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Ne Me Quitte Pas

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Marinette clutched the umbrella more tightly as she walked quickly down the streets.  The rain was falling harder, and she decided to take a shortcut through the park, knowing that it would bring her closer to the bakery.  Even with the large black umbrella, it was inevitable that she get a little wet from the downpour.  She knew that the only relief would be to finally get home.  She would have to change out of her pants, the hems of which were wet, as were the edges of her sleeves beneath her raincoat.  She pulled her jacket closer around her, daydreaming of her father's macarons and a steaming mug of hot chocolate and...

The branches of a tree a few steps ahead of her shook violently, and a large, dark shape in its leaves caught her attention.  She tilted her head—she knew that figure.

“Chat Noir?” Marinette called, hesitantly.

The leaves rustled again, and a moment later the young man swung from one of the branches, landing right before her with a smirk.  “Well, hello Purr-incess!” he said, and she thought he sounded surprisingly cheerful for being completely drenched.

Without a second thought, she stepped closer to him, shoving the umbrella into his space so that it covered both of them.  “You're positively soaked,” she remarked, sounding somewhat reproachful.

The corner of his lips quirked up.  “Don't you mean paw-sitively—”

“Your puns aren't going to keep you from getting sick,” she deadpanned, frowning at his hair, plastered to his face.  “Is your suit even water-repellant?” she asked curiously—the thought had never really occurred to her, even as her superhero-self.  And then, she couldn't help but worry for his kwami, remembering the time that Tikki had gotten sick from the rain. “Just—take it,” she said quickly, nodding at the umbrella.

Chat raised his eyebrows.  “I appreciate your concern—”

But Marinette was shaking her head at the young man.  She pushed the umbrella closer to him, using her other hand to pull up the hood of her raincoat.  “You need it more than I do,” she insisted.  “Hero of Paris, and all.”

He looked at her a little hesitantly before he bowed slightly.  “Thank you, Princess,” he said, flashing her a grin.  He took the umbrella from her, his gloved fingers brushing hers as she handed it over.  He furrowed his brow slightly as he grasped it, and Marinette couldn't fight off the vague sensation of déjà vu.  “Thank you,” he murmured again, more quietly this time.

They stood for a moment, each of them silent.  At last, Chat shook his head, as though suddenly remembering himself and where he was.  “Can I walk you home, then?” he asked.  “It only seems fair, since you've sacrificed your umbrella.”

But the girl shook her head with a smile.  “I'll be fine,” she assured him.  “I don't have far to go.”

“Then I will take my leave, Princess,” he said, giving her the familiar two-fingered salute, and she gave him a cheerful wave before venturing off into the rain once more.

It wasn't until Chat had returned to his house, detransformed into Adrien, toweled his hair dry (Plagg had claimed his hair dryer), and glanced at the umbrella he'd rested against his bedside table that the realization struck him.  He picked it up by the handle, careful that it didn't drip everywhere, and found his confirmation in the small signature Gabriel Agreste tag.  He glanced over at Plagg, who was burrowed inside of his blanket, savoring his camembert.

“This is my umbrella,” Adrien told him, as though he didn't quite believe it and the words would bring some sense to it.

“Even I could have told you that,” the kwami said with a shrug, his focus returning to his meal.

“Why did she keep my umbrella?” he asked, only half-directing the question at Plagg.

The kwami, however, chose to answer anyway.  “Well, she is your friend, isn't she?” he asked as he finally gave in and stuffed the cheese in his mouth.  He swallowed, closing his eyes in satisfaction.  “What's so weird about it?”

But Adrien frowned.  He naturally considered Marinette a friend—one of his first friends.  If he was completely honest, however, he wasn't certain that the feeling was completely mutual.  He loved the little tastes of real Marinette that he got, but when he was Adrien, those moments seemed few and far-between.  The girl that she was when she was interacting with just about anyone else... She was completely different, and even someone he admired a bit.

It just seemed that she didn't care much for his presence or companionship, because she hardly seemed capable of speaking to him.  There were times, of course, that he was able to witness her being herself around him, but still...

And all he could wonder was why she had kept the umbrella.  As it was, the thing was mildly defective, occasionally choosing to collapse in on itself if it wasn't set just the right way.  He would have likely thrown it away himself if he hadn't given it to her, and that had been three years ago.

“I'm going to see her again,” Adrien murmured with determination.

Plagg rolled his eyes.  “Well, you're being painfully obvious today, aren't you?” he commented.  “You'll see her at school tomorrow.”

“No,” Adrien clarified as the kwami zipped over to him, “as Chat Noir.” Plagg raised an eyebrow at this.  “I... I need to figure her out.”

Plagg folded his arms over his tiny chest.  “Why?” he asked with a small frown.

“She doesn't like me much as Adrien,” he said with a shrug.  “She can hardly talk to me.  So I need to get to know her as Chat.”

The cat kwami shook his head.  “You really still don't get this friend thing, do you?” he sighed.  “Trust me, she doesn't hate you.”

Adrien frowned.  “I still want to try,” he said.  “Plagg—”

“What, now?” Plagg asked.  “You just saw her ten minutes ago!  What reason would you give her?”

“Fine,” the boy sighed, setting the umbrella back down and folding his arms to mirror the kwami.  “What do you suggest, then?”

Plagg zipped back under the blanket he'd been occupying earlier, and Adrien settled on his bed next to him.  “Nothing,” he said simply.  “Take a break!  Warm up, dry out, and I'm sure the opportunity will present itself.”

Adrien sighed, flopping back on his bed.  “Fine,” he huffed.

As it turned out, the opportunity presented itself only a few days later.

Adrien had been in the locker room, late for sports because of a photoshoot that had been scheduled during the school day, when he heard the tell-tale screams of an akuma making itself known, followed by a loud crash.  He hadn’t hesitated in transforming, and he’d been on the scene only seconds later, skidding to a halt in the gymnasium.

His eyes widened at the colossal size of the student who’d been akumatized.  He was easily twice as big as their already rather large teacher, glasses perched on his nose, and a sweatband around his head.  Chat watched as he began pelting his fellow students with balls as they ran for cover or straight out of the room.

“Hey, big guy!” Chat shouted, hoping to draw the attention away from his classmates as he pulled out his baton.  “I think you need to step up your game!”

The akumatized kid turned to Chat with a low growl of annoyance, and the superhero smirked.  He then threw one of the balls at Chat, but Chat was ready and used his baton to hit it back at him, though the villain ducked out of the way.  He let out another shout of frustration before pelting several balls in quick succession at Chat.

Chat Noir rolled out of the way.  As the student was readying himself again, Chat took advantage of the moment to extend his baton and use it as a pole-vault, launching himself at the villain.  However, the student’s reflexes were too fast, and he caught the superhero instead.

“Well, I’ve always thought I’m quite the catch, but—”  Chat groaned as the villain’s grip on him tightened.  “—this is just a bit extreme.”

The akuma gave Chat a nasty smile and he was just wondering what was going to happen to him—Would he be thrown like the balls he’d been pelting in every direction?  The chances were very high—when plonk.  A red ball collided with the side of the villain’s face.

The akumatized kid scowled.  “Hey, Ballistic!  Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size?”  The villain—Ballistic—kept his tight hold on Chat but turned his face to see none other than Marinette, standing defiantly at his feet.

Ballistic grinned, dropping the superhero gracelessly and rounding on the girl.  Her eyes widened as though she hadn’t quite expected him to turn on her so quickly and she backed away from the villain.

“I definitely did not mean me,” she muttered.  She backed right into a ball rack, knocking it over and falling to the floor.  She caught herself with her hands, but Chat could hear the hiss of pain as she did.  The girl pressed her wrist to her chest, grimacing in pain.

Chat was quick to respond, leaping to his feet and wrapping his arms around Marinette’s middle, hauling her away.

He stopped once they were nestled behind the bleachers.  “Thanks,” she murmured with a hesitant half-smile.  “I guess I didn’t really think that all the way through, huh?”

But Chat Noir grinned at her in response.  “I should be thanking you,” he said.  “I’m pretty sure I was very close to being one very flat cat.”  Marinette rolled her eyes at the boy’s joke.  “Is your wrist okay?” he then asked, taking the girl’s hand in his.

Marinette blinked as he examined the joint in question, before carefully pulling it away.  “I’m fine,” she assured him.  There was a loud crash behind them, and another angry growl from the akumatized boy, and she flinched a little at the sound.

“Sounds like Ballistic is going—”

“Please don’t say it,” she groaned, and he chuckled.  “Just… go.”

“Until next time, Princess,” he grinned, saluting her before extending his baton, landing himself on top of the bleachers.  Ballistic turned to him at the sound of his feet touching the metal surface.  “What do you say we get the ball rolling?” he asked the villain.

After another minute or two of rolling and dodging, Chat was relieved that Ladybug made her appearance at last, swinging in before using her yo-yo to knock the balls away.

“The akuma’s got to be in his sweatband,” she panted as the two heroes took cover.  Ballistic was relentless—he was dodging all of their attacks easily, and throwing balls with incredible speed and force.  The duo was quickly becoming tired, but the villain showed no sign of stopping.

“Yeah, but he’s untoucha-ball,” Chat sighed.  He knew that Ladybug was feeling defeated if she didn’t even roll her eyes at the joke.  He frowned.  “It might be time to use your Lucky Charm,” he said, taking on a more serious tone.  She nodded.

“Lucky Charm!” she cried, and caught the red and black-spotted item as it fell from the sky.  She frowned, looking at the item in her hands—

“Ear muffs?” Chat asked, raising an eyebrow as he looked from the object in her hands to the girl.  “Do you have an idea, my Lady?”

The girl frowned, leaning around to figure out the best way to stop Ballistic.  She glanced around the room, her eyes landing on an announcer’s microphone, a megaphone, the basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling—

“I do,” she said with a nod.  “I need you to use Cataclysm on the beams holding up the basketball hoop,” she told him, pulling the two sides of the earmuffs apart.  “Then you’re going to want to cover your ears.”  She snapped the muffs over her ears, satisfied at the way they muffled all of the sound.  He looked at her curiously for a moment before nodding, using his staff to launch himself toward the ceiling.

Ladybug could faintly hear Chat shouting something at Ballistic, catching his attention while she snatched up the megaphone and ran over to where the microphone was for the school’s sporting events.  She watched as her partner used his power on the metal beams holding up the basketball hoop before dropping down to the floor and clamping his hands over his ears in anticipation.  Ladybug swallowed, pressing the button on the megaphone, switching on the microphone and pressing them close to each other as she squeezed her eyes shut.

The resulting sound hurt her ears even with the earmuffs on.  She opened her eyes to watch Ballistic slam his hands over his ears, and then—crunch!  The remaining hold the basketball hoop had to the ceiling gave away, and she turned the two sound devices off just in time for the hoop to fall over Ballistic’s face.  The villain fell to his knees.

“Chat!” she shouted, wrenching off her ear muffs.  Luckily, the boy heard her and leapt up, snatching the sweatband off of Ballistic’s forehead and throwing it to her.  She pulled at the cloth’s seam, ripping it and dropping it to the ground.  She pulled her yo-yo out, cleansing the akuma before bidding it farewell.  “Bye-bye, petit papillon,” she said with a smile as the white butterfly fluttered off.  Then she tossed the earmuffs into the air.  “Miraculous Ladybug!”

The magic washed over the gymnasium, leaving everything as it was before.

Bien joué!” the duo exclaimed with their usual celebratory fist-bump.

Ladybug smiled sadly at the boy who was blinking in confusion.  “Poor kid,” she said.  “He was just upset about being picked last.”

“Well,” Chat said with a smirk, “he didn’t have to go—”

“Don’t say it,” Ladybug quickly said, holding up her hands.

The boy smiled before being struck with the sudden memory.  “I should find Marinette,” he murmured off-handedly.

Ladybug tilted her head questioningly.  “Marinette?”

“A girl that goes here,” he quickly explained, glancing around the gym as though he half-expected to see her show up at that moment.  “She helped me out, but she fell on her wrist…”

Ladybug blinked at the boy for a moment.  “I’m sure she’s fine,” she said simply.  “The Miraculous Cure will have fixed her.”  If Chat noticed the way that she flexed her own fingers, rolling her wrist, he didn’t say anything.  She cleared her throat, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “She’s fine.  Besides, we have to get going before we detransform.”

Chat nodded vaguely at this.  “You’re right,” he said, and if she wasn’t mistaken, he almost sounded disappointed.  A millisecond later, however, his smile was back on his face, and he swept down in a bow, taking Ladybug’s hand and pressing a kiss to the knuckles.  “Until next time, my Lady.”

“See you later, Chaton,” she said, rolling her eyes affectionately before taking off.

Chat in turn ran off to the locker rooms, just in time to turn back into Adrien.  He sighed, catching Plagg before letting the kwami settle back in his chest pocket.  “What did I tell you?” he said to the blond.  “The opportunity presented itself!”

Adrien let out a small laugh.  “Yeah, but I didn't get to talk to her much, did I?” he muttered.  He peeked out of the locker room, glancing around to see if he was alone.  His eyes fell on Marinette, who was talking to the akumatized boy on the bleachers.  He still looked slightly out of it, but he could hear the girl comforting him.  “And it looks like I won’t now, either,” he grumbled.  But then, an idea struck him and he smiled.  He glanced down at Plagg.

“All right, lover-boy,” the cat kwami sighed, “wait until after I’ve had my camembert to even tell me about this ‘brilliant' scheme I can see you brewing, all right?”

Even after a recovery period and snack, however, the kwami still wasn't thrilled about the boy's plan.  Plagg folded his arms across his chest.  “You heard Ladybug,” he grumbled.  “You know that girl is fine.”

Adrien pouted.  “Yeah but—”

“The excuse won’t fly,” the kwami argued, shaking his head.

Adrien huffed out a breath, folding his arms petulantly in a stance that matched Plagg’s.  Then, the blond broke into a smile once more.  He crossed the room, picking up the umbrella that was still resting against his nightstand.  “Then I’ll go to also return her umbrella!” he said brightly.

“You mean your umbrella?”

“Yeah, but she doesn't know it’s mine,” Adrien told him.  “She gave it to Chat.  And Chat doesn’t need to know it’s Adrien’s and not hers, right?”

Plagg shook his head.  “Kid, I don’t understand why you’re trying this hard—”

“Come on, Plagg,” he said, dropping the umbrella on his bed for a moment and holding up his hand.  “Transformez moi!

Plagg groaned, but a moment later Adrien stood clad in his Chat Noir outfit.  He unlatched his baton, instead replacing it with the umbrella on his back.  He nodded, satisfied, and then bounded out his window with his staff extended.  He leapt across rooftops until he was at the corner across from the Dupain-Cheng bakery.

Chat Noir landed on Marinette’s roof with a soft thud.  As he did, he heard a crash from below him, and he flinched slightly.  He had been attempting to be quiet, but undoubtedly the girl had heard him.  Seconds later, he heard the trapdoor’s latch unlock, and then watched as two bright blue eyes hesitantly peered out from a tiny gap.  He gave her a tentative and somewhat abashed smile and wave, and Marinette threw the hatch open the entire way.

“Chat Noir?” she asked, a hint of concern in her voice as she climbed up to join him on the roof.

“Good evening, my Princess,” he said, giving a small bow.

Marinette’s eyebrows were knit together, and she was frowning at the boy.  She was hugging herself, fighting off the slight chill from the night air.  “What are you doing here?” she asked, still sounding rather confused.

“I was just… in the neighborhood,” he said, and he could practically feel Plagg’s judgment, even without him there, “and I thought I would check up on how you were doing after today.”

Immediately her hand went to her wrist, rubbing it absent-mindedly.  “Fine,” she said slowly.  “I mean, Ladybug’s Cure fixes everything, doesn’t it?” she added with a slight challenge to her voice.

“Of course!” he said.  “I just wanted to be sure.”  He grinned despite her dubious expression.  “And since I’m here, I thought I might return this as well…”  He reached around his back, unsheathing the umbrella and handing it over to her.

Marinette looked from the umbrella to the boy, considering him with curiosity.  “Thank you,” she said.  “You didn't have to bring it back,” she added.  “I would have understood.”

The superhero shrugged.  “It’s a nice umbrella,” he teased.  “I wouldn’t want you to miss it.”

At this, the girl chuckled, and the boy relaxed at last.  “It really isn’t,” she commented.  “If you don’t put it up just right, it falls back in.”  Still, she smiled more warmly at Chat.  “Still, thank you.”

Chat leaned against the railing of the balcony.  “If it’s not that great, then why keep it?” he asked, and he hoped that the question came off as casual.

Marinette smiled fondly as the looked down at the umbrella before shrugging.  “A… friend gave it to me,” she said simply.

“Oh?” he pressed on.

She shook her head.  “Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” she told him.

“And satisfaction brought it back,” he countered.

She rolled her eyes, sighing in defeat and leaning against the railing beside him.  “He and I got off on the wrong foot,” she told Chat.  “I thought I caught him pulling a prank on me, but it ended up being this other girl in our class.  He tried to explain that he was trying to fix things, but I wouldn’t listen.”  She smiled.  “He still apologized to me, made sure I knew the truth.  I liked that.  He didn’t need to.  He’s rich and he was instantly kind of popular and it really didn’t matter what I thought of him.  But he still wanted to make sure I knew he wasn’t trying to be mean.”

Chat felt a bubble of pride in his chest.  For so long he had concerned himself that maybe Marinette hadn’t forgiven him, after all.  But this was proof, straight from her mouth.  She didn’t hate him.

“Anyway,” she continued.  “It was pouring after school, and he gave me his umbrella.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

He nodded.  He felt the relief flooding to every part of his body.  There was still the mystery of why Marinette couldn’t be herself around him, and his mind suggested dozens of other prospects—Was it his friendship Chloe?  Was it intimidation because of his fame?  Was it the way his name was attached to his father’s?—but that suddenly seemed less important.  She had called him her friend, and she had no reason to be lying right now.  Whatever the real reason was, he could figure that out a bit later.

The girl yawned, and she raised a hand to cover her mouth.  “It’s getting late, Chat,” she said, looking to him and hugging her arms closer to her chest.  “And chilly.”

“If you wanted me to keep you warm, Princess, all you had to do was ask,” he remarked playfully, smiling as the girl rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you have school tomorrow?” she asked him, smirking as he nodded.  “You should go home and sleep.”

“Ah, but that means having to abandon the princess in her tower!” he said, feigning offense.

“If it means this princess gets to go to bed, it has to be done,” she responded, sighing dramatically as she did.  She giggled.

Something about the way she smiled, with just a hint of laughter and her eyes bright, inspired Adrien to be bold.  “Perhaps I’ll just have to come back, then,” he said.  His tone was light, but he hoped she caught the serious intention behind it.

“Don’t cats only come back if you feed them?” she asked teasingly.

“Well, I’m told that you live on top of the best bakery in Paris,” he said.  “So if that’s an offer…”

Marinette chuckled.  “Not tonight,” she said, pushing herself off the railing.

“Is that a promise?” he pressed on, leaning closer to her.

She just rolled her eyes.  “Good night, Chat Noir,” she said, taking a step down through her trap door.

“Good night, princess,” he responded quietly, watching as she descended down into her room, waiting for the sound of the latch being redone.  At last, once it was, he climbed atop the railing, extending his staff and departing.

Once he was a few rooftops away, he looked back, watching as the light in the room on top of the bakery went out.  He smiled.  “Well,” he murmured, “she didn’t say no.”