Leaves flew, displaced by the rapidly moving boy as he dove into the middle of the pile. Legs kicking behind him, he burrowed down until his fingers touched the ground. Turning, he made sure every part of him was covered in crackly goodness, then went still to lay in wait.
Footsteps clipping on a stone path. The rustle of leaves swept away by a body moving along. Soft breathing.
The leaf pile held its breath. Any moment now, its prey would be in range and it could strike.
“You know I know you’re there.”
Adrien let out a huff and popped his head out of the leaves. “You could at least pretend. I wanted to pounce.”
Shifting her weight to her other foot, Marinette raised a gloved hand to her mouth to giggle. “You are such a dork.”
Grinning, he told her, “Yes, but I’m your dork.”
“Love the hat. The height of fashion.”
He shook his head and created a flurry of leaves as they fell from his head.
Holding out her hand, Marinette said, “C’mon kitty. Alya and Nino will be along in a minute. You don’t want them to catch you being a cat again.”
He pouted at her and took her hand. The pout morphed to a grin as he yanked her into the pile of leaves with him. Shrieking with a mixture of glee and outrage, Marinette hit the leaf pile, scattering leaves to the wind. He buried her, dumping bright red maple and yellow birch leaves on her head. She retaliated, tossing leaves at him and used her feet to kick up more of them.
He rolled, wriggling and writhing, then spat leaves as they wormed their way into his mouth. Leaves in his hair, bracken and bits of soil made it damp and he didn’t care. Marinette tried to escape the leaves and he wouldn’t have that. Pouncing, he tackled her back into the leaves, then bounced away before she could smack him.
“Oh, you’re dead,” she cried, grabbing handfuls of leaves to throw at him.
“Only if you can catch me,” he said.
“Geronimo!” Another body hit the leaves full force, scattering them even further.
Someone else to wrestle with! The kitty in Adrien pounced on Nino, forcing him back into the leaves with a laugh. With a waggle of his eyebrows, Nino got him in a headlock. Soon the pair of them were rolling around and playfully battling each other.
“Really?” Alya asked, her hand on her hip. “Aren’t you all a bit old for that?”
Marinette picked herself up, brushing leaves from her long pink woollen coat. They stuck to the wool and pompom buttons and she plucked the broken leaves from her while the boys wrestled. “Adrien, when you’re done, can you find my hat?”
“On it!” he called, forcing leaves down the front of Nino’s shirt.
“Dude! Get off! That’s itchy.”
“I am the king of the leaves!” Adrien crowed and mock beat on his own chest.
Nino tackled him and it was Adrien’s turn to be bombarded with leaves.
“Girl, just looking at you makes me cold. Are you sure you want to go swimming?”
“Heated pool,” Marinette said. “Oh, yes. I want to go swimming. I plan to stay in there until I prune and then even longer.”
“It’s not even that cold yet,” Alya complained. “What are you going to be like when it starts to snow? You never used to be like this.”
“I’ll warm her up,” Adrien said. “Ease up a sec, Nino.”
Nino sat back on his haunches and watched Adrien scramble for Marinette’s beanie that had dislodged in his attack. Sighing, Nino dug through the leaves to find his earphones.
“I’m sure you will,” Alya said with a sly grin.
Bouncing over, Adrien plopped the hat on Marinette’s head and made sure her ears were covered. He couldn’t resist batting at the pompom on the top. “You just had to put one on there, didn’t you?”
She smirked at him. “All the better to tease you with, my dear.”
Alya got behind Marinette and marched her toward the main doors of the swimming centre. “Swimming. C’mon you two, stop flirting.”
“Bikinis bro,” Nino said, bumping his shoulder against Adrien’s.
They made their way into the indoor swimming pool and although Marinette tried not to react, Adrien saw her breathe a sigh of relief as the blast of heat from the building hit them. Trying to show solidarity, he brushed his hand down her back and she, in turn smiled at him.
Being a Miraculous impacted the wielder in ways no one suspected. She was Ladybug, the lucky charm, he was Chat Noir, with the power of bad luck. A cat and his lady. All the strength and power which Tikki and Plagg bestowed upon them also came with a cost to their personal lives.
The cat and bug tendencies in their everyday lives was amplified while in the suit. Chat Noir was playful and content until he hadn’t been petted for a while, then the itching would start. Scratch and nip, his skin would crawl until he felt like he was burning. It had been an accident running into Marinette while in the throes of an itch attack. Her fingers sliding down his back and buried in his hair sated the kitty need inside him for a time. They hadn’t known each other’s identities then. Chat Noir; heartsore over Ladybug, and Marinette; crushing on Adrien, had turned to each other without knowing the object of their affection was the other person in disguise. An accidental kiss during a patting session inspired a journey of discovery for both of them.
Ladybug, as opposed to Chat Noir’s kitten attributes, had bug-like tendencies. A penchant for growing things, a great love of flowers, pheromones to keep those around her calm and a strong need to hibernate during winter. While it was the obsession with pets which affected Adrien in his daily life, Marinette had inherited the aversion to cold. The temperature dipped and so did her energy. Clothing multiplied, sweaters and gloves and scarfs which covered her mouth even on the milder of the autumn days. It was a daily struggle for her and Adrien worried about snow. Winter fast approached and the first snows were most likely only a few weeks away.
Hence the warmer dates. Swimming pools. Movies. Arcades. Indoor cafes. The library. It was hard turning down the offers to double date with Nino and Alya when they wanted to go hiking or boating or any other outdoor activity.
Adrien and Marinette had been dating for about three months; a growing, learning and evolving partnership between Chat Noir and Ladybug, and between Marinette and Adrien. It was difficult to balance both lives and keep everything straight in their heads while remembering they couldn’t discuss their superhero activities in front of their two civilian friends.
Outwardly, Ladybug and Chat Noir were the height of professionalism, but both of them knew it was only a matter of time before a certain reporter caught them kissing. Alya, runner of the Ladyblog, the number one information website on Ladybug and best friend of Marinette. She had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and lately, that right time meant she was beginning to notice things. Adrien knew Marinette worried about that.
Marinette poked Adrien in the side. “Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to get changed?”
“Thought I might stand here.”
“I’m not waiting for you,” Marinette said, waving over her shoulder as she sauntered to the change rooms with Alya. “That water is too inviting.”
Shaking his head, Adrien jogged to catch up with Nino.
The indoor swimming pool was a popular haunt all year around. Cool in the summer, warm in the winter, it hosted its own café. A tiered diving board up one end, a long slide which emptied into a cordoned off area of the pool and a water play garden for toddlers, it had something for everyone.
Placing his bag on a bench in the change room, Adrien was surprised to discover Plagg and Tikki had made a small nest together out of the spare scarf he’d brought in case Marinette needed it. Glancing over at Nino, Adrien picked up his bag and headed for a stall. Closing the door behind him, he whispered, “Plagg?”
The kwami untangled himself to float up and scold, “You were taking your sweet time outside and she was cold. She gets it worse than Marinette, don’t forget.”
Plagg looked down at his partner. “Normally we’re in milder temperatures, so it’s easier to deal with. I don’t know what Hawk Moth is doing this far north, or how he’s surviving. He should be hibernating too.”
“Marvels of modern technology,” Adrien murmured.
Plagg nodded. “True. It’s a good thing we cats are very warm.”
“Yup.” Reaching into the bag, Adrien gently picked up the sleeping Tikki wrapped up in his scarf. He placed her on the bench and removed what he needed from the bag. A quick change and he rearranged the clothes in the bag so they had more room to snuggle and were better covered. He sent a quick text message to Marinette telling her where Tikki was in case she worried.
Throwing his towel over his shoulder, he carried his bag carefully from the change stall, then he and Nino went out into the main area to look for a table. Nino dumped his stuff on the closest table and bolted for the water while Adrien lingered to make sure Plagg and Tikki weren’t jostled.
Alya came bouncing from the women’s change room and dumped her stuff beside Nino’s. “Don’t tell me he’s already in the water.”
“Okay, I won’t,” Adrien replied.
“I wanted him to check out my new suit,” she said, gesturing her emerald green bikini.
Adrien cleared his throat and put on his best Nino voice. “You look fiiiine, girl.”
Alya laughed at him and shook her head in dismay. “That was bad!”
“I know,” he said with a grin and put his hand over his heart. “I promise never to do it again.”
Alya planted on hand on her hip. “Good, because—”
“Damn, girl, you look fiiiiine!” Nino said, hanging onto the edge of the pool.
Adrien and Alya exchanged a glance, then burst into laughter.
“What?” Nino asked, oblivious.
“I take it back,” Alya said to Adrien. “Yours was spot on.”
“What are we laughing at?” Marinette said as she put her bag on the floor at the base of the table.
“Nino,” Alya said and went to the edge of the pool.
Nino held up a dripping hand for Alya. “C’mon, the water’s fine, but not as fine as you.”
“You’re terrible,” Alya said and sat down with her feet in the water, yelping as Nino dragged her completely in.
Ignoring the giggling pair, Adrien turned to Marinette. “Tikki’s all bundled—” The words died in his throat and came out as a gurgle. Tiny. Bikini. Polka dot. And pink. She wore a skin tight bodysuit as Ladybug, but this, this looked incredible on her. So much exposed skin.
Marinette looked at him with raised eyebrow. A smug smile bloomed. “Cat got your tongue?”
Sauntering toward the pool, she brushed her fingers across his chest. “Come on, handsome boy, the water awaits.”
He was more than happy to follow her into the pool.
The water was gorgeously warm. The longer they swam and played, the more Marinette perked up. Laughing and talking, the four of them hung out until their fingers wrinkled. They played games. They dove down deep to count who could hold their breath the longest. They played chicken, the boys hoisting the girls onto their shoulders and then tried to knock each other off. Despite how well Adrien and Marinette were as a team, Alya always had the upper hand, possibly because Adrien kept tickling Marinette’s knees. When the girls hoisted the boys up, it was Adrien who won wrestling against Nino. The battle between Marinette and Alya vs Adrien and Nino was never finished because the boys couldn’t help wrestling with each other over the girls.
A beach ball tossed in via the lifeguard entertained the four of them for ages. When Alya and Nino finally decided it was time to eat and went to order a hot meal, Marinette and Adrien stayed in the water.
“Feeling better?” he asked, leaning against the wall of the pool.
“You don’t need to fuss,” she told him, her shoulder pressed against his upper arm. “I’m fine.”
“Absolutely not fussing,” Adrien said, toying with her fingers beneath the water. “You’ll know when I’m fussing.”
Facing her, he rested his shoulder was against the wall. “It’d probably involve buying you your very own heated pope-mobile to get around in.”
She turned toward him. “Yeah, that’d be going too far. I’d really rather you ordered a dome above the city and heated the entire thing.”
Beneath the water, his hand found the small of her back, pulling her hips toward him. “Somehow I don’t think people would approve. A lot of them like the snow.”
Her fingers hooked into the belt of his trunks and she slid a leg between his. “Filthy, nasty stuff.”
“Yes Gollum,” he teased, sliding his littlest finger down until it toyed with the hem of her swimmer bottoms.
Her eyes glazed and her head tilted so her mouth could hover beneath his. “A dome over the city is so much better than a bug box.”
“But I want to tap on the glass,” he murmured, his lips brushing hers as he spoke, “And coo ‘who’s a good bug’.”
Mock outraged, she splashed him in the face. Adrien grabbed her to dunk her under the water. As she came up sopping and furious, he planted a quick kiss on her lips and moved away.
She tried to scowl through her smile and it didn’t work. “Why, you—”
Adrien looked up to see Nino crouching down beside them, his eyes fixed on the entrance of the swimming centre. “Yeah?”
Nino nodded to where he looked and Adrien had to crane his neck to see.
Gabriel Agreste stood at the entrance, looking regal and stern as his eyes swept over the pool area.
Adrien immediately ran over his schedule in his mind. He’d had a photoshoot this morning starting at five, training session at ten, but the rest of the day had been marked as free. He had nothing booked until the following morning. Nothing that they’d told him about anyway.
Sharing a regretful look with Marinette, he hauled himself out of the pool and grabbed his towel to wrap around his waist. Leaving his bag so he’d have an excuse to come back, he padded around the pool to his father.
Gabriel watched him approach, his face impassive. “Adrien.”
Stopping before him. “Father. I’m sorry, have I missed an appointment? I wasn’t aware that—”
“No,” Gabriel interrupted. “However, I have been informed that Giorgio Armani is currently visiting Paris and would like to take us to dinner.” He glanced over Adrien’s shoulder at the pool. “Since you were occupied, we could not get you on the phone. I need you to come and prepare.”
Ever the dutiful son and touched Gabriel came himself instead of sending Nathalie, Adrien nodded. “Of course. May I take Marinette home first? She came with me and—”
“Yes,” Gabriel replied. “Be quick. I shall wait for you in the car.” With that, he about-faced and strode from the building.
Hurrying back to Marinette, Adrien crouched down beside the pool.
She reached out of the water and put her hand on his knee. “You have to go.”
“Duty calls,” he said, placing his hand over hers. “My father said we could drive you home first.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Really?”
He smiled. “Yeah, I know. Weird.” Taking the hand on his knee, he extended his other one. “C’mon.”
After a quick change, a goodbye to their friends and Tikki secreted away in Marinette’s clothes, the pair clambered into the car.
Gabriel looked up from his tablet, then handed it to Nathalie. “Marinette. How nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Mr Agreste,” Marinette said, smiling and clasped her hands on her lap. “How are you?”
“Very well, thank you. I enjoyed your jacket entry, a shame they didn’t place.”
Marinette inclined her head. Having won the junior division, her jackets moved to the the next tier of the competition, where she’d been up against a few fashion design majors with years of training. Juniors winners rarely placed, but were awarded with guidance and critique from a certified designer. “Having the chance to have my designs critiqued was an amazing experience.”
Gabriel nodded. “It is good that you chose to learn from the experience.”
“I have a lot to learn.”
“And a lot to offer. They were provoking designs and you were bold with them instead of opting for safe like others did.” He blinked. “Your coat, it is handmade? I assume it is one of your designs?”
“The knitting is quite exquisite and well executed, if simplistically designed for everyday wear and-" he sniffed at the pompoms, "somewhat childlike, but that is personal preference when designing clothes for ones-self. Not all clothes are designed to be on the catwalk.” He nodded as though coming to some sort of internal decision. “You display a natural talent which if honed correctly, could blossom. If you like, I can arrange for you to attend one my shows in the spring and give you the opportunity to meet some of the up and coming designers under my wing. Adrien can show you backstage and you can see the inner workings of a show.”
Marinette blinked and sat up straighter. “That would be amazing! Thank you for the opportunity.”
At Gabriel’s look, Nathalie nodded. “I’ll see to the details.”
Adrien flashed her a grin and a wink and Marinette looked like she was ready to explode with happiness. She managed to sit still and remain composed for the remainder of the journey, but the moment Adrien walked her to her door, she tackled him in a hug, bouncing up and down in his arms.
Grinning, he kissed her cheek since he couldn’t find her mouth. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay!” she squeaked and disappeared inside and Adrien heard the squeal she’d been containing erupt the moment the door closed.
Allowing himself a small laugh, Adrien turned and walked back to the car and prepared to play dutiful, obedient son.