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Yin and Yang

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Despite Adrien’s assurances, things did not get easier. And she wanted to blame the early wake up times, but as much as she still hated the way her brain woke up in a fog morning after morning, the wake up times were the least of her problems. 

The biggest issue was that every moment was scheduled. It was school, basketball, Chinese, fencing, piano, solitary dinner, and then mandatory homework time. Rinse and repeat. And any time there was a gap in Adrien’s schedule it was inevitably filled up with a photoshoot, or a fitting, or with a random interview Gabriel said had to be done without delay. 

There wasn’t a single moment to breathe. Not a single moment to live her life. Or to live Adrien’s life rather. 

So she stayed up late. Way too late, but she needed a moment to just lay about each day. She tried to draw her designs as a way to remember herself, but she was so exhausted she didn’t have ideas, and ended up mindlessly tracing circles onto her paper. 

Despite the bone dead fatigue, she felt restless. She made use of Adrien’s zip line and skateboard ramp, but it didn’t help for more than a moment. 

She still felt trapped. 

She had been in the middle of a fencing lesson gone wrong when an akuma alert went off, and everyone was directed to evacuate.

“Oh thank god!” Marinette exclaimed.

“Are you happy about an akuma?” Kagami had asked, her eyes narrowed in disapproval. 

“Umm… no?” Marinette had squeaked. She totally was. “I gotta run!”

“What? Where?” Kagami called after her. “We’re supposed to evacuate!” 

“See you later!”

Marinette ran through the halls and quickly found a place to transform. She took to the rooftops as Chat Noir, running and vaulting towards the screams. And she felt no anxiousness about the attack. It just felt so good to run, to be free.

She wasn’t being watched. She could do anything. She could be crazy, she realized, as she threw herself into a cartwheel for absolutely no reason other than she could.  

It was like a revelation. 

This was why Chat Noir cracked stupid jokes all the time. Why he loved being Chat Noir! Why he couldn’t sit still or be serious for five seconds even in the middle of an akuma battle. Why he coveted every moment in Ladybug’s company. Why he would transform in the middle of the night and just run. 

When she saw Ladybug arrive on the scene, she ignored the akuma entirely and instead tackled him in a hug. “It’s so good to see you!” she exclaimed. 

He caught her wild embrace, and laughed. “You too. But maybe we should handle the akuma first?” 

“Right, of course,” she nodded, attempting to adopt a serious face, but she couldn’t kill the grin that had taken over her face. 

She was actually disappointed when they managed to take care of the akuma in just a few minutes. 

When there wasn't an akuma to rescue her from Adrien’s monotonous schedule, talking to him helped. Anytime he was there, she felt at ease, and almost normal despite being in the wrong body, that was quickly becoming more and more familiar. 

She saw him during the day, and he often gave helpful hints in conversations with their mutual friends and she did the same for him. And they talked every night. Both to compare notes and to give each other more context and insight. But the second he hung up, the anxiety would begin to smother her all over again. She needed to get out of this room. She needed to be free. 

“Are you okay?” Adrien had asked one evening after she had ranted about the daily frustrations over a video call. 

And she wanted to cry at the question, but she didn’t want him to see her crying. Not over this. He lived this every day. She had only managed four weeks. She needed to be stronger and more resilient. 

So she swallowed her tears and offered him a bright smile. Or, what she hoped was a bright smile.

“Yes. I’m just feeling restless and cooped up,” she said. And it was true even if it was only the tip of the iceberg. 

“Transform and go for a run,” he told her. “I can meet you.”

She squeezed her eyes shut. That sounded amazing. 

“I can’t,” she told him, her eyes burning on the edges. She blinked back the tears. “If I’m going to keep you in school I need to study Chinese tonight.”

He smiled sadly at her. “I understand.” 

Of course he did. 

All of it was made worse by the fact that she was terrible at, like, every single one of Adrien’s extracurriculars. 

She spoke only six words of Mandarin before the swap. And three of them were “I love you.” Adrien’s tutor was a stern impatient man who had chastised her for her lack of practice. He had delivered a poor performance review to Nathalie and her Chinese sessions had doubled in frequency.

Like that would help her when she was three years behind in lessons. 

“Your father would like to hear your rendition of Desbussy’s Arabesque No. 1 on Friday,” Nathalie had informed her that morning at breakfast after listing out Adrien’s schedule.

Marinette’s heart fell into her gut in a panic. She had only had one real interaction with Gabriel since the swap. He had joined her for breakfast one Saturday. He had been stiff and quiet and Marinette hadn’t known how to fill the awkward silence with more than a “Good morning, Father.” 

Which had been a mistake apparently because the second his attention was on her, he had proceeded to correct the way she was holding her fork, the way she was sitting in the chair, and chide her for the abysmal performance she demonstrated in fencing practice. 

“If you are to remain in school, you need to maintain a certain standard of excellence in all of your activities. If you are unable to do so, it will be in your best interest to return to one on one instruction.” 

Marinette’s hand fisted around her fork. Was he seriously threatening to take Adrien out of school? Over one fencing practice session? 

“I’m sorry, Father.” 

“Don’t be sorry,” he corrected coldly. “Be better.” 

She swallowed an angry retort, and didn’t risk saying anything else. She wanted to argue and scream at the injustice of it all. But she knew that’s not what Adrien would do. But she had no idea what Adrien would do. So she did nothing. 

But God, she was angry. 

Luckily, Gabriel had wiped his mouth with an expensive cloth napkin and left her there without another word. 

She had retreated to Adrien’s room after that. 

“Is he always like that?” she had asked the second Plagg had flown from her overshirt. 

Plagg laughed. “For Gabriel, that was positively sweet.” 

Marinette’s gut twisted unpleasantly at that revelation. 

And so she had not uttered a peep at Gabriel’s continued absence. She didn’t want to see him. 

And she certainly didn’t want to fail at piano completely as he sat listening in judgment. 

“It was one of your mother’s favorites,” Nathalie added. 

Crap. She was so screwed. 

“Plagg!” she whined. “What am I going to do?” 

The kwami shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “You’re creative. You’ll come up with something!” 

She had with Chinese. Adrien had given her the idea. She confessed to the tutor that she had been wanting to start over. He had looked at her suspiciously.

“To focus on authentic pronunciation!” she rapidly explained. And then she told him the tale of being in Shanghai and no one there really being able to understand him with such a thick accent. And he had a hard time understanding native Mandarin speakers as well.

Whatever Adrien’s tutor thought of the matter, he had capitulated, and they were starting from the beginning. But man, he was cranky and impatient, and since she had said she wanted to learn the language without an accent, he had become an absolute asshole demanding perfection at all times. 

But she was getting through the lessons, and even learning some Mandarin at the same time. Maybe she’d be able to use it when she was back in her own body to talk to her mother and uncle.

“I can fake a lot of things, Plagg! I can’t fake ten years of piano lessons and thousands of hours of practice!”

“Sure you can!” Plagg said, floating along lazily through the air. Marinette wanted to swat him! 

“How?” she growled out.

“First, you don’t need to fake ten years. You just need to master one song.”

Her hands shot out in agitation. “Not just any song! A really advanced difficult song that apparently Adrien’s mother used to play!”

“Well, you could pretend that you’re going through a defiant phase. When he comes in, play him Mary had a little lamb or something!” 

Her eyebrows arched. “And what am I being defiant about, exactly?” 

“The man is cold and emotionally neglectful if not outright abusive. He dictates every moment of how Adrien spends his time minus the times we literally use superpowers to escape! Pick something!

She wilted. Maybe Plagg had a point. 

“Or you could injure your hand at fencing practice!” he brainstormed. 

“Won’t they send a doctor who will say my hand is fine?” 

“Not if you actually injure it,” Plagg sing-songed back. 

“Plagg! I need my hands in working order to fight akumas! It’s hard enough to have a different body and a different power set! You want me to fight injured as well?” 

He spun in a rapid circle, stopping right when he was facing her. “Or!” he exclaimed, like her had just thought of it. “We could stage a break in and destroy the piano!” 

“Wasn’t that Adrien’s mother’s piano?” 

Plagg shrugged. “Gabriel would probably have it replaced within two days anyway.” 

“Do all your ideas involve destroying something?” 

“You know who you’re talking to, right?” 

But thankfully, Adrien’s phone chose that moment to ring, and she didn’t have to answer Plagg. It was Adrien. She answered the call immediately. 

Marinette!” he shrieked. Marinette didn’t know if he was excited or freaking out. It was harder to read him when he used her own voice. “Penny Rolling just called! She wants to know the status of a commission for Jagged Stone! What am I going to do?”

Marinette yanked at her hair. She didn’t have time for this! 

“Nathalie just told me I have to play a recital for your father this Friday! What am I going to do?” she countered. 

Adrien had been giving her piano lessons, and it was fun and he was patient, and she would have loved it under any other circumstances. But there was just this growing ball of unease every time they sat next to one another on his mother’s piano bench. He taught her chords on the left hand and scales on the right. She learned to read notes on the treble clef, and learned to decipher the strange script of key signatures far more quickly than she thought possible. 

But playing actual songs?! She was nowhere near Adrien’s level. She understood whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes and could even play them. Eighth notes and sixteenths she understood in concept if not execution. But triplets?! Arabesque No. 1 was full of them! She could not play them with the proper temp. 

And there was no way in hell she could play triplets and eighth notes at the same fucking time! 

Adrien laughed, and pulled her hands back from the keyboard. “Don’t think about the notes for a second. Let’s just worry about the rhythm.” 

She shivered, feeling his gentle hands brushing the back of hers. It was becoming less weird to look at her own face every day. Because it wasn’t hers anymore. It was his. And his smile, his eyes could bring her peace and comfort the way nothing else could.

“Okay, we’re going to tap eighth notes on your left, and triplets on your right.” 

She nodded. 

“We’re kind’ve cutting each beat into fours. Clap both hands onto your lap,” he directed. “Then it’s right, left, right. Then both again,” he explained, as he demonstrated clapping out the rhythm repeatedly on his lap. She was soon following suit.

After a month of practice, she could play the first ten measures of Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1. Insanely slowly. 

“The speed doesn’t matter,” Adrien said. “Just get the timing between notes right and practice it. You’ll pick up on the tempo as you practice.” 

And god she loved him more. For his patience and his optimism, but it was never going to be enough. 

Because it didn’t sound like magical waterfalls cascading down when she played the notes, the way it did when Adrien played them. And that ignored the fact that the song had another 97 measures for her to learn.

She broke down crying.

His arms were around her immediately. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I feel like you’re not just playing my life. You’re playing it on hard mode.” 

She scrubbed the tears from her face. “What do you mean?” she asked, not being able to look up at him. 

“You have to meet all the expectations but you don’t have any of the preparation. Meanwhile, when I need help with a project, you can literally do it for me if you absolutely have to.” 

“You’re assuming I have a spare moment to help you,” she whispered. 

He brushed the tears from her cheeks with the pad of this thumb. “We’ll get through this,” he promised. 

She nodded. She didn’t always believe that herself.

“Why do all your extracurriculars have to be performance based?” she had whined. 

He barked a laugh. “I don’t know. I didn’t really pick most of them.” 

“Do you at least enjoy them?” she asked. 

He pressed his lips together, his eyebrows scrunched in thought. “I really like fencing,” he told her. “And piano has become really important to me as a way to remember my maman. It was always something she and I did together.” 

Marinette smiled softly. Maybe his attempts at teaching her to play, might remind him of lessons with his mother. She hoped so.

“And I don’t mind the others,” he said, and then shrugged. “I just wish… I just wish there weren’t so many of them, you know?” 

“Oh my god, I know!” she exclaimed.

And he laughed. She loved making him laugh. 

Of all his extracurriculars, modeling was the easiest for Marinette to pull off. But she wasn’t great at it either. She was stiff and self conscious in front of a camera, and was constantly being told she needed to loosen up and be natural. 

“You just need to get out of your head,” he had told her.

Yeah, Marinette was terrible at getting out of her head unless she was in crisis mode. 

He had made flash cards for her to translate Vincent’s nonsense directions and she had printed out a bunch of his photos, and taped them to Adrien’s bathroom mirror, and she was practicing reproducing each expression.

Plagg had caught her in the middle of her first practice session and burst out laughing.

She hadn’t bothered to defend herself. It had been worth it. The next photoshoot was her smoothest yet. 

But she had failed the piano recital. 

“You’re clearly sabotaging on purpose,” Gabriel concluded coldly. 

Marinette didn’t say anything, her gaze remaining locked on her fingers that rested on the black and white keys of this baby grand piano. Of course, it wasn’t actually on purpose, but that was as good an explanation as any. 

“Why?” he demanded, his voice cold as ice. 

She froze in panic. She needed to make a demand. But it needed to be big enough that he wouldn’t deliver, so she’d have a continued excuse to perform horribly. 

Her eyes landed on the portrait on Adrien’s desk. 

“Will you tell me what happened to maman?” she gambled, holding her breath the moment the words were out of her mouth.

He stared at her in silence. And then he walked out of the room. 

She let out a breath, relieved he hadn’t said anything. How horrible would it have been if she had learned more about Adrien’s mother than he himself knew? Hopefully, Adrien wouldn’t be furious that she played that card. 

Plagg came out whistling. “Bold move. I’m impressed.” 

But she didn’t feel impressive. She felt completely inadequate. She pulled out Adrien’s phone, and swiped to her own contact and called him immediately. 

“Hey Adrien! What’s up?” he answered. And that he was calling her Adrien meant he wasn’t alone. 

“Can you come over?” she asked softly, not bothering to tell him he should at least make a show of stuttering when talking to “him”. 

“Are you okay?" 

She forced down the tears that wanted to burst forth. “Not really.” 

“I’ll be right there.” 

“Thank you,” she whispered hoarsely, hanging up the phone.

Ladybug landed in a crouch not ten minutes later. He immediately took a seat on the piano bench beside her. 

“Today was the recital?” he asked.

She nodded. “I’m sorry,” she told him, her chin trembling.  

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,” he insisted, his red spotted gloves cradling either side of her face, pulling her gaze up. 

“You’re amazing,” she told him, and was rewarded with an immediate blush blooming from under his Ladybug mask. 

“So are you,” he said. 

But she ignored him. “You don’t have a lot of choices, and everyone expects so much of you. You’re cooped up all the time. And you could be so angry, but you’re not. You’re patient and you work hard. And you’re just so so resilient. And I had no idea. I had no idea as Ladybug and I had no idea as Marinette. I feel like I’ve been such a bad friend.”

He pulled her into a hug. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” he countered.

“I want to be better,” she insisted, clutching him to her. 

She would be better, she promised herself. Now that she understood that his life wasn’t all glamorous and fun. Now, that she understood the pressure he was always under, and how lonely his struggle often was. She loved him. 

She loved him more. More than she had before. And more than she ever thought possible.