“Someone’s quiet tonight.”
“Mm,” Chat Noir grunted, staring down at the city below, arms crossed and brow knit as Ladybug…or ratherMarinette…lightly bumped into his side.
“Cat got your tongue?” Ladybug chuckled, smile dropping a little as Chat gave an all too perfunctory laugh that never really reached his eyes.
“Something like that,” Chat said, doing his best to avoid his partner’s gaze as she stepped around the front of him.
“Are you…okay?” Ladybug asked, raising an eyebrow as Chat finally brought himself to look at her, doing his best to appear as casual as possible.
“Fine,” Chat said with a dismissive wave. “Just having trouble…digesting something. Bad cheese, I think.”
“Oooh,” Ladybug winced, taking a step back from Chat. “Well…if you need a bathroom break, don’t hesitate to speak up, okay?”
“Sure,” Chat said, flicking his baton out as Ladybug lassoed a nearby gargoyle, pulling herself up onto the building across the street. He watched her for a moment, chewing on his lower lip before vaulting after her, lingering a few steps behind.
“Does your partner know?”
The question caught Marinette off guard, nearly causing her to choke on her bubblegum as Adrien slid into the seat across from her.
“Kn-Know what?” Marinette coughed, glancing around the mostly empty library as Adrien pretended to study next to her.
“What you told us yesterday,” Adrien murmured softly, glancing up with what he hoped was a casual, curious expression. “Just…something I’ve been wondering about since you told us. I mean…if you told us, he must know, right?”
Marinette fidgeted under Adrien’s curious gaze, guilt bubbling up and gnawing at her stomach. “He…w-well we kind of agreed to, uh…keep things professional, y-you know? So, uh…so no, he doesn’t.”
“Oh…sorry. I, just assumed you would have said something to him after yesterday,” Adrien said, trying very hard not to let the hurt edge into his voice. He was just a curious friend; not a slighted or hurt Chat Noir. “I mean…you told Alya, Nino, and me so, I just assumed-”
“It’s…it’s more complicated than that,” Marinette said, tapping her pencil’s eraser against the desk as she stared thoughtfully into the space behind Adrien’s head. Sooner or later, she was going to have to come clean to Chat that she had been the first one to break her own rule…she just didn’t know how. There was no earthly way that he wouldn’t take it badly once he found out that she had willingly spilled the beans to three people who weren’thim; she just needed some time to collect her thoughts before letting him know.
And once she told him…well, the cat would be out of the bag as well.
“Is it?” Adrien asked, fidgeting with his ring. “I mean…if you told us then-”
“I’m sorry,” Marinette said with a shaky laugh. “Can we just…work on the history project right now? I-I’m kind of behind for a lot of different reasons and-”
“Oh, right,” Adrien said, scratching the back of his neck. “Sure…forget I said anything.”
He offered another well practiced smile before returning to his own book, glancing up every few minutes as though he was waiting for some kind of explanation.
At half past eleven, a soft rapping came against Adrien’s window, pulling his attention away from his trigonometry homework to the red and black figure dangling from her yo yo string outside.
It’s open, Adrien mouthed, nodding at the large latch-style windows that Ladybug pushed open with the ball of her foot as she swung herself inside, landing beside his bed with unerring grace.
“Well this is a late surprise,” Adrien chuckled, fetching a long pole from the side of the bookcase and pushing the window shut again as Ladybug paced back and forth, clutching what appeared to be a plain white bag against her chest. “Although if those pastries are for me-”
“They aren’t,” Ladybug said, dropping the huge bag of pastries on his desk as she paced past it. “I-I mean, if you want one, you can have one, but I….”
Even in his raw, wounded condition, the sight of Ladybug (Marinette) in such an obviously agitated state cut through his own irritation.
“I….I was going to meet Chat tonight o-or at least try to meet him since I don’t really have any way of getting a hold of him,” Ladybug rambled, twirling her yo-yo from one hand as though she were trying to fight off the mounting wave of panic. “I wanted to explain what happened a-and clear the air with him b-but I figured he might be upset s-so I wanted to bring him a pastry or something to kinda soften the blow, or whatever, but-”
Ladybug took a deep breath, turning to face Adrien with a humorless and slightly manic laugh. “I…I have no idea what kind of pastries he likes!”
“So…you brought all of them?”
“A-Almost all of them,” Ladybug said, accidentally knocking over a pencil cup with her yo-yo as she paced. “Because I was just…standing there staring at a case full of pastries, trying to remember which one my partner of two years liked…and I couldn’t do it. I-I don’t know if I ever asked and just forgot or worse if I never cared to ask in the first place, b-but the fact is I…I don’t even know what my partner likes to eat! I know what Chloe’s favorite pastry is-”
“Lemon blueberry scones,” Adrien nodded.
“-but not…not Chat’s,” Ladybug said softly, sitting down on the edge of his bed, pressing her forehead into her hands as Adrien quietly crossed the room and sat beside her. “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t be dumping my superhero baggage on you. I just…I’m scared.”
“Of Chat?” Adrien snorted, trailing off when Ladybug turned her distraught gaze towards him.
“He’s…he’s wanted to know who I am for the longest time,” Ladybug said softly. “And I…I thought it would be better for neither of us to know who the other one was. And Iknow he’s had chances where he could have peeked but he didn’t. And now…now I have to tell him that I trusted three people he doesn’t even know with my identity…andnot him.”
Ladybug trailed off into silence, the tick-tock of the clock on the wall providing the only sound for a long moment, until Ladybug broke the silence. “Is there…any chance he’s not going to be devastated by this?”
“No,” Adrien said quicker than he ought to have, turning himself towards Ladybug who was glaring at the floor, jaw clenched, and blinking rapidly. “I mean…if it was me…and I thought that someone I trusted with my life didn’t trust me back…yeah, I’d be pretty upset.”
And he was; the wave of disappointment and disillusionment that came from Marinette’s reveal still left him a little bitter. Still, he reached out, turning her shoulders to face him and tilting her head up until her watery gaze fixed on his.
“But…you need to tell him,” Adrien said firmly. “Better now than risking him finding out some other way, right?”
“I guess,” Ladybug mumbled, hands clenching her yo-yo for support. “We’ve just…had such a good partnership…and I’m worried h-he’s not going to trust me anymore…”
Adrien slowly pried her fingers apart, unclenching her fists and lacing his hands through hers. Any other day, Marinette might have turned red from such close contact, but now she was just grateful for the small bit of comfort to ground her.
“I think…after all you two have been through,” Adrien said carefully. “He’s not going to ditch you over this; no matter how upset he might be. I think…it might take him a little bit to get over it but…I’m sure you didn’t do this to hurt him.”
“I didn’t,” Ladybug insisted. “I…I was just so worried that Alya thought I didn’t want to spend time with her, so I…I thought explaining my sudden, inexplicable absences would patch things up.”
“To be fair, I think you managed to solve that problem well enough,” Adrien laughed, squeezing her hands gently. “She’s been practically vibrating hasn’t she?”
“I don’t even think I need to get her a Christmas present this year,” Ladybug laughed, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “I just need to deal with Chat now…”
“Hey,” Adrien said, drawing her attention back towards him with a small smile. “You’re gonna be fine, Lady-nette.”
“Do you…think I should tell him who I am?” Ladybug asked.
“I…” Adrien bit his lip. “You don’t have to…but I would make it clear that you trust him. If not that, then I’m sure you can think of something else.”
“Right…” Ladybug nodded, slowly getting to her feet. “I should…see if I can track him down before it gets too late.”
“Maybe try circling back towards the other end of the city?” Adrien suggested, mentally calculating how long it would take to intercept her once she left. “If that fails then…I don’t know; break out the catnip?”
“If it were only that easy,” Ladybug laughed, picking up the bag of pastries on his desk and rifling through them for a moment before producing an apricot Danish. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
“Anytime,” Adrien said, waving off the pastry. “You should save that for Chat.”
“It’s your favorite, though,” Ladybug clucked.
“Might be his too,” Adrien shrugged, shooting Ladybug a lopsided smile. “For all you know.”
“Right,” Ladybug laughed, dropping the Danish back in the bag with a small, steadying sigh. “I’ll…see you tomorrow?”
“Good luck,” Adrien said, waving her off as she lassoed the window open, and darted out into the night. He watched her go for a moment with a long sigh, fingering his ring as he pressed his free hand against the window. There was more he wanted to ask her, but it was a conversation that Chat needed to have with Ladybug. A long, profoundly uncomfortable conversation that pastries might make marginally better. But every relationship had growing pains, he told himself, and he could only hope their partnership would come out of it stronger for it.
“…you couldn’t have asked for a cheese Danish?” Plagg sniffed, poking his head out of Adrien’s collar.
“…just transform me.”
Twenty minutes later, Chat perched atop the opera house, high enough that he should have been visible to anyone who was looking for him. The run over had allowed him time to compose himself back to a state of emotional neutrality that Ladybug expected Chat Noir to have. After all, as far as she knew, he was painfully oblivious to the fact that Ladybug had confessed her identity to three people who (as far as she knew) weren’t him.
He also had time to carefully rehearse the things he wanted to say to her.
The fact of the matter was that he didn’t need to disregard his own feelings to validate hers. Time had tempered his hurt and disappointment a little, but they still pulsed under the surface whenever he thought about it. There was no use sugar-coating it; he had to be honest with her…or mostly honest anyway. Until they agreed to mutually reveal their identities, he couldn’t tell her that he knew who she really was without compromising their agreement.
And just because Marinette had chosen to reveal herself, didn’t mean Adrien needed to as well.
A familiar blur of red and black caught his attention as Ladybug swung onto the roof, skidding through the snow and coming to a stop beneath his perch. “Didn’t know you were a fan of the opera,” Chat Noir called down, dropping from the dome onto the roof as theater goers trailed inside beneath them. “I think Don Giovanni is playing tonight, in case you were in the mood for something horribly depressing.”
“Maybe another time,” Ladybug laughed, fidgeting a little as she thrust the bag out in front of her. “I, uh…I brought some pastries for you. Fresh from this bakery downtown that’s pretty good.”
“More than pretty good,” Chat snorted, taking the bag and studying the logo on the plain white bag. “Tom and Sabine’s is probably the best in town; best I’ve had anyway.”
Ladybug watched as he rooted through the bag, breathing a small sigh of relief as he pulled out the apricot Danish and took a thoughtful bite. She was going to have to bring another one to Adrien tomorrow, though it looked like both blonds in her life had a penchant for the fruity.
She just hoped it was enough to take the bite off of what she had to tell him.
Her discomfort must’ve been apparent because Chat fixed her with a small frown, replacing the pastry in the bag and setting it down on the roof behind him. “Something eating you, Buginette?”
The relief that had flooded her had dissipated, replaced with dread as she stood up straighter, fighting the urge to look away, or run away from her partner who deserved to know the truth. “You could say that,” Ladybug said, taking a deep breath. “Um…do you remember when we said that we shouldn’t tell anyone who we were? Not even each other?”
Chat nodded, crossing his arms and forcing himself to remain passively curious. “Uh-huh,” Chat said. “I, uh, haven’t told anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about?”
“It’s not you I’m worried about…it’s me,” Ladybug sighed, fighting the urge to fidget with her yo-yo. “My…one of my best friends thought we were drifting apart. I-I missed an important lunch date because of an akuma attack and…she was really upset with me. I thought w-we were going to fall out over it, and I knew she wasn’t buying my excuses so…so I told her…”
Chat knew what Marinette told Alya, because he and Nino had walked into the otherwise empty classroom as she had said it.
(“I’m…I’m Ladybug…” Marinette said, as Adrien rounded the corner, eyes widening as his world spun.)
“…I told her I was Ladybug,” Ladybug said. “Or…rather Ladybug was me.”
Chat took a deep breath, biting his lip as he nodded somewhat absently. “I…o-kay-”
“That isn’t all,” Marinette said, quickly before she lost momentum. “My…two of my other friends walked in as I was saying it. And I…I ended up telling all three of them.”
(“Adrien?” Adrien blinked as Marinette looked up at his dumbfounded expression with a small, uncertain smile. “Are you-”
(“Great!” Adrien stammered out, forcing a casual smile while his stomach churned unpleasantly. “That’s…you’re amazing, Marinette!”)
“So…so three people know your secret identity?” Chat said, clearing his throat as he blinked. “Well, that’s…uh…that’s gr-”
Chat stopped himself, lips pressing together as he looked down at his partner, studying his expression with a furrowed brow.
“Actually…actually no, that’s not great!” Chat blurted out, shaking his head as he paced away from Ladybug, hand running through his hair as he struggled to put words to the roiling sea of discontent that had plagued him for days. He could lie, brush it off, pretend like he hadn’t been hurt by her decision to tell her civilian friends who she was (even ifhe was technically one of them). But he wasn’t going to let unspoken resentment poison their relationship.
“I…we promised we wouldn’t tell anyone!” Chat said, turning around to face Ladybug. “Not even each other!”
“I know,” Ladybug said, taking a step towards Chat. “I know Iwas the one who pushed for that in the first place, and I was the first one to slip up and-”
Ladybug trailed off, frowning and shaking her head.
“No…I didn’t slip up,” Ladybug said quietly. “It was a choice…I chose to tell my friends who I was because I thought I was going to lose them if I didn’t. I’m owning up to that…and I’m sorry that I broke our promise.”
Ladybug studied Chat’s back for a long moment, watching his shoulders tense and relax as he tilted his head up towards the sky. Loathe as she was to admit it, part of her never considered the possibility of Chat ever getting trulyupset with her. Despite the fact that she hadn’t known him as long as Alya or Adrien, she had never been afraid of losing his friendship until now. It was a terrifying thought; not just because she had somehow managed to do something that had broken Chat Noir’s unflappable exterior.
“Chat,” Ladybug said, taking another step forward before stopping herself. “Please…say something.”
Chat was quiet for another long moment, before turning around with a small sigh. The look of disappointment on his face almost made Ladybug wish he was mad at her. “Do you not…trust me?”
Ladybug swallowed heavily, taking another step towards her partner. “That’s not it…”
“You just don’t trust me as much as your friends,” Chat said, shaking his head as he tried to get to the bottom of why he was so upset. He had been literally one of the first people Ladybug told her identity to…and one she was still keeping her identity from. He was fine keeping their secrets; even had to agree that, in the long run, it made the most sense. But now that the proverbial cat was out of the bag, he had to wonder if pragmatism was the only reason Ladybug didn’t want to tell him who she was.
Her sweep of the city after leaving Adrien’s had given her enough time to mull over her conversation with Adrien. No matter what she said, the fact of the matter was her actions said she put more faith in Adrien, Alya, and Nino than in Chat.
And maybe she did.
There had always been a barrier of professionalism between them that hampered any true understanding; one born out of necessity, granted, but one that made it almost impossible to get to know the person who stood across from her.
But that didn’t mean it had to stay that way.
“If you don’t want to, that’s fine,“ Chat sighed, scratching the back of his head. “But-”
Chat legitimately jumped when he turned around to see a pajama clad Marinette standing in an inch of snow, looking up at him with sheepish smile.
“Hi,” Marinette said with a small wave. “I’m Marinette. I turn sixteen next month, my favorite pastries are chocolate eclairs, I want to be a fashion designer someday and I amfreezing my butt off soI’mtransformingback!”
With a flash of red light, she transformed back to Ladybug, rubbing her arms as she hopped from foot to foot, chattering from the brief brush with cold as Chat stood almost dumbstruck, more from the fact that Ladybug had so candidly ‘revealed’ herself than the revelation itself.
“You…” Chat said, blinking owlishly.
“Yes, I set you up to protect myself during that whole Evilustrator thing,” Ladybug said, blowing into her hands.
“No, you…you didn’t have to do that,” Chat said. “I-I never wanted you to feel like you had to tell me or-”
“I didn’t,” Ladybug insisted, jaw set and lips pursed determinedly. “My…friend told me that I should do something to let you know that I trust you—as much as I trust them.”
“This…was the best I could think of,” Ladybug said, gesturing to herself. She capitalized on Chat’s silence by closing the distance between them, laying her hand on his shoulder as she craned her neck to look him in the eye.
“I…never,” Ladybug said, clearly pronouncing every word. “Ever…want there to be any doubt that I trust you.”
“I know,” Ladybug sighed, shaking her head. “But…one more person isn’t going to make a difference. Not when it’s you, anyway. Besides…”
Chat watched Ladybug bite her lip, glancing out over the city as a soprano’s voice wafted in from the theater below. “I guess,” Ladybug said, searching for the right words among the falling snowflakes. “I guess a part of me always wanted you to know who I was.”
Ladybug turned back to look up at a pair of unmasked green eyes and a warm, beaming smile that caused her to flush as red as her suit.
“I’ve always known who you were,” Adrien said, brushing a snowflake off of Ladybug’s burning cheek. “Now I just know your name.”
Ladybug swore her heart stopped beating as the soprano beneath her feet hit a painfully high note.