It was only a matter of time, really. Marinette and Adrien were notorious for missing class, Marinette especially. Strangely enough, they often were missing at the same time. So when group projects were assigned while they were both gone, they were paired together, despite both Alya and Nino saying that they would pair with their respective friends.
"Oh, you poor boy," Chloe cooed at Adrien after he got the news. "Marinette is the absolute worst teammate, she vanishes off the face of the earth during group meetings, haven't you heard? Her group members always have to carry her through."
Adrien frowned at her. "Marinette is the class president. I'm sure she's responsible." He didn't know the small girl well, but she seemed nice enough. She sometimes vanished during class, but so did he. Besides, Chloe was hardly a reliable source. He knew for a fact that the blonde girl made Sabrina do all of her work, and Chloe had also tried to steal Marinette's work in the hat competition. He really wasn't too worried about working with Marinette.
Chloe shook her head. "Class president is a popularity contest. I'd know how horrible Marinette is as a teammate- Sabrina and I had to work with her on a Physics project, remember? I couldn't do the project, since the Evillustrator cornered me, and oh! It was so traumatic!" Chloe threw a hand to her forehead in faked distress. "I was chased off and had to be guarded for the rest of the day! Marinette, though, she ducked out as soon as she saw a chance to and she made up excuses to avoid working with Sabrina and only came back and offered to help once everything was done!"
Adrien remembered that day, all right. He'd ended up ditching his own group and neither Nino nor Alya had been very happy with him. Thankfully they had both written it up as his father suddenly calling him away for something, and he hadn't bothered to correct them. He'd done a ton of research for them to make up for his absence, and the project continued without a hitch.
He also distinctly remembered Chloe trying to foist her share of the work off on a certain blond superhero.
He brushed Chloe's words off without thinking about it much more- after all, Marinette had had an excuse that night, even if Chloe and Sabrina didn't know. But then Nino mentioned the same thing, jokingly telling Adrien that both he and Alya were glad to have partners that didn't vanish without explanation for hours at a time.
That got Adrien's attention. Chloe was known for exaggerating, but Nino wasn't. The way he said it, it was as if Marinette had a track record of vanishing on a regular basis during group projects. The first tendrils of worry started to work their way into his stomach before he promptly shoved them down. He vanished during group projects all of the time; he hardly could judge Marinette for the same. Besides, if neither of them was ever available at the same time, they could just split the work up and each work on a part separately. It wasn't like he hadn't had experience dealing with that sort of thing.
It would be fine.
"Are you free after school today?" Adrien asked Marinette as she stood in front of her locker at the end of the day. If they got started early, then maybe they could avoid any problems due to last-minute photoshoots or akuma attacks. "If you are, we could get started on the project right away. It's really big, and we're supposed to do a lot of research for it."
"Oh, sure!" Marinette said- well, squeaked, really. She blinked up at him, blue eyes wide and expression nervous. "Do- um, did Miss Bustier tell us our topic?"
"She gave me a sheet of topics we could choose from, but most of them are already taken." Adrien pulled the sheet out of his bag. "The project is supposed to be on how something is made, and the presentation is supposed to be twenty minutes long. And the possible topics are books, recycling centers, um...lightbulbs, cheese, and- oh, bugger. They had clothing on the list but it's already been taken. Um, and there's also clocks. "
"Cheese? Lightbulbs?" Marinette repeated incredulously, momentarily forgetting her nervousness in the face of such a strange list. "Is that all that are left?"
Adrien checked again. "Yeah. Cheese sounds like the least painful- do you wanna do that one?"
Adrien couldn't help the grin that slipped onto his face. "We'll just have to make sure that our presentation is gouda but not too cheesy." He snickered at the exasperated expression that took over Marinette's face and tugged her along to the library behind him.
It appeared that driving Marinette up the wall with puns and jokes was the key to making her more comfortable around him, for whatever reason. Half an hour in to their first project session and Marinette already seemed a lot more relaxed around him. No matter how exasperated she seemed to be with the puns and jokes he kept spouting, he definitely saw her giggling when she thought he wasn't looking.
Hah. Take that, Ladybug. Someone thinks my puns are funny.
Their first few meetings went well, although Adrien's busy schedule meant that their group study times had to be short but frequent. Marinette seemed increasingly comfortable with Adrien, the stutters finally vanishing almost completely.
Sooner or later, though, Adrien's luck was bound to run out.
Adrien swore as he looked at the time. An akuma had popped up ten minutes before he was supposed to go meet Marinette to work on their project, and of course it had to be a tough one. There wasn't any time to call Marinette and reschedule, so she was just going to be left hanging.
He wondered if she would still be at the library by the time the akuma was beaten, considering it was already twenty minutes past their agreed-upon meeting time. This was the absolute last thing he wanted happening, since he'd never worked with Marinette before this project. Now that he was transformed, he couldn't even text her with some fabricated excuse. He was going to look like a total jerk for standing her up.
The second the akumatized man was beaten and the akuma purified, Chat Noir did what was possibly his fastest fist bump ever before tearing off towards the school, leaving a slightly confused Ladybug in his wake. Landing near the library, he released his transformation behind a pillar and headed into the library, ignoring Plagg's pleas for cheese.
It was empty.
Adrien swore quietly and dug in his pocket for his phone, positive that it would be filled with missed calls and texts from an irritated Marinette. Instead, he only found two texts from Nino about a movie that was coming out in a week.
Adrien frowned, puzzled. Marinette did have his number; they had exchanged a handful of texts just recently. So why hadn't she called?
The doors of the library flew open with a bang and someone barreled right into Adrien, sending them both tumbling to the floor. An incredibly familiar groan came from the figure currently sprawled on Adrien's back, pinning him to the floor.
"Marinette?" Adrien asked curiously, trying to get a good look at the girl on top of him. "Is that you? I'm sorry I was running late."
"Adrien?" Instantly, the weight from his back vanished as two strong hands were pulling him upright. "I'm sorry for running into you and knocking you over and- wait. You were running late, too?" Big blue eyes blinked up at him in confusion.
Adrien nodded, fumbling for an excuse that would sound even remotely plausible. "Yeah, I, um, I was about to leave my house when the akuma attacked. Nathalie didn't want me outside."
"Same here. My parents didn't want me going out, even if we don't live far from the school."
That didn't explain why she hadn't called or texted him to let him know that she was going to be stuck until the attack was over, but he hadn't either and asking Marinette about it would probably just result in her asking him more questions that he couldn't answer. It was better to just drop the subject.
"Well, I'm glad I didn't keep you waiting," Adrien said before Marinette could ask any more questions, leading the way over to a table. "Should we start?"
The next time they were scheduled to meet, Adrien arrived at the library twenty minutes early to get some extra credit for physics done before they started in on their project. Five minutes in, Marinette texted him.
There's an akuma attack going on. I might be late again.
Adrien sat bolt upright. Not again! Of course an akuma would attack just before he was supposed to be working on a group project. At least Marinette had given him a heads-up.
He texted her back. Really? Where?
Adrien shrugged and pulled up the Ladyblog. Always on top of attacks, Alya had already posted all of the basics about the attack- it was by the Louvre, and a painter had apparently been told that her artwork was all too cartoony to ever become popular, and she didn't have enough range to make anything besides cartoons. The Painter apparently had similar powers to the Evillustrator, painting things into being. Most worryingly, she was painting incredibly realistic people into being and using them to fight for her. Ladybug was already at the scene.
Swearing quietly, Adrien transformed into Chat Noir. He had a fight to attend.
The bulk of the work on their project got completed a full week before it was due.
"I think it looks gouda," Adrien commented, flipping through the slides one more time and grinning when Marinette groaned at the pun. "Are you going to be bleu when we no longer have this project to work on?"
"Nope," Marinette said immediately. "I won't miss the cheese puns at all."
"Aww, but Marinette," Adrien faux-whined, ignoring her eye roll with another grin as he continued pestering her. "Whey are you so mean to me?"
Marinette huffed. "You are utterly ridiculous, honestly."
"Udder-ly ridiculous?" He had to duck the pencil that flew at his head. "Oh come on Marinette, that one was good." He grinned. "Or, should I say, goud-"
When Marinette arrived at school two days later, Adrien was waiting outside for her to arrive with Nino and Alya, the latter who looked a tad confused. A shit-eating grin spread across Adrien's face as soon as he saw Marinette, and she had to wonder how she was ever awkward around him. The model was really just a giant dork. It hadn't been hard at all to work with him once he got started on the cheese puns and didn't stop.
"Should I be scared about that expression on your face?" Marinette asked warily as she joined them.
Adrien's grin got wider. "Look at what I found in the bookstore yesterday!" He dug in his bag for a second before pulling out a paperback book and holding it out. The cover read1001 Cheese Jokes and Puns. "It's got some great jokes. What do you call cheese that doesn't belong to you?"
He just smirked. "Nacho cheese!"
"Adrien!" Marinette complained. "Oh no you don't. Hand it over, you don't need any more awful jokes."
Alya looked on in confusion as Marinette pounced on Adrien, trying to snatch the book from him. It had only been a few weeks ago that her friend had barely been able to piece together a sentence in front of Adrien, but now she was pressed up against the model as she used his shoulder to steady herself as she reached for the book he teasingly held out of reach. Adrien didn't seem even remotely taken aback as she hopped on him, instead snickering at Marinette's efforts and egging her on. Marinette shot him a playful glare, then leapt up on the blond-haired boy, wrapping her legs around his hips to keep herself up as she tried to reach higher.
Adrien laughed, holding the book out at a different angle so Marinette couldn't grab it. She clambered around his body to reach out for it, shifting every time Adrien moved where he held the book. The model didn't seem at all perturbed to have someone climbing all over him, even going so far as to egg Marinette on, but both Nino and Alya were gaping.
"Marinette! Stop climbing on Adrien, he's not a tree!" Alya chided, finally finding her voice. Both teens froze as they realized their position- Marinette had her legs wrapped around Adrien's waist, her stomach against his chest and one arm around his neck to steady herself. Adrien had one arm wrapped around her waist to try to slow her down, his other arm up in the air. They both blushed as Marinette slid down to the ground.
"Girl, what was that?" Alya demanded as the boys headed inside in front of them. "You were climbing all over him!"
Marinette flushed slightly. "Adrien and joke books are not a good combination," she said defensively. "He already has enough puns about cheese. He really doesn't need to learn any more."
"So you decided to climb all over him?" Alya couldn't believe that Marinette had managed to get so comfortable with Adrien that she wouldn't even stop and think before being that pressed up against her crush.
"Cheese puns are really annoying?" Marinette offered weakly.
Alya could only roll her eyes.
"Good evening, My Lady," Chat Noir called from where he was lounging on a roof. He appeared to have a book in his hands and was tilting it to read using the streetlights below.
"Hey, kitty." Ladybug swung to a stop next to him. "What are you reading?"
"Ah, something for a school project I'm working on right now." With a twist and a flip, Chat was standing next to her. He held up the book. "It's called1001 Cheese Jokes and Puns-"
Ladybug didn't even think about her words as they came out automatically. "No, Adrien, you are not using our patrol time to read up on cheese jokes!" She grabbed her yo-yo and with one smooth move, yanked the book out of her partner's suddenly frozen hands. "You know a million cheese jokes already, there's really no need to learn any more."
Ladybug frowned and turned back to her partner. Normally Chat Noir would have come up with an immediate joking response to her words. Instead, he was still staring at her, mouth wide open. For a moment, she was totally confused- did her pulling the book away really affect him that much? It wasn't even torn!
His voice was almost a whisper, quiet enough that she almost missed it. Ladybug went stiff for a minute before realizing what had happened.
I called him Adrien.
And he called me Marinette.
The two superheroes stood frozen on the rooftop, staring at each other.
Finally Chat Noir sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I probably should have figured that the puns would do me in at some point." A hint of a smile played along his lips. "I suppose you could say that bringing the book along was not a gouda choice, huh? It would have been a cheddar idea to leave it at home."
Ladybug groaned loudly, her whole body relaxing as she tried not to smile. "You're awful."
"Pawful, My Lady?"
"The absolute worst."
They grinned at each other then, their playful banter falling back into place with barely a hitch. How could it not, when they had been acting the exact same way on the other side of the mask? They could deal with the tangle of their feelings later.
For now, the city called.