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Umbrellas and Bracelets

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Marinette couldn't believe her luck. Usually, when it came to partner projects, she didn't stand a chance. Not that she was complaining about generally being Alya's partner, but they didn't always get to pick. When it came to random partnerships, she usually had to sit by and watch as Chloe somehow—magically—ended up with Adrien. Or, the last two times, Lila. It would appear that when it came to such things, she simply didn't have the high chances that Ladybug should.

But not this time!

This time, she was sitting in the library beside Adrien, a stupid grin on her face as she pretended to focus on the books they'd pulled for their research project. They had to have three textual sources, which was, naturally, the biggest pain. But Marinette wasn't the type to waste time when she had it (being Ladybug tended to interfere with everything, so she used her available time wisely) and, apparently, neither was Adrien.

So there they were, the same day the project had been assigned, alone and sitting in the library.

Marinette thought she might combust.

It didn't matter that they'd barely said two words to one another, or that Adrien actually seemed preoccupied with everything but her. None of it mattered. Because he was there, and she was there, and they were alone.

No Chloe, no Lila, nothing.

It was like a breath of fresh air.

She'd also been reading the same paragraph for five minutes. Resituating herself in her seat, she reminded herself that she was there to work, despite the fact that Adrien was only a short distance away. She'd regret it later, she knew, if she didn't at least get something done.

Beside her, Adrien sighed.

Actually, that was the third time he'd sighed in the last five minutes.

Biting the inside of her cheek, Marinette glanced his way. He was hunched over a thick encyclopedia, elbows on the pages as he held his chin in his hands. Though he was apparently reading, even Marinette could tell there was something about him that seemed distracted.

Tapping her fingers on her own book, she considered her options. Either she could stay quiet and continue to listen to his distracted sighing, or she could ask him about it. There was no harm in the latter, she supposed. And maybe it'd start up a conversation.

She could do this. Pull it together, Marinette!

"Um…" she flicked her eyes between him and her book. "A-are you alright?"

He looked her way immediately, appearing moderately surprised. Almost as though he'd totally forgotten she was there. Marinette tried not to think about that.

"Uh, oh, yeah, fine," he assured, casting her a small smile at the same time. It caused her to blush, Marinette fiddling with the pages of her book as she looked away. "Why do you ask?"

"N-no reason," she muttered, lacking the bravery to look up at him again. "You just keep sighing."



"It's nothing," he said a moment later. "I'm just thinking, is all. But thanks, Marinette." The sound of her name did finally pull her attention his way again. "For being concerned, I mean."

"O-of course." She managed a small smile of her own, which he returned—as he always did—before he refocused on his book.

Supposing that was it, Marinette tried not to be too disheartened as she went back to pretending to read. She knew half the reason she and Adrien weren't better friends was because she could never pull herself together around him. It wasn't like she'd failed to notice the odd looks he sometimes gave her, when she stuttered or stumbled around him. She was afraid to even consider what he thought of her.

Why couldn't she act around him the way she did everyone else? But she couldn't help it. It was like his sheer presence made her shy and clammy. And she wasn't a shy person usually, or naturally sweaty all the time.

It was ridiculous, and a part of herself she was really beginning to hate.

"Actually, there is something," Adrien said suddenly, jolting Marinette from her thoughts. Eyes wide, she looked his way, taking in how he stared thoughtfully off across the library, his fingers tapping on his thighs beneath the table. "And you're pretty smart, right?" He did look at her then. "Maybe you'll be able to help."

"I can- I can try," she replied, closing her book so as to give him her undivided attention.

"Really?" He looked relieved. "Awesome. I've been trying to find someone to talk to about this, but Nino isn't any help. And you're a girl so you might, like, know about this stuff." He'd reached up and rubbed the back of his neck.

"I am a girl, yes," she said before she could stop herself. Her sass seemed to surprise him, which caused her to look down in embarrassment.

It was only made worse when he laughed.

"Yeah, sorry," he agreed. "That was a stupid thing to say."

She didn't comment.

"So, anyway." He huffed, drawing Marinette's attention again. "There's this girl, and-and I like her." Marinette's breath caught, her heart freezing for just a moment before it went pumping twice as fast. "I mean, I really like her. But, I just, I don't know how to tell her that I like her, because I'm not… I've never done something like that before. And every time I've tried to tell her, something has happened or gotten in the way."


"So I was thinking, maybe I'm just going about this the wrong way or-or something." Marinette had to admit, he was cute when he was blushing, even if the course of the conversation was something she was doing a very good job of ignoring. "And I was just wondering, I mean, just, like, what you thought. Because you're a girl and you know, I guess. Just, what would be the best way…?"

"The best way to tell her?"

"Y-yeah. Like, is that stuff about flowers and chocolate true? Or-or should I just ask her out or…" He was only getting more and more flustered, his adorable state the only defense Marinette was keeping against whatever else was ready to drop inside her.

"I dunno, Adrien," she said, shrugging and forcing herself to keep her voice steady. "All girls are different. Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I know what other girls want. What's she like?" Was that really something she wanted to know?

"She's amazing," Adrien practically gushed, which did cause Marinette to smile. "She's beautiful, for one, but she's also confident and brave, and strong, and passionate. She goes after what she wants, but she's still considerate and kind. I just… She's incredible. And she doesn't put up with any nonsense from anyone. She is stubborn sometimes," he laughed to himself, "and she can be a bit rash. But she always apologizes for her mistakes, which is a lot harder, I think, than a lot of people realize. And she's always putting everyone else before herself. Even me. I just… I think I'm in love with her."

It seemed he hadn't intended to say that last part, because his eyes went wide and his lips immediately clamped closed as his face rushed red from his neck to the tips of his ears. But Marinette didn't laugh, or patronize him.

Rather, she put on a smile and pushed forward, despite the hollow, ripping raggedness that shook inside her chest. She ignored all that, forcing herself to be numb.

"She does sound incredible," she agreed. "If she's really all the things you say, then being honest is probably your best bet."

"You think?"

"Sure." The words sounded empty, despite the honesty in them. "Love isn't about… flowers or all that stuff. If you really feel that way about her, then the truth should be enough. Love is a gift all on its own—it doesn't need other things with it. Or, at least, that's what I think."

Her eyes had fallen back to the table.

"You really think so?" He sounded relieved. Marinette was glad for that. "I guess I just get so nervous when I think about telling her that I get caught up in whether I'm doing it right or not."

"There is no right or wrong when it comes to feelings like that…" she said quietly.

"You're right," he said, sounding firm as he gripped his own fist in his hand. "I should just tell her. Just do it." He was giving himself a pep talk. Marinette knew that perfectly well—she'd done the same to herself over and over, to no avail.

"Thanks, Marinette," he said a second later, reaching out and laying a hand on her shoulder. "You're a really good friend."


"Of course." The words seemed to expel with her breath—a painful exhale.

She needed to get away, she realized. Get as far away from him as possible. Because if she didn't, she was afraid her defenses would break and he'd be there to see it all. He didn't deserve that, and she didn't want to make him feel guilty over having confided in her.

It was okay that he liked someone else—that he was in love with someone else.

She'd never stood a chance anyway.

"Guys!" Just as Marinette was trying to come up with an excuse to flee, Nino came bursting into the library with one at the ready. "Have you heard? There's an akuma attack going on at the Louvre! Alya's already headed over, but I don't think Ladybug and Chat Noir have shown up yet."

All Marinette could think was "perfect."


It'd been simple, for which Chat was thankful. The more incompetent akumas usually meant less time getting thrown around. Granted, he loved being Chat—especially when Ladybug was with him—but he wasn't going to ask for more trouble when there wasn't any. An akuma taken care of in only twenty minutes? He'd take that.

Besides, Ladybug seemed distracted. It hadn't interfered with the fight, but he was betting that was only because it hadn't been overly challenging. Had things been worse, he'd have been a little more concerned. Not to say he wasn't anyway—because Ladybug being distracted caused him to worry anyway—but there were different types of concern for different situations. Now that the battle was over and they were safely perched on a rooftop some streets away, he could turn his full attention to her condition.

She was standing beside him, posture rigid as she stared out over the city. Her hands were clamped tightly together in front of her, flexing every once in a while. Though he couldn't see behind her mask, he could tell that her eyebrows was scrunched, the frown beneath her seemingly distant eyes only adding more distress to the look.

Because that was what she was, he realized. Upset.

He'd seen Ladybug in similar states, but never quite like this. Usually such things were fleeting, the result of action in the moment, and were accented by anger or frustration. But what he was seeing in her now was seemingly raw anguish, like she was actually… suffering.

And then her lips pulled into a pained grimace, a single tear leaking down her mask and across her cheek.

"My Lady." Chat was closer within the moment, reaching out and gripping her shoulder lightly. "Are you alright? What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

Because she was crying. He'd never seen her cry before.

Sniffing, she reached up and wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand, taking a deep, shaky breath—as if to somehow calm herself, or regain control.

"It's nothing," she lied, causing Chat to frown. "I'm fine."

"Ladybug…" He said her name quietly, putting as much comforting feeling into it as he could. Ladybug was everything to him, was the most important, and he didn't want her to suffer. If she would tell him, if she'd be open, then maybe he could help. He knew that wasn't what she wanted—that she preferred they keep a distance—but it was breaking his heart, seeing her like this. "Please, tell me." He wanted to be there for her.

At first, it looked like she wasn't going to say anything more on the subject, her head twisting away as if to reject him. But then a new wave of hurt seem to roll through her, causing more tears to swell from her eyes as she futilely tried to wipe them away.

Still holding her shoulder, Chat reached up with his other hand and wrapped his fingers around her wrist, tugging her hand back from her face. Until she'd looked up at him, unable to stop the tears that now fell, unhindered, over her mask.

"Tell me," he repeated, voice soft yet firm.

She breathed in, her whole chest trembling as she did. "It's stupid," she admitted, swallowing hard as she did. "I knew I didn't stand a chance."

Chat listened, continuing to gently hold her as he did.

"Of course he's in love with s-someone else," she went on, Chat's eyes widening just a bit as the subject of her distress finally became somewhat clearer. "It's not like I was ever g-g-good enough. He said that she's amazing and beautiful and I'm none of those things."

"My Lady…"

"I can't even get out a coherent sentence around-d him."

"Ladybug, don't…" He wanted to contradict every word she said. Because didn't she see just how incredible she was? He wanted to tell her, to make sure she knew, but the words wouldn't come. Because he knew hers stemmed from hurt, not from reality, and no amount of reassurance would make her feel better.

He could be there, even if his own heart felt like it was shriveling up inside him.

Her crying grew suddenly worse, teeth gritting as she closed her eyes. "He doesn't even notice me."

So much pain.

Blinking rapidly himself, Chat pulled her to him, folding his arms around her back and holding tight as she burrowed her face against his chest, hiccupping and sniffing uncontrollably as she did. He hated this—hated seeing her hurt. He didn't know who this guy was that had done this to her, but he hated him for it. How could someone not see her? Not want her? She was everything. And anyone who couldn't appreciate that didn't even have the right to be around her.

"He doesn't deserve you," Chat murmured, squeezing her tighter.

"But I love him," she cried, her own hands flexing against where she'd laid them on his chest. "And he loves somebody else…"

"Then he's an idiot." Chat propped his chin on the top of her head.

"It's my f-fault," she said, trying to gulp back her emotions to little success. "I can b-barely say two words ar-around him. Why would he have no-no-noticed me?"

"I'm so sorry, My Lady."

"And now h-he'll probably tell her that he l-loves her because I t-told him to tell her and I'll lose him. I'm so stupid."

"You're not stupid," he corrected gently. "Don't think that. If he doesn't want to be with you, that's his loss and his fault. Not yours." He didn't understand how anyone could possibly pass her over for someone else, but perhaps that was his own feelings rearing up. His own defensiveness over her. As far as he could see, there was no one better. That she'd dared to love this guy and he'd dared not to notice was practically disgusting. He didn't understand how such a thing could even be possible, and it infuriated him the longer he was faced with it.

"But I want to be with h-him," she sobbed.

"I know," Chat said, ignoring his own stab wounds at her words. This wasn't about him.

Above them, the gathering clouds finally got too heavy to hold themselves up, sprinkles of rain finally beginning to fall. In the same moment, Ladybug's miraculous began beeping. They hadn't required his cataclysm, but her lucky charm had come in handy. She'd be turning back soon.

He had no desire to hurt her more than she already was.

"My Lady…" His tone was knowing.

After a moment, and a quivering sigh, she nodded. As if pulling herself together by the frayed ends of her nerves, she gently pushed herself away, managing a weak, faltering smile as she glanced up at him.

"I'm sorry," she said, voice barely above a whisper as the rain started to sprinkle harder.

"Don't be." His hand had travelled back to her shoulder as he smiled back. "You're my best friend, Ladybug. I'll always be here when you need me."

"Thank you…"

"And I'm sorry that this guy doesn't seem to realize what he's missing," he went on, his hand finally falling from her person. "He clearly needs to get his head on straight."

His comment seemed to pull some slight amusement through her heartbreak, for which Chat was grateful. Of course she was human, just like anyone else, and, therefore, subject to vulnerability, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

"You're a good friend, Chat," she murmured, stepping closer to the edge of the roof as she did.

He gulped, ignoring how that word wanted to shatter his heart into a million pieces. "Thanks," he managed to choke out, as she pulled her yoyo from her hip. "And if this guy doesn't quit being an idiot, just tell me. I'll teach him a lesson."

"He's not an idiot," she said, though her words lacked conviction and she smiled a little wider as she said them.

"He is," Chat persisted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Alright, maybe he is an idiot," she agreed, reaching up to wipe her eyes before she tossed her yoyo out between the buildings. "But if anyone's going to teach Adrien Agreste a lesson, it's me."

With that, she swung off the edge of the roof, heading around a few chimneys before disappearing.

She'd left Chat standing, brows furrowed, as the rain came down harder around him.

"Wait… What?" he eventually ended up saying to no one in particular.

Adrien Agreste? When the name had left her lips, it'd shot a lightning bolt down through him that then spurred questions such as "How does she know? When did she find out?" But then she took off, leaving his thoughts reeling until he had enough calm to realize that she wasn't talking about him.

Well, she was, but she didn't know it.

Because he was Adrien Agreste, even if she didn't realize it.

Which meant…

Her words had clearly been in reference to this boy she was in love with, which meant she was in love with him, right? The idea was nearly enough to knock him off balance, only the state of her emotions when she'd flitted off keeping him steady. Because if Adrien Agreste was the boy, then he'd been the one that was in love with somebody else instead of her.

Which didn't make any sense because Adrien Agreste—Chat Noir—was in love with Ladybug.

But perhaps that was the wrong thing to focus on. Because Adrien Agreste hadn't told Ladybug he was in love with her or anyone else. Adrien Agreste usually kept his feelings to himself, which was part of the problem, really.

But Adrien Agreste had been struggling with those feelings lately, and been wanting to find a way to express them. In fact, he'd been grappling so desperately with these feelings that he'd become fraught enough to ask for advice.

To tell someone that he was, in fact, in love.

"Marinette…" he breathed out, blinking in shock as the rain fell heavily down upon his shoulders.

Marinette was the first and only person he'd ever told of his feelings. Ladybug had feelings for Adrien Agreste and thought that Adrien had feelings for someone else. He was Adrien. Which meant that…

That Marinette was Ladybug.

And that he was the idiot!

"Oh fuck!" Chat muttered, reaching up and gripping painfully at his own hair. "Fuck! Shit, shit, shit!" What had he done?

Because if he was Adrien, and Marinette was Ladybug, and Marinette was in love with Adrien, then Ladybug was in love with him! But she didn't know any of that! She thought he was in love with someone else and now she was crying!

Oh god, he'd made Ladybug cry!

He'd hurt Ladybug!

He'd hurt Marinette

She thought he didn't even notice her. Which wasn't true, at all. Of course he noticed her. How could someone not notice Marinette, just, in general? Not only was she one of the nicest, most talented girls in their class, but she didn't put up with any of Chloe's crap and was always more than willing to help anyone whenever they needed it.

Because, holy shit, it made so much sense! Marinette was Ladybug! How had he not seen it before?!

But she'd always been so nervous around him, despite not being that way around anyone else. He'd just figured she was intimidated by him or something. Because of who his father was. So he'd never pushed her. Of course he'd wanted to be better friends with her, but not if he'd made her uncomfortable.

But she hadn't been stuttering around him because of his father! She'd been like that because she'd liked him!

And because he'd kept his distance, she'd assumed he had absolutely no interest in her!

"Fuck!" he swore again, tugging more harshly at his hair. He had to do something about this. He had to fix this. Because he'd accidentally broken Ladybug's heart, because she loved him too, and now everything was screwed up! Because he really was an idiot! And she was an idiot! And they were both idiots!

Ignoring the rain, Chat pulled his baton from his back before shooting off the roof in the direction Ladybug had headed. Based on her trajectory, she'd been going in the direction of school. But that was also the direction of her house, so it could be either one.

Her house! He'd been in Ladybug's house! He'd met Ladybug's parents! He'd been inside Ladybug's bedroom and played video games with her!

Ladybug was Marinette and Marinette was Ladybug and how had he not realized that two such awesome, amazing girls were the same person?!

Leaping from roof to roof, he ignored how his boots wanted to slip against shingles and concrete, legs pumping. He had to get to her; he had to fix this. He had to apologize.

He also wanted to kiss the living daylights out of her, if she'd let him. But maybe that was getting a little ahead of himself.

But she loved him! And he loved her! And that had to count for something!

Leaping completely over a row of houses and two streets, he landed on a chimney, skidding to a halt as he peered down at the bakery on the corner beside the school.

Because there she was!

Outside, in the rain, she was sitting with her legs dangling over the railing of her balcony. A dangerous position, a threat of falling down into the street at any moment, but not surprising. Ladybug wasn't afraid of heights, or falling off banisters. Why would Marinette be?

Clothing soaked, he could see how her t-shirt clung to her, how her hair drooped. Her head hung and her shoulders shook.

Because she was still upset.

Lips parting some, Chat watched for just a moment longer, the pull of his own aching heart eventually spurring him into action. Rash, desperate action, maybe, but it was something. Better than watching her continue to suffer because of him.

Leaping down, he landed skillfully atop the banister she herself sat on, though he was perched on the other side. Startled, she looked up at him, their eyes catching. Hers were bloodshot, swollen, and no doubt still dripping with tears despite how the rain ran streams around them. Her long lashes fluttered, blinking, and her lips—oh so familiar lips that he'd spent so long staring at—parted in surprise.

He could still see her freckles through the spring water.

How had he been so blind?

Her shock didn't last long, mouth closing as her blue eyes turned curious. After all, he was Chat Noir and she was Marinette, and he wasn't supposed to know who she was. But he did, and he was so, so thankful, despite how she hadn't wanted him to.

But what did he do now?

The question hit him hard, causing him to flick his gaze from hers, if only to gather himself. And so his attention dropped down to the familiar, black instrument leaning up against the side of the railing, unused despite the temperamental weather.

An umbrella. His umbrella. The one he'd given her so long ago, when she'd been good enough to give him a second chance—to accept his apology and believe him despite not knowing him.

She'd been the first one to make him laugh in ages, and yet, somehow, it'd taken him this long to figure it out.

Aware that she still silently watched him, he reached down with his clawed hand and grabbed hold of the umbrella's handle.

Forcing himself to have courage, and to remember her words from earlier—about simply being honest—he sidled along the banister until he was close. Pulling the umbrella up above them, he popped it open, coming a little bit nearer until they were both beneath the black plastic, which clattered with raindrops.

He had his eyes trained on hers again, as he slowly allowed his feet to dangle as he sat down beside her. She said nothing, seeming too surprised by him to find any words. Rather, she simply watched him, lips parting again in the silence.

Taking a shaky breath, Chat took in as much of her as could, before he finally managed to find a single string of courage.

"I'm sorry…" he murmured, her breath audibly catching as he spoke, "…that you thought I didn't notice you."

Her blue eyes got bigger, if at all possible, but still she said nothing.

"I did notice you," he went on. "And I don't love anyone else."

Closing his eyes, he willed his transformation to fade, zapping away in the rain before he dared look at her again.

"I love you, My Lady," he whispered.

Lips parting further, her shock seemed to increase tenfold. Her hand went first to her chest, as she looked him up and down, before it gradually rose to her lips. In the same moment, her gaze was intercepted by his again, and he willed as much of himself to the surface as he could. His hand flexed around the umbrella, his heart beat fast, and he put himself out there—wholly and completely.

She'd said that honesty was the best way to go. So he'd be honest. Much more honest that even he'd anticipated he'd be.

"A-Adrien?" she eventually managed to sputter out.

"My Lady," he murmured back.



Her hand clamped more severely over her lips, blue eyes once again trailing up and down his person. And for the first time since he'd gone chasing after her, Adrien felt his own vulnerable discomfort begin to seep in. He'd just revealed himself to her, and really hadn't thought it through all that thoroughly. Ladybug had never taken interest in Chat's flirting, not seriously. What if she was upset he was Chat Noir? What if that undid everything?

He hadn't thought of that.

"You-you're Chat Noir?" she managed to squeak out, her voice somewhat muffled behind her hand.

"Yes…?" What did he say? What was the right thing to say?

He wasn't sure what his affirmation was supposed to have done to her, but watching her face crumble into more tears wasn't exactly the most reassuring response. A few regrets flashed through his thoughts, mostly concerning how he shouldn't have swooped down and revealed himself, but before he could act on them, she was bolting forward.

"Chat!" she cried, her arms wrapping around his neck as she rushed into him. Eyes popping, he dropped the umbrella to the balcony as he reached out to catch her—abruptly aware that he was sitting on the edge of a banister, not transformed, while being knocked off balance.

Gritting his teeth as the view of the street below slipped into his line of vision—in the same moment he felt his own butt sliding from the railing—he used his free hand to push back, knowing he'd overcompensated as soon as he did.

With one arm around her waist and the other grappling at the railing, he fell backward. His hold on the metal slowed their decent some, enough that they only thudded to the balcony floor, as opposed to slamming.

Adrien ended up on his back, legs bent in the air against the railing while Marinette landed on top of him. He held her tight, breaking her fall as best he could. He wasn't sure how well he succeeded, but it was better than having toppled over the other way.

A moment of stilled surprise seemed to waft between them both, before Marinette finally pulled back against him. Unwrapping her arms from around his neck, she pushed back against the floor, staring down at him with those amazing blue eyes and a strip of red coating her wet cheeks.

"I'm sorry," she managed to mutter after a few seconds, her cheeks only deepening in color as she did.

Despite himself, as if the fall had knocked the nerves right out of him, Adrien grinned.

"No problem, My Lady," he replied. "I'm always willing to fall anywhere with you."

She blinked, looking him over again only quickly. "Adrien…"


A small, weak smile pulled at her lips. "You're Adrien." Reaching up with one hand, she started to wipe her bloodshot eyes with the heel of her hand again, but Adrien stopped her. He held her wrist loosely between his fingers, uncaring for how the rain pounded atop them as he took her in.

As his own chest swelled with the emotion he couldn't hold back any more.

"My Lady," he said, pushing himself up onto his elbows as he did. So they were closer, his nose only centimeter from hers as they blinked at one another. "Can I kiss you?"

Her smile grew wider, shaking a bit as it did. As she nodded.

With a thrilled jolt rushing from his feet to his lips, Adrien closed the distance between them. He didn't care that they were soggy and soaking wet, or that her lips tasted of salt against his own chapped ones. None of it mattered. Because he loved this woman and she loved him too and that was almost enough to send his heart beating out of his chest.

It was enough for him to smile against her lips, to cause her to do the same. Until they were both grinning like idiots and giggling and Adrien didn't know why, but he was crying too.

Pulling his hand up, he laid it gently over her cheek, their foreheads pressing together. "I love you so much," he said, unable to censor himself. Because he'd loved her since the day they'd met and if she felt the same way, then he didn't have to hold it in anymore. Didn't have to be wary of rejection.

He didn't have to be alone anymore. Because he knew someone loved him too.

"Adrien?" She was questioning him—because he'd closed his eyes and grimaced against his own tears, in no better shape than she had been.

"Please don't leave me," he practically begged, the weight of his words far too heavy when considering they'd only just come together on the same wavelength. But fear was something that always came along with love, that was what he'd learned. And he didn't know what he'd do if she turned away from him.


"Please." He ran his thumb lightly beneath her eye, caressing her cheek. He didn't know how to voice it beyond that, to explain how lonely he'd been for so long. How he feared every day that his father would pull him from public school and separate him from what few friends he'd made. How terrified he was that that same father would disappear and leave him behind just as his mother had. How, despite feeling a connection with her that he hadn't had with anyone, he'd been waiting for Ladybug to sever their partnership, no matter how illogical that was.

He didn't know how to say it, and he knew that wasn't fair to her—to lay something on her so cumbersome without any warning or explanation. What if she thought he was being too dramatic? What if she thought he was too clingy? What if-

Her hand on his cheek caused his eyes to flutter open—to take in the soft, understanding look that had unfolded across her entire expression.

He didn't have to explain any of it—she knew.

"I won't leave you," she murmured. "I'll never leave you, Kitty."

He gasped out another smile, allowing himself to fall back as he pulled his arms around her. As he hugged her to him, believing her despite how his experience told him he shouldn't.

Her own fingers gripped at his shirt, her nose buried in his neck as they lay back, together, against the balcony floor.

Water continued to pour down atop them, thunder rolling in the distance.

But that was okay, because, somewhere further off, a single ray of sunlight burst through the cloud cover and swept away the rain.