A/N: i was looking through my documents and realized that i had most of this chapter drafted out but never posted it, ripppp
so i decided to finish it up and post it! it's probably riddled with mistakes but i'll read over it properly another time kalshdf. sorry, i hope it's okay! i'll also reply to reviews soon!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Qui aimes-tu ?
Adrien was over the moon. While he worried for his Lady, things with Marinette had been going well. She seemed open to the idea of working alongside Adrien because, of course, Adrien understood. He couldn't expect her to sew while debilitated; this gave him another opportunity to watch her work, and despite her concerns and injuries, he sensed a fiery passion about her. At the very least, he'd gather more pieces to the puzzle that made up his princess. He felt certain that she was making progress on talking to him, too.
The only thing to bring him down now was a lack of Ladybug. A week had passed. He was beginning to panic. An Akuma attack could happen any day as the time between such incidents shortened; he'd been lucky thus far.
Nonetheless, he went on patrol dutifully. Normal crimes existed, which he intervened. He was far more careful, though. He had already learned his lesson.
It was an hour into patrol, wandering near his school, when he saw her. Who else could be jumping across rooftops this late at night? His expression immediately brightened as he bounded towards the figure with a, "My Lady!" when he was close enough to be heard.
The week had passed quickly. Marinette knew that she was getting better and with relative ease; she had marveled the healing process with Tikki who explained that Paris needed Ladybug so it was only expected that she and Chat Noir possessed this advantage over normal people. That said, it also meant that she was to dust off her acting skills. She attended school in a sling even the later portion of the week—her shoulder was no longer bothering her, but no one would believe she'd had an injury in the first place if she suddenly showed up and waved the limb carelessly around.
Adrien was understanding, just as Chat Noir had said he would be. They spoke increasingly often and the butterflies in her stomach were everpresent around him. He seemed to like her design, and she asked him many questions regarding his preferences, taking her time working on the project at home when she could very well have it finished within the next few days.
And of course, her duties as a superheroine couldn't be overlooked. Once she felt fine enough to utilize the arm and shoulder, she took the first chance to be outside on patrol. She wasn't sure at all how to explain to her partner for her disappearance... But she discarded the thought, deciding it would only come up if she happened to see him out and about as well.
Just her luck. The voice entered her ears, causing the bluenette to turn on her heels and blink in the direction of the kitty cat. "Chat Noir," she greeted him calmly in return, though it soon became obvious that she was struggling to keep her cool.
Chat Noir stopped before her, fingers itching to reach out, to hug her or kiss her hand or something in his joy—restraining himself in time. There wasn't a good segue to flirt that way or touch her without it being too deliberate. It was one thing when it naturally occurred, but if he forced it, he could make her uncomfortable. Still, he beamed happily, tail swinging back and forth with excitement.
A sheepish smile settled on Ladybug's lips, "I'm really sorry for not warning you. I had a few family matters to take care of this week," she explained, then added more confidently, "Just know I wouldn't have forced you to deal with any Akuma alone!"
"Understood. I will admit, I was saddened to not have my nights graced with your beauty. However, I knew you would return, and I'm glad to see you well." Of course, he'd been worried about her, but it was no reason to make her feel bad. Instead, he laughed. "It seems like neither of us have been very lucky this month. First, I was down with personal matters, and now you. Ha, and it's so hard to contact each other out of costume, too..."
He seemed to react kindly, something she was immensely glad for. There was no blame or accusation, nothing suggesting that he didn't believe she'd had important matters to attend to and she supposed this was the perks of having a partner she could so easily trust while doing nothing but lie in every interaction together. She slumped her shoulders slightly, sighing a little at the prospect of an identify reveal. She wasn't dumb. She knew the offer was hanging in the air.
But it was still too risky. And part of Ladybug was beginning to fear that the other would come to despise her if he realized how long she had been playing with him.
Chat Noir pause at the gesture, certain that it was a lost cause. A glint of hopefulness remained in his eyes. It was strange, this partnership. Without a doubt, there was no one he trusted more than Ladybug, and he knew he was up there for her, as well. They protected each other, depended on each other, read each other to the point that they rarely had to communicate in battle. He never knew people could be so in sync—they were practically mind readers.
And yet… she wouldn't tell him who she was. He was sure she knew he wouldn't tell a soul, but as far as he could guess, she didn't want their lives to awkwardly overlap. What else could it be?
She cleared her throat, gently shaking her head and leading the conversation into the topic he had mentioned to her just last week. "So, basically, we need a better way to communicate when we're not transformed…"
Indeed, his mind had wandered about the same topic. While he couldn't bypass a chance to hint at a possible identity reveal, he wouldn't push. He didn't want to pressure her and if the opening was there, why not leave it for a minute before he mentioned the emails?
"That's what I was thinking." Continuing more cheerfully, "Now, phone numbers seem like a safe idea, but there is a chance we know each other, or we know someone who knows the other, or purrhaps a million and one other mishaps. But what we do have is the internet and the ability to make however many emails we want."
Chat Noir opened his pocket and pulling out a slip of paper with an address on it. Something along the lines of 'darknight' with several, seemingly arbitrary numbers following it. "You have no idea how hard it was to not make a cat pun, but I thought in this case, discretion was the better part of valor." But the Batman reference was his own private joke: rich kid with parent issues, black outfit, similar animal name. And he certainly referred to himself as a knight enough. "We don't even have to save the emails, just keep them simple enough to remember and log on manually."
Ladybug blinked upon taking it from him and glancing over the email—the reference was hardly lost and she had to stifle a laugh with the back of her hand—before shifting her gaze back to him and nodding eagerly.
"That's right! This is the quickest way, aside from phone calls." That was far too risky. Even as improbable as it may seem... Accidentally calling someone she knew and introducing herself as Ladybug? She shuddered at the thought just as he'd barely held back a very unmanly sound of delight. There was a dorky megawatt smile plastered on his features as he bounced back and forth on his feet, hands clasped behind him to keep from hugging her.
She accepted. Progress!
"I'll make an email tonight and message you through it!" With a satisfied hum, the spotted heroine closed her fist around the slip of paper and folded it into a slit on her yo-yo for temporary safe-keeping. "Though, I can't promise the address will be as clever as yours."
"I'm sure I'll cherish it all the same. Ah, a way to talk to My Lady without the ruffians of the world getting in the way, it's a dream come true!~"
What a cute response. She rolled her eyes and reached up to brush the fringe from her forehead in mock exasperation, shoulders rising and falling in quiet laughter. Closing one eye for a moment, she regarded him fondly. "Don't you think you're exaggerating a bit?" It was nice to see him so happy and she felt a little bad for dismissing most of his attempts to get closer.
"I never exaggerate the joy My Lady gives me," Chat Noir admitted with a cheeky grin. And he meant every word. Whatever he was feeling with Marinette was… confusing. But there was no confusion with Ladybug. There was adoration and happiness, a feeling like one of his jumps could turn into full blown flight if he just kicked off hard enough.
His words caused her eyes to dance with amusement and she just barely curbed the urge to clasp a hand around his wrist and draw him in for a kiss. On the cheek. Like she'd done before as Marinette, because Marinette was easier to approach and Marinette was more open and Marinette didn't have to worry about putting up walls and keeping their relationship professional.
Now, to hold true to the promise. She would remind herself to make the email upon returning home, though patrolling the city was their first concern. Especially after a week's disappearance. She couldn't afford to put any more stress on her partner for her own carelessness.
"In any case, we should check the city out. A week out of costume has kind of made me miss being able to hang around with you," she smilingly added. There had been a selfish kind of relief, knowing she didn't have to attend to her responsibilities. At the same time, she couldn't let him know that she had been with him all week. Just not in the form he could recognize.
A theatrical sigh passed Chat Noir's lips as he moved to the edge of the roof. "Perhaps they're right about absence making the heart grow fonder. That's twice now you've admitted to missing me! Ah, if only I could bare to deliberately keep my distance..."
Ladybug would deny the heat that colored her cheeks at his next remark; so maybe she was being a bit too honest for her own good. Saying she missed him so easily!
She made a mental note to tone it down. He might get the wrong idea and that wouldn't end well for either of them. Right? Whatever she felt for Chat Noir… well, it was far too soon to deem it something as fickle as 'love'. Huffing quietly, she followed him to the ledge and was prepared to make her way down when his voice caught her attention again.
With the reminder of his absence, Chat Noir remembered that he meant to talk to her about what he had been doing. He was tempted to save it for later. Today was a good day. Things went well with Marinette and Adrien, his Lady was back, and she'd accepted his email idea. Why ruin it in case she was mad about this?
He was hanging out with a civilian while disguised. He could imagine all the accusations. Abuse of power, making her a target, risking exposure, and more.
But not telling her would be irresponsible. And he was' sure in this case that permission would be easier tto garner than forgiveness. "Actually…" he spoke while glancing back at her, ears folded, nervousness in his eyes, before his gaze snapped forward again, "There's, um, something I've been meaning to talk to you about."
"What is it?" Ladybug questioned calmly, blue eyes flickering curiously over the other. She wouldn't prod him, but she at least wanted him to know that she was willing to listen—as careless as she may come across from time to time.
"Well, it's just…" He was trying to find the words. Usually words came with ease to him and usually, he didn't feel the need to edit himself so much behind the mask. While he wouldn't say it was thoughtless, it was simpler than being Adrien, who always had to maintain his reputation. Even his confession was easier than this, mostly because he had resolved what to do before he transformed, and it was easy to keep that promise to himself at that time.
The stupid arrow in his heart was throwing his him off.
"I… I kind of… I made a friend. On this side of the mask."
He'd said it. He'd said it and now he had to wait, and he can feel the tension rapidly coiling up inside him.
This was it. She was going to be mad that he took the risk, she was going to tell him he couldn't risk them, he had to stay away. Keep it professional, and his heart would break because one part of him will want to listen to his Lady and agree with her logic, while the other part will scream that someone was finally wanting to learn about the real him when he was free to be it and he wanted to keep being her friend.
Lo and behold, her expectations crumbled. The bluenette blinked rapidly, processing the words that left her partner. He looked so earnest—as though he was fearful she would react badly?
Ladybug sighed, trying not to appear as relieved as she felt. Just this. He'd made a friend. And she knew well who he was referring to, a fact that made her heartbeat return to an easy pace. Under any normal circumstance, she may have disapproved his closeness with any civilian, but she was a little greedy, and it wasn't as if his friendship with Marinette would hurt either of them.
Or maybe that was an optimistic way of thinking. And above all else, Ladybug was a realist. She reached out to grip his shoulder, tipping her head forward as she gathered her words. "Oh, did you?" At the same time, she couldn't appear so nonchalant as to make him worried that she didn't care at all. A gentle smile graced her lips and she continued, "Why do you seem so tense? Friends are good things, aren't they?"
Her teasing tone caused his eyes to widen in surprise. Air trapped in his throat, mind trying to wrap his mind around what had just transpired. It was okay? She was okay with this?
"As long as no one is in danger, I don't see the harm."
Here was the comment about safety; yes, this was his Ladybug, and he finally let out the breath. It was obvious how much tension had built up in how he relaxed under her hand thereafter, swaying in place as he fought the urge to sink to his knees.
"Of course not! I'm always careful when I approach her house—I watch to make sure no one's going to notice me stopping there, and now we have a signal, so I don't come while she's with someone else! And she understands the secret identity thing, too! She's very trustworthy; I've never heard a bad thing about her. Um, except from Chloé and some Akuma. But Chloé and Akuma don't count."
His words escaped in a rush, the relief and excitement clear on his face and in his voice.
She noted how quickly his expression had changed from seriousness and hesitation, realizing that she had responded positively. And who was she to boss him around anyway? It was a bit nice to know that he thought so highly of her opinion. He had been under no obligation to tell her. Nothing would change in the long run.
"I would never do anything that would actually put her at risk."
Although it was clear that he was referring to Marinette, Ladybug did her best to appear surprised. She couldn't let herself figure it out so easily, not since he hadn't said her name. She wanted to let him feel like he had some sense of privacy. "I'm glad to hear that! It sounds like you're both very close. She must be a really understanding person to not mind you dropping by so often," she found herself teasing by the end of it, reaching out to tap the tip of his nose.
Okay, so maybe she was making herself look good, but she didn't get the opportunity to boost Marinette's image very often.
Chat Noir laughed, rubbing the aforementioned spot. "She really is. Luckily, she's a nightowl. I've heard rumors of her sleeping in a lot," he added in amusement. He still needed to figure out what she was doing. Was it just homework and designs?
As is, Ladybug concealed her discomfort as he pointed the inconsistencies in her schedule. But she didn't hide the happiness and seeing Chat Noir speak so fondly of her dual identity had her heart swelling with a tiny bit of pride.
She returned her hands to her side, shifting her gaze down. Only a moment passed before she glanced up at her partner again and her arms moved behind her back, fingers clasped together and voice careful. It was a dangerous question, and she shouldn't ask it—something like taking advantage of his honesty. Still, she was curious.
"—Do you like her?"
A pause. Then a fond smile came across his face and he looked past her as he answered. "Yeah, I do. Every time I get to spend more than a minute around her, I always seem to learn something new. How kind she is, how brave, passionate, funny, talented. And… she'll talk to me about things that worry her." Chat Noir laughed softly, scratching his cheek.
"I don't have a lot of people who are willing to do that." Not enough people were close enough for that. Nino would share his troubles, and sometimes Chloe would in her roundabout, angry way, but otherwise… "It feels kind of like an honor. And it's easy to talk to her. I really want to learn more about her. I want her to learn more about me, as much as I can risk."
She wanted to reach out and pinch his cheeks, exclaim how sweet this was of him. Except Ladybug was more reserved than Marinette when it came to these kinds of emotions and she'd sooner focus solely on the circumstance before her than fill her head with fluttery, nonsensical thoughts. "She's very lucky to have you as someone she can confide in." And vice-versa, but she kept that part to herself.
"I like to think so. I am fairly good at keeping secrets," he agreed, the fond smile turning to something cockier. Really, who better to confide in than a superhero?
"Here's my advice." He hadn't asked for it, but she was already speaking, reaching out to gently prod the taller superhero in the chest, "Do what you think is right in this situation. If you're sure she feels the same way—wants to be your friend, I mean—then there's no need to hesitate. Continue being yourself around her. From what I can tell, she'll appreciate it."
What was this? She was acting like a wingman, but to herself. Ladybug couldn't even begin to wrap her mind around how awkward that could make things if she was ever found out.
None the wiser, her partner-in-justice chuckled. "It seems both you and Marinette like to give advice," he pointed out without forethought, looking pleased at noticing the similarity. He caught her hand before she pulled away. "You're right, I think. For whatever reason, she seems pleased I'm willing to yowl about my woes at her. And she enjoys my cat jokes openly. You can learn a thing or two from her.~"
"Ah, Marinette?" There was no need to pretend much longer—"So, this is the secret girl? I remember her." Truthfully, she wanted to hear a more about what he thought of her. As selfish as it was.
"Yes, from the Akuma Class. She's also helped me while you were on that, one secret mission," Chat Noir explained, visibly sheepish at the slip of tongue. He figured that Ladybug must pay attention to the class; over half of the students had been Akumatized by now. Lifting her hand up to kiss the back of her knuckles, he voiced his gratitude.
"Thank you, My Lady. It means the world to me you approve."
Ladybug flipped his grasp and tugged his knuckles to her lips in return before lowering his palm to her chest and holding it affectionately with both hands.
"You're welcome, mon minou. Just be careful. Marinette can be naïve, but I know that all her friendships are important to her." It was a warning that came from her own heart. She would be devastated to find out if he no longer wished to be in contact with her, for whatever reason. She was far too invested in her relationship with the kitty cat to think sensibly about it. And to think sensibly about him.
It almost didn't occur to her just how flustered said kitty cat had become. Hand kissing was his thing, not hers. Chat Noir struggled to speak, choking out a, "Y-Yes, friendships are important. I don't know what I would have done if you said I couldn't see her." He hoped that she understood. He followed her lead and cherished her advice.
But right now, he'd seemed more relieved than anything and Ladybug nodded at the admission, Squeezing his hand, lingering a moment too long before releasing him. "I don't know what you would have done either."
She then smiled, bordering on playful.
"But I have a feeling you wouldn't have accepted a refusal so easily. Which is why I think it's much better to have this kind of stuff out in the open."
Chat Noir appeared to agree. He pulled his hand towards himself, the other cradling his wrist as if to remind himself of her warm grip.
"Oh, definitely not. I even made a list of pros and cons and counters for them all to try and change your mind."
"Really? Mm… if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to make me jealous," Although Ladybug attempted to wear a pout, it was obvious she meant nothing by the comment.
"Ah, if I were any other man, I would say you should, but it's only you who has my heart. Besides, I think I'm the one who should worry. I do believe you were the one who felt inclined to tell me how cute she was, and how am I to compete with her?" With a dramatic sigh, he tossed his head back, "If you and Marinette got together, I would stand no chance with either of you."
This was only partly a joke. He tried very hard not to think of them together. Why did they both have to be so lovely?
If he'd said this to Marinette, she might have become a blushing, bumbling mess. But he was Chat Noir and she was Ladybug, and she took this as a challenge. "That's true. You can count on me to whisk away any damsel who falls prey to your charms." A thoughtful hum followed the remark. "Not to say you aren't just as cute. Adorable, even"
Now, she was just being cruel; it was becoming a treat to see her partner riled up.
"N-Naturally! None can resist my feline charms," he proclaimed, a small, embarrassed grin tugging at the corners of his lips. It was so easy to flirt. To give compliments and suggestive winks.
However, he was used to Ladybug rebuffing him, not flirting back.
"Oh, yes, yes, I certainly can't.~" Keen to this fact, she continued to play along, placing her hands to her cheeks in mock admiration. More often than not, he portrayed himself as suave and smooth, so to knock him off his balance and watch his cheeks color was another guilty pleasure to add to Ladybug's ever-growing list.
This time, she was unable to hold the pose for very long and dropped her hands, giggling.
"I'm so glad this worked out."
"Me, too." Chat Noir was grinning stupidly at this point, flushed, but so incredibly pleased. He told himself that she probably wasn't interested yet, not genuinely. He told himself that his absence in her life made her miss him and more inclined to humor him.
But he did take it as a sign that there was a chance she could fall for him. He just had to be patient and charm her. It wasn't actual interest, but it could be.
It could be.
She reached out to gently bump her fist against her partner's bicep. "If there's nothing else that's bothering you, let's look around. Ouais?"
"Nothing else." Bowing and gesturing out to the city, he finished, "After you, My Lady."