"Hmmm, yes, I've been looking for this book for a very long time…" The short, older man had the ancient tome held open, looking at it quizzically as he paced back and forth on the other side of the massage mat. Marinette was sitting on her heels before it, fingers tapping her knees anxiously. Tikki was on her shoulder, not seeming at all perturbed by "Master Fu." And, Marinette supposed, if Tikki trusted him, then she should too.
"Where did you get this book?" he finally asked, looking up at her.
"Ah, er, eh," she fumbled for an explanation, reaching up and scratching her chin thoughtfully. "I… stole it?" She didn't feel like it'd be wise to lie to this man.
"Stole it?" he echoed back, arching an eyebrow. "From who?"
"Uh… a boy in my class." He was still waiting, so she offered up what little else she knew. "His name's Adrien Agreste?"
"Really?" Both Master Fu's eyebrows shot up. " Wayzz." He'd turned toward his back counter, Marinette watching as he seemingly addressed someone there. "I need you to go get Plagg." Gasping, Marinette watched as a tiny, green kwami zipped out from some unknown hiding place.
On her shoulder, Tikki buzzed as though pleased.
"Of course, Master," Wayzz agreed.
"Make sure he comes here," Master Fu said quite firmly. "He won't want to, so be sure Chat Noir knows."
"Right." The two nodded, Wayzz then zipping out a nearby window and off into the city.
"Plagg?" Marinette questioned as Master Fu turned back to her. "Chat Noir? You mean, he's going to come here?" She pointed down at the mat, as if to accentuate exactly where Chat Noir would be showing up.
"Yes. I believe he will know more about the origins of this book." Master Fu had carefully closed the tome.
"I- I should transform then," she said.
"Chat Noir and I- We haven't shared our identities with one another."
She wasn't quite sure why, but Master Fu actually looked disappointed. He pursed his lips as he looked at her, Marinette feeling abruptly ashamed beneath his heavy gaze.
She reached up and fiddled with one of her pigtails.
"I think it's time that you did, then," he said sternly. "You and Chat Noir are partners. You must learn and grow together. While most miraculouses exist as separate entities of each other, Plagg and Tikki are one, split into two. They are most effective when they are used together."
"Well, we still work together…" Marinette defended quietly.
"And you will work much better together if you know one another. Hawkmoth is learning to use his miraculous just as well as you, and he will grow stronger. So you and Chat Noir must also grow stronger. Separated, you will not be strong enough, but together, in tandem, nothing he throws your way will be able to stand up against you."
Despite Marinette's hesitation, she supposed she couldn't disagree with that. It did make things harder, keeping their identities from one another. If they knew each other, then they could organize. They could keep in contact instead of slipping around in the dark, hoping the other would show up when needed. And she did trust Chat Noir. He was a good friend and partner. But knowing him behind the mask… It was nerve-wracking, the idea of it twisting inside her gut until she felt nauseous.
"Do not fret," Master Fu said with a soft smile. "You and Chat Noir will get along fine. You would not be compatible as partners, or with the miraculouses, if you could not."
She nodded, supposing there was no longer any choice in the matter.
Chat Noir would be there soon and she had best be prepared for his arrival.
"Wait, I saw you in the book!" Adrien said as the green kwami floated down in front of him. "You're the turtle one!"
"I am," he agreed, sounding far more adult than Plagg ever did. Plagg, who was sitting on the couch beside him, hardly paying any attention as he stuffed his face with camembert. "My master has sent for you and wishes you would join him. He has come into possession of a certain tome that supposedly came from you."
"Your master has my dad's book?!" Adrien squawked. "I need that back! Before he finds out!"
"That is for you and my master to discuss," Wayzz—as he'd introduced himself—went on. "Until then, you must make haste to meet him. He and Ladybug are waiting."
Adrien could have sworn his heart stopped in his chest. "Ladybug is there?" he asked quietly.
"She, as she put it, 'stole' the book from you. It was her kwami that prompted her to bring it to my master." Plagg did finally float up to listen then, seeming more interested now that they were talking about Ladybug.
"Ladybug stole my book?" Adrien asked incredulously. "Why?"
"You're asking questions I cannot answer."
"Right, right." Adrien huffed, standing as he did. "He wanted to meet now?" Wayzz nodded. "Well, no time like the present. Plagg? Are you ready?"
"We have to transform?" Plagg whined.
"There is no need for that," Wayzz interjected. "Master Fu's residence is not far from here and he knows your identity. It was he who chose you to wield the miraculous." This did cause Adrien pause, his eyes blinking somewhat stupidly as his thoughts came together.
"Wait… then Ladybug won't be transformed either?"
"My master thinks it's best that you both finally reveal yourselves to one another—that it will enable you to be more productive as a partnership."
"I'm going to meet Ladybug?" Adrien muttered, Wayzz scrunching his bulbous forehead together in skeptical curiosity. "I mean, out of the mask? She's waiting for me? I'm going to get to know who she is?"
"Isn't that what I said?"
"Plagg!" Adrien grabbed the kwami by his tiny body before shoving him into his bag. "Let's go! I'm ready! Let's go, let's go, let's go!"
Wayzz gave him one more skeptical look before shaking his green head and zipping into Adrien's bag as well. Supposing he had to get out of the house before he'd know where to go, Adrien set about sneaking away. It wasn't that difficult, seeing as he did it all the time as Chat Noir. His father was at work and Nathalie was distracted in her office. Keeping quiet, he toed his way to the back door before sprinting as fast as he could out the gate, which was, thankfully, still open from his return home.
As soon as he was safely out and standing along the wall, he opened his bag for Wayzz.
"This way," the kwami said. "It's not far." He took off across the street, Adrien only looking quickly both ways before jogging after.
When Wayzz had said it wasn't far, he really hadn't been exaggerating. His master's "home" was on one of the same streets Adrien's house was on. Granted, his house was literally surrounded by four different streets, but the point still stood. They were only one street over from the school, among the line of shops that ran along the park—Place des Voges—and across from Chloe's father's hotel. Thankfully, Wayzz took them down past the hotel, to a little sliver of a place that advertised massages.
That was where the kwami slipped inside.
Looking both ways simply because it seemed like the safe thing to do, Adrien solidified that the coast was clear before he edged inside as well. The sign out front said they were closed, and as the door shut out the sound of traffic behind him, a hush came over the small lobby.
No one was there—no one waiting and no one behind the front desk. Creeping forward, Adrien took in the ornate Chinese decorations and characters, reading a few, but ultimately deciding that they were of no relevance.
He followed Wayzz to a hallway in the back, Plagg zipping out of his bag as they went. The old hardwood creaked a bit as they walked, but Adrien remained brave. He was going to learn more about his father's book and he was going to get to meet Ladybug. And another miraculous holder.
This was turning out to be the best afternoon ever.
His heart was barely caged in his chest it was beating so swiftly with nerves and excitement.
"Here," Wayzz said, pausing for just a moment beside the door on the far end of the hallway. Without another word, he flashed right through the wood and onto the other side. Adrien looked once at Plagg (which wasn't at all reassuring) before he reached for the door and slowly pulled it open.
The room beyond was bright, a single man standing before a long, wooden dresser on the other side of a massage mat. He had his hands clasped behind his back, gray hair combed back against his head. He smiled just a bit as Adrien entered, the door closing behind.
"Hello, Chat Noir," he greeted.
"Uh, hi," he replied, Wayzz zipping up into view beside his master. "I was told to come here, right?" Glancing quickly around the room, he found nothing inherently suspicious. He also found no Ladybug.
"Right you are," the old man said. "I am Master Fu. Thank you for sparing the time to come speak with me."
"Sure thing," Adrien replied, smiling politely. "Is, uh, I was told Ladybug was here." He looked around again, just for good measure, but his partner didn't show up out of any nooks or crannies.
"She's here," Master Fu verified, Adrien's attention snapping back to him. "She was nervous about meeting you and excused herself to the restroom. To gather her courage, I presume."
"Oh…" Adrien wasn't quite sure what to make of that. "How, uh, how long's she been in there?"
"A little over eight minutes."
"Ah…" Adrien pooched his lips, tapping his thighs in the silence. "So… you're a miraculous holder too?"
"Cool, cool. And you picked me for Plagg?"
"Hey, old man." Plagg zoomed right up to Master Fu, Adrien's eyes widening at the kwami's audacity. "You got any cheese?"
Master Fu sighed, quite as though the whole thing were old hats to him, and Adrien relaxed a bit.
"You never change, do you?" he asked.
"Can't stop, won't stop," Plagg said in English, scooting around in the air in a sort of dance. He'd probably been watching Miley Cyrus music videos again. Adrien needed to remember to password lock his computers.
Before anything else could be said of the kwami's behavior, however, a red blur came zooming in through the wall on the right, stopping to float beside Master Fu, Plagg, and Wayzz. Adrien quickly realized it was another kwami—a red kwami with black spots.
It could only be…
"Ladybug?" Master Fu questioned.
The little kwami sighed. "She's refusing to come out," said her high-pitched voice.
"Really?" Master Fu said, not seeming the least bit bothered by the situation. "Did she give a reason why?"
"She's too nervous," the red kwami—Tikki, Adrien remembered—explained. "She's afraid Chat Noir won't like her." With those words, Tikki turned to look at him, a flash of surprise flitting across her little face at the sight of him. He shifted, but didn't say anything. "Adrien Agreste," she said, zipping up until she was hovering right in front of his nose.
"You know me?" he asked.
"Yes!" Tikki said, smiling and twirling as she did. "We-"
"Now, now, Tikki," Plagg interrupted, floating lazily on his back up between them. "Don't give it away. Let them figure some things out for themselves." Tikki didn't look the least bit excited to see Plagg, her expression dropping at the very sight of him. "You're such a mother hen sometimes."
"And you're as ridiculous as ever," she countered.
"What can I say? I like to stay consistent."
Tikki actually rolled her eyes.
"Why is Ladybug afraid I won't like her?" Adrien asked. "I'm pretty sure that's impossible."
"She lets her nerves get the better of her sometimes," Tikki replied, sighing as she did. "And she'll be even more nervous once she realizes who you are."
"Why?" Adrien cringed. "Is she a fan or something?"
"No, not like that," Tikki assured, smiling again. "You know each other."
"We do?!" Adrien gaped, eyes popping wide.
"Tikki," Plagg practically scolded.
"Alright, alright, I won't say anything else," she said, sticking her tongue out in Plagg's general direction. "But she won't come out."
"Perhaps," Master Fu drew all their attention, "Chat Noir should talk to her." He nodded to the door on the right knowingly, Adrien swallowing hard.
"O-okay," he agreed. Taking that as some sort of cue, Master Fu stepped around the mat and slowly made his way to the door. Walking out, all three kwami followed him, silence falling heavy on the room when the door closed behind them.
Looking again to the bathroom, which must have been behind the sliding screen against the right wall, Adrien lowered his bag to the floor before slowly approaching.
Once at the door, he laid his hands gently against the screen and tried to come up with something to say.
He cleared his throat. "My Lady?"
She actually squeaked on the other side.
"Go away, Chat!" Her words were meant to be harsh, but mostly they just sounded scared. Which he could understand—he was scared too. But he wanted to know her too badly to let that sway his courage.
Based on her voice, he was guessing she was sitting on the floor. So he crouched down until he was on her level.
"C'mon, Ladybug," he said softly. "There's nothing to be afraid of. It's just me."
"Tikki said you were afraid I wouldn't like you," he murmured. "It doesn't matter who you are, My Lady. I could never dislike you." Even if she was someone like Chloe. Because, no matter her identity, she was still his Lady. Nothing would change that.
He could hear her shaky breathing on the other side, but still she said nothing.
"Tikki told me we know each other," he added.
"We do?" That got her to speak.
"Yeah." He smiled to himself. "I can't think of anyone I know that I dislike, so your fears must be impossible. Even if you were Chloe Bourgeois, I'd still like you." But he already knew that she wasn't, thankfully.
"Do we go to the same school?"
"Maybe." He shrugged, despite her not being able to see. "If you come out, we'll know."
"What if you're… What if you're disappointed?" She sounded so meek. He wished she wasn't so afraid of him.
"I could never be," he said honestly. "It's not like our masks make us different people, My Lady. Taking away your spots won't change anything."
"I still have spots…" she said quietly.
Adrien grinned. "Yes, you do." Because he'd seen her freckles plenty of times. "Please, Ladybug. I promise there's nothing to be afraid of."
There was a long pause before she spoke again. "I can't," she whispered, Adrien's heart falling to his feet. "But… you can come in… I just- I won't look. And then you'll know who I am, okay?"
"You don't want to know who I am?" He was smiling again—because progress was progress.
"Maybe after you know who I am…" So she could get over her fears.
"Are you sure?"
Okay…" Taking a deep, steadying breath, he gripped the edge of the screen. "I'm going to open the door now, alright?" There was no objection, so he took that as permission enough. Nerves sparking all over him, he gradually slid the door on its rails, the wood scraping just a bit as he did.
And as he pulled it aside, a figure—sitting against the wall with her head bowed between her knees—slowly came into view.
Pink shoes, pink pants. Black shirt with white underneath. Pigtails.
He recognized her right away, without the flashy display that was Ladybug. His breath caught in his chest as he did, because he really did know Ladybug. They didn't just go to the same school, they were in the same class. She sat right behind him. Ladybug had been sitting behind him this whole time!
She didn't look up, even though she must have known he could see her. He imagined her eyes were tightly closed, as tightly as her hands were gripping her elbows, which were wrapped around her knees and head. Knuckles white, her toes pointed in atop the paneled floor.
Adrien couldn't stop smiling.
Still in a crouch, he stretched forward until he was close to her. Turning his back to the wall, he slid down beside her, so he was sitting too. They were so close that his own over-shirt brushed hers, causing her to tense even further.
Reaching out, he let his arm fall gently around her shoulders. "It's okay," he whispered, lips continually forming a smile despite how he tried to remain serious. "I'm not disappointed, Marinette." He squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.
Though he seemed calm, his thoughts were racing. It was obvious now, he realized. Ladybug and Marinette were carbon copies of one another. Same hair, same confidence (even if, for whatever reason, she'd always seemed nervous around him. But he tried not to think about that then). Same no-nonsense attitude with a flare of sass, even if it was more apparent in Ladybug than Marinette. And the same kindness too, and forgiving compassion.
Really, it didn't make sense for Ladybug to be anyone else.
She didn't look up at him right away, and he didn't force her. Keeping his arm around her shoulders, he waited. Until, finally, she began to shift. Bit by bit, she turned her head, until she was peeking up at him just barely out of the corner of her eye.
An eye that grew exponentially wider when she, no doubt, realized who he was.
His own discomfort began to rise.
"A-Adrien?" she squeaked out, still keeping her face hidden between her knees.
"Ah…" He shrugged. "The one and only?" He couldn't quite tell if he was smiling anymore, or cringing. Or even which was more appropriate.
It was then, like the spell had been broken, that she finally sat up. Lips parted, eyes wide, she looked up at him, Adrien pulling his arm back from around her shoulders to instead rub his own in unease.
She was just staring at him, blinking, saying nothing. And he honestly didn't know what that meant. For all his relief and quiet delight at Marinette being Ladybug, he couldn't tell what she thought of him at all—not as Adrien or Chat Noir, really. As Chat she was always bantering, but nothing ever got serious. And as Adrien, she barely talked to him.
They'd gotten on fine the few times they had hung out, but that wasn't enough to gauge anything. What if she was the one who was disappointed?
That would be horrible.
It was as that thought was running through his head that she reached out to him. He almost shied away, but she grabbed his chin before he could. Manhandling him, she turned his head first one way and then another, as if trying to verify that he really was who he said he was. And, in the end, he let her, supposing she must be shocked.
Yet, despite manipulating his head into every angle, she still wore a look of sheer disbelief. It was then that she reached up toward his hair. He didn't even try and stop her, allowing her to muss the locks until the part was centered.
Until he had his Chat hair.
Like she'd touched a hot iron, she gasped, hand flying from his person. Both her hands ended up cupping her mouth, blue eyes even wider as she leaned away from him.
Reaching up, Adrien pursed his lips and went about putting his hair back into place, more nervous than he was letting on. But Marinette clearly needed more time than he had and it was probably better to give her as much as she needed.
"You really are Chat Noir," she eventually managed to whisper out, hands still held up in front of her lips. Adrien had finally managed to get his hair back into place, her words drawing his gaze to her as a slight flush coated his cheeks.
"Is- Is that okay?" Because she really wasn't giving him anything to go on.
She blinked, hands finally falling to her lap as she crossed her legs beneath her.
"You've been Chat Noir this whole time…" she continued.
"Yeah, I think so?" He really didn't know what to say.
Her focus fell away from him, expression pale as she furrowed her eyebrows thoughtfully. He wanted to know what she was thinking, what she thought of him. If she liked him more or less now, and what her reaction meant. In fact, her slow response was getting to him so badly that he began to fidget nervously.
Her eyes flicked quickly back to him. "Yes?!" She said the word far too loudly. "I mean, okay. Yes. You're Adrien. You're Chat Noir. Yes. Okay." She still didn't look like she was totally on board with the situation.
"You're… upset." Because what else was he supposed to think.
"No!" She cut in quickly. "I'm just- just really surprised, is all. I… I didn't imagine- You're not like- It's fine. Everything's fine."
"It doesn't sound like it's fine…" he said, retreating a bit into his shoulders as he leaned away from her. None of this was making him feel any better. In fact, now he was almost regretting having revealed their identities. She wasn't giving him anything to work with and he didn't like it. What did it mean? "You're the one that's disappointed, aren't you?"
Her eyes grew wide again. "No!" She practically breathed out the word. "Adrien- Chat- No, I'm not." Her fingers fiddled together in her lap. "I really am just surprised, that's all. I'm not disappointed, or upset, or anything. A-actually, this is good." He didn't have to say anything for her to know she needed to elaborate. "A relief, maybe…" Some of the tension finally trickled from her posture. "To know that Chat isn't some… crazy street hoodlum."
Adrien gaped. "Excuse me?!"
"Well, what did you expect me to think?!" she rebuked, arms crossing harshly over her chest. "You're always acting like some kind of mangy tom cat in black, skin tight clothing! Perfect model Adrien Agreste doesn't exactly come to mind!"
"I am not mangy!" he replied, his own arms crossing much like hers had. "And I'm not some perfect model either!"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"Have you two sorted everything out?" Master Fu's voice snapped both of their attention up, the two abruptly aware that they were sitting on a bathroom floor, arguing. Somehow, Adrien wasn't surprised.
Glancing quickly back to Marinette, he saw that she was biting the inside of her cheek, a light blush coating her freckles. She refused to look back at him, but it was no longer for fear of him. Rather, he read it as stubbornness, which was much more Ladybug.
And far easier to relate to.
Finally, his own nerves seeped away some, a small grin pulling onto his lips. A grin that quickly turned into a smirk when she only quickly looked at him, before avoiding eye contact completely. She huffed.
"Yeah, everything's sorted," Adrien said, still watching Marinette as he spoke. "Isn't that right, Bugaboo?"
She stuck out her tongue in disgust and he loved it.
"Then, if you'd both come out of the bathroom, I'd like to speak with you about this book." That was, get back to serious matters. Ripping his attention from Marinette, Adrien watched as Master Fu headed back over to the mat, their three kwami hovering about nearby.
Supposing any more talk with Marinette would have to wait, he consciously held himself back from glancing her way again and stood. Stepping out of the bathroom, he was only vaguely aware of how she followed, the two of them heading across the small room until they were standing in front of the mat. With a nod and a gesture from Master Fu, they both sat down. It was then that Master Fu retrieved the book before getting down on his knees across from them.
"Marinette says she stole this book from you," he started, a subtle hint of humor in his tone as Adrien pursed his lips and slowly looked at Marinette.
"So I heard…" he said through gritted teeth.
"It wasn't that simple," she said, ignoring his look. "Lila stole it from you first and then Tikki saw it and said we had to get it. So then I stole it from her. After she'd thrown it in the trash. You're lucky," she said, looking right at him then. "I saved your book."
He scoffed and she narrowed a glare at him.
"No matter about all that," Master Fu cut in. "Where did you get this book, Adrien?"
The question made him uncomfortable, now that he was actually having to fess up to it. He shifted a bit, Marinette's glare having turned to curious concern.
"It belonged to my father," Adrien eventually admitted. "I saw him storing it in a secret safe, hidden behind a portrait, and so Plagg and I snuck in and opened it. I wanted to leave the book there, but Plagg thought we should take it."
"With good reason," Plagg replied from where he was nestled quite comfortably in the pillow at the head of the mat.
Master Fu stroked his small beard curiously. "Was there anything else of interest in that safe?"
Adrien tried to think. "I don't think so. There were some of his files, some notebooks. A picture of… of my mother."
"A book on Tibet," Plagg supplied. "And a flyer about a hotel in Tibet."
"Yeah…" Adrien furrowed his eyebrows. "And there was a peacock pin."
Master Fu's eyebrows shot straight up then. "A peacock pin?"
"Uh, yeah…" But Master Fu didn't comment further, instead returning to stroking his beard with a thoughtful hum. Adrien didn't know what to make of that, so he glanced over at Marinette. But she couldn't do more than shrug, the both of them at the mercy of the old master.
"Very interesting," was all he eventually said. "Perhaps you had better take this book back to your father's safe." He shoved the old tome across the mat, much to Marinette and Adrien's surprise.
"But I thought we needed to decrypt it?" Marinette said.
"Yes, perhaps, but I think it would be wiser to return it to where it came from for now," Master Fu explained vaguely. "I doubt it will be going very far, in the safe keeping of Adrien's father."
Wayzz zipped up then. "But Master! We've been look-"
"Enough," Master Fu said simply. "This will do." He nodded to Adrien, then to the book. "Take it back to your father's safe. If no harm has come to it yet, then I doubt any will, locked away in the Agreste mansion. It is, perhaps, safer there than it would be anywhere else."
"Okay, sure…" Adrien agreed, mostly because he had to. Delicate in his handling of the ancient book, he slipped it into his bag.
"But what about what we could learn from it?" Marinette objected.
"All knowledge will come in time," Master Fu said calmly. "Let us leave the book as is for now. Any other questions you have, I would be more than willing to try and answer."
Adrien knew one right away. "Why was Hawkmoth in the book?"
"Hawkmoth is utilizing the powers of the kwami Nooroo. Kwami powers aren't meant to be used for evil—he's abusing his power, and likely holding the kwami prisoner."
"Prisoner?" Marinette asked, concern lacing her voice.
"We are victim to our miraculous," Tikki explained, flitting up between Marinette and Adrien. "Whoever wears the miraculous holds our power. Which is why they absolutely cannot fall into the wrong hands."
"Nooroo has been missing for many eons. I had vainly been searching for the miraculous that holds him, but it would seem I was not fast enough." Master Fu sighed. "And so it falls to the two of you to retrieve it. Before any permanent damage can be done."
"Why does Hawkmoth want our miraculouses?" Marinette asked as Tikki settled onto her shoulder.
"That is a question I cannot answer. The motives of men are often clouded. With the combined powers of the ladybug and black cat miraculouses, great power could be attained, but what he wants to use that power for is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. Whatever it is, we cannot allow it to be fulfilled."
"If we have what he wants, then wouldn't it be simpler to… hide the miraculouses away?" Marinette asked, Adrien whipping around on her at such a suggestion. He didn't want that—Chat Noir was the only freedom he knew and he'd grown quite attached to it. The last thing he wanted was to give up their powers.
"No," Master Fu replied. "It is wrong, what he is using Nooroo for. He must be stopped. The ladybug and black cat are the strongest miraculouses of all. If there's any power that can stop him, it is that which you two wield. A heavy responsibility, but one I feel you are up to carrying." As if on cue, Adrien glanced down at his ring, Marinette reaching up to finger her earrings.
"And now that you two are working together not just on the battlefield, but off, our chances increase even more. It is not enough to simply defeat every akuma Hawkmoth throws your way. Finding him will require diligence and focus, and teamwork. The ladybug and black cat miraculouses are only as strong as their wielders, and only as resilient as the bonds between them. You two must not simply be partners because you are superheroes, but because it is your responsibility to be so."
Adrien wanted to look over at Marinette, but couldn't bring himself to. He wondered if she was struggling similarly.
"But that is enough for today, I think," Master Fu decided. "You have both learned much this afternoon and it is, perhaps, better to allow that knowledge to sink in before we pursue more."
"How do we know we can trust you?" Marinette asked abruptly.
"Marinette!" Tikki sounded outraged, but Master Fu only smiled.
"You do not," he said simply. "But, alas, I ask that you do. And that you be wary of all who you meet and that surround you. It is safe, to share your secrets between each other, but do not stretch your words much further. Trust in one another, as miraculous users, but know that weakness can befall anyone."
"Thank you, Master Fu," Adrien added, understanding Marinette's question, but not wanting to breed any bad feelings between them either. The older man bowed, Adrien returning the gesture as he'd been taught and watching, with some amusement, as Marinette fumbled to do the same.
"Until next time," Master Fu replied, before they all began to stand. They were escorted to the front, waving goodbye as Master Fu and Wayzz closed up the shop after them. Out in the later afternoon air—the sun beginning to set—they stood alone in the street, Adrien tapping the toe of his shoe against the sidewalk as Plagg settled inside the collar of his shirt.
Marinette was staring at the ground, her fingers fiddling together in front of her.
Awkwardness dropped down atop them like a bag of bricks.
Adrien cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck in the same moment. "So…"
"I should… probably go…" Marinette pointed somewhat weakly down the street, perpendicular to the way he had to go. But, really, it didn't much matter. They only lived a few blocks away from one another.
"I'll walk you," he volunteered.
"Uh, you don't- um, o-okay…" It was like she was refusing to look at him, Adrien frowning as they started to walk. Tikki gave him a sympathetic look, before she flitted down into the purse Marinette had on her person at all times (made sense now).
They were quiet for some moments, Adrien trying to think of something—anything—to say. Because he didn't like this. Chat Noir and Ladybug never had any issues with conversation, but Adrien and Marinette always had. It made him paranoid. What if this was what it'd be like from now on? What if them knowing one another's identities erased the easy rapport Ladybug and Chat Noir had? He didn't want that—in fact, the idea was terrifying to him.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself into action. Into anything, if only to pop the silence.
"So…" he said again, darting out in front of her before beginning to walk backward. She'd glanced up quickly, blinking those big blue eyes as he forced himself to smile.
"So…?" She was staring at him in almost offended curiosity.
"So… I think…" He peered up at the sky only quickly. "That… we should take what Master Fu said seriously."
"He said a lot of things…" she replied, almost pouting. It was practically cute.
No, it was definitely cute.
"I mean, about us," he went on, still walking back on his heels. "We, uh, don't really… talk much, as Adrien and Marinette." She looked quickly back down at the sidewalk, cheeks flaring. He didn't know what to make of it, and so pushed on. "And I think we should." Pause. "We get along as Ladybug and Chat Noir, so…"
He frowned, coming to a stop in the street. Though she wasn't watching him, she did as well. "You don't… You don't like me very much, do you?" he eventually deduced, despite the way his heart dropped at the idea.
"What?!" Her expression was clearly alarmed as she glanced back up at him. "Yes I- That's not- Of course I like you!"
He resituated his bag on his shoulder, not totally convinced. "I feel like, ever since I first started going to school, you avoid me," he said honestly, Marinette's mouth falling into a gape. "You're not still mad about the gum thing, are you?"
"No! Adrien, I don't- I don't mean to give that impression." She rubbed the bridge of her nose. "It's not like that at all." Sure, they'd had some time together—like during the game competition and with her uncle—but sometimes he felt she didn't talk to him unless she had to.
"Then how come you're still doing it?"
"Doing what?" She was peering off at the road.
Her attention flicked back to him. It looked like she was going to say something, but the words died on her lips. Instead, shoulders dropping, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Adrien waited.
"I'm not meaning to," she said quietly, appearing as though she was making a conscious effort to look at him. "I- I just- You've always-" Her shoulders dropped, as if in defeat. "I really do like you, Adrien. I never meant to make you feel that way. And I'm not disappointed you're Chat Noir. It's just… taking me a minute to wrap my head around the whole situation." She offered him a soft smile.
"Then we have to do like Master Fu said," he repeated, reaching out and laying a hand on her shoulder. "We have to… strengthen our bond."
"Our bond?" Her eyebrow cocked skeptically.
"Yes!" He gripped both of her shoulders then. "We need to be better friends."
"Super?" She was smiling just a bit, but Adrien was being completely serious, despite the pun. After all, didn't she know how important this actually was? They were superheroes—they couldn't take their jobs lightly.
"Like, best friends," he said firmly.
"I thought we were best friends, Kitty," she replied, crossing her arms despite how he held her shoulders.
"Ladybug and Chat Noir are best friends," he corrected. "Adrien and Marinette are not."
"Oh, my mistake."
He liked this. She was loosening up.
"We have to hang out more," he decided. "You know, to talk about Hawkmoth and… stuff like that."
"Yeah." He nodded. "To investigate or whatever."
"We already do that on patrols," she reminded him. Three times a week. He'd wanted to up it to four, but she kept saying no. Well, ha, too bad. Now he knew where to find her.
Sweet, sweet victory.
"But," he squeezed her shoulders a bit, "Master Fu said we needed to be more dedicated. So we should hang out more."
"How much more?"
"Like, all the time."
"All the time?" She didn't have to be so amused about it. He was trying to be serious.
"Every. Day," he decided and she gaped.
"I don't have time for alley cats every day," she decided, slipping out from under his hold before beginning to walk again. He spun to walk beside her, slipping an arm around her shoulders much like he did as Chat.
"But what about awesome, fabulous models?" he asked.
She scoffed, face-palming herself on the forehead. "Oh my god, I can't believe this is my life…"
"So yeah, anyway," he pressed on, internally giddy that she wasn't pushing him off of her. "Every day. It's our responsibility, My Lady. We have a duty to the city."
"But I will see you every day. We're in the same class."
"That doesn't count." He waved her off, before holding up his fist and looking down at her earnestly. "We need bonding time. For friendship." He didn't bother mentioning anything beyond that. Sure, Marinette had said she hadn't been avoiding him, but it was clear she'd never been that interested in being good friends with him either. So he'd keep his crush to himself, just as he (sort of) did with Ladybug. Flirting didn't count—not since she didn't take it to actually mean anything.
"Friendship…" she said quietly, glancing back down at the sidewalk again.
"Unless…" His tone retreated some. "Unless you really don't want to." Maybe she did find him as annoying as she was always acting. He'd just assumed she was pretending and considered it endearing. Perhaps he'd been reading her wrong?
"No, it's fine," she said, finally smiling up at him. "I'm just… adjusting, that's all. "You really don't need to worry, Cha- Adrien. And you're right. Master Fu said we'd be stronger if we were closer outside of Ladybug and Chat Noir, so- so we should hang out… more." A light flush ran across her cheeks, or maybe it was just the dimming sunlight coming over the buildings. Adrien wasn't sure.
"Awesome." He grinned, unable to hold himself back from doing so. After all, he had plenty of reasons to be happy. He knew who Ladybug was, she was in the same class as him, even lived in the same neighborhood. Outside her superhero persona, she was awesome—which meant she was awesome all the time (he was not surprised by this). And she didn't hate him, even if she also didn't love him.
All good things, all good things.
"Um, so…" She'd slowed in their walk, Adrien looking over to see that they were at the corner where the bakery was located. She took a step away, his arm slipping from around her shoulders, before turning to face him. She smiled shyly, raising her hand as though to wave as she leaned toward the bakery. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Uh, yea- Wait!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. "Can I have your number?"
"Oh, uh, s-sure." He held his phone out, Marinette hesitating for only a moment before taking it. Biting her lip, and with the sun's red glare splashing over her cheeks, she typed her number into his phone before handing it back.
"Great!" He couldn't help grinning. "I'll text you mine, okay?"
"O-of course." She nodded.
"Um, so, yeah." He rubbed his neck again. "Tomorrow?"
She smiled. "Tomorrow." She held up her hand once more, completing her wave as she backed toward he bakery. Adrien returned the gesture, watching as she bumped right into the door, stumbled, and flushed red with embarrassment. Pulling her eyes from him, she retreated inside.
Raising a finger, Adrien tapped his chin thoughtfully.
He could get used to this. He could definitely get used to this.