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Marinette takes her luck for granted.

Which is okay, most of the time. After all, that is her gift, a condition given by the miraculous stones she wears in her ears. But it also means that she is painfully unprepared for the days where her luck runs bone-dry.

Today is, unfortunately, one of those days. Despite the fact that summer is approaching, thick, dark clouds roll in that bring night over Paris earlier than usual, the sharp wind adding an unwanted chill to the air. Marinette watches the sky grimly as she walks along the dimly lit sidewalk, groaning when the sound of thunder cracks in the distance. It’s only a matter of minutes before the rain starts.

“This is the worst day of my life, Tikki,” she complains, even though her kwami is tucked out of sight in her purse.

“You say that about a lot of days, Marinette,” Tikki giggles through the slight opening of the clasped top.

“Yeah, but I really mean it today,” Marinette vows. From waking up late for school, to seeing that Adrien was out of class for the day, to the myriad of times she tripped. . .it all lead up to the worst of the worst. Being paired up with Chloe for a literature report due next Friday. Marinette wants to believe that it can’t get worse, but when that thought crossed her mind earlier, Nathaneal had stumbled near her in art class. There was now a big yellow blotch of dried paint down the front of a shirt she’d just finished last night.

So, therefore, Marinette is perfectly aware that things can always get worse, especially while her luck fails her. Her only hope is that when she wakes up in the morning, the world will be as it should.

“At least it’s almost over,” Tikki assures her sympathetically.

Marinette is resolved to go straight to bed when she gets home. Her grades are good enough that she can afford to skip homework for once.

The sky cracks again and then the rain comes. Any other people walking down the quiet street scurry inside, leaving her to trudge through the downpour by herself. She doesn’t really mind, even if it does mean that luck is against her today. The rain has always felt good and clean and she welcomes it, even as her clothes soak through and begin to cling uncomfortably against her skin.

She’s still several blocks from the bakery when an uneasy feeling settles in her stomach. The weight of a speculative gaze slides over her neck and arms and she shivers with apprehension. Marinette tucks her chin and grips her purse closer, sensing the danger. There is a bright flash of light in the sky, and then another rumble of thunder.

Suddenly, the aloneness on the street isn’t quite so peaceful.

“Do you think I should transform, Tikki?” she says just loud enough for her kwami to hear her over the rain. Whoever is following her now probably won’t have reservations about ambushing Marinette, but no one with half a mind would attack Ladybug. The superhero is renowned for her undefeated streak of triumphs. Even if her luck is sour today, no one else knew that.

“Can you find a place to hide long enough to do that?” Tikki whispers back, her thin voice as unsettled as Marinette feels.

The teen hero is about to respond by breaking into a run to try to lose the guy when she glances over her shoulder and sees her hooded stalker too close behind. There’s no way she’ll be able to shake him. No time to transform. Heart pounding, blood rushing. The rain is cold against her suddenly flushed skin. Panic lights her up from the inside but at least she knows how to throw a good punch.

She spins on her heel so that he can’t attack her from behind. The water streams down her face, her bangs tangled in her eyelashes as another roll of thunder sounds off overhead. This is truly the unluckiest day of them all. Only Marinette - a fifteen year old girl, no less - could attract unwanted attention in a city so full of much wealthier people.

Despite the lack of her transformation, the rush of adrenaline hardens her hands into fists, a swell of confidence rising in her chest. She may not be Ladybug, but this isn’t unfamiliar - at least, she knows what she’s doing.

“What do you want from me?” she demands loudly over the rain in a voice that’s both terrified and unmoveable.

The figure stops only a couple paces away. “Give me your purse,” he rasps out threateningly. Another shiver races up her spine and she’s desperate to do what he wants. Her safety is more important than her wallet, after all, which is what she knows he’s after. But Tikki is in her purse. There’s no way she can give it up without outing herself as Ladybug, and she won’t put her kwami in that kind of position.

She opens her mouth to refuse when a dark shape drops from the roof of an unlit shop and lands directly beside her. Half of Marinette cusses out her luck - really?! her fortune couldn’t have gone that bad could it!? - while the other half swallows a startled scream that would have been drowned out by the blast of thunder that rolls over Paris.

The figure straightens beside her and she’s frantically trying to grasp her sanity when she recognizes the width of his shoulders and the shape of his shadow against the backdrop of rain and lamplight. He doesn’t even look at her - his terrible smile is directed toward the hooded thief  that stands with a knife in his hand before them.


 

After a long day of test fittings and various hair styling sessions, of listening to his father quietly rage at the stage crew, the models, and him, Adrien is desperate for an escape.

He plans it well. Throughout the rehearsal for this weekend’s fashion show, he’d smuggled as much cheese as he could to Plagg in the hopes that it would make his gluttonous kwami more compliant with an unnecessary transformation. It worked; Plagg was in a good mood, so as soon as Adrien has his bedroom door locked behind him, he turns into Chat Noir and leaps out his window.

Freedom slides over him like a gust of wind as he runs across chimneys and rooftops. When a crack of thunder shudders the shingles under his boots and the sky lights up brilliantly, he smiles, welcoming the threat of a storm.

Today had been crappy. The worst. It wasn’t that Adrien wanted his father to give him special treatment when he is supposed to be working, but the formal pretense between them once they are off the clock was exhausting. The looming show makes it worse. His father is even more distant and uncaring than usual, turning the cold, loveless atmosphere of their home into something Adrien dreads.

He’d wanted more than anything to go to school today. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to be at school more than he did while he was taking harsh corrections and notes from Gabriel Agreste and his myriad of assistants. School is where Nino is, his best friend, the only person he feels close to without the mask that Chat Noir bears. School is where Alya is, the only girl in the world, he thinks, who could talk enough to make him forget his own mind. School is where Marinette goes out of her way to say hi to him, where she smiles like the sun every time he walks into a room.

He wanted that. All of it.

His thoughts linger a bit more on Marinette than they might have on a normal day. He thinks about her unwavering warmth and her kindness - she’s everything that his life lacks and instead of making him jealous, it makes him long for her company, in the most complicated way.

Chat slows to a stop on top of a roof in the quieter shopping district as the rain starts to pour, smiling to himself. Adrien doesn’t know Marinette - around him, she’s sweet, but painfully shy. He can’t get more than one coherent sentence out of her at a time. But Chat. . .Chat knows Marinette. Everytime he sees her in school, he can’t help but remember her as she is whenever he runs into her as the masked superhero. Around him, she’s sassy and straightforward. She reminds him of Ladybug, but he tries not to think about that too hard. Ladybug wants to keep her identity a secret. He won’t pry.

He’ll keep his speculations to himself for now.

The rain drenches him and he revels in it, but he feels himself start to go cold under the stretch of his suit. The thunder cracks and he’s about to sprint off, to try and find someplace warmer and drier to hang until the storm moves on. But a voice full of fear and something like a dare travels to him over the sound of the pattering rain and he strides to the edge of the roof to see what’s going on.

In a city as large as Paris, the chances of him finding Marinette wandering the streets during this storm were probably a thousand to one, but there she is. He wonders if its because he was thinking about her, or maybe he’d been unconsciously drawn toward her.

His gaze slides from her drenched figure to the dark, hooded man standing before her and suddenly his incredulous, care-free demeanor is ripped away from him. Something low and hot sticks in his throat as he reads the intention in the man’s stance, sees the knife glinting in the rain and he isn’t entirely in control of himself when he jumps off the roof and lands beside Marinette with a splash in the growing puddles.

Her astonishment is expected - she nearly belts out a scream as he straightens up next to her, but he keeps his eyes trained on the threat before them. The grin on his face is unfriendly - Chat has never felt such a dark cloud of anger, not like this. This protective, instinctive need to keep Marinette safe is not entirely unfamiliar, but the fierceness of it is.

“Chat Noir?”

“No worries,” he says, but the teasing edge in his voice is flat and hard, “your knight in shining armor is here to save you, Princess.”

The thief’s hand starts trembling. He must have recognized Chat. Good. That’ll make things easy. Marinette’s mouth open and closes like a fish out of water and while he’d love to watch her make sense of his words, his gaze is pinned to the knife in the thief’s hand.

“She’s my friend, you know. You’ve made a mistake,” Chat says, almost a snarl as he whips his baton out from behind his back. The rain makes it a little slippery in his hand, but he holds it tight.

“I just want the money,” the thief replies cuttingly, though its clear he’s uneasy. Despite the deep sound of his voice, the way he holds himself tells Chat that this hooded figure can’t be but a boy in high school. It explains, at least, why he’d single out Marinette to rob.

“You drew a knife on her.”

“I wasn’t going to use it!”

Chat saunters toward him, unconvinced and uncaring and a little overconfident. Once he’s close enough, he lunges and behind him, Marinette screams.

“You stupid cat!”

It all happens in a blur. Chat avoids the first couple of swings from the knife, but as he goes to cut his baton against the thief’s stomach, the weapon slips out of his hand and clatters to the ground. He yelps in surprise - damn his bad luck! - and then there is the slice of pain at his shoulder and he stumbles back. The thief cries out something that gets lost in the thunder, his gaze only on Chat, and Chat watches with wide eyed wonder as Marinette scoops the dropped baton up into her hands and darts around behind the thief with miraculous speed, completely unnoticed.

She brings the baton down on the back of the thief’s head quickly, and he falls to the ground in a sudden, ungraceful slump. Chat blinks the rainwater out of his eyes as she rushes toward her, her wet face distressed.

“Chat? Are you okay? Oh my god, he cut you.” She kneels beside him in the puddle and touches his shoulder. He feels the pain, but it’s not bad. Dazed, he turns his head to look at her, and the very tiny line of blood that cuts through his sliced suit at his shoulder, and then he begins to laugh.

She glances up at him in surprise. “What’s so funny?”

He grins at her. “It’s just a scratch.”

Marinette frowns as she stands up. The rain begins to lighten up a bit and she watches as he, too, rises to his feet. “That’s not something to laugh at, you idiot. What were you thinking? You could have been hurt.”

Why isn’t Marinette like this around him when he’s Adrien? He watches her face screwed up in an angry pout, her eyes glittering, her rain-soaked face sparkling under the dim streetlamp. Despite the pain in his arm and the overall crappy day, he’s happy that it happened. It lead him here, to this moment, with her.

“Marinette,” he says, smiling even though all traces of amusement are gone, “he pulled a knife on you.”

She frowns. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you were here to help. But the way you were acting was irrational.” Her eyes drop to his shoulder and her frown deepens. “Stupid, stupid cat. Walk me home so I can patch that up.”


 

Marinette couldn’t decide what to feel toward Chat. His recklessness had seriously pissed her off, but on the other hand, she wasn’t quite sure she would have had an opening to get out of that situation unscathed if it weren’t for him.

The rain had all but stopped once they reached the bakery, thunder still muttering in the distance. He’d been suspiciously quiet as they walked but there was a tiny smile on his face. Silence from Chat Noir can’t be a good thing, she thinks, mostly just because she can never quite tell what he’s thinking. Not outside of battle. Not when she’s Marinette.

“My parents can’t see you,” she says once they reach the front door. “Is your arm okay enough to use the fire escape?”

“It’s just a scratch,” he reassures her, voice silky. “Though, you really should think about at least telling your parents of our relationship one of these days, you know.”

She glares at him before dropping her gaze, bitter over the way she almost flushes at his comment. “Stop teasing me. I’ll meet you in my room.” She doesn’t wait for him to respond before she enters the bakery. Her parents are helping customers so their greetings are kept short, but her mom presses a kiss to her wet cheek as she passes.

“You’re all wet,” her father says as she slips toward the door leading to the house. “Make sure you change so you don’t catch a cold.

“Yes, papa,” she grins. The bakery closes in an hour, so that’s how long she’s got to get Chat Noir dried off and bandaged up. She makes sure that her parents catch sight of her entirely innocent expression before closing the door behind her and darting up the stairs to her bedroom.

She stops by the bathroom first to change into a dry pair of pajamas she left in the closet, pulling the hairties from her pigtails to let her wet hair curl and dry around her face. Tikki tucks herself back into the closet, giggling over the fact that Marinette has subjected herself to taking care of Chat. She makes a face, and then grabs a towel for the cat and the first aid kit out from under the sink before heading to her room.

“Are you mad at me?”

Chat is sitting on her window sill when she opens the door, and he looks more distressed than she would have believed he could be. He always seemed like he had no worries whatsoever. The genuine concern on his face makes her heart flutter. A moment passes and something else creeps over his face, too, something darker and dangerous, eyes lingering around her wet hair.

“I’m only mad that you’re an idiot,” she tells him plainly, trying to ignore the strange twist in her stomach.

He shrugs, the despair leeching away to expose relief. “Well, then I guess it’s moot. I wouldn’t have done anything different.” He shifts so that he’s leaning dramatically against the window pane. “Your knight has been wounded in battle, Princess. How will you nurse him back to health?”

She rolls her eyes and shuts the door behind her. “First of all, dry off with this.” She throws the towel at him before crossing the room to her desk. He grins as he catches it with one hand and then uses it to slick the rain off his suit, toweling off his blonde hair. She tries not to watch him, setting herself to opening the first aid kit and rifling around in it for antiseptic and a bandaid large enough to cover the scratch.

Her stomach twists again when she feels him approach her. This is Chat Noir, she has to remind herself, and its ridiculous that she feels so self-conscious and so terribly aware of him. He’s right behind her now, close enough to touch. She can smell the storm on him, or maybe that’s her hair, but either way, she’s warmer than she was a few minutes ago.

“Sit here, kitty,” she says sidestepping away from him, pointing at her desk chair. “The bakery closes in an hour so we have to make this quick.”

He collapses dramatically in the chair. “No problem.” Without any warning whatsoever, he reaches for the zipper under his bell and pulls it half-way down his chest. If she thought she was warm a moment ago, she’s feverish now. Marinette licks her lips and tries not to betray her nerves as he exposes his injured shoulder, but her eyes linger at his collarbone, the gentle slope of his arm muscles and she begins to think that maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

“Did you have to strip?” she mutters, glaring at him.

He raises an eyebrow at her, but there’s something smug about his expression. “Did you want to clean me up properly or do you want me to die of an infection?”

Ridiculous. She sighs and grabs the alcohol wipes. He winces when she presses the pad to his cut with a little more force than necessary but she doesn’t apologize. It serves him right. “What were you doing out there in the rain anyway, Chat Noir? Where was Ladybug?”

Even though she keeps her eyes studiously trained on his cut, dabbing at it with the alcohol wipe, she feels his gaze heavy like a physical touch on her face. “I just needed some me time,” he says. “Everyone wants a piece of Chat Noir’s alternate persona and it gets overwhelming.” It’s surprisingly truthful, she thinks, the measure of his voice.

She pauses long enough to side-eye him. “Maybe if you stopped flirting with every girl you saw, you wouldn’t have these issues, Mr. Heartbreaker.”

He snorts at the nickname, laughing. Marinette wipes the last of the blood from the cut and tosses the cloth into the trashcan before reaching for the antiseptic cream. “Me? A heartbreaker? Unless I’ve broken your heart, Princess, I’m no such thing.” He waggles his eyebrows. “Have I broken your heart?”

She finds herself laughing at him as she smears the cream over the soft padding of the bandage. “No.”

“Marinette?”

His voice is so void of teasing that she looks back up at him. That smoldering look is in his eyes again. “I don’t flirt with a lot of girls.” Her knees are weak, but she’s a little angry at the statement. Mostly because he swears his undying love to her everytime she shows up as Ladybug, and now here he is, acting all swoon-worthy and stupid in her bedroom and its intimate and she hates it.

And still, her knees feel weak.

“Sure,” she replies shortly, unconvinced.

His eyes stay glued to her face as she presses the bandage onto his arm. Her fingertips brush his skin and he’s warm. God, he’s warm. She feels her own temperature go up a notch at the proximity. What the hell has gotten into her tonight? Was it the rain? The way he actually, probably, saved her life? Maybe it’s because he’s sitting in her room shirtless??

“Why were you walking around in the rain?” he asks.

“Long story not worth explaining,” she replies, knowing that her hands are purposefully lingering as she runs her fingertips over the non-adhesive side of the bandage. Just to be sure it sticks, she tells herself, but its not entirely true.

A tiny beep pierces the brief silence between them. Marinette yanks away from him and stands up straight, remembering that she’s not supposed to know what it means. “What was that?” she asks innocently.

Chat sighs and pulls his suit back into place, zipping it back up the front. “It means I’ve got about five minutes until I turn back into a pumpkin.” He rolls his shoulder, feeling out the bandage before flashing her a smile. “Thanks for bestowing your loyal subject with the best healthcare around.”

“If you dare say anything about me being the antidote, I will kick you.”

He grins like a cat, green eyes burning, burning, burning. Does he mean to do that? Does he know what he’s doing when he looks at her like that?

“It’s the outfit,” he purrs, reaching forward, touching her loose hair, quickly giving her pajamas a once over. They’re pink and polkadotted and she doesn’t know why, but she blushes as his hand brushes over her shoulder when he pulls away.

His ring beeps again.

She swallows and steps back. “Um. It’ll probably be easier for you to leave through the terrace above my bedroom.” She needs to get him out of here. Out of her room where she can’t smell him, out of her proximity where she can’t see him. She needs to get him out of her head, and out from under her skin.

She climbs the step ladder to the door in her ceiling and opens it before hauling herself out into the cooler, crisp night air. It smells clean and fresh and wet after the storm and she takes it in to clear her mind. Chat follows her through the door before kicking it closed after him. It’s so dark in the alcove above the door that she can’t see his face, just the outline of his silhouette.

Something about the darkness makes it worse. Her heart crawls up into her throat when he comes to stand before her, his heat nearly reaching her across the space between them.

“It was nice to see you again,” he tells her in a low voice, dripping with honesty.

“Thank you,” she responds, “for tonight. I would have been in trouble without you.”

He laughs, but its quiet and warm and very close. She thinks he might be leaning toward her and it makes her breath tremble. “Marinette, this knight of yours was fairly useless.” His laughter grows a little deeper as he places a hand against the wall near her head. “I’ll never forget how you looked with my baton in your hands.”

She remembers that flash of desperation, the urgency to save her cat from getting stabbed by some high school reject on the streets. Even if she wasn’t Ladybug, she had to save him. She couldn’t be a duo with just one.

The darkness makes her honest. It’s dangerous. “I was scared he’d hurt you.”

He is leaning in as his voice turns sober. She can’t breathe. “I was scared he was going to hurt you, too.”

Tentatively, she reaches out. She doesn’t have to go far before her fingertips find his chest. “I thought. . .I thought you cared about Ladybug,” she whispers.

Another tiny beep. Time is running short.

“I do,” he says simply.

She’s afraid to ask anymore, afraid of everything that she’s feeling and everything that she wants. Maybe if she were Ladybug, she could push all of this away, push him away and pretend like there was never anything between them. That’s what Ladybug would do.

But Marinette can’t bring herself to put up a wall to block Chat out. Chat Noir sees her as she truly is - as Marinette - and he likes her anyway. Likes her enough to throw himself in front of a thief during a thunderstorm to protect her. She expected him to do that for Ladybug but he did it for Marinette. Shyly, she lets her fingertips trace all the way up the front of his zipper, over the bell at his neck, to the warm, dry skin of his throat. She feels his pulse under her fingers, thudding with his heartbeat.

“You should probably go,” she murmurs quietly, touching the corner of his jaw.

He places his other hand on the other side of her head, his forehead brushing against hers as he nearly pins her back to the wall. She can’t see anything, but she can smell the rain still drying in his hair and feel the heat of his gaze burning into her.

“Would you let me kiss you?” he asks, his voice rough with an ache she feels too.

“I. . .I like someone else,” she says. Why does it feel like a lie?

“Me too.” Another simple answer. It makes her want it more.

Her fingers trace his jaw to his chin and then she gently touches his lip. “Okay,” she whispers.

His mouth presses down on hers tenderly. He’s softer than she expected, and even though she’s kissed him before - even though she’d felt something before, no matter the fact he’d forgotten it ever happened - it was nothing like this kiss. Maybe her luck had already turned around today.

She melts. There’s no other word for it. She finds herself pulling him closer, pulling his body flush against hers, reaching up to touch the soft, damp ends of his hair.

Again, his ring beeps. The final warning, but Chat shows no signs of leaving.

He pulls away only to whisper, lips still touching hers , “Marinette, keep your eyes closed.” She does as he asks because she is putty in his hands, but also because she knows what’s about to happen and it’s already bad enough that she’d betraying Adrien to kiss her most trusted partner. She doesn’t need to see the face of the boy who is pulling on her heartstrings tonight.

His breath mingles with hers and there is a flash of green light and then its dark again. She knows that even if she opened her eyes, she still wouldn’t be able to see him, but she won’t take that chance. Suddenly warm hands cup her face, the cool sliver of his ring pressing to her cheek as he flattens against her lips once more.

The realization that this is the boy behind Chat’s mask lights her up. Everything feels like fire. His skin burns into her and she winds her arms around his neck, pulling him closer, closer, closer. He makes a sound of surprise and of something else, something deeper and warmer, that travels down to the pit of her belly as she deepens the kiss.

He lets her. He gives more in return than she asks for and it leaves her breathless. Her knees turn to jelly. His name fills the space of her mouth, sticks in her throat, and she wants to keep this moment forever, but eventually he pulls away, his nose brushing hers as he rests his forehead against her eyebrow.

“I’ll see you later, Princess,” he murmurs, thumb pressing to her bottom lip, and then the heat of him is gone. She waits several moments before opening her eyes to make sure she gives him enough time to vanish.

A part of her hoped that when she finally looked he’d be standing there, looking perfectly kissed and perfectly devilish about it. But the only thing that lies before her is the deep darkness that hid their secret so well. She leans her weight back against the wall and sighs.

Her heart still races in her chest and she presses her hand to her collarbone willing it to stop. None of this was supposed to happen tonight. This is so out of hand. How in the world is she going to act when she sees him again? What does any of this mean, why does she feel like this for him? It’s painful and blissful all at once, like loving Adrien, but deeper. More. How the hell is she supposed to deal with that?

A kiss with Chat Noir, she thinks weakly, was the perfect way to end her unlucky day.




Chapter Text

When Adrien wakes, the events of last night come to him with a dream-like clarity. He blinks up at the ceiling with a strange, detached memory of Chat Noir kissing Marinette against the wall above her bedroom. Of her breath against his cheek and her hands in his hair and the way his name came out of her mouth in a thick whisper.

He hadn’t just been Chat though, and she responded so fearlessly after his transformation wore off that he was left with rubber knees. He is in love with Ladybug. Sure as the sky is blue and the sun is hot, he is desperately, desperately in love. And while he has his suspicions about her identity, there is no solid proof other than vague speculations. He decided a while ago that he would respect Ladybug’s desire to keep her double life separate. It’s unfair to Marinette, to have asked for that kiss. Unfair, he thinks, that he had been left so breathless, that it had been like pulling a tooth just to leave her there in the dark.

He hadn’t wanted to leave. He hadn’t been quite through with her yet.

She was looking at him all night through familiar, summer sky eyes, talking to him with a voice like warm sugar. When she touched him, it was like flame to a paper, and he was the one burning. He’d been so drawn in by her likeness to Ladybug, by the echo of her words and the mirror of her actions, that he could not help himself. Even though he’d never particularly thought about Marinette that way, he had wanted to taste her.

And she had let him. Oh, god, she had let him. His mind had glazed over so completely, so enthralled by her mouth and the heat of her hands, the line of her body, that even when his transformation ran out, he had wanted to stay. Forever, he remembered thinking, in the circle of her arms where everything was alive and passionate and warm. Everything his life currently lacked.

So maybe. . .he is curious about Marinette. Maybe the thrill he feels in his stomach every time he looks at her is trying to tell him that his curiosity is something else. That she is something else. He wants to follow it. He wants to know her more. What would Marinette think if she knew that it’d been him with her last night? Not just as Chat Noir, but as Adrien, too. Would she be disgusted? Would she. . .would she like it?

Adrien pulls his blankets over his head and tries to calm the erratic beating of his heart.

“I kissed her,” he says out loud to make it real.

Plagg’s irritated drawl comes through muffled from the other side of the blanket, pulling him away from the memory of Marinette back to the white-linen sheets of his bed and the cloud-grey sunlight streaming in through the windows. “I know,” the kwami is saying.

Adrien licks his lips, eyelashes fluttering against the sheets. “She kissed me back.”

“Yeah, and next time, keep me out of it.” Plagg makes a disgusted noise.

It breaks Adrien’s thought process and he laughs into the blankets. “I’ll make it up to you. Another all-you-can-eat-cheese buffet coming right up.”

“Speaking of,” the kwami grumbles, slightly less disgruntled than before, “don’t you need to be up and doing something about that modelling thing?”

Adrien flings his covers away from his face with a curse word sitting on the tip of his tongue at the exact moment that Natalie knocks on his bedroom door. “Adrien, you’re late for breakfast and the car is waiting out front.”

“One sec, Natalie!” he calls, frantically rolling out of bed. Hastily, he snatches up a shirt he wore last Wednesday and a pair of jeans from the floor. He’ll probably be in trouble for being tardy to the last dress rehearsal before the show, but for some reason it doesn’t bother him. He can’t remember the last time he felt so. . .unaffected by the dreary expectations of a fashion show itinerary. It’s almost liberating and for a moment, he feels like Chat Noir.

“You missed breakfast,” Plagg complains, “and I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry,” Adrien whispers as he shimmies into his change of pants. His hair is a cowlick, bed-headed disaster, but he doesn’t have any time to do anything with it. Hopefully the hair and makeup team will get to him before his father does. “I’ll get you something to eat as soon as I can.” He scoops Plagg up and tucks the kwami gently into the sports bag Adrien has been living out of over the past two days.

“Did you say something?” Natalie’s voice is garbled through the door.

He stuffs his feet into his sneakers without socks on and runs a quick hand through his hair once, twice, before zipping up his back and slinging it onto his shoulder. Adrien grins as he opens the door. “I said, I’m ready!”

She eyes the messy, unkempt state of him - an unusual thing; Adrien always appears before everyone as put together and immaculate as possible - and he wonders if she’s seeing the smile he can’t wipe off his face or the utter disaster of his appearance.

“You’re in a good mood for someone who woke up five seconds ago,” she observes.

He steps into the hallway and closes his door behind him. “I had a good dream last night.”


 

Adrien is Distracted. Absolutely.

He’s trying really hard to focus on what he has to do. Really he is. The rundown of the order on the catwalk was a piece of cake to memorize, and he’d been present enough while the hair and makeup team had been getting him ready for the promotional photo shoot. All in all, he’d been impressively concentrated on his work all morning, considering what he’d done the night before.

The lunch hour he’s been granted is the beginning of his ruin. Without the chatter of the hairstylist, he’s left to run his own thoughts ragged and immediately, his mind flies to Marinette. He finds himself sitting in a quiet corner with his phone in his hand, staring at her contact information.

He can’t stop thinking about her.

It’s messing him up.

While sneaking Plagg cubes of cheese absently, he begins to entertain the idea of Marinette as Ladybug. Allows himself to think about the things he’d blocked from his mind so that she could keep her privacy. The coincidences, the vague excuses, the similarities. He thinks about Marinette’s strengths and Ladybug’s weaknesses and he starts to feel flustered from how well the pieces fit.

It can’t be that simple, he thinks, eyes fixed on Marinette’s picture in his contacts list, hand gripping the phone tightly. Is it really this easy? Has she really been right there, right behind him in class, all this time? He doesn’t have proof, he won’t set his heart on it. But he’ll. . .he’ll hope. He’ll pray. And he’ll figure it out.

Ladybug may want to keep herself hidden from him but if Marinette is Ladybug, then what the hell had last night been about? She would have known exactly who Chat Noir was. He has to know what she was thinking. He has to get to know her.

For the first time today, he wishes he could be in school so that he could talk to her. Feel out the situation and how she is reacting. His stomach jitters with nerves at the thought, but they aren’t entirely uncomfortable.

“Plagg,” Adrien says, dropping his phone to the table with a frown, “you have it so easy.”

“Me? Stuck with a sap like you?” Plagg snorts from his spot hidden in the sports bag.

“All you care about is cheese,” Adrien mumbles. Life would be so much easier if all he cared about was cheese. “And I . . .” He cares too much, about too many things. With a sigh, he drops his head to the table to hide the burning blush on his face.

He’s gotta figure out how to get closer to Marinette, but he doesn’t know how to even start. Or who to be. Does he approach her as Chat Noir or Adrien? What will he say to her? This is such a mess.

“What am I doing?” he mutters into the table. He doesn’t have time to be thinking about her, or about this situation that he’s gotten himself in. And he definitely doesn’t have the time to be entertaining the idea that Marinette is Ladybug. Not now. Not with this stupid fashion show and this photo shoot ranking so high on his father’s list of priorities.

Adrien’s thoughts come to a screeching halt as he sits up again, his back straight as a line. Marinette likes fashion, right? He thought he remembered Nino saying something about her being into that sort of thing. Of course, there was also the fact that she won that hat designing contest his dad held. It had by far been the best one entered into the competition - it had looked professionally made and the look on her face when she presented it was glowing with pride.

He remembered being so happy for her, that the shy, cute girl who sat behind him in class got her chance to shine. That was months ago, though, and now Adrien just wanted to see her smile like that again. His fingers tapped against the table as he considered how he could make it happen, a plan taking shape quickly in his mind.

Maybe getting closer to her wasn’t going to be such an issue after all.


 

Marinette almost decides to skip school. Her stomach flutters with sticky nerves every time she thinks about seeing Adrien again and she doesn’t know if she can bear it. She does know that she shouldn’t have kissed Chat Noir last night - he is her partner, her most trusted friend in every sense of the word - and yet, she can’t really bring herself to regret it either.

She liked it.

It would be easier to insist she didn’t. She wants to say she didn’t, but it would be a lie and Marinette already keeps so many secrets from the world she can’t afford to keep any from herself.

Tikki’s encouragement is the only thing that got her out the door this morning. When she reaches the school steps, she nearly turns tail and flees the scene, but Alya sidles up on her other side and hooks her arm into Marinette’s elbow.

“I have some bad news for you,” Alya says by way of greeting.

Marinette’s stomach trembles but she has to keep the apprehension off her face. “Oh no, what is it this time?”

“Adrien won’t be here again today.”

She holds her breath. “How do you know?”

“Nino told me.”

Suddenly, it’s easier to breathe. Every rigid line of her body softens and she sighs deeply in relief, pressing a hand to her chaotic heart. So her luck has returned after all. Thank God. Thank every god ever!

Alya must sense the way she relaxes, sees the way Marinette’s tight expression unwinds into relief and she’s instantly curious. “What’s that look for?”

Marinette straightens up again and starts marching her best friend toward the school doors. “What look?” She plays innocent. For as clumsy as she can be, it’s unnervingly easy to disguise the truth of her heart from Alya.

“Don’t you want to see Adrien?”

Crap. “Of course I want to see Adrien!” Sort of. Maybe. It’s complicated. She slips out of Alya’s arm and smiles widely, convincingly. If there was a way she could tactfully talk about her problems, then she would. But Alya is a journalist at heart, and she’d be able to sniff out any tentative half-truths that Marinette could think up. There’s no way she could bring up kissing a boy who wasn’t Adrien and then play it off as if it were nothing.

And it wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Adrien. Marinette could feel her mouth go dry and her heart ache every time she thought about the handsome boy. He didn’t know how he felt about her, which is probably the only thing that really convinced her coming to school today wouldn’t out right kill her. But the fact that she’d kissed Chat Noir last night - really kissed him; kissed him because she wanted to, not because she had to - made her feel guilty.

Alya narrows her eyes, suspicious, ready to interrogate, but the first bell rings and Marinette skips ahead a few steps. “Come on, Alya! Or we’ll be late for class!”

The school day passes in a blur after that, thankfully. Luck is in her favor and the day goes much more smoothly than yesterday. She doesn’t trip, no one spills paint in her on art class, and Chloe seems too preoccupied with the latest gossip magazine to inflict any real damage. Alya is the only real challenge of the day, and Marinette knows better than to hope that her friend dropped the topic of Adrien. But Alya is distracted mostly by Nino, who hangs with the two of them at lunch due to Adrien’s absence.

At the end of the day, Nino and Alya decide to meet up and work on their literature report since they were assigned together. Alya tries to convince Marinette to come along.

“We’re gonna get ice cream too,” she says, with a tone that suggests there’s more to it than that. The sharpness in Alya’s curious gaze lets Marinette know that her friend is eager to do more than just eat ice cream with her and Marinette cannot talk about what she’s struggling with today.

“I have to get back to the bakery and help,” Marinette laments with exactly the right amount of dejection. “There’s a huge order that’s getting picked up tomorrow morning, and I promised I’d help.” It’s vague - there is a big order due tomorrow morning, but her parents had insisted she focus on her homework rather than ice a thousand cupcakes. Alya doesn’t need to know that, particularly, and Marinette needs time to sort out her scattered thoughts.

“You’re not off the hook, you know,” Alya says with a grin as she shrugs. “I’ll be picking Nino’s brain about this too.”

Marinette laughs. “There’s nothing to find, Alya. I’ll text you later.”

“See ya!”

She waves at her friend as she begins to walk back toward where Nino is talking to Juleka. “See ya!” Marinette turns on her heel and starts the trek home, grateful for the sunshine. She makes an effort to avoid the street she nearly got robbed on last night, so she sticks to the busier streets, trying her best to retreat back to her room where she can bury her head in her pillow and figure out whatever the hell is going on in her head, and in her heart.

The sidewalk is crowded with the typical after-school traffic, so she finds herself bobbing and weaving around groups and couples with dance-like ease. As she’s turning a corner on the outside lane of the sidewalk, she missteps - damn her clumsiness! - and her foot slips on the curb, sending her teetering toward the street.

A gasp flies out of her mouth and closes her eyes to brace for the impact of the concrete and the possibility of a car running her down, but a hand snags her around the waist and tugs her back to safety. Her heart pounding from the rush of adrenaline, she opens her eyes as she’s pulled against someone’s chest and suddenly it’s not just the adrenaline that’s got her blood pumping when she recognizes the bell at his throat.

“Seems like I’m always in the right place at the right time.”

She steps away from him and glances up to see his green eyes smiling down at her with a smug sort of air. There’s no trace of apprehension or awkwardness about him, but then again, it’s Chat Noir. She’s not sure its possible for him to even get embarrassed.

Marinette does, though. Her cheeks light up like a stoplight and she clutches both hands over her chest. “What are you doing here?”

He pauses at the expression on her face before his grin widens. “You’ve been thinking about me.”

She’ll punch him. She would do it now if everyone in a thirty foot radius wasn’t staring at them. Mostly at Chat, thankfully. “You need to work on your subtlety,” she says factually, turning on her heel and walking away. Honestly, seeing his stupid face is the literally the last thing on this earth she is capable of dealing with right now.

He follows her. Of course he does. “I wanted to talk to you.”

The truthful admission in his voice makes her face feel even warmer but she doesn’t turn to face him as he sinks into a stride beside her. They’re still attracting the attention of nearly every pedestrian on the street and Marinette quickens her steps. “That’s fine, silly cat, but I’m not about to have any sort of conversation with you where all of Paris can watch us.”

For the first time, he seems to notice that they have an audience. “Can’t blame them for staring; I do look good today,” he smirks. She catches him winking and waving at people across the street and if she were by his side as Ladybug she would have smacked him in the shoulder. “If it’s privacy you’re looking for, Princess, then allow me.”

She yelps in surprise as he grabs her and slings her onto his back before breaking into a run. Her arms wind tightly around his throat and her knees dig into his sides as he dodges the crowd on the sidewalk, resisting the urge to scream at people to move before he can run them over. But his cat-like grace allows them to thread through the throng easily and she finds herself gasping when he launches himself at a building and begins to climb.

Ladybug isn’t afraid of heights, and neither is Marinette for that matter, but being up so high without her yo-yo is unsettling and she buries her face into the back of Chat’s neck as he uses an awning to bounce up high enough to find another foothold.

“You stupid cat!” she cries out, her arms taut around his neck. “You could warn me next time!”

“You wouldn’t have let me do this if I had!” he calls back to her as he moves, laughter in his voice. She hears the sound of a window being opened and then he jumps again. Their landing is soft - there’s carpet under his boots and she pulls her face away to glance at their surroundings once she’s sure he’s done moving.

“Your knight has rescued you from the masses,” he says cheerfully, “you can come down now.”

They’re on the second floor of what sounds like a cafe, though the tables up here are empty. The clinking of forks on plates and delicate chatter carries up the staircase on the far side of the room and Marinette slowly unclenches her knees from  Chat’s sides. She keeps her arms wrapped around his neck until her toes touch the floor, her cheek pressed to the strong line of his shoulders. It makes her blush and she pulls away quickly.

Now that they’re alone again, the air becomes charged with tension and it makes Marinette’s knees tremble. She crosses her arms and leans against the corner of the window as he turns around to look at her, doing her best to look completely unaffected.

“So,” she says, meeting his eyes fearlessly, “what did you want to talk to me about?”

His gaze slides over her from head to toe in a quick pass that seems to linger even though it doesn’t. She feels electric. “What do you think I wanted to talk about?”

Ooh, she really is going to punch him if he keeps this up. “Chat, I don’t have time for word games with you.”

“What about other kinds of games?” he smirks.

Her face ignites, her breath leaves her body. “I-I-If you think we’re going to be k-kissing every time you - “

“I’m kidding, Marinette!” He holds his hands up in surrender, eyes wide at the way she’s clutching at her chest again, cheeks burning.

She averts her eyes, embarrassed that she’s falling apart in front of him. This isn’t like her! Chat Noir is her friend; a kiss shouldn’t have changed anything about their relationship. It didn’t last time she kissed him! Even if that had been a dire situation to bring him back from the possession that Dark Cupid had cast over him, it had still been a kiss. Why is she so weak to him now?

“Right,” she says, licking her lips, staring at the chipping paint on the window sill. “What was your point then?”

He takes a step toward her slowly, as if he’s trying not to scare her off. “Uh, right. Well, a friend of mine said that you liked to design clothes and stuff.”

The strange direction of the conversation nearly makes her forget her confusion and her embarrassment. She peeks at him. “Yeah. I do.”

Excitement explodes across Chat’s face and he reaches for the zipper pocket at the front of his suit. “Good. I wanted to give you this, then.” He pulls a slip of paper from the pocket and extends it toward her, practically shoving it into her hands. She gives him a quizzical look before glancing down to the slip and then her breathing stops. Again.

“This is a ticket for Gabriel Agreste’s fashion show,” she mouths in awe, her hand shaking a bit at the realization. A feeling like too much water pressing against a dam nearly ready to break wells up in her and she tries to push it away because there’s no way this can be happening. Her head snaps up to him again. “This is for me?”

Chat’s hands come up to hers and close her fingers more tightly around the ticket. He’s smiling with a tenderness she’s never, ever seen on him. It’s softer than any expression he wore last night and the existence of it sends her heart into a panic. “You don’t have to go, of course, but I thought. . .well, I guess I . . .” he trails off and she stares. Chat Noir speechless? She didn’t know that existed either!

“Where did you get this?” she asks, hoping that he didn’t do anything ridiculous just to get this for her. “These are expensive, you know. And nearly impossible to get a hold of.” Especially since its a Gabriel Agreste show and especially because it’s in Paris.

“A good friend of mine is in the show,” he says.

He’s closer now that he was a moment ago. She doesn’t remember him moving. “Are you going too?”

“Yes.”

His hands are still wrapped around hers. The entire realization of the situation comes crashing down on her. This is a ticket to a fashion show! The fashion show! She’s dreamed about being able to attend an event like this ever since she discovered her affinity for making clothes and now it’s going to be real and palpable. Her heart explodes with undiluted joy and she beams up at Chat, feeling herself glowing.

“Thank you so much, Chat! I’ve wanted to go to one for forever!”

He stares down at her as if transfixed, eyes flicking over her hair and her nose, lingering around her own eyes, before moving down to her smile. She remembers that last night, he had dropped his mask and she wonders again who he is. Does she want to know? She still feels very afraid but she’s not sure if that’s because the Chat with her is as goofy and self-sacrificing as the partner she knows or if it’s because he’s also softer and kinder than any other person she’s ever met.

His green eyes are burning into her again, like before, and the weight and heat are familiar. A gaze she's felt before. “Who’s your friend in the show?” she whispers, feeling suddenly as though she’s on the cusp of realizing something too big to comprehend.

“No one important,” he replies with a smile that’s almost bitter.

She frowns, but directs the topic in a different direction. “Well, I said thank you, kitty. Your manners are lacking - you can hardly call yourself a gentleman if you keep this up.”

The bitterness of his smile turns into a smirk and he leans a little closer to her, his hands drifting from her knuckles to her wrists. “You’re welcome, Princess.”

“I hope you don’t expect anything in return.”

“Of course not, my lady. It is a gift to be in your presence after all. I need nothing more.”

She snorts. “You kiss-up.”

His eyes flash and he leans even closer, stealing her breath as she presses her back into the wall. How do they always end up like this? “A kiss-up, you say?” He tilts his head, his lips hovering over hers close enough that she can feel the warmth of his breath. Every inch of her body feels alive and it takes her back to the night before.

“You’ve been thinking about me too,” she says softly, emboldened by the way he’s affected by her. She can feel his weakness in the closeness of his body, like gravity. It feels good to know that she’s not the only one who’s losing their mind.

He makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat, something like a purr, and even with the ticket still in her hand she finds herself reaching for him.

“I want to kiss you again,” he confesses.

“But you won’t?” she responds breathlessly, unable to feel disappointed when he’s this close.

“I don’t have the time to kiss you the way I want.” There’s something deep about his voice and it sends heat straight through her. “People are probably wondering where I am. Maybe I’ll see you at the show tomorrow, Princess.” His lips brush against her parted mouth softly, like a whisper, like a promise, and then he pulls away and jumps out the window.

She comes to her senses immediately, leaning out the opening to watch him as he hits the ground. “Chat!” she calls.

He glances up, grinning. “Yes, Princess?”

“Thank you again!” She waves the ticket, her face still hot, her body still trembling.

Even from this far away, she can tell that he winks and then flirtatiously blows her a kiss. She notes, as he walks away, slipping through the crowd with uncanny speed, that the set of his shoulders looks vaguely familiar.

“Tikki,” she says, drawing the kwami out from where she’s been hiding in Marinette’s purse, still watching the pedestrians move about below, “what am I doing?”

Tikki laughs. “Chat Noir isn’t the worst person in the world to fall in love with, Marinette.”

No, she thinks, but he is the most complicated choice. Can they afford that? Is it safe? “I. . .I always wanted to keep our superhero lives separate from our personal lives,” she says softly. It’s the smart thing to do. Besides, she loves Adrien. What she feels for Chat Noir feels different. She’s not sure in what way yet, and she’s not so sure she’s ready to find out.

“Are you going to go to the show tomorrow?” Tikki asks, pulling her out of her thoughts.

Marinette grins, glancing down at her kwami for the first time. “Yes! My whole life has been leading up to this!”

She’s going purely for the show, of course. To see the new summer fashions, to watch how the industry works in close quarters, to observe and take notes and simply cry over how wonderful it all is. Maybe it’ll even give her the push she needs to finish that dress she’s been working on for the past three weeks now. A thrill of excitement races over her skin as she tucks the ticket away.

The possible promise of seeing Chat again at the event is just an added bonus, she thinks, refusing to dwell on the complications the appearance of Paris’s cat-like superhero could cause.

She won’t think about how Adrien will be there, either.

Marinette looks back out the window. “He was going to kiss me again, Tikki.”

Tikki has a smile in her kind voice. “Did you want him to?”

“Yes, I did. I still do.”

Chapter Text

“You’re going where with who?”

Marinette tugs the iron from her hair and a curl falls from it, bouncing around her cheek delicately. She pauses for a minute to look down at her phone screen where Alya’s wide-eyed expression nearly pops out at her.

“I’m going to the Gabriel Agreste fashion show,” Marinette says gleefully, unable to contain her excitement. She couldn’t sleep last night, her mind chasing in circles over Chat and the show and even Adrien. But she’d finished her weekend homework this morning to distract her from the weight of it all - the kiss, the ticket, the way her heart is torn between two very precious things - and now she feels like she might explode.

“With a friend,” Alya repeats inquisitively. “You said with a friend. What friend?”

Marinette knows the promise of seeing Chat again at the event is probably pretty slim - he’s so ostentatious, and privacy is key when it comes to keeping their identities secret; surely he knows that well enough to decide that it’s best to keep his distance from a crowd like that - but still, she realizes she’s desperately hoping that he’ll show up in the shadows. He’ll smile that Chat Noir smirk and it’ll make her feel like punching him but there will be butterflies in her stomach. He’ll pull her into the dark, and his hands will burn into her as she finds the wall against her back again and then -

“Marinette? Girl, you’re spacing out on me.”

Marinette nearly drops the curling iron as she fights a rising blush. “Sorry! I was thinking about, um, Adrien. Sorry!” The lie feels so natural it makes her bite her tongue. It’s becoming too easy to hide the truth from her best friend, and she’s doesn’t like it. She likes the thought of Alya uncovering her secrets - her identity as Ladybug and her mixed up relationship with Chat Noir - and being disappointed even less, though.

Alya grins widely. “Oh yeah! He’ll be in the show won’t he?”

“Yeah,” Marinette replies, her stomach clenching at the thought. Thinking about the model gives her a thrill under her skin, and she’s excited to see him in his element, even if that means trying to come to terms with the uncomfortable guilt she feels. The overbearing knowledge that she probably (definitely) likes two people.

A sneaky look crosses Alya’s face. “You’d better do something with this opportunity. This is a pure stroke of luck, you do realize that, don’t you?”

“O-of course!” Marinette looks back at her reflection in the mirror and wraps another strand of her loose hair around the curling iron. She’s never been all that confident in her looks, but right now she’s sure that she’s going to look really good when she shows up at the event. She’ll probably run into both Chat and Adrien? She’ll channel Ladybug; she’ll make sure she’s never looked better.

“I expect you to call me tomorrow morning with news of your engagement to Adrien,” Alya continues on. “But, you never answered me. Don’t think I forgot! Who is this mysterious friend of yours, Marinette, and how did they land a ticket to the most prestigious fashion event in Paris?”

The superhero pulls her curl out of the iron again, admiring her work, thankful that she’s only got one last strand to style. She worries her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment, trying to pick the most vague way to respond. “He’s. . .um, he’s just one of my parents’ friends’ kids. And he said he knew someone in the show.”

Alya raises an eyebrow. “Someone our age knowing someone in a show like that?”

It is kind of strange, but Chat Noir is strange. Marinette dismisses it entirely. She’s already deducted over the past year or so of her partnership with him that he’s well-off. That he might even be apart of an important family. But until recently, she’d never been interested in prying into his life and so all she knows about him, really, is the truth of his character. How kind and strong and ridiculous and wonderful he is. That’s all that matters.

“He’s rich,” she says quickly, to throw Alya off.

“Are you gonna tell me what his name is?” Her best friend raises an eyebrow as Marinette leans toward the mirror and curls the last bit of her hair.

“He values his privacy,” she quips out and then instantly regrets it. Alya’s curiosity has a hunger and a mind all of its own and Marinette is positive now that she’s just awakened the beast from whatever little slumber it had gotten recently.

“A mystery boy!”

She drops her curl from the iron and then turns it off, feeling her face flush again. “Look, I’m not even one-hundred percent sure he’ll be there, so it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“Marinette, is this a date?”

The curling iron clatters into the sink as the blush deepens. “No!! Oh definitely no, Alya! We’re just friends!” Just friends, her butt. A memory of his mouth, rough against hers, flickers through her mind and she thinks the heat under her skin becomes almost too much.

“Good. Because if this was a date, I’d have to kick your butt for not telling me so.” Alya’s face breaks into a smile as Marinette picks up the phone and turns to leave the bathroom. “God, you look so pretty, Marinette! Adrien won’t know what hit him.”

Marinette touches the silky curls of her hair. “It’s not too much?”

“Shut up! You look hot! Accept your fate!”

She laughs, her heart swelling with thankfulness for her friend. She won’t think about how nearly every word out of her mouth has been a direct lie to Alya. “Thanks, Alya.”

“What are best friends for?” Alya laughs too, and her voice is like a balm to any nerves that are fluttering around in Marinette’s stomach. For a brief moment, Marinette wishes she could invite Alya along, especially since she knows that her friend is her strongest support. Alya’s always had her back, and Marinette feels a little lonely for not being able to talk about all the complicated emotions she’s got tangled up in her heart right now.

“I have to get going soon, so I should probably hang up,” Marinette smiles.

Alya nods vigorously. “Go! Go! I expected a fully detailed report on this endeavor!”

The two girls bid their goodbyes and then Marinette hangs up and tosses the phone on her bed with a sigh. Tikki, who had been hovering nearby out of Alya’s line of sight, comes to sit on Marinette’s shoulder and pats the girl lovingly at the disappointed expression on her face.

“I hate keeping secrets from her,” Marinette says softly.

“I’m sorry, Marinette,” Tikki sympathizes.

The superhero takes a few deep breaths and then brushes it off, standing up as a grin splits across her face. “There’s no time to mope over this if I want to enjoy myself tonight,” she says certainly. She knew when she became Ladybug that secrets from her most cherished people were going to happen, and that it wouldn’t be easy. “Let’s get ready to go, Tikki!”

::::

Adrien keeps peeking around the curtains. He’s going to get in trouble. He knows he will - he’s been yelled at twice already to stay away from the runway. People on the opposite side will be able to see him if he parts the curtain on the edge just far enough to glance out and search through the sea of people.

He’d made sure to get her the best ticket yesterday. Front row. Partly because he could - when he’d asked his dad for a ticket to give to his friend, his father was surprisingly compliant about the whole thing. Natalie had presented him with the slip less than an hour later. Her observant gaze had only grown more suspicious since that morning but Adrien merely grinned it away and slipped out of her sight.

Whatever was going through her mind must have worsened when he snuck away in the middle of the afternoon to deliver the ticket to Marinette, but he had to get it to her as soon as possible. The thought of giving it to her as Adrien - his only choice, if he had to wait til after the rehearsals and show up at her house - was nerve-wracking. She’d wonder too much, probably. Maybe she wouldn’t even come if he’d offered her the gift without a mask on.

Somehow that makes him both gleeful and disappointed.

The second reason he made sure to get her the best seat possible was because she deserved it, because he wanted to see her there. He wishes that he could join her instead of being the one on the catwalk - he couldn’t avoid that pun even if he tried - but really, Marinette doesn’t even know that Adrien knows her the way that he does.

And even if his suspicions about her being Ladybug are incorrect and he’s just projecting those feelings and those traits onto her, then he won’t be disappointed. Marinette is amazing in her own rights, with and without Ladybug. He just. . .he wants to know her. The burning to know gets hotter with every passing minute and he’s turning into a mess.

The curtains rustle in his hand as he peers out into the room, filling up with celebrities and fashionistas and writers and other important people. No sign of Marinette yet. He scrunches up his nose, resolving to scan the crowd once more when there is a hand on his collar, pulling him away from the stage area.

“For goodness sakes, Adrien.” It’s Natalie, and she looks irritated. He glances at her over his shoulder and smiles sheepishly, realizing that she must have been placed on watch duty. The expression on her face says that whatever her reason for being here, instead of near Gabriel Agreste, is not something she finds pleasant. “Who did you invite to the show? Do you have a girlfriend your father doesn’t know about?”

A blush burns high on his cheeks as he pulls away from her gently. “No. She’s just a friend. But she really loves this kind of stuff - I just wanted to make sure she got here okay.”

“I’m sure she’s fine. You won’t be if you keep disregarding protocol. Stay away from the curtains.” She gives him a pointed look. “Your father is stressed out enough as it is. Don’t add to it, please.”

Adrien cuts away from Natalie to glance at Gabriel, who stands clear across the cavernous space near the makeup tables on the other side. He looks cross, his face pulled tight with professionalism and irritation and Adrien sighs, knowing well enough that anything he does tonight will directly reflect on his father.

“Right. Sorry. No curtains. Got it.” He holds a hand up in promise and nods his head.

She stares at him through her spectacles for a moment longer than really necessary and he sees for the first time how exhausted she is. His father must really be working her overtime lately, and that’s saying something, considering she’s always working. “Thank you,” she sighs eventually, with a measure of relief. “I hope your friend shows up, Adrien.”

He smiles. “Thanks, Natalie.”

She nods curtly, almost a smile at her mouth, and then she leaves him alone with his thoughts again. He watches her go and then glances at the curtains, tempted, but more well-mannered than that. The sound of the crowd carries into the hectic backstage area, where models and dressing assistants flurry around in a panic, trying to get everything straightened up for the show. Adrien stays out of their way, thankful that he only has to worry about one outfit change instead of the six or seven that most of the older models need take into consideration.

One of the crew members steps up onto a chair so that she’s elevated above every other person in the room. “Five minutes to curtain!” she says in a controlled voice.

Everything passes in a blur then. All the models are corralled into lines and last minute adjustments are made to the clothes. A dressing assistant straightens out the deep blue sweater Adrien is wearing, tucks the hem in at his waist just so, brushes his hair back from his face in a more appealing way. His mind is so far away from the show that he’s almost worried he’ll end up tripping on the runway.

Quiet descends over the backstage area and then the lights from the audience dim. The speakers burst to life with upbeat music and Adrien takes a deep breath, hoping that when he steps out on the runway in about three minutes that he’ll see Marinette sitting there in the front row. So fierce is his anticipation to see her that he almost feels sick.

The show starts. Lights flash, music plays, the audience murmurs as a new article is shown off on the runway.

Luckily, when Adrien steps out onto the catwalk, this kind of thing is so routine for him that he doesn’t have to pay too much mind to what his feet are doing. His eyes search the front row, and then he spots her, sitting there in a self-contained way, her eyes wide, mouth parted slightly in wonderment.

He almost doesn’t recognize her in the dim lighting. She’s wearing her hair in a flounce of curls around her face and he’s not sure he’s ever seen her wear a dress before, but it’s pink and flattering and the clench of nerves in his stomach isn’t anxiety. Her sketchbook is open on her lap, ready to note down whatever it is she’s waiting for, pink and polkadotted and so entirely Marinette. Never in his life has he ever seen anything so pure and sweet and lovely. Never in his life has he ever wanted something so bad.

Their eyes meet as nears her toward the end of the walkway and there’s heat, the kind of heat that exists when he stands before her in a mask and a tail and the connection takes him off guard. He stumbles just a bit over his own feet, and then tears his gaze away from her, his face igniting in a blush. God, how embarrassing!

Just before he turns away, he sneaks one last peek at her, and she seems even more dazed than before. Star-struck. Her heart in her eyes. If he had any less propriety he might hop down off the stage and. . .and probably do something stupid. But at the moment, he is Adrien and his father is counting on him to be perfect and he’ll do everything to maintain his image, if that’ll help him to keep what little freedoms he has now.

In a moment of confidence at the expression on her face, he winks at her, delighting in the fact that she blushes and then he turns away and retreats back down the walkway. This time, he’s careful with his feet.


 

Once all the pieces from Gabriel Agreste’s new fall line have been presented and Adrien is no longer needed backstage, he hastily changes into the casual suit his father requests (demands) that he wear prior to every show. Plagg complains as he gets stuffed away in an inner pocket and other models cuss at him as he dives through the crowd.

The exit to the banquet hall is cluttered with people who won’t move and Adrien has to remember that he was bred to be polite and immaculate. Elbowing his way out of the room won’t gain him any favors with his father, so instead, he turns around and goes the less traditional route, making a beeline for the curtains he’d been so enamored with earlier.

“Your dad is watching you,” Plagg’s voice is muffled in the coat, so Adrien doesn’t know how the kwami can see that, but the burning gaze on the back of his head makes Adrien well aware that his father is indeed watching him.

“Marinette is here,” he says softly, her name almost a conviction. “She showed up.”

She’s probably looking for him - looking for Chat, he reminds himself - but he saw that look on her face. The way she’d looked at Adrien when their eyes met. Adrien, not Chat. Had she always looked at him like that? He can’t remember - she sat behind him in class, and she seemed to clam up whenever he was around.

And it’s weird because he sees her in his memory in the second floor of the cafe, the way every inch of her seemed to pull him forth like gravity when he’d been in her room just two nights ago. She’d wanted to kiss Chat. He saw that in her. But maybe. . .maybe a part of her wants Adrien, too. His heart swells at the thought that someone desires all of him. The thought that this someone could be Marinette.

He makes a sharp turn around the corner and leaps off the stage gracefully, landing on his feet the way he’s done before a thousand times. As he straightens, he searches the room to be sure that Marinette isn’t still sitting in her seat and when he finds her absent, he slips toward the banquet all.

Plagg pokes his head out from Adrien’s jacket. “You’re being pretty thoughtless about this,” he observes.

“I know,” Adrien admits, looking out the door into the crowded room. “I’ll figure it out. I won’t reveal my identity, I promise.” At least, not until he’s 100% sure that she’s Ladybug. And anyway, he couldn’t care less about secret identities at the moment. All he knows is that he has to see her.

He makes a point to tuck Plagg back into the inside pocket and then steps into the room.

Adrien has never been particular about his height before, but he’s tall enough that peering through the crowd isn’t as hard as it would have been otherwise. He curses the size of the banquet hall and starts making his way through the throng, looking for Marinette.

It’s not easy. He’s stopped by several people who recognize his face and Adrien is forced to make small talk and accept compliments that make him uncomfortable. His distractedness helps to end the conversations sooner than they would have on a normal basis and he barely spares a smile or a handshake as he moves on through the crowd.

He’s beginning to think that maybe she’d left when a flash of blush-pink material catches at the corner of his eye, and he turns his head quick enough to see her brush up against someone’s elbow, sketchbook clutched at her chest. She grins apologetically as the person she bumped into turns around.

Adrien stops, watching as the stranger smiles down at Marinette, speaking. Her eyes grow wide and then she beams, glowing with a smile as she touches the hem of her skirt. His attention is drawn to her clothes, which he guesses the stranger complimented. Adrien himself doesn’t really know the first thing about designing anything, but he admires her work as much as he can from this distance.

He approaches her, feeling fearless, and something in his skin lights up when she spots him.

“Hi, Marinette,” he says, trying his best to act the part of a friendly classmate and not the boy who wants to push her up against a wall and kiss her senseless.

A blush explodes across her face and she shoves her sketchbook into her purse. He can practically feel her trembling from here. “I-I-I’m Marinette!” she almost yells at him.

He can’t help but be amused. She’s so different around his opposite personas. “Yes, I know,” he laughs, sticking his hands in his pockets, grinning down at her.

A strange expression crosses her face as they make eye contact again, but she shakes her head. “R-Right. Um. . .” She fiddles with the small pink bow on the belt at her waist, her fingers picking at the fabric nervously as she tries to search for words.

He decides to help her out. “What are you doing here? I didn’t expect to see you.”

“Oh,” she says, peeking up at him, “someone gave me his extra ticket.”

“That’s super cool of him,” he says pleasantly, watching her face carefully.

The tiniest hint of a smile curls at her lips. “Yeah, he’s cool alright.” Her gaze turns a bit more confident as she turns her head to directly meet his eyes.

He smiles, feeling himself soften. “Did you have fun? I know you’re into this whole. . .y’know, fashion thing.”

She blinks immaculately, her cheeks darkening in color again, still fidgeting with the bow. “Y-Yes!”

There’s a small pause where he waits to see if she’ll say anything else before he speaks again, but it seems that no matter what he does, she’s determined to stay shy around him.

“Your dress is really pretty,” he tries out the compliment. “Did you make it yourself?”

Her eyes grow wide as saucers as her face turns as pink as the dress. Something terrible shifts in the air and fills his stomach with dread. He feels his confusion mount as she turns away, clutching her purse close to her side. “I-I-I have to go.”

He watches as she pushes through the crowd, desperate to get away from him and bewilderment turns to pain. Did he say something wrong? Is she okay? His stomach fills with a lead weight, a sick churn of guilt for whatever it was he did wrong. He has to know; he can’t leave her like this.

He follows her as she bolts from the room, toward the back doors that lead to the office spaces, her feet racing in a frantic beat for an exit. She bursts through the doors and a minute later he’s behind her.


 

Marinette stumbles through the almost pitch darkness, her hand trailing along the walls to keep her from running into anything that might cause her to trip and fall. Her heart is beating so loud that the blood rushes in her ears with the sound of a vacuum and she feels like screaming.

“Tikki,” she says desperately, knowing her kwami can’t come out of hiding until she’s out of plain sight, “why do I feel like this?” She comes to a stop and presses her back to the wall when she’s decided she’s gone far enough, moonlight peeking in from slits in the blinds over the windows. She places a hand over her chest, feeling the intense heat that flushes her skin.

She leans into the wall, resting her head back against the cool plaster as her eyes fill with angry tears. Anger at herself, for allowing Chat Noir to confuse her, anger at him, too. It’s not fair to him - her heart would yearn for him even without the kiss that seemed to change her world, she just wouldn’t recognize it as such. Not yet.

Ladybug had been keen on keeping Chat at a distance and here he is now in her personal life, messing with her head and her heart, and the only one she’s pushing away now is Adrien. A boy she’s been waiting to look at her for almost a whole year now.

Her shoulders tremble and even knowing that she’d had so much fun at the fashion show, she wishes she’d never come. Simply for the realization that had struck her like lightning when Adrien had actively approached her and started talking to her. She feels torn in half and it hurts.

A gentle hand touches her shoulder as she begins to cave in on herself. “Marinette.”

She knows that voice. “Chat?” Her throat is thick with emotion.

There’s a weighty pause - its too dim to see him, but she can feel how close he stands to her, how hot his fingers are against her shoulder. “Prince Charming is here,” he says, almost awkwardly. “Why did this Cinderella leave the ball before midnight?”

She reaches up to shove his hand away from her, gritting her teeth. He’s the last person she needs to see. “What are you doing here, Chat Noir? I don’t want to see you.”

“If I may point out,” he says with an ironic tinge to his voice, “it’s dark enough that you can’t see me at all.”

Marinette makes a frustrated groan, reaching out to slap him away, to give her more space. With him so close it makes it hard to think and she needs to think, needs to breathe away from this dumb boy problem she’s having. Saving Paris from Hawkmoth’s akumas feels like a cakewalk compared to dealing with feelings. She wishes one would pop up now. Maybe then she’d be spared a terrible ending to a terrible night.

“Chat, I’m not in the mood,” she grits out. “I need my space.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and then, “You looked upset. I just wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

“I’m fine!”

“You’re lying,” he says absolutely, his voice going hard. “If you’re mad at me for whatever reason, then just tell me.”

She wishes she could see his face so then she would know what expression he’s wearing. She does feel it, though, when he steps closer again and the warmth of him reaches across the space that separates them. Her voice gets stuck in her throat for a moment.

“I’m not mad at you,” she finally says.

“Yes you are,” he snaps. “I know you better than you think, Marinette.”

Something thrills under her skin at the absolute conviction in his voice. She wants to laugh at him. Insist that he knows nothing, that he’s stupid and pushy and annoying. But that conviction pierces her, and the truthful ring to it makes her tremble, makes her want it to be the truest thing he’s ever said. Marinette clenches her hands into fists just so she won’t reach for him.

“Fine,” she quips, voice like acid, “maybe I am mad at you. I’m mad you kissed me.”

She feels his dumbfounded expression, even though she can’t see him. “Are you. . .I asked you. You wanted it.”

“That’s what I’m angry about,” she mutters.

He laughs, then, long and loud and hard. He steps even closer his hand touches hers and for the first time, she feels his skin. A jolt shocks through her as she realizes that he’s not transformed and she shies away from him, even though she craves even closer physical contact.

“You’re angry that you want me?” he whispers, still full of laughter.

“Yes, you silly cat,” she replies shortly. “In fact, I’m furious.”

“That’s adorable.”

“My anger is not adorable!”

“Y’know,” he says, slipping his fingers into hers again, testing his luck. She can’t find the strength to pull away a second time. “This cat of yours would leave if you just asked. I’ll leave you alone and never bother you again if that’s what you really want.”

She tightens her hand around his. “No,” she mumbles.

He brings her knuckles to his mouth and kisses them. “Did you enjoy the show, Princess?”

Her heart stutters as she remembers Adrien on the catwalk, Adrien looking for all the world like a movie star as he strode down the walkway toward her, Adrien winking at her. A hint of a smile shines in her voice. “Yeah.”

Aimlessly, he says, “Did you see the idiot who tripped?”

Marinette can’t help it; she laughs as he leans against the wall next to her. Close enough that the hollow of his shoulder presses against hers and her stomach leaps. “That is Adrien Agreste you’re talking about,” she chides, aware that her voice gets softer. “He goes to my school, you know.”

He comes across a bit distracted. “So what?”

“So, he’s rich and famous and much cooler than you. I’d watch who you call an idiot if I were you.”

“Marinette,” he nearly interrupts her, his voice colored in unbridled desire. “Do you want to kiss me?”

“What?”

She feels his hand touch the other side of her face, tilting her toward him. His skin burns, or maybe that’s her, maybe she’s the one burning. Either way, it doesn’t matter. She shifts so that she’s closer to him, and she feels it as he dips.

“I really will stop if I’m causing you too much trouble,” Chat murmurs.

She doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her once she needs to be Ladybug again. Once she’s got to stand in Chat’s presence without betraying her need to be closer. But she does know, that stopping whatever this is now, will only hurt her more than it will help. She reaches up and presses his hand against her face. The cool, hard surface of the ring he wears on his third finger cuts through the heat in her cheeks.

“Don’t,” she whispers.

His mouth is flat to hers before she finishes speaking. A sound of surprise purrs in the back of her throat as he shifts to stand in front of her, pressing her back entirely against the wall. Chat runs a hand through her curls, probably messing them up as he smudges her lip gloss, but she can’t care less. Everything in her feels static, crackling and buzzing, like a storm.

“I’ve been waiting for this all day,” he whispers against her lips as he pulls away for a brief second.

She replies with a noncommittal noise, wrapping her arms around his waist and gripping his jacket at the back to pull him closer. Marinette wants to say something equally cheesy and equally romantic but the only word she can think of is his name, and when she says it, throaty, desperate, it seems to stick under his skin, to drive him crazy.

Chat kisses her fully and thoroughly, pulling at her bottom lip, one hand at the small of her back to keep her close. With every second that passes she loses herself a bit more in him and when he drags his fingers up her back, pressing to that empty space between her shoulder blades, she nearly gasps.

“You’re not wearing your mask,” she says breathlessly as he pulls his face away. She reaches up to cup his cheeks, running her thumbs over the space his mask would normally cover.

“I trust you,” he murmurs sensually, simply. He kisses the corner of her mouth. The weight of him pinning her to the wall is so delicious that her stomach burns as she craves more, even as she’s afraid to ask for it.

“Why?” Her lips touch his with a whisper.

Instead of an answer, he merely kisses her again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Adrien is trying really hard not to be obvious. Honestly.

He’s entirely aware of how much effort he’s making in constantly telling himself to not look at Marinette. It should be easy to keep his eyes away, since she sits directly behind him in class. However, this knowledge makes it impossible for him to concentrate.

What’s worse is that he can feel her staring at him when his back is turned. He thinks it might drive him crazy.

He blinks furiously when a hand waves in front of his face, bringing him back to the present. “Earth to Adrien! Come in, dude.”

Adrien smiles sheepishly at Nino, who sits across from him at the picnic table, a sandwich halfway to his mouth. “Sorry, Nino, I was - “

“Being creepy again?” Nino raises an eyebrow as he bites into his lunch.

The superhero tries to make up a better excuse, but his eyes flicker to where Marinette is sitting on the other side of the courtyard with Alya and a couple of the other kids from class, and he hangs his head in defeat. “Maybe?”

“Alya told me you saw Marinette at your fashion gig on Saturday.”

Adrien pushes the cubed fruit around its container with his fork. “Yeah, I guess.” He’s trying really hard to be nonchalant too, but it’s not working out so well either. It gives him a headache when he thinks about this whole situation, the strange triangle between him and Marinette and Ladybug. Marinette is warm and real and inviting when she’s with Chat Noir, so it absolutely boggles his mind when he’ll approach her as Adrien with a Chat-like swing in his step and she turns tail and runs the other way.

“Well, whatever happened between you two must have really freaked Marinette out,” Nino continues conversationally as he chews. “She won’t tell Alya anything.”

A bit of a clever smirk curls at Adrien’s mouth as he raises his own eyebrow at his friend. “Alya convinced you to do some digging, huh? What did she bribe you with?”

Nino swallows and then sighs, clearly surprised that Adrien had caught on so quickly. “Concert tickets. Throw me a bone so I have something to tell her,” he nearly begs. “That woman is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Marinette.”

Adrien spears a piece of fruit, chewing on the inside of his cheek. It’s not that he’s trying to keep the whole thing a secret. It’s more that Marinette had acted really weird and he was still trying to figure out what he’d done or said wrong, to have made her run away from him in the first place.

And then when he’d chased her, she thought he was Chat Noir. Which, he is of course, but he wasn’t wearing a mask at the time. Zero transformation included. A part of him is elated by that - that even without the mask, Marinette felt the truth of him in the dark. It doesn’t erase his confusion, though. What does he tell Nino? That she had run away and then kissed him thoroughly enough to make him stupid ten minutes later, while under the impression that he was half of Paris’ famous superhero duo?

He’s not even sure Nino would believe him if he told the truth. It all sounds dreamlike and fantastical when he puts it that way.

He finds his gaze drawn to Marinette (again) but this time when he looks, their eyes meet and a rush of heat burns him from the inside out, stomach fluttering. Adrien watches with deep satisfaction as her face darkens with color and she turns away, her flailing hands knocking her water bottle off the table and into the grass.

“Adrien.”

His attention snaps back to Nino, who sighs again. “Really, dude?”

“Look, nothing happened,” Adrien lies with a dismissive laugh that sounds just a bit too carefree to be believable. “I tried to compliment her on her dress and she shot out of the room like I personally set her skirt on fire.”

“Well something had to have happened. You keep staring at her like she’s got the secret to life.”

He thinks that maybe she might. Adrien glances toward Marinette once more and notes that she’s studiously ignoring him, though her face is still apple red. He drops his eyes and pops a piece of fruit into his mouth.

“Did you reject her, maybe?” Nino guesses around another mouthful of his sandwich.

Adrien nearly chokes on the melon. “What?!”

“I’m just throwing out possible ideas. I’m trying to read your face.”

“Marinette can’t stand to be within a ten foot radius of me! There’s no way she would confess to anything other than that!” Adrien sighs, remembering the horribly closed off expression she wore on Saturday when he’d tried to talk to her.

Nino stares at him, eyes wide and full of incredulous disbelief, a lull in the conversation. When he replies, he’s skeptical. “Dude, c’mon.”

The blood rushes to Adrien’s face at the expression, quite unable to believe that this is what they’re talking about. “You think she likes me?” It doesn’t make sense to him; they haven’t really ever talked, at least, not to her knowledge. Not as Adrien and Marinette. What she has to know about him is impersonal stuff that everyone else knows, and despite her sunny smiles, she really does seem unusually uneasy around him. For a moment, his heart flutters in panic at the thought that she knows he’s Chat Noir, but then again that wouldn’t make sense either. Marinette kisses Chat.

And apparently, Adrien, too. He remembers the dark hall on Saturday night, her blazing warmth and the sweetness of her eager mouth. She certainly wouldn’t have done that if she’d known that Chat hadn’t even been there, technically, would she?

“Are you for real, right now? I thought you knew she was crushing on you.” Nino laughs and puts his sandwich down, adjusting the glasses on his face briefly. “Oh man, I know you’re socially oblivious, Adrien, but Marinette is so obvious.”

Adrien stares at Nino like he’s grown two heads, his face getting warmer by the second as his apprehension grows. Is it true? he wonders, awe-struck. Can it really be this easy? He has no references to work with as far as girls go. The only girl he’s ever been close to is Chloe, and she’s always been so blunt and forward with what she wants from him that it hadn’t crossed his mind that Marinette - who is so strong-willed and defiant and beautifully fierce in the face of Chloe’s antics - might not be the same way with her feelings. That despite her strength and outspoken leadership in the class, Adrien is her one weakness.

And if it’s true that Marinette has a crush on him as Adrien, then that means her entire heart is dedicated solely to him. That both of his halves have managed to capture her attention. He doesn’t want to get his hopes up, but a very Chat-like grin splits across his face. The only way to confirm this is to confront her about it himself.

He’s not sure what he’ll do with the information. Somehow, revealing to her that he’s Chat Noir seems too sudden. And anyway, he wants her to figure it out. His eyes are drawn to her again, gently tracing over her outline as she makes lively conversation with Alya, throwing her head back to laugh. With this new information, and his tender heart swaying easily in her direction, she almost shimmers in the sun.

::::

Adrien doesn’t get a chance to talk to Marinette before school ends, and he thinks its because she’s doing her best to avoid him. It’s alright, though, because he already has plans to talk to her tonight. Chat Noir will most definitely be paying her a visit. The anticipation of it puts a bounce in his step and butterflies in his stomach.

So under the pretense of doing his homework, he expects to be able to lock his bedroom door and escape out the window after transforming. But as soon as he walks into the front door of his house, he’s greeted by the sight of his father standing at the bottom of the stairs, Natalie on his right, her head bowed as she frowns.

Adrien immediately curls in on himself, throwing up his defenses at the hard look of disapproval on Gabriel Agreste’s face.

“What’s going on?” Adrien asks warily, trying his best not to jump the worst conclusions.

His father remains rigid. “Your behavior at my show was unacceptable.”

It had taken place nearly two days ago now, but Adrien bitterly surmises that his father hadn’t had the time to confront him about it before now. “I was perfectly behaved, Father.”

“Your pre-show etiquette was embarrassing. And during the banquet, you disappeared after offending several of our important guests by brushing them off when they tried to speak with you.”

He does remember being rather blunt, but he had been intent on finding Marinette, and even now as his father reprimands him, he can’t bring himself to feel apologetic or regretful of the whole thing. After all, the results of his search had ended with her contentedly sandwiched between him and a wall as she whispered his name and stole his breath.

“I wasn’t feeling too well,” Adrien hedges, wishing that his father could at least find some innate sense of understanding of what it feels like to be a fifteen year old boy thrown into the cutthroat world of high fashion and snobby rich people.

His father’s eyes narrow slightly. “Natalie told me about this girl you invited to the show. Were you with her?”

Adrien frowns. Danger! Danger! his mind is screaming at him. “What kind of host would I be if I hadn’t been?” His words are carefully chosen, and slightly confrontational on purpose. He’s getting really sick of being a tool to boost his father’s name and image, and the older he gets, the less he feels that his father sees him as his son instead of some sort of live-in employee.

It’s no wonder that his mother left.

Gabriel Agreste stares. “Entertaining a little friend from school is not the same as entertaining our colleagues, Adrien. I need you to remain professional at your next public appearance under my name. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father,” Adrien replies stiffly.

His father turns away marginally, to retreat back to his offices to work on whatever he left unfinished to give Adrien this lecture, before glancing over his shoulder at his son. “Our business is important. If you continue to be distracted by schoolmates, I’ll have to have you privately tutored again. Are we clear?”

Adrien drops his eyes, heart heavy as he nods. “Yeah.” Our business. As if Adrien actually has any say in what goes or not. He clutches his school bag tighter against his shoulder and then bolts up the stairs.

He kicks his bedroom door shut behind him, feeling more angry than hurt by the whole thing. Adrien had worked his butt off to prove to his father that he could balance his work and going to a public school. For months, he’d begged to have the freedom to make friends his own age while studying into the early morning hours to ace all the tests that his tutors could throw at him. He’d worked flawlessly and perfectly at every fashion event whether it be shows or photo shoots.

After nearly a year of breaking his back to prove that he could afford to go to public school, he’d been granted the admission. His father had almost looked proud at the dedication and drive in Adrien’s effort to be the most well-mannered prize of a son. Adrien had earned his freedom completely through hard work.

And, apparently, one distracted night is all it takes for that freedom to be stolen away from him.

He sets his bag down on his bed before flopping down, face first into his pillow. It’s not fair, he thinks, not fair at all. There’s no one on his side through any of this. He knows that Natalie isn’t his mother, but he wishes that she could argue on his behalf, just a little bit. It’s clear she doesn’t completely approve of all of Gabriel’s parenting techniques. It’s clear that she’s used by him just as carelessly as Adrien is himself.

Still, even with the threat of having it all torn away, he wouldn’t do anything different if he could go back in time. It had been, undoubtedly, the best fashion show he’d ever been forced to participate in. Probably the only one he actually enjoyed attending after the presentation was done on the catwalk too. And he knows the sole reason for that is because Marinette had been there.

Precious Marinette, who loved to design clothes, who jumped to her friends’ defense before her own, who was strong and defiant and brilliant in her own unique ways. Ever since he’d met her as Chat Noir, his curiosity about her had grown from a tiny ember into this flame that is getting out of control. The more he watches her, the more sure he is that she is the very same as his Ladybug.

And despite not having seen Ladybug in over a week now, he doesn’t miss her. Why would he, when she’s been with him nearly every day since, dressed down into Marinette? A part of him yearns for the reveal, to one-hundred percent prove his suspicions correct, while the other is wary. He doesn’t want to ruin what he has with her, even if it is double-sided and strange. Ladybug has warmed up to Chat in recent months, but she’d never let her walls down with him the way Marinette had.

All of this is just so confusing.

“Are you going to feed me or what?”

Adrien groans as a small weight settles on the back of his head. “There’s extra cheese in my lunchbox,” he mutters into the pillow.

Plagg makes a content sound. “Oh goody. I’ll need all the energy I can get if I have to put up with you and Marinette again tonight.”

Adrien rolls over, checking his clock on his nightstand. Two hours before the bakery closes for the night, which means  he’s got to hurry if he wants to talk to her about his revelation from earlier today. He gets the impression that Marinette spends the evenings with her parents, starting with a family dinner, and he doesn’t want to ruin that.

“Plagg, I need you to devour that cheese as fast as you can,” Adrien declares with a smile in his kwami’s direction. “And when we get home, I’ll smuggle you the biggest Camembert we’ve got in the kitchen.”

All his frustrated thoughts about Gabriel Agreste vanish as euphoric anticipation starts to build in the pit of his stomach. It doesn’t take too long for Plagg to eat, and then Adrien calls for Chat Noir. A smile splits across his face as he shoves his window open and starts sprinting across the roof toward the bakery.

::::

She’s watering the plants on her balcony in the twilight air with her spray bottle when he ambushes her.

“Hello, Princess,” Chat purrs in Marinette’s ear, his lips pressing quickly to her cheek from over her shoulder. She lets out a surprised yelp and spins away from him. In the process, she loses her footing and only Chat’s miraculous cat-like reflexes keep her from hitting the floor.

She stares up at him, wide-eyed, as he cradles her, a smirk on his face. “It seems as though I have swept you off your feet,” he says smugly, the fairy lights strung along the wall sparkling in his eyes.

Her cheeks redden as she holds up the spritzer and sprays him in the face with water, glaring. Chat laughs, straightening up and righting Marinette on her own feet.

“It’ll take more than a little bit of water to curb my bad habits with you,” he declares in a voice like silk. It’s then that she reads his entire posture. The thrill in his glittering eyes, the languid way he’s speaking, that confident, hungry look about him. Her stomach bottoms out.

This cat is on a mission and she’s sure that if there has ever been a time to be wary of him, its now.

She means to be assertively clear in her boundaries, but her finger tips the bell at his throat upwards and she raises an eyebrow at him. “What are you doing here, kitty cat?” Her finger slips, gliding over the top of the bell, before she pulls her hand away.

He grins, hopping up to sit on the rail of her balcony. “I’m here to talk about the guy you like.”

A blush explodes across her face as she stares at him. “I don’t want to talk about him.” It makes her heart panic when an image of Chat flickers through her mind before Adrien comes to the forefront of her thoughts.

“That’s fine,” he says cheerfully, “I’ll carry the conversation myself. You don’t have to paw-ticipate.”

She sprays him with the bottle again and his laughter breaks the night and fills the early summer dusk with even more warmth than before. She watches him as his eyes pin to her, both of them glowing in the sparkling lights a bit. It’s painfully obvious how euphoric he is, as though he’s absolutely giddy to talk about her crush. Which is extremely suspicious, considering that he knows, as far as she’s admitted, that it’s not him.

“Go home, Chat.” She turns her back to him and carries on watering her plants near the railing.

“In a little bit,” he promises slyly, playing with the end of his tail. “First I wanna talk about how cool your crush is.”

She pauses, furrowing her eyebrows, trying to figure out what the hell is going on in her partner’s brain. None of this is usual.

“You say he’s cooler than me. What’s cooler than being a superhero that saves Paris? Maybe he’s famous? A celebrity crush?” He hums, delighted with himself. Every word out of his mouth puts her even further on edge. “But maybe more than just that. Does he go to your school? Am I getting warm?”

She looks at him from over her shoulder. “He’s a model,” she mutters, searching his masked expression.

“So you saw him at the fashion show the other night.” Her eyes narrow as he smiles innocently at her. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He swishes his tail back and forth in his hands, entirely too self-satisfied. “The only boy who had been a part of that show and could feasibly be in your school is Adrien Agreste.” His voice grows soft. “Am I right?”

Her face burns with confusion and embarrassment, her insides twisting and turning with anxiety. “Chat, what are you doing?” She hears the lump of emotion in her throat as she sets the spray bottle on the table and stares at the counter space before her. She places her hands flat against the surface and leans on it, taking deep breaths.

“What’s so special about this guy, Marinette?” His tone is gentle, curious. She hears him slide off the railing and approach her side. “You like that he’s a model?”

“No,” she murmurs, glad that she’s in control of her voice. “I mean, I guess it’s an advantage. I get to see his face everywhere.”

Chat chuckles at that. She chances a peek to read his expression. He’s looking at her with warm anticipation and it gives her a honeyed feeling in the pit of her stomach. A crooked smile pulls at her mouth as she drops her eyes back to the table.

“Adrien. . .” Her words trail off as she tries to find the right way to convey why he’s so special to her. “Adrien doesn’t know that I watch him. I don’t think he knows anything about me at all except that I like to design my own clothes. But I. . .I see that he’s lonely, even if he never says so.

“I don’t really know his home life, but knowing that his dad is a famous fashion designer, I can only guess that he feels isolated. And even though he has money and fame, he’s so kind. His kindness is endless, Chat. He visits and supports dog shelters, and last month he said he was working on starting a new charity for homeless kids in Paris.

“He was homeschooled all his life until this year, but it’s made him generous and patient, instead of the other way around. He can somehow stand Chloe, who. . .well, you’ve met her. And he’s so smart! He has really good grades, all while maintaining fluent Chinese, fencing practice and piano lessons.”

She smiles again, lost in thought, as she continues to babble. “Honestly, the mystery of him drew me in, I think. Sometimes, I look at him and feel like I’ve known him for my whole life, even though I can’t say a single thing to his face without sounding like an idiot. There’s something so. . .familiar about him. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t help myself!”

Her smile turns wistful. “He’s never going to know how I feel about him. He hardly knows that I exist.”

There’s a lengthy pause and then Chat’s gloved hand slowly closes over hers where it rests on the table. A blush heats her face for her honesty, and bravely, she glances at him to read his response.

His bright eyes are soft, his mouth slightly parted as though he’s speechless. There’s something so unexpectedly tender and breakable about his expression that it draws her toward him. This is probably the strangest conversation she’s ever held with anyone. She thought that telling him these things about Adrien might make him. . .well, anything other than soft and gentle, which is what he is now.

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” he murmurs, squeezing her hand.

She flushes. “You sound so sure.”

“That’s because I am.” Thee cool sliver of his ring presses into her as he takes her hand into his, rubbing his thumb over the back of her knuckles in slow circles.

She stares at him, still trying to understand the point. “What’s going through your mind, silly cat?”

“The only thing I can think of at this very moment,” he says with a smolder in his voice, “is how much I’d like to kiss you again.” Their gazes hold as he caresses her hand. There’s something different about the weight of his eyes on her skin. It was real before, real and warm and honest, but it’s more than that now. Intimate. Electric.

“Why do you keep asking?” she whispers. Hasn’t she been transparently clear by now? That a part of her longs for him, no matter how much she likes another boy? “You already know the answer.”

“Your unwavering consent is precious to me, my lady.” A shock goes through her at the nickname that rolls off his tongue with such care and familiarity. And certainty. “I want you to be one hundred percent sure about me, when I know your heart belongs to a boy named Adrien, too.”

She frowns, reaching up to touch the edges of his mask. His eyes are so bright in the growing darkness of the night. If it weren’t for the lights strung up on the wall, she might not be able to see much of him at all. “What about your heart, Chat Noir?”

“My heart is yours,” he says gently, dipping toward her.

Marinette’s heart lurches, her face suddenly burning again with color. “What about Ladybug?”

“Yours,” he repeats in a whisper. “Absolutely and entirely yours.”

She kisses him, rocking forward on her toes so that her mouth presses against his. He’s in her head and under her skin and his name is the only word on her tongue. He makes a sound of surprise in the back of his throat as she steps toward him and he stumbles, the small of his back pressing into the railing of her balcony.

Marinette throws her arms around his shoulders and his arms wind across her back, effectively eliminating the remaining space between them. Her lips are desperate against his and when she begins to run out of breath, she pulls her face away, burying it in the crook of his neck.

For the first time in her life, someone knows her as both Ladybug and Marinette, and they choose Marinette. Silly, clumsy, forgetful Marinette. Over a superhero that’s strong and brave and constantly confident in everything that she does. Marinette tries to slow the pace of her heart but she’s a firework. Somehow, she finds her lips moving against his collarbone.

“Who are you, Chat Noir?”

His mouth presses to the top of her head, a smile curling his lips. “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.”

She sighs, tightening her arms around his shoulders, reluctant to ever let him be farther away from her than he is now ever again.

“I’m closer than you think, Princess,” he murmurs happily, pushing her away at the waist so that he can meet her eyes. She stares up at him, taking in his face. The green of his eyes, the straightness of his nose, the cut of his chin. “You’ll figure it out.”

She raises an eyebrow at him. “What does that mean?”

He grins cattishly and then kisses her quickly. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to get back home before someone realizes I’m gone.” Chat slips from her hold and leaps up to stand on the railing, his gaze playful as he looks down at her.

She props her hands on her hips. “You’re enjoying this too much, you dumb cat.”

“No,” he purrs, “I’m enjoying this just the right amount.”

Marinette sighs and then smiles, leaning back and crossing her arms over her chest. “Can I ask one more question before you dash away, handsome boy?”

He crouches back down, holding his balance perfectly on the railing. “Of course, my lady.”

A shiver crawls deliciously down her spine, and the warmth that floods every inch of her body makes her sure in herself. “Do I know you without the mask?”

His teeth expose in a flash of white, the smile reaching his eyes as he grins. “You’ll figure it out,” he whispers, and then he’s gone, flinging himself off the balcony. She watches as he leaps gracefully over the rooftops until he’s disappeared.

“Tikki,” Marinette says softly, as her kwami companion creeps out from behind one of the potted plants, “what are the chances that Chat Noir knows I’m Ladybug?”

Tikki smiles as she sits on Marinette’s shoulder. “I don’t know. What do you think, Marinette?”

Marinette thinks about the way Chat looks at her, about the way he’s been pursuing her, the absolute conviction in his voice when he confessed his heart to her just a few minutes ago. And then she considers his behavior around her when she’s wearing the mask, and how heart-achingly similar it is. How nothing had changed between them, except the fact that honesty had a place now, as it slowly comes into the light that glows in the spaces of their hearts.

“I think,” she whispers, hugging herself, “that the chances are very high.”





Chapter Text

Marinette hardly sleeps. She’s up most of the night thinking about Chat. About things that she shouldn’t be thinking about. Especially the quieter, hotter things that happened in the shadows where their faces were hidden and their hearts exposed, set on fire. The things that are consuming her - heart, mind, and soul. She lays in the dark, burning, staring at the window of her hatch, at the single star that looms in the sky overhead.

She needs to know him.

The surety he had in her figuring out his true identity pretty much answered her question from the night before; that, yes, she knows him in real life. And if that’s true, then that means he’s been in close quarters with her, even without the mask. How close? In her school? In her class?

That thought is both thrilling and distressing. That she might have been kissing someone from her class. That she might have liked it. And she feels the heat of the knowledge everywhere: her cheeks, her eyes, her stomach, her hands.

Whoever Chat Noir is, he’s a very good actor. She’ll have to pay even closer attention to him if she wants to discover his identity. Like he’s discovered hers. Or at least, like she’s sure he’s discovered hers. She doesn’t know the depth of Chat’s feelings for her, but sometimes as Ladybug, she would catch glimpses of his expression when he thought she wasn’t looking.

She wasn’t sure how to read them then, but she knows now.

When dawn breaks, she can’t stand to stay in bed any longer. Her restless body is out from under the covers and sliding down from the loft. Once she reaches the bottom, she presses her fevered forehead to the ladder and takes a deep breath. Tikki blearily floats down after her, rubbing her eyes.

“It’s so early, Marinette. Are you feeling okay?”

“Can’t sleep,” Marinette sighs. “Sorry to wake you, Tikki.”

The kwami comes to sit on the step right beside her face. “Do you want to talk it through?”

“What’s there to talk about? Chat Noir knows who I am and he’s teasing me about it.” She makes an irritated snorting sound. “And apparently, I know him, without the mask. Oh, Tikki!” Marinette tosses her head back and groans. “This is such a mess.”

“Matters of love are always messy between Ladybug and Chat Noir,” Tikki says as sympathetically as she can. Marinette can hear the blood rushing in her ears as she turns that information over in her mind, trying to make sense of it, trying to convince herself that there’s a simple solution.

She’s so used to being presented with an issue or a problem that she can solve with a little bit of hands-on activity. Solutions always seem present themselves in a straight-forward - if a little convoluted - way. But this thing with Chat Noir? There is no easy way out. Despite the hundreds of possible directions she can take this information, none of them stand out particularly dazzling in comparison to the others.

Marinette sighs as she looks at Tikki. “Are you saying this isn’t the first time?”

Tikki laughs. “Not by a long shot! But Ladybug and Chat Noir are two halves of a whole, Marinette, and they always learn how to balance it out.”

“Really?” Marinette asks hopefully, feeling a bit lighter at the prospect of balance. It sounds like a peaceful, untouchable dream. Everything is so. . . crazy in her mind, right now. It’s a whirlwind and she’s struggling to catch her breath. It’s easier when she’s alone - at least then she can try to think things through - but when Chat is around, she doesn’t think. She jumps. She flies.

“Have I ever lied to you?” Tikki asks with a tiny smile.

“How did they. . .did they end up together? Or. . .?”

“Sometimes. No matter what happened between their hearts, they were always able to remain the best of friends.”

“So, what should I do then?” Marinette licks her lips. Her friendship, her connection, to Chat Noir is more vital to her than she can comprehend. His presence and the life of him is like a warm nudge in the back of her mind, like she can feel his soul imprinted into a part of her heart. She’s not sure she’ll ever understand his true importance until the day she loses him, and she’ll fight like hell to make sure that day never comes. But right now, he’s the closest person to her. Someone she can trust with every secret, even the ones she can’t share with Alya.

At least, he wants to be that person. She’s felt the longing he has to be close to her in every tender touch of his hand and it makes her feel safe. Not in a physical kind of way - Marinette can protect herself better than a lot of people might believe, but she knows that she has the strength to ensure her own safety at the end of the day.

Chat makes her feel safe in a more personal way. Like everything she says and thinks and feels is valid. Like her secrets can be his burden too, because he understands. She thinks about the way he respects her space and always asks before touching her in a way that can be overwhelmingly intimate and she melts again, her heart hammering in her chest, heat rushing to her face.

Tikki smiles wistfully at Marinette. “Unfortunately, that’s up to you and Chat. But I know everything will work out in the end, Marinette! Chat really adores you!”

Marinette returns the smile and leans in, giving her kwami a kiss on the head. “Thanks, Tikki.” Honestly, what would she do without her companion? Probably lose her mind. Probably do something crazy. She casts a bleary glance toward her windows, staring at the grey dusting of the coming sunrise on the horizon. Today will probably be a day she remembers in vivid detail for the rest of her life.

The kwami giggles. “Of course! Do you have any ideas?” She grins at Marinette who leaves the ladder and heads toward her desk.

Maybe. “Chat practically told me he went to my school,” Marinette replies with a sudden burst of fervored excitement. She thinks that she should be more apprehensive after all this time, insisting on keeping their identities secret. But, hypothetically, if he knows who she is, then what is the point anymore? Chat’s grin on her balcony last night was practically a tease. An invitation. A challenge.

Come find me, Princess, it said. I dare you, it said.

“He’s right under my nose, Tikki. I just have to look for him.” Really look.

Everyone is a suspect now.


 

Marinette is vibrating with restless energy when she takes her seat beside Alya in class, stomach jumping with nerves and anticipation. Even without knowing who Chat Noir is, the very idea that he could be in this same room with her right now has every inch of her burning. She licks her lips and tries to block out how every single one of her nerve endings are so alive, picking up her pencil to doodle aimlessly in her notebook.

Though, her attention on her drawings is short-lived. Alya is chattering with Nino about how long it’s been since Ladybug has made an appearance in public (only about a week now! it’s really not that long!) and Marinette finds her gaze to drawn to every student that trickles into the room.

Her gaze slides over the girls, all too short to be Chat. Kim is easily dismissed for his height. Nathanael gets plucked out of the suspect pool just because Marinette had battled against his akuma-tized self with Chat Noir. There’s no way the class artist could be her superhero partner. Max? Nino? She frowns. None of them fit. She knows that the transformation hides things, and if she is different from Ladybug, then what’s stopping Chat Noir from being different than his civilian persona too?

But everyone in her class is too different. Maybe Chat isn’t a classmate after all.

Adrien enters through the door, Chloe hot on his tail, her hand wrapped around the crook of his elbow. Marinette feels a crease form in her forehead, anger bubbling under her skin as she watches the terrible girl complain about how he’d ignored her at the fashion show. It’s probably the fifth or sixth time Marinette has seen Chloe pester Adrien about it, despite the show having been three days ago now.

“You knew I was going to be there,” Chloe is saying in that voice she uses to get what she wants. “So where were you? Do you know how humiliating it was for me to - “

Adrien sighs, his expression turning sour. “Sorry, Chlo, I didn’t mean for it to seem like I was ignoring you.”

“Well? You were!” She tightens her grip on him as he tries to pull away. “How could you do that to me? We’re supposed to attend those things together.”

Marinette watches with a surge of delight as he tugs his arm away from her entirely, forcefully. “I got tied up with someone else, okay? I’m sorry.”

Chloe’s eyes flash. “Someone else?! Who-”

Adrien cuts her off. “You and I are not dating, Chloe, so don’t worry about it. I apologized. I’ll make it up to you, okay?”

That last part appeases her enough to shake her off. Marinette feels herself rolling her eyes when the class snob sticks her nose up into the air and  huffs. “You’d better,” Chloe says snappishly, stomping over to her seat.

Adrien visibly relaxes and Marinette’s mind starts to slow as she processes his words. I got tied up with someone else. He had made an effort to talk to her at the fashion show, and ignored Chloe completely. Marinette hadn’t even known that she’d been there in the first place. Her seat must have been in the back, and when the banquet started, she must have gotten swept up into the crowd of socialites that Marinette did her best to avoid.

She shakes her head. Adrien had a ton of guests there to entertain; and besides, Marinette had run away from him. There’s no way he was talking about her, right? He is famous for crying out loud! How many other people must have claimed his attention? If anyone had been tied up with her, it had been Chat. And, oh god, he’d kissed the hell out of her.

Her mind screeches to a halt for a moment when Adrien turns his gaze toward her and there’s a moment of strange clarity. The ache of familiarity descends over her and her stomach clenches, confusion making her almost dizzy, almost frazzled. She blinks slowly at him, dazed, the heat creeping up to her cheeks slowly.

He smiles, his eyes bright and green as he makes his way to his seat in front of her. Her heart starts to panic and she wants to pull her stare away but there’s something about him that keeps her engaged. “Hey guys,” he says cheerfully, approaching, setting his bag on the floor near his seat.

Alya smiles at him, and Nino grins. “Hey, dude. You look like you’re in a good mood.”

Adrien laughs and Marinette swears a part of her dies and ascends to heaven. “I had a good dream last night.”

Alya whistles. “Must have been some dream.”

Adrien turns his gaze to look at Marinette. “It was.”

The temperature in the room increases. Her heart screams and she stops breathing.


 

Marinette’s brain is fried. The morning had been uneventful in finding Chat - mostly because she kept getting distracted by Alya. Also because she kept seeing Adrien with That Grin, so familiar to her and yet so strange. She’s determined to take a nap when she gets home for her lunch hour, so she hurries quickly. The boy stress is weighing too heavily on her. She needs a damn reprieve.

It seems as though luck has other plans. As she approaches the door of the bakery, a black shadow on her balcony attracts her attention. Chat Noir smiles down at her cheekily from over the railing, tail swishing with the shift of his hips, and then he salutes her with two fingers to the ridge of his eyebrow before disappearing.

Her stomach lurches with a sudden assault of nerves. Just when she thought she’d get some peace. That stupid cat…

“I’m home!” Marinette calls, opening the door, voice deceivingly steady. “I have homework to do before class starts again, so I’ll be in my room!”

Her mother pokes her head out from around the corner. “Aren’t you hungry?”

Marinette smiles at Sabine blindingly. “I’m okay right  now.” Her nerves are too much to leave room for an appetite. “I’ll grab something on my way out.” She darts towards the stairs.

“I’ll have a sandwich waiting for you!”

“Thanks, Mom!”

She practically runs to her room, intending to snap at the cat for being so damn annoying, but when she throws open the hatch, she’s struck with sudden embarrassment at the sight that greets her.

Chat Noir sits on her computer chair, staring at her wallpaper desktop image. Of Adrien. At the sound of her arrival, he swivels around to look at her.

“I didn’t notice your lovely room decor last time I was in here,” he says wickedly, gesturing to the plethora of magazine cut-outs and posters that pepper her walls.

Her face is bright with humiliation. “I’m surprised.” She climbs into the room and shuts the hatch softly.

“I’m not. You were very distracting you know,” he says matter-of-factly. “Wet hair. Pajamas. And you kept looking at me like you were going to ravish me.”

How is it possible for her to blush anymore? She might spontaneously combust if he keeps this up.

When she doesn’t respond right away, he motions at an image of Adrien from last months’ magazine spread, his hair pushed back from his forehead, smile quiet. “This one is definitely my favorite,” he teases.

“I will kick you out, Chat Noir!” she finally cries out. “Shut up! Like your room isn’t full of creepy Ladybug merchandise!”

His eyes glitter as he rises to his feet. She angrily takes off toward the wall and starts to peel the posters of Adrien off carefully. “How’d you know? Did you figure out who I am?” His voice still has that obnoxious lilt to it, silky and smooth. She ignores the amusement in his voice as much as she can.

“No, it was a lucky guess.” She huffs, piling the posters into a stack on her desk. Her resolve to not look at him begins to weaken as the intensity of his stare grows hotter.

“I suppose luck is your best friend,” he murmurs.

A jolt goes through her as she recognizes the curiosity in his voice. He’s looking for Ladybug. Asking about Ladybug. Marinette only hesitates for a moment before she decides that it can’t be easier than this. “Most days,” she says smoothly in confirmation, unafraid of the truth anymore. “The day we first kissed was my unluckiest day.”

“How cruel, my lady,” he says dramatically, placing a clawed hand over his heart even as he grins. “It was undoubtedly, the luckiest day of my life.”

She rolls her eyes but a slight flush comes to her cheeks. There’s one last poster of Adrien hanging up on the wall behind her computer, so she leans over the desk, gripping the edges and pulling it off gently.  She feels her shirt ride up, exposing her stomach, and she shivers from the weight of Chat’s eyes as they follow the line her body makes.

Marinette moves slowly, exaggeratedly, thrilling on the inside when he finally saunters toward her.

Chat stands at an angle behind her, close enough to feel his heat, but far enough away that he’s not intruding on her space. He places one hand on the table beside hers and leans in without trapping her. Her heart aches at how thoughtful he is toward her comfort, even in moments when she knows that she’s consumed him completely. She pulls the poster off the wall completely and places it face down, her heart pounding as his warmth bleeds into her.

“The answers are right in front of you. Do you really have no idea who I am?” he asks softly.

“I’m working on it,” she replies recklessly as she straightens. His breath tickles the back of her neck and her hands curl into fists against the desk. He’s not even touching her yet and she’s already on the brink of burning into ash and crumbling away.

“Work faster,” he sighs out, sounding distracted.

“Chat,” Marinette squeaks as he raises a hand to pull at the back of the collar of her shirt. His claws brush gently against her skin and goosebumps erupt along her arms as her heart jumps into her throat. 

There’s a grin in his voice. "Yes, Purr-incess?”

Her stomach drops and she has to work to find her voice again. “You’re terrible, Chat Noir.”

He hums with self-satisfaction. When he places a kiss at the back of her neck, all the breath in her body leaves her in a weighty sigh. She forgets that her parents are downstairs, that sometime in the next hour, she’ll be in the same room as him without knowing. She can’t think of anything but his mouth and how hot she is.

“Was that okay?” he asks gently, uncertainly.

She blinks stickily, dazed and breathless, as she looks at him from over her shoulder. He’s closer than she thought he was. “W-What?”

He stiffens at the desire that lays thick in her voice and then laughs, almost sarcastically, as he drops to rest his forehead on her shoulder. “I can’t believe how badly I want you to know who I am.” There’s yearning in his voice, and something darker, too.

She licks her lips as he drops his hand from her collar, lets it drift down her back, before settling on her hip. “Why don’t you just tell me, then?” she asks.

“It’s gotta be you,” he whispers, lifting his head, his lips brushing across her shoulder line to the junction of her neck. “I want you to make the connection on your own. I want you to see me.” He pauses and she shivers again as he kisses her, once more, on the back of her neck. “I guess Adrien just shines too bright.”

She sucks in a breath, surprised by how much she hates the words that rolled from his tongue. Marinette narrows her gaze as she turns to face him, frowning. “Is that what you think? That I like you less?”

She can’t see his eyebrows, but he gives an expression that makes it look like he’s raising one of them. “You told me last night how much you liked Adrien.”

Marinette pokes him in the chest once, twice, with her forefinger. “I like Adrien, yes. But I like you, too, Chat Noir.” She only wavers for a moment, watching his eyes intently, before she adds, “And… and more.”

If there was a way to capture the way his face looks now, in this moment, she’d give anything for it. To keep this expression on his face forever. His voice is rough when he responds, and he trembles. “And more?”

She smiles incredulously as she reaches up to pat his cheek. “So much more. You silly cat.”

He pulls her toward him so fast she doesn’t have time to react before his mouth crushes against hers and his arm is tight across her shoulders. Chat thrums with unexpected bliss, his hands eager and thankful as he presses close enough to eliminate every breath of space between them. There is no resistance in any cell of her body. She gasps and then sinks into him, arms winding around his waist.

He’s relentless, so much so that she can’t think. Or breathe. And she’s just fine with that. His tongue brushes over her mouth, asking, and she leans into him, giving him what he wants, unable to even comprehend what it would take to deny him anything. She never wants this to stop.

Chat purrs as he kisses his way down her jaw, down her neck, and she makes a throaty noise, tilting to give him access.

“You make me so happy,” he whispers into her skin like a prayer. His mouth lingers around her collarbone, and she clutches at him, not trusting her own legs to keep her upright. It’s probably not her best idea - Chat seems about three kisses away from collapsing, too.

“You are easy to please, kitty,” she replies in a shuddering breath. She tucks her chin and reaches up to grip his shoulders, holding on for dear life. He’s strong under her hands, strong and warm and perfect. “Oh,” she gasps when he drags his teeth over the crook of her neck briefly.

He kisses back up to her mouth, hands cupping her face, taking her lips more gently this time. The chill of his ring is a shock, but its delicious and she clutches him tighter, wishing she had better leverage.

She’s not sure how long they remain tangled up, their hips pressed to the desk. But it seems too soon when he pulls away, thoroughly disheveled, and smiles at her. She stares at his kiss-bruised lips and the swept look of his hair and marvels at how she’s the one who has reduced him to this mess.

“We need to go back to school,” he says, licking his lips.

She blinks, feeling like she’s being grounded for the first time since she saw him standing on her balcony at the beginning of the hour. “Oh, right,” she mutters.

“I’ll see you later, Princess.” He leans in to kiss her one more time, lingering, humming, and then she watches as he scampers back up her ladder. Chat pauses at her bed, holding up the cat pillow she’s had since she was five. “I really like this one, by the way!” He grins mischievously, and throws it at her.

“He’s from before your time, silly cat!” she tells him, catching the pillow with ease, finding herself still a bit breathless.

He laughs and then pops open the hatch in her roof, before climbing through it and disappearing.


 

The rest of the day is much… less. Less thrilling, less engaging. Just less. Marinette tries her best to focus on the task at hand: first, finding out who Chat is, and second, paying enough attention in class to take notes and gather the homework assignments. But it’s difficult when she spends the entire time thinking about what had happened between her and Chat over the lunch break.

Every thought in her mind is far away from the school, from Chat’s identity. She is a mess of memories, the ghost of his hands and lips and the illusionary puff of breath against her collarbone. The heat, oh god, she is nothing but heat.

“Get it together!” Marinette hisses at herself, head in her locker as she digs around for her books, grateful for the aloneness in the room. She’s supposed to be on a mission! Find Chat Noir! She’s not supposed to be drooling over him, but no one has ever kissed her like that before. Not even Chat himself.

She needs to focus. Her jumbled mind tries to recount all the boys she’d already dismissed as Chat, but between Chloe’s interruption and Chat’s assault, she needs to start from scratch. And she’d wanted to figure this out today. She is only missing a few pieces. Why is this so hard?

“Perfect,” she mutters. This is literally the most outrageous thing she’s ever been caught up in. Forget Hawkmoth. Forget akumas. This - this crazy, awful boy thing is the worst! Maybe she ought to swear them off. She’ll stop kissing up a hurricane with Chat Noir and file Adrien away under “List of Crushes That Never Worked Out”. Problem solved right? That’s what she’s wanted all along anyway - a simple solution.

“Tikki! I hate boys! I hate them!” Marinette groans, her voice echoing inside her locker as she draws away with a hefty sigh.

“I think this is yours.”

Marinette yelps at the sudden voice coming from right over her shoulder, and her body moves on its own when she spins on her heel, catching the person by the front of his chest with her forearm. She drives her momentum around until he is pinned between her arm and the lockers, heart in a panic. Adrien’s startled gaze meets hers when she looks up and she freezes.

He’s holding her favorite pencil in his hand, arms up in surrender as a smile splits across his face, eyes sparkling like stars. She blinks as horror begins to wash over her, praying to every god ever. If there is any mercy that exists in the world, she’ll be struck by lightning on her way home from school and die. She’ll die a quick and painless death and she’ll never have to look at him again.

When she heard that voice she thought…

“Didn’t mean to scare you,” he says easily, not at all perturbed by her knee-jerk reaction.

“Adrien?” she says, not quite comprehending, not quite able to make sense of anything with the trainwreck of her thoughts.

His smile widens, like he’s amused. “Yeah. You left it on your desk. Your pencil, I mean.”

Its then that she realizes she’s still pinning him to the lockers, that he hasn’t made it weird or asked her to let him up. If she’s not mistaken, he looks perfectly content to stay there all day. That makes her knees weak.

“Oh God, I-I-I’m so sorry,” she babbles in a high-pitched tone, pulling away like he’s burned her. “I thought you were, uh, someone else!”

He laughs as he straightens up. It draws her attention to his mouth momentarily, the shape of it pulling recent events to the forefront of her mind for a fleeting second. “Do you make it a habit to tackle this person up against walls?” he asks.

Oh my god oh my god. “N-No! It’s just, ah, he likes to up sneak on me! I mean! Sneak up on me!” She can’t stop babbling or gaping at him. Or wishing she could drop dead on the spot. Every inch of her is burning with a blush - if she turns any more red, her face may never go back to normal again.

He’s grinning, looking satisfied, and the expression is so startling on his face, and yet so familiar, that her hammering heart drops again. “Well, anyway, here you go, Marinette.” He practically shoves the pencil into her hand. A shock goes through her when she feels the cool cut of metal against her flushed skin. A ring?

She can’t respond. Her tongue is tied, and everything in her has screeched to a shuddering, incredulous stop; all she can do is gape at him, her cheeks red as roses. With her voice stuck, he merely tucks one hand into his pocket, gripping the strap of his gym bag with his other hand and walks away with a nod. “I’ll see you later,” he says simply with a knowing expression.

As he leaves, she stares at the hand gripping his bag, the ring on his third finger and her heart jumps to the very bottom of her stomach. The sun-golden air of the room seems to grow warmer as it reflects off the green of his eyes and the honey of his hair. A shining moment of clarity makes the world sparkle in its clearness, in the sudden rightness of her epiphany.

It pierces her straight through the heart.

 

 

Chapter Text

Adrien is naturally photogenic. Growing up in front of the lense of a camera, measured and pinned up and gushed over like a prize since he could walk, played a large part in his comfort. He wouldn’t have had any success with his young modeling career if he wasn’t a natural. The smiling, the easy lines of his body as he settles into a pose, it’s like breathing, and he’s always good at it.

Today, though, he’s better than good.

As the photographer comments and gives him direction, Adrien follows absently, every inch of him feeling bright as the sun. He’s not here, in the studio wearing a few fall jackets that were shown at his father’s fashion show the other day; he’s on the other side of town, in Marinette’s room, and he’s glowing with the memory of her. On most days, the camera likes him, but today, the camera loves him.

What would normally be a monotonous, boring photoshoot is a mess of daydreams and laughed-off apologies when his mind wanders too far for him to hear the photographer. Despite his distractions, the session is kept short, due to the quality of the photos. Everyone compliments him on his job well done and he takes their encouraging words with all the grace of a prince.

Adrien honestly cannot recall another time in his life where everything felt so perfectly right. He’s grinning as he makes his way back to his changing room and then begins to undress once the door is shut behind him.

“Do you think the pencil was too much?”

Plagg, who emerges from Adrien’s bag, snorts as he nibbles on a cheese-flavored cracker. “You’re asking this question now?”

Adrien hums as he pulls his shirt over his head, discards it, and reaches for the button up and hanging next to him. Well, he hadn’t really been thinking at all today. When he took Marinette’s pencil from her desk, he hadn’t known what he was going to do with it. “It was probably too much. I think I broke her.” He recalls her open-mouthed expression and the stark astonishment in her eyes with a notorious grin.

“You’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you, kid?”

Adrien face lights up as he leans towards his kwami. “She likes me, Plagg. Me.” He shoves his arms through the white button up. “Marinette - Ladybug - likes me!” He feels like singing. And dancing. Overcome, he does a victorious twirl on the ball of his foot, he sole of his leather boot squeaking against the tiled floor, pumping his fist in the air, smiling like an idiot. His heart is full to bursting, like a balloon on the verge of popping, a dam on the verge of breaking, and he could scream his happiness to all of Paris.

For someone to finally reciprocate his feelings...it’s almost too much for him to bear. His father’s coldness had driven away his mother, so much so that she couldn’t even look at Adrien without feeling trapped and isolated. She’d always been left to care for him, been forced to be his sole caretaker in his father’s absence. Adrien supposed his mother grew tired of being his mother. She learned to hate her own son.

So she left one morning for a walk and never came home. He didn’t blame his father. Adrien remembers the look on Gabriel Agreste’s face when she left, and it’s one of the only memories Adrien has to remind him that his father does feel things. That his father does care.

His mother had been the only person in the world that Adrien had truly ever loved, and she despised him.

It had been hard for him to keep his heart closed even after she left. He craved affection so densely that he was willing to get attention from anyone, and that included self-centered Chloe Bourgeois. When his mom ran away, his relationship with Chloe deepened, only in a way something so one-way and unhealthy could. She was always pushy with him. Always using him for her own image, her own needs, especially as they got older. She came first, and he came second. That was okay.

And then, he’d met Ladybug. She was strong and smart and brave and everything else that he wasn’t. But, for some reason, that hadn’t mattered to her. Maybe she didn’t see him as her opposite at all. As Chat Noir, he became her partner, her most trusted. For the first time, he wasn’t second place with Chloe or last place with his father, or even off the radar with his mother. For the first time, he was an equal. She’d been so wary with him at first, and still she’d trusted him to protect her life. And she had protected his. Even his new friendship with Nino couldn’t replace how important she made him feel.

Adrien fell desperately in love.

He tried to downplay his affections for the longest time; he know that she needed to keep her lives separate and he could live with that. With her, he knew what a real, healthy friendship felt like. The last thing he wanted to do was ruin it. But when he began noticing Marinette this past year, his well-kept facade had started to crumble. Something about her made him want to be brave.

He understands now why she put such a fire in his heart. Ladybug is Marinette. A girl who turned his nightmares into daydreams and his worst fears into ash, into nothing, slighted by the sunlight that pours from every inch of her soul. Because of her, he knows he is equal and important. Because of her, he is invincible.

Because of her he is loved.

Oh god, he could cry.

He sighs blissfully and leans back against the dressing room wall, fingers lithely buttoning up his shirt as he stares at the mottled ceiling. “This is real, isn’t it?” he says softly, just for himself.

“It’s real alright,” Plagg snorts around a mouthful of cheese crackers. “Real enough to make me sick. Are we gonna spend the rest of the night in here or what?”

Adrien laughs as he finishes the last button and then slips into the green jacket he left laying crumpled up in the corner. “Stop complaining, Plagg. Like you haven’t been benefiting from any of this.” He thinks about how much cheese he’s smuggled to his kwami just to make up for all the favors he’d been asking of him.

“Yeah, yeah, bribery only gets you so far.”

“I can stop asking our cook to get Camembert, you know.”

“Why would you do a stupid thing like that?”

Adrien laughs again and then scoops up the bag, tucking Plagg back into the darkness with a poke of his finger. “I’ve been doing a lot of stupid things lately. Don’t test me.”

The kwami grumbles incoherently, but good-naturedly, as he makes himself at home among the school books and cracker bag inside. Adrien zips the top closed and then leaves the dressing room, practically skipping his way toward the lobby where he knows his chaperone will be waiting for him.

Natalie paces across the tiles as he emerges, talking rapidly on the phone, hand on her hip. He watches, his steps slowing, unsure if he likes the expression on her face. The stress pulls the lines of her mouth tight and the bags under her eyes are deep and purple like a bruise. She must not be sleeping, he thinks. He wonders what kind of work his father is pressing against her this time.

She spots him when she turns to face him and then pauses on the phone. “Yes, he’s here now. Yes, of course. Yes, sir.”

He furrows his eyebrows as she hangs up. “What’s going on?”

She sighs. “Let’s go.”

Adrien follows her without hesitation, but the apprehension grows in the pit of his stomach. “Did I do something wrong?” He tries to wrack his brain for past transgressions but the only thing that comes to his mind is the fashion show, and his father had already reprimanded him for that. So then, what?

She doesn’t reply, which only heightens his suspicions, but its not enough to make him sick or deplete his good mood.

The drive home is tense and quiet. Natalie is constantly typing something on her phone, distracted, accepting calls in a stern, irritated voice. He’s too preoccupied to listen in, absently drawn back to reminisce about Marinette. It brings a smile to his face and he laughs to himself as he thinks about everything that had happened this afternoon. Mostly, though, he lingers on her expressions and her words and her mouth. If her words are prayers, sweet and spicy and enthralling all at once, then her mouth makes her a sinner.

God, he thinks as he stares out the window, she’s dangerous.

When they finally pull up to the house, Adrien doesn’t wait for Natalie before entering. He’s up in his room, unpacking his homework before there’s a knock on his door.

“Your father wants to see you,” Natalie says, her voice muffled through the wood.

He sticks out his tongue. Twice in one week? Gabriel Agreste must be bored now that the fashion show is over, Adrien surmises bitterly. “I’ll be there in a second.”

“He’ll be waiting.”

Like that doesn’t sound ominous. He hears the tap of her heels as she clacks away down the hall and then groans to himself. “What did I do this time?” With a sigh, he makes his way to his father’s office. The heavy doors seem to swing open more easily than usual and his tongue turns to sandpaper as he moves to stand in front of his father’s desk.

Gabriel has his eyes trained on a desktop screen. “Sit,” he says.

Adrien sticks his hands in his pockets. “I don’t want to.”

At that, Gabriel’s fingers pause and hover over the keyboard and his ice-cold gaze cuts toward his son. “Suit yourself.” He finishes up whatever he is typing before speaking again, and Adrien finds himself biting the inside of his cheek, dreading this conversation. “Why did you lie to me about that girl?”

“What?”

His father’s gaze seems to grow colder, steely, as he snatches a manila folder nearby and sets it on the front of his desk, opening it and splaying the photos inside across the surface of the counter. Adrien’s heart stutters in a panic at the sight of him and Marinette at the banquet, especially at the ones that show him following her into the dark hallway.

“I’ve already scolded you for your recklessness. I’ve already told you the consequences of you acting out again. I won’t repeat myself,” Gabriel says simply.

Adrien’s voice grows hard as he glances away from the photos. “Then what do you want from me? Don’t you have more important things to do than be a father?”

Gabriel’s eyes flash behind his glasses and he points to the photos with a harsh finger. “Tell me about her.” His fingerprint leaves a smudge over Marinette’s face and Adrien grits his teeth, feeling his muscles go tight, utter reluctance clamping down on him.

“What do you want to know?” he asks carefully, defensively. The only reason he would have ever wanted Marinette to catch his father’s attention was if he was hiring interns. To have him zeroing in on her just for being in the same vicinity as Adrien gives him a bad feeling and he’s determined to do all he can to pull her out of the line of fire.

“Name.”

“Marinette.”

Gabriel narrows his gaze. “Full name, Adrien.”

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” Adrien supplies after a moment of hesitation.

“And her family? What are they like?”

He stares at his father, trying to comprehend his angle. “Her father owns a confectionary shop a couple of blocks from school.” He hasn’t met them, but knowing Marinette, they had to be warm, wholesome people. He doesn’t particularly want his father’s attention focused on them either. Adrien feels his eyebrows furrow at the wave of fierceness that spikes his pulse, unable to help but feel protective.

It’s not that his father is a bad person. He’s just. . .too interested in any aspect of Adrien’s life that he cannot directly control. Birthday parties and sleepovers were forbidden. The friends he has he’s been forced to keep at somewhat of an arm’s length just to avoid the complications that would arise with his father. Nino had been the topic of several brief conversations back when school started. Gabriel hadn’t approved, but he couldn’t stop Adrien from being friends with him either.

Marinette is different because she is everything. If he were to admit to his feelings for her to his own father, then she would be scrutinized relentlessly by his father’s employees, and even though Gabriel couldn’t make him stop seeing her either, it would be harder. He doesn’t want to put her through that. He won’t.

“I told you, Father, she’s just a friend.”

“I suppose the two of you snuck back into a dark room just to have a friendly chat, then?” Gabriel stares Adrien down with acidic skepticism.

The superhero flushes, despite the lie on his tongue. “It’s not like that! She got upset, so I wanted to make sure she was okay.”

His father sighs again, unconvinced. “I was 14 once, too.”

“I turn 16 in a week now, but thanks, I know.”

“Public school has made you more obstinate,” Gabriel notes with a tone of disapproval.

How sad for you, Adrien thinks disdainfully, but swallows the thought back before they can grow into words that will only get him into hot water. “Marinette is no one you have to worry about. I know the rules.”

His father holds Adrien’s gaze for a long moment. “Very well. Dismissed.”

Adrien doesn’t like the dismissal. Gabriel waves his hand like his son is a fly and it makes Adrien’s skin flush red with anger but he turns on his heel and quickly exits the office, biting the inside of his cheek. He won’t give his father the satisfaction of riling him up further, and anyway, he’s determined not to let this day go sour.

Today has been too good to allow his father’s bad mood to ruin it.

His steps become less angry as he makes his way back to his room, taking a deep breath. At least his mission has been accomplished. Marinette is off the hook and those photos weren’t the least bit incriminating in anyway. His face may be well-known, but he doubts that someone out there is bored enough to decide to write some poorly researched article about “Adrien Agreste’s New Flame”.

“Plagg,” Adrien says decisively as he pushes open his bedroom door, “we’re going out.”

The kwami groans. “Didn’t you already see her today?”

“We’re not going to see Marinette. I just need to leave,” Adrien replies, this time less certainly.

Plagg seems to consider the resigned look on his face and then concedes easily. It makes Adrien grateful. He knows his kwami can be lazy, but Plagg is the only one who has ever been completely 100% on his side.

“Okay,” Plagg says.

Adrien smiles.


 

He’s a liar. A damn filthy liar. Chat can practically hear Plagg’s eyeroll already when he finds himself sitting on a roof looking down at Marinette’s balcony. The sun still hasn’t set over the horizon, but he can still see easily into her room. Every couple of seconds, she passes a window, arms gesturing wildly, her face flushed. Something else floats around her fluttering hands, something tiny and red.

Whatever it is, Marinette makes a point of talking to it, her mouth moving in such quick cadences he wonders if anything she’s saying makes any sense at all. It makes him smile, makes his heart feel lighter just to look at her. He shifts a bit to lean back on his hands and freezes when her eyes suddenly snap to him.

He grins sheepishly, feeling a blush bloom on his cheeks for being  caught, and waves to her. To his surprise, her face nearly turns purple and her hectic gestures pause as she clenches her hands into white-knuckled fists.

“Hey there, Princess,” he says, knowing that she’ll easily be able to read his mouth.

She blinks furiously and then suddenly, she’s throwing open the balcony hatch, climbing out and marching toward the railing with her hands still curled at her sides. She looks like an absolute hurricane and Chat’s heart trembles.

“Chat Noir!” she yells across the street, eyes flashing, “I’m going to kick your butt!”

He sits up straight crossing his legs as his eyebrows raise. “What did I do?”

“Get over here!” Marinette then turns on her heel and vanishes back down the hatch into her room. Chat stares after her in confusion, but takes a running leap and rolls gracefully onto the platform of her rooftop. Unable to help himself, he immediately opens the door and peeks down to her bed, where she sits, legs crossed, eyebrows drawn in severely as she tries to tame the blush on her face.

The tiny red thing he saw floating near her earlier is perched on one of Marinette’s pillows and it hits Chat all at once that it must be her kwami.

“You rang?” he says as he drops down into her room.

She throws her hands up into the air and then rolls off the bed and slides down the ladder with a scoff, cheeks pink like grapefruit. “I wasn’t ready!” she babbles to herself as she walks away from him. “I thought I was ready. I’m not! This is ridiculous!”

“Marinette?” Chat glances warily at the kwami that watches him with evident amusement and then slips down the ladder after her. “I didn’t mean to come here. Some stuff at home happened and I needed to get away. I know that I already, well, you know, bothered you today. Is that why you’re angry with me?”

She tosses her hands back into the air. “Ha!”

“Are you okay?” He’s not sure if he’s crossing a boundary or not. She’s acting weird. He knows how to deal with Marinette when she’s a flustered mess, when she’s sassing the hell out of him, and when she’s being honest. But this Marinette is a total mystery. He’s not even sure this qualifies as anger.

With a twirl on her heel, she spins towards him, pointing a finger. “You are the worst! The absolute worst!” Her face flushes suddenly with the memory of something. “It was you?! The whole - the whole damn time?” She’s poking his chest with her finger now, each word punctuated by a poke. He backs up, trying to escape her relentless poking, but when his back hits a wall, he’s trapped.

He can smell the shampoo in her freshly washed hair, still damp as it swings around her face, eyes glittering with something undecipherable, some fire he’s not quite aware of. She’s leaning close enough that he can see her freckles, too, and the nearness of her is such a sudden distraction that he has a hard time concentrating on her words.

“You - You !” She keeps poking him, frenzied now. “You knew it was me! And every day at school you just sat there and pretended - and, and, and when you made me confess I just - oooh! Today! With the posters! Oh my god, I’m going to kill you.”

Everything in him screeches to a halt he feels his eyes go wide as she glares up at him. “Wait, you - ?”

“Figured you out?” she snaps, not even bothering to allow him to finish his sentence. “Did you have fun, Adrien Agreste? Was teasing me like that fun? Did you get a kick out of watching me act like an utter idiot in front of you?”

The grin that splits across his face is unreal as something inside him bursts to life in full color. “I did, actually. Does that make you mad?” He feels himself begin to shine under her narrowed, accusatory gaze and he grabs her hand by the wrist so that she’ll stop poking him.

“Let me go! I’m not done beating you up yet!” she hisses, tearing her hand away.

“What gave me away?” he asks brilliantly, watching as her face deepens to a lovely shade of red.

She pokes him once more for good measure and then bites her lip and buries her face in her hands. “Oh my god, I’m going to kill you,” she mutters, embarrassed, and then dives into his chest head first, her forehead pressing against his collarbone as she shakes slightly, hands still covering her face.

Chat laughs and kisses the top of her head, stroking the damp wave of her hair. “Marinette?”

“What do you want now, cat?” she mumbles in a voice that clearly states her distress over the whole situation. “Are you gonna be all smug about this? Spare me.”

He uses gentle hands to push her away by the shoulders, just enough so that he can wrap his fingers around her wrists and pull them from her face. Her eyes are scrunched up tight. “Marinette,” he says softly, tenderly, leaning toward her. For the briefest of moments, he brushes his lips against hers, delighting in the fact that she yields to his touch instantly.

She opens her eyes when he pulls away and he’s seized again with feeling when he sees the longing glimmering along every inch of her precious expression.

“Keep your eyes open,” he whispers, moving to cup her face. She blinks at him, a perfect mess of a girl, as he releases his transformation.


 

He’s the most important person in her life, she realizes with glaring clarity, the thought striking her like thunder and lightning as the green light fades and Adrien Agreste is left standing before her in his designer outfit. She knew it was him. She knew. But seeing him leaning against the wall, his hands cupping her face, that adoration in his eyes - looking every bit like Chat Noir - it’s too much.

The heat swells in her face again as he strokes his thumb over her cheekbone.

“Hi,” he says simply, the smile on his face warm and soft like butter and she thinks she’s melting.

“H-Hi,” she mumbles, blinking at him.

“Hi.” Another voice. One she doesn’t recognize.

Marinette turns her gaze toward a tiny black cat-like creature that hovers near Adrien’s shoulder. “Who’s this?” she asks.

Adrien doesn’t take his eyes off her. “That’s Plagg, my kwami.”

“Nice to meet you, Plagg,” Marinette says pleasantly, trying to ignore the way Adrien still holds her face gently in his hands, the way his eyes burn into her like embers smoldering in a pile of ashes.

“No, thanks,” the kwami says, before fluttering back up the ladder.

“He has no manners; I’m sorry.” Adrien sighs. “In his defense, he’s probably pissed at me. I promised him that we’d leave you alone tonight.”

She slowly turns her gaze back to him as her hands flatten against his chest. His heartbeat is strong under her palm. “I was going to come to you, you know. If you hadn’t showed up.” She thinks about how she was hashing out the pros and cons of swinging into Adrien’s room as Ladybug with Tikki before her eyes spotted him lounging on the roof across the street.

He grins. “Were you now?”

She makes a face at him. “You are hopelessly smug.”

“With good reason,” he hums, leaning in until their foreheads touch and their breaths mingle. “You like me a lot, Princess.”

“Against my better judgment,” she quips back, though she feels him watch as her eyes flutter, and the sigh escapes her mouth as she glances toward his lips. If someone had told her two weeks ago that she would make out with Adrien Agreste and Chat Noir multiple times over the course of a week she’d have laughed at them. She’d had laughed until she couldn’t breathe, until her sides ached.

And yet here she is, wanting. Waiting.

“It’s okay,” he says, one of his hands moving to cup the back of her head, fingers lacing through the strands of her hair. “I like you, too.” He laughs a bit under his breath before adding,  “And more.”

She almost can’t breathe under the weight of his confession. He’s said as much before but its the fact that he’s throwing her words back at her. Admitting, blatantly, that he returns her feelings with as much fervor as hers. Licking her lips, her heart skipping a beat with anticipation, she says, “You can kiss me now.”

He hums, ghosting his lips over hers. She’s not sure if he’s touching her or if she’s imagining the fluttery feeling. Maybe he’s trying to tease her, but she’s pliable in an instant, and so the one he’s really teasing here is himself.

So he kisses her. Really kisses her. He kisses her until she honestly can’t remember a single thing. There is only Chat - Adrien, she reminds herself, thoughts muddled. His mouth is reckless against hers, and she gives and gives and gives until she’s sure that she’s made a home out of the corner of his lips.

She reaches up, running her fingers through that perfect hair of his as he breaks away. Marinette is about to pull him back to her when she hears her mother call her name through the haze of Adrien in her mind and she freezes. Under her hands, he stills and then laughs when Sabine’s voice carries up through the floor of her bedroom.

“Marinette! Dinner time!”

“C-Coming!” She sounds breathless.

Marinette smothers Adrien’s laugh with one kiss and then another. “Shut up, you stupid cat. You’d better go.”

He smiles at her with his heart in his eyes as she pulls away, running his hands through her hair to fix the tangles he put in it. “Shame. I wasn’t done with you.” His hand slides over the side of her face again, his thumb whispering across her mouth. “Walk me out?”

She rolls her eyes but pulls him away from the wall and toward the ladder, her hand fit against his perfectly.

Her mom calls again. “Marinette?”

“I’m just finishing something up! One sec, Mom!” Marinette answers as Adrien seamlessly transforms back into Chat Noir and crawls up through the hole in her ceiling. He pulls her up after him, and the hatch closes behind her with a bang as it falls shut.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says as he walks backwards toward the railing, tugging her by her hands to follow.

“Absolutely, definitely,” he smirks.

“I’m still going to punch you,” she insists, frowning at the smug expression he’s wearing.

“I look forward to it, my lady.” Chat hops over the side of the railing, balancing just on ledge of the building, and then leans toward her, kissing her briefly. She hums and follows his mouth, knowing that she ought to be making it her priority to leave him and race down to the dinner table, but god, he makes it hard to keep priorities straight.

He purrs. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

She pulls away. “Me, too. See you.”

His eyes glitter as he salutes her with two fingers. “See you.”


 

Marinette wakes up from a dead sleep with adrenaline already buzzing in her blood. With a victory cry, she leaps out of bed and slips down the ladder. Tikki laughs over Marinette’s enthusiasm, congratulating and exchanging jokes about Adrien and Chat as the teen superhero dashes around getting ready for school.

Both of her parents note her excellent mood as she dashes out the door, and Marinette explains it away with a simple, “Alya said she had some big news for me today!” and then she’s gone, skipping toward school with a delighted bounce in her step.

She tries not to think too hard about what she’s going to say to Adrien once she sees him. Their relationship as Ladybug and Chat Noir - and then as Marinette and Chat - had always felt so natural and easy and right that she is sure whatever happens today will be perfectly perfect. The hard part will be explaining their new familiarity with each other to Alya but Marinette thinks she can handle it.

She’s Ladybug, she reminds herself absolutely. She can handle anything.

Once she’s on school property - she begins to note the amount of people staring at her. Marinette likes to believe that she’s fairly used to attracting attention - there’s the obvious with Ladybug, but also she’s the class president in school. She’s not quiet, not like she used to be, especially since she shares a classroom with Chloe Bourgeois.

Through the throng of people, she catches sight of Alya who is standing with her phone at arm’s length, at least seven other people crowding her to look at whatever it is. Marinette’s step slows, warily wondering what could be so interesting on Alya’s phone. Her best friend is obsessed with Ladybug, but Ladybug hasn’t been around for a week now. She swallows a knot in her throat.

Alya seems to feel Marinette’s wide-eyed hesitation because she glances up and then bolts toward her.

“Hi, Alya,” Marinette says as her friend screeches to a stop beside her.

Alya stares. “Okay, I need deets. Like, right now, girl.”

Marinette props her hands on her hips. “What are you talking about?”

Her friend turns the phone screen toward her. “What am I talking about? Only what everyone else is talking about.” Marinette drops her gaze to the phone and then feels her heart try to jump out of her chest as her mouth goes dry.

There is a news article, posted just this morning, accompanied by three photos in painful HD quality of Marinette leaning over the railing of her balcony. And she’s kissing Chat Noir.



Chapter Text

Adrien’s fatigue is nearly non-existent.  He’d been lit up like a Christmas tree after seeing Marinette last night, and it took a while for him to unplug and wind down. His dazzled excitement led to a poor night’s sleep, though he can’t feel it. He’s still running on adrenaline, unsure if he’d even slept at all last night, or if he’d just fallen into a daze. 

When his phone buzzed at 5 a.m., announcing his wake-up call for a last-minute charity event, he rolled out of bed without reluctant fanfare. The sooner he got it over with, the sooner he’d be able to go to school. The sooner he’d be able to see Marinette. Anything was worth it if the mere promise of seeing Marinette was what waited on the other side of the obstacle.

Now that it is all over, he’s practically vibrating with energy. He shakes the hands of the event organizers with overzealous vigor, smiling brightly even as he tries to tie up the loose ends of the conversations as quickly as possible. Most of the volunteers are too euphoric about his father’s sponsorship and Adrien’s involvement to take offense.

“I thought we were never getting out of there,” Plagg says as Adrien practically skips to the car, where his driver waits in the front seat silently. The model waves one last time over his shoulder at the volunteers with a Chat-like grin and then opens the vehicle door.

“Me either,” Adrien replies with buoyancy, light as air.

“You’re awfully cheerful for someone who didn’t sleep last night,” the kwami observes.

Adrien shrugs. “Imagine having the best slice of Camembert possible and multiply it by a thousand.”

“That,” Plagg surmises with curiosity, “is some strong cheese.”

“That’s Marinette.”

“You’re comparing Marinette to cheese?”

Adrien laughs good-naturedly and holds up his hands in surrender. “I thought you’d understand the analogy.” He slides into the car, silencing Plagg from making anymore snide remarks. Once the door is shut behind him, his driver pulls away from the curb and stars toward the school.

Since its on the other side of town, Adrien pulls out his phone and hums tunelessly under his breath as he thumbs through the news updates. The first couple are in no way noteworthy. He doesn’t even remember the headlines as he flips past them, only part of his attention even focused on his phone. Most of him is absent, lost in a haze of heaven-blue eyes and warm sugar words whispered the night before.

So he almost doesn’t catch the last headline. The only reason he scrambles to find the photo he flicked past is because he recognizes the wrought iron railing and the small pot with a rosebush hanging over the fence.

The blood drains from his face as he shoulders stiffen and a gasp of terrible surprise rips from his throat. Shit, he thinks staring wide-eyed at the picture on his phone, hand trembling slightly. Shit, this is definitely a picture of him as Chat Noir. On Marinette’s balcony.

Kissing her.

His mouth goes dry as his heart squeezes in panic, a sudden rush of guilt making him clutch at the seat of the car. He frantically checks the publication time of the article and feels sick to see that it’s been posted for over four hours now. Marinette has been at school for two at this point, facing the fallout of this all on her own.

Adrien drags a hand down his face, trying to breathe deeply.

“Adrien? Are you okay?” His driver asks, some measure of concern in his voice.

The model blinks, eyes feeling hot, burning as he stares at the image in his hand. “I-I’m fine,” he replies quickly and unconvincingly. He’s not. The lie is ugly in his mouth. He’s the furthest thing from fine. Adrien is used to publicity as both himself and when he’s Chat. Being under the lense of a camera is nothing new to him. He’s learned how to sneak away just enough to balance his double lives without anyone being aware.

But Marinette? Ladybug, maybe, but not Marinette. The media won’t be hounding Chat Noir, because he disappears. He’s not a permanent state of being. They might try to ask him questions after an akuma attack, but the chances of anyone taking this out on him are slim. Marinette is the one who gets thrown under the bus.

And because Marinette is Ladybug, it makes everything worse. She’s the one in the spotlight, and this photo has put her entire world in danger. He feels sick, sick, sick to his stomach. He did this to her. He pursued her as Chat Noir and now she has been left with the impossible job of fielding news hounds who only care about weaving some sort of personal interest story to make Chat Noir seem more attainable.

Since seeing Chat running around Paris is hardly a rare sight, he knows that he hadn’t been the intended victim here. The only reason why anyone with a camera would be hunkered down, lens trained on Marinette’s house, is if they are targeting her. And after the conversation he had with his father yesterday, Adrien is immediately and repugnantly certain that Gabriel Agreste is behind this entire mess.

The certainty is solid and unmovable, already confirmed without proof. After the voiced suspicions his father had of Adrien and Marinette at the fashion show, after going out of his damned way to tell Adrien to leave her alone, there is no room for any other suspect.

So it’s not because of Chat Noir, but because of Adrien. He never dreamed that his involvement with her as a civilian would put her at risk. Distressed, angry and disgusted at himself, he turns off his phone and buries his face in his hands. The guilt is enough to send him home with a stomach ache, but he needs to see her. To see her and apologize.

She won’t blame him. That’s not Marinette’s way. But he knows it’s his fault. He knows that her life as Marinette and her role as Ladybug are both in trouble because he couldn’t resist her gravity. He doesn’t know how he’s going to fix this.

The one thing he does know, however, is that his father will regret pushing Adrien this far.


 

Marinette’s heart rockets up to her throat as she snatches the phone out of Alya’s hand, finger punching the screen as she scrolls through the article. There are more pictures, cell phone snapshots of that day last week when Chat Noir had given her a piggyback ride through the crowded sidewalks.

There’s absolutely no way to talk herself out of this one. The news must be all over Paris by now - Chat Noir is a celebrity, after all - and pretending this is just a rumor is impossible. The evidence against her is solid and blinding and terrible.

She’d been so stupid! It was obvious that people were watching them! Why the hell hadn’t she been more careful? Her eyes zip over the words in the short article, catching on ridiculous phrases like “star-crossed lovers” and “the cat is out of the bag” and she feels everything crash down on her at once. The realization of the danger her family has been placed in, the immediate danger she herself is in. The fact that publicity like this won’t just go away. The horrible conclusion that just when she’d had Adrien close enough to touch, he’s being ripped away, like a band-aid.

And her parents. Oh god, her parents. Do they know about this yet? She’s going to be in so much trouble. Finding out she’s been coalescing with a superhero in her room secretly is not going to earn her any favors. Bye bye to privacy.

Privacy, she thinks with growing dread, her eyes prickling with heat as something squirmy bubbles in her chest. How is she supposed to be Ladybug when she’s hit the spotlight as Chat Noir’s love interest? Her role as the superhero is dependent on privacy, on secrets and lies and shadows, and here she’s been cast into full spotlight, the ease and blanket of safety pulled away. She feels her blood run cold as she begins to laugh nervously.

Alya’s hands are gentle as she pries the phone out of Marinette’s grip. “Girl, are you okay? You’re kind of freaking me out."

Marinette blushes as her chuckling continues, her hands instantly going to tug at her clothes under Alya’s concerned gaze, registering uneasily that everyone in a twenty foot radius is staring at her, most leaning in as if to catch the conversation. “Oh, crap,” Marinette snickers, unable to contain the anxious laughter. So it’s not enough that she’s made an idiot out of herself, but she sounds like one too?

“‘Oh crap?’ That’s all you’ve got?” Alya asks. Marinette covers her mouth with her hands, biting her lip to keep from giggling further and failing miserably. The whole thing is reducing her into hysterics. “I find out you’re dating Chat Noir from a stupid online news article and all you can say is ‘Oh crap’?! Marinette!”

“I’m not dating him!” she cries out. It’s dreadfully unconvincing. Everyone leaning in to listen to their conversation clearly does not believe her, even if it is, to some extent, the truth.

“What the hell is this then?” Alya drags out the pictures again for good measure. “Why are you laughing?” Her voice cracks with a hint of a laugh, staring at her best friend with incredulity.

Marinette parts her hands briefly so that she can talk, her heart fluttering uncomfortably with the weight of the eyes of everyone on her. “That’s a good question!” What the hell was that? Even she doesn’t really know. It was intimacy that had been betrayed by someone with a camera, it was a moment of sweetness that had been turned into something bitter. If only she could use her miraculous to go back in time and fix this, to burn the imprint of this entire ordeal out of every citizen of Paris.

Alya’s surprise dissolves into a fit of giggles at Marinette’s struggle to compose herself. Her hands begin to tremble. Marinette wonders how much longer before the tears come.

Girl,” Alya laughs, “what am I going to do with you?”

The laughter seems to break the barrier that held the other classmates back. In the blink of an eye, a whole crowd of them surge forward, wonder in their eyes, shouting questions at Marinette over each other. Her chuckling peters off  as her heart sprints faster and she throws up her hands to shield herself against the chorus of their voices.

“Whoa, Marinette! How did you meet Chat Noir?”

“Are you guys dating?!”

“What’s it like to kiss him?”

“I can’t believe you’re going out with Chat Noir! You’re so lucky! He’s so dreamy!”

Marinette smiles widely, even though every instinct in her screams to run. This is bad. This is so terribly, awfully, horribly bad. She waves her hands in front of her as if to ward the crowd off. “Ahh, he’s really. . .ah. U-Um. . .” God, she wishes Chat were here. Chat, she thinks with a heavy heart, because nothing Adrien could do in this situation could make it better.

She can barely breathe. Her face feels hot. She thinks that if anyone asks her one more question she might combust in a mess of tangled fears and uncertainty.

Then. Another voice cuts above all the rest, a voice like knives, like acid.

“Well, well, well. Look at what the cat coughed up.”

Everyone looks toward Chloe who stands nearby with her arms crossed over her chest, her ice blue eyes drilling into Marinette. The superhero’s face gets hot, more than comfortable. She thinks about how her private relationship with Chat has been ruined, been tainted by this grotesque publicity, and clenches her fists at her sides.

“What do you want, Chloe?” Marinette asks through gritted teeth. She’s not in the mood for this.

“It’s fitting isn’t it? That someone like you would settle for a second-rate hero.” She smirks, but her jealousy is entirely transparent. She’s practically glowing green with envy.

Marinette licks her lips, allowing herself to smile in a cat-like, unfriendly way. “Jealous much?” Second rate. Chloe better watch herself.

The rich girl scoffs, sticking her nose up into the air. “Ha! Why would I be jealous of you?”

Beside Marinette, Alya props her hands on her hips. “I don’t see you making out with hot guys in spandex,” she says smartly.

The bell rings, demanding everyone hurry to class. Chloe mutters something too low for Marinette to hear and then snaps at Sabrina before marching away, her nose still miles high in the sky. Marinette presses her still trembling hands to her thighs as she scans the crowd for Adrien, hoping to spot him, quickly letting thoughts of Chloe slide out of her thoughts.

She desperately needs to talk to her partner. It’s not easy, but she’s doing her best to conceal her utter horror and panic at the situation at hand. He’s the only one who understands the true complications of this kind of revelation. As much as she wants to tell Alya about everything, she can’t. Especially now since Chat Noir’s identity is tangled up in the story. She has to protect him. She has to protect herself.

Alya throws her arm around Marinette and steers her toward the school doors. “You’re totally not off the hook, you know. I want an explanation.”

Marinette sighs and tries to smile at Alya. “It was an accident?” she tries.

“Marinette, you’re literally having an illicit love affair with Paris’ beloved superhero. There’s no way that’s an accident.”

“Illicit?!” Marinette’s voice comes out in a strangled cry, still uncomfortably aware of the amount of people watching her, whispering about her. “There’s nothing illicit about a kiss! It’s not like him and Ladybug are actually a thing!”

“But they are a thing just not that thing,” Alya insists, eyes sparkling behind her glasses. “Have you met her? Is she totally jealous of you?”

Marinette sighs again as they walk down the hall toward their classroom. For once, she can’t wait until class starts. The sooner Alya has something other than her relationship with Chat Noir to focus on, the better. She’s much too clever for her own good. “Ladybug thinks we’re both idiots.”

Alya laughs. “Sounds like Ladybug. She’s always been the sensible one in these sorts of situations. Hey, at least now I know why you’ve been acting so weird about Adrien. You were feeling guilty about shacking up with Chat Noir, right?”

She’s sharp as ever. Marinette squeaks, horrified by her best friend’s choice words. “We’re not shacking up!”

Alya’s laughter turns into snickers, and Marinette knows that she doesn’t buy it. “Okay, but you were kissing him. Probably a lot, right? You’ve been spazzy for like two weeks now. Oh my god, Marinette, I need to know about everything.”

They enter the class and take their seats. Marinette’s gaze is drawn to Adrien’s empty chair. her heart tripping with both anticipation and anxiety. He said he’d see her today. She assumed that meant he would be in class, but there is a possibility that maybe he has something else scheduled and he’d come by to see her later.

She isn’t sure which is the better option. It’d be easier to meet him in a private place, but at the same time. . .catching her and Adrien in a cocoon of privacy after these pictures of Chat Noir and her have surfaced is not safe for him. His identity is in jeopardy and she feels a fierce wave of protectiveness fill her. She will not let their recklessness ruin him.

Marinette smiles uncertainly at Alya as she sets her bag down and pulls out her notebook. The classmates in the room stare as Marinette as they enter, some of them shouting out greetings and she responds to with bashful vigor. “Maybe,” she promises.

Alya grins and reaches over to clasp Marinette’s hand. “The Ladyblog won’t breathe a word of this, you know. I would never do that to you, girl.”

The uncertainty in Marinette melts a bit as her smile turns genuine. “I know, Alya. Thanks.”

Adrien’s absence has her growing uneasier by the second, but at least class begins before too many more people can approach her and ask questions that she can’t answer. Alya tries passing notes at first, but Marinette keeps them vague; partly because it would be a disaster to tell her more than absolutely necessary, and partly because it makes her dizzy to consider the fact the wrong person might get a hold of the notes.

Class is standard and the teacher thankfully doesn’t bring up Marinette’s new celebrity status, which is a heady relief. She feels her heart rate finally returning to normal, though she knows it can’t last long. Not with the way people continue to sneak glances and Alya’s consistent pleas to hear every last detail are pressing against her.

On the way to gym class, she thinks she might have some reprieve from Alya’s chattering questions, considering their lockers are nowhere near each other. Her thoughts have been racing all morning, worried about Adrien. In an attempt to gain some peace and quiet, she uses the thick crowd in the hallways to disappear into an empty classroom, hiding herself away in a corner that can’t be seen from the windows. Despite the way eyes have followed her all day, she manages to slip into the room unnoticed.

“Tikki,” Marinette whispers, collapsing against the wall as her kwami flutters out of her bag.

“Oh, Marinette! Are you doing okay? You look pale,” Tikki says softly as she pats Marinette’s cheek.

“I’m fine.” She considers the weight of the situation before adding, “Probably. Anyway, I’m more worried about Adrien at this point. What if something bad happened to him, Tikki? What if someone caught him?”

She goes straight as a line when the window nearest to her wedges open. Tikki vanishes without a trace, making herself scarce. Marinette spins to face it, feeling herself flow into a defensive stance out of instinct.


 

Chat Noir is halfway inside, his finger poised over his mouth as he slinks in. Immediately she relaxes back against the wall, casting her gaze toward the windows that connect to the hallway. He follows her eyes. Most of the students have already gone to their next class, so the crowd is dissipated, leaving him truly alone with her. Thank god.

“Where have you been?” she asks softly as he approaches her with a stealth that leaves his presence silent. She sounds relieved and tired and a million other things that she shouldn’t be. A million other things that he did to her.

“I had to make an appearance at a charity fundraiser this morning. It ran longer than I expected it to,” he whispers, swallowing his heart, feeling the uncomfortable heat simmering in his eyes. Chat saunters up to her side and doesn’t stop until there is no more space between them. He buries his nose in the nook of her shoulder, wrapping his arms tight around her so that nothing else can touch her.

She’s pliant against him, tilting her head up so that her chin rests on his shoulder, her hands finding his belt. He knows he needs to say something, but the guilt is so clogged up in his mouth that he’s struck speechless.

“I. . .I didn’t know,” he murmurs lamely after struggling to find the words.

Her hand strokes his back gently. “You shouldn’t be here. You should have come without the mask.”

“I couldn’t.”

She trembles slightly and it causes him to hold her closer. “Yes, you could have.”

“Not if I wanted to see you. Not if we needed to talk.” He knows he has a point because she doesn’t reply right away. His voice is still muffled against her neck.

“We… could have waited?”

“No, Marinette.”

She tucks her head then, pressing her forehead to his shoulder now as she takes a deep, shuddering breath. Her arms wind around his waist. “You’re right,” she mutters. “I didn’t want to wait, anyway.”

Despite their physical closeness, the emptiness of the classroom presses in with unanswered questions, silent and critical. He doesn’t know how to break the tension. How does he apologize for being poison in her life? How does he possibly make up for the fact that everything she is and everything they had has been scarred by a publicity stunt pulled by his very own father?

Chat pulls away slightly, resting his forehead against hers now. His voice fractures as he cups her face. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he murmurs, voice fissured like broken glass, over and over, as if he can gain her forgiveness from words alone. “This is my fault. I’m so sorry.”

She releases his waist to clasp his wrists, the air shifting around them vastly. “Why are you saying that? We were both reckless!” Her voice is suddenly hard and angry, but it seems reserved. An emotion not meant for him. “Me more than you. I know what it’s like, I should have remembered that - “

“No,” he stops her, rubbing his forehead to hers as he shakes his head. “This isn’t about Chat Noir, this is about you. It is my fault.”

With one hand, she runs her fingers through the locks of his hair, eyes crinkling with concern at how fragile he sounds. “What are you talking about, kitty?” Her hands are soft, gentle. A stark contrast to the iced anger in her voice. Her other hand still clutches at his wrist, rubbing circles into the back of his fist soothingly with her thumb. The tenderness of her attention only makes him feel worse, but pulling away might break something between them and he doesn’t think he can stand to separate himself anyway.

“Your identity, your family, you - all of this is in danger because of me,” he tells her, pained and guilty. Yesterday’s ecstasy seems like nothing but a hopeless daydream. “I invited you to the fashion show. I... I was distracted. I couldn’t focus, and my father grew suspicious. He got photos of us leaving the banquet together and he was mad.” He swallows, finding hard to meet her gaze, opting instead to stare down at her mouth. “He didn’t say as much, but I know he doesn’t want me anywhere near you.”

Or rather, her anywhere near him, Chat thinks as he pulls away slightly, putting space between their faces.

She furrows her eyebrows as her hands still against him. “Your father? I thought he liked me well enough after I made that hat for the design competition a couple months ago.”

“He did,” Chat tells her wistfully, “otherwise, he wouldn’t have given me the ticket to give to you.”

“So what did I do?”

“Marinette,” he says, wishing he had a better answer, wishing that he could make this all disappear. “I told you. This is my fault. It has nothing to do with you. My father is trying to send me a message. He’s trying to reestablish boundaries that I’ve been pushing against. More than anything, he probably thinks that pictures of you and Chat will make me leave you alone.”

Her face scrunches up and he can see the tears glittering in her eyes. Her voice remains hard and unbroken. “He’s trying to hurt you by using me?”

Chat smiles sadly. He’s used to it by now, so the fact that his father had been capable of it was never a question. Actually, it had been an absolute truth immediately that Gabriel Agreste had been behind the pictures. He forgets, sometimes, that the way his father treats him isn’t normal.

The way she’s looking at him now makes it okay that he’s shelved away in his father’s mansion. He knows his resistance against his father began to grow once Marinette showed him what honest love feels like. Because she is here, he isn’t looking for his father’s approval anymore. He doesn’t need to beg and plead and hurt just to feel like he matters.

“W-What kind of - of monster would do that to their own son?” she mumbles in disbelief, reaching up to cup his face, pulling him back to her. His breath catches as she swallows back the lump of emotion in her throat. “H-Has he always been like this?”

“He’s always been cold but the worst of him surfaced after my mother left,” he admits easily, like he’s talking about the weather over a cup of coffee.

Her lower lip quivers as she lets out an unsteady sigh, dropping her hands to his chest. “That’s not fair,” she murmurs. “You - Adrien, you’re -”

When he kisses her forehead, her voice falters. “It’s okay,” he tells her. “I’m okay. You make me okay.” He pulls back. “I’m going to talk to my father about this. I’ll fix it.”

She frowns. “On your own? This is a mess we both made.”

“Yes, but -”

“I’ll come see you,” she says, cutting him off. “Tonight. I’ll come see you, and we’ll figure it out.” Her eyes glance over his shoulder before flickering back to him. “We have to get to class. People are going to start wondering where we are.”

“We? As far as everyone else knows, I still have prior engagements.” He grins, trying to lighten the mood.

She pushes him away playfully, her eyes still wet. Her heart isn’t in the banter. “And if anyone were to catch us like this we’d never live it down.” She pauses. “Or at least, I wouldn’t. There is one more thing I need before I leave, though.” Marinette grabs his hand and leans up on her toes at the same time, pressing her lips against his for a short, brief moment.

“Don’t blame yourself,” she says softly but resolutely as she steps away. “I’ll see you in class.”

He waits until she’s left the room and closed the door behind her before he turns toward the window. After a quick glance outside to make sure there is no one around, he tucks himself into the corner and releases his transformation.

Adrien can feel Plagg’s gaze on his face as the kwami floats up to eye level.

“Like a thousand pieces of Camembert, huh?” Plagg says.

Adrien smiles, though he still feels heavy. “Something like that. C’mon. We’d better get to class, too.”


 

The rest of the day is torture and Marinette handles the groups of people who ask her about Chat Noir with grace. Adrien wishes he could do something, but he knows that without a sure fire plan on how they’re going to figure their way out of this tangled knot, he needs to keep his distance.

A few times, he tells people to chill out and back off, but most of his support is in secret glances and subtle touches. After the final bell, he turns to grab his bag, and watches her from the corner of his eye. She slips out of her seat and after promising to call Alya after she finishes her homework, Marinette turns her gaze to Adrien and she smiles.

“See you later, Adrien,” she says. When he turns his face toward her fully, he sees how sad she still looks. It makes him desperate; he only wants her to be happy. This wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, and the fact that it didn’t have to only fuels his anger at his father.

“Yeah,” he replies as he stands up, too. “Uh, Marinette?”

He can feel Alya and Nino and just about everyone else in the class watching him with razor intensity. “Yeah?” Marinette asks, fidgeting slightly. She looks ready to bolt from the room and he doesn’t blame her.

“If you need anything, you can call me. You’ve got my number, right?” That doesn’t sound like too much, does it? After knowing her for over a year now, they can be considered friends. Friends offer support like this, don’t they? No one should be thinking anything of it.

She softens a bit around the edges at the concern in his voice. “Yeah. Thank you.”

He smiles, relieved. “Anytime. See ya.”

She waves and then retreats from the room. Everyone else in the class starts to file out too. Nino leaves first as he wishes Adrien luck with the homework load tonight after all the assignments he’s missed in the past two weeks before ducking out. As Adrien turns to leave after him, Alya’s voice stops him in his tracks.

“Hey Adrien, wait,” she says.

He turns to look at her, a nervous twitch in his stomach. Crap, did he say something wrong? Nino was right; Alya is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Marinette. Adrien is happy that Marinette has someone like that on her side, but it also means that he’s a little bit anxious around Alya. Whatever test he’s aiming to pass, he smiles as she sidles up beside him, her hands gripping the straps of her backpack.

“What’s up?” he asks as they walk together.

She smiles at him and it immediately puts him at ease. His shoulders relax. “I just wanted to say thanks.”

That’s not what he was expecting at all. He furrows his eyebrows in confusion. “For what?”

“For being there for Marinette,” she responds factually. “Everyone else wanted answers, including me. But you didn’t ask and you didn’t push. I know that kind of support from you means the world to her.”

He can’t very well tell her that he didn’t need answers because he’s the one she kissed, so instead he smiles crookedly. An unexpected blush burns in his cheeks. “Thanks.”

“No way! Thank you! Stay cool, Adrien. I’ll see you tomorrow!” She pats him on the back and then skips ahead. The exchange leaves him feeling stronger than before and he nods to himself as he makes his way to the car waiting for him in front of the school.

When he gets home, Adrien heads straight to his father’s office, steps determined. He’s afraid that if he doesn’t go now, he’ll lose his nerve and he’s not going to roll over on this one. He won’t tolerate this - this bullying anymore. His father almost made Marinette cry. His father is trying to ruin her life so that he can keep Adrien away from her and it won’t work. Not this time.

Natalie is nowhere to be found, so there’s no one to stop him as he opens the office door and enters without an invitation.

It’s a bit of a stroke of luck when Gabriel Agreste is sitting there behind his desk, flipping through some sort of book in front of him. Adrien half-expected the office to be empty. It wouldn’t have been unusual. His father looks up at him.

“Hello, Adrien.”

Adrien’s hands clench into fists at his side. “You had no right to do that to her. I told you she is nothing.”

Gabriel leans back in his chair, watching his son with a speculative gaze. He’d expected this sort of conversation and Adrien almost hates that he’s been so predictable. “That’s not exactly true though, is it?”

He’s so disinterested in the whole thing. Adrien feels the heat in his face, the rasp of anger in the back of his throat. “You can do whatever you want to me. You can take me out of school! You can book me for whatever events you want, I don’t care! Just - Just leave Marinette out of it!”

His father is unaffected by Adrien’s outbursts. Sitting there, calmly, coolly, hands folded together on top of the table, eyes like chips of ice. He’s calculating and evaluating, trying to understand Adrien, trying to figure out how he can twist this conversation into something he can control. Adrien remembers the pain in Marinette’s eyes when he told her that his father was behind the photos and he uses that to keep his footing.

“Why do you care about her so much?” Gabriel asks. “She’s clearly not interested in you.”

“What do you want from me?” Adrien stares him down, afraid to answer that question, afraid to reveal too much. “I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me. I do it without resisting. I’m perfect. What else do you want from me?” His eye contact is unwavering, as is his resolve. He’s never stood up for himself like this before, and when was the last time his father actively appeared engaged in a conversation with him?

His father’s eyes narrow impatiently. “As your father, what I ask of you is -”

“You don’t treat me like your son. You treat me like your property,” Adrien somehow finds the audacity to cut him off. “You’re doing this because you think you can use this to make me sit and stay.”

Gabriel stares at him. Just watching.

“You thought you could use Marinette to hurt me. You thought that would make me come back to you, right? That I could be your puppet again? I will not disrespect you or your name in public, and I’ll follow your schedules, but you don’t pull my strings anymore. Who I spend my time with, that’s up to me.” Adrien takes a deep breath, bracing himself for the consequences of his words, but it never comes.

“Thank you for your input,” his father says unexpectedly, turning his attention slowly from his son back to the documents and books on his desk. “You may leave now.”

Adrien is frozen for a moment with the abruptness of Gabriel’s words, so he’s delayed in nodding his head stiffly before he turns on his heel and leaves the room. The trainwreck of Adrien’s thoughts begin to piece themselves back together as he walks down the hall aimlessly, dazed by the unexpected end of that conversation. Did he...win?

He doesn’t know. There was no real validation of his words, but as Adrien approaches his room, he starts to think that instant gratification isn’t important. Having been able to talk to his father about this matter and hold his own is huge. He’s never taken the opportunity before, and now that he has, his heart feels lighter.

There’s no way to know if his father respects Adrien for his honesty or if he was just impatient and fed up with him, but either way, he feels good. It feels good to stand up for himself. As he enters his room he lets out a breath slowly, feeling distinctly like Chat Noir without even wearing the mask. There is a special kind of freedom in taking control of his own life.

“Plagg,” he says as he drops his bag on the floor. “Claws out.”


 

He doesn’t care who’s watching him now. He’s already been caught on camera kissing Marinette. Another visit to her balcony whether he’s spotted or not won’t add any fuel to the fire that’s already raging.

Chat drops gracefully and silently down on the patio. Behind him, the sun burns the sky in ripe reds and oranges as it dies quietly on the horizon. With the steep shadows, he slinks over to her trap door and opens it.

She’s sitting on her bed, her chin resting on her knees as she hugs them to her chest. The only light in the room comes from the sunset pouring in through the windows and the screen of her cell phone as it bleaches her face. He can’t read her expression too well - her hair is loose and her bangs hang over her eyes from this angle - but she’s tense, her shoulders bunched up to her ears.

That won’t do. Despite the hot water they’re both in, she ought to feel just as good as he does right now. In a swift, cat-like movement, he drops down through the trap door and closes the hatch behind him.

Marinette startles, gasping as she flings her phone onto her bed in front of her. The screen lands face down, leaving the loft darker than before. The bed dips under her weight as she shifts and he waits until she’s adjusted, the tension leaving her shoulders, before he moves closer to her.

“Stop sneaking up on me like that! I said I’d come see you,” she hisses, breaking the stillness between them.

“I couldn’t wait that long,” he replies unapologetically. Before she can start muttering off excuses on why this is a bad idea or reprimanding him for coming here, he kneels in front of her and takes her face in his hands. She only has enough time to draw in a sharp breath of surprise and then he’s kissing her.

He’s not soft. There is only a moment of hesitation on her part, where the rational side of her mind is still whirling, before she reaches up and grabs his shoulders, pulling him down to her. He grins against her eager lips as his hands slip over her shoulders and down to her waist, her arms wrapping around his neck.

“Stop being smug,” she mumbles irritably, digging her nails into his shoulders, “and kiss me.”

His only response is to press himself against her, running his tongue over her mouth. She squeaks before parting her lips and then pulls him down closer, until her head is resting on her pillows and his weight drapes over her, burning and heavy and delicious. He wishes that his hands at her waist could feel the skin of her stomach as her shirt rides up slightly. He could de-transform right now, but that could be dangerous. As if there weren’t enough complications.

Despite him being the one to initiate, she guides him. She tilts her head, she strokes his mouth with her tongue, and he purrs, a low sound in the back of his throat. Marinette makes a heady noise pulling her lips away from his to catch her breath. Her chest presses against his as she tries to regain composure but his mouth never leaves her skin and he trails kisses down the corner of her lips to her jaw and then moves onto her neck.

Her hands are in his hair as he leans up on one elbow to gain better leverage over the skin of her collarbones.

“Look, Princess,” he murmurs sensually, biting, licking, sucking. “There’s something...we need to talk...about.”

He groans as her nails scrape against his hair. “Less talking,” she replies breathlessly in a daze, “more kissing.”

Chat would pull away if he could, but she’s locked on so tight and she tangles her leg over his to keep him there. “It’s important,” he sighs, only half in his mind.

She directs his face back to hers hungrily, crying out in surprise when his hand slips up under her shirt to rest against her ribcage. “F-Finish what you started, kitty.”

He presses his mouth against hers roughly, once, twice, satisfying her enough that her hold on him loosens just a bit and he’s able to pull away, grabbing her wrist and pinning it to the bed. “I would love to,” he purrs in her ear, nudging her cheek with his nose as she catches her breath again. “But we need to talk first.”

She groans and lets out a big gust of air, blowing her bangs back from her eyes. “Okay. Okay. Spit it out.”

Chat kisses her cheek and then draws back. “I’m breaking up with you.”

Chapter Text

“I’m breaking up with you.”

Marinette blinks blankly a few times at Chat, trying to regain a coherent thought process after a greeting like that. Once she’s grasped the meaning of his words, she raises an eyebrow, still breathless.

“I didn’t know we were dating,” she says saucily, chest heaving.

“Of course we are. Didn’t you read the article about Chat Noir’s star-crossed lover? Adrien is starting to look like a constellation prize. . . eh?” She knees him in the hip, making it clear she’s not amused. His grin is cheeky - if a bit pained - and he’s haloed by the sunset streaming in from the window above. It leaves his face shadowed, but his eyes still smolder even as he smiles. His weight burns into her, heavy and hot, and it makes it hard to concentrate, but somehow she manages.

“You are a mood-killer,” she says, sticking her tongue out at him.

Chat’s hand flexes on her wrist as he leans back in and runs his tongue over hers, kissing her stupid. She gasps and tries to keep him close with her free hand, but she’s too dazed to respond fast enough. He grins again as he breaks away and looks down at her. “Cat got your tongue.” His eyes glitter cattishly, voice trembling with lack of breath. “I sincerely a- paw -logize, Princess, but this is im- purr -tant.”

She goes limp against the covers, eyes fluttering, as her heart races erratically. “Three in a row? Really?.” Her free hand begins to run through the locks of his hair gently despite the looming threat in her voice and his grin softens as he starts to purr, low and sweet, at the back of his throat. He lowers himself down, face against her throat, and once he’s released her trapped wrist, she uses that hand to play with the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Did you talk to your dad?” she asks softly, gaining composure.

“Mm,” he affirms absently as his breathing slows.

She tries very hard not to think about what it had to be like. What kind of man his father must be, and how disappointed she is. That someone she’s looked up to as career goals might actually be one of the worst kind of people imaginable. That Adrien - dear, sweet Adrien - is a victim of neglect.  “How did it go?”

“I think it went okay.” He pauses before adding, “It just felt good. To fight for myself for once.” He closes his eyes and rubs his face against her neck as if in approval of her hands. She feels his eyelashes flutter against her, feels how his whole body relaxes into hers and tears prickle her eyes.

She never understood what his home life was like. Marinette knew Adrien had been lonely but she hadn’t realized that all the spaces of warmth in his body had been cruelly carved out by his very own father. She doesn’t know anything about his mother - Adrien mentioned once that she left. Did she die? Did she abandon him with a cold-hearted man who had no penchant for kindness? Did she just go missing?

Instead of asking those questions, for now, she runs her fingers through his hair and blinks the tears back, grateful for her own parents, who love her unconditionally (even if they aren’t happy with her right now). For now, she’ll let Adrien fill himself with her soft touches and her tenderness and her overflowing affection for him. She hopes he can feel her heart.

“Are you okay?” he asks, voice riddled by his purring. “You’re all tense.”

Marinette frowns, but she might as well indulge her thoughts. That’s what partners did anyway, right? Besides, she wants to understand. She wants him to know, more than anything, that he’s not alone. “Sometimes you talk about your father with love in your voice,” she says.

“And you’re curious?” He pauses for a long moment and she thinks at first that he’s not going to reply, but then he murmurs against her throat. “When my mother was still around, my father was warmer. Still absent, but warmer. He used to laugh. He used to touch my hair and smile. He made promises that he would break, but at least he promised me something, back then. I think his constant absence ruined my mother’s perception of both of us. One morning, about three years ago, she went for a walk and never came home.”

Marinette stares at the ceiling, her grip on Chat tightening in a bout of sudden horror. How did everyone in his life keep walking away from him? He’s sunlight, he’s kindness, he’s everything. There’s such an endearing gentleness about his soul. Knowing these things about him now and then thinking about how she used to brush him off when she was Ladybug...it makes her want to cry. She threads her fingers through his hair again.

“I’m sorry, Adrien,” she whispers.

He tilts his head back so that their eyes meet, and he frowns. “Hey, shhh.” She shakes her head and then presses her lips to his forehead. A small sigh shudders through him as he hides his face again. “Please don’t cry for me.”

“You deserve more,” she replies, blinking back the tears.

He softens against her. “That’s why I have you.”

She practically buries her face in his hair as he winds an arm under her waist at the small of her back and clings to her in response. Marinette steadies her breath with his heartbeat. It feels good to feel him so solidly in her arms and she knows that no matter what may happen to them - or between them - in the future, she’ll always remember this moment, and how real it feels.

After a long moment, he parts his mouth again and she feels his breath on her collarbone. “My father was devastated, though he never said as much. I think the only person he’s ever truly loved is my mother, and she came to despise him. In those last months with her, I can still remember how her face would scrunch up when he walked into a room, and how she’d make up every excuse to be as far away from him as possible. I just thought she was mad at him.”

Marinette touches his cat ears. “Your father’s broken heart doesn’t excuse him from being a terrible father,” she insists.

“No,” Chat says slowly, “but I do understand, at least. He doesn’t blame me for my mother running off. He tries to compensate for her absence, too, with money and gifts. I think he tries to keep me under his thumb so I won’t disappear on him either. It’s not okay, the way he treats me. But I understand. At least now, I’m strong enough to say no to him.”

She sighs and kisses his head again. Once more, twice more. They lay there for a long, uninterrupted moment, where its just their heartbeats and their breaths. Minutes pass where she merely holds him and thinks about all the things she’d like to do to make his life better. She wonders if he’s fallen asleep, judging by the ease of his breathing. Finally, she says, “You are probably the strongest person I know.”

He laughs immediately, obviously awake. “Probably?”

And just like that, the mood is lifted. “Alya’s hard to overlook. She has to be strong to put up with me. Pretty sure there isn’t a better friend out there than her.”

Chat hums against her throat. “I agree. She thanked me today.”

She freezes, her heart leaping once with some unreasonable bout of panic. “She did? What for?”

He pulls himself up onto his elbows again, still hovering over her. His eyes and mouth are soft, his hair hanging in his face. The look he’s wearing lights a fire under her skin, but she merely stares up at him, her hands still tangled up in his hair. “For not bombarding you with questions about Chat Noir.” He grins. “I’m in her good graces already.”

Marinette withdraws her hands and rolls her eyes. “That’s cheating.”

He snickers, enjoying himself too much, she thinks. “She doesn’t know that. Alya scares me a little bit.”

At this, she can’t help but laugh, louder than she should. She quiets herself by pressing the back of her hand to her mouth, hoping her parents didn’t hear the outburst. “Alya is about as scary as you.”

“Are you calling me scary?.”

She pats his cheek, smiling at his silliness. “Anyway, kitty, I guess I should thank you for today, too.”

At this, he frowns. “I didn’t do anything.”

She shakes her head and then fully cups his face with both of her hands, running her fingers over the edge of his mask. Her heart swells with a rush of affection for him and the reserved expression on his face. She thinks about the way everyone had pressed in on her today over and over, and then the way he would walk into the room, and somehow, everything would be okay. “Knowing I wasn’t alone today was the only thing that kept me from running away.”

His weight shifts on her and her stomach jumps in tandem, her breath catching in an embarrassing hitch. Either he ignores it or he’s too consumed to notice, and he descends to kiss her again, his mouth already parted. It’s meant to be short and sweet. He tries to pull away, but Marinette craves him, and the ache he’d nursed when he dropped in from the trap door still begs for relief. She uses his momentary daze to wrap her arms around his neck and keep the line of him pressed down on her.

Her tongue teases his, their teeth clicking together as she pulls him in tight. Every inch of her burns and she devours Chat in an attempt to sooth the itch, but he only makes it worse. Oh god, he’s not the cure, he’s the virus. He moans as her hand runs over his shoulder blades and clutches at his lower back. It encourages her. She hears herself say his name against his mouth as if from underwater.

“Marinette,” he says, voice like gravel, hands clenched into fists on either side of her head, as he tilts his chin up to pull his mouth away. “S-Slow down.”

Her mouth finds his jaw and follows the line of his bone from his chin to his ear. “Sorry,” she whispers, even though she’s not.

He laughs, breathless, his chest heaving against hers. “Sorry?” Her hands grip his belt at his back as she nibbles his ear. The sound he makes in response sends heat straight through her. Her blood is fire. “A-Ah. Don’t be- don’t be sorry .”

Her nose buried in his hair, she kisses down his neck and then pulls away with monumental effort once her lips find the slick material of his suit. “O-okay. I’ll behave.”

Chat looks down at her with heat in his eyes. “I said slow down,” he puffs out. “I didn’t say you should stop.”

She smiles innocently. “I thought we had something im- purr -tant to discuss, kitty. The tables have turned, haven’t they?” Flushed and satisfied, she withdraws her hands and lays them at her side. He stares at her in surprise, before laughing.

“Serves me right.” His eyes sparkle and she’s glad. She’s so glad that the weight of guilt has been lifted from his shoulders. Happiness looks good on him. “Back to business, hmm? What did your parents say? I hope I didn’t get you in too much trouble.” He lays his head back down in the crook of her neck.

She grimaces, clearing her throat. “They’re more worried than disappointed and more disappointed than they are mad. They were busy with the bakery, so they haven’t really. . .talked to me about it yet. Anyway, I’ll be fine, as long as you don’t tell me that you’ve come to break my heart for my own protection.”

He laughs under his breath. “I wouldn’t dare insult you that way, my lady.”

“Good. Or I’d have to kick your butt.”

“And I,” he says delightfully, “would be a better man for that.”

She laughs fondly and his answering smile can be felt at her collarbone. “Okay, Mr. Heartbreaker. What’s your plan? A sudden break up seems suspicious. You know the media will still be following me around thinking it’s all for show.”

“If you think that won’t work, I can always out myself as Chat Noir.”

Her heart feels sick at the idea. “Please tell me you’re not being serious.”

His mouth brushes against her skin as he speaks. “I’m 100% serious about protecting you and your identity as Ladybug, Marinette.”

She cuffs him lightly on the side of his head, scowling. “I’m not even going to entertain that idiot idea as a valid option. Stupid cat.”

He pulls away, hovering over her on his elbows. He looks like he’s about to argue, so she shushes him by placing a finger over his mouth. The playful mood seems to dissipate into something anxious and heavy. “No. It’s too dangerous. If Hawkmoth knew your identity, then he wouldn’t have to send akumas anymore and we have no idea who he is or what he looks like. He could take your miraculous and kidnap Plagg right out from under you and that’s very bad .”

Chat kisses her finger, but his expression is serious. “Whatever we do, Hawkmoth is still our biggest concern.” His eyes tighten as something she can’t see flashes before him and he takes a deep breath. “He might try to hurt you to get to me. We can’t give him that chance.”

She freezes under him, going rigid with the realization of his words. Why hadn’t this massive headache occur to her before? Probably because she was dealing with a million of other results produced by those damned pictures. There has been a lot on her mind - it’s only natural that the worst of it would only catch up to her after all the trivial, immediate problems had been handled. But this isn’t a mere matter of just revealing identities anymore, its also the danger of Paris’ biggest threat gaining the upperhand. It’s about a power-hungry monster who would do anything to become stronger.

Marinette slides out from under him and he rights himself as she leans her back into the wall and crosses her legs. “You will not give up your miraculous for me,” she says absolutely. This is something else she won’t tolerate.

“Of course not,” he replies vehemently, though she can see in his eyes that it’s still a very real possibility if things get that dire.

She reaches forward and grabs his hand. “I’m serious, Chat.” Her heart hammers at the thought of him doing something so stupid just to save her. “Paris needs you. This is so much bigger than me.”

“Marinette,” he says her name like a prayer, letting her press her fingers to his knuckles as she holds him captive. “I know. I’ll do my best.” He raises her hand up and kisses the back of it, the same way he’s done a hundred times before.

She frowns. “You have to promise me.”

He smiles wistfully, something sad about his expression. “You, Princess, are more than capable of handling yourself. And I know that, even more than you do. But you are…” His voice falters unexpectedly, for just a moment. “You are important. I don’t think around you. I promise to try, but I can’t give more than that. I’m sorry.”

Marinette sighs. It breaks her heart to hear him admit to so much, but it also makes her feel more alive than she’s ever felt. Words that she’d never really associated with herself. Capable. Important. Chat Noir, her beloved partner, her other half, believes her to be these things. Adrien Agreste believes her to be these things. She clutches his hand tighter.

“I-I suppose that’s good enough. For now,” she relents.

“I do swear to try,” he says again for good measure.

A smile tugs at her lips as his expression tugs at her heart. He’s looking at her like she holds the whole damn world in the palm of her hand. Like she’s a galaxy high above on a cloudless night, like her words are a religion, like her touch is the antidote. “I believe you.”

He must see the sincerity in her, because he closes his eyes and smiles quietly. “Thank you.”

When he says stuff like that, it hurts. Oh god, does it hurt. It’s like he’s never had a single reliable person in his life and it’s absurd, that someone so good has always been so alone. “I’ll always believe you,” she adds. He opens his eyes and he looks so happy that she can’t breathe. To lighten the conversation again, she pushes him away until he’s lying on his back. She kneels beside him and pins his wrists to the bed. He’s shocked for a moment, but then he looks entirely too pleased with himself. She can’t complain; she probably does, too. “Chat Noir, maybe I want to break up with you . You’re an awful flirt and your puns are bad.”

He gasps, as if outraged. “Me-ouch, Princess! You are as cruel as you are beautiful!”

She laughs with abandon. “Are you trying to prove me right?”

A too-innocent smile spreads across his face, eyes sparkling. “Aren’t you always right?”

“Good answer, kitty.” She grins at him and then swoops down for a kiss. He makes a small, contented sound at the back of his throat and follows her lead, keeping it sweet by the way he nudges her lips with his. Marinette sighs against him, a smile twitching at her mouth, and then she pulls away. “I like you.”

His face softens. “I like you, too.”

“Marinette? Who are you talking to up there?”

She goes rigid at the sound of her mother’s voice carrying up through the floor. Chat freezes, eyes widening in horror.

“Shit,” he whispers as he jerks into a sitting position.

Marinette presses a shushing finger to his mouth and then turns her face toward the hatch door in the floor. “Uhh...what?! I didn’t hear you!”

Chat makes a face at her and she shrugs, panicked. He kisses her forehead quick before standing up and pushing her skylight open. “Call me later,” he says softly. “Good luck!”

Good luck! He’s being a smart ass now. She sticks her tongue out at him before grabbing her phone and sliding down the ladder, not pausing to watch him leave. Her heart races with adrenaline - the high of being discovered by her mother makes her feel almost dizzy - and she plops into her desk chair just as the hatch door pops open and her mother sticks her head into the room.

Sabine looks at Marinette sternly. “Marinette, who were you talking to?”

Marinette points to her phone, smiling innocently. “Alya just called to ask how I was doing on the homework - our literature reports are due tomorrow.”

Her mother crawls up into the room and sits with her legs dangling through the door. “You’re working on homework in the dark?”

Marinette’s grin turns stiff as she realizes that it is a tad bit dark in the room since the sun set. The sudden panic that strikes her wreaks havoc on her poor heart. “Man, is it dark out already? I hardly noticed!” She reaches for the lamp on her desk and turns it on.

Sabine scans the room, eyes lingering on the door above Marinette’s bed. She doesn’t say anything about Chat having been in this room less than a minute ago, but Marinette knows what her mother is thinking and it’s not good. “Your father and I want to talk to you about this boy.”

Marinette collapses back against her chair in total surrender, face turning red as she dreads the conversation. She knew this was coming anyway. “Alright. What do you want to know?”

::::

“Dude, did you get all your homework done last night?” Nino digs around in his backpack and pulls out his history book, setting it on the desk in front of him.

Adrien cringes, thinking about all the things he left undone in favor of visiting a certain polka-dotted princess against literally everyone’s better judgment. They hadn’t even figured out how to approach this mess of their relationship yet, and when he’d tried calling her late last night, she hadn’t answered. He rests his elbow on his desk and puts his cheek in his hand.

“No,” he replies, working to sound mournful. “I was distracted by other things.”

Nino flips through the history book mindlessly as other students fill into the classroom, chattering animatedly amongst themselves. Marinette is notably still absent. “Distracted? By what?”

Adrien hums to himself as his leg bounces under the table, restless, and pages through his own textbook until he gets to yesterday’s ending point. “Uh...y’know. Stuff.” Wow, like that’s not totally suspicious. Adrien groans inwardly, praying to God that someday he’ll have all the social graces someone his age ought to have.

“Stuff?” Nino tips up the bill of his cap and gives Adrien a confused look before some sort of realization dawns across his face. “Oh, I see. Bro, you were totally jelling over Chat Noir, weren’t you.” It’s not even a question; it’s a statement.

“Jelling?” Adrien asks delicately, sure he’s never heard that word before. Nino’s vocabulary sometimes had a tendency to throw him off. Adrien’s eyes dart toward the door, looking for Marinette, but it’s just Juleka and Rose who enter the room with smiles.

His best friend laughs. “Yeah, dude. Like being jealous .”

“Jealous?” Adrien is completely confused now, but his face flushes from the implications. “You mean, over Chat Noir and Marinette?”

Nino points a finger gun at him and winks. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

Adrien freezes for a moment, trying to think through the best possible response. Does he admit to being jealous? That would be the plausible route to go. After all, he wants to be with Marinette in every form. And if they have to take whatever relationship they have slowly then it would make sense, right? For him to be jealous now of his alter ego?

He smiles sheepishly and rubs at the back of his neck. “I...I don’t know about jealous. I mean, he must make her happy, right?”

Nino gives him an unamused look and pushes up the bridge of his glasses. “Are you for real right now, dude? I saw your face the other day when I told you she was crushing on you.”

Adrien shrugs, face burning, looking again for Marinette so that he can put an end to this conversation gracefully. There are too many secrets wrapped up in this situation and he’s much too close to the subject matter to be talking about this without boundaries.

“Man, you’re so easy to read.” Nino laughs and leans in closer toward Adrien. “I wonder how long they’ve been a thing. Alya is appalled that she didn’t know about any of this.”

The blonde model busies himself with his books, avoiding eye contact, and matching Nino’s low voice. “Probably not that long, if Alya didn’t know.” Like a week and a half or so. This whole thing has spiraled out of control in just a matter of days. It’s nearly a disaster. A beautiful, happy disaster, but one hell of a mess nonetheless. Still, when he thinks about it, the only thing he dwells on his how many times he’s kissed Marinette in a mere span of a week and it makes him hot under his skin

It’s not even a matter of quantity but the quality. His blush deepening, he recalls last night easily, and licks his lips.

“I wonder if Chat Noir has gotten to first base yet,” Nino says absently, thumbing through the playlist on his iPod. “He’s a pretty smooth guy, isn’t he?”

Adrien’s eyes widen as his eyes dart toward the door and his gaze settles on Marinette who is standing right in front of their desk. She turns rigid at Nino’s offhanded comment, freezing in her place as she whirls toward him, her face turning absolutely pink. Adrien hadn’t even see her come through the door! His heart hammers and crawls up his throat at the mortified expression on her face. Her eyes flicker over him unseeingly and he’s thankful that the hurricane stirring up in her soul will not be taken out on him. Nino looks up, probably feeling the pressing silence and his eyes meet Marinette’s head on.

“D-D-Do you mind ?” she splutters with embarrassment.

Nino holds up his hands in surrender, expression turning sheepish as his face pales. “Sorry!”

“Keep your nose out of my business!” Her hands turn into fists, drawing the attention of everyone who is already in their seats. “Just because I’m suddenly in a headlining article in every newspaper in Paris does not mean you-you-you can just discuss my love life in public. And with him -” she gestures wildly at Adrien, “-of all people!”

Adrien might have reacted with friendly outrage but there are so many people watching now that his mouth goes dry and he’s left entirely speechless. Marinette does have a tendency to draw attention wherever she goes. She’s expressive and amiable and when she’s embarrassed or angry, she’s explosive. A blessing and, he thinks, a curse. He looks at her now as she scowls at his best friend and his heart flips.

I’m such a goner.

“I-I’m sorry, Marinette!” Nino stammers.

The sincerity in his voice diffuses her; she sucks in a breath, her pink face darkening to a lovely shade of red. She nods at him and tightens her hold on her bag. Her eyes skitter over Adrien’s face and he offers a wry, timid smile.

“Hello, Adrien,” she says shortly.

“Hi, Marinette.”

She turns her face away and stomps to her seat as Alya enters the room. She picks up on Marinette’s sour mood just by the way her shoulders are scrunched up to her ears. Alya frowns at the boys, and as she passes, she flicks Nino’s cap.

“You said something stupid again, didn’t you?” She rolls her eyes and takes her seat next to Marinette.

Nino exchanges a regretful look with Adrien. “I just wanted you to admit you were jealous, dude,” he whispers.

Adrien laughs into his hand at the hollowed look in his friend’s eyes. “Nice try, man. Nice try.”

::::

Throughout the rest of the morning, Adrien shifts restlessly in his seat. It’s killing him that Marinette is three feet away and he hasn’t been able to ask her about last night. What did her parents say? Was she in trouble? He needs to talk to her. While he’d been in her room for a long time the night before, it felt like they didn’t get to say everything that mattered and it hits him again just how complicated this situation is.

At lunch, he’s determined to get her alone, which is harder than he expected. As she leaves the front door of the school, she’s ambushed by two or three strangers with notepads and recording devices, and once she’s finally managed to shake them away with vague answers to their invasive questions, it’s other students from school who try and get information about Chat Noir out of her. Alya is trying to help offset the questions, but it’s clear they’re both struggling.

Hoping to help a little, Adrien takes a deep breath and channels his inner Chat as he strides up to the group, interrupting the underclassman who is in the middle of a tense conversation with Alya

“Hey, Marinette,” he says, focusing on her surprise at his sudden appearance rather than the eyes of the small crowd he can feel at his back. Her face flushes in color at his calm expression and he has to resist the urge to reach out and grab her hand. “You did an awesome job on your literature report this morning.”

“Th-Thank you.” She gives him a quizzical look, glancing at a suspicious Alya before meeting Adrien’s gaze again.

“Sure,” he says with a smile. “I know this seems sudden, but I wasn’t able to finish my report due to modelling gigs and I was wondering if you could help me go over a few things for it?”

It seems he’s struck Marinette speechless. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be used to how flustered she can get when its his face and not Chat’s mask that she’s talking to. It must be lingering side-effects before they had surrendered their identities to each other, and it’s only been a few days. The whiplash from all the new information they have to absorb must make it difficult for other things to sink in.

She blinks at him, cheeks rosy. “U-um -”

Alya puts her hands on her hips. “She’d love to.”

Marinette frowns at her friend but everything about her posture begs for a reprieve from this craziness. He feels a twinge of guilt again in his chest and wonders how long it will be before this turns to old news.

She grips the strap on her back. “Alright, then. Should we go to your place?” Code for: my parents would be Very Suspicious if I brought a boy home after all the publicity of her relationship with Chat Noir and I’d really rather avoid that mess.

Alya gives Adrien a thumbs up and turns back to the small crowd of people. “Okay, kids, shows over.”

Adrien steps up next to Marinette. “I had something else in mind,” he says in a low voice so that no one else can here, a crooked smile pulling at his mouth, as they walk away.

She giggles. “I thought it was awful suspicious that you’d come to me about homework.”

He smiles dashingly and quickens his step. She matches his speed, and they turn a corner, concealed from the classmates outside and a majority of the pedestrians on the sidewalks in an alcove of the building. Adrien reaches for her hand and pulls her into his chest. She gasps before he swoops in and kisses her briefly, with a smile, before separating and putting space between them.

“That was dangerous,” she scolds.

“Danger is my middle name,” he tells her. “Didn’t you know?”

“Shut up. If we’re not going to do your homework, what are we going to do? I’m hungry.”

“We,” he said, “still haven’t resolved our issues. But in order to have this conversation, you’ll need to go undercover. There are too many people with their eyes on Marinette.”

Marinette raises her eyebrow at him and he grins because he’s sure she knows where this is going. “Undercover, huh?”

He winks at her.



Chapter Text

To see Marinette’s adoration of Chat Noir shining out at him through Ladybug’s eyes is something of a dream. Chat leans against the alleyway wall as she peeks around the corner from an alcove where she’d transformed at him, grinning, glowing, and his heart skips a beat. Or five beats. The heat crawls under his skin as she tucks her hands behind her back and saunters up to him, Marinette’s conviction emboldened by Ladybug’s sense of confidence.

Honestly, it’s getting hard to breathe. How utterly ridiculous. This is a girl he’s been kissing the hell out of for days now. This is a girl who whispered last night that she believes in him. This is a girl who is his true equal, who has gratefully stepped into his life as someone to light the darkness of his world and burn bright enough - hot enough - to last forever.

So how is it that watching her approach him dressed in spots, tight to her skin, is enough to render him incapable of saying anything at all?

Ladybug leans against the wall next to him on one shoulder, smirking up at him as his face turns red under the dark expanse of his mask. “What’s with that look, kitty?”

His gaze stays glued to her. “A-ah. What look?”

“Is this a dream come true, for you?” Her voice is almost sultry, which is an outrage, considering that he can’t touch her. Not when she’s Ladybug. He stares down at her - the smug half-lidded expression, the pink rose of her lips, the blue heaven of her eyes - and the very core of him trembles.

The fact that its Marinette behind the mask makes it worse - no longer is Ladybug a nameless girl who has been a pillar of strength for him. She is a girl who is amazing beyond comprehension; a hard-worker, a quick thinker, a passionate friend. If he tries to walk away from her now, will his knees fail him? Will he fall to the ground to worship her, breath stolen, soul consumed?

“You think a pretty look from you is all I dream about?” he asks, the corner of his mouth quirking up in a daring smirk. It’s all bravado. He can’t even move away from the wall.

She laughs and pokes him in the shoulder. “Maybe. You’re clearly affected by the spots. It’s hard to believe Marinette caught you when you look at me like that.”

He doesn’t want to believe that she’s doubting the depth of his affections for Marinette, but he suppose he can’t blame her. After all, it’s human, it’s natural. And with this strange circumstance that surrounds them - their dual identities that are tangled up in each other - he thinks he understands. Hadn’t he doubted her affections for him before, too? He rolls onto his shoulder so that he’s facing her now, his shadow slanting over her. She’s close enough that he can still smell the bakery on her, all sugar and butter and warmth. “I have liked you a long time, my lady, but Marinette is everything you are and more.”

“I’m glad you found her.” Her smile turns sweet, eyes softening as she pushes away from the wall and starts walking away. “Your sincerity might keep us here all day, Chat Noir. Let’s go. We’ve only got an hour before we have to be back in class.”

“Good to know that my honesty may be your weakness.” He grins at her retreating figure. “I’ll use that, you know.”

She casts a flirty glance over her shoulder. “Please do.”

It strikes him like lightning. His knees buckle and he slips against the wall, sliding down it ungracefully and landing on his hip. He watches with his erratic heart in his eyes as she pulls out her yo-yo and slings it forward. It pulls her up and away, leaving him alone with the heat under his skin and the static butterflies in his stomach, mind reeling. She hadn’t even touched him and he’s been reduced to a puddle. Marinette as Ladybug is dangerous. Powerful.

From a rooftop overhead, she pokes her head into the void of the alley. “You coming, kit- Chat? Are you okay?”

He holds up a hand. “I-I’m fine.”

“What happened? Why are you sitting on the ground? I thought we were going to go on a patrol date.”

Date . His heart spikes again, body almost twitching with the electricity that runs through him at her words. Every nerve ending burns, every breath catches in his throat. She’s trying to kill me. “I’m fine,” he says again because there are no other words that exist.

“Did you slip?”

“I’m fine, Ladybug.” He takes a deep breath and uses the wall to stand up, testing his weight before pushing away and using the crooked lining of the bricks and fake window sills to crawl up to where she sits. His nose almost touches hers when he reaches the top and she doesn’t move away. Unexpectedly, there’s concern etched into the slant of her eyebrows.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re acting strange.”

He wants to touch her. The ache is so strong that it nearly makes him cry out with the frustration of keeping his hands to himself. Chat pulls himself up and over the ledge, standing up next to her. “I’m just. . .getting used to this. You. Me. Us.”

She props one hand on her hip, raising an eyebrow. “What about me?”

His mouth goes dry as she steps closer, her toes meeting his. He tries to respond but his thoughts go hazy at her proximity, so instead, he ducks around her. After all, if he told her, what would she say? Chat doesn’t want to scare her off. “H-Hey, we’ve only got so much time before class.”

Ladybug snags his tail before he can escape. “Hey, you slippery cat, don’t you want to make me melt with your honesty?” She’s daring him to be truthful now. He pauses, looking at her from over his shoulder, at her furrowed eyebrows, at the light dusting of a blush burning under her mask.

Oh god, does he ever. He wants to rake his hands over her ribcage and touch the skin at the small of her back, where it’s warm and eager to arch into him. He wants to whisper praises into her neck and touch her with slow, calculated fingers as she grips him closer, closer, because she’s burning, too. God, he wants to go push the limit with her, fingers tangled into her hair, masks gone because there’s nothing left to hide.

He would also like to hold her hand in the hall at school and take her on the kind of first date a girl as sweet and decadent as Marinette deserves.

At the moment, however, none of this is within his realm of control - or rather, his control is great enough that he can push the thoughts away, tabbing them for later. He grins with embarrassment, still unable to pull out his Chat Noir persona entirely, and yanks his tail out of her grasp.

“Maybe after some lunch, my lady? We have more important things to discuss than how stupid I get around you.”

She watches him with a speculative look, her cheeks now obviously red. “Do I really have that much of an effect on you? Me?”

When he smiles this time, its a bit crooked, a bit disbelieving. Has she really no idea how amazing she is? How beautiful and strong and brilliant she is? How she shines, how she makes everyone’s lives brighter, better? He has to make it a habit to tell her, every second of every day, until he knows that she she gets it. “You make me into the biggest idiot,” he tells her. “Sometimes, I don’t even know my name when I look at you.”

“What the hell, Chat Noir,” she scolds after soaking in his words. “You are the dumbest dumb boy I’ve ever met. You can’t just say things like that to my face.” Her face is red, flustered as she passes him breezily and then takes a running leap over the gap between buildings, her yo-yo grasped tight in her hand.

His face, too, feels warm as he follows in her wake. “Do you know a lot of dumb boys?”

“Two!” she calls back over her shoulder. “And you know both of them!”

::::

“First of all, they thought I was saving myself for Adrien,” Ladybug mentions casually, as though it doesn’t bother her to admit that her huge crush on him was apparent to everyone but him. “So they were. . .surprised, to say the least, when that article broke news. Secondly, they were disappointed that I kept you a secret - that I’d let you visit their house without telling them. And thirdly? I’m grounded,” she says simply, passing the large soda back to Chat. Their quick, midday patrol had ended in a fast food grab for lunch, before swinging away to eat some place secluded where they couldn’t be overheard.

He swallows the last of his sandwich and takes a sip from the straw, feeling only half apologetic. “My bad.”

Ladybug laughs, casting her eyes at Paris, which stretches below them from the top of the billboard sign. “I knew what I was getting myself into,” she tells him easily, folding her legs up under herself.

Chat studies her quietly for a moment, taking another long draw from the soda before extending the cup back her way. “How bad does your dad wanna kill me right now?”

Laughter bubbles out of her again and he’s enthralled. The straw presses to her bottom lip as her eyes, as sweet and warm as a summer sky, smile at him. “He’s not the one who wants to kill you, actually.”

His eyes widen as an image of Marinette’s mother - sweet, small, motherly Sabine - flickers in his mind. “Your mom?”

She nods, grinning. “Yep.”

Chat considers this for a moment before deciding that he’s not surprised. He’d only met Marinette’s parents a small number of times - from school functions - but Marinette’s similarity to her mother had always struck him. He supposes it makes sense, and he laughs. “I should have known.”

Ladybug sets their shared drink down in her lap. “My dad is more disappointed in me, I think, and he hasn’t said as much, but he trusts my judgment of you enough to believe that you are a good guy. But my mom. . .well, you should know that she respects and admires you for the work you do for Paris.” She bites her lower lip absently. “With that said, she thinks our relationship will put me in danger, and she blames you for that.”

His eyes flicker over her reserved expression, the downward quirk at the ends of her lips and he wants to touch her. Maybe he wants to kiss her. But there is a time and a place for that, and right now, she’s Ladybug, not Marinette, and he has to protect her identity more than he needs to satiate his need to be close to her, to comfort her. “Well,” he says simply, not turning away when she looks at him, “she’s not wrong.”

“No, maybe not. But she also doesn’t realize that I put myself in danger everyday and that you have nothing to do with that in particular.”

He frowns. “Ladybug, that doesn’t change things. Danger is danger. Your relationship with me has doubled your involvement with it, and that, I’m afraid, is entirely my fault. I asked to kiss you first. You never would have made the first move.”

She appears put off by that, pinching the straw of the cup between her forefinger and her thumb. “I would have kissed you without permission that very same night if you hadn’t asked, Chat Noir.”

His heart flips up into his throat at the sheer sincerity in her voice. “Lady -”

“I walked into this...thing we have, knowing exactly what I was doing,” she assures him matter-of-factly, voice a little rough around the edges. “Every decision I made around you was mine to make. There is no blame to be laid here, unless you regret me .” She smiles crookedly, eyebrows slanted knowingly. “And I know you don’t.”

He swallows, struck speechless by her Marinette-ness, by her zero-hesitation attitude. His eyes follow her as she maintains eye contact, and brings the straw back to her mouth to take another sip. “No,” he says stupidly, because its the only word he can think of to affirm her statement.

She nods and then hands the cup back to him. “See? So stop trying to pretend like you’re the bad guy. You’re probably the better one of the two of us.”

He takes the soda after a moment and rattles it, hearing the ice clatter against ice as he moves the straw in search of the last of the drink. The sun is warmer than seasonal weather dictates, burning him up in the black suit, searing at the back of his neck in a way that tells him this moment with his Lady is real. This isn’t a dream.

“You are perfection incarnate, my lady,” he says. “This is one thing I will not concede to.”

She laughs and it sounds flirty, of all things. His heart flutters again and he thinks he can’t wait for her mask to come off, if only to have an opening to kiss her. “I’ll let you have that one,” she says.

He averts his eyes to stare at the river as boats move up it slowly, and the sun sparkles like gems on its surface. Chat sucks up the rest of the soda and then stuffs the empty cup back into the brown paper fast food bag that holds the rest of their trash. “So how are we going to do this? Do I have to stop seeing you when I’m Chat?”

“Everyone is watching my house,” she says. “And my parents are on high alert, especially since they know you came over last night. You’re still an idiot for that, by the way.”

He shrugs, remembering her lips and her tongue and her teeth and getting hot under his collar. “Worth it.”

“You weren’t the one who got yelled at by her parents!”

“You didn’t ask me to leave! I see right through you, Ladybug!” He grins at her, cattishly, smugly. “If I recall correctly, you were the one who encouraged most of what happened last night.”

The warmth in her cheeks blooms and it looks lovely on her, even hidden as it is by her mask. Is she thinking about how her hands moved across the tight line of his back? How her mouth had found his ear? How he’d been so overwhelmed by her attention that his attempt at slowing her down was weak and laughable? “We’re getting off task here,” she says, diverting the conversation.

He chuckles. “Right. So no more Chat Noir for the lady?”

The redness in her cheeks prevails as she sticks up a finger and waggles it between them, eyebrows slanted wickedly this time. “Ah-ah, no more Chat Noir for the princess . The lady may, however, feel inclined to visit a certain handsome boy.”

His knees feel weak again at the mere idea of her showing up at his house. Oh god yes. Please, yes. “That’s up to you,” he says, but his voice is trembling slightly and he knows she can see the anticipation in every single line of his body.

“And the princess,” she says softly, “will go to school and tell everyone that she let her cat go.”

“Then the prince,” Chat reaches over, his knuckles brushing against the side of her thumb where it rests on the space between them, “lets the princess cry on his shoulder and she realizes how truly perfect he is? That is how this story goes, isn’t it?”

She raises an eyebrow. “A perfect prince, huh? Who knew you had such an ego.”

He waggles his own eyebrows under the cover of his mask. “May I remind you whose handsome face we are sitting on?” He points downward at the billboard they’re perched on, a picture of Adrien modelling for some new denim brand with a crown as their logo.

Ladybug rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile hiding at her mouth. “Okay, okay. We’ll take things slow.”

Chat lowers his gaze to her lips before darting back up to meet her eyes. “That’s fine.”

She’s staring at him, and it takes a moment before she says,“You can’t just look at me like that.”

He blinks. “Like what?”

With sigh, she draws herself up to her feet. “Problem’s solved,” she says, changing the topic again. He lets her, only because he can’t kiss her now. “I’ll tell Alya tomorrow about Marinette and you. For now, though, I suppose we should - “

The sound of a shrill scream cuts through the air, silencing her. Immediately, every muscle in Chat’s body tightens as Ladybug’s head swivels around, eyes scouring the skyline and the streets below for signs of danger. He turns his back to her, searching for trouble down by the bank of the river, and he feels her step closer, elbow bumping against his.

Just as he goes to open his mouth, there’s another voice yelling for help. His heart leaps into his throat as the adrenaline buzzes in his veins, his line of sight sharpening with crystal clarity at the high of danger.

“I can’t tell where that’s coming from!” he calls over his shoulder.

Another scream. His head snaps toward the bridge and the two of them move like partners in a song, knowing each others’ steps before they’re even made. Chat Noir leaps down off the billboard, snatching at his baton to keep it handy as Ladybug slings her yo-yo out in front of her, swinging down toward the river.

::::

Ladybug lands near the riverbank only seconds before Chat Noir lands beside her, every single one of his muscles coiled with anticipation. A movement from the corner of her eye catches her attention and she turns her gaze toward a black shadow standing under the cover of a nearby bridge.

Chat notices the same figure just a beat later, and begins to move toward it, but she finds herself hooking her arm into his elbow.

“I don’t like this,” she says, feeling her stomach clench with a sudden rush of fear. Something is very off about this situation. Why isn’t there anyone else coming to see what was going on? Those screams were loud enough to draw both her and Chat in, and the billboard they’d been sitting on was just a blocky haze against the sky in the distance. It’s strangely quiet. Eerie. She can hear her own breath in her lungs.

Chat’s eyes crinkle with concern, halting immediately upon her physical contact. “What do you mean, LB?”

She stares at the figure, shaped like a man, unmoving under the shadow of the bridge. As Ladybug, she’s never felt so apprehensive, but then, most villains have always been straightforward and obvious. Friends and acquaintances who needed her help to be freed from some twisted version of brain-washing.

This is different. A singular shape, attracting only her and Chat, alone. It should be easy, she thinks, she shouldn’t feel like something bad is about to happen. Especially with her partner at her side.

She gestures toward the figure. “It’s just watching us.”

Chat pauses, turning his keen gaze back toward the bridge. “We need to do something ,” he says. “Is it an akuma?”

Another scream tears through the air and they wince, making to cover their ears at the suddenness and the deafening reverberations that bounce off the walls of the bridge. Ladybug takes a protective stance in front of Chat Noir once the sound quits and her uneasiness grows when still, no bystanders come to see what the ruckus is all about.

“Watch my back,” she says in a low, low voice, heart thundering as she grips her yo-yo tight in her hand.

He touches her between the shoulder blades, a show of support and encouragement, and then she hears the sound of his baton extending into a staff. “Count on it,” he murmurs.

She nods and then begins walking forward. He stays close on her heel as they approach the black figure. Shouldn’t it be moving? It’s just standing there, still as a statue and once they’re within thirty feet of it her muscles seize with a rush of recognition for the face that’s starting to take form under the shadows of the bridge.

Chat’s voice comes out quietly, bitterly. “Careful, Ladybug. That’s the man who tried to mug Marinette last week.”

It snaps into place and she remembers how dangerous that boy had been, the desperation and craze that had haloed his eyes, misty through the rain. With a sudden cry, Ladybug lunges forward, slinging her yo-yo out, intending to catch him before he can pose a real threat. The boy laughs, finally breaking form and dodges her hit.

A purple mask in the shape of a butterfly glows. “Neat trick, huh? I use it to lure in stupid people like you who can hear me.”

“It’s an akuma!” Chat calls out as she repositions herself in a defensive stance, back to the water so she knows that he can’t come from behind her.

“Thanks, I got that!” she yells out with a measure of sarcasm.

The akuma looks between Chat and Ladybug and she feels her heart skip a beat with sick anticipation as it grins. “I didn’t expect it to call you in, too, Ladybug.”

Chat springs forward, a vicious expression on his face as he raises his staff in the air and brings it down in a swift motion, the sound of it moving thundering against the concrete walls of the bridge. The akuma dodges it with perfect ease and she makes to wield her yo-yo but suddenly, the shadowed boy is gone.

“Where did he go?” Chat asks, his eyes narrowed harshly as she jogs up to her side. The words sound sour in his mouth and she wants to ask him if he’s okay, but she’ll save that question for later, when they’re not facing an opponent.

“This guy breaks every category of akuma we’ve ever dealt with. He must be targeting you, Chat Noir,” she responds simply. A ghostly echo whispers around them, feeling too real for comfort and she shoulders it away uneasily. What the hell is this akuma?

Chat sounds displeased, snorting. “It’s been over a week since Marinette and I ran into this guy. You’re telling me that he’s been an akuma all this time and we didn’t even know it?” He pauses, going straight as a line, eyes widening as if a new thought has struck him.

“We don’t know what exactly Hawk Moth is capable of!” Ladybug replies snappishly.

“No,” says a pleased voice behind them. “You don’t.”

They both spin to face their opponent but another deafening scream rips through the air, loud enough to rattle her brain, loud enough to make her eyes hurt. She screeches in surprise at the pain, slapping her hands over her ears. It doesn’t seem to help much and the pressure of it seems to suffocate her, making her knees weak. As if from a distance, she thinks Chat Noir calls her name.

Then, there are arms around her tightly. Panic rises in her for a moment at the thought that its their enemy, the akuma, who is cradling her with so much fierceness, but when her eyes shoot open, its Chat Noir, his face buried against her neck as he squeezes her close against him and then jumps. She has a moment to gasp before they crash through the surface of the river.

The screaming stops immediately and Chat’s arms release her from his protective cage. Panic instead of relief kicks in when she feels the tension in Chat’s body, still lined up exactly against hers and she remembers that he’s not a good swimmer from some distant conversation they had in the past. Wrapping her arms around his waist she lets the current of the river carry them downstream as they work together to kick their way to the surface.

When they break, Chat sucks in a desperate breath and clings to her.

“Hold on, Chat,” she says in his ear, holding him close with one arm as she treads water. “Hold on.”

He nods, his hair plastered to his forehead, eyes still electric with alarm. With a quick, searching glance toward the shore they jumped from to spot the akuma, she turns Chat so that he is on her back, arms around her shoulders so she is free to move all her limbs without him getting in the way. The akuma is nowhere to be seen which instills both relief and apprehension deep in the pit of her stomach.

Chat’s feet kick, bumping against hers as he tries to help them stay above the waterline. Deciding she can’t prolong it any longer, Ladybug turns her back on the bridge and rides the current of the river downstream away from danger as she paddles toward the opposite shore.

The wall of the river grows taller as the ledge grows shorter and Ladybug just manages to catch the staircase before the shore disappears altogether. Despite the strength and protection that her miraculous grants her, her muscles still scream with the effort and the exhaustion.

Chat crawls half over her onto the brick ground and then pulls her up out of the water and sets her close beside him. His hands flutter around her shoulders, eyes softened by concern. “Are you okay, my lady?”

She shivers but manages to smile. “Thanks to you.”

He smiles in return, shoulders sagging with relief. “Just watching your back.” For the first time since they’ve transformed, he touches her out of comfort, out of want, rather than out of necessity, as he drops his forehead to her shoulder and wraps his arms around her. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”

Confused, she runs a hand down his back and then pushes him away, afraid that someone will see them being intimate. “We were never in that much danger.”

“My ass. The Screamer was trying to split your head right open.” He takes a deep breath. “I should have tried to stop him before jumping into the water with you, but I didn’t think. I’m sorry.” Even with the distance she’s put between them, he still takes a hold of her hands and she feels him trembling slightly. Is it because of the cold of the water or something else?

She makes her voice as kind as possible. “Don’t apologize. I didn’t really have a plan on how to deal with that guy anyway. I wonder where his akuma is located.”

He grips her hands tighter and she lets him. In fact, she doesn’t want him to let go. “That’s the least of our problems. How are we going to find him again?”

Ladybug doesn’t want to admit it, but that part will be easier than he thinks. “If he’s looking for you, we won’t have a problem with that. Speaking of which, you should transform back.” She joins him in searching the area to make sure they’re alone and hidden in the alcove of the stairs. In the space of a breath, Chat releases his transformation, and his little black kwami spins away, shivering.

“Y-You know I hate the water, Adrien,” the kwami complains with a stutter, wrapping his paws around himself. Ladybug watches as Adrien gathers him up into his hands.

“Sorry, Plagg. I’m not too fond of it either. I wish I had a dry pocket for you.” He tucks Plagg away into the inner pocket of his shirt and then runs a hand over his face. When Adrien looks back at Ladybug, she can’t help but revel in how adorable he looks, dripping with river water.

Unable to control herself, she reaches for his hair and runs a hand through it, pushing it away from his eyes. All of his shivering seems to still under her touch and he leans into her hand just ever so slightly, his gaze warming her unexpectedly. “We can go back out and look for him tonight,” she suggests, a little flustered by his approval of her attention. “For now, though, we should get back to class.”

Her hand trails down the back of his head to his neck and then she starts again, enamored by the way he leans into her once more. “We’re all wet,” he mumbles distractedly, his eyes half-lidded.

She smiles and this time when her hand reaches the back of his neck, she pulls him forward enough so that she can press her lips to his exposed forehead. It’s a relief that he no longer wears his mask and that they are concealed enough to give him the proper display of affection that she knows he craves. That she longs to give him.

“You just want me to keep petting you,” she accuses him, fingers scratching at the back of his neck.

He sighs blissfully as she pulls away, the heat of his breath brushing against her face. It’s warm, and it feels good on the slick of her cold skin. “Guilty,” he affirms.

She laughs lightly. “What do you suggest then? We stay like this until we’re dry?” She should probably be worrying about how the two of them are going to explain why they’re not in class later. Why its both of them that’s missing. But her fear of the strange akuma and Adrien’s safety are priority in her mind and the idea of even going back to school is not something she will press if it means he wants to stay here.

“Let’s go somewhere warm.” He sounds almost sleepy as her hand  passes through his damp hair again. She wishes that she could feel his warmth with her fingers instead of against the stretch of her suit, but at least like this, they aren’t in danger.

“I can take you somewhere warm, Adrien, but I have to go back to school,” she says softly. “We can’t be caught together, remember? Our relationship is trending right now.”

He sighs. “Yeah. Alright.”

She giggles again as she rises steadily to her feet and then bends down to help him up. “How on earth are you even passing any of your classes if you can’t sit through one week without missing a day?”

Adrien grins and taps his forehead, blinking stickily at her, still looking exactly like a drowned cat with his civilian clothes clinging to him. “I’m smart, you know?”

She rolls her eyes and then turns around. “Get on my back. I’ll drop you off at home.”

::::

No one even mentioned anything about her suspicious tardiness back to class and Adrien’s absence. She’d left him around the corner from his house and then snuck back into her own window to change clothes and brush out her drying hair before zipping back to school. All in all, she’d only shown up about forty-five minutes late, and everyone already knew she had an infamous streak of being late anyway.

Once the final bell rings, Alya slings her arm through Marinette’s. “Alright, where the heck were you guys?”

Nino sidles up on Marinette’s other side and she feels her stomach tremble with nerves. “Yeah, girl. Where did Adrien go?”

She smiles at both of them widely. “I just helped him with homework and he, uh, fell asleep on me! And then I got lost trying to get back to the school and well, you know how I am!” Marinette giggles and scratches at the back of her head.

Nino laughs. “Sure, sure. We get it. He has been having some pretty long days lately. I guess it makes sense that he was tired.”

She thinks about the Screamer and the awful pain of his screams and the unexpected swim. She thinks about the long night they’ll have ahead of themselves, looking for the horrible akuma. “Yeah. He needed his sleep.”

Alya squeezes Marinette. “So, anyway, it’s Friday. Got any plans? Nino was thinking we could go catch a movie or something. The four of us.”

A movie sounds deliciously mundane, but unfortunately, she has a responsibility to keep. “I can’t,” Marinette replies mournfully. “I’m grounded.”

Laughter lights up Alya’s face. “Wait, you? Grounded? Is this because you were secretly dating a superhero in tight pants and didn’t tell anyone?”

Nino chuckles as Marinette’s cheeks turn red. “It may have had something to do with that, yes.”

“I’d say it stinks to be you, but I imagine that kissing Chat Noir isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world,” Alya says with a grin. “Nino, Adrien, and I will be sure to have lots of fun with each other while you’re out on a secret rendezvous with your knight in shining armor.”

“Alya!” Marinette exclaims. “I said I’m grounded , not going out to hook up with Chat Noir!” She wants to groan because there is a certain truth in Alya’s accusation, but not in the way her best friend thinks!

They bid her goodbye as she hurries home, hoping desperately that her parents won’t recognize her change of clothes. She’d tried to change into something similar to keep suspicion down and luckily, no one at school was observant enough to catch that detail. But with her parents on high alert now, Marinette feels like every move she makes is like walking on eggshells.

She sends a quick text to Adrien, asking him how he slept and what time would be best to call him later. As she approaches the bakery, she notices with a sudden creeping dread that the lights inside are off.

“Marinette,” Tikki’s small voice carries up to her, halting the superhero in her tracks. “There’s something very wrong.”

“I feel it, too. Stay close to me once we get inside, okay, Tikki?” Marinette opens the door and steps into a quiet, desolate store front. It’s not usually busy at this time of day, but her mother normally waits by the cash register and the twinkle from the ceiling. This shadowed, silent bakery gives her a bad taste in her mouth.

Turning around, she checks the welcome sign, finding it turned so that everyone off the street knows that it’s closed.

“My parents wouldn’t really close the shop today, would they?” she murmurs out loud, trying to remember if they’d mentioned anything about it this morning before she left for school. “Maybe I should -”

That’s when the sound cuts through the ceiling. Her mother cries out in an unbearable voice, saturated with terror, even muted as it is through the floor and it sends an arrow of horror straight through Marinette’s chest. The rush of it almost makes her dizzy even as her senses sharpen and her soft, trembling hands harden into white-knuckled fists.

“Mom!” she calls, bolting for the door and ripping it open, taking the staircase to her living room two at a time. “Mom, where are you? Are you okay?” She bursts into the room, heart tripping over itself as the fear pumps through her blood like ice. “Mom!?”

There’s no one there. Not even a whisper of a sound. The sinking feeling in her stomach starts to rise and she’s about to call for Tikki, about to call for the strength and capability of her spots, but then there is a sickeningly familiar voice.

“This is too easy,” it says.

Her mother screams again, louder, harsher, filling the whole room with the horrible sound. Marinette feels the tears coming out as she presses her hands to her ears and cries for Sabine, terrified that something very bad is happening to her mother and she can do nothing to stop it.

The sound doesn’t relent. Piercing, deafening. Marinette takes her purse off, knowing Tikki hides inside and throws it across the room, making an effort to then walk towards the source of the sound. Even as much as the trill of her mother’s pain scares her, it’s too late to turn into Ladybug.

The scream stops suddenly, making the silence seem pressing. Marinette stumbles toward the kitchen, her vision blurring as the tears fall. “Mom?!” she rasps out in a hoarse voice.

Before she can make it any farther, someone behind her uses her stumbling momentum and pushes her into the wall. Her head cracks against the plaster and then she slumps to the ground, her world fading into black.

Chapter Text

When Adrien wakes up from his nap, there is a heavy ache in his chest. It’s deep and weighted like an anvil, pressing in on him closely in a way that he can’t understand. He had no dreams that disturbed him, and he’d fallen asleep with the sun warm on his skin and the memory of Marinette warm in his heart. So why does he feel brittle like a sheet of ice, cold and fragile?

There’s darkness, he thinks. Darkness and pain and fear. Is it his?

He props himself up on his elbows, the sun burning low on the horizon, slanting deep red shadows along the floor of his bedroom. Plagg lays asleep on the pillow next to him, face curled into his paws. The peacefulness that seems settled on the kwami puts Adrien a bit at ease. Plagg would know if something was really wrong, wouldn’t he?

Despite the heavy feeling in his stomach, Adrien decides that it’s the events that happened earlier today that left a bad taste in his mouth. He shudders away from the memories of the Screamer, from the recognition that he and Ladybug will both have to deal with him again, and kicks his way out of the tangle of his blankets.

Softly, so he doesn’t disturb Plagg, he slips out of bed and goes to check his phone. He expects to see a missed call or text from Marinette, and he’s disappointed when he doesn’t. More than disappointed. Actually, he’s almost embarrassed by how fall his heart falls into the pit of his stomach when her name doesn’t flash across his phone screen. They had agreed to meet up later tonight, hadn’t they?

Instead, he has two texts and a missed call from Nino, inviting him to go see a movie tonight. The call was recent, so Adrien redials Nino’s number and puts his phone to his ear, walking toward the windows and pressing his forehead to the cool glass.

“Hey!” Nino answers after the second ring. “What’s up, bro? Got my messages?”

“Yeah,” Adrien says with a bit of a smile. “I did.”

“So? You wanna go? Me and Alya are on our way to the cinema now - if you hurried you could make it here at the same time as us.”

“Just you and Alya?” Adrien wonders briefly if that’s why Marinette hadn’t called him. She wouldn’t have to if she planned on seeing him later tonight.

“Yeah, man. Marinette said she was grounded, so it’s just us. But look, if you’re worried about third-wheeling it too hard, you don’t have to. Alya won’t even let me hold her hand, y’know?”

On the other side of the line, Adrien hears Alya cry out, “No one wants to see that in public! Besides, what if something happens and I need to get to my phone? I can’t do that if you’re clinging onto me like one of my little sisters!”

Nino laughs. “See, bro? No weirdness here. You should come.”

A part of Adrien longs to agree. It had been two weeks since he’d gotten to hang out with Nino and it would be nice to spend time with him and Alya. But Marinette might be waiting for him and he can’t let her down. Can’t not won’t.

“Sorry, Nino,” Adrien says ruefully, lifting his eyes to gaze out at his view of the city from his window. The lights sparkle in the twilight, like candle flames on glass, and it’s beautiful. He wonders how everything looked before he met Marinette. Before Ladybug. He can’t remember. Was Paris always this pretty? “I’ve missed too much school. I need to catch up.”

“Ew, on a Friday?”

“Yeah. I’m. . .” he sighs. It’s too easy to make up excuses when he never has to lie about them. “I’ve got another modelling gig this weekend. Plus, my piano teacher just got back from London and we’ve got catching up to do before my recital next month.”

“Bro! You’re killing me here! I can barely remember what your face looks like anymore!”

Adrien laughs. “Go pick up a copy of Paris Weekly if you need a reminder.”

Nino laughs, too. “Sassy! Anyway, I guess I’ll let you go? Don’t be a stranger, dude. Let’s try to do something soon, okay?!”

“Sure thing, Nino. You and Alya have fun on your date.”

There’s satisfaction in his friend’s voice. “Thanks, man. Talk to you later.”

Adrien bids him goodbye with a smile and then hangs up the phone. He scrolls through his text messages idly, double checking to make sure he hadn’t missed any from Marinette, but no, his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.

The sun sets and the moon rises, bathing Paris in a pearly glow. To pass time, Adrien swings by the kitchen and grabs a couple of snacks, browses the Ladyblog out of habit. He even takes a shower.

Any minute now, she’ll text me, he thinks. Soon.

He’s restless.

Unable to sit still for too long at a time, Adrien paces back and forth in front of his window like a cat, his hands nervously fluttering as the minutes tick by and he still hasn’t heard anything from her. Is it possible she forgot? It doesn’t seem like her, to forget something so dire, as both Marinette and Ladybug.

He sends her a text, glancing uneasily at the time on his clock. It’s getting late. The sick feeling that was simmering in his stomach when he woke up begins to creep back in on him as he realizes something is off.

“Plagg,” he says, rocking the pillow edge gently to wake up the kwami. “Plagg, It’s getting close to midnight and I still haven’t heard from her.”

Plagg peeks an eye open as he yawns and then sits up. Adrien reaches over from his snack stash and picks out a cube of cheese, handing it toward Plagg, who takes it without a word of thanks or of surprise. “That doesn’t seem like her,” he says, confirming Adrien’s fears.

“I know we’re supposed to leave her house alone, but I’m worried,” Adrien replies. “I think we need to go make sure that she’s okay.”

“Didn’t her parents put her on lockdown or something?” Plagg eats the cheese sleepily.

Adrien frowns. “Yeah, but they didn’t take away her phone, and she’s not replying to any of my messages.” He turns his gaze out his window watching the city life absently. Everything looks so normal and yet nothing feels okay. She would have called by now. He knows her well enough to be sure in that. “We have to go. Something is wrong.”

Plagg finishes his cheese in one last bite, the sheer urgency in Adrien’s voice prompting the kwami to be compliant. In a matter of moments, Chat Noir is climbing lithely out the bedroom window, running across the rooftops with enough speed that anyone who sees his black shadow might think it a ghost.

He reaches Marinette’s family bakery in record time. The frantic ache in his heart eases a bit when he sees that her bedroom lights are on and he slips onto her balcony, testing the trap door above her bed with a tug. It opens easily, swinging toward him and Chat drops down onto the pink sheets.

“Marinette?” he says softly, crawling toward the edge. His entire body seizes up with both panic and a churning, awful sickness when he sees not Marinette, but her mother Sabine, sitting on the chaise lounge, her eyes tight with worry, mouth drawn into a thin line.

Fuck , he thinks.

“I hoped you would come,” Sabine says, standing up when she sees Chat poised stiffly near the top of the ladder. His tail twitches nervously as those words sink in; while he’d been bracing himself for her scolding him, or demanding him to leave, he sees that there is a desperation in her body posture that draws him down the ladder toward her.

He approaches with his hands splayed innocently. “Mrs. Cheng, I -”

“My daughter is missing.”

Another shock passes through him, but this one leaves him bitterly and unbearably cold. In the space of a single instant, every bit of his panicked adrenaline rush drains away, leaving behind a tightness in his chest that makes it hard to breathe. He feels his face twist as he sucks in through his teeth with surprise. His mind isn’t working but one thought comes forward above all the white noise in his head.

My fault , he thinks. My fault, my fault, my fault, my fault.

Now that he’s closer, he can see how Sabine’s eyes are damp, and her voice wavers a bit, thick with emotion, but also in a rasp like she has a sore throat. “I’m trying not to blame you. My daughter made it clear that she made a choice, too. But she’s gone, and we don’t know what to do.”

Chat works to make his mouth move, but he feels like he’s buried in sand up to his neck. “Mrs. Cheng, I - I’m so sorry.” He swallows and pulls himself up straighter, willing the strength to come back to him. Every piece of him is quivering and he’s on the brink of flying everywhere at once, at losing his cool. He can’t. If Marinette is missing, then this is his fault and he has to make it right. “You’re right to blame me. I will bring her home.”

She stares at him, the conviction in his voice ringing through the room, a passionate declaration. “Thank you,” she whispers. She turns her face toward the hatch door in the floor. “My husband went with the police to the station to answer some questions. I stayed here, because I thought you might show up.”

He comes a little closer, pushing past the ache, the pain, the guilt, the terror, and forces himself to focus on what he needs to do. Chat wants more than anything to leave now, but he has no idea where to even start. “When was the last time you saw her?”

“This morning before she went to school,” Sabine replies, sounding a little stronger now. “But when my husband and I came home from running an errand, her purse was discarded in the corner and there was blood on the wall in our family room.”

The cold disappears, replacing him with a sudden, livid fire. Never before has he felt such an intense rush of outraged heat flood him so quickly. His eyes narrow into severe slits as the anger curdles in his stomach. “ Blood ?”

Sabine nods and opens her mouth to reply when her cell phone rings. She reaches frantically for the device and answers it, and instead of standing there awkwardly, his need to take action propels him down the stairs into the living room. Immediately, he picks out Marinette’s purse on the counter. The blood on the wall isn’t as theatric as it had been in his mind, but it’s still hers and he’s still terrified. His hands clench into fists as he stares at it.

My fault, he thinks.

She’s hurt.

Bleeding.

Gone.

My fault.

“Chat Noir!”

He spins at the sound of his name, eyes widening when he catches on the small red kwami waving at him from behind a plant near the window. He rushes over, his dread growing even more. So not only is Marinette hurt and kidnapped but she’s also totally alone?

“Tikki?!” he asks, voice raw with confusion. “What are you - ?!”

“I’ve been waiting for you to show up,” Tikki says in a rush, cutting him off. She looks just as distressed as he feels. “Marinette probably knew that she would be better off if you found me before the Screamer did. She was protecting her identity when she left me behind.”

“What happened to her?” Chat asks, leaning in, heart aching.

“There was no one home after school - there was screaming!” Tikki’s eyes are wide and earnest as she comes out from behind the plant, her words falling from her like a waterfall, almost too quickly for him to understand. “It sounded like her mother. There was her mom’s voice and then she tossed her purse aside. She thought her mom was hurt, so she - “ She shakes her tiny head. “It was awful, Chat Noir! But the important thing right now is that we find her! We can’t take care of the akuma unless I bond with her miraculous stones!”

Chat nods, blinking away the hot moisture in his eyes. “How did he hurt her?”

Tikki closes her eyes. “I didn’t see. But there was a loud thunk and then everything went quiet.”

He grits his teeth. Clenches his fists again. Tries to ignore the urge to scream and cry and throw up all at the same time. Chat Noir had never wanted her to get hurt. When she let him in her room two weeks ago to patch up that slight knife wound, he hadn’t meant to kiss her before he left. He hadn’t meant for her to cloud his judgment. He hadn’t meant to keep coming back.

Sharing the secret of their identities is a blessing and a happiness he can’t live without now that it is his. But at what cost? His relationship with her civilian identity was a terrible plan, and now she’s gone. She’s been hurt and kidnapped and, worst of all, she’s unable to transform.

My fault.

“How do we find her, Tikki?” he asks, swallowing the emotion in his voice.

She floats toward him and pats his cheek. “I can’t be separated from the stones; I always know how to find them. You,” she almost smiles, “just have to follow me.”

For the first time tonight, things seem to be going his way. He feels his shoulders loosen just a bit, though the fire still in his belly burns with the need to be running toward Marinette now. Right this instant. “Then let’s go.”

He moves towards the front door and then pauses, looking up at the trap door. He can see Sabine still on the phone, pacing in front of the hole in the floor and even though he might be interrupting her, he wants to reassure her.

“I’m going to bring Marinette home, Mrs. Cheng!” he calls up.

She stops and glances down at him through the door. “Please,” she says, voice breaking as she covers up the speaker end of the cell. Chat feels that fissure in her word crack straight through his heart like an ice pick. He’ll die before he comes back to this house empty-handed.

Marinette is hurt.

Marinette is gone.

His fault.

My fault.

Chat opens the front door and Tikki zips ahead of him. He follows her down the stairs to the first floor and then once they are outside, she points at the river, not slowing down. “This way!”

He nods and his grin, though encouraging, isn’t entirely friendly. Under the stretch of his skin-tight suit, his muscles strain for speed. Faster. Harder. Stronger. The better he can push himself to be, the better off Marinette will be.

I’ll make this right, he thinks. I’ll make it better. I’ll make it okay.

Please let her be okay.

::::

Marinette’s pounding headache pulls her out of unconsciousness. When she opens her eyes - one of them feels puffy, and sticky, which makes her stomach churn - she notes that it’s almost too dark to see anything. She remembers everything that had led her to this darkness and it settles on her heart with heavy acceptance. There’s no use stressing over it - Ladybug has been in worse situations and freaking out about it won’t help.

Tikki is safe, she knows, but her mother may not be. The panic in her chest makes it hard to breathe properly but she works to steady the way her heart pounds, a kick drum in a fast paced song.

First thing’s first - where is she? She’s lying on her side, arms tied behind her with. . .rope? Marinette fidgets against the restraints but they aren’t rough enough to be rope. Ribbon, maybe, or some sort of fabric? Easily cut. That’s good.

It’s dark, but the space she is in feels large, even if the air tastes stale.

She tries to sit up but the pain in her head hits her like a truck and she moans, rolling so that she’s on her stomach. Shit, she thinks through the agony, this is bad. Something is very wrong with my head.

Suddenly, the distant sound of a scream breaks the stillness around her and her blood runs cold as it echoes against the empty walls. Every bit of her turns to ice as she recognizes that voice.

It’s me , she realizes with dread. That’s my voice .

She makes an exclamation of surprise at the realization and it comes out painfully, like a rasp, like she’d been the one screaming. Is that the akuma’s true power? Using someone else’s voice? She coughs, wincing at the sharp stabbing pain in her throat. If the Screamer is capable of stealing a voice, does that mean that her mother is safe?

She’ll hope so. She’ll hang onto that for now.

But that also means that the Screamer uses other people’s voices to draw in help, right? Marinette struggles into a sitting position, fighting against the pain in her head, pretending like its merely a headache, like the sticky substance that almost glues her right eye shut isn’t blood.

Her feet are free, so she rises stiffly and unsteadily to lean against the wall.

If it’s her voice that he’s using now, it’s because he’s trying to lure in Chat Noir.

He’ll have found Tikki by now, she thinks as she slowly stumbles her way down the hallway, the chill of the wall at her back. He’ll be on his way to her. She doesn’t know how much time has passed since she was face planted against the wall, but she does know that it couldn’t have been all that long ago if Chat hadn’t showed up yet.

A surge of pain renders her unable to move for a moment as she hears another scream reverberate against the walls and the floor and the ceiling. Her scream. Her throat goes raw again, like sandpaper dragging harshly up her windpipe, even though she didn’t make a sound.

“Ahhh,” she moans, what little vision she has blurring, head spinning.

“Chat Noir!” She hears herself scream. “Chat Noir, help me!”

Her heart leaps and she slides down the length of the wall when a voice that belongs neither to her nor to the Screamer echoes down the hall.

“Marinette?!”

“Tikki?!” she speaks through the frog in her throat and all the fear she’d been pushing away is suddenly gone. With Tikki, Marinette is invincible and she is never, ever alone. Her heart explodes with relief as the kwami flies into her, pressing her tiny face against Marinette’s unhurt cheek. “Tikki, I’m so glad to see you!”

“You’re okay!” The kwami cries out joyfully. “A little banged up, but - “

“Tikki? Where did you go?”

Marinette’s heart stops and tears spring into her eyes as Chat’s voice permeates through the darkness. She’s enveloped abruptly by a feeling of safety, a feeling of home, and even though everything about her hurts she’s never felt so untouchably, undeniably alleviated from a terror that had been so consuming.

“Chat,” she murmurs thickly and suddenly she feels his gaze on her and then he’s there. Thank god he’s finally here. The tears fall and she admits quietly in her heart that she was scared. She was so, so scared. The ragged breath she draws in as he approaches lights a fire in her throat, but she is warm and safe and home and its okay now. The pain doesn’t matter.

“Marinette,” he breathes, and his eyes are almost bright enough to see in the dark as he crouches before her, his hands reaching forward and brushing her face tenderly. There is something both breakable and strong in his voice. She hears the guilt he’s carrying and feels the regret in the tentative touch of his fingertips and she wants nothing more than to hold him close to her and make those stupid thoughts he’s thinking stop.

She sighs.“You’re here.”

“I’m here. You knew I would be.”

“More than anything.” Her cheeks are damp now.

“I’m sorry I made you wait,” he tells her softly, and then, as he cups her face, his voice goes hard and brittle. “He hurt you.”

“I’m fine,” she promises around the lump lodged in her chest. “You’re here, so I’m fine.”

His voice breaks. “ Marinette .”

“Can you untie me?” she asks softly as his hand brushes lightly over the cut above her eyebrow.

She feels his breath wash across her mouth as he leans forward, his hand trailing from her face, over her shoulder, and down her back to the fabric that binds her hands together. He hooks his claws into the ribbon and pulls and it shreds immediately. Marinette throws her arms around Chat the second she’s free, pulling him into her so swiftly that he loses his balance and falls into her.

“Stop,” she mutters against his hair. “Stop blaming yourself. Stop .”

He quickly adjusts so that his weight isn’t on her but he hugs her back fiercely, and he trembles a bit in her arms. “I would love to discuss exactly why I am allowed to hate myself for this entire situation, but we’re not safe.” Chat shifts again and then he’s standing and pulling her up with him; up, up, up until he’s carrying her and his arms are firm and hard around her. Another one of Marinette’s screams echoes into the room and Chat winces.

Tikki burrows into Marinette’s pocket as he begins to run back the way he came. The scream that tears down the hall cuts off her rebuttal of his statement and she coughs. “He’s using my voice, Chat. I need to transform and take his akuma out now .”

“I know,” he says, as he turns a corner. At the end of this hall there is a large window, half opened, and the moon shines down inside brilliantly, illuminating the floor enough where she can finally see his face. He’s crying. Or he has been. Her heart breaks to see the damp trails on his cheeks and resolve strengthens her. She’s going to kick this akuma’s ass and then take him home and ease his guilt.

“Chat. . .”

“Let me get you somewhere safe first.” He stops at the window and pokes his head out, looking around. “The akuma is gonna find out pretty quickly that I’ve already come and gone, and I want you to be out of harm’s way when that happens.”

She wraps her arms around his neck as he positions her legs to wrap around his waist and she buries his face in his neck as he whips out his baton and extends it, using it to swing out of the window and onto a nearby rooftop. He smells good, like clean soap and cinnamon gum - like Adrien - and it makes her feel even better.

Marinette can feel when his feet are back on solid ground because his movements get jerky as he slips his baton behind his back and then wraps his arms around her, running at full speed, leaping over gaps on the rooftops.

It seems an eternity before he finally stops running. She untangles her legs and slides down him until her feet are on the ground, pulling away to look at their surroundings. Her head spins dizzily at the sudden change, but she stays steady on her feet, hands clasping his shoulders. They’re standing on a nondescript roof somewhere in the middle of Paris, hiding the in the shadows of a rather tall chimney. Chat uses his body as a shield so that she is encapsulated in total safety between him and the wall.

Finally, she looks up at him and he looks so conflicted. She’s not sure what that means.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she says firmly.

He holds her gaze for another long moment before letting out a weighted sigh and turning his face away, dropping his chin and looking to the side. “You can tell me that none of this was my fault all you want, but that won’t erase the fact that it is. And I won’t forgive myself for that as long as I live.” He pauses and then turns to look back at her. She holds her breath. “The akuma is looking for me because he wants my miraculous, that’s the only reason he took you. My fault.”

He hesitates but there must be something on her face that tells him she needs his proximity, because he licks the thumb of his suit and then swipes it across the dried blood around her eye gently. The touch gives her a headache but she doesn’t want to pull away, so she endures.

“Adrien,” she whispers. “Thank you. For coming to get me.”

He smiles, just a bit, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. Then, he leans forward and kisses her forehead. “Wait a couple minutes before you transform. And if you get too dizzy in the fight, let me know immediately. Be careful, my lady.”

“Don’t be reckless,” she warns as he pulls away. He grabs her hand and presses a tender kiss to the indents the ribbons left on her wrist and then brushes his mouth across her knuckles.

“Me?” He gives her a half-hearted wink before turning away, dropping her hand. He’s gone in an instant and she has to fight an irrational rush of heat behind her eyes that makes her feel like crying again.

“Okay,” she says, her voice strong and hard and ready. She pulls aside her blazer and Tikki comes out, looking at Marinette with wide eyes. In the distance, Chat Noir’s shadow disappears. Her throat blazes with heat again - the Screamer is taking what’s hers. If she had Hawkmoth in front of her now, she’d punch him so hard his kwami would fall out of his transformation.

Marinette licks her lips. Clenches her fists. Despite the pain in her body, she’s never felt more ready to fight. “Time to go. We’re going to end this now . Tikki! Spots on!”

 

Chapter Text

Every time the Screamer opens his mouth, Marinette’s voice comes out. Rattling screams, desperate pleas, broken sobs, poisonous words. Every time, a small part of Chat Noir breaks .

He bends and fissures and cracks and shatters. The night air is cool against the wet tracks on his face, proof of his guilt, of his internalized anger, and his heart aches with such a sickness he wonders fleetingly if he’ll throw up. Something inside him trembles with white-hot heat as he grits his teeth and swings his baton down at the villain.

The akumatized thief dodges it effortlessly, easily predicting Chat’s reckless abandon as they parry attacks. Chat tries his best to retain a sense of the moment. Tries to remind himself that this isn’t Marinette, that she is safe and probably on her way to him now, that nothing the akuma says is truth.

“Chat,” he hears Marinette’s voice say “stop!” He swipes outwardly with his claws, clipping the Screamer on the shoulder. Chat clenches his jaw tightly as another one of Marinette’s screams rips out of the akuma’s mouth. “You’re hurting me! Chat!

Marinette is safe !” Chat isn’t sure if he’s saying that more for himself or to trick the akuma into thinking that the attacks aren’t effective. A vicious growl tears out of his mouth as he pounces, pinning the Screamer to the ground, staff pressed to his neck to keep him down.

Somewhere locked away inside Chat Noir’s reasonable side, he knows he ought to be searching for the location of the akuma. That’s what Ladybug would do. She’s big picture, she’s the one with the sensible plans and strategic execution. She is unpredictable and impulsive at times, but he can read her. He’s her shadow, her support, her partner. He knows her best.

That’s why, even though Chat knows that finding and releasing the akuma is priority, he can’t see past the face of the boy lying underneath him. Because that’s what Ladybug would do , not Chat. He’s the follower. This boy trapped beneath his baton is nothing but a victim - but, no, Chat remembers, that’s not right either. With or without the purple shadow on his eyes, the Screamer is a villain. A stranger, a person ready and willing to assault innocents, someone who has threatened Marinette not only once but two times.

And he hurt her .

He breathes out heavily through his nose, resisting the urge to do something stupid. Marinette is fine , he reminds himself. I’m not a vigilante, I’m a hero. I save people I don’t spoon out revenge. I’m a hero.

“Chat Noir,” Marinette’s voice comes to him, sweet and decadent as honey, “please stop hurting me. All you ever do is hurt me.”

He stares down at the akuma, heat shivering behind his wide eyed gaze. All reassurances stop short and it’s all he can do not to choke on his own breath.

“It’s because of you that I was taken. It’s because of you. You’ve ruined my life. He hurt me , Chat Noir.”

“Stop,” Chat says quietly, the rage a soft snarl caught in his throat. His hands clench around the staff.

“Why don’t you just leave me alone? If you left me alone, I might be safe. I would be happier without you. Safer. I never would have been hurt. It’s your fault. This is all your fault .”

He grits his teeth, and presses against the akuma’s throat with the baton. The words hurt because they’re true and Chat knows it. His heart seizes, and he didn’t think it’d ever be possible to hate himself more than he already did when she ended up in a tabloid article about her love affair with him but he does . “Stop! Shut up! Just shut up!” A sob breaks his voice cleanly in two. His hands shake. “I know, alright!? I - I…”

The Screamer smiles - not in a way that’s particularly evil, but the satisfaction is almost just as bad. An akuma mask appears around his face and Chat knows he should be doing something other than sitting there on top of the villain, quivering with every last bit of guilt. His eyes feel hot and they burn with unshed tears.

Hawkmoth is saying something to the Screamer and even when the akuma’s hand wraps around Chat’s wrist, he can’t make his mind move fast enough to tear himself away, can’t even see straight well enough to note that the Screamer is inching towards his miraculous.

Suddenly, something squeezes around his chest and shoulders and then he’s flying backwards. His baton goes flying off and when he hits the ground on his back several feet away, the wind is knocked out of his chest in a weighty gust. He stares up at the starry sky and the shadow that blocks his view of the moon.

“Are you okay, Chat Noir?” her voice is a painful rasp as she kneels down beside him, but the words are hers and for a moment he is totally and completely and iridescently okay . Her throat sounds as raw as his heart feels and it is a selfish thing when her appearance makes him believe he can’t possibly be as awful as he thinks.

If she comes back for him, doesn’t that mean he’s worth something? If she crouches by his side and looks at him with eyes as wide and desperate as midnight, then doesn’t that mean she never blamed him in the first place? Seeing her there brings him out of his head, thousands of miles away from the horrible words the akuma spoke. For just a moment, he allows himself to remember her tender touches and fevered words of admiration spoken in shadows, meant only for him.

It’s not enough to earn his own self-forgiveness. Adrien was brought up to fit into the mold of perfection and while he’s recognized his own faults, the fact he couldn’t live up to that expectation for Marinette just might kill him. If there is anyone he should be perfect for, it should be her. She is more than capable of protecting herself - in fact, she’s strong enough to be his protector, too - but she shouldn’t have to work double time on that because he was stupid enough to put her in that position. In this case, Chat Noir didn’t just fall short of perfect; it was never even in his sights to begin with.

Someday , he thinks with a clinging sort of desperation, half way between hope and despair, I’ll make it up to her .

“Just fine, my lady,” he lies. His suave bravado is ruined by the way his voice cracks at the end. She retracts her yo-yo from its coiling around him and he rolls to his feet in a crouch beside her lithely. “I’m glad you made it here okay.”

She looks him over slowly with a frown. He can’t help but stare at the cut over her mask, still angry and oozing blood. Her head must hurt. She must be in a lot of pain. And yet, here she is, saving him like she always does. Him first, the rest later. Is her kindness - her selflessness - really so endless? Chat draws strength from it.

He shifts into a fighting stance, his signature grin pulling crookedly at his lips with near genuinity. “You look good, you know.” Tough, invincible, flawless, and utterly too good to be true.

She gives him the slightest hint of a smirk as her eyes snap back to his and she straightens up next to him. “What a clumsy pick up line, kitty, but I’ll take it.”

He blinks, absorbing her words before snickering. Did she know that he’d been talking about the fact that she was standing here ready to fight and not trying to flirt for once? It’s the wrong time for this kind of banter - there is too much at stake - but it feels good to laugh, to feel the cloud of guilt ease away for a moment. Maybe that’s why she’d said it.

He goes to reply with something hilariously witty when suddenly fire scrapes up his throat, and his own voice comes out of the akumatized villain standing in front of them. “Pay attention to me.”

::::

Ladybug’s eyes widen in horror before she takes a defensive stance and clutches her weapon. Chat coughs at the pain, nearly going dizzy with it. He takes a tipsy step to the side to catch his own balance, hand at his throat, gasping for breath.

“Take my voice,” she hisses, gripping her yo-yo like a vise. “Leave his.” She is acid and a snarling, protective fury at the prospect of this boy leaving any sort of painful mark on Chat. The thief already cut him once. Every inch of her feels bruised but her well being is sturdy enough at the moment. Chat’s mental health is already plummeting and she will not let this akuma damage him further, physical or otherwise.

“Lady - “ Chat manages to mutter before coughing once more.

The Screamer responds again in Chat’s voice. “The only reason I’m here is so I can destroy Chat Noir and take both of your miraculous stones.”

“Why just Chat Noir?” Ladybug demands, unable to hold back her tongue.. “Marinette was the one who hit you.”

“Ladybug,” Chat mutters around the rasp in his voice.

She plows on, clenching her hands at her sides, her yo-yo secured by a white-knuckled fist. “Marinette humiliated you and left you lying there in a puddle.”

The Screamer watches with amusement as Chat’s protests grow stronger. “Ladybug! You -”

“You were after Marinette. She’s the one you should really be -”

Ladybug !” Chat’s voice is a growl now, dark as he crouches beside her, his tail twitching and lashing violently. “ Stop .”

The akuma begins to walk in a circle around the two of them and they keep their shoulders squared to him as he paces. “That’s a simple answer, Ladybug. I would have had this girl named Marinette if Chat Noir hadn’t showed up. His tiny human lover is of no interest to me, or Hawkmoth.”

Chat seems satisfied with that answer, despite the scowl that remains on his face - she can see it in the way some of the tension in his shoulders lessens. And she knows why. She supposes if a villain admitted that they wanted nothing to do with Adrien she’d feel the same way. Her stomach tightens as a flicker of anxiety crackles across her skin, sharp and sickening.

This akuma, however, is targeting Chat Noir specifically .

“So come and get me then,” Chat seethes unevenly, throat throbbing.

And the idiot isn’t doing himself any favors. The Screamer merely smirks as he stops his pacing and then he opens his mouth, a blood curdling scream ripping out into the world, tearing the silence like pulling pages out of a book. The sound is piercing, painful, and both Ladybug and Chat Noir flinch as they clap their hands over their ears. The heroes stumble backwards, trying to put space between them and him. The Screamer is faster, though, and he lunges while Chat is taken off guard. Ladybug watches in horror as the two of them go sprawling across the top of the roof, the Screamer pinning Chat Noir down.

“Chat!” she cries out, and she hears the desperation in her voice - it makes her wince. The Screamer can’t know about her identity, but if she says his name like that, there’s no doubt he’ll figure out. And if what Tikki has told her in the past holds true, Hawkmoth can see everything through the eyes of his akuma. The Screamer revealing Ladybug as Marinette would be the beginning of the end.

“I got this, LB!” Chat responds easily, if a bit winded, as he uses one knee caught awkwardly under the akumatized thief to push the villain away. She dashes toward them, wrapping her yo-yo around the Screamer and pulling him as Chat shoves him away. Before either of them can execute their actions perfectly, Chat goes taut and he coughs violently as the Screamer opens his mouth and lets out a blood-curdling yowl.

Ladybug’s blood turns to ice at the sound of pure agony that fills the night air. Her knees tremble weakly, but she manages to keep upright with the knowledge that the Screamer is only imitating Chat’s pain when he steals his voice.

“Chat, get up! We have to find the akuma!” She shouts as the ice burns so cold it sets her veins on fire. Her fists tighten and she plants her feet, yanking on the string of her yo-yo. The Screamer gasps in surprise when he’s pulled backwards by her, and Chat is on him in an instant, hands clawing at the pockets, desperate to end this nightmare already.

A look of victory breaks across his face like a sunrise as he holds up a wallet in the air. “Found it!”

The shared triumph between them creates a smile on her face and she punches her fist into the palm of her other hand. “Break it, Chat!”

The Screamer growls. “Not so fast!”

The scream that pierces the air next is so loud and so devastating that Ladybug goes dizzy, clamping her eyes shut against the attack. Her grip weakens and her head pounds, reminding her that while the suit makes her damn near invincible, she’s still hurt underneath the mask. And with the akuma using Chat’s voice like this, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes injured, too. She’s not sure how much her healing light will take care of - she can’t let it get any worse.

She falls to her knees, dropping her yo-yo as she cradles her head until the screaming stops. When she squints her eyes open, she’s startled to see Chat on the ground, desperately trying to scramble away. From the way his lips are moving, he’s protesting profusely, and from the unamused look on the Screamer’s face, she guesses that whatever corny pun he dropped was not enough of a distraction. She pulls her hands away from her face, and springs into action.

The Screamer is so consumed by Chat Noir that he doesn’t even realize the wallet possessed by his akuma is lying forgotten where the two boys had been struggling. Ladybug ignores it, fury setting every inch of her ablaze when the Screamer bends down and takes Chat by the throat, the other hand moving for Chat’s miraculous.

“Lucky charm!” she cries out in a bout of desperation, tossing her weapon in the air. A rush of wind swirls around her and a pocket of light explodes above her head before a pair of earplugs fall into the palm of her outstretched hand. For the first time in her entire superhero career, she isn’t at a loss as to what these are for.

Straight forward.

Simple.

Just like her goal.

Stuffing the plugs in her ears, Ladybug thunders across the rooftop, and when she reaches the villain, she reels back her elbow and sends her fist flying squarely at his jaw. A satisfying thunk vibrates between her knuckles and his cheek, giving her a thrill of victory that makes her cry out. The Screamer makes a grunt of surprise as he releases Chat’s throat, falling away in shock.

She leans over the gasping akuma, slinging her yo-yo around to secure his arms to his torso, his face outlined in a purple butterfly again. “You,” she nearly snarls, “are done for, Hawkmoth. You’re done using Marinette to get to Chat Noir, and you’re done using Chat Noir to get to me .”

The Screamer stares up at her with wild eyes, and almost involuntarily, he opens his mouth and lets out a sound that sends Chat - who had been crawling toward the forgotten wallet - crumbling face first into the rooftop of the old warehouse. Ladybug stands tall still, the earplugs blocking out the worst of the attack and she tightens the string of her yo-yo before bounding over toward the wallet. Ungracefully, she stomps the thing into the ground.

The space of air all around goes suddenly very, very silent.

A rush of relief floods all the cells of Ladybug’s body as she reclaims her yo-yo. She feels how tired she is, how hard it is to stand, and how glad she is that finally, this is over.

“Get out of here, little akuma,” she whispers eyes following the black butterfly, spinning her yo-yo around. “I free you from evil.”

::::

The police take the boy who had been possessed into custody. Chat Noir waits patiently for Ladybug to finish up her last few remarks with the reporters on the corner of the street, arms crossed over his chest, tail twitching. There is so much they need to talk about, but, he thinks, it can wait for another night. He’s anxious to take her home to her parents. He feels an itch under his skin that he can’t scratch - a desperation to get her out of here, a desire to make her safe, once and for all.

His eyes follow her as her talks with a humble smile on her face, frowning at the way she shifts uncomfortably, trying to maintain her balance on knees that are weak, on a body that has expended too much energy to be okay. With a final nod, she turns her back to the reporters and takes Chat by the elbow, leading him away.

“I need to take you to the hospital,” he says as he wraps an arm around her waist and then hoists them into the air on his baton. They land on another roof, and even with him half supporting her, she nearly crumbles to the surface under their feet on impact.

“Chat?” she says and he doesn’t think he’s ever heard her sound so fragile.

He finds her eyes, all the pain of his throat being torn by screams muted to a dull throb by her lucky magic. “I’m here, my lady,” he replies, using the bleached moonlight to observe her cracking expression.

She reaches up without an ounce of hesitation, cupping his face securely in her hands. Her eyes shine in the pearly light with unshed tears and he’s overcome with awe once again at how amazing she is. How resilient and brave and self-sacrificing and confident and perfect and wonderful and Marinette she is. He touches the back of her hands with his own softly, the guilt that festers in his chest easing away at her tenderness.

“Are you okay?” she asks, and through the smallest touch he can feel how she’s trembling. How she’s struggling to stay on her feet. Her miraculous beeps incessantly, signaling the end of her transformation.

His arms are around her in an instant, pressed chest to chest. “Thanks to you, LB,” he whispers, rubbing his forehead against hers. “You saved me.”

She kisses him. He doesn’t expect it - actually, he’s taken entirely off guard when she drags his face down to hers and smothers her mouth against his. Before he can respond, she glows in a haze of sparkles and light, and then Marinette is there, tears slipping over her cheeks as she holds him close, as she kisses him with every bit of strength she has left. Chat’s eyes slip to a close and he crushes her against him.

A part of him thinks that this is not the right time or place. He still needs to process and work through all the guilt that feels so ingrained into his every pore. She’s hurt and her parents are terrified. But, more important than responsibilities or emotional fallout is this moment. Where, somehow, they’re both okay and both exhausted and they both need this.

Chat feels it when her knees give out completely and he thinks he should stop now, but she doesn’t let him. Her mouth is ruthless, taking and taking and taking until his breath belongs to her and her hands snatch at his hair, nails scraping against his scalp. He feels her name leave him with every sparse exhale and every murmur. It’s the only thing he can say because she is the only thing that exists. A perfect, imperfect world fit snugly into the circle of his love-starved arms.

“I’m so afraid!” she gasps, her nose squished against the dimple in his cheek as her lips skim over his jaw. Her face is still damp with tears, voice broken. “Chat,” she mumbles, shaking. “Chat, Chat, Chat.” She kisses him again on the mouth, fiercely.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles against her, hands clenched into fists at her shoulder blades, her shirt crumpled in his grip. “It’s over, Marinette. You’re safe .”

“I’m not worried about myself, Chat Noir!” She yanks away from him suddenly, eyes wide and he thinks he can suddenly see everything in her gaze. He’s never been more in love with her than he is right now at this very moment. “You - Chat Noir, you -!” Whatever she’s trying to say isn’t enough to be put into words and he can see that.

Marinette has never said it out loud, but the way she’s looking at him right now - like he is an entire galaxy and she’s afraid all the stars are about to die out - brings the revelation down on him like a strike of lightning. They’ve spent two years together, dancing around each other’s dual identities and maybe he mourns what they could have been if they’d been able to share their secrets from the start.

But the strong friendship that lies under this star-filled gaze of hers is what makes him sure that he will belong to her forever. Her concern, mixed with his guilt, is too much. Like water pouring from a spout, his heart fills up with warmth, heat in his cheeks, behind his eyes, and then he’s crying.

“Chat?” she squeaks, cupping his face again as tears slip over the cover of his mask.

“No one has ever loved me the way you do,” he says softly, almost immediately after she speaks, so that she knows he’s not in pain. She stares up at him and awe and he offers her a crooked smile as he reaches up and brushes the bangs back from her eyes.

His gaze lingers on the small slit of a cut on her forehead, almost completely healed by her healing light, and then he turns his eyes back to her expression. More tears leak out. “Natalie ignores me. My father ignores me. My mother left me. But you. . .you love me so much .” He presses his forehead down on hers, on the side that isn’t injured. “Thank you, Marinette.”

She laughs, but in a way that makes him feel endearing, not ridiculed. “ Thanking me,” she mumbles to herself, sniffling as she strokes his jaw. “It’s not like you make it hard, kitty. Those people who have had you don’t cherish you. That’s on them, and they’re missing out. Maybe that’s why you feel like you have to do something or be someone specific to deserve love.” Marinette sighs. “But you don’t. You’re enough.”

He wraps his arms back around her and then dips down so that his face is pressed against her neck. If she says another word he’ll crumble to the ground and he’ll never get back up. “You’re amazing,” he whispers into her skin. “Thank you. Thank you .”

They stay like that for as long as Chat’s conscious will allow. As much as he’d prefer to stay there with his head buried against her, breathing in her smell, feeling her warmth, until the sun came up, her parents will have seen Chat Noir on the TV by now. They’ll be expecting him to bring Marinette home.

So he does. Scooping her up into his arms she makes a startled squeal and flings her arms around his neck. “What are you doing?!”

He smiles at her as he locks her legs around his waist. “Your parents are very worried about you. I promised I’d bring you home.”

“You talked to them? Are they okay? My mom -”

“She’s fine. Just worried,” he soothes, walking over to the roof edge and lowering them. She holds on fast as he uses his claws and cat-like footing to climb down the wall.

“Was she mad at you?” Marinette questions, almost too soft for him to hear.

He thinks for a moment before responding, landing gently on the ground in a near-crouch. “Not. . .mad.”

“That doesn’t sound convincing.”

“It’s hard to explain.”

Both of them are quiet as he sneaks through the more shadowy streets of Paris to bring Marinette home. She hugs him as he walks in a trot, her grip never once loosening. His own arms keep her secure and it’s peaceful. An off-set stillness settles over them, but it’s not bad. After everything that happened in the past two weeks - the reveal, the news headlines, the akuma - their hearts are still racing, still watching the shadows for eyes.

But they are alone and safe, and it’ll take some getting used to.

When they reach the alley over from Marinette’s house, she untangles her legs and slips to the ground, steadying herself against him.

“Chat, I’m going to tell my parents I broke up with you,” she says without preamble.

He grins even as he plays the part of a wounded cat. “Was it something I did?”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m serious. No more Chat Noir in my room. I’m going to make an official statement tomorrow and hopefully all these people fascinated with us will leave me alone.”

He hums and then kisses her briefly. “I like it when you’re serious.”

“One of us has to be the adult.”

“Me-ouch.”

“Dork.” She kisses him back. “I’ll text you, before I go to bed.”

“Don’t forget - I might stay up all night waiting if you don’t.”

“Alright, alright.” She smiles and reaches for his hand. “I want you to walk me to my door at least. Are you comfortable with that?”

He thinks the hardest confrontation with her parents has already passed, so even though his stomach clenches with a touch of anxiety, he nods. “Yeah.”

Her fingers thread through his and she clings to him as she pulls him, still a little shaky on her feet, out from the alley and to her front door. She goes to say something to him but the door is pulled open and suddenly, her parents are there, pulling her into a hug. Her hand is ripped from his, and he folds his arms behind his back, smiling as he watches. He’s grateful that her family loves her so much.

Mr. Dupain doesn’t let go of Marinette and she holds onto him fast, too, as Sabine pulls away of the group hug and meets his gaze from over her daughter’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice full of motherly warmth.

Marinette pulls away from her father. “Chat Noir saved me. Please don’t be mad at him.”

Chat smiles awkwardly. “I just wanted to see her home to be sure she was safe,” he says, channeling as much of his formal Adrien charm as he can.

Tom surprises everyone - most of all Chat himself - when steps away from his daughter and gives Chat a hug. “Thank you!” Mr. Dupain says, his voice colored with relief and gratitude. He pulls back and Chat watches in awe, feeling warm. How long has it been since he’s been shown parental affection at all?

He rubs the back of his head bashfully and straightens his shoulders. “She’ll be safe from now on. I promise.” With a shy smile, he looks back to Marinette. “Bye, Marinette.”

She gives her parents one lingering look and then turns back to Chat, throwing her arms around him. A nervous blush erupts across his face as he feels her parents watching the two of them intensely. He can only bring himself to smooth his hand over the back of her head and rub her back, returning the hug briefly, before taking her by the shoulders and pushing her away.

“I get the feeling your parents aren’t cat people,” he whispers with a grin.

“They had a bad experience with a pesky stray,” she giggles.

“Stop laughing. You’re breaking up with your handsome boyfriend; you’re supposed to be heartbroken.”

That only makes her laugh harder, and loudly, she responds. “You’re awful, Chat Noir.” Her eyes sparkle with humor. “Don’t be a stranger. Come by the shop and say hi to us anytime.”

Immediately unsure about that, he glances over at her parents who now look subtly amused by the exchange between them. At least they don’t look angry anymore. Still, for as fresh as all this drama is, a clean break is best for now. He turns his attention back to Marinette. “Saving Paris is a full time job. I’ll see what I can do.”

Her smile turns soft. “Bye, Chat.”

He gives her his signature, two-finger salute and then catapults into the air using his baton. By the time he finally reaches his house and crawls back in through the bathroom window, the guilt that had been so potent earlier has finally eased away.

Marinette has forgiven him. Never even blamed him at all. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Of course it is. Whatever she is, whatever she gives him, it will always be enough. Her parents were kind to him. He still has much to do, as far as his relationship with Marinette as Adrien can go with his father around, but that’s for another day.

For now, he’s okay. Marinette is okay. They are going to be okay.

“Plagg?” he calls on his kwami who, now full of cheese, is snuggled up on the edge of Adrien’s pillow.

“What? I’m trying to sleep, kid. You really kept me out all night.”

“I know,” Adrien replies with a smile as he shifts his head on the pillow. “Thanks for lending me your strength. That’s all I wanted to say.”

Plagg sounds appeased. “Finally, some appreciation.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

Another beat of silence and then, the kwami says, softly. “Adrien, you did good.”

Chapter Text

Adrien is leaning halfway out the window to meet her as she drops from her yo-yo upside down, clinging to the string, grinning at him. He grins back, admiring the silly way her twin tails droop toward the ground, how her bangs reveal her forehead entirely.

“Couldn’t wait, huh?” he asks, propping his cheek on one hand, elbow resting on the window pane. His words come across cheeky and she giggles quietly, eyes sparkling behind the spotted mask.

“I’ll turn around and go home right now if you want. I’m still grounded you know.” She says it all with an expression that tells him she has no intention of leaving. At least, not right away.

He makes a show of checking the clock on his bedroom wall. “There’s still an hour before -”

“I couldn’t wait,” she admits, cutting him off as she swivels herself around. He backs up from the window and she swings until she’s sitting on the window pane. She almost looks sheepish, and with the mask on it’s a strange sight. Beautiful, surreal, but strange. He didn’t know Ladybug could be bashful like that.

He lays his chest over her knees, winding his arms around her back. Adrien feels his smile stretch into a cheeky grin as he tilts his head back to look at her. The streetlamps make her glow warmly and he admires it as she reaches forward and runs a hand through his already disheveled hair.

“I’m glad you came.” He saw her at school just hours before, he’d texted her incessantly since, but still. Their familiarity with each other is something they are forced to tone down when in public. Marinette is still nursing a wounded paw after her break up with Chat Noir, after all.

“Are you now?” she asks archly, her teeth gleaming white in the darkness. It’s almost as if she’s smug about the whole thing and it gives him a thrill. Watching her revel in the power she has over him will always make his skin hot.

“Yep!” He hoists her up off the window sill and stumbles back, easily keeping his balance as her knees cinch around his torso, arms around his neck. Ladybug gasps, but Adrien’s hands are there under her thighs for support and he walks them over to the couch, chuckling at her momentary desperation. “I’m not going to drop you.”

She snorts as he plops down with her on his lap. “I know.”

His grin softens, hands wandering from her thighs up to her waist, wrapping around her to pull her flush against him. “Take off the mask,” he murmurs.

Ladybug props one elbow on his shoulder and cups her chin, staring down at him. He thinks that he could always get lost in her eyes. So blue and clear and true. Even in the dark, they shine and he wonders again how he couldn’t figure her out before. How it took two years to realize that she was always right there behind him in class.

“Why would I do that?”

He takes on a wounded face. “Plagg is so lonely, you know. He could use Tikki’s company.”

She brings up a red gloved hand to boop him on the nose, cooing with the same exaggeration. “Oh, Plagg is lonely, is he?” He watches her cast a glance at the kwami who is sleeping curled up on his pillow.

“So very lonely,” Adrien nods solemnly.

Her hand caresses his cheek softly, eyes conflicted. “What if Natalie finds me here? Or...or your dad?”

Adrien shakes his head. “My father is out of town.”

There is a beat of silence and then she makes a sound of disgust, almost ripping out of his embrace. “He left you here alone on your birthday ?” Her body becomes hot with anger under his hands as he keeps her close, burying his face in her shoulder.

“It’s fine, Marinette,” he says softly, voice muffled by the suit. “It happens all the time.”

Her struggling pauses and she sighs, heftily, wrapping her arms around his head and pressing her cheek to his crown. She runs her fingers through the downy ends of his hair at the nape of his neck as if calming herself down and comforting him at the same time. “It’s not fine,” she tells him, voice hard. “You need to stop telling yourself that it’s okay. You deserve better.”

He smiles, tightening his hold around her, softening ever more under her gentle touch. “I have you.” Adrien knows those words disarm her. Every time they have a conversation like this, he matter of factly offers up the truth - that everything else is shit. His childhood and his family life is in ruins, and yes, Marinette, of course he deserves better.

She is his better.

In the space of a breath, a sparkling light ripples from her toes to the very top of her head and then there is warm skin at his neck, not red spandex. His hands bunch a soft, cotton T at her waist instead of slipping against the slick, armored suit. He decides that he can stay like this forever with a happy sigh, listening to Marinette whisper something softly to Tikki before her arms pull away and she touches the side of his face tenderly, coaxing his gaze back up at her.

“You’re wonderful, Adrien,” she murmurs, studying his face.

His heart swells at her attention, at her reverence. “Takes one to know one,” he replies giddily.

She shakes her head, smiling. “You are much kinder than I am,” she insists. “I admire you for that.”

He flushes pleasantly. “Oooh, you admire me. What else do you admire about me, Marinette?” An audacious grin splits across his face because he can’t help it.

She squishes his cheeks. “Everything, of course.”

“Especially my face, I would guess,” he replies, thinking about all the posters of himself he’d found in her room.

Marinette must be thinking the same thing because suddenly she’s ladybug-red.”I-I suppose that’s one of your stronger points,” she quips, “considering your sense of humor is lacking.”

He laughs and hugs her tighter around the middle. “Ouch!” It’s funny how he can tangibly feel all his edges soften. “I’m glad you like my face.” A pause, and then an elaboration. “I’m glad you like me.”

She sighs and then leans in until their noses brush. A rush of warmth floods through him at her gentle proximity. He will never take for granted how steadfast and warm and real she is and he’s a bit frustrated with himself. If it weren’t for his clumsiness as Chat Noir, they wouldn’t have to sneak around after dark like this.

He wants more than anything to take her out on a date. A real date. If he asked, would she say yes? His heart trembles. Would she deny him? Not because she wouldn’t want to, but because she thinks it would be safer that way? How long then, he wonders, would he have to wait for it to be okay? Another week? A month? Staring up at her expression now - and she’s looking at him with a tenderness that tugs at all his heartstrings - he doesn’t think he can wait a month. He’s not even sure he can wait a day.

She smooths the hair away from his face, eyes glancing sneakily at the clock on his wall, and runs her fingers across the back of his head in a soothing, repetitive motion. “What do you want for your birthday, Adrien?”

“I want to take you on a date,” he says seamlessly, almost before she can finish speaking. He hadn’t meant to say it, really - he had meant to be more tactful and romantic. A blush sears its way across his face as her expression goes pink, eyes blank with shock at his forwardness. “I-I mean! That is, if you want to go! I don’t really need anything for my birthday since my father likes to compensate his lack of love with material things. I mean look at my room, I -”

“Adrien,” she says, cutting him off, amusement beginning to glimmer on her face. “I would love to go.”

The panic that had closed over his heart like a fist releases itself and the purest sense of bliss blossoms in his chest. “Yeah?”

“Absolutely,” she tells him as a smile brightens her expression. “100 percent yes.”

“Hell yeah!” He pumps a hand into the air with a cheeky sort of victory.

She laughs. “What kind of reaction is that?”

Adrien leans forward as she braces herself against his shoulders and kisses her soundly. “I’ve wanted to take you on a date for two years, my lady,” he murmurs with a suddenly soft voice.

She blinks at him, cheeks reddening. “I never thought I’d hear those words come out of Adrien Agreste’s mouth.”

“I’ll say them as many times as you like.

Marinette kisses him back, pressing his shoulders into the couch. “Once is enough.”

What starts out as something sweet and chaste turns warmer and deeper. Marinette seems to be drowning herself in him, hands holding his face steady as her entire body relaxes against his chest. His grip is pinned to the smallest part of her waist and he can’t help himself from slipping his hands up under the hem of her shirt and resting his palms at her back. She makes a pretty noise when his fingers find the divot of her spine and a flash of heat lights up in his belly.

Immediately, he brushes against the same spot again, revelling in the same reaction as before. She separates from his mouth with a trembling sigh and then nudges his jaw line, kissing it all the way back to his ear.

“You know,” she says as she kisses his ear and then experimentally nibbles on it. “When do you want to go on this date?”

He sighs appreciatively at her attention and kisses her shoulder. “Tomorrow?”

Marinette pulls back, frowning. “Tomorrow? Adrien, we just broke up like a week ago. What if people see me with you? Both of us aren’t exactly under the radar, you know.”

“You were never dating Chat Noir,” Adrien tells her, feeling strangely jealous of his superhero persona. Which is dumb and he knows that, but there’s nothing he can do to will the jealousy out of existence.

“Everyone else thinks I was.”

He frowns. “If you don’t want to go, we won’t go.” His heart sinks.

She shakes her head and struggles to find the right words to convey her emotions. “No, I want to go. It’s just - you know, we - I mean- !” If he knew what she was trying to say, he’d answer her to save her the trouble, but he’s at a loss in this situation. Finally, she gathers her scattered thoughts. “What time tomorrow?”

He gives her a wary look. “Are you sure?”

Marinette gives him a quick kiss. “Of course I’m sure. That was never the issue. What time, Adrien?”

Happiness begins to inflate inside him again like a balloon. “Noon? I’ll pick you up?” He punctuates his answers as questions. “Are you sure sure? I don’t want to do this if it’s going to make you uncomfortable.”

She smiles. “Kitty, I’m sure . I don’t care what people think.” She kisses him again, this time lingering. “Noon is perfect.”

Adrien grins and flexes his hands against her back before diving back in to capture her lips.

****

Just to be safe, Adrien had texted her the moment he woke up in the morning. To double-check. Just to reaffirm her answer. Her reluctance to go out in public with him is something he understands entirely and a part of him believes that she’s only saying yes because she doesn’t want to say no to him. That’s not a good enough reason.

Her response to his text, though, is in true Marinette fashion.

I’m going to date you so hard you’ll never ask me that again.

A part of him wonders if she’s frustrated with his incessant asks of if she’s trying to be alluring. He hopes it is the latter because he’s - embarrassingly - turned on by her word choice.

btw, happy birthday hot stuff.

He blushes. Deciphering Marinette over text isn’t his strong suit. She’s so expressive that trying to get a read on her through words only makes him realize that he lives in the emotions she wears.

Natalie warily grants him the freedom to go out for the day. She tries to insist that he take the Gorilla with him at least, but Adrien knows he’ll only draw attention if that guys is lumbering around behind him all day. He’s only allowed to fly solo after he reminds her that it’s his birthday and that he promises to uphold the Agreste family name.

Not that the name itself means much to Adrien these days, but it appeases Natalie.

Plagg teases him as he stresses over what to wear like the butt nugget that he is, but eventually Adrien settles on a casual outfit. A pair of black denim jeans, a shirt the color of Marinette’s eyes with the sleeves rolled to his forearms and his most nondescript sneakers. It’s simple, but it makes him look like he’s turning 18 instead of 16. At least if photos of this date leak and his father hears about it, Adrien knows that he won’t be berated for his outfit.

To be entirely honest, he looks damn good. Hot stuff, indeed. He wonders if Marinette will still be so cheeky once she sees him. Plagg gags.

Since his stomach is full of butterflies, and his nerves have him on edge, Adrien leaves his house early and takes the long way to her family bakery. His mood sinks as he nears her home almost half an hour too soon, but his breath catches when he sees her standing outside the front door, just one street away.

He’s seen her half-naked in her sleep shorts and tank. He’s seen her dressed up in an outfit worthy of being on the runway. He thinks that there is no way she can be any more beautiful or surprise him anymore than she already has but he’s wrong. He’s so embarrassingly wrong.

Adrien never wants to be right.

His heart skips a beat, reminding him that this is real.

Marinette leans up against her door as she thumbs through something on her phone, hair pulled into a high bun. She’s wearing a dress the color of a peach with thin straps and a cinched waist, the bubbled hem hitting her at mid-thigh. The sweetheart neckline cuts low enough to tease, modesty only saved by the white ¾ sleeve jacket she wears. Even that is questionable, considering one side of it drapes down to expose a freckled shoulder.

He floats more than he does walk across the street and she glances up. Satisfaction unfurls in his chest at the expression that suddenly burns at her face, the red in her cheeks almost matching the rose-petal of her lips. As he nears her, he notices that she seems taller. An investigative glance reveals that she is wearing brown sandals with a wedge heel. His tongue goes clumsy and stupid and limp in his mouth.

“Adream! I-I mean! Adrien!” Her face becomes warmer as embarrassment mixes in with all the other emotions skittering over her. “Hi!”

He can’t help but laugh. “I could say the same about you,” he says a bit bashfully, looking her over again. “Did you make that dress? You look...wow.”

His speechlessness partially helps her to recover. She fiddles with the white strap of her purse and offers up a sheepish smile. “I did, thank you. Happy birthday?”

The desire to kiss her has never been so strong but her parents are probably watching through a window somewhere and Adrien doesn’t really want to make it on the same list as Chat Noir when it comes to them. He’d prefer to earn their trust before they have to become wary of his intentions with their daughter.

“Thanks, Bugaboo,” he smiles softly.

Her blush deepens unexpectedly again. “Ugh! I told myself that I wasn’t going to say something stupid in front of you, either.”

“Not stupid,” he clarifies. “Cute. Adorable. Also, I do look like a dream, so you were only being truthful.”

She laughs. “Confidence is a good color on you, kitty.”

He grins and then glances at the window directly next to them. “So do your parents…?”

“They think I’m hanging out with you and Alya and Nino.” She smiles triumphantly. “They weren’t going to let me go since I’m still grounded, but I guilt tripped them into saying yes when I told them about your father and how it was your birthday.”

Well, he thinks, its mostly the truth anyway. “Alright, do you have everything you need?”

She nods. “Yes. Let’s go.”

Adrien wants to hold her hand, but he’s afraid that might be taking it too far, so he shoves his own hands in his pockets to quell the urge. As they walk, they talk about favorite movies and TV shows and he watches her with rapture, stunned into silence half of the time just from the weight of the sheer knowledge that Marinette is Ladybug and Ladybug is Marinette.

He’s so incandescently happy that his heart could burst.

When they make it to the little cafe of his choice, he is dismayed to see that it’s crowded. He almost suggest that they try somewhere else, but Marinette’s eyes light up as soon as they slow near the front doors.

“Oh, I’ve been wanting to try this place for months now! Is it good?” She turns her summer-sky eyes on him and it turns him stupid.

“Yeah, me too, I’ve heard you’re pretty good. I mean!” His face brightens with mortification. “I mean it’s good! Pretty good!” He hides his face in his hands. “Oh my god, please pretend you didn’t hear that.” This is ridiculous, in his opinion. He’s known Ladybug and Marinette for years. The fact that he loves her - that she loves him back - should not turn him into such a fumbling mess.

But he wants to impress her. And this new intimacy is fresh and uncharted - he’s never been able to take her on a date. Never been able to be with her like this. Plus, every time they kiss she seems to grow more eager, to burn brighter in intensity, and Adrien’s gentlemanly tendencies do tend to fall away from him even at the memory of her mouth.

Marinette laughs heartily at him. “I know what you meant. It’s okay, Adrien. Relax.” She pulls his hands away from his face. “It’s just me.”

It’s just you , he thinks, the girl I’ve been in love with for over two years . No big deal. It’s not as if this isn’t the most important day of my entire life. Whatever.

“Let’s go in and get a seat,” he suggests as he reaches for and holds the front door open.

She nods and steps in first beckoning him to follow her. His eyes fixate on the loose hair curling slightly at the nape of her neck and suddenly, Adrien is 1,000% sure that no matter what happens the rest of the day, he’s already thoroughly screwed.

****

His luck is honestly the worst.

It takes an hour before they get a table. When their order arrives at their table, Adrien is served a plate of undercooked fish still cold in the middle and Marinette’s food isn’t even what she asked for.

When the bill comes, Adrien reaches for it first.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Marinette asks as she snatches at the booklet.

He easily plucks it away. “I’m paying.”

“It’s your birthday, Adrien, this is my treat,” she insists, stretching out to grab it back.

“I asked you out - this is on me.”

She practically stands up to whisk the bill away from him.

He stands too, reaching across the tablet. “Marinette - “

A squeal tears from her mouth as her cup of ice water is tipped over by a careless hand and splashes over her dress and drips down her knees. He’s horrified and begs for forgiveness, which she grants at the cost of paying the lunch bill. Her laughter shrugs off the spill easily but his failure to keep his cool or even salvage the mess of this lunch date is getting to him.

“What next, handsome boy?” She peers up at him as they exit the restaurant with a glimmering smile, as if she’s entirely unfazed by the string of incidents.

In the distance a rumble of thunder drums through the streets and when Adrien turns to look, he can see dark clouds against the backdrop of a blue, blue sky. It seems far enough off that they’d have time to walk somewhere to take cover before the storm, so he turns to her and says, “Let’s walk.” There was bound to be some store or coffee shop that caught their eyes on a Saturday afternoon.

“Sure!” she agrees easily and his heart skips a beat when she takes his hand without hesitation. “This is okay, right?” she asks.

Adrien squeezes her hand, thinking that maybe his streak of bad luck was over for the day. “Definitely okay.”

He was wrong. The store he had in mind was closed due to a family emergency, and the wind picked up, bringing in the storm. Soon, its dark overhead and another crack of thunder rolls. The rain begins to downpour and Adrien swears as he tightens his hold on Marinette’s hand and drags her in under the awning of a private business.

She’s laughing, nearly soaked to the bone. Her dress hangs limply against her damp skin, hair sagging wetly in its bun, droplets of water scattered in tandem with the freckles across her nose. Adrien brings a hand up to wipe the rain from her cheeks as other people on the sidewalk scurry by in umbrellas and raincoats.

“Guess I should have checked the weather today,” he says sheepishly and then laughs along with her. “This has got to be the worst date you’ve ever been on. I’m so sorry.”

“You could have taken me to the landfill and I could have broken my leg and it still would have been the best date ever,” she tells him gleefully as she wraps her arms around his waist. Outside the awning, the rain begins to come down faster, in torrents that almost seal them away from sight completely.

He raises his eyebrow at her incredulously. “The restaurant was awful and I spilled water all over you.”

“If you hadn’t noticed, Adrien, the fact you spilled water on me is now irrelevant.” She shrugs as he wraps an arm around her shoulder. “I have the best time when I’m with you.”

He blinks, heart seizing at the transparent honesty on her face. “Do you think anyone is watching us now?”

“Probably not. Why?”

“Because I’m going to kiss you.”

He doesn’t give her time to respond. Instead, he angles her head up and draws her in close with his other arm, descending upon her mouth with a sureness that still tastes like the ice cream they had shared. Marinette knots her fingers in the front of his wet shirt and clutches him closer to her, still angling up on her tip toes to kiss him better.

“C’mon be honest,” he says between kisses. “This was pretty bad.”

She giggles against his lips. “You were trying so hard to impress me I couldn’t let you down.”

“Hmmm,” he murmurs pulling away slightly and pushing the stray wet hairs from her face. “The day isn’t over quite yet. When do you need to be home?”

“Before dinner,” she says, already leaning in for another kiss.

“How about you choose what we do next? Perhaps you’ll have better luck.”

“I always have better luck than you,” she reminds him.

When she kisses him damp and eager as she is, it takes him back to their first kiss on her terrace under another awning. He remembers how he had wanted , how her desire had matched his exactly, burn for burn. He tastes the memory of that darkness on her lips, the thrill that had consumed him when he replaced Chat Noir and kissed her without his mask. The way her trust in him had felt. How her hands had caressed his chest without the armor plating.

It’s much the same now as it was then, except that they are stronger for it. He has her and she has him. Identities revealed and souls bared like stars that shine so fearlessly down upon the face of the earth at night. With all the commotion of her dating Chat Noir finally falling away, and the danger that comes along with it, they have a space to fill with themselves as they are, true and honest. No disguises, no lies, no pretending. Just Adrien and Marinette.

There are other things to worry about. Their relationship will probably tangle the lines of business and pleasure, of personal and professional. It’ll be messy, but, he thinks as she draws away only to pepper a few more kisses on his chin, that’s just how he likes it.

“When do we get to do this again?” he whispers, almost inaudible over the rain.

She smirks. “Keep it up and you’ll find out really soon.”

He laughs and pulls her back in. Perhaps my luck isn’t so bad after all.

Just this time, Adrien might be right.