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Telltale

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Marinette had made a bad call. She knew it the second the second she hit the pavement, her elbow making a sickening crunch under the impact. The akuma was stronger than she had anticipated, and in her haste to finish the fight she had underestimated her opponent's power. In a rare flash of misfortune she'd used her Lucky Charm, too. At the rate the fight was going she didn't know if she'd be able to make a speedy exit before her transformation wore off. The akuma advanced on her slowly, his metal boots clinking against the pavement. The victim had been transformed into something that looked vaguely like a cyborg, his body plated with silver and gold, but more frightening was the power his possession had spawned – magnetism. Marinette could practically see the air particles around him shifting with his power. The cars that lined the street shuddered and groaned as they began lifting off the ground, circling the akuma.

“I have a joke for you,” he taunted, strolling calmly towards where Ladybug still lay tightly clutching her injured elbow, a wicked grin spreading across his face. “How many cars does it take to crush a ladybug?”

The cars shook violently in the air, threatening to burst apart with the amount of magnetic energy running through them, and the billboard behind the akuma creaked ominously as the magnetic field began reaching it. Ladybug had to finish this fight now; she wouldn't be able to hold out much longer with her injured arm. A flicker of movement at the corner of her eye alerted her to Chat Noir's appearance, and she turned her head in time to see him grab his staff from his back, a look of sheer ferocity on his face.

He was standing right in front of the billboard.

“CHAT!” she screamed, using her good arm to point at the huge metal structure.

Chat locked eyes with her for a second, an unspoken comprehension flashing between them before he turned, sprinting back towards the billboard. The akuma whipped around, spotting Chat Noir and his grin twisted into a mask of pure rage. He sent a car hurtling towards the young hero, but not before Chat had pressed his hand against the foundation of the billboard, his Cataclysm causing rust to spread across the metal instantly. Chat leapt out of the way of the car, and the vehicle hit the base of the structure, snapping the brittle metal immediately. Ladybug sprang to her feet at that moment. The jolt sent a shooting pain up her arm, but she managed to bound back a few meters as the billboard came crashing down on top of the akuma. As the dust cleared, she could see her opponent wedged under the huge sign, incoherently yelling. The billboard trembled slightly as he attempted to lift it, but it failed to budge.

“Looks like that thing's too heavy for even your magnetic powers to lift, huh? Ladybug said, the satisfaction clear in her tone.

The akuma gargled something incomprehensible in response as Chat Noir calmly crouched down to remove his helmet. Without hesitation, he stamped on it with the heel of his boot, the metal denting deeply as the black butterfly sprang free. Ladybug quickly caught and cleansed it, releasing the now pure white insect. After a flash of light restored the cars and the billboard, her earrings gave a warning beep, telling her that her transformation wouldn't last much longer. Chat turned at the sound and Marinette felt a wave of anxiety spread through her.

This was always when he wanted to hang around for a post-battle conversation and no doubt use the opportunity to unabashedly flirt with her. But Marinette's elbow still throbbed with pain, and she could hardly find it within herself to even humour her partner's attempts at flattery today. The fight had shaken her. She'd never been at such a disadvantage before, and her injured elbow was a sign of how much she'd been taking her powers for granted. If Chat hadn't showed up when he did... Marinette shuddered slightly. The thought of dying hadn't even really crossed her mind until that moment.

“Ladybug?” Marinette's head snapped up at the voice. Chat Noir was looking at her closely, his eyebrows pinched together in confusion.

“Sorry, what?” she said, shaking her head to get rid of any lingering thoughts of mortality. It was then that she saw Chat's arm extended towards her, his hand closed into a fist awaiting their ritualistic fist bump. She blinked, her hand tightening around her hurt elbow.

“Oh! I- er...” She trailed off and Chat's eyes flickered towards her arms cradled against her body.

“You're hurt!” he exclaimed, worry flooding his face as he stepped towards her, hands outstretched. Marinette involuntarily stepped back a little, the fear of more pain instinctively causing her to recoil.

“No I'm fine! Really, it's not that bad,” she said, forcing her features into what she hoped was a carefree smile.

Chat stopped in front of her, examining her expression. Slowly, very slowly, he put his hands gently on her upper arms. His expression was soft, concern clear in his eyes as he said, “At least let me get you out of here.”

Marinette hesitated. They'd both used their powers and their transformations would be wearing off soon, but the hot ache in her arm told her that she wouldn't be swinging out of there with her yoyo, and she needed the help of someone she trusted. Marinette allowed herself one more moment of hesitation before nodding her head.

“I'm going to pick you up, okay?” Chat asked.

“Yeah, okay,” Marinette replied. Chat slipped a hand under her knees and one around her back, lifting her gently before turning and dashing down a network of alleys. He didn't take to the rooftops, not wanting to jolt his Lady's injured arm, instead choosing to sprint through a labyrinth of backstreets away from the battle site. After a few blocks Chat slowed, glancing around quickly before setting Ladybug down. His ring beeped loudly, and ladybug could see one of the glowing green paw pads flicker and disappear.

“Your Miraculous!” she warned, her eyes widening anxiously.

“It's okay, hang on,” Chat replied, giving her a reassuring smile. He extended his hands towards where Ladybug still held her arms closely, and again she made as if to move away.

“It's okay,” he told her gently. “I'm just going to check if the bone is broken.” He waited for her consent, his eyes warm despite the worry etched into his face. Marinette was painfully aware of their rapidly expiring transformations, but what if the bone was broken? She knew she couldn't return home with a fractured arm; her parents would want an explanation, and she trusted her partner.

The blond boy watched her patiently, and Marinette knew he would wait until she said it was okay before touching her. She took a shaky breath before quietly saying, “Alright.”

Chat took her by the wrist carefully, the fingers of his other hand gingerly sliding under her elbow as he manoeuvred her arm away from her chest. He slowly extended her arm, watching closely for any signs of distress.

“Does that hurt? Any sudden pain?” he asked, concern colouring his tone. Marinette's elbow did hurt, but she managed to extend it fully. She shook her head in response and Chat's fingers began massaging the elbow bone.

“What about that? Is the bone very tender?” The spot where Chat's fingers delicately rubbed ached a little, but not as badly as it had during the battle, she realised. She shook her head again.

“A little, but it feels better than it did.”

Chat nodded, his features relaxing fractionally, but he didn't move to release her arm. Marinette's wrist tingled where he held it and she peeked up at him. A look of fierce concentration and concern tightened his expression, and her heart surged for a moment at how much her partner cared about her. He always flirted wildly with her and made terrible jokes, but she could see that underneath all of his bravado the boy harboured real affection for her. It was one of the things that made their dynamic so effective. Chat looked up from wiggling her fingers, an eyebrow quirking and a sly smirk tilting up the corner of his mouth.

“Enjoying the show, My Lady?” he asked, the flirtatious drawl shattering the moment. It was then Marinette realised she'd been watching her partner with a disgustingly goofy smile on her face.

She'd been so lost in her reverie that she hadn't even noticed her expression morph into a dreamy daze, and she quickly furrowed her eyebrows, scowling at the cocky cat. Chat chuckled, his shoulders shaking with the sound. He moved her arm back to her chest, his expression turning serious.

“It doesn't seem like the bone is broken,” he announced. With a wink he added, “You're lucky.” And Ladybug rolled her eyes. “I think you might have bruised the joint though, so you're going to need a sling, at least for twenty four hours.”

Marinette shook her head.

“It can't be that bad, surely. It'll be fine by tomorrow,” she insisted.

“With your luck, it probably will,” Chat agreed. “But I'm going to put your arm in a sling anyway, just in case.” Something in his tone told Marinette that this was not up for debate, and she settled for pouting grumpily at him.

“And how are you going to do that kittycat?” she asked, the sarcasm heavy in her voice. She saw Chat hesitate for a moment, some foreign emotion flashing in his brilliantly green eyes.

“Turn around, face the wall,” he said solemnly. Ladybug frowned at him. He sighed, lifting his hand to scratch the back of his head, something Marinette recognised as a nervous habit.

“I'm wearing a shirt...” he began, trailing off as he watched the implication of his words.

“Chat I said I didn't want-”

“I know,” he rushed out, “But my transformation is wearing off anyway, and you can close your eyes just to be sure.” There was something wistful in his voice, but Marinette knew he would respect her privacy, she knew he would never do anything to jeopardise their relationship.

Marinette turned around to face the rough brick of the alley wall, a second or two later hearing Chat's transformation release behind her. She could hear the rustling of clothes, undoubtedly as he took off his shirt and a second later two strong looking hands appeared over her shoulders, glove-free. In one of them was held a white shirt, twisted into a long strip. On the fourth finger of the other was a silver ring, probably Chat's miraculous, and Marinette suddenly squeezed her eyes tight shut. That was more than she wanted to know already. It wasn't that she didn't care for Chat Noir, she did. She would risk her life for him and she knew he would do the same, but familiarity bred complacency and Marinette didn't know what she'd do if either one of them accidentally shouted the other's name in battle. No, the secret of her true identity was too big even for one person, even if that person was her trusted and valued partner. In the darkness behind her closed eyes, she felt the hands gently lift her wrist, looping the shirt-sling underneath.

Marinette suddenly became aware of how close Chat was to her. She felt the warmth of his skin radiating off him, his cheek almost brushing hers as he leaned over her. Moving to tie the two ends of the shirt, Chat's breath ghosted the back of her neck, the warmth tickling the baby hairs exposed out the top of her suit and Marinette shivered at the sensation. She had never really been this close to a boy before, not like this, and her mind wandered absently. She thought about Chat Noir's hands, how strong they had looked, how they always held her so assuredly during a mission, unfaltering. Marinette's heart had time to do a tiny somersault at the glowing feeling of safety the thought brought her just as Chat's fingers brushed the back of her neck whilst tying the shirt knot. The sudden contact sent a jolt of electricity shooting down her spine, the feeling of his skin on hers bringing her crashing back to earth, and she felt herself physically jump.

“Sorry! Did I hurt you?” Chat worried, misinterpreting her sudden spasm.

Marinette shook her head, not trusting her voice. Oh gosh for a second she had thought... She shoved the ideas racing through her mind firmly to one side, focusing on her arm. The pain was much more bearable now that the pseudo sling had taken the weight off the joint, and she wiggled her fingers just to make sure.

“Thank you, Chat,” she breathed, trying to mask the shakiness of her voice by speaking quietly.

Hopefully Chat would just think it was the ache in her arm that had suddenly made her so nervous. There was a pause, and Marinette could practically feel his eyes on her back. His hands lingered on the knot for a second, and Marinette froze as she suddenly felt the cool tip of his finger trace a feather-light line from the nape of her neck to her jaw. Her earrings gave their final warning beep and she stiffened, hyper aware of the boy standing so close behind her. Chat's finger shot away from where it had lazily moved across her skin and he cleared his throat, clearly embarrassed.

“Chat...” She began anxiously.

“It's okay, I know! Please keep safe, my Lady,” he replied, his voice thick with affectionate concern.

Marinette knew that if he could, he would walk her home and make sure she got into bed safely. He'd probably stay up and keep watch on her if she let him, but that was not the relationship they had. Ladybug wanted to keep their personal lives private and Chat respected that, even if he did not share the same desire. Marinette heard her partner's footsteps fade into the distance just as the pink glow from her transformation moved over her body, leaving her in her civilian clothes in the alleyway. Tikki flew out of her earrings, plopping down exhausted on her shoulder. The little kwami's antennae drooped with fatigue and she turned to look at Marinette, seeing an odd expression on her charge's face.

“Marinette are you okay?” Tikki asked. She wasn't only talking about her injury, and Marinette knew it. Tikki had always been astonishingly perceptive.

Marinette turned to look at the tiny creature perched on her shoulder, a small smile gracing her face to reassure her kwami. Tikki's eyes glinted cheekily.

“Chat Noir really cares about you, doesn't he?” Tikki said, successfully managing to mask the slyness of her tone.

Marinette's eyes unfocused for a second, probably as she thought on the emotions she'd just felt Tikki mused.

“I suppose he does,” Marinette whispered, and Tikki smiled softly, floating down to tuck herself safely in Marinette's purse.

Marinette stood in the alley for a few more minutes to compose herself before checking the coast was clear and stepping out into the street. As she walked, she glanced down at the shirt-sling coiled around her arm. A small black label poked out of the folds of the fabric around her wrist, and she used the fingers of her good hand to turn it towards her. Printed in bold script, the name “Gabriel” stood out at her in white against the black of the label. Marinette snorted to herself: Of course a boy like Chat Noir would have designer clothes, she thought, though she couldn't help the grin that slowly spread across her face.

Chapter Text

When Adrien woke the next morning, his head was full of Ladybug.

His first thought was for her well-being. The image of her clutching her arm to her chest flashed through his mind, a look of stubborn determination on her face as she insisted her injury wasn't as bad as he knew it was. But before that, when she had been lost in though, she'd looked... Adrien felt his chest constrict: She had looked vulnerable.

His mind flew through the following events. How carefully he'd carried her, as if she were a porcelain doll. How delicate her fingers felt in his hand, how close he'd been to her when he'd tied that sling around her neck.

The feeling of his skin on hers...

Adrien felt a warmth rise in his chest. Oh gosh, he'd wanted to kiss her so badly.

He pulled the edges of his pillow around his face to block out anymore thoughts. Ladybug wasn't interested in him that way! Adrien couldn't kiss her, he wouldn't, not unless she wanted him to. He heard a muffled voice through the pillow, and he dropped it back to the bed as Plagg floated into his eye line.

“What?” Adrien said intelligibly.

“I said ooooooh, is someone blushing?” drawled Plagg, his tiny body shaking with mirth.

Adrien sighed, sitting up; Plagg perched himself on his knee, his tail swinging playfully. The kwami was right; his cheeks did feel a little warm.

“I thought you were gonna go right ahead and make a move on her. All you had to do was turn her around, she would have seen you! The girl of your dreams!” Plagg said.

The black kwami watched Adrien thoughtfully as the blond shook his head.

“No, she would have never forgiven me,” he sighed.

Ever since he had become Chat Noir, Adrien had found a way that he could really be free. When he transformed, he was no longer the son of Gabriel Agreste, bound by a strict schedule and the expectation to project the image of his father's company. He was the saviour of Paris, an important half of a superhero team. When he had first met Ladybug, he'd been so excited. Finally! Someone with which to share something that was truly his. Only she didn't see it that way. To her, being Ladybug was a duty to the people of Paris, not a means to escape a suffocating civilian life.

“I thought you wanted to share your identity,” Plagg speculated.

“I do but...” Adrien trailed off. He wasn't lying, he did want to share his identity with Ladybug.

He wanted so badly for her to see him. To see HIM. For who he truly was, under the mask but...

But not if she didn't want to, he realised.

Taking a deep breath, he sighed and swung his legs off the bed, sending Plagg tumbling to the mattress. His kwami yelped in surprise, sitting up and rubbing his head with a scowl.

“I deserve a large piece of Camembert for that!” he huffed.

Adrien shot him a rueful smile as he walked to his closet. Now that Ladybug had his white shirt, he'd have to find something else to wear to school.

 


  

Marinette thanked her luck that her arm wasn't too bad today. She stretched carefully, testing the limitations her injury had given her, and examined her arm. A dark purple bruise stained the soft flesh surrounding her elbow, spreading around to her inner arm slightly, and the movement still felt a little stiff. Marinette sighed in mild frustration. The bruise she could cover with her blazer, but she felt annoyed that it would probably take another day for her arm to heal fully.

Not one to dwell, Marinette hopped out of bed, quickly washing and getting dressed for school. As she slung her bag over her shoulder, she spied Chat's white shirt where she'd left it sitting on the desk, neatly folded. Marinette paused, wondering if she should take the shirt with her. After all, there may be an akuma attack during the day, and it wasn't as if she had many other opportunities to return Chat Noir's shirt.

Nodding her decision to herself, she quickly scooped up the shirt, holding it to her chest as she made her way downstairs into the bakery. She had one foot out the door when her mother called, “Marinette! Don't forget your books!”

Marinette turned to where her mother was standing behind the counter, her school books held out in front of her. Marinette grinned sheepishly, returning to collect them and placing the shirt down on the countertop so she could wrap an arm around her mother.

“Thanks, mum. It would have been a long day at school without them,” she said appreciatively.

Sabine smiled at her as she let go of the embrace, and Marinette skipped out the bakery door, breaking into a run down the street.

She didn't realise she had left Chat's shirt on the countertop.

 


  

“I'm telling you, girl, it was intense! I didn't think Ladybug was gonna get out of that one. It's really lucky Chat Noir showed up when he did!” Alya declared, excitement ringing in her voice.

Marinette had listened to her talk about yesterday's akuma attack the entire walk to school, only needing the occasional “Yeah?” to send Alya off on a new torrent of details. Of course she'd captured the whole thing on camera, and the video had probably been seen by half of Paris now it was up on the Ladyblog. The way Alya told the events made it seem as if the battle had been a life-or-death scene from a Hollywood movie. Marinette's mind flashed back to the akuma standing before her, ready to crush her with about 6 cars. Maybe Alya was right?

“I've never seen Ladybug that close to actually kicking the bucket before. She looked pretty banged up!” Alya exclaimed as the two girls took their seats.

“Are you talking about the fight yesterday?” Nino asked as he sat down in front of them.

Alya nodded her head emphatically.

“Oh man,” Nino said, shaking his head. “I thought Ladybug was gonna bite it for sure. She's really lucky to have Chat Noir watching her back.”

Marinette coughed at Nino's phrasing, the post-battle events jumping to the front of her mind. The way Chat had tested her arm, how her skin had tingled under his touch. The way he had wrapped her arm in a sling...

The cool skin of his fingers drawing a line across her neck...

Marinette could feel colour creeping up her neck at the vivid sensory memory, and Alya shot her a look of concern as she buried her face in to her crossed arms on the desk. She was so caught up in her own thoughts that she didn't even notice Adrien had entered the classroom until he sat down in front of her, his blonde hair bobbing into her eye line.

“Dude, nice shirt. Get tired of the white one?” Nino asked.

Marinette peeked at Adrien from her arm-fort. Instead of his usual black and white shirt combination, he was wearing a faded black button down, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And he looks totally dreamy in it, shethought. Black was definitely his colour. Adrien laughed at Nino's comment, and Marinette felt a thrill rush through her at the sound.

“Nah, I just lent it to a friend,” he explained.

Marinette's breathing hitched. That can't be a coincidence. The thought had formed in her mind before she even had a chance to stop it, and she shook her head violently. What a stupid idea! Adrien had probably just given his shirt to one his model friends or something. In her periphery, she could see Alya eyeing her, a look of confusion on her face.

“Well I think it looks good on you. Black really makes your eyes stand out,” Alya said to Adrien, a smirk curling up the corner of her mouth. “Don't you agree, Marinette?”

All three pairs of eyes swivelled towards Marinette, and she sat bolt upright, locking gazes with Adrien. She could feel herself glowing like a traffic light, and her cheeks burned with embarrassment.

“I-yeah! I mean it's super great, I mean it looks super great that you... Er... have... eyes?”

Marinette wanted to kick herself. She knew Alya was probably shaking her head in defeat. Adrien frowned at the comment, before laughing, his smile rendering Marinette temporarily dumb-struck.

“Thanks Marinette. Er... I think it looks great that you have eyes too,” he said. Nino winked at him as he turned back round to face the front of the class, and Marinette slumped in her seat, burying her head back into her arms as she felt Alya pat her reassuringly on the back. Why couldn't she just talk to him like a normal person?

 


 

The bell rang loudly, signifying that morning lessons were over, and Adrien packed his books into his bag.

“Hey man, did you wanna do something over lunch? I heard there's gonna be a music contest on in the park,” Nino asked, clapping a hand on Adrien's shoulder.

Adrien grinned at his friend; he always knew the best music events happening around Paris.

“Yeah sure, saves me having to go all the way home,” he replied.

Nino flashed him a wide smile, twisting round in his seat to address Alya.

“You two girls should come, too. I bet it's gonna be a pretty big turn out,” he said.

Alya's eyes lit up, and she leaned forward in her seat, enthused as the suggestion.

“That's a great idea! What do you say, Marinette? Are you up for it?” she asked, turning to her best friend.

Adrien turned to see Marinette routing through her bag like she was trying to find an entrance to Narnia.

“Where is it?” she hissed, her pretty features screwed up into an angry pout. Adrien thought if she rummaged any harder her hand was going to tear through the bottom of the bag.

“Lose something?” he enquired.

Marinette's head snapped up, and her eyes widened as soon as she saw who had asked the question. Adrien felt his heart plummet. Marinette had never really seemed comfortable around him, in fact, they'd barely had a conversation despite sitting so close to each other the entire school year. He remembered how she'd spoken to him as Chat: Sassy and confident, her voice firm and even, and her eyes sparkling with humour. Marinette could barely string a sentence together in front of Adrien.

She probably just doesn't like me, Adrien thought to himself gloomily.

“I-what? No! I just- I had to return something to a friend and I forgot... I've gotta go,” she spluttered out, leaping to her feet and bounding down a few steps. As she dashed past him, he caught a light smell of pastry and something sweet. Vanilla? He vaguely recalled her father announcing he was a baker when he'd attended a parents day, a day his own father had failed to attend. Adrien's mind darkened at the memory.

“Wait! What about the music contest?” Alya cried, standing up in her seat. Adrien shook himself out of his daydream.

“I'll meet you there,” Marinette called back, pausing in front on the door. “I've just gotta get something from ho- OW!”

Chloe Bourgeois, designated rich brat of the class, shoved past Marinette on her way out, tossing her hair with a “Hmph!” Reflexively, Marinette's hand flew to the source of her pain, and Adrien watched with sudden interest as she clasped her fingers around her elbow in a way that looked strikingly familiar, a scowl crossing her face.

“Marinette, are you okay?” Alya exclaimed, rushing to her friend.

Adrien was watching her like a hawk. Marinette's scowl melted into an expression of gratefulness, her hand leaving her elbow to pat Alya affectionately on the arm.

“I'm fine thanks, Alya. Chloe's just a little pointy is all.”

Alya chuckled. “You're lucky you didn't get a paper cut off her.”

What a choice of words, Adrien thought, a tiny smile curling at the edge of his lips.

Marinette smiled again, giving Alya a little wave before heading towards the door. Adrien's eyes followed her with the intensity of a laser as she reached for the door handle. The sleeve of her blazer rode up a little as she extended her arm. If Adrien hadn't been watching her so intently, he probably would have missed it, but there on her inner arm, almost imperceptible, was a faint purple bloom. Adrien felt a very Chat-like grin spread across his face.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng had suddenly become the most interesting person in the world.

Chapter Text

Marinette's feet pounded against the pavement. She couldn't believe she'd forgotten Chat's shirt! As she rounded the corner, the bakery came into view, and she sprinted across the road to the front door. The bell hanging over the doorframe chimed loudly as she practically launched herself through it. Her parents heads turned simultaneously, taking in their disheveled daughter as she clung to the door handle to prevent herself falling over.

“Mum! Dad! Hi!” Marinette yelped, straightening up to right herself and close the door behind her. Her parents shared a look, before smiling at her. 

“We weren't expecting you back for lunch so soon, Mari. Didn't you want to hang out with your school friends?” her mother asked, wiping the flour off her hands with a small towel.

Marinette tucked a few strands of loose hair behind her ear as she gave her mum a brief hug.

“I did, yeah. We're heading to a music event in the park. I just forgot my friend's- ah!”

Sabine pulled the folded white shirt out from behind the register, handing it to her daughter. Marinette held the soft fabric against her chest, smiling at her mother in thanks. A thought flashed through her mind.

“Has it been in the bakery all day?” she asked, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.

“Yes, I put it behind the counter this morning,” her father replied. He frowned when he saw the look on Marinette's face. “I'm sorry, Marinette. I thought maybe a customer had left it behind.”

Marinette shook her head, calming her expression into a grateful smile, and she leant across the counter to plant a kiss on her father's cheek.

“That's okay, papa. It's not dirty,” she reassured him. Tom's frown melted into a cheery smile at his daughter's affection.

Marinette gave her mother a final squeeze before turning to leave, waving to her parents as she dashed out the door.

She bolted down the street, back the way she'd come, the shirt clutched against her chest. She could smell it even as she ran. Chat's shirt smelled like a damn patisserie, like melted butter, pastry, and vanilla. She would have to apologise to him when she returned it; he probably hadn't expected to be walking around smelling like pain au chocolat. Marinette shoved the shirt into her bag hurriedly as she rounded onto the street leading up to the park. She could already see the others stood waiting, and Alya waved when she spotted her. Adrien turned and waved too, and Marinette felt her heart stutter, a pink tinge warming her cheeks. He looked so good in black. Alya was right, it really did bring out the green in his eyes.

Marinette froze. Green eyes... Just like - She mentally slapped herself.

Stop it, she told herself fiercely. Adrien is nothing like Chat Noir!

“Hey guys, sorry I'm late,” she said as she approached the group.

“That's okay, we weren't waiting long,” Alya replied, brandishing her cellphone as they began walking into the park. “Hopefully I can get some good shots of the contestants.”

“How come you didn't enter, Nino?” Adrien asked. Marinette could feel the heat of his arm as he walked next to her, the sensation sending shivers across her skin.

“School, man,” Nino replied. “The contest actually started before lunch break.”

No sooner had he finished his sentence than Marinette could hear screams echoing across the park. She turned to see a wave of people running towards the entrance they'd just come through. Her mouth opened in an “O” before the crowd hit the small group of friends. Alya and Nino were swept away almost immediately, both calling out for their best friends as the masses carried them away.

Adrien faltered as a civilian shoved past him, stumbling backwards into Marinette, knocking them both to the floor. Marinette barely had time to flush as she realised Adrien, her crush, the boy of her dreams, was sprawled on top of her. His cheek brushed hers and an echo of a memory surfaced in her mind.

Adrien pulled his head up to look at Marinette, crouching on his hands and knees over her, and she felt her cheeks burning. She knew she was probably the same colour as a fire hydrant, and that only made her blush with more embarrassment as he stared down at her. His face had been so close to hers, if she'd just turned her head... Marinette squeaked involuntarily. The sound seemed to shake Adrien into action.

“Sorry!” he rushed, pulling her to her feet. His expression turned serious and his voice was firm as he looked her dead in the eye 

“Run,” he ordered, before spinning on his heel and bolting the other way.

Under normal circumstances, Marinette would have been upset, even annoyed, at Adrien abandoning her at the park entrance. As it was, she actually sighed with relief: She needed to find a place to transform. She could see the akuma hovering around the bandstand, his head thrown back with laughter. The akuma looked like a cross between a Disney villain and Mick Jagger, huge pointed shoulder pads topping a garishly bedazzled jumpsuit. He held a jaggedly shaped guitar and was strumming chords forcefully, the sound waves blasting everything in their path. She was about to duck behind a bush when Chat Noir dropped down beside her.

“Hey Princess, long time no see,” he said, smirking at her, and Marinette felt her heart flutter. Had his smile always looked that... good?

Focus, she told herself sharply.

“Nice of you to drop in,” she said, and he beamed at her use of words.

She turned her head to try and spot her friends, but she saw no sign of them anywhere. She couldn't even see...

Adrien.

Marinette's eyes involuntarily swivelled towards the blonde standing next to her, and she swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat. She needed to get out of there so she could transform.

“You should get out of here, it's not safe with that thing around,” Chat said, as if hearing her thoughts, and she tensed at the unwanted prospect.

Marinette scanned her surroundings, making mental list of places she could safely transform. She spotted a building just outside the park that was undergoing construction, a skip sitting in front of it. If she could just reach it...

“I'm going to distract him. Make a break for it when you get an opening, okay?” Chat told her, his eyes never leaving the akuma, and before she had a chance to reply, he was off, sprinting towards the akuma.

Marinette seized her chance, bolting towards the skip.

“Wow, that outfit is a cat-astrophe!” she could hear Chat taunting behind her, and she groaned inwardly at the pun.

She was all but five feet from the park exit when she heard Chat scream.

“MARINETTE!”

Marinette's eyes found Chat's as he threw himself in front of her, just as the akuma strummed his guitar again. The blast knocked Chat straight into her, sending both of them flying into the wall of the derelict building. They rebounded off the hard brick, falling into the skip. Chat landed with an appropriate, “Oof!” as Marinette landed on top of him. She sat up, dazed, rubbing her temple as she heard a horrible crumbling noise. She barely had time to look up and see the huge chunk of wall tumbling towards them before throwing herself at Chat, yanking his head forward as she shouted, “Get down!”

Then everything went black. 


 

Well, almost black.

The slab of concrete that fell from the building had landed across the top of the skip, trapping the two superheroes inside. A few cracks of light shone through the more jagged edges of the brick, but other than that it was so dark Marinette could barely make out the shape of Chat's ears. The skip hadn't been full, thankfully, but it hadn't been exactly empty either. She could feel the sharp shards of discarded concrete digging into her. Not only that, but she'd dived at Chat to stop him getting brained, and had landed in an awkward position over him. Marinette was pressed up tightly against him, her face squashed into his chest and his legs sprawled around her body. Her heart thumped involuntarily. She immediately attempted to scramble onto her knees as best she could, flattening her palms against the slab overhead and pushing hard. Chat, who had seemed temporarily stupefied at their sudden closeness, copied her action, his chest puffing out at the effort.

“Gah, this is ridiculous!” he huffed. “He's trapped us in here like cheese in a tupperware.”

Marinette was glad it was dark so Chat didn't see the bewildered expression she made at the phrase.

“Chat, we have to get out of here now,” she said, failing to keep the rising panic out of her voice.

She could hear him heaving with exertion in the dark. A few seconds later, his hands dropped and he sighed in defeat.

“It's no use. I'm not in a position to get any purchase.”

Marinette pinched the bridge of her nose. This was not a situation she needed to be in right now. How could she have been so damn... Unlucky?

“Look's like we're not going to be skipping out of this one anytime soon,” Chat said.

Marinette could practically feel his Cheshire grin in the darkness, and she smacked him in the arm. Chat bubbled with laughter, and Marinette's heart thumped out a staccato beat. Why was he affecting her so much? She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks, and suddenly she was thankful for the lack of visibility in the skip. Outside, she could hear the akuma wreaking destruction on the block, the warped music blaring out his guitar followed by loud crashing each time he strummed.

“That thing's going to do a lot of destruction before we can get out of here,” she said, more to herself than Chat.

“Don't worry,” Chat replied. “I'm sure Ladybug's taking care of it. Unless she's been held up of course...”

Marinette could hear the amusement in his tone, and she had just turned her head to frown at him when a large boom echoed above them, causing her to jump.

“Agh!” Chat cried, as her movement sent his head slamming back into the bricks 

“Sorry!” she squeaked.

Marinette's heart raced as she realised the situation: When she jumped, she'd inadvertently thrown herself towards Chat. Her uncomfortable position on her hands and knees had shifted with her weight and now she was pressed up against his chest, one hand gripping his shoulder and the other sandwiched between their bodies. In his surprise, Chat's hands had flown around her to catch her weight, and where now resting gently on her hips. Her skin burned under his touch, and it was all she could do to stop herself from shuddering with pleasure.

Get a grip, Marinette.

Chat wasn't laughing anymore, and he seemed completely dumbfounded by their proximity. His hands quickly dropped off her hips.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to-”

“It's fine,” she cut him off. Her face was so red it was a wonder she didn't glow in the darkness.

“Don't worry, Marinette.” Chat's voice was husky as he addressed her. There was something deep and frighteningly primal in his voice. “We're going to get out of here.”

Marinette's stomach clenched at the earnestness in his voice, and she didn't even feel embarrassed as she wrapped her arms around his neck, taking comfort in his embrace.


 

Chat hadn't been lying, he was determined to help Marinette. He'd gotten her stuck in this mess, and he was going to get her out. Not only that but she was trusting him. When she'd circled her arms around him, his heart had swelled with affection for the girl.

He hadn't meant to put his hands on her waist, but the way she had fallen onto him had taken him by surprise and he'd instinctively wrapped his arms around her tiny frame. Chat had never really acknowledged how small Marinette was. It was hard to notice when she carried herself so confidently, well, around Chat at least. She had been so smart with him that day they'd teamed up to take on the Evilustrator that he'd barely noticed he was almost a full head taller than her, making it all the more evident now she was curled tightly in his arms, her face tucked against his collarbone. He was sure Marinette could hear his hard pounding, but she didn't say anything. Chat could feel the warmth of her face through his suit, most likely flushed from running to escape the park. A pang of fierce protectiveness washed through him like a tidal wave. Though she could barely talk to Adrien in class, that didn't mean he hadn't noticed her. He thought about how she never hesitated to put others before herself, how her first response was always kindness, how she never hesitated to stand up to Chloe.

Marinette is amazing, he though quietly to himself.

She was so small and soft and warm in his arms, and yet she blazed with the power of a sun, selfless, kind, unwavering.

“I really want to kiss you right now.”

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and he froze, hoping he had breathed them so quietly she hadn't heard him. He felt Marinette tense, and he knew that she'd caught his words in the darkness. She shifted, pulling her head away from his chest, and his heart sank, preparing for the inevitable rejection. He could feel her looking at him, the heat from her skin stretching across the short distance between them. Her face was so close to his...

“Okay.”

Chat stopped breathing. He was sure he had imagined it, that his restless mind was tricking him into hearing what he so desperately wanted to hear. But Marinette's hand lifted to cup his face, and the feeling of her skin on his sent his mind spiralling as her thumb timidly brushed the corner of his mouth. Her touch was fire and he was flypaper, burning fast and bright. With extraordinary effort, Chat reigned in every impulse telling him to grab her and kiss her until his lips were raw. Instead he lifted a hand to cup her face, his claws ghosting across her jugular, and he heard her take in a shaky breath. He silently cursed his gloves, the only thing separating his skin from hers, but the thought slipped to the back of his mind instantly when he felt her tilt her face towards him. Achingly slowly, he lowered his mouth to hers.

It's as if someone's set off a firework. Chat felt himself light up like the Eiffel Tower, his heart shining through every tiny pore of his skin. Her lips were so soft under his he could barely believe she was real. His arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her flush against him, and he felt her hand timidly move to the back of his head, her fingers entwining in his hair. Her breath mingled with his as she parted her lips, and a thrill shot through him when she grabbed his collar to pull him closer. He made a noise of surprise in the back of his throat, and something darker. She reacted instantly, deepening the kiss. Hunger twisted in his gut and his fingers gently, but firmly, curled around the back of her neck.

She pulled away slightly, her lips still touching his, breathing hard.

“Chat,” she breathed, her lips quivering.

“Marinette...” He's not too composed himself, and his voice trembled when he said her name.

“I thought you and Ladybug were-”

“Wer're not like that,” he told her the truth. Marinette breathed shakily

He leant forward again, catching her lips with a soft lingering kiss 

Chat could have stayed in that moment forever, Marinette coiled tightly against him, his hands wrapped around her, lips brushing hers. But his bad luck was unavoidable.

The slab of concrete trapping them in the skip suddenly shook, small bits of debris falling on their bodies. Marinette scrabbled away from him in the small space, just as a beam of light cut through the darkness. The concrete lid tilted upwards, scraping against the metal edges of the skip as it slid off, and Chat blinked against the sudden brightness.

“Are you two okay in there?” Someone asked. A small group of construction workers had clustered around the skip, anxiously looking on, and Chat realised that together they had managed to shift the chunk of wall. Chat stood up, stretching his back before turning to hold a hand out to Marinette. She blinked at him stupidly for a second, before reaching to take his hand, and he pulled her to her feet. She yelped as he scooped her up in his arms, hopping out of the skip. Something about the action seemed so familiar, and Chat glanced at Marinette to see her arms clutched to her chest. A memory flashed in his mind.

“We're fine.Thanks for the rescue,” he said, putting Marinette back on her feet.

“Must have been a bit of a tight squeeze in there,” one of the workers remarked, lifting his cap to scratch his head as he peered into the dusty skip.

Chat shot Marinette a sideways glance and had to stop himself from laughing out loud. The girl's face was a deep crimson, and she was staring pointedly at her feet, as if her shoes suddenly held the secrets of the universe. He couldn't help the satisfied grin from splitting across his face.

“A bit, but it could have been a lot worse,” he chuckled, reaching out to shake the workers hand. “Thank you. I don't know how long we might've been stuck in there.”

“Ladybug hasn't turned up yet, and that thing's still on the loose,” the man informed him.

Oh? Chat looked at Marinette again.

Any moment now and she's probably going to burn a hole in those shoes, he thought dryly.

“I'm sure she'll be here soon,” he assured the workers, saluting them with two fingers to his temple. They nodded at him, before turning back to the rubble of the building. Chat took a step closer to Marinette.

“I've gotta get back out there,” he said, watching her closely. “Ladybug's gonna need some held.”

She peeked up at him from under her thick lashes, big blue eyes wide, and Chat had to stop himself from coughing at the lump that rose in his throat.

“Right,” she said, her voice surprisingly strong.

“I'll see you later, Princess,” he said with a smirk, the promise clear in his voice. Before she could reply, he took off down the street, leaving her staring after him. His smirk progressed to a full blown devilish grin.

 

Something told him Ladybug was about to make her appearance.

 

Chapter Text

It didn't take long to cleanse the akuma and restore the city once Ladybug showed up. 

After the victim had reverted back to his civilian self, she had made sure to give Chat Noir his shirt back. It was all Marinette could do to keep herself from flushing at the memory of him in that skip. Chat had thanked her, a wicked glint in his eyes, and she couldn't help but think there was something particularly smug about his grin.

Marinette lay on her bed, her arms crossed over her eyes, doing her best to sort through the multitude of thoughts spinning in her mind. The white shirt, Adrien showing up to school in black, the silver ring she'd seen on Chat's un-gloved hand, Adrien vanishing in the park, Chat Noir appearing not two minutes later, his blonde hair, his green eyes...

The feel of his lips...

She felt as if she had a washing machine inside her skull. There were so many things that she couldn't fit together, so many things that could easily just be coincidence.

Chat Noir is nothing like Adrien, she reminded herself. She couldn't bring herself to imagine Adrien flirting with her unabashedly, to imagine him smirking at her like he had several hundred puns up his sleeve ready to whip out at inappropriate times. The thought was like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Honestly, she thought, if Adrien hadn't been wearing that black shirt today would she have even considered the possibility that he could be Chat Noir?

When she'd returned home she'd thrown her clothes off, needing to take comfort in the looseness of the simple t-shirt and shorts she slept in. Tikki sat on the end of her bed, watching the girl anxiously.

“Marinette, are you okay?”

Marinette groaned and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, her loose hair falling around her face.

“I can't believe I kissed Chat Noir! I kissed him, Tikki! That was so stupid, I should never have done that!”

She threw her hands up, exasperated, burying her face in her palms. Tikki flew up to hover in front of the girl's face, a small smile playing on her lips.

“You've kissed him before,” Tikki pointed out.

“That was different! I had to break the spell! This time it was like...” Marinette sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest.

“Like you wanted to?”

“Of course I didn't!” Marinette practically yelled.

Tikki raised an eyebrow at her, trying her best to smother her laughter. Marinette could feel the blush creep up her cheeks as the red kwami watched her knowingly.

“I mean... I didn't think I did. Argh! This is such a mess!” Marinette threw herself back down on her bed, grabbing a pillow to cover her head, so she could hide the red that had washed over her face.

Tikki giggled, floating down onto the bed to pat Marinette's arm in consolation.

“You could just talk to him about it,” she suggested.

Marinette peeked out from under the pillow guarding her face.

“And how am I supposed to get a hold of him? It's not like I can call him up as Ladybug and ask if he wants to go get milkshakes.”

Tikki's eyes flickered up to the ceiling for a second, before she smiled down at Marinette, a cheeky air about her.

“Maybe you'll get the chance sooner than you think?” she said, before suddenly burrowing under the duvet.

Marinette frowned, bewildered at the vanishment of her kwami. She turned her head to where Tikki had been looking and felt a stone drop in her stomach.

Chat Noir was waggling his fingers at her through the window of her balcony door, his smirk positively diabolical. Marinette's mouth ran dry and she sat up, running her fingers through her fringe in a nervous attempt to straighten out the bed hair she had inevitably given herself. Climbing up the ladder, she opened the hatch and stepped out onto the terrace. Chat Noir was lounging against the iron casting, looking every bit as cavalier as Marinette knew him to be. Still, she couldn't help her heart from constricting at the sight of him stood there so confidently, a telltale smile curling at his lips.

“Chat Noir?” Marinette had to focus to keep her voice even. “What are you doing here?”

“What kind of knight in shining armour would I be if I kissed a beautiful princess and didn't return?” he replied, his eyes gliding over her curiously. Marinette was suddenly aware of how little she was wearing, and she shifted her weight from foot to foot awkwardly, lifting her hands to her chest.

“I didn't think you would show up,” she confessed.

It's sort of true; Marinette didn't know if he'd come, or if he'd seek out Ladybug instead. Her heart did a little flip as she realised how happy she was that he came to see her, to see Marinette.

“You wound me, Princess,” Chat cried, pressing his hand dramatically over his chest. Marinette shook her head at him, a small smile betraying her as she rolled her eyes. The breeze picked up, and she wrapped her fingers around her upper arms as goosebumps prickled over her skin.

“You're cold,” Chat remarked, straightening up to step closer to her.

He reached out to rub her arms, but Marinette stepped back before he could touch her.

“What do you want, kitty cat?”

Chat lowered his outstretched hands, his bravado falling away.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said, the cockiness fading out of his voice.

Marinette could hear her heart pound in her ears, and her temperature went up a few degrees despite the chilly night air.

“About what?”

Her eyes travelled up to his, and she shivered, though not because of the cold.

“About earlier,” he said simply, his eyes gleaming with something almost hungry. The night air was charged with the unspoken event. “I wanted to make sure you weren't hurt.”

Marinette exhaled heavily. Of course he'd come to check on her: It meant he could tease her whilst getting to see that she was okay.

“No I'm fine, thank you,” she replied, though she didn't dare relax. She knew that wasn't the only reason he was here.

“How's your elbow?” he asked suddenly, his voice not entirely innocent.

Marinette's heart jumped into her throat, and she felt her eyes go as wide as saucers.

Does he... does he know?

“I-what? My elbow?”

She was stammering, she could hear it. Chat gestured towards where her arms were wrapped around her body, and she glanced down to see the purple bruise blossoming up her joint. He must have seen it the second she climbed out onto the terrace. Still, she couldn't bring herself to feel completely relieved: She had the fall into the skip as an excuse, but what if he'd put the pieces together anyway?

“Oh! I must have hit it when we fell in the skip. It's alright, it doesn't really hurt,” she explained, hoping her voice sounded convincing.

Chat was watching her very closely, his eyes soft, the hint of a smirk never leaving the corner of his mouth. He extended a hand towards her, pausing before he touched her.

“May I?”

Marinette hesitated a moment, before uncurling her bruised arm. Chat didn't take her hand as she had been expecting, instead lacing his fingers around her wrist gently as he extended her arm, the fingers of his other hand carefully moving under her elbow to support the joint as he leaned in to inspect her injury. A wave of Deja Vu hit Marinette, and she gulped.

This was dangerous: Chat Noir wasn't stupid. What if he worked out that she was Ladybug? She watched her partner as he peered at her bruise, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. His claws grazed her skin, sending small tingles shooting up her arm. After a minute, he looked up at her, his smile so tender that she felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her.

“It doesn't look too bad. I dare say you'll live, Princess,” he declared. His eyes sparkled with something that was more than just cheekiness. “You're lucky.”

Marinette's face burned so hot she thought her head was going to explode. Did he know how close he was? Did he realise what he'd said to her? If he had managed to piece together the puzzle, then he was all but announcing that he knew she was Ladybug.

But what if he hasn't? she thought. She didn't know which thought was scarier.

Marinette laughed nervously.

“I guess you're the unlucky one, getting stuck in that skip with me,” she babbled.

Chat Noir still hadn't let go of her wrist, and she felt her breathing hitch as he laced his fingers into hers, his gaze looking right through to her soul.

“I wouldn't say that was bad luck, Marinette,” he said softly. Something deep in his voice when he said her name struck her right to the core. He took a small step closer to her, as if approaching a skittish animal.

“I thought...” Marinette swallowed hard. She hated what was happening to her, hated how he was affecting her so much. This was Chat Noir! Her partner! She fought side by side with him all the time. She met his gaze confidently, putting a little power behind her words as she spoke.

“I thought you liked Ladybug?”

Chat blinked, taken off guard by the question. He sighed, reaching his other hand up to scratch the back of his head. Marinette had to stop herself from smiling at the habit she recognised.

“I care about her,” he admitted, the truth ringing in his voice. “But...” He shifted uncomfortably.

Marinette stared at him. Was Chat Noir... nervous? The thought was completely alien to her. She wasn't accustomed to her usually shameless partner acting so genuinely, and she felt a small flicker of satisfaction at the thought that she wasn't alone in being so affected. Chat took a deep breath.

“But I like you, Marinette.”

Marinette felt as if someone had clubbed her over the head. Those few little words had sent her mind reeling, and she had to stop herself from coughing on the tightness of her throat. He liked her, her. Marinette. She didn't think it was possible for her face to get any redder, and she wrestled against the heat burning her cheeks as she took a shaky breath to reply.

Chat stepped closer to her, unhooking his fingers from hers, and his hand travelled up to cup her face. His thumb stroked her cheekbone gently, and she instinctively moved her hand to flatten against his chest.. Marinette squeezed her eyes shut, a pout working its way onto her face

“Stupid cat,” she mumbled grumpily.

Whatever expression she had pulled tickled Chat, and he laughed out loud, the vibrations sparking up her fingertips through his chest. The sound was so relaxed, so carefree, that Marinette's heart thumped with raw emotion, and she peeked up at his brilliant smile.

“Princess...” he all but purred the soubriquet.

His fingers brushed against her jaw, the tip of his index grazing her earring for a fraction of a second, and Marinette tensed. The way he was looking at her made her feel naked, like he'd stripped her to the soul. She'd never felt this vulnerable in all her life, not even when that akuma had tried to crush her with a car. An image of Adrien flashed through her mind suddenly, and Marinette's breath caught in her throat. She couldn't make sense of the string of emotions that flooded through her.

“I care about someone too,” she sighed. It's the truth.

Chat Noir paused, surveying her with his burning green eyes.

“He must be a pretty great guy,” he murmured. There was a yearning in his voice that Marinette felt too.

She couldn't bring herself to say anymore, instead settling for nodding her head once. Chat watched her for a few more seconds, his gaze curious. Finally, his hand slid from her cheek to clasp her fingers lightly.

“Then for tonight, Marinette,” he breathed, the way he said his name sending a quiver of ecstasy rippling down her spine.

He dipped his head, bringing her knuckles to his lips, the only part of him that isn't covered by his suit. Marinette burned where his soft lips met her skin, and she saw the hint of a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. He pulled away enough to meet her eyes as he whispered.

“Good night.”

And then he was gone, disappearing over the rooftops. The cold was quick to replace the heat of his body, and Marinette moved to rest against the iron casting surrounding the terrace, watching after him until the last flick of his tail vanished out of sight.

She let out a deep sigh she'd been holding onto, and a small giggle escaped her mouth.

Oh, Marinette. What have you gotten yourself into?

 


Adrien couldn't sleep.

He would slowly start drifting off, thinking about the warmth of Marinette's skin under his gloves, how perfectly she'd fit in his arms...

She'd said she cared for someone.

The confession had sunk Adrien's heart like a rock when he'd first heard the words, but then he remembered how she'd tasted, how she'd yielded to him in the darkness. It was like someone was repeatedly winding up a machine, letting it run down until it's last cog had stopped turning, before turning the crank again.

Eventually he gave up, sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes blearily. The movement jolted awake Plagg, who had been snoring loudly, curled up on his pillow. The black kwami blinked groggily, burying his face into the cover when he saw Adrien wide awake.

“Adrieeeeeeeen, it's too early,” he whinged, his voice muffled by the pillow.

“Sorry, Plagg. Can't sleep,” Adrien said, running a hand through his hair.

He checked the clock by his bed. 6:12 am. He'd have to get up soon anyway, no doubt Natalie would have some crazy schedule prepared for him.

“Well maybe if you hadn't been up all night smooching pretty girls, we could all get some sleep,” Plagg huffed, slipping onto the mattress and burrowing under the pillow.

“I didn't actually kiss her,” Adrien pointed out.

“Doesn't mean you weren't out late,” came Plagg's muffled reply.

Adrien rolled his eyes good-naturedly at his kwami's laziness. Stretching, he stood up and walked to his computer, clicking open the Ladyblog habitually. There wasn't much new, a few pictures of yesterday's akuma, some photographs of Ladybug and Chat Noir fighting against it, there was even one of her returning his shirt. He paused when he came across a picture of Chat Noir shaking a construction worker's hand. At the edge of the photo stood Marinette, eyes down, her cheeks pink. Adrien's heart warmed at the memory of how she'd felt in the darkness, her body moving under his touch, the faintest smell of vanilla lingering on her skin.

He gazed at the picture, picking out every detail. Marinette's sky blue eyes, her dark hair, her slim wrists, her red earrings. Almost without thinking, he scrolled up to the picture of Ladybug returning his shirt, eyebrows scrunching together as he looked at the photograph. Ladybug's expression was a pleasant smile, her dark fringe framing her face, making her blue eyes stand out in stark contrast. Her Miraculous peeked out under the midnight locks of her hair, two bright red spotted earrings. If it wasn't for the sunny day, Adrien might have might have missed it, but in the light of the picture, he could see a very faint pinkness to Ladybug's cheeks. His eyes snapped to his white shirt, the one she'd returned neatly folded, sitting on his desk. He leaned over to grab it, and after a second of deliberating, he buried his face in the soft fabric, inhaling deeply. The fibres smelt like fabric softener and sweat and...

Vanilla.

A slow, Cheshire-cat-worthy smile crept over Adrien's face.

A sharp knock at the door broke his reverie. When he answered it, Natalie stood in front of him, her suit sharply pressed, not a hair out of place on her head.

“Your father would like a word with you,” she said curtly, turning on her heel without waiting for a response.

Adrien followed her down the hall to his father's office. Stepping inside, he saw Gabriel Agreste in his usual pure white suit, glaring at the papers on his desk. He looked up when Adrien entered.

“Come in. Sit Down.” The words were an order, and Adrien obeyed, sliding into the seat in front of the desk.

“There is an event next week that you will be attending. There are going to be some very important designers there from Italy. I'd like them to meet you,” Gabriel said. His voice was flat, authoritative, no negotiation in his words.

Adrien sighed, earning a stern glare from his father.

“Yes, father,” he said by way of acknowledgement, though more out of habit than anything else.

“The car will pick you up after school. Natalie has your schedule. You are dismissed”

That was it, the conversation was over. Adrien stood up and slipped out of his father's office without so much as a “Have a good day at school.”

At least he had someone at school to look forward to.

 


Adrien yawned in his seat, his mouth opening wide. Nino raised an eyebrow at him. 

“You okay, dude? I don't think I've ever seen you this tired before,” he asked, a note of concern in his typically laid-back voice.

“Yeah, I just didn't get a lot of sleep last night,” Adrien said with a smile.

“I get that,” Nino replied, nodding in understanding.

Adrien turned around in his seat to glance at Marinette. Her head was on the desk, her pink sketchbook lying under her arms. Her back rose and fell gently in a slow rhythm, and he was startled to see she was actually asleep. Alya nudged her with her elbow, and Marinette's eyes blinked open woozily. In her sleepy daze, her sky blue eyes met Adrien's, and for a split second and blissful smiled stretched across her pretty face. Adrien felt himself flush, heat pricking the tips of his ears, and a rush of butterflies fluttered in his stomach, and he smiled back, suddenly very nervous. The moment felt strangely intimate.

Marinette blinked again and abruptly sat up with a sharp inhale, her eyes wide. She seemed to push herself as far back into her seat away from him as she could, her arms locked, hands pressing against the edge of the desk. Adrien's smile dropped instantly.

Being around her as Chat... He'd forgotten she didn't like him.

Alya was smirking at her friend, shaking hear head slightly as she rolled her eyes.

“Didn't mean to scare you,” Adrien apologised. In the corner of his eye, he could see Nino's shoulders shaking with silent laughter, and he shot his friend a quizzical look.

Marinette gave him an awkward smile that didn't touch her eyes, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Her earring glittered red at him as it caught the light.

“Girl, seriously. What's with you?” Alya asked, a hint of amusement in her voice as she began flipping through Marinette's sketchbook. “Were you up late working on a new design? 

Of course! Marinette loved fashion, Adrien remembered.

“You're working on something new?” he enquired. Alya handed him the sketchbook and he flipped through the first few pages, astonished at the amount of detail in the sketches. There were little arrows pointing to specific points on the design with notes attached to them, written in elegant script.

“Oh! No, I was just- er.... I got a pretty late night,” Marinette stammered, clasping her hands to her chest.

Adrien smirked at the memory of her on that terrace, her sleep shirt slipping of her shoulder, revealing a dusting of freckles over her skin.

“These are awesome designs, Marinette,” he enthused, genuinely impressed. He smiled widely at her, and Marinette's cheeks turned a brilliant red.

He had begun turning the next page, spotting his name in the bottom right hand corner, and a sliver of blue from the sketch peeped out at him before Marinette's hand shot forward, snatching the sketchbook out of his grasp. Adrien blinked at her, completely taken by surprise, and her whole face turned a deep crimson as she clutched the sketchbook tightly to her chest.

“Sorry! I just- I'm not finished with that design yet...” she babbled, ducking her head to avoid his gaze.

Adrien frowned. Why was his name on one of her designs? At that moment the bell rang, announcing the end of morning classes, and Marinette grabbed her bag along with Alya's hand before bolting out of the classroom. Adrien's eyes followed her hasty departure, his eyebrows disappearing into his hairline in utter confusion. As soon as the two girls were out the door, Nino burst out laughing, his hands holding his stomach as he bent double.

“What?!” Adrien blurted.

What had just happened?

“Oh dude! I think you broke Marinette!” Nino roared, wiping a tear from his eye. “She's probably been dreaming about that since you started school.”

Adrien was absolutely baffled. Nino could barely speak he was laughing so hard. They crossed the school courtyard to sit at a bench, and Adrien could see Marinette talking rapidly to Alya, her hands making wild gestures in the air.

“Nino, what are talking about?” he asked as they sat down. He felt as if he was missing out on a huge joke that everyone else was in on.

It took Nino almost a full minute to be able to speak coherently, his body still shaking with mirth.

“Dude, seriously?! You gotta be joking!” He sounded incredulous.

Adrien frowned at his friend, and Nino looked as if he was about to burst into another string of uncontrollable laughter. 

“Adrien, come on! You really didn't know Marinette has a huge crush on you? It's not like she's cool about it, man.”

Adrien felt his jaw drop. Heat rushed to his face and he turned to look across the courtyard to where Marinette was sitting. She had a crush on him? On Adrien? He felt as if his heart was about to burst with the cascade of emotion that overwhelmed him. That someone she said she cared about, she'd been talking about him!

That meant Marinette liked both sides of him, that she liked all of him. Adrien couldn't stop the smile of pure happiness from creeping across his face. Nino chuckled at his reaction, and he reached across the table to pat his friend on the arm.

“Dude, stop staring. It's creepy.”

But Adrien couldn't tear his eyes away from Marinette. He'd never felt such a strong torrent of emotions before, and the sensation was wiping his mind blank of any coherent thoughts

“Do you like her?”

The question snapped him out of his stupor, his eyes flicking back to where Nino was watching him, glasses magnifying the amusement in his eyes.

“Do I – what?” Adrien could hear himself babbling. Nino waved his hand, blinking slowly, his face sporting a smirk that could have rivalled Chat Noir's.

“You should talk to her, man. It's not like she's gonna-”

Nino was interrupted by a shrill angry scream. The boys heads turned to the source of the noise, and they saw Juleka sprawled on the ground, Rose crouching next to her, an arm wrapped around her friend's shoulders. Chloe stood over them, her expression furious, baring her teeth in a snarl.

“You stupid girl! Those sunglasses were Chanel!” she screamed, stamping her foot in anger.

Adrien stood up immediately, rushing to where Juleka lay, Nino following close behind. He could see a bloody graze on her knee, the fabric of her leggings torn through, a shattered pair of sunglasses next to her. He knelt down to offer her a hand, helping Juleka to her feet.

“Don't bother Adrien, she 's a disgrace. She wouldn't know fashion if it vomited on her,” Chloe snarled, pumping malice into every word.

Juleka gripped Rose's hand as she bit her lip, her expression hard. Adrien had just opened his mouth to scold Chloe's cruelty when someone brushed past him, someone almost a head shorter, someone who smelled faintly of vanilla.

“Stop it, Chloe!” Marinette barked, unadulterated power behind her words.

She had stepped right up to Chloe, leaning forward in her stance, her chin high and her face determined. The sheer enormity of her presence had caused Chloe to take a step back in shock. The blonde girl's expression warped back into a terrible scowl.

“How dare you talk to me like that,” she hissed, her cold blue eyes narrowed with hatred. Marinette didn't even blink.

“Leave Juleka alone.” Her voice was sure, firm, unwavering.

Chloe looked as if she was going to push the issue, but her eyes flickered to Adrien's for a second, and with an exasperated growl, she tossed her ponytail and stormed off.

Adrien blinked, his eyes glued to the back of Marinette's head. He had been so sure before but now...

Her confident stance, the unshakeable tone of her voice, her fierce protectiveness...

It was her. He knew it with unquestionable clarity.

 

It was his Ladybug.

Chapter Text

Marinette was exhausted.

Between school and her late nights, she'd barely gotten a wink of sleep. Not only that, but her tumultuous thoughts had been keeping her up, a mish-mash of Adrien and Chat Noir swirling around her mind.

Marinette sighed heavily. The school day had taken an emotional toll on her, what with Chloe's outburst and Adrien...

Adrien who had beamed his megawatt smile at her as he admired her designs, looking every bit the model.

She ran her fingers through her hair in distress. He'd almost found her scarf design when he was flicking through her sketchbook, and she'd panicked and just ripped it out his hands. She shook her head, her shoulders rising up towards her ears at the embarrassing memory. He probably thought she was a freak. Needing a healthy fresh air, she climbed the ladder to her terrace, opening the hatch and stepping out into the early evening. The sun was disappearing over the horizon, turning the sky a beautiful myriad of colours, and Marinette rested her forearms on the iron bearings as she inhaled deeply, her eyelids sliding closed.

She heard his arrival before she saw it, the bell around his neck chiming softly as he landed on her rooftop.

“Chat Noir,” she greeted, turning her head to look at him.

“Good to see you, Princess,” he purred, walking over to lean backwards on the railing. “And on such a beautiful evening.”

Marinette gave a short laugh, her eyes turning to a plant pot hanging off the railing, and she idly fingered the petals of one of the flowers.

“To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” she enquired, her voice mockingly dramtic.

Chat grinned at her bravado before his expression turned more somber.

“The person you care about,” he began. “I wanted to know what they're like.”

Marinette stiffened. She didn't know if she was prepared to talk to Chat about Adrien.

“Why?” she blinked at him.

Chat smirked at her, the shrinking sunlight glinting amber sparks off his eyes.

“If I'm going to have competition, I'd at least like the know what I'm up against,” he announced, taking one arm off the railing to flex at her with a wink.

Marinette giggled at his silly behaviour. Chat Noir was such a dork. She realised he was watching her expectantly and she sighed, turning back to face the horizon. Taking a deep breath, she mentally prepared herself for the talk.

“It's a guy in my class,” she started, testing the how the words felt in her mouth.

There was a long pause, and Marinette could feel Chat's eyes watching her closely. After a minute of silence, he softly prompted her.

“What's he like?”

Marinette shook her head slightly, closing her eyes in a long blink.

“He's a model,” she added.

“That helps,” Chat snorted, and Marinette scoffed, shooting him an impatient look.

“That's not why I like him!” she cried indignantly. “He's just – I mean I don't even know him that well. I can barely talk to him.”

Chat didn't say anything, waiting for her to continue.

“But I... I see how he treats people. He's not stuck-up like Chloe. He's patient, and compassionate, and kind. He never complains about his busy schedule, and he works really hard. Sometimes I think he's lonely...” she trailed off, not bringing herself to look at Chat Noir. Why was she telling him this?

The atmosphere was charged with something Marinette couldn't put her finger on, and the silence stretched on before Chat spoke.

“Why don't you tell him how you feel?” There was an ache in his voice so strong that Marinette felt her heart constrict. Had she upset him?

She barked a short bitter laugh, shaking her head tiredly.

“I can't! I get so nervous I can't even construct a whole sentence in front of him, it's sad really,” she explained, smiling ruefully.

She dared a glance in Chat Noir's direction and her heart caught in her throat. He was looking at her with such affection that her heart fluttered uncontrollably, the gentlest smile she'd ever seen gracing his face. He didn't touch her, didn't offer any witty comment, he just stared at her, like he was trying to drink her in. Marinette cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“And what about Ladybug?” she asked awkwardly, trying desperately to divert him from the topic of Adrien.

Chat closed his eyes, letting his head drop back. The sunset brushed pink and red streaks through his blonde hair, and Marinette felt a surge of genuine happiness at how completely content he look, lounging against her balcony rail, a blissful smile on his lips.

“She's incredible,” he breathed, almost as if he were speaking to himself. He pulled his head up, meeting her gaze steadily.

“She's strong and confident, kind, selfless. She's smarter than you can believe, and she never hesitates to do what is just.”

Chat's eyes never left her, his gaze extremely intimate. The strangest sensation washed over Marinette. It was like he wasn't talking about Ladybug at all. She could explain it, but it was like he was talking to her. His voice was so full of love that her heart thudded almost painfully.

“She challenges me,” Chat continued, his voice wistful. “And she inspires me. To be better, to be more than I am.”

Marinette swallowed the lump in her throat with difficulty, her mouth running dry. With an enormous amount of effort, she tore her eyes away from Chat's, staring out over the Parisian rooftops that she knew so well. She would have lost herself in thought if it weren't for Chat's fingers curling around her injured elbow, cool and careful. The bruise was all but gone now, but still he handled her as if she were made of glass. Marinette straightened up, turning to face at him, and she felt the fingers of his other hand brush under her ear, gently lifting her earlobe where her Miraculous sat a fraction. When she looked up to meet his eyes, it was as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over her.

Chat was smiling at her, a small, peaceful, gloriously smug smile, and Marinette realised.

He knew.

He knew it was her.

He hadn't sought her out as Ladybug. He'd come to Marinette, he'd spent his time with Marinette. And he'd worked it out because he'd seen her.

There was no laughter in his voice anymore, no underlying cockiness that told Marinette he was joking, and he edged closer to her. Marinette could feel the heat of his body spanning the rapidly shrinking space between them, and his eyes burned with an intensity that made her knees weak. He leaned towards her, the hair in front of his face brushing her fringe.

“I'd really like to kiss you again,” he whispered.

Marinette could hardly breath, her brain failing to process the revelation.

“What about Ladybug?” she whispered. She had to be sure, she had to.

“Marinette.”

His voice was thick with emotion. “I like you.”

Marinette's mind was so scrambled she couldn't form a single thought. Chat continued to watch her, his fingers slipping from her where they were entwined with hers as he moved his hand to cup her face, gliding his fingertips along her jawline to rest under her ear.

“I won't kiss you if you don't want me to.” His voice was so soft, Marinette almost missed the ache in his words.

Without thinking, she reached across the inches between them, brushing the join between his skin and his mask with her thumb. Fractionally, she tilted her chin up.

It was enough for Chat Noir.

He flattened his mouth against hers, an arm wrapping around her waist tightly, pulling her hard against him. Marinette felt as if something had sprung to life inside her, her heart bursting into colour, and she slid her arms around his neck. This kiss wasn't like the one they'd shared in the darkness, tender and sweet, exploring something that might be. This kiss was wildfire, burning out of control, absorbing everything in its path.

Chat was holding onto her for dear life, his hand moving from her face to curl around her shoulders, tangling his fingers into her hair. Marinette hummed, rocking forwards onto her tiptoes. She felt as if she was melting, every inch of her soaking into him, and her lips parted. His tongue brushed over her bottom lip, and she gasped, grateful for the tightness of his embrace as her legs threatened to give out underneath her. He smelled like leather and sweat and shampoo and something else, something almost sweet radiating off his skin. Chat's hand moved to her hip, the claw of his thumb skimming the band of her jeans, and Marinette felt electricity crackle underneath her skin where he touched her.

It was Chat who pulled away first.

“Marinette...”

He was breathing heavily, and his voice was rough when he said her name.

“Mm?”

Chat drew back to look at her, his forehead resting against hers.

“I have to go.”

Marinette blinked at him, a pout ready to work its way onto her face. Chat smile was kind, reassuring.

“Don't worry, Princess. I'm not running away,” he chuckled, stooping to rub the tip of his nose against hers.

Marinette shot him a quizzical look.

“I have a... Prior engagment,” he explained, his voice low and husky.

“Okay,” she replied simply, her mind failing to produce larger words as she drew in a shuddering breath.

A smirk twitched at the corner of Chat's mouth, and he released his grip around her waist to bring his fingers to her face. Leaning in, he brushed his lips against hers in an almost-kiss, before tracing them along her cheekbone up to her ear.

“I wish I could stay...” he murmured, the warmth of his breath tickling her neck.

Marinette closed her eyes, losing herself in the sensation, the warmth of Chat's hand on her face, the lingering dampness of her lips...

And she yelped!

Chat sprang away from her, the most wicked grin on his face. He'd bitten her on the ear.

“Oooh, you stupid cat!” She huffed angrily, stamping her foot and throwing her fists down by her hips.

Chat threw his head back and laughed that completely carefree, delighted laugh, hopping onto the iron railing of her balcony. The sound made Marinette's heart perform a happy little somersault despite her anger.

“Until next time, Princess,” he told her, the amusement in his voice palpable.

And then he leapt from the building, darting across the rooftops into the dying sunlight.

Once he was gone, Tikki popped out of Marinette's blazer, flying in circles around her charge's head.

“Marinette!” she cried with obvious delight. “He said he liked you!”

Marinette couldn't help but giggle at her kwami's glee, but her expression quickly turned somber.

“He knows Tikki. He knows that I'm Ladybug,” she informed.

Tikki stopped her cheerful swooping to look at Marinette.

“Really? How do you know?” she asked, her eyes wide.

Marinette met Tikki's gaze resolutely.

“I'm sure of it.”

 


 

The designers meeting came all to quickly for Adrien, and he hated that he'd had to leave Marinette's terrace for such a boring event.

He thought back to her balcony, the memory of her fresh and vivid in his mind. Adrien couldn't stop thinking about how she'd kissed him, how she'd stood on her tiptoes, arms wrapped around him as if she never wanted to let go. He thought he was going to burst with happiness, and Plagg had wasted no time in teasing him as he'd hugged his pillow tightly, an ear-to-ear grin splitting his face.

Now Adrien stood in his room, fastening the buttons on a steel grey suit as he prepared for the event – a fashion gala, he'd been told. Looking up at the full length mirror, he met his own gaze in the reflection and sighed. His hair had been combed back from his face, parting sharply above his left eyebrow. The black shirt he wore had been pressed so thoroughly it barely creased with the movement of his body, and the matching grey tie stood out against it. Adrien thought the overall appearance was cold, sanitary, authoritative. That was the image his father wanted to project though, right?

Adrien took a deep breath and closed his eyes, pulling his memories of Marinette to the front of his mind. She was like the sun; bright, warm, fiery. He felt the smile spread across his face.

“Ugh! You're thinking about her again, aren't you?” Plagg chastised. Adrien could practically hear the kwami rolling his eyes.

He opened his eyes to see Plagg floating on his back, munching a large chunk of camembert as he surveyed Adrien with bored disinterest. Adrien smiled sheepishly at him.

“You really don't know anything about love,” he exhaled, reaching up to scratch the back of his head habitually, before stopping himself. His father would throw a fit if he messed up his hair.

Plagg raised an eyebrow at him.

“How can you even be sure she's Ladybug? I mean she's got two eyes, a nose, legs, but other than those similarities-”

“I'm sure,” Adrien cut him off. Plagg shrugged, unconcerned, swallowing the last bite of his chese.

“Let's just get this gala over with. There's sure to be some delicious cheese there,” he grumbled, before tucking himself away into Adrien's jacket.

The drive to the event was a perfect reflection of Adrien's suit: Neither his father nor Natalie said a word, nor did their facial expressions change in any way. The atmosphere inside the car was practically clinical. When they entered the large hall where the gala was being hosted, Adrien was immediately hit with the lavish style of their Italian guests, their lively characters brightening the entire room. It seemed not even his fathers stern demeanour could do nothing to dent their enthusiasm. Adrien was the model son (he though, privately appreciating the pun): He made polite small talk, enquiring about the designer's projects, listening to them as they expressively raved on about this fabric, and that scandal. After a while, Natalie appeared at his side.

“Your father wishes to see you,” she informed him. Adrien respectively excused himself from the conversation he was having with his, following Natalie to where his father stood talking to some of the bigger names in the Italian fashion industry, his hands clasped behind his back. His expression didn't change when he spotted Adrien approaching, but he did put a hand on his son's shoulder as he joined the conversation.

“Mr Di Santi, I'd like you to meet my son, Adrien.” The man Gabriel was addressing wasn't much taller than Adrien. His salt and pepper hair matched his beard, and he wore a well-cut suit that fit him flatteringly despite his slightly rotund frame. At the introduction, he turned to smile warmly at Adrien.

Gabriel's voice was clipped when he spoke to his son. “Mr Di Santi is here to discuss his new collection.”

There was no inflection in his tone, so Adrien couldn't tell if his father was happy about it or not, but he did know that Di Santi was one of the biggest fashion houses in Italy. He extended his hand politely.

“It's an honour to meet you, Mr Di Santi,” he said, using the practised tone he saved for meeting his father's colleagues. Mr Di Santi shook Adrien's hand with vigour.

“Per favore, Adrien, call me Giacomo,” he boomed, his eyes sparkling. Adrien liked him instantly.

“If you will, I'd like you to see some of my newest work!” he exclaimed, obvious excitement in his voice. He head whipped around, eyes scanning the room.

“I'm sure there will be much time for that later,” Gabriel said shortly.

If he'd been talking to Adrien, his tone would have told him that the matter was not a negotiation, and that the discussion was closed, but Giacomo merely waved his hand.

“Nonsense! I just need to find – Ah! There she is! Bianca, come here!” he called.

A few of the Parisian guests shot distasteful glances in Giacomo's direction as he shouted across the room, but if he noticed he clearly didn't mind. A young girl turned her head at the sound of her name, and excused herself from the conversation she was having, making her way over to them.

“Bianca, this is Mr Gabriel Agreste and his son, Adrien,” he introduced, clapping a hand on Gabriel's shoulder. Gabriel's eyes narrowed fractionally.

“It's a pleasure to meet you,” Bianca said with a smile, shaking both of their hands.

Bianca was very pretty. She wore a deep purple satin gown that complimented her vivid green eyes, and her waist-length dark brown hair was pinned back with an ornate silver clasp on one side of her head. Judging by the filofax held to her chest, Adrien guessed she must be Giacomo's assistant, though she couldn't have been more than a few years older than himself, he noticed.

“Bianca, dear, would you mind showing young Adrien here some of our newest designs. I'd love to get his opinion on them,” Giacomo continued as is Gabriel had never spoken.

“Of course, Mr Di Santi,” Bianca replied, smiling amicably at Adrien. “If you'd like to please come this way.”

Adrien followed her as she lead him out of the hall. He glanced back to see his father deep in conversation with Giacomo, who kept glancing after Adrien, nodding his head emphatically.

Bianca lead him down a corridor just off the main hall. Adrien watched her long hair swaying as she walked, clearing his throat to break the silence.

“So you're Mr Di Santi's assistant?” he enquired in an attempt to make small talk.

Bianca gave him a rippling silvery laugh.

“Oh no! I'm just an intern,” she replied.

“You must be a pretty good intern to make it all the way here,” Adrien remarked, the question in his tone.

“Thanks, but my father actually works for him too, so it wasn't a lot of trouble to bring me along,” Bianca told him with a smile.

They turned into a large suite filled with work tables and mannequins dressed in half-finished garments. She glided over to a long table covered in papers, picking up a few and laying them side by side on the surface.

“These are Mr Di Santi's main pieces for his new collection. The designers he's employed will be basing their work of these initial designs,” she explained.

Adrien could instantly tell that the designs would be a hit. The sketches were fluid and bold, intricately detailed with things like lace and beads, and the annotations stated the use of fabrics such as silk, chiffon, and velvet. The menswear items were equally impressive. He observed embellished suits, articulated shoes, and silk shirts.

“These are astonishing,” he breathed, picking up one or two designs to inspect the notes closer. A few times he cast an eye around the room to look at some of the designs coming to life on the mannequins. “Mr Di Santi has a great eye for detail.”

Bianca smiled at him, her green eyes glittering. There was a whisper of fierce intelligence behind her outward beauty, and Adrien got the distinct impression that she was a lot more than just a pretty face to show off at fashion galas. No wonder Giacomo had brought her along. An idea suddenly sprung forth in his mind.

“Are there any copies of these that I can keep?” he asked. He knew it was a long shot. Designers were very protective of their work, especially when the collection hadn't debuted yet.

Bianca hesitated, but when she saw the expression on Adrien's face, a knowing smile tweaked at the corner of her mouth.

“Don't tell anyone but her that I gave these to you,” she said quietly, handing him a few A4 sheets out of the filofax.

Adrien looked down at the photocopied designs in his hand, frowning at Bianca's words.

“Sorry, anyone but who?” he asked, looking up at her.

Bianca winked at him, her smile taking on an impish quality that he himself knew all too well.

“The girl, of course.”

Adrien blinked stupidly at her.

“I-sorry? What girl?” he stammered. He couldn't have felt more exposed if she'd just unmasked him as Chat Noir.

Bianca gave him another tinkling laugh.

“Caro, you wear your heart on your sleeve,” she chided, though her tone was friendly, and Adrien gave her a bashful smile, tucking the designs into the inside of his jacket.

The evening got progressively less interesting after that. They returned to the hall and resumed conversation with Giacomo, who questioned Adrien incessantly about his opinion on the designs. Bianca shook Adrien's hand as the evening drew to a close, her eyes sparkling mischievously as she bid him farewell.

The drive home mirrored the earlier journey. No one discussed the gala, his father didn't even look at him as they stepped inside the mansion. But still, Adrien couldn't help himself from smiling broadly as he returned to his room, pulling the designs out of his jacket.

Marinette was going to love them.

 

Chapter Text

As the sunlight gave way to the crisp Parisian night, Marinette transformed, leaping from her balcony to swing across the network of rooftops.

Her and Chat patrolled regularly, but she felt slightly apprehensive at the thought of taking a long stroll with her partner in light of recent events. He was waiting for her when she arrived, perched on a rooftop near the Seine, his legs dangling over the edge as he stared at the river. He turned his head when he heard her arrive, a familiar smile creasing his eyes.

“Good evening, My Lady,” he greeted her pleasantly. 

Marinette's pulse quickened a few beats.

Calm down! She told herself aggressively. This is just a normal patrol, like you usually do.

“Chat Noir,” she responded, giving her partner what she hoped was a professional smile.

“This is one of my favourite views of the city,” he mused, glancing at the lights reflecting off the waters surface before turning to look back at her. “But it can't hold a candle to you.”

Marinette rolled her eyes reflexively, but she clamped her teeth together when she saw the way he was looking at her. Breaking eye contact, she laced her fingers together, stretching her arms over her head.

“Shall we get going?”

Chat hopped to his feet, falling in step beside her as they strolled along the rooftop. His arm swung so close to her that she could feel the faint heat of his knuckles, and for a split second she thought he was going to take her hand.

Chat made idle conversation as they coasted the Parisian skyline, picking light topics that wouldn't lead them to the inevitable conversation that hung in the air. Did she see that new movie that was out? If she had to pick, what would her scariest akuma be like? Where was her favourite place in Paris?

The city was mercifully calm as they skimmed the rooftops, and after an hour they rounded back towards their meeting spot. Chat leapt ahead of her a few roofs, pausing to gaze opposite at an extravagant looking building. Marinette skipped over a chimney to join him, taking in the intricacy of the architecture.

“There was a fancy gala here last night, lots of fashion bigwigs meeting up to discuss their new lines,” he informed her nonchalantly. “I heard even Gabriel Agreste attended.”

There was an odd tone to his voice at the last part, an underlying note of some heavier emotion, and Marinette found herself frowning at him.

“I bet you would have loved it,” he said suddenly, throwing her a sly glance.

Marinette couldn't help but bristle at his words. How much of her did he actually know?

“Rubbing elbows with snobby rich people isn't exactly my thing,” she snorted, trying to pass off her reaction as casual.

“They're not all like that,” Chat argued, a hint of defensiveness in his voice. “I bet you'd have gate crashed.”

“I would not,” she argued, more opposed to the suggestion simply because he looked so convinced. 

“Yeah you would, I know you would,” he affirmed.The smug expression on his face seriously irked her.

Marinette threw her head back with laughter.

“You don't know me very well." 

She instantly regretted the words that had come tumbling out of her mouth. Chat Noir gaped at her, a look of hurt twisting his features, and his voice trembled when he spoke.

“That is not fair.”

It was the closest she'd ever heard him to being angry, and a stone dropped in her stomach at the realisation the she was the culprit.

“You're right, I'm sorry,” she sighed, bringing her hand up to rub her forehead. He was right, she wasn't being fair at all. After all, she had been the one who didn't want them to share their identities.

“You're wrong anyway” Chat's voice cut through her regret, and her head snapped up to look at him. His expression was fiercely resolute, conviction ringing through his tone.

“I do know you. I know you better than anyone else.”

He stepped right up to her, hands lifting to cup her face as he looked firmly into her eyes. 

“I know it's you under there, Marinette." 

Marinette recoiled as if he'd slapped her. She'd known he knew her identity, but hearing him say it out loud was a more than she'd been prepared for. Staring at him wide eyed, her whole body shook, her mouth opening and closing like a fish. Chat was watching her, a strange emotion burning in his eyes that made her feel incredibly exposed. He was looking right at her, straight through her mask.

“How did you figure it out?” she asked after a few moments of silence, her voice hoarse.

“It was a couple of things,” Chat responded quietly, scratching the back of his head. He seemed suddenly nervous, as if he was rethinking his bold choice of words.

“Initially it was your elbow injury, it was too convenient to be just a coincidence. And when you gave me my shirt back, it smelled like your bakery, like you.”

He took a step closer to her whilst he was speaking, and now he stood before her, his expression full of wonder. If she hadn't been so rattled by the affirmation, Marinette probably would have kissed him. Chat reached forward to lightly clasp her fingers, bringing her hand up between them as he stroked his thumb over her knuckles.

“But really, it was when you stood up to Chloe,” he murmured. His smile was so tender that Marinette thought she could cry at the overwhelming rush of affection she felt. It took her a minute to understand his words, before her lips parted in shock.

“You go to my school...”

Chat watched the her process what'd he'd said, his slitted green eyes never leaving hers, though he gave her a small nod. Marinette stared at him, taking in every tiny detail she could. The upturn of his nose, the curve of his lips, the line of his jaw... She let her free hand cross the small space between them to delicately brush a few strands of hair out of his face. The thought that he'd been with her the whole time, that they could even be in the same class.

“We know each other...” she whispered.

Chat Noir didn't respond, but she caught the twitch in the corner of his mouth. Marinette squinted at him, her face screwing up with focus. Chat laughed at the comical expression, throwing his head back so his messy blonde hair fell around his face as his body shook. That completely happy, full, free laugh that made her heart throb. Marinette stepped back, placing her hands on her hips.

“Well I'm glad you find this so amusing!” she huffed, her lips stuck out in a trademark pout.

Chat's laughter faded, but he continued to grin his dazzling smile at her, and Marinette's entire body tingled with joy. He stepped forward, cupping her face with one hand to plant a light kiss on her forehead.

“You're the smartest person I know, Marinette. You'll work it out,” he mumbled against her hair. 

“You won't tell me?” Her voice was quiet.

Chat drew back to look at her, his thumb grazing her cheekbone.

“You know who I am,” he breathed, dipping his head the graze his lips lightly against hers. “You know me.”

There was so much faith in his voice, Marinette felt a warmth bubble up inside her, and the feeling of his lips skimming hers as he spoke sent tiny sparks shooting under her skin.

“You'll see me.”

She blinked at him a few times, before her expression morphed into a determined half-smile. She was going to find him, she promised herself right there and then. That boy who had captured her heart, who was trusting her enough to let her figure it out. 

She was going to fight for him.

 


  

Marinette's pen was completely warped, she'd been chewing the end of it so much. She hadn't been able to shake the thought of Chat out her mind all day, they way he'd looked at her, so completely convinced she could identify him. Whilst his absolute trust in her was flattering, and her heart skipped a beat every time she thought of him standing there with that adoring smile spread across his face, she couldn't help but feel doubt creep into the back of her mind. It didn't help that the teacher kept calling her out for continually looking around the room instead of at her work.

Chat had practically told her they were in the same class when he'd mentioned the way she smelled, and though he had in no way pressured her, she felt as if a ticking clock sat above her head. Marinette was wound so tightly that she nearly jumped three feet in the air when the bell rang for lunch. Alya flinched at her friend's reaction, giving her a worried look.

“Marinette, what's been with you today?” she asked, her tone legitimately concerned.

Marinette propped her elbows on the desk, letting her face drop into her hands.

“Yeah I'm okay, I've just had a lot on my mind,” she sighed.

“Uh uh no, it's more than that,” Alya pressed. “Is it about...?”

Alya jerked her head in Adrien's direction, and Marinette's eyes followed the movement. If she wasn't mistake, Adrien Agreste's shoulders rose a little as Alya trailed off. She sincerely hoped he hadn't heard her. The thought made a spark of panic flare up inside her.

“What? No! It's not that at all!” she cried.

Alya jumped slightly, and Marinette realised with a horrible start that she'd practically shouted at her. Adrien was definitely listening to them now, his head had turned half an inch at her outburst, though he was probably being polite in pretending he wasn't hearing every word of the conversation.

“It's not,” Marinette whispered to her friend, trying to the shrillness in her voice to a minimum. “It's... something else.”

Alya watched her thoughtfully, like she would find the answer to her inevitable torrent of questions in the pinch between Marinette's eyebrows.

“You are gonna tell me all about this later,” she proclaimed after a second of silence. The tone of her voice made it clear that it wasn't a negotiation.

Marinette sighed, giving her friend a small smile for not interrogating her in the middle of the classroom. As she began packing her books away, she heard a mild tone speak to her over the desktop. 

“Hey, Marinette. Can I talk to you?”

Marinette looked up to see Adrien smiling at her, an open, friendly look on his perfectly handsome face. It took her a minute to realise he'd actually spoken to her. She felt Alya's hand pat her on the shoulder briefly.

“I'm so sorry Marinette, I just remembered I forgot to post something on the Ladyblog!” she exclaimed loudly, skipping out of the classroom, an ear-to-ear grin splitting her face. “I'll call you later!”

Very subtle, Alya, Marinette thought to herself.

She turned back to Adrien. What had he said to her? A question, he'd asked her a question!

“I -er- Yeah. Yes, okay,” she managed to choke out, feeling the blush already blossoming up her throat.

Adrien looked around the classroom, waiting for the last few students to leave. Chloe paused in the doorway, shooting Marinette a disgusted before she flounced off down the hall. Whatever he wanted to say to her, he wanted to say in private, and the thought made Marinette's throat constrict. When the room was empty, Adrien bent down to rummage in his bag, pulling out a few sheets of paper.

“You're into fashion, right?” he asked, an eager glimmer in his eyes.

“Well, yeah! I mean- Yeah, I like designing so... Um...” she trailed off, not wanting to say something to embarrass herself further.

“I managed to get these from a friend,” Adrien told her, dropping his voice to a low murmur as he slid the sheets across the desk towards her. “But you can't let anyone see them because they're from the new collection.

Marinette hesitantly peeled the sheets off the table, as if they might spontaneously combust if she jostled them too much. The sheets were covered in full length design sketches, each more intricate than the last. Marinette caught her breath as she saw the name Di Santi scrawled in the corner of a few.

“These are Giacomo Di Santi's designs,” she whispered, too awed to even find her voice.

She suddenly felt as if she was holding the pages too roughly, as if they were made of gossamer and she were and ham-fisted gorilla clumsily tearing at them. She shifted her grip to hold the sheets very delicately by the edges, trying to touch as little of them with her bare hands as she could. Marinette heard Adrien chuckle, and she peeked over the top of the designs to see him observing her reaction, a very satisfied smile on his lips.

“Do you like them?” he enquired politely.

“I- I... I mean-...” Marinette was completely speechless.

She couldn't believe Adrien had gotten her these designs just because he thought she'd like them. There wasn't a single thing she could say that could fully express her gratitude. When she didn't say anything, Adrien's smile slipped a little, shaking Marinette back to the present.

“These are amazing! Thank you so much, Adrien! Thank you thank you thank you!”

Adrien beamed at her, and Marinette thought the room would implode with the sheer power of her exuberance.

I could kiss you!

The thought brought her crashing painfully back to earth, and she abruptly stopped smiling as a horribly vivid image of Chat Noir popped up in her mind. Adrien blinked at her sudden change in mood, his lips parting as if he was about to say something. Seeming to think better of it, he stood up, pulling a blue scarf out of his bag and wrapping it around his neck. Marinette felt herself tense at the sight of Adrien wearing her gift, smiling down at her with such kindness.

She didn't know what to feel, not anymore. Here was the boy she'd been crushing on for almost a year, sneaking her high-end fashion designs and gazing at her like he couldn't think of anywhere else he'd rather be, and instead of being overcome with delight, Marinette felt sick.

“Keep them under your hat, okay?” He said with a wink, reaching out to lightly grasp her shoulder, though the tightness around his eyes suggested he recognised there was something off about her reaction.

His touch was like lightning, firing straight through her body down to her feet, and she watched with growing anxiety as he left the classroom. Staring down at the illustrations, Marinette felt herself begin to tremble. She couldn't let herself get distracted by Adrien, not now, not with Chat counting on her. She felt like she'd betrayed him, as if somehow having feelings for Adrien still (diminished though they were) made her a liar. She closed her eyes, exhaling heavily, pulling all the things she knew about Chat forward in her mind.

Come on Marinette, you can do this! You're Ladybug!

He wore designer clothes, he had blonde hair and green eyes, he wore a silver ring on his right hand, he went to the same school as her... 

Marinette felt like kicking herself. It was as if she was missing one tiny piece of the puzzle, and it was preventing her from seeing the bigger picture. A loud cry came from the hallway, disrupting her train of thought, and she ran to the corridor to see the commotion, slipping the designs into her bag. Nino was sprawled on top of Adrien, his glasses knocked askew and a goofy grin on his face. He'd apparently come looking for his friend and had bumped into him whilst rounding the corner. When Marinette's eyes turned on Adrien lying on the floor, her heart stopped beating.

It was like someone had stopped time. Adrien's neatly combed back hair had shaken out in a mess around his face, a few strands falling into his eyes. His head was thrown back with laughter, and the sound of it ringing through the hallway struck Marinette to the very core. She knew that sound, she'd know it anywhere. A hot rush crashed through her veins, and her breath caught in her throat as Adrien turned his glittering green eyes too look at her.

It was then that she saw Chat.

She saw him in every millimetre of the incorrigible smirk that curled the corner of his lips. 

Chapter Text

It didn't usually rain in Paris around that time of year, but today the sun had been muted by dark storm clouds that stained the sky.

Adrien sat watching the shadowed skyline out of the huge windows in his room, a tiny crease between his eyebrows. He could hear Plagg on the desk behind him, messily chomping on a hefty wedge of camembert, and he sighed.

“I don't see what the big deal is,” Plagg complained around a mouthful of cheese. “It's not like she could have confronted you in class anyway.”

“It's been hours, Plagg. I thought we'd have at least heard something by now,” Adrien replied, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

He'd seen the way Marinette had looked at him in the hall, it was the same look she got when she worked out how to use her lucky charm. Like a moment of certain and complete clarity. But she'd pointedly ignored him the remainder of the school day, and when she'd dashed out of the door without so much as a backwards glance after class he'd been too stunned to call after her.

Now, hours later, what could be seen of the sun was gradually descending below the horizon, and Adrien hadn't even had so much as a message from Alya telling him that Marinette wanted to see him. He pressed his lips together in a twisted line as the clouds finally broke, fat droplets of rain pinging against the glass of his windows.

“If you want to talk to her so much, why don't you just call her?” Plagg suggested, not even attempting to keep the labour out of his voice.

Adrien turned round to look at his kwami, shaking his head as his shoulders dropped with dejection.

“I was trying to give her space. I thought she'd want to talk after she found out, but maybe...?”

A thought he hadn't even considered struck Adrien like a shard of ice through his heart.

“Maybe she doesn't like that I'm Chat Noir?”

The words tasted bitter in his mouth, and Adrien couldn't stop the horrible, crippling feeling of rejection from squatting itself down on top of his heart. Plagg paused his chewing momentarily, a rare look of concern crossing his face at his charge's completely heartbroken expression.

“Don't be stupid, Adrien. She probably just needs time to consider what a fantstically handsome kwami you must have,” he chanted, flying over to perch himself on Adrien's shoulder.

Plagg's impish grin slipped a little when Adrien didn't even complain about the stench of his cheese. He hesitated, before reaching out and gently patting his charge's cheek in an uncharacteristic display of affection.

“She'll come round,” he told him, at a loss for how else to comfort the blonde.

“Your'e probably right,” Adrien sighed after a minute, walking back over to the window to watch the torrential rain distort the view of Paris through the glass.

Plagg had hovered off Adrien's shoulder, staying by the desk as the teen walked towards the dim light coming from the huge windows. He took another bite of cheese absently, deciding it best just to leave him brood for a while. After all what was the rush?

“I still maintain that cheese if far better tha-”

Adrien heard a soft thump, and spun around when his kwami abruptly stopped speaking. His mouth fell open at what he saw. Never in his entire time knowing Plagg had he seen the kwami put down a piece of camembert, but there on the desk lay the half-eaten chunk of cheese, as if the kwami had dropped it. Plagg was hovering completely still in midair, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. The little cat's slitted pupils were detracted into pinpricks, and his whiskers quivered wildly. The sight was fairly shocking, and Adrien dashed over to check he was okay.

“Plagg? Plagg!”

The kwami's eyes twitched, his mouth snapping shut like he was trying to hold his breath. After a few tense seconds, Plagg's tiny chest puffed out with the effort of keeping in whatever imaginary breath he held, before suddenly -

Balcony!”

It was as if the word had been forcibly ejected out of his mouth, like squeezing a tube of toothpaste until the top popped off. Plagg gasped heavily, his whole body drooping as he plopped down on the desktop. Adrien stared at him wide-eyed as he pulled himself towards the remaining piece of cheese, curling his small body around it and munching grumpily as he shot the model an indignant glare.

“I hope she's worth it! Of all the ill-mannered, discourteous, rude things to do...” Plagg grumbled.

The cogs in Adrien's mind clicked together, and he had to stop himself from yelling in triumph.

“Plagg! Transform!”

No sooner had his suit melded itself around his body, he was out the room, streaking across the rooftops, zipping around the chimneys so fast he almost knocked a few over. The rain rolled off his suit, but his wet hair stuck fast to his forehead as he sped over the tiles. Chat slowed his frantic pace as he approached Marinette's bakery. Through the windows of her room he could see her pacing back and forth, her phone attached to her ear and a somewhat pained expression on her face. She was dressed in a simple vest and cardigan, her legs clad in cropped leggings that beautifully showed off her lean muscles, and she'd taken her pigtails out to shake her hair loose around her shoulders. He guessed she was probably talking to Alya – she was making a lot of wild hand gestures and chewing her bottom lip. After she'd hung up, Chat spotted a small red figure float into view. Her kwami, he assumed.

Marinette nodded vigorously at whatever the little companion was saying to her, and Chat clasped his fingers in to a fist at his side as he realised with growing apprehension that they were probably discussing him. As if sensing his presence, Marinette's eyes suddenly snapped to his, widening as she took in the sight of him stood on a neighbouring rooftop in the pouring rain. Chat didn't even have time to give her a sheepish wave before she'd shot up the ladder, throwing the hatch on her terrace open and stepping out into the downpour. Chat leapt onto her terrace, landing carefully to avoid slipping on the metal railing.

“We should go inside, it's pouring out here!” he called over the loud splashing of raindrops.

Through the wet haze he could see Marinette regarding him fiercely, an unexplainable emotion on her face. She looked both resolute and terrified. Within seconds she was soaked, the rain plastering her loose hair to her face and darkening her clothes, though she barely noticed.

“You!”

Chat flinched at the tremble in her voice. She sounded... Angry. Hesitantly, he took a step forwards, lifting his hands as he began to reach for her. Marinette beat him to it. She marched forward so quickly he scuttled back a few paces. It didn't stop her. She stormed right up to him, her head stuck out to compensate for their height difference.

YOU! It was you the whole time! I can't believe... I can't believe this!”

Marinette threw her hands up in the air, whirling around to storm back along the terrace.

“Marinette I-”

She whipped around to march back towards him, her teeth gritted.

“It is you, isn't it? And every day in class, you just- You just sat there and you knew!” Her voice cracked, and with it Chat's heart.

She rubbed her temples, her head dropping to her chest so her wet hair fell around her face in curtains.

“And you just pretended...” She spoke with definitive exasperation, and Chat had to strain to hear the words over the torrent of raindrops that drummed as loud as bullets hitting the terrace.

He didn't know what to do. He'd never seen Marinette look quite so... Uncertain. Hell, he didn't think he'd seen her look uncertain period. She looked tiny stood there in the rain, her clothes soaked through and her feet bare. A terrible wave of sadness choked his heart, and he felt a thick lump form in his throat as he leapt to the worst conclusion.

“I'm sorry I'm not the person you were expecting,” he managed to say resignedly, shutting his eyes as he waited for the rejection.

“What?”

Chat's eyes snapped open, his gaze locking with hers across the small space between them. Marinette looked mildly horrified, surprise and confusion creasing her features. He shifted uncomfortably, unsure of how to behave, of how she expected him to behave.

“You should get inside, you'll catch a c-”

“Is that what you thought?” Marinette interrupted him. She sounded shocked, upset, angry even. “That I'd be disappointed?”

Chat hadn't even realised it himself, but Marinette had put it into words. Strong, beautiful, smart Marinette had known him better than he'd known himself. He had been worried. He'd been worried she wouldn't be able to love two parts of himself as a whole, that she'd pick either one or the other because she couldn't believe he would be both. He silently cursed himself for his foolishness – he should have given his Lady so much more credit.

“I just thought...” Chat trailed off.

He couldn't put his feelings into words. He looked down at his ring, glowing like a green beacon through the grey obscurity of the rain, and took a deep breath, letting his eyes slide close.

“Transformation... release...”

The subsiding magic hadn't even reached Adrien's waist before he felt a pair of small hands grab his face, pulling him forward. His eyes sprang open as Marinette flattened her mouth against his, one of her hands moving to grab his collar. He made a noise of surprise at her impulsive action, but when she made no move to let go he settled his hands lightly on her waist, his eyes fluttering closed. Adrien felt the end of his transformation peel the mask from his face, the rain soaking his exposed skin and clothes so that they stuck to his body.

His whole body felt like it was going to burst with the electricity that coursed through him. He'd never felt like this, so exposed and raw and alive. He'd spent his entire life being sheltered and doted upon, and his home life had made him shut himself off, distancing his heart from anything that could hurt him. But Marinette had come and pulled it from the cage he'd locked it in. She'd strode into his life and broken down his walls, allowing him to pour his soul into her, and she was accepting it with her arms open, holding onto him in the rain because she needed him.

Marinette pulled away slightly, leaving only inches between their lips, taking a shuddering breath as she slowly opened her eyes.

She let out a small gasp, her grip on his shirt loosening a little as she stared at him. A symphony of emotions crossed her face – shock, fear, nervousness, finally settling on something akin to awe. Adrien smiled shyly at her, and Marinette's face softened into a gaze of such warmth and adoration that he wanted to wrap his arms around her and never let go.

“I could never be disappointed with you,” she promised, and the conviction in her tone made Adrien's heart soar.

“You saw me,” he murmured, the joy reverberating in his voice.

Marinette gave him a watery smile as she looped her arms around his neck.

“How could I have missed you?”

Adrien felt his trademark grin stretch across his face, and Marinette snorted.

“You don't have to look so pleased with yourself,” she scolded.

“But I am pleased with myself, Princess,” he purred, resting his forehead against hers.

He watched as a familiar pink flush warmed her cheeks, a firm feeling of satisfaction curling in his chest. Adrien wrapped his arms tightly around her lithe frame, holding her flush against him and letting the warmth of her body sink into him through their drenched clothes. He tilted his head, watching Marinette's eyes tentatively flicker closed in anticipation as he leant towards her. His lips had barely skimmed hers when -

BAH! What is this?! Don't you know cat's hate water? Get me inside right now!

Plagg head butted him in the ribs, and Adrien and Marinette jumped apart. Adrien peered under his sopping wet shirt to see a very disgruntled kwami clinging desperately to any fabric that remained dry.

“Come on,” Marinette commanded over the rain, lacing her fingers around Adrien's wrist and dashing over to the hatch.

 


Marinette dropped down the ladder into her room, Adrien following close behind. His kwami threw himself onto the daybed dramatically.

“Ooooh my whiskers! This is a disaster! I'll never be dry again!” he cried hysterically.

He hadn't been lying down ten seconds before a small red blob shot across the room, barrelling into his limp form and dragging him up into the air.

“Plagg!” Tikki cried joyously, her tiny arms squeezing her friend tightly as she practically vibrated with happiness.

Plagg wretched as she squeezed him, scrambling to get away from the spotted kwami.

“Tikki, stop it! I'm wounded! And how dare you hug me after that stunt earlier, forcing a message out of me. I thought you were supposed to be well-mannered,” Plagg puffed irritably, making a big display of grooming his whiskers.

Tikki shot him an annoyed look before giggling and flying over to hug him again, gentler this time. Plagg looked like he was going to complain further, but his frown gave way to a begrudging smile and he wrapped his arms around his friend in return.

“That's Tikki,” Marinette whispered to Adrien as they watched the odd exchange.

Tikki detached herself from Plagg to make her way over to the blonde.

“It's a pleasure to meet you Adrien!” she chirped, extending her tiny hand.

Adrien chuckled, reaching his index finger out for Tikki to shake.

“It's very nice to meet you, too, Tikki,” he responded, give the kwami a brilliant smile that seemed to dazzle her for a second.

“Marinette, this is Plagg,” he explained, gesturing towards his black companion.

Marinette gave him a small wave. “Hi, Plagg.”

Plagg looked her up and down, giving her a huff of acknowledgement as he tossed one of his whiskers. Tikki smacked him on the arm.

“Sorry, he's not very polite,” Adrien apologised, scratching the back of his head.

Marinette giggled.

“I'll get us some towels,” she declared, ducking the hatch out of her room.

As she dutifully pulled a few towels from the airing cupboard, she carefully processed the turn of events her day had taken. Here was Adrien Agreste, a boy she'd unwittingly been fighting alongside for months, a boy who she'd had a hopeless crushing on, who she'd been kissing, and now he was upstairs in her bedroom. She still couldn't quite wrap her head around it, but the memories stirred something within her.

He'd always trusted her, even when he hadn't actually known who she was. As Chat he'd never hesitated to follow her lead or take a hit for her. And as Adrien too, not once had he failed to be kind to her, even when she hadn't been able to speak to him properly. Marinette sighed blissfully as she made her way back up the ladder.

Adrien was standing in front of her desk, looking at the pictures she'd stuck to the wall. He quirked an eyebrow at her as she clambered up through the hatch.

“Nice display,” he quipped, turning towards her with a smirk.

Marinette's eyes moved from his to the pictures, and her face turned the same colour as her wallpaper. Of the photographs and magazine clippings plastered to her wall, about 80% were of Adrien.

“I've been meaning to take those down,” she said quietly, hiding her face in the fluffy towels she held to her chest.

Adrien's laugh was so low it sounded more like a growl, and Marinette chucked a towel at him with considerable force, her face screwed up in an effort to mask her embarrassment. She'd even brought up a small hand towel for Plagg, who made a scene about wrapping himself in it and reclining woefully on the daybed as Tikki stroked his head soothingly (though her expression suggested she felt anything BUT soothing).

Marinette watched with growing surprise as Adrien peeled his white shirt off, draping it over the back of her chair, before grabbing the hem of his black T-shirt and pulling it over his head.

“What are you doing?!” she managed to splutter, feeling her face grow very very red.

Adrien's head emerged from the neck of his now discarded shirt and he looked at her with bemusement, taking a few seconds to realise that he was topless. In her room. With her. Alone. He had the good grace to actually look slightly ashamed.

“Sorry! I just- Well you wouldn't want this knight of yours to catch cold now, would you?” he responded with a wink, though she noticed their was a bashful air to his cockiness. He wrapped the fluffy towel around his shoulders.

Marinette clamped her lips together, afraid of what would come spilling out.

“I'm going to change so don't - Don't look, okay?” she stammered, trying to avoid his gaze.

Adrien turned around to face the wall obediently. Marinette waited a few seconds in case he thought about being smart, but when he made no attempt to peek she remembered with a rush of affection that despite all his flirting, he was actually a gentleman.

She quickly stripped out of her sodden clothes, throwing on her pyjamas and tossing her wet clothes onto the radiator. She noticed Adrien's shoulders stiffen a little at the rustling of her clothes, but he remained staring diligently at the wall.

“I'm done,” she called as she towel-dried her hair, and Adrien turned around to face her, letting out a breath she didn't know he'd been holding.

He stared at her for a second, his eyes uninhibitedly roaming down her figure, and she tensed at his curiosity. The way he was looking at her felt extremely intimate, and he swallowed, tearing his eyes away to wrap the towel tighter around his shoulders.

“I've got an old shirt of my dad's you can wear,” Marinette informed him, and he smiled gratefully at her as she handed it to him out of her drawer, hastily slipping it over his head.

Marinette shivered: Though she hadn't noticed it before, the cold from the rain had worked its way under her skin, and she was struggling to shake the lingering iciness.

“You're cold!” Adrien exclaimed, suddenly noticing the way she was wrapping her clothes around her.

“I'll be fine,” Marinette told him brightly, smiling despite the chill.

Adrien took a step towards her, paused as if thinking twice about his actions, before wrapping his arms around her, puling her tightly to his chest. The effect was instant. Marinette felt the heat of his body flood her, warming every cell of her being. She tucker her head under his chin, her arms sliding around his waist, and she held him tightly, closing her eyes and letting the feeling of warmth and safety and rightness envelop her.

“Are we okay?” Adrien whispered after a minute. There was so much emotion in his voice that Marinette felt her heart throb.

She pulled away, lifting her hand to cup his face so she could stare into his eyes. He looked at her like she was his whole world, and the sentiment was enough to knock the wind right out of her.

“Of course we're okay, you silly cat,” she laughed, though not unkindly, and Adrien's ensuing smile could have lit up the whole of Paris.

She wriggled out of his grip to punch him lightly in the arm.

“I'm still mad about class though,” she grumbled.

Adrien laughed, his eyes sparking wickedly.

There he is, Marinette thought to herself. She couldn't believe she hadn't seen it before.

“I'm sure you thought winding me up was soooooo amusing!”

“Maybe a little bit,” Adrien smirked at her, and Marinette moved to punch him again.

Adrien caught her wrist, pulling her towards him as he abruptly stopped laughing. He dipped his head to brush a chaste kiss against her lips, the almost-sweet smell of his skin lingering as he pulled away to rest his forehead against hers.

“So, Princess,” he murmured with a smile. “What now?”

 


Adrien was the happiest boy in the world.

The past week had been the best of his life. After that day at Marinette's, the two had settled into a familiar rhythm at school. When they'd come into class one day joking and laughing together, he thought Alya's jaw was going to drop right through the desk. At one point he'd slipped his hand into Marinette's whilst they were walking down the hallway. She'd jumped, but when she saw who it was she'd laced her fingers with his, her cheeks turning a pretty pink that made Adrien feel more smug than kit rightly should.

Alya had cornered him coming out of the boys' locker room one afternoon.

“So are you and Marinette dating now?” she enquired, the hard look in her eye betraying her light tone.

“Oh! Hey Alya... I- Well, we're just... Er,” he stammered back.

Alya wagged a finger in his face.

Don't mess her around, okay?”

Her tone made Adrien fear for his life, though she gave him a light-hearted smile as she sauntered away. He would never mess Marinette around, but he was happy that she had a friend like Alya to fight in her corner.

As the current school day ended, Adrien took Marinette's hand to walk outside the front of school together, an action that had become so familiar now that he could hardly believe he'd spent so long missing out on the delicate warmth of her fingers entwined with his. His standard silver car pulled up at the curb to collect him, and he turned to Marinette with a sigh. He wished his schedule wasn't so strict so he could spend more time with her after school, but despite his requests his father hadn't allowed him and leeway.

“I've gotta go. I'll see you tonight, okay?” he said, a tell tale smile quirking his lips.

“Don't be late,” Marinette respond with a wink, and Adrien's heart thudded.

He loved how confident she was with him now, it was one of his favourite things about her. Not to be out done, though, he leant forward to give her a farewell kiss on the cheek, smirking at the blush that shot up her face. As the car pulled away, he saw Chloe storm up to Marinette, no doubt to antagonise her over the development in their relationship, and his wish to stay tripled.

He looked over at Natalie sat next to him, who was uncharacteristically wringing her fingers, her usually impassive face looking slightly strained.

“Is everything okay?”

Natalie's eyes snapped towards him, and she lay her hands flat on her legs.

“Everything is fine, thank you.” Her response was short, clipped, but there was an underlying uneasiness that bothered Adrien.

As he stepped through the giant doors to his house, his father was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. Adrien's unease grew, and he spotted an arrangement of suitcases standing by the bottom of the stairs.

“Good afternoon, father,” he greeted formally.

His father's stern expression didn't change.

“Adrien.”

“What's with the suitcases?"

Gabriel's eyes didn't blink, his brow didn't furrow, he showed no hint of emotion.

“Mr Di Santi has been very pleased with your modelling work. As we are releasing a collaborative work next season, he's eager for you to model the new line in order to represent the involvement of our company,” Gabriel explained.

Adrien's brain kicked into gear as his father words fell into place, and the horrible feeling of dread crawled over his skin. The next words Gabriel spoke felt like a kick in the stomach.

“You'll be moving to Italy for a year.”

 

Chapter Text

“Where's your favourite place in the city?” Adrien had asked her over lunch.

The two were sat in the school courtyard, mechanically munching on sandwiches. Marinette had brought freshly baked pastries from home. Since she'd found out Adrien had a particular fondness for mille-feuille, she'd made sure to bring them in as often as she could, for which he always thanked her with a smile that made her heart swell.

“The Eiffel Tower,” Marinette replied without hesitation. “I really love being up there when it's all lit up, you can see all of Paris.” She sighed wistfully as her memory of the view danced behind her eyes.

“What about yours?”

“Anywhere you are is my favourite place, Princess,” Adrien said around a mouthful of the creamy pastry, one eyebrow quirking up.

Marinette shot him a look and he chuckled, covering his mouth with his hand to stop pastry crumbs flying everywhere as his body trembled with mirth. He swallowed the mouthful, his laughter halting and his eyes become misty.

“Actually, there's this abandoned hall by the Pont-Neuf that I really like. I think it used to be a two-story restaurant. Probably a fancy one, too, since the chandelier's still there. There's a full sized grand piano on the second floor that's still in tune. They must not have been able to get it down the stairs when the place closed down.”

“Isn't that the one that people think is haunted?” Marinette enquired, tilting her head thoughtfully.

“Oh?” Adrien's voice held the lilt of someone who was struggling not to laugh.

“Yeah,” Marinette continued. “I've heard sometimes passers-by can hear a piano being played, but whenever anyone goes to investigate there's no one there and the piano abruptly stops playing.”

She flicked her eyes in Adrien's direction to catch him wearing the most smug expression she'd ever seen, and that was saying something. Her mouth opened in an “O” as the pieces fell in place.

“You shameless, wise-cracking alley cat!” she scolded, smacking him in the arm.

He caught her hand, pressing a kiss to her palm as he turned that dreamy smile to her.

“Marinette...” his voice was like honey, sweet, thick, pouring over her.

“Marinette...?”

“MARINETTE!”

Alya's shouting brought her crashing back down to earth.

“Thinking about a particular dreamboat with perfect hair again?” she teased.

“What? No! I was just- I mean he does have perfect hair, doesn't he?”

Alya rolled her eyes, looping her arm around Marinette's shoulders as they walked.

“Don't think you're wiggling outta this one, girl. You still haven't told me exactly how you and Adrien got talking. I need details, Marinette!”

Alya had pulled out her phone to record a video, putting on her best reporters voice.

“You're here with me today for an exclusive interview with the one and only Miss Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Do tell me, Miss DC – How is that that you became the girlfriend of the school's hottest and most beloved celebrity model, Mr Adrien Agreste?”

Marinette pushed the phone away lightly with one finger.

“Alya! Come on, I'm not his girlfriend!”

Alya crossed her arms, a heavily skeptical look on her face.

“Mmmmhmmm. And if you're not his girlfriend then what exactly are you?”

The question gave Marinette pause, her brain working overtime to find an appropriate way to brand their budding relationship. Friend? No, they were so much more than that. Partner? That sounded way too formal, even if their alter egos were partners...

“We're just... We're like – kinda like... Y'know?” Marinette stuttered, tilting her laced fingers forward whilst giving her best friend what she hoped was an appeasing grin.

Alya tapped her foot impatiently, placing her hands on her hips.

“No, I don't know.”

On and on and on the barrage of questions went, seemingly flowing out of Alya like a river. When did they first talk? Where was their first date? Had they even had a first date yet? Was he a good kisser? Marinette flushed crimson at that one, sending Alya whooping with delight and spurring her onto another string of decidedly more personal questions.

Marinette was almost grateful her house wasn't too far away from school, so she could dodge Alya's reenactment of the Spanish Inquisition. That didn't stop the ambitious reporter though. Not two hours after the pair had said their goodbyes then she was on the phone, grilling Marinette for every morsel of information the girl could give her.

“Boy, she sure is excited, huh?” sympathised Tikki when Marinette had hung up after almost 90 minutes.

“I know, I just wish she'd let us work out what we are before she has to,” sighed Marinette.

The attack from Alya had left her feeling emotionally drained, and she relished the freedom of the crisp night air that Ladybug gave her. She landed lightly out of a perfect somersault on their usual rooftop near the Seine, looking around for Chat. When she couldn't see him, she sat down on the ledge, dangling her legs over the pavement far below. After fifteen minutes had passed without a stir, Marinette reached for her compact, pressing the button on the middle to call her partner.

The tone rang for a few seconds before going dead, and Marinette frowned, a spike of worry flaring in her gut. That was odd. Chat never missed their patrols. She hopped into a crouch, pulling back her arm ready to launch her yoyo to the next rooftop. If Chat wasn't coming to her, then she was going to him. Adrien's house wasn't far away, she could make it in a few minutes. Her arm swept forward, catapulting the yoyo through the air, though as it passed her ear she heard it beep. Catching the wire, she hurriedly yanked it back into her outstretched palm. The middle button of the compact was flashing green, and she pressed it to open the screen.

Can't make it tonight. Something's come up. No need to worry. I'm sorry. CN x

Marinette read the words on the screen once, twice, three times. What on earth could have come up that would make him miss patrol? She wanted to go to him, to swing across the building as fast as physics would allow until she was at his side, ready to face whatever it was with him. But his last sentence made her hesitate.

No need to worry.

That was Chat-speak for “don't come check on me”, and her frown escalated to her biting her lip with concern. Whatever it was, he didn't want her there, and whilst she felt a stab of hurt, she respected him enough to give him his space.

She could do the patrol on her own tonight.

 


Adrien's seat was empty at school the next day.

Marinette's concern sky-rocketed to full-blown panic when he wouldn't answer his phone, and she was so jittery she almost fell out of her chair twice when the teacher barked at her for not taking notes. Alya kept rubbing her arm reassuringly, repeating that everything would be alright and that he probably just had an unscheduled photo shoot or something. Nino gave her a thumbs-up a couple of times, but she saw how his eyes lingered on the bare seat next to him, his smile faltering as he turned around.

This wasn't like Adrien. He'd have at least texted her if he had a shoot. Something was very wrong. Marinette could feel it in her bones. Alya tried to lift the tone by surprising her with some new questions about the nature of her relationship with Adrien that she'd thought up the night before, but even her banter couldn't draw Marinette out of worry well she'd sunk into.

She barely spoke on the way home, clasping and unclasping her hands at her chest as Alya tried tirelessly to take her mind of the blonde's absence. Her mood deteriorated even more when Alya gave her a long squeeze of farewell, trying and failing to keep the apprehension out of her eyes.

As soon as she was upstairs, Marinette popped open her bag, letting Tikki fly out.

“Can you get a message to Plagg?” she asked gravely.

Tikki regarded her charge with extreme concern, before screwing up her face in concentration, her antenna curling into spirals with the effort. After a few seconds of endeavour, she sighed sadly.

“He's not responding,” she told Marinette, clutching her hands together as her friend's face fell. “I'm sorry, Marinette.”

“Where is he? There must be something you can do?!” Marinette implored, her voice rising with desperation.

Tikki flinched back, and Marinette's eyes widened with shock at her outburst.

“I'm sorry, Tikki. I didn't mean to yell.”

Tikki floated over, reaching out to stroke Marinette's cheek.

“There's no need to worry, I'm sure he's just got caught up with something,” Tikki comforted.

The warm confidence in her tone made Marinette relax a little. She was getting way ahead of herself, of course there was a reasonable explanation for this. Adrien would probably come sauntering back into class tomorrow with some ridiculous pun as to why he was absent. Her phone rang in her pocket and she scrambled like a mad woman to pull it out of her jeans. Her heart sank a little when she saw Alya's name on the screen, but she pressed the button to answer anyway.

“Alya I'm really not in the mood to answer any more of your questions tonight,” she began, the weariness evident in her tone.

“It's not that! Marinette, it's all over the news!”

The fear and sadness in Alya's voice made Marinette sit blot upright, her heart firing into a drumroll as terror crashed through her. What Alya said next made her throat close up.

“Adrien's gone missing.”

 


Adrien wandered through the cobbled streets, his hoodie pulled down low over his face.

In his pocket, his phone buzzed relentlessly, though he'd put it on silent. Pulling it out to glance at the screen, he was surprised at the stream of messages.

Nino: Dude where are you? Everything okay?

Nino: Seriously buddy, I'm getting worried. Call me, okay?

Alya: Adrien where are you? You're freaking everyone out.

Nino: C'mon man, we're seriously flipping out. Disappearing ain't cool!

Alya: If this is an attempt to ditch Marinette I WILL FIND YOU

Father: Come home now.

Adrien's eyes narrowed at his father's text. There wasn't even a hint of worry. It was as if he was speaking to a child throwing a tantrum. Condescending. Impatient. Adrien's phone beeped again as he received a new message. It was from Marinette.

Mari: Are you ok?

His tired heart quivered a little through his black mood. That was Marinette all over – No demanding to know his whereabouts, no insistence that he call her to explain his actions. Her first thought was for his well-being. He allowed himself a rueful smile before pocketing his phone without responding. Even though Marinette's concern meant the world to him, he couldn't bring himself to see her. Not yet.

He made his way onto the Pont-Neuf, enjoying the long stretch across the river, ducking his head as people walked by to avoid being recognised as the missing son of Gabriel Agreste from the news report. His father had ordered a city-wide search for him in the day since he'd vanished after locking himself in his room, though his depression told him it was more likely done to drag him back to heel than it was out of actual concern. Making his way to the end of the bridge, he gazed up at the shabby abandoned building, the one with the grand piano he loved. Walking up to one of the ground floor windows, he waited until the last few stragglers had disappeared around the street corner to kick in the boards fixed over the window.

“You know...” Plagg began, his head popping out of Adrien's hoodie pocket. “If you transformed you could just leap upstairs. You wouldn't have to go through all this vandalism.”

“Since when do you complain about getting some time off?” responded Adrien, trying to keep the bitterness from colouring his otherwise light-hearted observation.

He didn't want to do this as Chat Noir. He wanted to do something as Adrien.

Plagg shrugged, though his whiskers drooped a little with concern for his charge. Adrien took his time walking through the building, struggling to take in the crumbling embellishments of the room in the darkness. He almost wished he had the night vision his transformation offered, though not quite enough to rouse his kwami. His hand skimmed the dusty gold banister as he carefully climbed the stairs to the second floor, his footsteps echoing eerily through the vastness of the building. Plagg shifted uneasily.

“Adrien let's go, this place is creepy. And I am NOT sticking around to transform if a ghost pops up.”

Adrien smiled comfortingly at the kwami.

“It's not creepy, Plagg. It's just... Neglected.”

He rounded the top of the stairs, and the grand piano came into view in the limited light. The cracks in the boards covering the windows allowed the streetlights to peek in, casting muted streaks across the room. Approaching slowly, he ran his fingers lightly across the keys, feeling them with his eyes closed before settling down on the dusty stool.

His fingers began moving, pulling the piece of music from memory, playing as if he were doing something as simple as brushing his hair out of his face. It was natural, instinctive, graceful.

Adrien heard her arrival before he turned around to see her. Of course she came here, he knew she would. His fingers delicately stroked out the final few bars of the piece, the last note hanging in the air as it echoed around the huge room.

“Le fantôme du Pont-Neuf,” he heard Marinette say reverently.

He turned around to face her as she released her transformation, the pink glow momentarily illuminating the room.

“The fearless Princess who investigates,” he responded, his smile audible in the ensuing darkness.

“Chopin?” she enquired, wandering over to him across the dusty floor.

“Very astute, My Lady,” he announced, puffing his chest out and jerking his chin upwards in his best impression of the stuffy upper class patrons his father regularly introduced him to.

“Adrien...” Marinette breathed.

He could hear the sadness and concern and fear in her voice, and his shoulders sagged. Just like that, she saw right through him. Adrien sighed, turning back towards the piano as Marinette slid onto the stool beside him. She softly brought her fingers to his chin, tenderly turning his head to look her in the eye.

“Please. Tell me what's going on.”

Adrien's mouth wouldn't work. What could he say to her? They'd only just found each other and now she was being ripped away from him in the cruelest fashion. He didn't want to hurt Marinette, he didn't want to go to Italy, he wanted to stay here in the shell of grandeur with the warmth of her fingers grazing his skin. When he didn't reply, Marinette took a deep breath, a smile brightening her face as she gazed at the ivory keys of the piano.

“I love the piano,” she murmured. “I've always wanted to play, but I never really got a chance to take lessons.”

Adrien watched her entranced as she ghosted her fingertips delicately over the keys, C, F, G, C 8th.

“But you can play,” he whispered, standing up to step behind her, Marinette watching him bemusedly.

He ran his fingers from her elbows down the underside of her forearms, until his hands were underneath hers, her slender fingers covering his. Adrien took a breath, resting his chin on her shoulder, and began playing.

His fingers danced over the keys, Marinette's own fingers feather-light atop his as they moved in tandem. Adrien coaxed a beautiful melody out of the piano, the notes ringing through the hall, sweet, melancholy, yearning...

The couple's hands moved together as Adrien brushed the last few keys to finish the piece, and he turned his hands over to intertwine his fingers with Marinette's.

“You see?” he whispered into her ear, his forehead resting against her temple. “You play the piano beautifully.”

Marinette turned her head towards him, tilted her chin up to catch his lips with a soft kiss. Adrien sat back down on the stool as she pulled away. She didn't say anything, she simply watched him sadly, waiting for him to speak.

“My father has made an arrangement with Giacomo Di Santi,” Adrien started.

The words shattered the lingering echo of the piano's melody, tainting the acoustics with something ragged and angry. He could taste bile in his throat.

“I'm moving to Italy for a year.”

Marinette gasped, her hands clutching his tightly.

“To Italy...?” she breathed, utterly shocked. Adrien nodded.

“I'm supposed to work on the new line they're collaborating on,” he explained.

Marinette ripped her hands from his, grasping him by the shoulders.

“But you can't! It's the middle of the school year, you can't just leave! And what about Paris? The city needs Chat Noir!” she exclaimed. “Maybe you can talk to him?”

Her voice could have moved a rock to tears, and Adrien felt a hot prickling behind his eyes.

“I've tried talking to him. He won't listen, he can be pretty stubborn,” he replied, the lump that had risen in his throat making his voice sound thick and warped.

Marinette's face scrunched with determination.

“Then I'll talk to him,” she declared, and Adrien knew that she would have stood up to the massive Eiffel Tower if it had threatened to take him away.

“Marinette, there's nothing you can do,” he said weakly, cupping her face in his hands to look her imploringly in the eye.

The girl he adored set her jaw, a ferocious glint in her eyes. Something stirred in Adrien's chest, a deep, primal protectiveness coursing its way through his veins.

“We are not giving up!” Marinette growled.

Adrien was trying to focus on her words, he really was, but when she looked at him like that, like she would go to hell and back for him, he couldn't help his heart from aching so much he thought it would burst. She was still ranting about ways they could remedy the situation, and he zoned back in, a wide smile spreading across his face.

“We could find a way to- Why are you smiling?” Marinette interrupted her stream of solutions to fix him with a bewildered look.

“You just make me happy,” Adrien replied wistfully, and Marinette's lips clamped together.

It was too dark to see, but he could guess she was probably blushing furiously.

“Adrien,” she managed after a few seconds of silence, her voice shaking. “We'll figure this out.”

Adrien was already leaning in, his hands gently lifting her chin for him to catch her mouth with his. Marinette's lips parted, her hands gliding up his chest, over his collarbones, to rest lightly on his neck. Adrien ran his tongue experimentally over hers, and she suddenly laced her arms around him. He responded in kind, instantly wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her as close to him as possible. When the position became awkward he pulled her into his lap, her knees resting either side of his hips, straddling him. Marinette took a second to adjust to their new position, gazing into his eyes with a mixture of nervousness and sheer desire. Adrien tilted his head up to seal the space between their lips, his hands absently wandering down to her hips, the fingers of one hand timidly worming their way under her shirt, and she sighed into his mouth at the touch. Encouraged by his bold move, Marinette let her hands run down Adrien's neck, over his chest, around his back, feeling every inch of the lean hard muscles that defined his body. Adrien sighed her name as he bit her bottom lip, and she leaned in to him, enough for him to feel her body hard against his for a fleeting instant before-

Marinette squeaked as the two of them went tumbling off the back of the piano stool. Adrien curled himself around her to protect her from the blow of the hard floor, his foot hitting the piano as he fell, a discordant crash of notes chiming out from the open lid as he landed with a loud “Oof!”

He felt Marinette's shoulders shaking in his arms as they lay tangled on the cold dusty floorboards, and he popped his head up to see if she was okay. Her face emerged from where it had been pressed against his chest, and he was relieved to see her giggling, the laughter making her shine through the shadows. Adrien grinned in response, a chuckle escaping him as he let his head loll back on the floor.

“That was totally your fault,” he chided, lifting a hand to stroke her hair as she nestled against his chest.

Marinette raised her head, resting her chin on her hands across his chest to give him a smug smile the could have rivalled his own, and his heart pounded so hard he was sure she could feel it under her palms.

Oh man I am so far gone.

The smile slipped from Marinette's radiantly happy face, her eyebrows knitting together with dysphoria and Adrien felt miserable knowing he had caused her unhappiness.

“Promise me you won't stop trying,” she whispered, the plea in her words.

Adrien buried his face in her hair, his fingers weaving into her dark locks as he fastened his other arm around her waist.

“I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

Adrien's disappearing act had managed to push his flight back an entire week.

Marinette had managed to convince him to return home after he'd weakly suggested hiding out at hers, a less-than-innocent curve to his lips as he weighed the possibility of sleeping in her room. She'd given him a half-hearted grin, but nonetheless had reasoned that it was not a long-term solution, and that it wouldn't help to make his father worry about his safety. Adrien had sighed, she'd been right of course: His father would have probably demanded a full scale investigation, and anyway, he couldn't put Marinette under the stress of having to lie to her parents.

To say his father had been displeased when he finally returned home would have been an understatement of gross proportion. Gabriel hadn't yelled exactly, but his voice had been louder than usual, and much harder (if that was even possible). Adrien hadn't missed the note of concern and relief underlying in his tone, however, and he remembered with a pang of guilt that his father did actually care about him. Even so, the suitcases remained at the foot of the staircase, a constant reminder of the inevitable trip.

“I'm not going,” he'd told his father with infallible certainty.

Gabriel had simply peered at him over his papers, blinking slowly.

“This is not a matter for negotiation, Adrien,” he'd replied, sounding as cold as ever.

“Father, please! It's the middle of the school year, surely Giacomo could push the project back just a few months?” he deliberated desperately.

Gabriel had made it abundantly clear that his son's involvement in the project was not up for debate, and Adrien was running out of ideas. When arguing about leaving had failed, he'd attempted to delay the inevitable as much as possible, to little avail.

Gabriel sighed and put down his papers, surveying Adrien steadily.

Mr Di Santi has made his enthusiasm for your involvement a matter of incontestable fact. As for your studies, your home schooling will resume in Italy.”

“There must be something you can do!” Adrien had begged.

Gabriel resumed reading his forms, turning around in his chair.

“There is nothing I am willing to do. This conversation is over.”

That was that, Adrien had been defeated. What was he going to tell Marinette? He hadn't lied to her, he really had tried everything he could, but Gabriel's refusal to cooperate had stunted him at every attempt.

In the sporadic moments he wasn't busy, Adrien tried to spend as much time with his friends as he could, particularly with Marinette whom had been a constant source of support and kindness to him. A shining beacon in the dark night of his circumstance.

Today, he sat with her in a quiet corner of Place des Vosges, resting at the stump of a tree, her back leaning against his chest and his head resting in the crook of her neck. She was sketching a new design in her book, her tongue poking out the corner of her mouth as she squinted angrily at the page. Adrien couldn't help but smile at her frustration with the piece, and he tightened his arms around her waist.

“Argh! I just can't get this design right!” Marinette groaned, unceremoniously throwing the sketchbook into her lap as she rested her elbows on her knees.

Adrien chuckled, nuzzling into her neck as he released one arm to pluck the sketchbook from her crossed legs. Flicking it open to the page she'd been drawing on, he carefully took in the design, his eyes scanning the annotations she'd written. The design was beautiful, naturally. Marinette had been designing a dress, the drawing perfectly illustrating the movement of the chiffon, the shape of the garment, how it bunched and curved. She'd added embellishments to the shoulders, lace at the hem of the mid-length sleeves, a sash. All in all it looked... A little cumbersome if he was honest.

“Take away the lace, rouche the sleeves on the outside. Maybe tone down the embellishments to spaced beading, amber would look nice,” he mused, mostly thinking out loud as he recalled the designs of other dresses he'd seen on the runway.

Marinette jumped in his lap, jerking his chin slightly, which he pouted at, as she clapped her hands over his on the sketchbook.

“That's it! Thank you, Adrien!” she whooped excitedly, grabbing her pencil and furiously going over the bits he'd mentioned.

She closed the book when she'd finished, and Adrien layered his hand over hers, his silver ring catching the rays of sun that blinked through the leaves overhead. He sat looking at it for a moment, a deep sadness tightening his chest, and he held Marinette tightly for comfort before he slipped the ring off his finger.

“What are you doing?” Marinette exclaimed, turning her head to look at him astonished.

Adrien took her left hand with his, turning it over and placing the ring in her palm, closing her fingers over the top of it. Plagg swooped out of his shirt, landing sharply on Marinette's knee, his face a mixture of resign and worry.

“I'm not gonna be much use to anyone in Italy. Hawkmoth is here, in Paris,” he murmured, the ache tangible in his voice.

Marinette stared at him, horrified.

“Adrien, NO. It's your Miraculous, it was given to you for a reason,” she argued, the fierceness in her voice making his skin feel hot.

“It's like you said, My Lady. Paris needs Chat Noir.”

A cocktail of emotions warred on Marinette's face, confronted with the uncomfortable reality of having her own words used to justify his actions. Finally, her expression settled into one of firm resolve.

“It will be here for you when you get back,” she insisted, and Adrien gave her a grateful smile, letting her twist in his lap so she could wrap her arms around his torso, her head pressed against his chest.

Adrien snaked his arms around her narrow shoulders, breathing in her vanilla scent as he kissed the top of her head. His eyes met Plagg's, and the kwami's whiskers drooped sadly. Adrien gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and the tiny creature floated towards Marinette's bag, tucking himself inside with Tikki.

The pair returned to school, neither one of them really paying much attention to the teacher droning on about physics or whatever. When the bell eventually sounded to end the school day, Adrien laced his fingers into Marinette's holding her hand firmly as they walked down the steps together, stopping at the bottom.

“Marinette, please just... Keep safe whilst I'm gone, okay?” he said quietly, turning to meet her eyes.

Marinette gave him a small smile, though he could see the misery he was causing in the tightness around her eyes.

“Don't worry about me, kitty cat. I can take care of myself,” she replied, the confidence he loved so much resonating in her tone.

He pulled her towards him, his arms looping around her in a tight embrace as he spotted his car pull up by the curb. He held on for another few seconds, trying to memorise how she felt in his arms, the breadth of her shoulders, the warmth of her skin, the curve of her body.

She gave him a little wave as he slipped into the car, Alya approaching her elbow as they prepared to walk home together. Adrien looked across to the other car seat as he shut the door, gasping at what he saw. Gabriel Agreste sat stoic and ramrod straight in the backseat, his eyes pointedly look forward. His father never picked him up from school. Adrien felt a stone drop in his stomach as he calculated all the reasons his father would be here, but only one feasible explanation rose above the rest. His head whipped round, peeking under the cover into the boot of the car to see that same collection of suitcases that had been lurking by the stairs all week.

“Father?” he began, his panic escalating rapidly.

Gabriel turned to survey his son, his face an impassive mask.

“Natalie was able to schedule an earlier flight for you, so we'll be heading to the airport immediately,” he said.

The whole thing was so sanitary. He was voicing the facts, the process of events, no flicker of regret in his words. Adrien felt his face crumple. He'd never felt so betrayed in all his life, and his throat tightened at the realisation of what was happening.

“I didn't... You didn't let me say goodbye to any of my friends!” he managed to choke out, the anger in his voice rising.

Gabriel turned away impatiently, as if he expected, but still did not appreciate, this kind of outburst.

“There are more important things to attend to currently than saying your farewells,” he responded.

Adrien gaped at him before whirling round to the door, tugging desperately on the handle. It was locked of course.

“Father, please!” he begged.

He didn't care if he sounded pathetic. Gabriel had just robbed Adrien of his only chance to say goodbye to Marinette. His father didn't even look at him, he just sat like a stone, merciless, unchanging, as the car sped away from the city. Adrien routed through his bag for his phone, unlocking the screen to frantically type a message. Gabriel eyed him disapprovingly, but didn't object.

Adrien's fingers streaked across the phone screen, and he absently reflected on how sad it was that he was even attempting to pour the magnitude of his feelings into a text. When he finished typing, he read the message through twice, making sure he hadn't misspelled anything, making sure he'd said all he could to make her understand. When he was sure, he hit the send button, clamping his teeth together to stifle a sob.

Marinette. My father booked an earlier flight, I'm leaving now. I'm so sorry we didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I can't put into words what I feel for you, but I hope you know. I'm sure you know. I promise I'll call everyday. And please take care of Plagg, he likes camembert the most. This time with you... It's been an honour, My Lady. It's been more than that, it's been a dream I never thought would come true. I know you'll keep Paris safe in my absence. Take care. Adrien x

 


 

Marinette had received the text when she'd gotten home that day. She'd bolted out of the bakery, sprinting down the street, as if she could catch the car out of sheer determination. She'd realised with a horrible sinking sensation the futility of her actions, and she'd dragged her feet all the way home. The shock overwhelmed her, and she'd worked purely on autopilot whilst helping to close the bakery. Her parents had shot her concerned glances when she didn't touch her dinner, though she couldn't bring herself to tell them what was wrong, as if voicing out loud would make it real.

It was only when all the lights in the house had been turned off, and Marinette was tucked up in bed, the sound of rain hitting the hatch in the ceiling, had she allowed herself to acknowledge the reality. The sobs wracked her body, and she buried her face in her duvet to quieten the sound, lest she wake her parents.

Plagg wasn't doing much better. He didn't cry like Marinette, but he hadn't so much as looked at the wedge of cheese she'd left him, and he didn't speak the whole next day, his ears drooping with grief as he hugged his tail to his tiny chest.

School wasn't much better. Alya and Nino were visibly upset, both of them noticeably less-than-talkative as she school day dragged on. Marinette could hardly even bring herself to acknowledge Chloe loudly ranting about how she was sooooo upset about Adrien leaving, and about how he'd come to her to tearfully confess his undying love before he'd left. Had she been in better spirits, Marinette probably would have found the ability to snort at that last part, but as it was, she couldn't even look the other girl in the eye.

She returned home, giving her mother and father a reassuring hug, though they both noticed her smile didn't reach her eyes. Marinette threw herself into her desk chair, staring up at the magazine clippings of Adrien that she didn't have the heart to take down now that he was gone. True to his word, he'd called her everyday, telling her what had been happening with shoots, and what Italy was like. He gushed that she'd love the Di Santi studio, but she could hear the strain in his voice, and she knew that as well as being heartbroken he was probably being overworked. Marinette's heart ached for him, as she knew that he would probably never complain about it.

Her eyes drifted from the pictures to the designs he'd snuck her, and an idea sparked in her mind. She slammed her hands down on the desk, making Plagg and Tikki jump.

“Marinette? What're you-”

“I have a plan!” Marinette exclaimed, and the kwamis exchanged a look.

Marinette snatched the designs off the wall, pressing them into her scanner to photocopy them hurriedly. She stuff the copies in her bag, leaving the ones Adrien had given her on the desk, and she practically fell down the ladder out of her room in haste. Her mother shot her a perplexed look on the landing.

“My word, Marinette! Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she asked, her eyebrows raised high.

“Study group with Alya totally forgot about it gotta go BYE!” Marinette yelled in response, hopping to plant a kiss on her father's cheek as she dashed out the bakery, leaving him blinking at her departure.

Marinette's feet felt too heavy, too slow, as she thundered along the pavement. She'd never been so desperate for Ladybug's speed. The Agreste mansion wasn't far from her house, and she was there in less than two minutes, repeatedly pressing the buzzer on the wall. The camera slid out of the gate, looking her up and down in a way that was weirdly characteristic of Natalie herself.

“Can I help you?” the tinny voice of the speaker asked.

“I'm here to see Mr Agreste,” Marinette barked.

“Do you have an appointment?”

Marinette scowled.

“No. But I think he's going to want to see these,” she responded harshly, pulling the designs out of her bag and brandishing them at the camera.

The camera lens swivelled to refocus, and after a moment it shot back into the wall, a loud buzz announcing the opening of the gates. Marinette was confronted by Natalie as she entered the huge lobby. Natalie didn't say anything more to her other than a curt, “This way”, before marching up the stairs and down a long corridor. She stopped at a carved mahogany door, sharply rapping on the polished wood twice. Marinette heard a sharp, “Enter”, and Natalie stepped aside, gesturing for her to enter the room.

Marinette timidly pushed the door open, peeking around the frame to see a rather hard looking man glaring at her. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was about to do. Now was NOT the time to be nervous.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng, I assume?” Gabriel said as she approached his desk, making a face as if her name left a bad taste in his mouth.

Marinette swallowed, clenching her abs to steady her voice. Of course he knew who she was, he probably looked up all Adrien's schoolmates out of- what? Concern? Protectiveness? The potential possibility that one of them would attempt to blackmail him as she was?

“I'm sorry for the intrusion, Mr Agreste,” she started, and Gabriel scoffed.

“I rather doubt that you are sorry, Miss Dupain-Cheng, considering you practically kicked down my door.”

He sounded bored, patronising, as if she were a fly buzzing around his head that he didn't have the incline to swat away. Marinette slammed the designs on his desk, meeting his baleful gaze strongly.

“Adrien doesn't deserve this,” she told him, her voice unwavering.

“This is not a discussion of what my son deserves,” Gabriel responded calmly, his tone infuriatingly condescending.

Marinette gritted her teeth, forcing herself to calm down as she felt anger flare inside her. Gabriel Agreste was not going to respond to her throwing a tantrum in his office. He apathetically picked one of the designs off the desk by its corner, letting it dangle from his fingers.

“I presume a girl of your... precocity has made copies of these,” he drawled, eyeing her disinterestedly.

“Yes,” Marinette replied, trying to keep her breathing in check. She'd be lying if she said Gabriel didn't scare her, but she wasn't about to let him bully her either.

“I will leak these designs online,” she declared, holding his gaze with steely resolve. “Unless you recall Adrien from Italy, and the Di Santi project.”

Gabriel observed her as if he was watching a particularly lewd circus trick, though his eyes lingered on her earrings for a second and a horrible chill crawled up her spine. After a few intense seconds of silence, he sighed far more heavily than Marinette thought was actually necessary, before dropping the design back to the desk. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows atop the hard surface and linked his fingers together in front of his chin.

“Miss Dupain-Cheng, whilst your admirably Machiavellian plan shows both initiative and boldness, you have regrettably also displayed a level of ineptitude that borders on the moronic.”

Marinette blinked stupidly as she chewed on his words. Had he just called her a moron? When she didn't respond, Gabriel sighed again, as if the conversation was taking years off his life.

“In your impatience to confront me about your possession of these designs, you have unwittingly revealed yourself as the culprit of any future leaks. Should these designs somehow make their way onto the internet, I will know that you are responsible, and I will see you prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Gabriel finished his explanation with an increasingly angry inclination in his tone, and Marinette felt herself pale at the realisation of her mistake. How could she have been so stupid? Of course he wouldn't be threatened by her, he hadn't built his company by bowing to the demands of disgruntled teenagers. She felt her shoulders sag in defeat, and Gabriel picked up a pen to begin writing on the sheets he'd had spread out in front of him prior to her arrival.

“Feel free to keep the designs,” he told her dismissively, not even looking up.

Marinette left the designs on his desk out of spite as she turned on her heel and marched out of the office. Natalie raised her eyebrows in what was ultimately an unsurprised look as she let herself out of the front doors.

“Wow! Great plan, Marinette. You really showed him who's boss,” Plagg remarked as he stuck his head out of her bag, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Marinette shot him an annoyed look, though she was pleased he wasn't wallowing anymore and had at least found the energy to snark at her. Tikki poked her head out of the bag next to him, clipping him round the ear.

“Ooooh! What a perfectly unpleasant character!” she huffed, her little hands balling up into fists. “Has he always been like that?” she asked Plagg.

The black cat shrugged, tossing a whisker.

“Pretty much. He might have dialled it back a bit with Adrien, but I guess he saves the real deal for scary teenage girls.”

Marinette stomped all the way from the mansion steps to the Place du Châtelet, plonking herself down on the fountains edge.

She was going to find a way to get Adrien back. She had to.

She was so wrapped up in her own black mood that she almost missed that spectacle that occurred in front of her. A couple were arguing loudly, attracting the stares of the civilians passing by. It was clear from the insults flying between the two that their relationship was crumbling, and Marinette watched with a sick sort of fascination as the woman turned away, delivering a final blow with her words.

“You'll just never be enough for me.”

The man's face crumpled, his eyes shining with fresh tears as he watched his partner walk away. Marinette bristled – This was the perfect opportunity for an akuma to strike. She got up nonchalantly to follow the man as he slunk dejectedly around the corner of Théâtre du Châtelet, being careful to keep out of sight. Sure enough, as he slumped down on the steps Marinette heard the undeniable flutter of wings, and she braced herself as an inky black butterfly swooped into view. It landed on the man's shoulder, picking its way down his arm before scuttling into the pocket of his jacket.

Something wasn't right. There was no glowing pink lines around the man's face, no black substance bubbling over his flesh, there was no sign of Hawkmoth at all. After ten minutes, the man sighed and stood up, wiping his tear-streaked face and trudging along the road. Marinette snatched her phone out of her pocket, immediately dialling Adrien's number. The phone rang and rang, eventually clicking to voicemail, and Marinette surmised that he was probably shooting. Damn it! This was terrible timing!

Whatever was happening, she needed Adrien now.

 

Chapter Text

To say Adrien was tired would be to say that the Seine was a small puddle on the side of a pavement.

Everyday when the make up artists took the cosmetics off his skin, the concealer would give way to steadily growing purple bags under his eyes. It didn't help that the shoots often ran over, meaning that his home-schooling would get pushed back later and later, tightening the noose around the small window of time he got for sleeping. He barely had time to call Marinette, but he always made sure to do so, every day just as he'd promised.

Despite the calls, Italy was lonely. Adrien didn't know anyone, nor did he have any time to wander around or engage in any extra curricular where he might meet new people. His days consisted of 5am starts, photo shoots, home-schooling, liaising with the designers, promotional events, and eventually sleep. He did spot Bianca a few times flitting around the studio. She'd flashed him her million dollar smile when he'd given her a small wave, though her eyes lingered on him long enough for Adrien to spot the glimmer of worry that tightened her features. Once he'd walked past her when she'd presumably been speaking to someone on the phone, head bent over and talking in rapid Italian .But when she turned round he saw that her hands were empty, save for her trusty filofax which she closed with a snap when she spotted him watching her.

Today, Giacomo himself had come down to the set to watch the shoot, his presence providing an excited energy to the atmosphere. The employees busied themselves with even the most menial tasks in a fickle attempt to impress their boss.

“Adrien! My boy!” Giacomo boomed when he arrived, grasping Adrien by the shoulders and practically lifting him off the floor as he swooped down to plant a kiss on each cheek.

Adrien grinned meekly at him, reaching up to scratch the back of his head, only the have his hand slapped away by the sharp-looking stylist.

“It's nice to see you, Mr Di Santi,” he greeted the man politely.

“Now, I've told you to call me Giacomo,” he chortled, ruffling Adrien's hair, much to the stylist's displeasure.

Adrien thought she was going to have an aneurysm as she viscously combed his blonde locks back into place, practically ripping his hair out at the roots in her determination. Adrien stepped into his position, waiting patiently as an assistant waved a light meter in his face before the photographer began shooting. Occasionally, Giacomo would interject with a suggestion or a request, and the employees would fall over themselves in their hurry to comply. Adrien noticed that Giacomo seemed to be paying particular interest in him, even more so that usual, and several times he noticed the man scrutinizing him with an intense look of concentration.

As soon as the break for lunch came, Adrien dashed to his bag to pull out his phone. He felt a sharp twinge of sadness when he remembered that Plagg wasn't in there, lounging in an empty camembert dish like he used to after indulging. Shaking the memory from his mind, Adrien flicked on the screen to see he had a missed call and a voicemail from Marinette. He was on the brink of calling her back, his thumb poised over the green dial button, when he felt a large hand clap him on the shoulder.

“Adrien, my boy!” boomed the voice of Giacomo Di Santi. “I would like you to accompany me to lunch.”

Adrien turned his head to see the twinkling eyes of the designer smiling at him, and he did his best to smile back.

“Oh! Thanks Mr D- Giacomo, but I've actually gotta make a cal-”

“This way now, I know this fabulous little restaurant close by. Best kept secret in the city!” Giacomo interrupted him, pressed Adrien firmly to his side as he marched out of the studio.

Adrien smiled weakly, knowing he was not to be rude, and quietly pocketed his phone, mentally reminding himself that calling Marinette back was number one of his list of priorities.

Giacomo was right about the restaurant. Tucked away in a side street not two blocks from the studio, the restaurant sat in a small courtyard made up of a few cafes and a bookstore, a large tree draped in fairy lights at its centre. Giacomo ordered them two specials, digging into his with obvious gusto when it arrived. Adrien tentatively tried a mouthful of the rather ambiguous looking dish, swallowing in surprise when he found it tasted delicious. Even so, he picked at his food the rest of the meal, smiling every so often to let Giacomo know he was listening as the older man prattled on about his ideas for another collection.

At one point, Giacomo began talking about Paris, and Adrien practically felt the ghost of his cat ears prick up.

“I have always loved Paris!” Giacomo gushed, waving his hands expressively. “I've always been eager to shoot one of my collections there, such a beautiful city. Imagine it! The perfect fusion of Italian and French culture, all embodied by fashion. There's no better way to show it!”

“Yeah, it's pretty great. Where's your favourite place in Paris?” Adrien asked politely, quietly recalling a similar conversation he'd had with Marinette.

Whilst Giacomo was easy to talk to, Adrien was thankful that his aptitude for small talk gave him a small reprieve from the older man's overwhelming enthusiasm about the collaboration. Giacomo pressed his fingertips together as he mulled over the thought.

“A cliché, I know, but The Eiffel Tower!” he exclaimed after a few seconds of serious thought.

Adrien felt his smile turn wistful. Marinette loved the Eiffel Tower. He'd have given anything to be atop those strong steel bars right now, gazing out at the city, her hand in his.

“Yours as well, yes?” Giacomo mused after spotting Adrien's expression.

“Oh no! Just... A good friend of mine really likes the Eiffel Tower,” Adrien responded with a sheepish grin.

Giacomo's eyes lingered on him for a second, as if he was trying to read his mind. After their plates were cleared, and Adrien assured Giacomo that he didn't want any dessert thank you, the designer leaned back in his chair, surveying Adrien with the same scrutiny he had been in the studio.

“So tell me, Adrien. There is a problem?”

Adrien snapped to attention, habitually looking for an exit as he tended to do in battle sometimes.

“I-er... Problem? There's no problem, Giacomo!” he stammered, the man's gaze making him feel like an insect under a microscope.

“You are enjoying the project, no?” Giacomo asked mildly.

“Of course! I am, really. You've got awesome designs, and I like the city a lot so...” Adrien trailed off, unsure of exactly what he was supposed to say.

“Ah, but your heart,” Giacomo cooed, those mischievous eyes twinkling with the reflection of the fairy lights. “She is back in Paris.”

Adrien couldn't tell if Giacomo was using the literal “she” or the metaphoric, and he laughed nervously, drumming his fingers on the edge of the table.

“That's-er. I mean Paris is my home after all,” he replied, hoping he sounded casual.

Giacomo's smile quirked at the corner, and Adrien knew then that he'd been using the literal. He felt himself flush, not used to having his feelings so exposed to someone so much older than him. In a way, it made him feel like a child, and he realised with small knot in his stomach that this was probably a conversation boys had with their fathers. After a moment, Giacomo's smile fell.

“I'm sorry to have taken you away from France, Adrien. I wish there was something I could do, but the project...” he trailed off, looking at Adrien with genuine regret.

Adrien sighed, giving the man a small smile to try and put him at ease.

“That's okay. It's only a year, right?” Adrien had hoped he would sound reassuring, but his voice cracked on “year” and he dropped his head to his chest so that Giacomo wouldn't see the hot tears that suddenly prickled behind his eyes.

He caught the flash of pain that crossed the man's face before he averted his gaze, and instantly felt horrible. It wasn't Giacomo's fault, it was just the way things had worked out. The following silence weighed down the atmosphere, and Adrien thought he caught cut the tension in the air with a knife. He cleared his throat awkwardly, eager to change the subject.

“So... Giacomo, the project... You said you loved French culture. Are some of the new designs inspired by my father's work? ” Adrien knew talk of the new line would sate the designer's need for topic to discuss.

“Ah yes! I love mixing different European cultures into my designs. Shooting in other countries is one of passions too!” Giacomo was off, thundering through his love of fashion with great gumption.

An sudden idea hit Adrien like a freight train, and he stilled his face into his most convincing mask of innocence.

“Hmmm I wonder,” he began thoughtfully, as if he were voicing a vague fancy. “Why not shoot this collection in Paris? You did say you wanted to combine French and Italian cultures, and since you're collaborating with my father this would be the perfect opportunity.”

Giacomo quietened his enthusiastic spectacle, surveying Adrien with surprise. Slowly, his face morphed into something that looked vaguely impressed.

“Molto furbo, Adrien. Come la nostro cara Volpina,” he purred, a devious grin widening his mouth.

Adrien had no idea what the words meant, but he hoped beyond hope that they were promising. Giacomo insisted on paying for the meal, and the two made their way back to the studio. They still had a little time before the lunch period ended, and Adrien took the chance to listen to Marinette's message.

Adrien, it's me!”

His heart leapt into his mouth. Marinette sounded worried.

I've just seen an akuma. I mean I think it was an akuma, but the victim didn't transform. I followed him for a bit but I had to leave when he spotted me. I'm not sure what's happening, but something weird is going on. Call me back, okay?”

Adrien hit the redial button immediately, pressing the phone tightly against his ear at it rang.

“Adrien!”

The flood of warmth Adrien felt shoot through him at the sound of Marinette's voice could have powered Italy for a decade.

“Marinette, what's going on?”

“I don't know. I lost the guy after I had to make it look like I was leaving. He could be out there right now walking round with an akuma in his pocket. What am I supposed to do?”

Adrien's chest clenched at the thought of Marinette dealing with this situation alone. It wasn't that she couldn't handle herself, he knew that she could, but he should have been there with her. He should be in Paris where he was needed.

“Hang tight for now. If an akumatized person hasn't appeared it can't be that bad, right? Argh, I wish I was there!”

“I know, I wish you were here, too,” Marinette replied, her heart in her words.

Adrien missed her so much that he physically ached. He heard Marinette inhale to speak again.

“Adrien, I-”

“ADRIEN!”

Adrien spun around to see Giacomo waving at him, a phone in his hand and Bianca stood behind him smirking shamelessly. All around him the stylists and assistants scuttled about the set, clearing things away. What was going on?

“I've gotta go. Sorry, Marinette,” he said into his phone, wishing he could be where she was so he could wrap her up in his arms and promise her everything would be okay.

Adrien tapped the button to hang up the call and made his way over to where Giacomo was frantically beckoning him.


 

Marinette paced her bedroom floor so frantically, Tikki and Plagg wondered how she hadn't worn through the floorboards.

It had been a week since she'd spotted the akuma fly into the man's pocket. That meant it had been a little over a month since Adrien had left for Italy. Marinette had tried to track down the man after she'd lost him along the Seine, but she wasn't exactly a computer hacker able to use facial recognition software, and patrolling at night had been a complete exercise in futility. It didn't help that there hadn't been any reports of akuma in ages.

She had the uneasy sense that there was something hanging over the city, like a huge cloud threatened to burst, drenching the streets below. Her nightly patrols felt charged, heavy, dangerous. It was almost like someone was watching her, and the thought made her skin crawl.

There's a storm coming, she thought darkly to herself.

She'd been keeping Adrien updated about the situation. He'd seemed much happier the last time she'd spoken to him, an underlying lilt to his voice almost like he was keeping a secret. It wasn't like him to keep things from her, and whilst she was please he was getting on better in Italy, she couldn't help but feel a insecure knot of worry that he might actually be fine without her. Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Marinette flopped down on her bed.

“Oh, Marinette,” Tikki cooed, hovering in front of where the girl lay face down on her mattress. “If you're really worried, we can go out looking again?”

“It's no use, Tikki. Nothing's showed up in forever. What use is Ladybug if there's no akuma to fight?” Marinette replied wearily, her voice muffled against the duvet cover.

“People will always need a Ladybug,” Tikki assured her.

Marinette propped her head up to see the kwami smiling warmly at her, and she felt the tension in her shoulders ease a tiny bit.

Her phone buzzed on the desk top, and she rolled off the bed onto her feet to pick it up. The screen blinked on, a bright glow in the dimly lit room, showing a text from Adrien.

“Is that Adrien?” Plagg piped up, shooting out the camembert dish he'd been wallowing in, the last wedge of cheese held protectively in his little arms. “Did he ask about me?”

“Yeah, it's from Adrien,” Marinette replied, letting the black kwami settle on her shoulder. Hovering seemed like a difficulty for him after he'd indulged to gluttonously.

The thing I trusted you with. Is it somewhere safe? A x

Marinette didn't need to ask what “the thing” was. She unlocked the box her diary was in, making sure Adrien's Miraculous was firmly tucked behind the small book before texting back.

Yes, it's safe. M x

A minute later her phone buzzed again, and she unlocked the screen to read the new message.

Can you leave it with Plagg tonight? It's important. A x

Marinette frowned at the strange request. What was he up to? Her fingers tapped the screen in a hurried response.

Sure no problem. Everything ok? M x

Plagg was reading the texts from her shoulders, and exhaled grumpily as he lost interest in the conversation.

“Gone for over a month and he doesn't even ask how I'm doing!” he tutted, lounging against Marinette's neck.

“He asked about you yesterday! You told him you were fine!” Marinette exclaimed, poking the small cat in his swollen belly.

“Ack!” he yelped, stroking his bulging tummy indignantly. “Yeah, but I might not be fine now.”

The phone beeped again, and Marinette clicked open the message, anxiously chewing her bottom lip.

Everything's fine! Sorry, didn't mean to make you worry. A x

“Well that was weird. Looks like you'll be holding on to this little detail for tonight,” she said, passing the Miraculous ring up to Plagg, who balanced the hollow perfectly over his full tummy.

Marinette absently clicked on the Ladyblog checking for any updates that she may have missed. When the page refreshed, her mouth dropped open at what she saw. Alya was streaming a live feed from near L'arc de Triomphe where not one, not two, but three akuma were attacking the city. Had she not been so completely floored, Marinette would have called her friend immediately to demand she get herself out of danger. She watched horrified as the feed showed a pointy looking akuma shoot spears of ice at civilians, cackling as the clouds above her darkened and began snowing heavily.

Wow. Stormy Weather's got nothing on her, Marinette thought.

She was accompanied by a large golem-looking creature, who pounded the pavement, sending shockwaves through the streets, tearing up the cobblestones. Looming silently behind both of them was probably the most terrifying akuma she'd ever seen. Draped head to toe in black, a dark hooded figure floated ominously in the wake of the destruction, a pair of glowing red eyes winking out from the void under the hood. As it passed the civilians that cowered on the pavement's edge, it brushed its hand over them lightly, and Marinette spotted a gold bracelet glinting out from under its sleeve. The civilians mouths opened in a silent scream as they slowly turned to stone, and Marinette felt a wave of very real terror course through her veins.

How on earth was she supposed to take on three akuma at once? She whirled around, her eyes locking with Tikki's and the little kwami nodded resolutely at her.

“Tikki, Spots On!”

The magic flowed over her body, instantly transforming her into her uniform.

“Plagg, stay here. It's not safe,” she instructed the cat, leaping up the ladder and popping the balcony hatch open.

“But Marinette, how're you gonna take on THREE of them? If you combine the Miraculouses Power-” he began, managing to sound genuinely worried before Marinette cut him off.

“It's okay, Plagg. Ladybug can handle this. And besides, I need you to stay here with Adrien's Miraculous,” she told him confidently, despite the fear settling under her skin.

She gave him a cheeky wink as she crawled out the hatch. Were he not so anxious, Plagg might have actually blushed.

He was starting to see what Adrien liked about her so much.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette was scared.

She could admit that. It was okay. Sure she was Ladybug, and she trusted in herself and her own abilities, just like Tikki had trusted in her when she was chosen. But going up against three akuma without even the security of Chat's support her was scary.

Marinette streaked across the rooftops, watching the progression of the battle through Alya's livestream on her compact. The attacking akuma had moved from L'arc de Triomphe down Avenue Hoche, crumbling buildings and petrifying people in their wake. It was a wonder Alya hadn't been caught in the destruction so far, but of course the wiley reporter had somehow managed to avoid to worst of the onslaught. Reaching the scene, Marinette paused on a rooftop, taking in the situation. She needed to be careful, she couldn't just go in all guns blazing – she was not only outnumbered but also vastly outmatched.

Marinette was 99% sure the creepy hooded thing's akuma was in the bracelet she'd glimpsed in the livestream. She peered closely at the blue-clad girl showering icicles around her. A small bag hung across her body, and every so often she would reach into it for a new type of offense – it was a long shot, but chances were her akuma was in there.

Marinette eyes swept to the golem. Was that the man she'd seen last week? From the thing's outward appearance, she could see no obvious item that might contain the malicious akuma. Standing roughly 8ft tall, the golem was covered in jagged, vicious looking fragments of rock, jutting out of its body at awkward angles. It's over-sized forearms would have been comical had they not been causing such devastation, shattering the pavements and tossing cars through the air with ease. The rocks covering its form shifted like tectonic plates, and there, in the smallest crevice at its hip, Marinette saw a glint of something.

“That's it, that has to be where the akuma is,” she said aloud to herself, before clamping her hands over her mouth and ducking out of view.

The last thing Marinette needed was to get spotted and lose the element of surprise. She needed every card in her hand to be able to play this battle out. She found herself wishing harder than she ever had that Chat Noir was here with her, armed with a one-liner and that inimitable smirk that made her skin tingle. Peeking out from the chimney she'd ducked behind, Marinette took in her surroundings, trying to find a viable path of attack. She cursed her luck when she realised that her options were limited; the street was mostly straight up and down, giving her barely any defense and only one line of opposition. God, Chat Noir wasn't even here and his bad luck was rubbing off on her.

Deciding that the best option would be to take out the heavy hitter first, Marinette poised herself on her tiptoes, crouching behind the chimney until the Ice Maiden had passed. As soon as the Golem passed her, she leapt out from behind her hiding spot, sliding down the roof tiles to spring off the edge, launching herself downwards. She flew towards the creature, fingers outstretched in the direction of the crevice she'd spotted. The golem took a step and she saw what had caught the light – a locket – flash between the shifting rocks at his hip. Marinette was so close, free-falling directly at her target, just a little further...

The Ice Maiden let out a blood-curdling screech as she spotted Ladybug, and the golem spun around with an agility that seemed impossible for something so cumbersome. Marinette had barely enough time to somersault, her feet landing on the arm the creature had thrown in front of itself, before springing backwards, landing on the pavement. She heard a shattering noise and looked up to see a plethora of icy needles surging towards her. Marinette dived to right, avoiding the brunt of the attack, the icicles carving long rivets in the pavement where she'd been crouched not half a second earlier. A glint of red caught her eye and she turned her head to see the Wraith looming forward, it's fingers reaching eerily towards her. A spike of pure terror fired through Marinette's veins and she jerked away, flipping out of reach.

All three akuma were turned towards her, eyes locked on her kneeling form. This had not gone to plan at all. A very rude work formed in Marinette's mind, and she stood to her feet, trying to formulate a plan, or at the very least an escape route. God, she needed Chat. She'd been arrogant, thinking she could take on three akuma at once. Her best chance now would be to divide and conquer, but how was she supposed to get the akuma away from each other if she didn't have her partner to draw one or two of them away?

“I heard Ladybug's hibernate for the winter,” the Ice Maiden sneered, her high-pitched voice grating on Marinette's ears. “But it looks like you might need some help getting to sleep!

The girl punctuated the word with a powerful gust of cold wind, her hand dipping into her bag to throw what Marinette assumed was hail. She yelped in startled pain as the tiny shards of ice hit her body like frosty bullets. The attack was short-lived, though. Marinette had thrown up her arms to protect her face from the barrage of hail, so she didn't see as a long silver baton knocked the Ice Maiden out of the air. She did hear the girls surprised yowl, and she lowered her forearms to watch as the akuma soared backwards into the revolving door of a hotel, the glass shattering around her.

“Seems like you need to chill out, Ice Queen!”

Marinette's heart stopped. That joke, that voice. She didn't think she'd hear that sweet, beautiful, cocky voice again for an entire year. She turned her head as a familiar black figure dropped down beside her, twirling his tail in his hand. The trademark smirked that curled at the corner of his mouth made her heart soar.

CHAT NOIR!”

“Looks like you could use a paw, My Lady” he purred. He was trying to sound nonchalant, but the elated gleam in his eyes betrayed the cavalier tone of his voice.

Marinette would have kissed him right there in front of their attackers, she really would have, but the golem raised its fists with a distorted growl, bringing them crashing down into the pavement with an ensuing shockwave. The reunited duo leapt back, springing off the wall behind them to somersault onto the building's roof. Once they were at a safe distance, Marinette turned to face Chat, her face threatening to split in two with the size of her smile. Chat reached for her, grasping her fingers in his and squeezing tightly. She wanted to disappear with him right then, to take off over the rooftops of the city, her hand is his, running far away from the battle where they could be alone together, where she could wind her fingers into his hair and memorize every millimetre of his lips. An excited voice caught her ears, barely audible over the noise of the rubble, and her head whipped around to spot Alya standing off to one side, her phone poised in her hand, capturing everything on film.

“Chat Noir has just appeared, after no reported sightings in over a month! Looks like Paris's favourite superhero team is on the job!”

Marinette froze.

“Alya! Get out of there, it's not safe!”

Her friend's eyes snapped up to hers at the same time as the Wraith's and the red head opened her mouth to scream as the dark creature shot towards her, it's ragged black fingers curling into a claw. Marinette flung her yoyo to the opposite roof, the wire wrapping around an aerial as she swooped down to scoop Alya out of the way. The Wraith's fingers missed them by centimetres, and Marinette felt the whoosh of air brush past her ear. The gold of its bracelet winked out from under the shredded hem of the akumas sleeve.

She was never going to get closer than this. Marinette unfurled her arm from Alya's waist, hoping beyond hope that her friend would have the good sense to hold onto her as she swung them out of danger. Her fingers coiled around the bracelet and the thin chain snapped easily as she tore it from its owner's wrist, her and Alya's joint momentum transporting them away from the akuma. The hooded figure let out a chilling wail at the absence of its possession, the billowing folds of its cape crumpling as it sunk to the floor.

She heard Chat shout triumphantly as she set Alya down and the black butterfly sprang free from the bracelet. The victim, a teenage boy, transformed back as she cleansed the insect, looking scared and confused as he took in the wreckage.

“You two, run!” she yelled at him and Alya, her eyes turning to the two remaining akuma.

“My phone!” Alya exclaimed, pointing back down the street where she'd dropped the device.

“There's no time for that now, you have to get somewhere away from here!” Marinette barked at her.

She watched Chat dodge a sharp tower of ice that shot out of the pavement, landing a few hits on the golem in the process. He needed her help; it was going to take both of them to bring the other akuma down. Marinette quickly scanned her surroundings, looking for something, anything, that would help.

“Chat!” she bellowed at her partner.

The blonde spun around at the sound of her voice.

“I have an idea!”

 


 

Marinette had briefly gone over her plan through a quick call to his phone, lest she shout their entire strategy across the street.

“The vents,” she'd said, sending a snapshot from her position. “You can use them to blow the Ice Maiden out the sky, I'll swing by and grab her bag.”

Chat pole vaulted up to the roof of a department store, the Ice Maiden flying after him in hot pursuit. Or should that be cold pursuit?

Not now, Adrien, he thought to himself... It was a great pun though, naturally.

The chilly akuma appeared over the ledge of the rooftop, a venomous smile slicing itself across her face as Chat sprinted towards the rooftop vents pointing out towards the street.

“Thinking of jumping?” she taunted, eyes narrowing into angry slits as he raced towards her. “There's more than one way to skin a cat!”

Her hand dipped inside the small bag at her hip, pulling out a snowball.

Well at least its not yellow, Adrien thought dryly, grimacing at the idea.

With a viperish cackle, The Ice Maiden lobbed the snowball at him. Chat sprang out of the way at the last second, the chill of the projectile ghosting across the exposed skin of his neck. It hit the rooftop where he had been, a crater of malicious icy spikes bursting out from the impact radius. He dodged the next few attacks as he gradually got closer to the vents, a kaleidoscope of jagged ice spires following behind his path. Gargling out an enraged shriek, the akuma soared at him, a trail of glacier shards surrounding her in a virulent halo.

Chat jabbed his baton into one of the vents on the roof top as he reached it, throwing his entire body weight onto the end he was holding.

“Need something to help you cool off?!” he yelled victoriously as he felt the metal give.

The cover clanged loudly as he levered it off, the exposed blades of the fan whirring noisily in the open air. The subsequent blast of air sent the Ice Maiden tumbling backwards with a yowl as the gust threw off her flight trajectory, and she vanished over the edge of the roof in a spiral towards the ground below.

“Lucky Charm!”

Marinette's strong voice cut through the white noise, and Chat dashed to the roof's edge to take in the situation. A glimpse of red hair flashed in his periphery, and his eyes widened with horror as he saw Alya weaving through the rubble towards her phone.

No no no no!

She wasn't supposed to be there! The golem was still on the street, Alya was in danger!

Chat didn't hesitate to leap from the department store's roof, extending his baton on the descent to impede the fall. He saw Ladybug swinging through the air to his left, a blur of crimson and black as she retrieved the Ice Maiden's pouch.

“Alya!” he yelled.

His classmate whirled around as he called her name, her face a mixture of fear and resoluteness that reminded him of Marinette that day in the rain. Tenacity had always been one of Alya's more underrated traits.

“It's okay, Chat Noir! I've got this! You just go back to doing your superhero thing!” she called, her tone frustratingly offhand.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” Chat bellowed at her.

God, did she not understand the severity of the situation? Her eyes widened behind her glasses at the distress in his voice, and for a second her casual step faltered.

“THE GOLEM-”

Chat cut off as he heard a surprised scream, and he whipped around to see the final akuma had flung a car halfway up a building, a cloud of brick dust ballooning out from the destroyed structure as chunks of rock spilled onto the pavement.

Marinette fell through the air, her yoyo slipping from her grasp, and Chat saw the golem swing its arm around at a blinding speed. He watched in slow motion as the creature's fist connected with Marinette's spine, and a nauseating snap resounded off the buildings as the attack sent her flying across the street. What was worse though was her reaction: There was no jolt in her movement, no shout of pain accompanying the punch. Marinette's body went as limp as a rag doll as the golem smacked her out of the air into the hard pavement below. Adrien couldn't stop the scream that ripped itself from his throat.

MARINETTE!!!”

Alya's head snapped up from where she'd been scrambling for her phone, her eyes widening in absolute horror as she took in the lifeless form of Ladybug slumped across the cobblestone. Her mouth dropped open in abject wordlessness as she absorbed the revelation.

So many things surged through Adrien at that moment. His entire world collapsed as the image of Marinette lying crumpled on the street etched itself into his retinas. He felt his blood turn to ice in his veins, and something deep inside him broke.

You don't know what you've done,” he growled at the golem, his voice trembling with anguish.

The creature turned towards him, roaring savagely as it pummelled the ground with it's massive fists. Chat was gripping his baton so tightly it was a wonder it didn't break in half, and he started towards the akuma, uninhibited emotion driving his limbs forward. He launched himself at it head-on, ducking under a sloppy punch to kick it square in the face. The sheer force of his attack cracked a chunk of rock off its jaw, and the golem rumbled with fury as Chat landed behind it. He dug his toes into the ground, rocketing himself towards the thing in order to gouge another chunk out of its side with his baton.

He was gritting his teeth so hard he thought they would shatter, but he didn't care. He didn't care if his attacks were impulsive or reckless. The golem managed to clip him once as he launched himself at it, sending him tumbling across the street, but he didn't even feel the injury. Springing to his feet, Chat suddenly realised where he had landed. Ladybug's body lay to his right, and though every cell of his body screamed at him not to, he turned his head to look at her.

She looked so small. That was his first thought. She looked so small sprawled across that square meter of pavement, and Chat found himself thinking what an injustice it was that the wonderful, kind, extraordinary force that was Marinette should be contained in such a fragile body.

Her body...

He forced himself to look at her, really look at her.There was something off about her form that Chat couldn't put his finger on. The mechanical bend of her limbs, the slight dullness of her hair...

He felt his chest tighten, and he struggled to swallow the thick knot of crippling sadness that had risen in his throat.

No, he told himself sharply, though it splintered his soul to do so. Don't even dare to hope. It's simply that her life is gone, that's she's...

Eyes prickling with hot tears, he faced the golem, teeth bared in a grief-warped snarl. The akuma grumbled at him, and as it lumbered forward Chat saw the locket glimmer in between the folds of rock. He was going to finish this, even if he went down in the process. He was going to finish this akuma.

“For Marinette,” he whispered to himself, ignoring the ache in his heart as he said her name.

“Cataclysm!”

Chat took a step, his mind quieting as he let the raw emotions roll through him. This was it, they were going to go down together. His paced picked up into a run, and he sprinted forth at full speed, directly at the beast. A thin flutter of music rippled through the air and the golem paused, momentarily distracted at the sound. In the back of his head, Chat vaguely acknowledged the music of – what was that? A flute? The sound had given him the opportunity he needed, and he darted forward with unwavering resolve.

Abruptly, the music cut out, and the akuma whirled round with its earlier exhibited speed, spotting Chat's attack. It raised its fist high in the air with a howl. Chat was moving to fast to stop. In a last ditch effort, he stretched his fingers towards the locket at the golem's hip.

If I can't take it down, I can at least do this.

He pressed his Cataclysm to the beast's hip, several layers of rock disintegrating under his touch. His claws swiped the trinket from its crevice, and he clasped it tightly to his chest as he closed his eyes for the impending impact.

CHAT!”

Something small and very, very solid barrelled into him with enough velocity to tip a bus, slamming him out the way out the golem's fist. Chat's eyes sprang open long enough to see the crater the impact had made before he fell backwards, his head smacking the pavement hard. He blinked at the pain shooting through his skull, the dizziness making his vision swim as he sat up. Someone very strong was dragging him out of the street, their forearms linked firmly under his armpits.

“Are you okay? Did you get it?” they asked anxiously, taking his face in their warm sure hands.

Chat was disorientated. Who was this person? An angel? His saviour... He smiled mildly, humming in confused bliss.

“Come on, alley cat!”

Chat frowned. He felt tired. What did the saviour want? Why were they yelling at him? Come to think of it, what had he been doing? There was... the golem. The akuma! Of course! His lethargic grin widened as he held out his hand, the locket sitting innocently in his palm.

“Oh! YES! Good job, kitty!”

The saviour snatched the locket out of his hand, and he felt a feather-soft kiss on his cheek. He wanted to stay here in this warm soft feeling, floating through the haze. He was so tired...

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

Chat's eyes snapped open, and he sat blot upright so fast he almost blacked out. When his vision stop spinning, he finally took in the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen.

Ladybug stood in front of him, completely confident, and completely alive. The cleansing magic had chased away the clouds, and the sun shone across her figure, making her skin glow against the darkness of her hair. The red of her suit blazed in the light, and when she turned to face him her sky blue eyes glittered with adoration. Bending down, she reached out a hand to help him up.

Chat blinked at her, unmoving. It was too much to take in. Marinette was... Slowly, he reached out to slip his fingers in hers, and she pulled him to his feet. It was a minute before he managed to find his voice.

“How... how did you...?” he managed to croak, barely able to breathe.

“It was a lucky charm, a mannequin. I needed a distraction,” she explained, frowning at his stupor.

Chat felt his chest constrict, and his eyes welled up, this time with a different kind of emotion.

“I thought- I thought that you...”

Realised washed over Marinette's masked face, and her mouth opened in a small gasp.

“Oh no! Chat, I didn't-”

Chat grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her into a tight hug. He let his soul pour out of him, pour into her, that tiny, extraordinary girl that he loved. He buried his face in her hair, inhaling her sweet vanilla scent as he choked on a happy sob. Marinette tentatively slid her hands up his back to rest on his shoulder blades, squeezing a little to let him know she was okay.

“Erm, Chat,” she wheezed. “You're hugging me too tight.”

Chat abruptly let her go, resting his hands on her upper arms, and his mind very briefly flashed back to that day she'd landed on her elbow. She'd looked so vulnerable then, her fingers wound protectively around her injury. But now... Now she gazed up at him with a smile that could have made flowers grow, strong and sure, and Adrien felt so complete he honestly wouldn't have minded if the golem came back and popped his head off right then.

“Chat Noir! Ladybug!”

The couple turned to see Alya rushing towards them, phone in hand and a inexplicable expression on her face.

“Alya!” Marinette sighed with obvious relief. “You're okay!”

Alya marched right up to her, giving her a good long hard look up and down, her eyes narrowed into angry slits. Chat chuckled until she turned her eyes on him, giving him the same once over that made him feel like a frog on its back, ready for dissection, and he abruptly stopped sniggering.

“You!” she barked, pointing a finger in his face like she was about to stab him with it. “And YOU!” Alya turned on Marinette, her face pure fury. “Have got some explaining to do.”

Adrien exchanged a glance with Marinette, who looked just as nonplussed as him. After a second or two, she coughed awkwardly.

“Er, sorry! I've already given you an interview!” she rambled, grabbing for her yoyo and swinging out of view.

Typical. To leave me alone with an angry reporter...

Chat sheepishly scratched the back of his head, before saluting Alya with two fingers as he extended his baton upwards to escape across the rooftops. He could hear her voice getting smaller in the distance as she shouted incoherently after them.

He was soooooooo going to get Marinette back for that.

 


Adrien knew exactly where she'd be, the GPS on his baton showing flashing a tiny red dot marker to indicate his Lady's location.

Of course she was at his house. Only Marinette could pull off leaving him to battle an angry Alya so that she could sneak into his room and drape herself across his sofa.

“Nice to see you've made yourself comfortable,” Adrien quipped as he dropped in through his window, de-transforming at he hit the floor.

Marinette shot him a devilish grin, lacing her fingers together behind her head.

“Well I thought you'd be a while, what with talking to your adoring fans,” she teased, her eyelids sliding closed as she smirked.

“She's right, though,” Adrien warned. “How are we gonna explain this to her?”

Marinette opened her eyes and sat up, shrugging with a shy smile.

“Feign ignorance?” she suggested hopefully.

“We can't do that now,” Adrien replied. A wicked smile spread across his face, and Marinette eyes widened as she recognised his thought process.

“Adrien don-”

“Looks like the cat's out of the bag!”

Marinette groaned, throwing herself back down onto the sofa and covering her head with a cushion.

“Why do I like you?” she mumbled, voice muffled by the down feathers.

“Doesn't matter,” Adrien responded, his grin audible as he sat down on the floor in front of her. “You like me.”

Marinette peeked out from under the cushion to shoot him a disgruntled pout and Adrien threw his head back with laughter, tugged the cushion away from her. She grumbled at the theft, but her face grew concerned and she sat up again, tucking her feet under her.

“What happened out there today?” she murmured, watching his face for a reaction.

Adrien froze, goosebumps raising across his arms.

“I just...” he began, voice catching in his throat. “I thought- I mean... When I saw the akuma hit the mannequin, and I heard the snap... and when it was lying there... I just thought.”

Adrien's breathing hitched as his throat constricted, and his voice came out sounding like gravel.

“I thought I'd lost you,” he whispered, reaching out to take her hand.

He needed to feel her, to make sure that she was real, that she was still there with him. Marinette flushed at the intimate gesture, weaving her fingers into his.

“I'm so sorry,” she mumbled, and he could hear the regret in her tone. “I didn't realise you'd think... I didn't think.”

Adrien shook his head, giving her a reassuring smile. He tugged gently on her arm and she slipped off the sofa, curling up in his arms. Her fingers curled around his neck to gently touch the tender part of his scalp, where he'd hit it against the pavement.

“And the flute?”

“The flute?” Marinette pulled away to look at him, her brow furrowed in confusion. “What flute?”

“I heard a flute,” Adrien said, doubt creeping into his voice. “That wasn't you?”

Marinette looked at him as if he'd grown an extra head.

“Er, no I don't play the flute.”

“I definitely heard a flute,” he insisted. He knew he had, the golem had heard it too, that's what had given it pause.

“Maybe we have a symphony orchestra following us around?” Marinette supplied innocently, though the quirk of her eyebrow betrayed her.

Adrien shot her a look, and she brought her hands to her mouth to suppress a giggle.

Marinette looked up at him, patting him wordlessly on the shoulder with an accompanying smile so warm that Adrien felt his heart stutter. His mind flashed back to the image of the mannequin falling through the air, how the golem had so easily fractured its fragile structure, and the surge of emotion that rose in his chest overwhelmed him. He reached out to grasp Marinette's face, his lips colliding with hers in a fevered haze. She made a noise of surprise at the outburst, her eyes springing open wide before she melted into his touch, the weight of her body leaning into him. Adrien's arms enveloped her slim frame, clamouring, desperate, frantic. Her fingers wove into his hair, gently raking at his scalp, and her lips parted with a gasp.

“I almost lost you today,” Adrien managed to breathe between kisses, his voice thick with anguish.

“You didn't,” whispered Marinette, pulling back slightly to look him in the eye.

Adrien was having none of it. He leant down to close the space she'd created between their lips, the tip of his tongue darting against hers, and Marinette moaned into his embrace. He drew his body back, keeping his mouth pressed firmly against hers as he slipped her blazer over her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. His cool fingers roamed down her back, dipping under the hem of her shirt, lazily tracing the path of her spine. Marinette shuddered at the contact of his skin on hers, and she wound her arms around his neck, pulling him close to her. Adrien let her pull his white shirt down from his back, the fingers of his free hand lacing themselves into her dark hair.

“I thought- I thought I'd lost you,” he stammered, his voice trembling.

Marinette bit his shaking bottom lip, pulling apart for a second to rest her forehead against his as she gazed deeply into his hooded eyes.

“But you didn't,” she murmured, her voice sure and steady.

Adrien groaned as he leaned back into the kiss, rocking backwards to lie on the floor, pulling Marinette down with him.

“Why is it that we always seem to end up with you on top of me,” he managed to say between kisses.

Marinette settled her knees either side of his hips and sat up to look him in the eye as she smirked.

“I think I like you on your back, kitty.”

Adrien felt himself blush, actually blush, and a burning swell of pride coiled in his chest. Oh no, he was not about to be outdone. Quick as a flash, he linked his fingers round her her wrists and flipped her sideways, rolling on top of her to settle between her knees as he pinned her arms above her head.

“I dunno, I kinda like this,” he replied with a satisfied grin.

Marinette was halfway through the biggest eye roll of her life when he ducked his head to her throat, and she bit her lip to stifle a whimper as he trailed kisses up her neck to her ear. Adrien felt her arch her back into him, and his muscles burned with the effort of moving so slowly. Marinette tilted her head up to catch his mouth, and he moaned hungrily as his tongue glided over hers, just as she-

His phone rang loudly from his bag and Adrien dropped his forehead to the floor by Marinette's ear, groaning in exasperation. Marinette huffed out a short laugh, running her fingers through his hair lazily.

“It's okay, kitten,” she sighed breathlessly.

When Adrien pulled back, he saw she looked slightly dazed, her eyes glassy and her cheeks flushed. He couldn't help the satisfied thud his heart gave, and he dropped his head to give her a quick peck before getting up to answer his phone. The number on the screen wasn't one he recognised, and he released a heavy breath, relieved it wasn't Alya

“Hello?”

Adrien listened to the familiar silvery voice on the phone, his typical smirk advancing into an ear to ear grin. Marinette propped herself up on her elbows to peer at him curiously.

“Yes, of course. Yes, thank you for calling.”

Adrien hung up, that Cheshire smile fixed firmly on his perfectly photogenic face.

“What is it?” Marinette asked, her eyebrows slowly raising at his near comical expression.

Adrien's smile held a devious mystery.

“A friend of mine from Italy.”

 

Chapter Text

Dealing with Alya had been unbearable to say the least.

The first day back at school after the battle and she did nothing but glare at Marinette and Adrien all morning. It was wholly unnerving not to have a constant stream of invasive questions pouring out of the girl's mouth.

The notes started after shortly after lunch break. Marinette heard the scratch of paper skimming wood and looked down to see a crumpled scrap of paper lying next to her elbow, Alya hunched over her work in an effort not to look at her. Marinette made sure the teacher wasn't looking before swatting the note into her lap and uncurling it. It wasn't a very long message.

So...? Next to the word was a crudely drawn imitation of her alter ego's signature – a circle with five black dots and a line.

Marinette took a breath before scrawling back a simple answer.

Yes. I'm sorry I didn't tell you.

She watched Alya read the reply out of the corner of her eye, her expression indecipherable. After hastily tearing another scrap of paper out of her notebook, she jotted a few words on it before flicking the note back to Marinette.

And Adrien?

Marinette chewed her lip a little. It wasn't really her place to out Adrien's secret, but the chances were that Alya had already put two and two together and come up with five. Adrien shifted in his seat, turning his head to catch her eye and give her a reassuring smile. Alya observed the wordless interaction with a fierce look, her eyes darting back and forth between the couple as if she suspected them of telepathic communication. Marinette drew a small cat's face and slid the note back, trying not to turn and analyse Alya's reaction. She heard the redhead huff slightly, bending over the desk as she aggressively scribbled on the paper.

But you could barely keep it together around him! Was it all an act?

Marinette had to stop herself chuckling. It was weird to think that mere weeks ago she could barely look Adrien in the eye, and now they were having (mostly) impromptu midnight makeout sessions like it was good for their health.

I only just found out a little while ago. Definitely wasn't an act.

Alya's mouth quirked a little at the corner and Marinette was glad she was starting to loosen up a little.

That explains how you two got so close.

Marinette flipped the paper over to reply, but she caught Miss Bustier watching her with a frown and she quickly stuffed the note in between the pages of her book. She mouthed, “talk later”, at Alya and her friend nodded her head, giving her a small grin. Marinette could see the side of Adrien's face from the way he was sitting, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. He was probably incredibly smug that he didn't have to deal with the brunt of Alya's temper, and Marinette made a mental note to flick him round the ear later. For the first time since Adrien had left for Italy, it seemed like everything was going to be okay.

The day went by faster than expected. Once Alya's black mood dissipated, the tension around the group of friends just slipped away. Nino, Alya, Adrien and Marinette walked down the school's front steps, chatting animatedly. Alya managed to pull Marinette aside as Nino caught Adrien up on everything he'd missed.

“I still can't believe this whole time you were Ladybug,” she whispered excitedly, shaking Marinette back and forth by the shoulders.

“Hey! It's not THAT unbelievable,” Marinette pouted, rubbing her upper arms where her friend's fingers had dug in.

Alya put her fists on her hips, giving Marinette a mildly amused expression.

“Uh huh? Marinette, we both know you're a total klutz.”

Marinette sighed, allowing herself a smug grin as she unconsciously rubbed her fringe.

“A klutz who saves Paris daily.”

Alya threw an arm around her friend's shoulders, beaming at her.

“Great cover though,” she said with a wink, before a look of shock passed over her face. “Oh God, the Ladyblog! What am I supposed to do now I know Ladybug's identity!”

Marinette shushed Alya, throwing a panicked look around in case anyone had heard. To one side she could see Nino gesticulating frantically to Adrien, who caught her eye and gave her a cheeky wink, making her heart stutter a little. She couldn't wait to get him back to hers...

“Well you could start with keeping quiet about it,” she hissed, pressing a finger to her lips and giving Alya a stern look.

“Don't worry, girl! You know I can keep a secret,” Ayla reassured her with a wave of her hand. “To think, this whole time I was gushing to Ladybug about Ladybug. You must have gotten so bored with me.”

“What? No! I mean...” Marinette trailed off when she saw the look Alya was giving her. “I mean it was kinda funny.

Alya gave her a merciless poke in the ribs without warning and Marinette yelped, shooting her friend a thoroughly displeased look when she laughed at the reaction.

“Girls?”

Marinette and Alya turned to see Adrien and Nino make their way over.

“Ready to get whooped at Mario Kart?” Adrien asked Marinette, a cocky smile firmly on his face.

“In your dreams, Agreste!” she retorted, cocking a hip.

“Oh dudes! Mario Kart sesh? Sounds the bomb!” gushed Nino.

Alya spun the DJ round by the shoulders, forcefully pushing him away from the couple.

“Nino! Didn't you say you needed help with your physics homework?” she practically yelled, giving Marinette a sly wave.

“Subtle, isn't she?” Adrien mused as she watched the girl shove Nino down the pavement.

“As a sledgehammer,” Marinette replied, lacing her fingers through his as they walked in the direction of her house.

“How'd she take it?” he asked, a concerned pinch between his eyebrows.

Marinette paused, mulling over her friend's reaction.

“A lot better than I thought. I mean, obviously she's not happy that I lied to her, but she gets it.”

Adrien nodded his head in understanding.

“What about your dad? How did he take Giacomo's decision to shoot in Paris instead?” Marinette asked him when his eyebrows knit together.

Adrien shrugged, sighing heavily.

“As you'd expect. He didn't really have much reaction at all, simply announced my new schedule and that was that. Though he did seem a little disgruntled that someone threatened to leak the designs,” he explained, shooting her an indicative sidelong glance.

Marinette coughed, a flush burning her cheeks as she rubbed the back of her head.

“I think he was quite impressed actually. Even if he has labelled you as 'a bad influence',” he said, lowering his voice in his best impression of Gabriel. The likeness actually made Marinette shiver a bit.

“This coming from Le Chat Noir?” she scoffed.

Adrien shot her a Cheshire smile as he swooped down to peck her lightly on the cheek before she shoved his face away, laughing.

“You didn't have to do that for me,” he murmured after he'd composed himself, squeezing her hand a little.

“No, you're right. I didn't,” Marinette agreed, smirking at the way Adrien's eyebrows shot into his hairline. “But I wanted to.”

She stopped walking, taking his other hand so that they were facing each other.

“I'm really glad we're friends.”

Adrien's gentle smile dropped a little, and he lowered his eyes to their entwined hands.

“Is that all we are?” he mumbled, dropping his chin and blinking up at her.

Marinette's breathing hitched at the deep yearning in his expression. He looked like his entire world rested on her answer, his bottom lip curling into his mouth just a fraction. She vaguely contemplated the hilarity of her smart-mouthed alley cat doing his best impression of puppy-dog eyes, but the genuine hope that glimmered in his face was enough for her to keep her comment in the back of her mind. Slowly, she unlinked one hand to reach up to his face, brushing his hair across his forehead so that it hung slightly across his eyes. Chat Noir in Adrien's clothing (or was it the other way around?).

“Of course we're more than that,” she whispered, cupping his face with her hand to brush a thumb over his lips.

Adrien's whole face lit up, his smile practically illuminating, and he threw his arms around her waist, picking her up and spinning them both round with his joyous carefree laugh that she fell in love with. Marinette whooped with surprise, and a completely worry-free, perfectly happy smile broke out across her face. Adrien stopped spinning, slowly lowering her back down to the street, his arms still held possessively around her waist as her toes met his.

“Princess,” he purred, looking every bit the shamelessly cavalier superhero Marinette knew him to be.

She could have sworn Adrien's face flushed a few shades darker, and the thought that she could make him blush sent a spike of pure adrenaline through her heart. He was practically vibrating with joy.

Minou,” she murmured happily.

Marinette looped her arms around his neck and stood on her tiptoes so that she could press her forehead lightly against his. His eyes held galaxies that she would gladly spend her life exploring. A passing car beeped loudly at the enamoured couple, and they abruptly sprung apart. Adrien grinned sheepishly, even managing to give the driver a small wave as he scratched the back of his head.

“Come on,” he said, turning to hold out his hand to Marinette.

She slid her fingers back between his where they belonged, letting him pull her into step beside him.

“So, um... What did Giacomo think about your suggestion?” Marinette offered as a continuation to the topic.

“Giacomo was pretty cool about it, actually. I think he's the one the convinced my father,” he continued.

Marinette couldn't help but notice he looked rather pleased with himself.

“He said something in Italian when I suggested shooting in Paris. Come Vol- Come Volpina, I think?”

“I know that word... Doesn't volpe mean fox?” Marinette asked, and Adrien raised an eyebrow at her. “Since you're so cunning, after all.”

Adrien let go of her hand to wrap an arm around her waist.

“I'll never be as clever as you, My Lady,” he murmured into her ear.

Marinette couldn't stop the delirious tingle that ran under her skin at the compliment, and she self-consciously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. As they rounded the corner of the bakery, she could see a shiny black car sat outside, the buff job on it so thorough that the metal gleamed in the sunlight.

“Did your dad send a car to pick you up?” she asked Adrien.

The boy shook his head, eyebrows furrowed in confused curiosity, and he let go of her waist to open the bakery door for her.

“Marinette! Adrien! Welcome home! It seems you have a guest,” Marinette's mother chanted cordially from behind the desk.

A tall girl with dark waist length hair was chatting to her father, her dazzling smile making the married couple slightly bashful, and they made themselves busy with the bakery as she turned to face Marinette and Adrien. Her green eyes lit up at the sight of them entering the bakery.

“Adrien, caro! It's great to see you!” she exclaimed, gliding across the short space between them to plant light kisses on Adrien's cheeks. “Natalie said I might find you here after school.”

Adrien smiled cheerfully at the girl, clasping his hands behind his back.

“Hi, Bianca. It's great to see you too, I didn't realise you were returning to Paris.”

Bianca turned her sparkling green eyes to Marinette, taking the sight of her in, her smile widening.

“You must be the girl,” she chanted. There was an underlying slyness to her tone, as if she knew something that Marinette didn't.

“Hm? The girl?” Marinette replied, at a slight loss for words.

“Marinette, this is Bianca. She's Giacomo's intern,” Adrien explained, placing a hand lightly on Marinette's shoulder.

Before she could stop her, Bianca leaned down to kiss Marinette on both her cheeks, leaving her flustered.

“I worked in Italy with Adrien, but since the shoot has moved to Paris I'll be hanging around for a little bit,” Bianca told them. “Adrien speaks very highly of you, Marinette. You're into fashion, no?”

Marinette opened and closed her mouth at the abrupt shift of conversation towards her.

“I- Well yeah, I really like designing, so...”

Bianca waited calmly for her to stop stammering, perfectly at ease.

“Me too! I'm sure between us we can get you an internship,” she responded when Marinette didn't continue.

Marinette's mouth closed with a snap. An internship? With Giacomo Di Santi?? This was way too good to be true.

“Oh my, I-Wow. I mean, you don't have t-”

“Nonsense!” Bianca cried, cutting off Marinette's detrimental babbling. “We have openings, and I've heard it on good authority that you have a keen eye for design. You might even end up working with Adrien.”

“I wouldn't mind,” Marinette replied with a smirk, reaching out to flick Adrien lightly on the ear. “Someone's got to keep him in line.”

Bianca's eyes widened a little.

“Ooooooh,” she breathed, turning to the blonde. “Caro, I like her.”

Adrien reached out to slide his fingers between Marinette's shoulder blades.

“Me too,” he murmured, looking Marinette in the eye, and she blushed as she clasped her hands to her chest.

“Anyway,” Bianca piped up, breaking the tender moment. “I'm not just here for the best pastries in Paris. I have some files for you, Adrien, plus a few notes from Giacomo.”

She reached into her Filofax, pulling out a few papers and handing them to Adrien.

“I'd give you some of the new designs,” she began, turning her eyes on Marinette. “But there was a slight mishap with the last ones.”

Marinette's shoulders hitched up towards her ears, and Bianca let out a silvery peel of laughter, letting her know she wasn't in trouble.

“I've also heard,” Bianca continued, lowering her voice as she leant in close to address them. “That Paris has two very famous superheroes.”

Marinette had to stop her shoulders from rocketing towards her ears again, and she saw Adrien next to her tense. After what seemed like a second too long, he let out his best carefree laugh, sliding his hands into his pockets.

“Oh yeah! Ladybug and Chat Noir. They're pretty cool,” he said casually.

Marinette forced herself to imitate his wide smile, idly toying with the strap on her bag.

“I look forward to meeting them!” Bianca enthused, hugged the Filofax to her chest.

Marinette couldn't believe it. Was the intern actually... fangirling?

“Er... They don't exactly give interviews,” she pointed out, hoping to end the conversation.

Bianca lowered her arms to survey her, a frighteningly complacent smirk at her mouth. It was all Marinette could do to stop herself from shooting Adrien an awkward glance. There was a strange tension in the air, and she shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, trying to quell the feeling that Bianca was analysing her every motion. After a second, the Italian's smirks dissolved into an honest smile.

“I'll see you soon, Adrien. It was very nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Cheng,” Bianca called to Marinette's parents with a graceful wave.

She fixed Marinette with a warm smile.

“It was lovely to meet you, too, Marinette. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again soon.”

Bianca bent down to pick up a long thin black case from in front of the counter, walking over to the door. Behind her back, Adrien shot Marinette a look that was equal parts confused and concerned.

“Are you dropping something off?” Adrien asked her before she stepped outside.

Bianca turned back at his question, a smile that Marinette could only describe as foxy spreading across her beautiful face.

 

“Oh no,” she said, her green eyes shimmering with mystery. “It's just my flute.”