When Adrien signed up for the Gaming Club, he’d expected a small group of like-minded nerds, sharing laughs over games both vintage and new.
Really, it showed how out of touch he was with campus life. But that was understandable. At twenty-four years old, already well into his PhD in astrophysics, and occasionally working for his father’s world renowned fashion house, it was amazing that he knew what day it was. Some days he wondered if his blood was still red, and not stained brown with the vast amount of coffee he drank.
The fact that he’d almost collapsed from sheer exhaustion last week had been proof of his severe lack of time- and the scolding he’d gotten from both his supervisor and his father still stung vividly.
Good thing Ladybug never found out. She was already cracking jokes about him becoming an ‘old man’.
Still, that was the reason why he found himself clamouring down the poorly-lit stairs, to the basement levels of the university, following the sounds of a pulsing beat. It was almost like a dream, surreal that the university could be so full of energy post teaching hours. Adrien wondered if he’d gotten the wrong place, the wrong room. Sure, gamers could be a loud bunch, but whatever was happening in room 03B sounded like a rave.
His curiosity got them better of him and he traipsed down the corridor, the beat of the song throbbing through his veins the way only truly loud music can, acting like a siren’s call. The door for 03B was slightly ajar, and it was dark inside save for several coloured, brightly flashing lights. Now that Adrien was closer, he could hear the people behind the door, the denizens of the Gaming Club, separate from the music. They were chanting.
He pushed open the door.
“MARI, MARI, MARI!”
The small classroom had been turned upside down, chairs and tables pushed and stacked against the walls with a space carved out in the middle like a dance floor. The smart board had been linked to a console and two dance mats, the screen projecting the latest DDR game. Through the crowd, Adrien could just about make out two people in the middle of the circle, on their own dance mat, facing off against their opponent to the nostalgic tones of Uma Thurman. Around the circle, people were both cheering on the battling pair, and dancing themselves.
The crowd parted slightly and Adrien was able to peer over to get a better glimpse of the game.
To say his jaw hit the floor would have been an understatement. On the contrary, he was surprised his jaw hadn’t smashed through the Earth’s crust.
He now understood why people were cheering for the girl on the left, she was absolutely wiping the floor with her partner. Though the room was bathed in semi-darkness, the glow of the board created a halo of neon coloured lights around the pair, illuminating their silhouettes. Because of this, Adrien could see every curve of the girl’s hips as she dipped low, bouncing on the balls of her feet with all the grace and agility of a certain someone he was trying not to think about in that way. In an instant Adrien knew the type of DDR player she was- the type with enough skill to actually dance to the songs along with following the step sequences. Her opponent, the poor guy, didn’t stand a chance.
“MARI, MARI, MARI!”
The chanting continued, and Adrien found himself staring. Every polite sensibility in him drummed out due to the beat, and the dancing and oh god this girl had skill.
He told himself it was only her skills he was admiring.
As the song ended, the girl twirled on one foot, her shoulder length hair fanning out around her like a curtain of living midnight, before landing a perfect combo as her final move. Adrien found himself whooping and cheering along with the crowd. Somewhere, deep inside him, something began to stir- something which had laid dormant for a great many years. But the feeling was gone before he had a chance to pinpoint it and the lights to the room flicked on.
Everyone groaned, shielding their eyes from the fluorescent beams assaulting their senses. One young woman beside Adrien even hissed, though it was somewhat in jest.
“Ok, ok, easy there, you basement nerds!” the man who’d turned the lights on stepped forwards, raising his voice above the crowd of, Adrien now realised, about twenty people give or take. “And give it up for your reigning champion, your President of the Gaming Club, your Marinette Dupain-Cheng!”
Everyone applauded as the guy, a tall guy with large glasses and headphones around his neck, raised Marinette’s arm high in the air. Adrien stood on his tiptoes to get a better view, but Marinette had buried her face in her hands in embarrassment.
“Oh god, Nino, stop,” Adrien just about heard her say, though she was laughing along with everyone else.
Her defeated opposition, huffing for breath, gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Ah you beat me fair and square, Prez!” he chuckled, running his free hand through his sweaty black hair. “But I’ll get you next time, I was born ready!”
“Next round is in a few minutes, if you wanna put your name forward, drop it in my cap,” the guy whom Marinette had referred to as Nino, pulled the baseball cap off his head and pockets of people began to talk amongst themselves. Some moved forward to put their names down for the next round. Adrien stood towards the back, uncertain where to look or if he should introduce himself to people.
He jumped when someone tapped his shoulder. Turning his head around, his eyes widened when he came face-to-face with the president of the gaming club.
Marinette smiled warmly, giving him space. Up close he could see how flushed she was from her last match, along with the freckles on her face. She was also tiny, Adrien was at least a head taller than her.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help but notice you hanging back here! I’m Marinette, president of the Gaming Club,” she began rambling, her voice rather high in pitch. Adrien chalked it up to the adrenaline of winning a game. She held out her hand, which Adrien shook. “I noticed you’d signed up for the club online and I was wondering if you were going to show up tonight! Not that I’m a stalker or anything- as the president I get updates if someone joins and when you’re a fashion student and you hear that Adrien Agreste is joining your club, it’s something that catches your eye you know?”
Adrien nodded, lips pressed together awkwardly.
SAY SOMETHING. SMILE. DO ANYTHING, his mind yelled at him. Nothing is worse than this. Just say anything!
“So… you like my dad’s…stuff?”
On second thought, I should have kept my mouth shut.
Adrien fought off a wince, and was glad he did, as Marinette’s eyes lit up and she nodded vigorously.
“Oh sure, your dad’s been like my idol ever since I was little! I’ve always loved his style,” she played with the strands of her hair, gazing at the floor. “But I guess you get that a lot huh? You aren’t here to listen to fangirls gush over your dad’s designs, I’m sure.”
“It’s ok, I don’t mind,” Adrien replied with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Marinette beamed and Adrien suddenly found himself thinking that he’d listen her ‘fangirl gush’ about his father’s designs for days if she smiled like that at him the whole time…wait what?
“You know, I was going to be mean and demand you fight against me in a DDR battle to the death,” Marinette said, tapping her chin wickedly, “but I’ve decided to be nice. How about a team-up? I could do with beating the high score. Nino and Lillian currently hold the pairs title and I think we could take them. What do you say?”
She held up her fist.
Adrien stared at her, at her closed fist hovering between them, the challenging, playful smirk on her face, and felt his heart skip a beat.
He swallowed, curling his own hand into a fist and bumping it against hers, feeling a remarkable sense of déjà vu.
“Partners,” he replied.