Marinette had never been so thankful for an assigned partner project in her life. Thanks to the random assignation of partners, she was now sitting across the library table from none other than Adrien Agreste. And she would get to sit across from him like this for two whole weeks during study hall! She wanted to kiss Tikki for the good luck she had brought along with the role of Ladybug.
She jumped a little out of her seat and realized Adrien had been trying to get her attention. How long had she been out of it? God, how long had he been trying to talk to her? What if he thought she had been ignoring him?! “Y-yes?” she said, louder than was generally acceptable in the library. Somebody from behind one of the rows of bookshelves made an irritated shushing sound. Marinette felt her cheeks flood with heat. “Um … I'm sorry,” she apologized in a quieter voice. “What did you say?”
Adrien gave her a patient smile and leaned over the table towards her where she sat with her notebook spread open in front of her. “Do you have any ideas for our project? I know history isn't really the same as fashion, but you're pretty creative.” He laughed, a sound that made Marinette's heart skip a couple beats. “I can't really say the same for myself.”
“Oh, um … ” Dang it, why could she never talk to him coherently? There was something about those green eyes and that open smile that made her words jumble in her mouth and come out all wrong. “I … well … ”
He reached over towards her notebook. “May I?” he asked, his fingers barely brushing the pages as he waited for permission. Marinette nodded wordlessly, and he slid the notebook across the table to look at the ideas she had scribbled down during class.
Adrien examined her doodles and scrawled notes with interest. So her creativity wasn't just limited to fashion. He had expected as much. Although he had never gotten a chance to get more than a few broken and confusing sentences out of her at a time, he had overheard her gushing over her ideas for various projects with Alya behind him in class. She always seemed to have something new up her sleeve.
Then he noticed something that nearly made him choke on his own breath.
Marinette's handwriting looked remarkably familiar. Unbelievably familiar. He would recognize the neat, rounded letters anywhere. After all, hadn't he read and reread that valentine until the paper was worn and crinkled at the edges? Marinette's writing looked exactly like the writing from the anonymous valentine.
“Adrien?” Marinette asked him tentatively. He glanced up at her and saw a look of concern plain as day on her face. “Is everything okay?”
Adrien swallowed against a throat that was beginning to close up with disappointment. Of course the valentine hadn't been from Ladybug. How could it have been? She only knew him as Chat Noir, and he knew from experience that she wanted nothing to do with Chat Noir's flirtations. It had been a silly, childish thing to hope for. “Yeah, I'm fine,” he lied.
He'd known from the start. He'd known it was stupid to hope.
So why was this making his heart hurt so much?
Marinette gave him a dubious look but turned her attention back to her history book. Adrien snuck a peek at her despite himself, his disappointment fading a little. She was a nice enough girl, and her concern for him was pretty touching.
Was it really the end of the world if Marinette had sent the valentine and not Ladybug?
He shut down that thought before it could go anywhere and slid Marinette's notebook back over to her.
Adrien was beginning to wish he had never looked at Marinette's notebook.
Despite his best efforts to the contrary, he found himself sneaking glances at her between classes, seeking her out after school, even going out of his way to sit near her when they did warmup stretches in gym. Her presence behind him in the classroom felt like the warmth of a small sun on his back. He was beginning to notice little things about her, tiny habits and mannerisms he'd never really paid attention to before now. He noticed the way her nose scrunched up when she laughed, hiding her smatter of freckles; he noticed how her lips tended to quirk up on one side when she was being especially creative with her fashion designs; he noticed that she always squared her shoulders and straightened her back before confronting Chloe, as if to make herself taller. When she brought a snack from her family's bakery, she always made sure she had an extra for Alya. When somebody talked to her, she always met their eyes squarely and attentively—except, of course, with Adrien, around whom she continued to stammer and stare down as if the floor was the most interesting thing in the world.
He tried to talk to her. He really did. But the few times he tried, she jumped nearly out of her skin and couldn't seem to get any words out. They were able to continue with the project just fine, albeit with very limited communication. Their time in the library primarily consisted of the two of them working silently on their respective portions of the project. And whenever he tried to bring up anything other than the project, her ability to speak seemed to vanish. Adrien was beginning to wonder if she was afraid of him, and, if she was, what he had done to frighten her so badly. She had sent him that valentine, after all, so she must like him, right? So why did she act like she wanted to be anywhere but around him?
It was a crying shame, he thought. She was spunky and intelligent, rather like his lady, and if he hadn't had feelings for Ladybug he imagined he might have easily developed feelings for Marinette instead. If only she would show that same spark around him that she showed around other people.
Finally, he decided to try just asking her outright. The worst that could happen was getting the usual incoherent stammering.
“Marinette,” he said while they were putting the final touches on their project in the library. It had turned out quite well, and he was willing to chalk most of the credit up to Marinette's inventiveness. She seemed to have thrived on the setbacks they'd had, and the final product was even better than he had anticipated. “Can I ask you something?”
Marinette started, but met his gaze. That was a good sign, he supposed. He felt himself grow short of breath, though. He had never noticed quite how blue her eyes were until now.
Blue like the heavens.
No, he thought firmly, and shoved the thought to the back of his mind. He was not going to turn Marinette into a substitute for Ladybug.
“What is it?” she asked. Another good sign, he noticed; she'd managed a coherent sentence without a single stammer.
He picked up a scrap slip of paper and spun it between his fingers in an attempt to calm the nervous jitters that were forming in the pit of his stomach. Why was he getting nervous? This was Marinette, not Ladybug. If he could flirt with his lady, surely he could manage small talk with a classmate. “I was just wondering … are you avoiding me?”
Marinette's jaw dropped in what looked an awful lot like mortification, and he watched as a blush swept her face. The poor girl was turning a shade of red that bordered on the color of Ladybug's costume. “No!” she exclaimed, rather more vehemently than he thought the question warranted. She seemed to realize she'd raised her voice too much and clapped her hands over her mouth. “No, of course not,” she said from behind her fingers.
Adrien looked at her, baffled. “But I'm the only one in class you never talk to.”
“That's not … ” Marinette started, her cheeks somehow growing even redder. She cut herself off before she could finish. “I … I'll see you tomorrow, Adrien.” Before he could protest, she scooped up their project and darted out of the library, shoving the project into her bag as she went. Adrien was left standing by himself, utterly confused, in the middle of the room.
“Do you think I scared her off?” he asked Plagg, who was poking his head out of Adrien's bag and munching on a piece of Camembert cheese.
The kwami merely grinned and shrugged. “Who knows? She's always been freakishly shy around you.” He shoved the rest of his cheese wedge into his mouth and swallowed with a loud gulp. “What difference does it make? You got your project finished.”
Adrien bit his lip. “It makes a lot of difference.” He didn't dare voice what he was feeling, not wanting to admit why he cared, not even to himself.
He was beginning to fall in love with Marinette Dupain-Cheng.