again with serious tone in his voice.
»Yeah, yeah… Plagg, I lied.«
»Lied about what?« A gasp, and Plagg suddenly spun around. »Not about the cheese, did you?!«
Adrien glared at him. How was it that Plagg's world revolved purely around cheese?!
»I lied to Marinette.«
Plagg relaxed visibly. »I don't understand. You tackled the thief, rescued her purse- you gave it back to her, didn't ya?«, he said dismissively.
»Of course I gave it back. I lied about not taking a look inside.«
»Oh, pfff«, Plagg shrugged, and again focused on the ever promising smell of Camembert that guided him to his feast. He had gulped down two slices already, when Adrien spoke again. Calmly but seriously still.
»Could you remind me again«, Adrien said slyly, »what are the kwami-rules regarding 'talking about each others owners'?« He closely and with raising agitation watched Plagg stiffen.
»We, uh, can't?«
»No, no, you said you can't tell me, who another Miraculous holder is. But… can you confirm if my assumption is correct?«
»Only if I know who it is and I'm certain that you also do, like when the both of us see the both of them together...« Plagg tried his best to look like he was completely occupied with his cheese.
Adrien could easily tell that Plagg was trying to evade him, but he needed to know if there was the slightest possibility that his friend could verify Marinettes identity.
»What do you think, Plagg, could I have seen inside Marinettes purse?«
If there had been any doubt in Adriens mind before, it was now dissolved, as Plagg reacted unmistakably guilty: he dropped a slice of Camembert.
»Whatever do you mean?«, the Kwami said with an unusually high pitched voice, desperately avoiding eye contact with his owner.
»Can you come up with even one explanation for Tikki's presence in Marinettes purse, that is not 'Marinette is Ladybug'?«
There was a moment of silence, but then Plagg sighted heavily.
»No, I can't. Tikki is the inventive one… Destruction on the other hand… But please tell her I tried to dissuade you from finding out. I'm going to get the lecture of my lifetime!«
All tension relieved itself from Adrien, and he slumped down into the soft cushions of his sofa.
»Marinette is Ladybug«, he said. »Ladybug is Marinette. How could I have not seen that?!«
»The Miraculous' deceiving magic is pretty strong«, Plagg offered as explanation.
»Pretty strong?«, Adrien echoed incredulously. »It's the same eye color, the same hair color – even the same hairstyle! It's like the magic makes me blind!« He stared through the huge windows, seeing nothing. In his mind he tried to pinpoint the subtle differences between Marinettes face and Ladybugs.
»So...«, Plagg broke into the silence, as he examined one particular wheel of Camembert that needed to age another week or so. »What are you going to do with this information?«
»What do you mean?« Adrien turned around and was met with a precarious looking Plagg.
»Well, kid, I know about your crush on Ladybug. Now you know who Ladybug is.«
»But she turned me down numerous times! And besides: it's Marinette! You know she's my friend.«
»Ladybug only ever turned down Chat Noir… Just sayin'«, Plagg mocked his owner. His reward was a slight blush on Adriens cheeks.
»I'll think about that«, he said quietly and lay flat down on the couch.
Marinette was already a very good friend to him. But what would it mean to him, knowing that she was Ladybug? Would that change his attitude towards her? His intention? Why did he fell in love with Ladybug in the first place, but not with Marinette?
Thinking those thoughts further, Adrien came to the conclusion that Marinette and Ladybug were different. At least around him- no. Wait. Ladybug, he remembered, behaved exactly the same as Marinette around Adrien-him. And both of them behaved the same around Chat Noir-him. So the difference in their- her behavior was a direct result of whom she was talking to? Adrien tried to make sense to this, but his own thoughts were confusing him. Bits and pieces of memory kept coming to him. Marinette at their first encounter, were she had thought that the chewing gum on her seat was his doing. She'd been furious and… more like Ladybug. Sure, she was a major klutz, but hadn't Ladybug been like that too, in their first fight against Stoneheart? And then there was her behavior around other people. Not shy, not a blabbering mess, but confident, standing up for people, helpful and… much like Ladybug.
Adrien sighted loudly. He was going in circles. He kept comparing Marinette and Ladybug, but he shouldn't… but … they were the same person after all!
He needed a different approach. He was in love with Ladybug. If she'd ask him out, he would say 'yes' in a heartbeat. Knowing Marinette was Ladybug… he still couldn't see himself with her. Not that Marinette wasn't nice and kind and pretty… but she was so incredibly shy around him, and that simply wasn't what he'd anticipated from a girlfriend. The Marinette she was with Chat Noir on the other hand… Adrien felt a smile tug at his lips, and a warm feeling in his chest. That Marinette, he would go for. But was that even fair? To only like her when she behaved a certain way? Adrien cringed at the though that he could be so shallow. But then again: The real Marinette was the girl Chat Noir talked to. The bubbly, perky girl that she was when she talked to her friends, that rolled her eyes at Chat's puns, and the glimpses he as Adrien had caught of her, when they escaped his fan-mob and hid in the cinema. So if this was the real Marinette, and she was only shy around Adrien-him… what did that even mean?
»Plagg? Why do you think Marinette is so more… herself around me when I'm Chat Noir?«
The black Kwami floated towards him and sat down on a pillow next to Adrien.
»You're very dense, kid, and I mean that in the most positive way-«
»Gee, thanks«, Adrien said, rolling his eyes. So not helpful.
»Let me finish«, Plagg said with a condescending tone. »I just… recap a few things for you: Baker girl stutters her way through conversations with Adrien – have you ever heard what she says at those instances? And think about her room. Many photos, am I right? You've seen them. Some group pics with her friends. Most of them not, though…«, he gave his owner a very pointed look before he continued. »And Ladybug told you numerous times about that boy she likes… Would you like me to spell it out for you?«
Adriens face had continued to darken from a faint peachy color to a full on beet red blush while Plagg had spoken. »I- you mean- She-«, he stuttered, having problems grasping the implications but knowing fully well what his kwami had insinuated.
Plagg groaned with relieve. »Finally«, he said, and turned around to snack some more Camembert. That boy had a lot more thinking to do.
His heart was thumbing really loud in his chest, Adrien mused, when he tried to wrap his head around the idea of Marinette liking him. All the pieces fit the puzzle. How did he never noticed that his friend wanted to be more than that? He could only look back at certain situations with his new found knowledge, and he had to fight an amused smile. From an outside perspective I must have been hilarious to see Marinette spaz around him. And their friends' behavior made so much more sense now. Alya probably knew and had tried setting them up on more than one occasion. And Marinette had panicked like in the wax museum, leading him to the idea of her being afraid of him. What a hodgepodge!
So… what now? Maybe he as Adrien could ask out Ladybug and go from there? It was out of question that he needed to do something – but should he tell her he knew about her identity or rather tell her about his identity?
But then a thought appeared in his head which made him precarious. Why was Marinette in love with Adrien but not with Chat Noir? What would she say when she discovered that the boy she liked was the boy she turned down so many times? She even told him she didn't like his jokes – jokes he as Chat loved to make because he wasn't allowed to make them as Adrien to not destroy the image his father wanted him to maintain.
So overall they both fell in love with only one side of each others personality.
Adrien tossed and turned on the couch, mulling about his next steps.
Tikki anxiously awaited the new school day. Not talking to Marinette about such important things made her nervous and quite guilty. She made herself wait until Madame Bustier started the lesson before she hastily phased through Marinettes purse and – remaining unseen – into Adriens bag.
»Oh, hey there, sugar cube«, Plagg said, snacking on a slice of Camembert.
At the sight of his knowing grin Tikki frowned. »How bad is it?«, she whispered, and pointed downwards.
Getting her cue, Plagg phased next to her into the classroom below. He took a quick look towards the teacher's desk, but there was no cheese this time.
»So?«, Tikki asked, rather overanxiously.
»Well… good news is it was him, right? Imagine it had been Rena-Reporter«, he said with a chuckle.
»Not funny, Plagg«, Tikki gritted trough her teeth. »I decided not to tell my owner anything till I know for sure, well, what Adrien knows.«
»Oh. Yeah, he figured it out.«
Tikki groaned. »Oh my god, what am I going to tell Marinette?!«
»Easy there, sugar cube. He, uh… seems to like the idea of it being her.« Well, that was an understatement. »And he has a plan. So you could… just wait?«
»Oh. Okay… What kind of plan? Something reasonable?«
»Eh, it's a Chat-plan, to be honest, but let him have a little fun.«
»Oh, that's just perfect«, Tikki sighed.
»You mean purrfect?« He just pretended to not see Tikki glare at him while he returned through the ceiling into Adriens bag.
Ladybug actually really liked joined patrols with Chat Noir. It was nice to have him around, her friend and trusted ally. With him her responsibility as Ladybug felt not so overwhelming. And his puns – however badly timed they were – made her smile, even if she pretended not to. He simply made her feel the joy of being a superhero rather than the burden.
Today on the hindsight had been different. She was actually worried for her partner, because more than once he stumbled over rooftops and not even his feline grace could save some of his lapses. As now patrol was nearing it's end, Ladybug stopped behind a row of chimneys, arms crossed in front of her. »Okay, spill it, what's up?«, she asked. To her surprise he chuckled lightly, scratching his neck with his ring-clad hand.
»I'm a bit nervous«, he admitted. »Actually, I have something to talk to you about. Nothing bad«, he assured her. »Just… we need to go somewhere more… secure.«
»Okay. Then lead the way.«
Chat smiled at her, turning around and hopping onto an adjacent building.
Ladybug followed him, contemplating what he could possibly want to talk about. To her dismay she began to recognize the buildings and the path her partner choose. And then horror washed over her, when that damn cat stopped on top of her balcony!
»What are we doing here?«, she said with as even a voice as she could muster.
Chat winked at her and knelt down, fiddling with the hatch. »Relax, Bugaboo. Marinette leaves this open all the time, even if she's not home.«
»I- what?« Appalled she observed Chat opening the hatch, beckoning her to follow him inside. »What are you doing?!«
»Will you ease up? She's not home right now. I come here all the time to, uh, check on her.«
She couldn't see his face because he had already jumped to the bottom floor of her room, and inside she was equally panicked and disgusted by his behavior. »All- all the time?!« She hurried down the hatch and ladder, being hyper aware of the embarrassing pictures on her walls as well as the miracle box which was thankfully hidden.
»Yeah, you know… Marinette is my favorite civilian«, he grinned. »We often talk when I'm done with solo patrols, and she makes the best macaroons the world has ever tasted.«
Okay, that was kinda flattering. Still – what should she make of his behavior? How often was he in her room when she wasn't there – or worse: asleep! Was he rummaging her drawers? Had he found the miracle box?! She had to have a serious talk with Barkk. That damn dog kwami should have told her the instance there had been an intruder, even if it was her known ally!
»A- are you stalking her?! Chat, this is totally inappropriate!«
He shrugged. »Nah. I'm pretty sure she has a huge crush on me anyway.«
Ladybug wanted to strangle him so that the cocky smile would disappear from his face. »She most certainly has not!«, she hissed.
»Why would you say that? Do you want me to be heartbroken?«
»I- heart- what are you talking about?!«, she screeched.
»I myself have a humongous crush on Marinette. Didn't I tell you?« His smile had changed to a suave, confident smirk.
For a moment she was frozen in shock, and mild commiseration bloomed inside her. »Chat, I don't think she'll like you back-«, she tried, but he just chuckled.
»Nah, I am really sure she likes civilian me, don't worry«, he said, and made a show of looking around in Marinettes room.
»That is actually what I wanted to talk to you about«, he interrupted her. »See, you're the guardian, you should know my civilian identity.«
»I- what?!« The turns this conversation was taking could not get worse, could they?
»Yes. I needed a secluded place to do it, and I trust Marinette with my life, so I knew her room would be safe. Plagg, cl-«
»WAIT!«, Ladybug screamed, burring her face in her hands, closing her eyes. »You can't- Don't-«
»M'lady… you won't change my mind. It's time. Plagg, claws in.«
Even through her fingers and closed eyes she could see the flash of green that accompanied his detransformation. This wasn't happening! No, no, no!
»Please look at me«, he pleaded, and she heard soft footsteps coming closer. She refused to lower her hands, but the she felt his fingers gently prying away her own. »Bugaboo?«
She took a deep breath, bracing herself. She could handle this. Definitely. She opened her eyes and was met with the most genuine, warm smile she had ever seen. Bright, green eyes, those blond locks- No freaking way!
»A-Adrien… Agreste?!« Adding his surname would surely deter him from thinking that they knew each other in real life, right?
»In the flesh«, he smiled at her. »You've already met Plagg- Are you okay?«, he then asked worriedly, and Ladybug realized that she had held her breath, starring numbly at the black kwami which sported a Cheshire grin.
Her mind kindly replayed some memories of herself kissing Chat Noir, turning down Chat Noir, throwing Chat Noir through the air, brushing off Chat Noirs flirt-attempts. Only that it wasn't Chat Noir, it was Adrien freaking Agreste! Her crush, the boy that she loved- More recent events played in front of her inner eyes. Chat having a 'humongous' crush on Marinette – her! – Chat being so confident that Marinette had a crush on him – Adrien!
Her first attempt at speaking was more of a squeaking and barely resembled any syllables let alone words. She hemmed and tried again. »So, you, ah- gonna ask her out?«
»Absolutely! Tomorrow after school. Maybe I even kiss her… «, he made a thoughtful face, his cheeks tinted in a slight blush.
»K-k-kiss?« Ladybug tried her best to not hyperventilate then and there. But she couldn't do much about the chilling panic that overcame her when she heard distant voices downstairs.
»She's upstairs, do you-«
»Don't worry, Sabine, I know the way«, Alya said, and then exclaimed: »I really hope you didn't forget our girls night this time, girl!«
Adrien looked at the hatch, not the least bit nervous, as far as Ladybug could assess. »So… What do you think is Alya going to say when she sees us here, but not Marinette?«, he casually asked.
»And then she sees two superheroes instead of one?« His smile had turned into a feigned contemplative look on his face while he made a few steps towards her, effectively cornering her against the dresser. »She is going to wonder where Marinette is.« He quickly glanced at her.
Ladybug could all but hear the imaginary glass shatter when the realization hit her. »You know!«, she exclaimed in a hushed voice. How did he- of course. He did peak inside her purse! He had seen Tikki! The whole spiel luring her into her own room, talking about his crush on Marinette-
Her »Spots off« was the softest whisper, and the second her mask disappeared Marinette lunged into his arms.
Adrien felt a huge burden lift of his shoulders when Ladybug de-transformed directly in front of him, revealing a wide eyed Marinette. And when she dove towards him he just acted on pure want and need. Their lips crashed against each others with fervor, soft and warm and absolutely-
»Oh my god!«, Alya shrieked in absolute delight, accompanied by the electronic shutter-sound of her phones camera. They scattered apart, clearly flustered, but Alya obviously didn't care. »Girl's night is postponed – just, uh… continue!« The girl hurried back down the ladder, closing the hatch above her with a loud bang.
They both stood there, frozen.
Two seconds later Marinettes phone vibrated.
You have to tell me everything!
Marinette blushed furiously, avoiding eye contact with Adrien.
»Well, you heard her«, he said, taking her hand and pulling her closer. »She said 'continue'…«
Her face was absolutely glorious to look at, and with a smile on his lips, feeling like the luckiest man alive, Adrien kissed her again.
And again, and again…