“Did… did you get stuck in a tree?”
Highly embarrassed, Adrien clung to a branch with one hand, rubbed the back of his neck with the other, and refused to look Ladybug in the (highly incredulous) eye.
Yes. Yes, he had gotten stuck in a tree. So sue him.
The tree itself hadn’t been the greatest of ideas, he could admit now. He’d been trying to get onto the roof while depowered (for science), had seen that this particular tree got pretty close to the ivy that grew beneath the scaffolding, and had decided to see if it grew close enough to let him climb up.
All he could say for himself was that trying his luck had seemed like a good idea at the time.
On the upside, he could now see a much easier route that involved standing on the sill of the gaming room window and catching the ivy that lead up from there.
On the downside, he’d A) forgotten to secure a way down, and B) forgotten to charge his phone, leaving it dead and him without a way to contact Natalie or the Gorilla or even 112 for help.
He hadn’t been worried, per se. Even if the household staff wouldn’t think to look for him up here when they eventually noticed his disappearance, Plagg was bound to get hungry enough to track down his chosen in a few hours. Transforming on the side of the street right next to his security-camera-saturated home sounded… less than ideal, but it would be better than being stuck up here forever.
Of course, today was the day Ladybug had decided to run her patrol route near his house, bringing her close enough to bear witness to this particular brand of humiliation.
She alighted on the second sturdiest branch on his side of the tree (he was on the sturdiest one) and held her arm out with a half-sympathetic, half-amused grin.
He blinked at her and cocked his head, confused.
The balance of her grin tipped further in favor of amused. “Come on.”
When it became clear that that hadn’t clarified a thing for him, she tacked on, “Isn’t it a superhero’s job to rescue kittens stuck in trees?”
Panic burned hot in his stomach for a moment (had she found him out?) before he realized she was merely making a crack at his predicament (if she’d known, he was sure the wisecracks would have been a lot worse), and then it was his face that was burning.
She stepped closer and slipped an arm around his ribs, which got him blushing for another reason entirely. By the time she’d set him down on the balcony next to the door that lead into the east wing, his heart was in his mouth and he didn’t even want to know what shade of red his face was.
As it turned out, being in close quarters with his ladylove while in his suit was very different from being in close quarters with her out of it. He could feel the cool temperature-negating substance of her own suit on his palms and the undersides of his arms, could feel the exact degree of the lithe muscle built up along her core and over her shoulders, could feel the softness of her hair and her cheek where it pressed into his shoulder for those few eternal seconds, and, memorably, the way her eyelashes had brushed his jaw, just once.
He stumbled away from her reluctantly, unbalanced on many levels, and had to work hard to look her in the eye as he thanked her.
Her face was quite a bit pinker than when she’d happened upon him, now that he was looking. The smile she gave him was downright embarrassed as she answered (not without humor), “All in a day’s work, good citizen.”
She definitely didn’t know he was Chat. There was no way she’d be this embarrassed about something like that in front of Chat.
(As much as he valued the comfort and trust they’d built together, he couldn’t quite squish the thought that that was a pity; she was adorable like this.)
“Anyway,” she said, turning around. “Stay safe, look out for akuma, and, uh…” Her sky-deep eyes glinted mischievously and she glanced back at him with a little salute. “Try not to get stuck in any more trees.”
He folded his arms and glared at her retreating back, puffing his cheeks in offense over the frantic beating of his heart. “Ha ha, very funny.”
He may or may not have imagined the answering giggle.
He dropped his head as soon as she was gone, stewing in a horrible concoction of mortification and adrenaline.
Ladybug could never learn that he was Chat Noir.
If she did, he would never, ever live this down.
Adrien peeked over the balustrade, wondering whether or not jumping down onto the ramparts would break both his legs, and whether or not he wanted to risk it.
Normally the answer to the second question would be ‘no,’ but Adrien had been stuck on the roof for—…
He checked his watch.
—about three hours now, and was getting both cold enough and hungry enough to reconsider.
This, he thought, irritated and despondent, is one good reason to never forget your phone. Or your kwami.
His quest to get up onto the roof while depowered had been a success — as it turned out, standing on the gaming room's windowsill and catching hold of the ivy was an excellent way up... with one small problem.
Ivy was much harder to climb down than it was to climb up.
(It didn't help that he felt like he'd forgotten something important throughout this whole venture, but he'd wanted to see the sunset from the roof and sunsets only lasted so long, and in his rush he'd decided it wasn't important enough to wait until the next sunset for, whatever it was.)
He grumbled in annoyance, folding his arms as he straightened back up.
It was at about this point that a light tapping started up on the dome behind him, only to peter off as the sound reached the top.
“…What are you doing up here?”
Adrien froze, face burning.
…And there was another good reason to never forget your phone or your cheese-obsessed Navi-knock-off.
Ladybug edged around into his line of sight, looking concerned and amused for what he could see of her face in the light reflected from the courtyard and what little came from the half moon high up in the sky.
“Watching the sunset,” he gritted out, hoping she couldn’t see his blush.
She regarded him silently for a moment, and if he knew her at all, her mouth was twitching with suppressed mirth.
“Sunset was three hours ago, you know,” she pointed out unhelpfully.
“And then I decided to stargaze,” he said quickly, unfolding his arms and putting his hands on his hips, subconsciously puffing up a little.
His stomach chose that moment to emit a traitorous growl.
“…Are—” Ladybug started, laughter heavy in her voice. “Are you stuck?”
Adrien slumped. “Yes.”
A distinctly unfeminine snort escaped Ladybug before she could clap it back down, and Adrien resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands, feeling the blush crawl up his ears and across his neck.
Adrien had a few seconds to reconsider every single one of his life choices before a bright red yo-yo secured itself around the railing next to him. He looked up to find Ladybug offering her hand in a distinctly Aladdin-ish fashion.
“Gonna show me the world?” Adrien asked, proving, not for the first time, that being around Ladybug shot his filter to hell.
She blinked at him, grin dropped in her surprise, only for it to slowly creep back up to the corners of her mouth in the form of a smirk. “Well, I was thinking your balcony.”
She ducked closer, cocking her head, catching the golden landscape lights in her eyes and promising adventure in curve of that smirk. “Do you trust me?”
The moment would have been perfect if he could’ve untied his tongue enough to say ‘yes.’ Instead, he placed his palm in hers and hoped that was answer enough.
It was. She took his hand and wrapped his arm around her neck, snaked hers around his waist, whispered soft and intimate, “Hold on tight,” and Adrien…
Well, Adrien tried not to swoon.
He had limited success.
One graceful little hop and they were down, not on the ramparts, but on his own balcony. For one heart-stopping second he was nose-to-nose with her — close enough to see the silver threads in her irises in the light pouring out of his room, close enough to count her eyelashes, close enough to spy a tiny scattering of freckles peeking out from under her mask — then she pulled away, setting him lightly on his feet and stepping back to rub the back of her head awkwardly.
“Thanks,” he remembered to say, if only just barely. He said it without hanging his head this time, embarrassment pushed aside in a rush of helpless affection.
“Any time,” she said, unaccountably flustered as she backed up towards his railing. Then something seemed to occur to her, fluster calming for something a little more... smug. “But— well, uh.”
He blinked at her, questioning.
She gave him a wry look. “You might want to keep a rope on you the next time you go climbing, yeah?”
That was it.
That was what he’d been forgetting earlier when he’d set out. He’d forgotten to bring a rope.
What a thing to forget.
“Stay safe, good citizen, and remember the rope next time,” Ladybug teased, and swung away before he was quite done hitting himself for the oversight.
He brushed his fingers over his waist, where Ladybug’s hand had rested only moments before.
Even if it was embarrassing as hell, it wasn’t all bad.
Although it was one more reason why she could never learn that he was Chat Noir.
(Of course, that was when Plagg burst out of the window, mildly concerned about Adrien but mostly concerned about the dwindling cheese supply in his nook, and the romance of that particular evening was destroyed.)
…Of course this would happen, Adrien thought, downright despairing as he stared over the edge of his own damn roof.
At least it's unlikely Ladybug will show up this time, he reasoned, grasping at straws for any bright side, any at all, to the utterly humiliating disaster this was. It isn’t anywhere near her normal patrol times, after all, and—
“I remembered the rope,” flew out of Adrien’s mouth as he pointed over the edge of the roof. The rope was pooled on his balcony, having fallen from where it was tied without his noticing.
Ladybug strolled over, casual as you please, while Adrien tried to sink through the roof. (He wanted to sink through the earth’s mantle, but he had to tackle his house before he could get there, sadly.)
She leaned over the balustrade, craning her neck to see the fallen rope.
“So you did,” she noted, sounding mildly surprised.
He thought he preferred her laughing at him — at least then he could pretend her respect for him wasn’t in the negatives.
…Well, there are advantages to needing to be rescued, he mused, remembering with burning ears and not a little bit of anticipation how she had felt pressed against him, her scent, the way her eyes had looked from up close.
His reverie was interrupted by Ladybug’s yo-yo zipping out and zipping back in with a loop of the rope in tow.
She looked from the length of rope in her hands and then to him with a twitching half-smirk. “…Do you need knot-tying lessons?”
Adrien tried not to pout.
Visibly, at least.
“Only if you’re offering,” he mumbled to himself.
She blinked at him once, then seemed to dismiss it, going back to studying the rope. After a long moment of blank contemplation, she sighed and offered it to him.
Adrien wondered if there was a way to discreetly send it back over the edge.
Coming up blank, he slowly accepted it with a quiet word of thanks.
She hesitated a moment. “You know how to tie it so it’ll hold someone’s weight?”
It was his turn to sigh. “Yeah. I do.”
He’d made sure to study knots before attempting the climb this time, he just hadn’t thought to secure the rope as soon as he got up here.
She didn’t look very convinced.
He considered taking the words back (good things lay in store for him down that route, he was sure — either Ladybug bending close as she showed him how to do the knot or her actively picking him up to set him on his balcony again), but he’d never outright lied to Ladybug, and he didn’t plan to start now.
Instead he took the rope and knelt by the low railing, looping the rope around the thick stone bar and giving it a few inexperienced twists and tugs, but eventually coming out with a sturdy knot that didn’t budge when he stressed most of his weight on it. He displayed the result to his lady with something not unlike pride.
“You— you can, I see.”
Shoulders slumped and lip jutted slightly, she looked almost disappointed.
Did she want him to fail?
“Well,” she said briskly with an oddly professional smile as she threw her yo-yo once again to secure her exit. “I guess you’ve got it.”
“I-I could always use the—” he started.
She cut him off as she swung away. “See you later, hot stuff!”
He stood in that spot, rope hanging limply from his hands as he tried to process what had just happened.
It was only the fourth time Adrien spoke with Ladybug that he was not, in any way, in distress.
He’d gotten onto the roof, made sure to secure a safe way down, winched his telescope up after him, made sure the telescope had a safe way down, and had set himself up quite nicely for a couple hours of stargazing.
That didn’t stop Ladybug from crashing his party (if it could be considered crashing when all he really wanted from his life was to spend every moment of it with her) and fixing him with a look that failed to be hard or long, given that she couldn’t look him in the eye for more than two seconds at a time.
Well, it wasn’t like he was doing much better.
“I have a way down,” Adrien said, desperate to rescue whatever shreds of his lost dignity he could manage, and leaned away from the telescope to show her the rope ladder and the pulley.
“…O-oh. I see.”
“So,” said Adrien, too loud into the dead night air. He cleared his throat and tried again. “How's Paris?”
…Well, there went any dignity he’d managed to salvage by not being completely helpless.
“Paris is good!” she squeaked. “It’s, um. Safe, I mean. No robbers or criminals or akuma or-”
She clamped her mouth shut, her face so red he could see it even this late at night, and sighed. “Paris is good.”
Adrien found himself trying not to laugh, his own awkwardness forgotten. God, she’s adorable like this.
She seemed to catch the hints of suppressed mirth in his smile because she shot him an unimpressed look, though it was hampered somewhat by her heavy blush.
He put a sheepish hand behind his head in apology, privately thinking the look failed to make her any less adorable, or any more intimidating.
It was kind of like being glared at by a kitten still learning how to pounce, actually — about as threatening as a cream puff.
Apparently sensing his utterly unrepentant thoughts, she huffed, turning back the way she’d come. “Well, I see that you’re okay, good citizen, so I’ll just—”
She looked over her shoulder at him, blinking, and Adrien found he’d grabbed her hand in his rush to get her to stay.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, feeling his own face heat and dropping her hand like it had burned him. “Just— y-you said Paris is safe, and…”
I want to spend more time with you.
She waited for him with wide starlit blue eyes, her blush slowly fading.
“D-do you, um.”
She tilted her head, and Adrien swallowed hard, wondering what it was about Chat's mask that made it so easy to just come out and say things like this.
“Stargaze with me?” he said on the tail end of an exhale, chest aching with how hard his heart was pounding. He nodded towards where he’d set up the telescope and the few astronomy books he had in his collection on a blanket.
“I… really should be patrolling…”
That was the answer every time he’d tried to ask, either patrolling or identities or simply that she didn’t have time.
(It sucked that that was all he really wanted from her — a little of her time.)
(Kisses and dates and love were the stuff of his fantasies, sure, but most of the time he really just wanted to have some fun with a person whose smile could power a small country.)
One of those very same smiles snuck up her face. “But…”
“I guess Paris could look after itself for a while.”
“Really?!” Realizing that he sounded like an overexcited puppy, he coughed and tried again. “Really?”
It was her turn to laugh at him. “Really. I’d love to stargaze with you for a bit.”
Adrien tried not to melt too obviously through the roof.
The staff probably wouldn’t appreciate having to chisel their charge off of the stone.
The fifth time Adrien spoke with Ladybug, it wasn’t him stuck in the tree.
Okay, ’stuck’ might have been an overstatement (it would take a hell of a lot more than a high perch to daunt his lady), but she was in a tree and he wasn't, and it made him smile all the same.
Today’s shoot was held in a park: a huge, old one, with trees scattered and a lake off to one side, and Adrien had decided to do a bit of exploring while finding a nice spot to eat on his lunch break.
Finding Ladybug in one of the trees along the high moss-and-stone defense wall had been nothing short of a stroke of luck; despite her vivid scarlet suit, the foliage was dense enough that you had to be directly under the tree and look in exactly the right direction to catch sight of her.
She flinched violently, head whipping around to fix him with a downright comical glare. She followed it up with frantic shushing gestures after she identified the voice as him.
He slung his lunch bag over his shoulder and considered the tree, before tackling it with a running start of two steps so he could climb up next to her and talk to her without shouting.
He didn’t notice her waving him down until he was almost at her level, and then it was a bit late to leave.
“Sorry,” he hissed, wincing.
“It’s okay,” she whispered back. “What are you doing here?”
“Saw you up here. Thought I’d say ‘hi,’” he said, droll and determined not to mention the tree thing, but thinking it all the same.
She shot him a Look.
He beamed back, unrepentant. He got to see her right when he was least expecting it — the thrill was more than enough to wipe away any lingering embarrassment.
Her cheeks, to his utter fascination, went bright pink. “I-I mean why are you at this park?”
“Oh. Photoshoot.” He blinked, realizing that he should probably be wondering why she was here instead of just scampering up to her like an ecstatic puppy who’d been convinced it would never see its human again. “You?”
“Stakeout?!” If there’s an akuma, why the hell hasn’t she contacted Chat?!
She hushed him with a finger to his lips and another look.
“Sorry,” he mumbled against her fingertip, lips tingling.
She graciously removed the fingertip, turning back to look out, and he now saw that the tree offered a very nice view of the strip mall across the way — nature meeting industry across a lamp-lined asphalt table-runner. “Yeah. There’s been a bunch of weird stuff happening lately, and I tracked it here. I’m trying to figure out if it’s an akuma or not.”
“Where’s Chat?” he asked in lieu of what he actually wanted to ask, which was something closer to ‘why didn't you tell me?!’
Her mouth twitched. “Believe it or not, my partner actually does have a life. I can’t drag him out on all of my half-baked hunches.”
“Sure you can.” Any time I get to spend with you is worth so much more to me than anything that Nathalie could stuff into my over-packed schedule. “It’s his job to keep Paris safe too, isn’t it?”
(‘My partner,’ she’d called him.
If it weren’t for the context, he’d be smiling stupidly wide right now.)
“Keep Paris safe by sitting around in a tree with me for hours while we stare at a building?” She snorted, a fond, wry grin on her face. “I think he’d go insane.”
Only if you kept smiling at him like that.
He honestly couldn’t think of a way he’d rather spend an afternoon.
With a horrified jolt, Adrien realized he’d said the first part aloud. “Nothing.”
She shook it off and went back to studying the strip mall, giving Adrien an opportunity to crack open his lunch and pull out a sandwich as an excuse to hide his burning ears.
He was about to dig in when her words echoed through his mind: '...sitting around in a tree with me for hours...'
He wondered how long she'd been here, and whether or not she'd remembered to bring food.
She took no notice of his pause, instead squinting a little harder at the coffee shop on the corner. It might have just been his imagination, but he thought she looked tired. Strung out. Maybe a little irritated, even.
He offered her his findings.
She accepted the sandwich automatically, focus unbroken, then appeared to realize what had just happened and looked between it and him with an increasingly baffled expression.
“Hours on stakeout without bringing food? Shame,” he chided, hoping she didn’t notice the flush working its way up his neck.
“I-I can’t—” she stammered, trying to give it back to him. “Your lunch—”
Her stomach chose that moment to growl.
“-is now your lunch,” he finished for her, pushing her sandwich-holding hand back to her. “Don’t worry about—”
“Agreste! Where the hell did you go?”
He must have spent more time wandering than he thought.
“Call m— Chat Noir next time you go on stakeout,” he half-shouted, forgetting to keep his voice down as he jumped and skidded down the jungle gym of branches, leaving his lunch bag behind on Ladybug's branch. “And don’t forget to bring food with you!”
“But your lunch—”
He waved back, not turning around as he hit the ground hard and started running, realizing belatedly that he was going to catch hell for scuffing up the company’s clothing like this.
He was leaving his Lady, his stomach was growling, the photographer was already annoyed with him without having even seen the state of his clothing, but…
He’d seen Ladybug smile. She’d called Chat Noir her partner to a near-stranger. She wouldn’t go hungry on her stakeout.
Totally worth it.
It didn’t truly register that he’d left his lunch bag behind until several hours and two engagements later, when he realized it contained his dinner as well.
Nathalie took pity on him and let him order food from a restaurant that met her standards, and he devoured his meal all the more gleefully for the fact that he was probably completely flouting his diet.
And it wasn’t until several hours after that, as he was shutting down his computer and feeling thoroughly satisfied with his day while he got ready for bed, that he saw his lunch bag again.
It was dangling from Ladybug’s grasp as she tapped on his balcony door, cheerfully swinging back and forth in the light, chill breeze.
Ladybug was at his balcony door.
Adrien tripped over his own two feet in his haste to open it.
Ladybug was here.
At his door.
Ladybug giggled as he wrenched said door open, his heart stumbling worse than his feet.
“Ladybug?” he gasped out, winded more by her presence than anything.
She held his lunch bag up for inspection.
“You left this behind,” she said, smiling, and dropped it into his hands.
Heavy. Heavier than it had been when he’d left it, he was sure.
He opened his mouth to thank her or ask about the added weight or both, but she hurried on, fingers twining shyly just over her stomach and cheeks dusted rosy. “I just wanted to thank you for the food. It, um. Helped. A lot.”
“I’m glad,” he murmured, more than a little tongue-tied, and she gave him a smile that intensified that feeling tenfold.
“S-so,” she stuttered, flushing darker, eyes flicking up to his face and then away almost immediately. “U-um.”
God, she’s just too cute.
He could only watch as she worked her way around whatever was stopping her up, twiddling her thumbs until her eyes had done a full circuit of his doorway and fell on him again.
She took a deep breath and released it, putting her hands behind her back. “S-so. Thank you.”
And with that, she stepped up close and pressed wind-chilled lips to his cheek.
Adrien dropped the bag, material slipping through his numb fingers and hitting the ground with a gentle thump.
She pulled back with a light giggle, like she knew she’d just lit up his insides like a festival after dark, and pressed her fingertips to her lips with a shy glance at his through her thick, dark eyelashes.
“Goodnight,” she bade him, and he was too stunned to stop her.
He waited until he couldn’t see her any more to sink to his knees, blushing hot enough to warm the cold air flooding through the door, and trying to pick his jaw up off the floor as he touched the spot she’d kissed with a shaking hand.
It took him a while, but he managed, finding both his jaw and the strength to stand, take the bag inside, and shut the door behind him.
He investigated the bag in a futile attempt to calm down enough to sleep, and found a veritable jackpot of bakery goods topped with a small note:
Thank you for saving Ladybug from her own ill-planning, good citizen. :P
(Sorry about the selection; it was the best I could do on short notice. The spinach puffs are good, though!)
It was signed with her signature Ladybug symbol and a little heart.
Adrien stared at that little heart for a good ten minutes before putting the note on his desk and the bag just under it.
He’d eat the pastries in the morning, he decided.
…If, of course, the butterflies in his stomach calmed down enough by that time for him to eat anything.
It was a week before he saw her again.
“So, what have we learned today?”
It really should have been incredibly awkward considering just how much he’d thought about the kiss (and the heart and her smile and that entire meeting, really), but thankfully(? he still wasn't sure) the universe enjoyed laughing in his face too much to let a chance to humiliate him slide.
“That cargo vehicles are not meant to be climbed,” Adrien rattled off dutifully, having hit his daily shame quotient a long time ago and now in an emotional state that could only be described as completely done. “Even if you think you can get to the bakery roof from the top of it, you should not climb a cargo vehicle.”
Ladybug set him down in front of the door where she’d kissed his cheek not too long ago. “Very good.”
Adrien sighed a little as he reached for the door handle.
This was the part where she fired off some witty repartee and left yet again, and he was sick of it.
Just sick of it.
Wrenching his door open, he slapped on the lights and winced as the too-bright overheads burned his eyes, fumbling them off until only the scattered low-watt lamps remained lit.
He was irritated with himself for sulking about this, irritated with her for being so lovely and so untouchable, and irritated with today for just how much it had screwed him over. He couldn’t wait to just lay down and—
He sighed again, his ire melting away at the careful concern lacing the question, and mentally kicked himself for his little display of temper. “Yeah, yeah. Today just…”
“Sucked?” she offered sympathetically, folding her arms and leaning against the door frame.
“Yeah,” he admitted. A talk with his father had been followed by a history test, too many photoshoots, getting trapped on top of a large truck in too public a place to transform, and then needing Ladybug to rescue him from his own miscalculations yet again.
It happened often enough as Chat Noir, but needing her help in his civilian form for such stupid reasons really bit.
She hummed, looking around his room curiously from where she stood.
“Would you like to come in?” he asked, more out of ingrained etiquette than any real hope.
To his shock (and delight) she pushed off the frame and wandered in.
He set his bag down against the wall with shaking hands, heart pounding as his plans for the evening vanished like wisps of smoke into the twilight.
In his room.
Ladybug was in. His. Room.
In his room and taking it in, and he’d never been more aware of the small messes that suddenly seemed to dominate the entire space. There wasn't anything to do about the pile of laundry by his closet, but he wondered if there was a way to subtly put his books away, at least. They weren’t anything truly embarrassing but they were a mess, scattered over the upper level like that.
He snapped out of his library contemplations and turned to find Ladybug looking at him, holding said game’s case up for inspection.
“Y-yeah,” he said. “Why?”
She grinned. “I love it.”
He caught the corner of his lip in his teeth, thinking. Then, before he could second guess himself: “Wanna go a round?”
She lit up.
“I was afraid you'd never ask.”
They spent the next four hours going round after round after round, moving on from Mario Kart to Ultimate Mecha Strike to Monkey Ball to Lego Star Wars, him trouncing her at every racing game and her pounding his ass into dust at every fight sim and both of them completely owning every multiplayer RPG together.
By the time she left, citing her bedtime, he was floating. He'd gone from wishing he could sleep for the next year to not being sure he'd be able to sleep at all with the giddy infatuation flooding his system.
God did he love today.
(God did he love her.)
In, in, out, out.
Left, right, left, right.
Push off the crates there and catch hold of the roof, and when your momentum fails, help it along.
The words tumbled around in Adrien’s head, the intense physical exertion blocking out everything other than the here and now.
Well… Adrien thought, glancing at his guide and companion as she matched his pace, never pulling too far ahead for him to follow despite the drastic difference in their abilities. Almost everything else.
He’d been drowning in work, trying not to think about what his father would have to say once he found out about Adrien's slipping grades and less-than-stellar modelling performances as both piled higher and higher on the back of near-daily akuma attacks.
It had gotten to the point where Ladybug was looking at Chat Noir in the lulls between desperate fights like she was wondering if she should say something, when she was the one who insisted they keep their personal lives out of their professional ones in the first place.
And then she’d knocked on Adrien Agreste’s window in the fading twilight.
“Meet me outside,” she’d instructed, glowing with barely contained excitement. “Wear good running shoes. I want to show you something.”
Baffled, he’d met her outside wearing good running shoes.
She’d proceeded to lead him down what was obviously a pre-planned route, coaxing him first down completely normal streets, then through seedy alleys and up over some low rooftops. What started out as a leisurely walk had turned into a dead run as she picked up the pace, moving faster and faster.
He’d followed her instinctively, habitually, a little surprised that even in absence of the mask the muscle memory from being Chat remained.
It was wonderfully freeing to just run like this, to hand over the reins and follow his partner wherever she cared to lead him, not thinking of anything other than how to best make the leap between ground and wall and roof and rail.
“Almost there,” she called back to him, leading him towards a large gap between two roofs, the edge of the far one lined with a safety rail.
He eyed the gap with mild trepidation. No kwami suit to help him out here.
Ladybug took a sudden right, bringing his attention to the place where the roofs drew together not five feet apart. She made the hop and looked back to where she’d left him expectantly.
He looked back to the gap, bracing his hands on his knees as he tried (and failed) to catch his breath.
I can make that, he thought.
And if he couldn’t…
Well, Ladybug was here. She wouldn’t let him fall to his death.
He straightened and walked back a few steps, then ran at the gap full-tilt.
A moment of breathless zero-g, and then he caught the railing of the opposite side, twisting himself up and over it with pleasantly aching muscles and a wonderful sense of victory.
He stuck his landing and turned it into an elaborate bow, raising his head to glance over at her and give her the most rakish grin in his arsenal. Impressed?
To his shock, she was.
“That—that was amazing!” she nearly gushed, staring at him with wide eyes and a funny little half grin. “I didn’t think anyone could do that without superpowers!”
Adrien gaped, feeling a blush burn his ears.
She glanced at the gap and murmured, “Wow.”
Adrien wondered if it was possible for humans to spontaneously combust as the burn lit up the rest of his face as well.
Ladybug gave an impressed shake of her head and gestured for him to follow her. “Over here.”
Somehow, he managed to straighten out and follow her down a narrow pathway and up onto a small ledge, stomach glowing hot and heart about five sizes too big for his chest.
“And here it is,” Ladybug announced, walking out to the very edge and securing her yoyo somewhere high up behind the wall that the ledge stuck out from. She twisted around, bracing her feet on the corner and hanging from her weapon’s string to give him room to stand on the ledge too.
He stepped onto it, looked out, and immediately saw what she’d wanted to show him.
The view of Paris, all lit up at night, was one for the poets; glittering bright and fairytale light, a sea of gold that twinkled like fallen stars against the black streets of a bustling city.
“So,” Ladybug said, watching his face hopefully. “What do you think?”
Adrien let out a shuddering breath. “It’s… it’s amazing.”
A grin broke out over her face that stole the air out of his lungs and had him slumping against the wall behind him for fear he’d fall right over the edge.
“A-a… a friend mentioned that you weren’t feeling so great,” she confessed shyly. “And I thought this might cheer you up a little.”
Adrien wondered, a little desperately, where he’d come by the idea that he was so totally, completely, irrevocably in love with her that he couldn’t fall any harder.
It was so laughably false he wanted to cry. Or scream. Or kiss her.
Mostly just kiss her.
He didn’t, even when she dropped him off on his balcony for the umpteenth time and he would’ve had the perfect excuse, but god did he want to.
(The next akuma Ladybug and Chat Noir fought, she’d looked from his offered fist to him and back before resting her hands on his shoulders and asking, very carefully, if everything was okay and if there was anything she could do to help, and Chat tried not to melt into the ground.
He’d told her that she’d already helped more than she could ever know and prayed she never found out exactly what he meant by that.)
His city run with Ladybug did wonders for him: Adrien had gotten through the rest of his week with spirits so buffed he was floating on air. The akuma attacks had slowed down a bit and he was able to shore up his lagging grades before they could catch his father's attention. His modelling had also improved in a big way now that he wasn’t having the life sucked out of him.
She’d given him courage when he most needed it, and he loved her for it.
“Kid, even I don’t get stuck this often, and I’m a real cat.”
But it was possible, just possible, that she had given him a little too much courage.
“You can float,” Adrien snapped, slipping a little closer to his inevitable death (or dunk in the Seine, whatever). “And phase through things. You don’t count. Just trans—”
Plagg dove into Adrien’s pocket at mach speed.
Adrien flinched, slipping another few inches, then sighed and wondered why he was surprised. “Hi, Ladybug.”
Ladybug rested her forearms on the half-circle railing that discouraged the masses from doing what he’d attempted to do and raised an eyebrow at him from behind her mask. “How on earth did you manage this?”
“Hardcore parkour,” he gritted out, shifting his aching feet a fraction on the concrete and breathing a sigh of relief when he didn’t slip any further.
Adrien considered letting go of the walls holding him up.
“Your ability to get stuck in the weirdest places amazes me,” she said conversationally, making no move to rescue him from his plight.
“Gotta impress you somehow,” he shot back drolly. He knew she’d rescue him eventually, but she sure seemed determined to take her sweet time about it. “How else am I supposed to catch the eye of a beautiful girl?”
“Too bad there aren't any here for you to catch the eye of,” she said with a self-conscious little laugh.
“I was talking about you,” he corrected dryly. It was funny, he thought, that she’d accept every single compliment from Chat Noir but deflect the ones that came from Adrien. He wondered what the difference was.
Noticing she'd gone quiet, he looked up to find her blushing.
Well, he’d said it as a joke, but…
(Oh hell, who was he kidding: he kept hoping he’d run into her and she'd have to hold him close to pull him out of whatever scrape he’d ended up in this time.)
He’d been quiet too long.
“S-sorry,” she stuttered, pulling out her yo-yo and preparing to throw it. “Silly question.”
It wasn’t a silly question and it had an answer. He opened his mouth to tell her so, only to be cut off by a long, thin line wrapping itself several times around his torso.
She managed to winch him up without giving him any injuries in the process, grabbing his hands to help him over the guardrail when he was close enough.
He staggered a little when he finally got his feet under him. He hadn’t been stuck for long, but holding yourself up by friction alone was no easy task.
Catching his elbow, Ladybug gave him a gentle nudge back against the guardrail and reached up to touch his hair.
Adrien’s heart stopped before he realized that she wasn’t touching his hair so much as pulling something out of it.
She presented him with a twig and a wry, sympathetic smile. “I just can’t leave you alone, can I?”
“If I had another way to contact you, believe me, I’d use it,” he said, another joke with a little too much truth.
“What, if I gave you my number I could stop worrying about where you’ll end up next?” she joked right back.
He’d stop climbing for good if that was what it took to get her number, he thought wryly.
She held out her hand expectantly.
He gave it a blank stare before he realized she hadn’t been kidding, and then he was scrambling for his phone and praying he hadn’t dropped it while he was ‘hardcore parkouring.’
Miraculously he hadn’t, and he unlocked and dropped it into Ladybug’s waiting palm while trying (and failing) to pretend he was completely chill about what was happening.
“So,” she said, staring at the phone in her hands before moving to enter her number with — were her hands shaking? “Next time you feel the urge to climb somewhere high up, call me first.”
“Sure,” Adrien croaked. Holy shit holy shit holy shit— “Of course. Definitely. For sure. Abso— I’ll stop now.”
She giggled breathlessly, handing him back the phone.
His fingers brushed hers as he accepted it, yanking his attention to the exact texture of her suit and the electric charge it sent crawling over his skin.
He was saving this number in every memory storage device he had, from his contacts list to scrawling it on his headboard.
“So, no more high places, no more low places, and no more parkour!” she instructed, walking backwards. Then she tacked on, “And call me!”
Adrien was still choking on those last three words when she made her exit — they were worse than ‘hot stuff.’
(The recollection of which sent him into a downwards spiral of remembering every bright blush and every flirty word she’d ever given him, and it was a long while before he left that spot.)
It’s wonderfully, horribly, terrifyingly easy to see her after getting her number: all he really has to do is ask.
You, me. Ultimate Mecha Strike. Rematch?
If I remember correctly, i’m in the lead. Why would I give you a chance to steal my throne? ;)
Because there is mercy in your soul, and you’ll let poor mortals attempt to overthrow you
I’ll be there in 10
“Fatality!” Ladybug squealed, jumping up from her seat on his couch to dance in place.
“Wrong game,” Adrien said, watching her swinging hips.
Ladybug had the cutest, dorkiest, most endearing victory dance he’d ever seen, and he’d seen Marinette’s.
“Sore loser,” she teased, posing with her hands behind her head while letting her ‘lucky’ silver controller dangle from her fingertips. The stance emphasized her generous hips, and the midday sunlight painted in her in high contrast: blue eyes and scarlet suit, summer incarnate.
Adrien’s mouth watered.
He swallowed a little and made a noncommittal hum. It was awfully hard to be sore about losing when victory looked so good on her.
“Seriously,” she laughed, turning back to the screen. “Why do you keep picking Ultimate Mecha Strike when you always lose?”
“Why do you keep picking racing games?” he dodged, because ‘I like watching you win’ would come out weird no matter how he said it. And she did always chose racing games when it was her turn to pick — despite the fact that, at some point, she would inevitably hand her controller to him in a funk after a good fifteen minutes of struggling with the first lap of Rainbow Road.
She gave him a fleeting, funny little smile and backed the game up to the character selection screen, murmuring something that was swallowed by the sound effect.
“What?” He could’ve sworn she said…
“Nothing!” she yelped, reselecting LB-03. “Game on!”
Because I like watching you win.
That was obviously not what she’d said, but Adrien couldn’t unhear it.
He couldn’t unhear it so thoroughly that he lost the next five rounds even worse than he normally did, and he normally lost by a landslide.
“Okay, okay, mercy,” Ladybug said after his fifth wipeout. “Let’s continue this when you’re awake enough to pose a challenge.”
She just grinned and stretched. “Text me when you want another rematch.”
Adrien reached for his phone.
She nudged his shin with her foot. “Smartass.”
“Your smartass,” his mouth answered for him.
She stared at him.
He stared at the far wall.
“R-right!” she squeaked. “My sm— Um. Well. Later.”
“…Later,” he echoed, dropping his head onto the arm of the couch.
He thought with more than a bit of mortified despair that if he was going to survive knowing Ladybug in both his hero and civilian personas, he should probably invest in some impulse control and brain-to-mouth filters.
And had she seriously started to accept that comment?
It was sort of an unspoken pact between the two of them that his house staff couldn’t find out about their meet-ups. How this pact came about, Adrien wasn’t entirely certain, but on his side at least it was due to the necessity of keeping his father out of things more than any real desire to keep the two of them secret.
He had his suspicions about Ladybug's motives (there was a reason he didn’t associate too closely with Marinette as Chat, and it wasn't for lack of opportunity or welcome), but in the end it didn’t really matter to him — she was still spending time with him and he was over the moon about it.
So when he heard Nathalie knocking at his bedroom door, his first instinct was, of course, to drop his controller, kick the power button on his entertainment system, and drag Ladybug into his closet.
He started to reconsider his course of action when he realized that he could feel her breath curling down the neck of his t-shirt and the soft curve of what he was pretty certain was a breast pressed against his bicep. By then it was too late: Natalie had pushed into his room, calling out for him and reminding him of the photoshoot he had in an hour and his fencing class afterward.
He edged backwards into Ladybug, not quite daring to breathe and feeling her still pressed against him in the same way.
Thankfully, his long-standing reputation of being obedient helped them out; after walking around for his room a bit, Nathalie seemed to decide that he wasn’t in his room and left.
Adrien let out a long, exhausted sigh of relief and rested his head against the door. Ladybug had backed away from the door at some point during Nathalie’s inspection, and Adrien’s entire right side was cold with her loss.
“Do you have Narnia stored in the back of this closet?” Ladybug’s muffled, incredulous voice sounded from further away than he might have guessed.
Adrien fumbled for the light switch. “If I do, I’ve never found it. And, believe me, I’ve looked.”
He found the switch and flooded the space with soft ‘daylight imitation’ light.
Ladybug was a good two meters away, having backed up into his coat rack, and was now blinking around the room with huge, disbelieving eyes. “Woah…”
Adrien looked around his closet, trying to see what she saw. He had most of the ‘teen boys’ Agreste lines (all the clothing he’d modelled, some he hadn’t, plus some items that hadn’t made it to the catwalk or the catalogues) which… was kind of impressive, now that he thought about it.
Ladybug pushed off the coats and wandered around the cramped, cluttered space, picking up a top hat in her wanderings.
“Nice threads,” she quipped, pulling it over her hair with a flourish and an exaggerated pose. She wiggled an eyebrow at him and fixed him with an over-the-top ‘smoulder.’ “How do I look?”
Adrien nearly swallowed his tongue trying not to laugh out loud. “Dashing, my lady.”
She went absolutely still, staring at him out of the corner of her eye, but the moment passed before he could well and truly work himself into a panic.
She carried on, laughing off the accidental (habitual) endearment, completely unaware of his stopped heart. Putting the top hat back where she found it, she picked up one of his standard white overshirts.
Adrien managed to breathe a small, relieved sigh before she pulled the shirt on and his mind went… somewhere else.
She caught his eye over her shoulder and winked at him as she popped the collar with a smirk.
Ripping his gaze away from Ladybug in his shirt, Adrien dove for the sweater section of the closet before he could do or say something he’d regret — the least of which would be running out to stick his head under a cold tap.
To distract himself, he pulled out a long, dark trench coat and wondered how it had ended up with his sweaters.
(Of course his mind then happily dressed Ladybug in it, so that was kind of a bust.)
He slung it on over his black t-shirt and went hunting for the rest of the ensemble, determined to ignore the beautiful girl who was occupying the small room with him.
The only parts that he could find were the scarf and the hat, but he donned both of those and turned around for inspection. “How do I look?”
Ladybug, thankfully no longer wearing his shirt, gave him a once over with bright blue eyes…
Adrien needed a moment.
“Looking sharp, good sir,” she said with a little clawing gesture and tongue poking out between her teeth, rakish and flirtatious and—
Okay, maybe he needed twenty.
Instead of giving him any, Ladybug picked up what was easily the most ridiculous couture garment in his collection and asked, “How do you wear this?”
Adrien took a few deep breaths and explained, and they both had a good laugh at the result.
Ladybug wandered to the opposite end of the room and Adrien took the opportunity to catch his breath and slow his pulse.
He'd just about succeeded when an interested hum came from Ladybug's half of his closet.
"I don't remember this one..."
He looked up to find Ladybug examining an older, unreleased fall 2015 shirt; one of Shah's, by the look of it.
"You're a fan of Shah's?"
She jumped. "A-ah. Y-yeah. Shah's fan, yes."
Adrien blinked. Was she blushing?
What was there to blush about in being the fan of one of Gabriel Agreste's leading designers?
She turned on her heel before he could voice that question. She held the shirt out in front of her expression looked between him and it, then, to his surprise, she threw it to him, pulling another shirt off the rack with her off hand as she did so.
"It matches your eyes," was her reasoning, though her expression gleamed part-mischief and part-dare, so Adrien took the words with a bit of salt.
Habit, if nothing else, had him shucking his coat, hat, and t-shirt and shaking his head to settle the generous amount of products he normally used in his hair. He held the offered shirt up in front of him and studied the clean-cut, oriental-style lines of the forest green garment.
He'd probably need to undo the lacing in front first... No, wait, he just needed to loosen—
The soft shhthp of fabric hitting the floor made him look up.
He blinked again.
Ladybug had gone from a little pink to a brilliant shade of cherry red, mouth hanging open and dark eyes fixed on him, the shirt that'd been in her hands now pooled on the floor.
Her gaze flicked up to his head for a moment, then down his body, and he looked down at himself, trying to see what she was seeing.
He was met with... his own bare chest.
It took him a little longer to realize that he'd just stripped in front of the love of his life.
He slowly brought the shirt to cover his chest, feeling his own skin prickle with sympathetic embarrassed heat.
"S-s-s-s-s-sorry!" Ladybug squeaked, turning on her heel and hunching into the high rack behind her. "I'll just— I'll just— Um. Change. Let! Let you ch-change."
Ladybug was body shy.
It wasn't something he would have expected of his confident, skin-tight-bodysuit-wearing partner, and the discovery was... downright adorable, actually.
He turned away, undoing only the necessary clasps (it wasn't like he needed to keep his hair neat or anything) and tugged the silk shirt over his head more for the sake of her comfort than his.
"There," he grunted, tugging the shirt into place. "Your innocent eyes are safe."
Ladybug made a strangled noise that sounded kind of like a laugh and turned back around. She stared at his stomach for about two seconds, then fixed her eyes on the hat stand.
"Great!" she told his collection of bowlers, less red than when he'd been shirtless but still blushing rather noticeably. "It. Um. I was right! It... really does bring out your eyes."
"...Thank you," he said, deciding not to mention that she hadn't actually looked high enough to see if it did match his eyes.
A rather awkward silence fell, during which they dug a little deeper into his closet. Ladybug refused to look him in the eye until he pulled out an absurdly over-sized duster and wine-red sash. The tension cracked on her slightly hysterical laughter and then they were off again, going on a treasure hunt the most ridiculous combinations they could find and modelling the results for each other.
Thanks to the lack of windows in the space and just how much fun poking around his closet with Ladybug was, several hours passed without his noticing. The two of them were only brought back to earth by Ladybug’s alarm letting her know it was time for dinner.
She left in a rush and he was left to deal with the combined disapproval from Nathalie, his fencing instructor, and his coworkers.
He dealt with it like he always did, and started counting the minutes until he could see Ladybug again.
(And maybe, possibly seeing if he could get her to growl like that again.)
Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies’ cat~
In Adrien’s defense, it was Stray Cat Strut.
As the soul behind Chat Noir, he practically had a contractual obligation to sing along whenever it came on his playlist shuffle, and never let it be said that Adrien skipped out on his duties as Chat Noir.
I’m a feline Casanova—
(Other duties could suck it in times of need, but Chat Noir would always, always step up to the plate, no matter the circumstance or cost.)
Hey, man, that’s where it’s at!
Rather less in his defense, he could have changed the song. He knew Ladybug would be showing up very soon; the smart thing to do would have been to change the song.
But change the song he did not, and sing along he did.
Which, of course, meant that he was dancing around, obliviously singing at the top of his lungs into the grip of the stick he used for playing ball hockey (he kept the small net stashed behind his halfpipe) when Ladybug came into his room.
“Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man~”
He dipped the ‘microphone’ like a lover. Spun around. Dipped backwards with one foot in the air and—
“Get my dinner from a garbage ca-a-aAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Caught sight of Ladybug.
She stood by his (open) doorway, hand half-raised in forgotten greeting and grinning like the cat who got the cream.
He clutched the hockey stick to his chest, shaking with his heart pounding painfully hard. The first thing out of his mouth that was not a string of swearwords was, “Knock.”
“I did,” she shot back, as strangled as he, though the thickness in her voice sounded more like laughter than shock. “You didn’t answer.”
“Knock harder,” he hissed, blood rushing to his face.
Of all the times for her to walk in…
Unholy glee sparked in her eyes as she approached him. “But then I would’ve missed out on the show—”
“—that’s the point—”
“—and you have such a great singing voice,” she carried on, ignoring him entirely to rest an elbow on his shoulder. “Don’t stop for little old me.”
“I slink down the alley looking for a fight…”
“Shut uuuuup,” Adrien moaned, burying his face in his hands, the hockey stick pressing into his shoulder.
“Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night— C’mon!” she laughed.
“Wow, stray cat, you’re a real gone guy!”
“I wish that I could be as carefree and wild…”
“...But I got cat class and I got cat— Goddammit!”
"I don't bother chasing mice arouuuuund!"
"Oh god— slink down the alley—"
"Looking for a fight!"
Then, together: "Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night!"
Ladybug was laughing too hard to sing the next line, so Adrien did it for her. "Singing the blues while the lady cats cry—"
"Wo-ow! Str-stray ca-a-ahaHAHAHA!"
"-stray cat, you're a real gone guy!"
Ladybug managed to collect herself enough to sing the last few lines together with him.
"I wish that I could be as carefree and wild, but I got cat class and I got cat style~"
And then, to Adrien's utter delight, she meowed.
She looked at him and his silly grin and said, "Oh, shut up."
She puffed her cheeks at him.
He booped her nose.
She blinked once, twice, and gave him the softest, sweetest smile he'd ever seen.
The smile stuck with him even as she dragged him away to the DDR competition she'd been promised, stuck in the back of his mind and under his heart like a stove burner.
He could take a little embarrassment, a little humbling for this; for this companionship and camaraderie and friendship from her on both sides of the mask. For getting to know all these different sides of her, for getting to spend time with her like this... he could take it.
This was both more and less than all he'd ever wanted, but somehow, it was exactly what he needed.
(Though it would have been nice if she'd let him win at DDR at least once.)
“Does it bother you?”
Adrien blinked at his stargazing companion, sprawled by his side on the roof of his house after a long solo patrol. “Does what bother me?”
“That I could be anyone under this mask.”
What a loaded question.
He hadn’t expected a light joke about her family to end up like this, but it must’ve been weighing on her mind for a while now.
“Well, are you a sixty year old pedophile under the mask?”
(He knew she wasn’t; in the early days of being Chat and being desperate to hide being Chat, he’d gotten every bit of information he could out of Plagg. He'd learned that the kwami couldn’t change much. They could pad places and flatten places, could change hair and eye and skin colors to a small degree, and generally keep people from recognizing them via glamour. The kwami could not add parts, remove parts, or change body type, bone structure, or voice.
Ladybug was a little over five feet with dark hair, mouthwatering hips and an attitude, that much Adrien was sure of.
He was a little less certain of her age, but he knew she couldn’t be more than five years older than him or more than two or three younger, judging by the growth spurts he could see when he reviewed the last few years of their battles on the Ladyblog.
...He had his nostalgic moments, okay?)
“Then… not really.” He returned to the stars, knowing the question wasn’t closed but needing to organize his thoughts.
“You’re not ‘anyone,’ you’re you,” Adrien tried, attempting to explain the crux of the matter.
“Who could be anyone,” she insisted, sitting up to frown down at him, one hand braced on the roof next to his head.
“No,” Adrien said, frowning back a little. “You’re you. Ladybug is you.”
Ladybug was unconvinced.
Adrien sighed and tried to figure out how to put words to what he meant.
“Ladybug isn't big on sweets.”
“You’re Ladybug and you only like occasional sweets and pastries. You love DDR and could probably win a national Ultimate Mecha Strike competition.”
“You put your hands on your hips when you’re feeling smug and couldn’t win Mario Kart if your life depended on it. You forget to eat when you go on long stakeouts and quote Disney when life gives you a chance. You pretend to hate puns, but you don’t, really. You love making dramatic exits. You have the cutest freckles I’ve ever seen and you babble when you’re nervous.”
Adrien rolled onto his side to face her, tucking chilled hands under his head as his body protested the hours spent lying under the stars alone with her — hours since she'd dropped in after her patrol, but not so long since they'd abandoned his astronomy books in favor of just talking and watching the sky shift over them.
“You can take compliments but you blush like anything over them. You’d take on the world all on your own if you had to. You don’t know the meaning of ‘acceptable losses.’ You've taken classes on fighting with a bo staff but you don’t know how to use a normal yo-yo. You don't usually eat pastries, but you still repay people with them. You took me out and showed me the city because you heard I was having a bad week."
"You needed it," she mumbled, skin darkening under the moonlight in a way that suggested she was blushing.
Adrien had to remind himself to breathe. "I did. Thank you."
She took a breath and opened her mouth, but seemed to think better of it and closed it. Smiling down at him wryly, she shifted her weight onto the hand next to his head and leaned over him, framed in moonlight and ethereal, blocking the sparse starlight behind her.
"Any time," she murmured, soft and fond and—
Adrien — Chat — swallowed hard.
"You save Paris almost every day.”
You save me almost every day.
It wasn't what he'd intended to say and it wasn't precisely what he meant, but it was out of his mouth before he could think it over.
It seemed to throw her for a loop.
She looked away and leaned back, trading her lovely face for the brave little stars that shone through the light pollution while she self-consciously touched the lower edge of her mask. “I-I’m— I’m not that good. N-not without…”
Her mouth turned in a vulnerable little twist, and something in Adrien's chest lurched up, whimpering no, no, no, let me fix it, please.
“It… comes with superpowers, right?”
She startled, surprised into looking at him again, the corner of her mouth quirking as she nodded.
“You don’t need them to be who you are. It might give you powers, but the person under the mask is the one using them.”
Her mouth twisted again, throat working as her fingers curled slightly on the roof.
"Do I wish I knew you without the mask?" said Adrien, remembering his original point. "Of course. Does it bother me?"
He pretended to think for a moment, only a moment before he caved to Ladybug's anxious stare. "No, it doesn't bother me. You're you, and I—"
I love you.
"—I think you're amazing."
He smiled, feeling his heart press up against the back of his throat. She was his everything, and she was here with him.
His partner, once elusive and distant and untouchable, drew her knees up to her chest and hid her face in her arms, just a girl sitting on a roof with him in the middle of the night.
This wasn't what he thought would come about from channeling his namesake and getting stuck in a tree, but he couldn't say he was disappointed.
No, he thought, watching her ears darken in the moonlight as they both froze their extremities off and the universe wheeled by overhead, disappointment was definitely not what he was feeling.
The fact that Adrien was also Chat Noir was a secret he fully intended to keep — right up until Ladybug tried to kiss him.
They'd been talking, as they often did as of late, card game scattered and forgotten on the bedspread beneath them in the late-afternoon light.
Ladybug had been more open since that night on the roof. More open to specifics, specifically, letting little details of her life slip through that she never would have before.
Adrien had known that she knew her fashion icons, but now he knew that she knew them because she was interested in becoming a designer. He'd known she'd taken classes in using a bo staff, but now he knew that that was only the tip of the veritable iceberg of various martial arts classes she'd taken over the years, and that she'd quit them all to make time for superhero-ing. He'd known that she was a highly skilled video game player, but he now knew that that was because video games were her and her father's bonding activity of choice.
He hoarded all this information greedily, snatching up all the precious hints about the person she was elsewhere, filing it away with a single-minded dedication that surprised even him.
(She was more relaxed around Chat, too, and he didn't know what to make of it. While she'd always relaxed a little when she was by his side (something that sent his mind into a tailspin whenever he noticed or remembered it), the easy smiles and casual touches she gave him now were single-handedly destroying him from the inside out, starting with the dead center of his heart.
He knew he was in love with her, but this was getting ridiculous — if she kept looking at him like that, it wasn't going to be an akuma that got him: he was going to die braining himself on a lamppost.)
In any case they'd been talking, and maybe what was being said was inconsequential or maybe it wasn't. The details were hazy, fluid, lost in her eyes and the cadence of her voice.
He hadn't fully realized they were drawing together until her lips were inches from his own and getting closer, and he, like an idiot, went along with it.
He'd wanted this, wanted her, since that one fateful day so, so long ago — the one where he'd found a ring and become a superhero and met a beautiful girl with a laugh like sunshine, eyes like rain, and an innate kindness like nothing he'd ever experienced before.
He'd wanted this ever since Chat Noir's emergence, ever since he'd become partners with this amazing, wonderful person who—
Who didn't want him back.
Chat Noir would do a lot of things to get a kiss from Ladybug, but tricking her was not one of them.
She stopped, and Adrien caught a flash of hurt flickering through her eyes.
"I need to tell you something," he confessed to the dust motes dancing in the sunlight, unable to look her in the eye as he covered her hand with his own. It felt less like his heart was pounding and more like his entire chest was pounding, guilt clawing up from the pit of his stomach. "I'm actually—"
"Chat Noir," she finished for him, hurt fading into understanding.
Adrien choked. "How-?!"
He'd been careful!
"I found you in a tree, kitty," she said drolly, booping his nose when he yanked back in offense.
"I never would've heard the end of it if you'd figured it out then," he shot back, still feeling her fingers under his own and his heart in his mouth.
An embarrassed little smile softened her face. "Okay, okay. I... accidentally met Plagg a few weeks ago."
Well, that would explain... quite a few things.
(His mind flashed back to how she would still for a fraction of a second after certain comments, sport knowing little smiles in strange places, and shit he should have put together her knowing sooner.
How many times must have he humiliated himself by now?)
"Why bring it up now, though?"
Adrien huffed out half a laugh, disappointment that the moment was broken seeping in now that his confession was out of the way. "You've turned me — Chat — down how many times now? I'm not going to trick you into kissing someone you don't want to kiss."
She blinked. "Who says I don't want to kiss you?"
Adrien's heart made a concentrated effort to leap out of his mouth. Still, his voice was surprisingly steady when he said, "Uh, you?"
"You mean mid-battle or when our timers are about to run out?" she pointed out, though not without a sheepish wince.
"Before battles, on patrol..." he added, trying hard not to buy it, despite the weak flutters of hope springing up in his stomach.
She winced a little harder. "I... I was scared."
Ladybug? Scared? Of this?
"Of losing you. Of what it would do to our partnership. Of a lot of things." She bit her lip, leaning in a little closer. "Of... what you'd think of me — civilian me, if you knew her."
And as much as he didn't want to, Adrien understood that. He'd worried about what his partner would think of him without the suit too.
Maybe he shouldn't have.
"I'm... I'm not scared of that anymore," she whispered, the tips of her fingers stroking his cheek while her eyes flicked to his mouth. "Any of it."
"So," Adrien started, then cleared his throat and tried again when the word came out as a wavering rasp. "You don't mind kissing Chat Noir?"
They were both leaning in again, getting closer and closer with every whispered word, every stuttering heartbeat, every shaking breath.
"And you don't mind kissing Adrien Agreste?"
He could only see the quirk of her lips because he was already looking at them. She was so close. "No."
"Then, if I asked you if I could kiss you...?"
"I'd say, 'what are you waiting for?'"
And that was it.
A thousand little fantasies suddenly became glorious, mind-blowing reality.
The sound of her hum as she slowly stroked his lips with hers, the feeling of her hair tangled with his bare hands, the taste of her lips — he uncovered the answers to these little mysteries one by one and all at once, mind far, far away and yet more present than he'd ever been before.
She used cherry-flavored chapstick.
The thought floated through his mind while he caught a breath and rested his forehead against hers, licking his lips and tasting her and cherry.
It vanished as he nudged her down to lie on her back. She arched into him as she complied, pushing his blazer to the floor in the process.
Their lips met again with little ceremony, soft heat and sweet caresses rendering everything else forgettable.
Ladybug sighed into the kiss, a fluttering almost-noise that slipped between his lips, down his throat, and around his thundering heart, and he slid a hand up her ribcage only to feel hers in much the same state.
By the time they parted again, dusk had fallen.
Their eyes met, blue and green with hopeless, helpless want and adoration between them, and laughed for the sheer joy of being together and being alive.
And the world spun on.
And maybe it took weeks for Chat to be able to think straight in a fight again, so what.
And maybe it took a little longer than that for Ladybug to sneak into his room and wait out her transformation, revealing a kind, brave, pretty classmate he really should have seen coming.
And maybe, exactly one year after Adrien Agreste had first spoken to Ladybug, Chat Noir found one Marinette Dupain-Cheng stuck in a tree, and laughed himself sick while she threw bits of her lunch at his head.
The specifics didn't really matter. The only thing that mattered was that she was here with him, and they were happy.