Disclaimer: I do not own Miraculous Ladybug or any of the characters in it, but all of the writing in this story is mine.
Adrien knows better than to allow daydreams to chase him into reality.
There was a time, when he was younger, that his mind wandered. It found solace in his imagination, in the places between the pages that his mother read. Her voice carried him into warm, late evenings, wrapped up in coverlets that swallowed the both of them until they fell asleep.
His earliest memories are filled with her scent, with her soft hands on his face, in his hair. There must have been a point, when her presence became a memory, and then nothing more than a questionable daydream. But it's a trail that Adrien's traveled too often, and now he can't discern the line.
His father reminds him that there is a time and place for everything.
There is a time for grief and sadness, but where this time has a place, he's yet to discover.
It isn't in the late afternoons he spends outside his father's study, hand poised at the door, lingering until he's lost his nerve to ask about her.
It's not when he lies alone in bed, staring hard at photographs that grow more dated with every month that passes. He memorizes them until the screen's light burns, and her smile is etched into his eyelids as he falls into a restless sleep.
There is no time for her in their lives – not anymore.
Every new appointment, every hobby and lesson that his father fits into his schedule leaves less room for her memory.
There is a time and place for everything, he knows – but there is no place for her. And with every day that passes, Adrien feels there is no place for him.
A place outside of Gabriel Agreste's role for him, as the model son and heir to a fashion empire. A place where he can escape the expectations, the rules and routines and demands.
It's a place he hungers for, beneath the eyeholes of a mask, outside his name and his father's scrutiny.
It's hidden in the dark streets of Paris, over the scattered rooftops and scaling monuments. It's his heartbeat thrashing against his ribs unevenly, pulse thrumming as he scales the looming heights above busy streets.
And more recently, it's next to his Lady.
On the nights when he isn't thinking of his mother, when the ache for her subsides, his mind traces a familiar path to his partner. He imagines her features, the soft outline of her cheeks framed by dark hair. Her smile reaches her eyes, and they're gentle and blue. She's shaking her head at him, at something he's said undoubtedly, but it fills him with ease. He feels safe – comfortable, loved.
Adrien drowns himself in the warm scent of vanilla, in the traces of people and places she encounters in the hours they spend apart. It sweeps out his thoughts, and he forgets himself for a moment.
He forgets that this place – their place – isn't real.
It's in his head, a space he shapes for himself when she's gone. When the days are especially grueling, and he can't discern friendliness from ill intent. It's a place he covets when there is no time for dreams.
When there's no time, and there's no place for him.
Nathalie lingers in front of his bed, her binder clutched in one hand, a pen in the other. She fixes him with a disapproving grimace, and his gaze is drawn to the place where her brows meet, knitting dangerously over weary eyes.
"Adrien, I need you to pay attention; this is very important."
It's always important.
"There's another modeling shoot," she says quietly, "At the end of this week."
The remark strikes him, harder than he had anticipated. He schools his expression into casualty.
"On my day off?"
His voice is too strained, and the tone has escaped him before he's had a chance to swallow it down. She's hesitant. He can see it in the way she turns her attention to her paperwork, thumbing through a schedule she's already memorized.
"Yes," she pauses, adding, "It was your father's request."
As though that's enough to explain away the intentions behind the alteration. As though, his father's personal desire for it somehow excuses the abrupt change.
And in her mind, perhaps it does.
The disappointment pitches low in Adrien's throat. It forms a lump that sinks into his chest, and he struggles to pull in a breath.
"Of course," he says.
He can feel himself smiling, and it must be enough. Because Nathalie nods, scribbling something down. She begins reciting details – something about a time and place, the name of the photographer.
But her forehead is creased, lips downturned as she looks away. Still tired.
Her brows are still furrowed, but it's different. Not irritated.
There's pity there, and it cuts into his stomach – so much worse than the disappointment. It haunts him as she gives him instructions for the rest of the evening, closing the door behind her retreating figure with a solemn click.
It leaves a stillness that wraps him like a vice, blanketing the room and tightening his lungs.
There's no place for sadness. It's an emotion he carefully folds and pockets, with the rest of his father's unmentionables. There are memories there that are too painful to touch, too fresh for visiting, and it's a dangerous path of self-indulgence that he'd rather not trek.
Adrien desperately reaches for remnants of solace. The daydreams that he selfishly clings to, despite the knowledge that he shouldn't. But there is no peace there – only thoughts and anxieties that lie in wait for a moment of ease.
Adrien fingers his ring, eyes moving to the window.
The city lights are alluring, even from his perch on the bedside; it's a distraction he's no stranger to. Nathalie is resigned for the night, and his father is submerged in his personal work. There are guards on the grounds, and the Gorilla is stationed outside his door.
It's an appealing escape that collects risk with every attempt he makes.
Adrien feels himself unlatching the window, scaling the ledge before he's even called out to Plagg.
He had already agreed with Ladybug that they wouldn't patrol tonight. Superheroes or not, they were still adolescents, and Paris couldn't be saved if they were sleep-deprived.
But on a night like this, Chat Noir would usually be running his rounds, peering over balconies and busy streets. Tonight, his feet follow the routine of it, trekking the length of the docks overlooking the Seine, past bistros and dimly lit markets.
He allows the monotony to lead him down the quiet alleys, tracing steps he's taken a hundred times – both in the company of his partner and on the nights he cannot sleep.
His clawed hands scrape shingles, baton extending over cobblestone. It feels solid in his hand, and he grips it tightly, lurching onto another roof.
Chat knows this neighborhood.
He's managed to circle around to a familiar street – the corner of the Dupain-Cheng bakery, and the outline of his school is within sight. Not far from here is his home, but he lacks the heart to return to it just yet.
There's lights on in the attic of the bakery, and after several seconds of watching for movement, he realizes it's Marinette's room. He wonders at the reason for her being awake at this hour.
Chat lingers for a minute longer before he ducks away. If she were to see him standing here, directly across from her home and eyeing her bedroom, she'd no doubt find it creepy. It's inappropriate, and Adrien Agreste is nothing if not a gentleman.
Aside from that, there are better things to do than spy on one's classmate.
He's already leapt to the next building, one foot anchored on a banister, his free hand gripping the railing – when he hears someone speak directly behind him.
"I thought we had agreed we wouldn't patrol tonight."
Chat's heart lodges in his throat, and he nearly loses his footing.
He twists around, eyes darting up, above the length of masonry. Ladybug's petite form is outlined by stars, looming above him on the ledge of the adjoining building. Her expression is shadowed, but her posture is particularly displeased.
He clears his throat, finding his voice.
"Then what are you doing out here?"
She places a hand on her hip, and he imagines the grimace she must be wearing. Tired, exasperated.
Chat pulls himself over the railing, and by the time he's scrambled onto the roof, Ladybug has already crossed the distance between them.
"I needed to clear my head," he says honestly.
Her eyes follow him as he rises to his feet, brushing himself off.
"You know, when I need to relax, I read a book or draw. I don't run around Paris in a super suit," she points out.
Chat Noir smiles cheekily, "I had no idea my lady was an artist."
The look she shoots him is withering.
She's unusually tense tonight, and he's not entirely sure why. This isn't the first time she's caught him outside of scheduled responsibilities. She's found him on numerous occasions, sitting outside the Louvre, talking to stray cats and feeding them canned tuna.
It's not uncommon for her to scold him for wandering the streets and drawing attention.
"What if the media starts taking pictures and accusing you of another crime? What if you get mobbed?"
"You're worried about my fangirls?" he had jested.
But Chat knows her intentions. He knows her irritation is stemmed from concern, a very genuine obligation to their friendship and partnership that he's undeniably grateful for. With that in mind, he's been intentionally careful recently to avoid civilian eyes.
And it must have been working, because until now, he'd avoided hers as well.
"Chat," she says, "We've talked about this."
"I'm being careful," he assures her.
Ladybug frowns, and he can see the tension again.
"Why don't you go home? Drink some tea or take a bath?" she ventures.
His chest tightens, and Chat Noir swallows thickly, forcing a grin.
"I could ask you the same question. What are you doing out here?"
She glances away, and his eyes are drawn to the slope of her neck. Dark hairs wisp against her collar, disappearing against the black material of her suit. Stray strands escape her pigtails, and he can see them haloed by the glow from the city lights.
"I was in the neighborhood," she sighs.
The way she says it pulls at his thoughts, and Chat follows her eyes.
The lights are still on above the bakery, and he idly wonders at how Marinette still hasn't gone to sleep. When he looks away, Ladybug meets his gaze.
"Do you… live around here?" he muses.
It's a thought he probably shouldn't have voiced. The alarm in her expression is masked quickly, but it doesn't escape him.
"I live in the area."
She looks pained, and Chat realizes that she hates lying. He knows she wouldn't lie to him. He remembers her discomfort at sharing personal information, and he instantly regrets placing her in that position.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."
Ladybug glances away, and he feels his stomach sink.
It's never like this. She can be reserved, unresponsive to his questions and advances – he's used to that. He knows her boundaries, and he respectively walks the line that she draws for him. But it's difficult to read someone that is veiled behind secrets, and sometimes his personal desire to know her shrouds his consideration. He should be able to do better, as a gentleman – as her partner.
It's several long, agonizing minutes before she speaks.
"Are you okay?"
The apprehension in her voice takes him by surprise.
"You're not yourself tonight," she says simply.
Chat laughs, "And who am I supposed to be?"
She stares for longer than feels comfortable, as though she can see through his attempts at humor. And on reflection, she probably can.
He forgets at times that their partnership is a two-way road. He assumes that he's the only one who pays close attention – that picks up on details and mannerisms. For him they're treasured clues to her real identity, and he gathers them eagerly.
But with all the time they've spent together, it can't be sensible to believe she wouldn't grow to know him, too.
"I need to pick something up first," she says, "But if you meet me at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, I'll be there in ten minutes."
She cups her arms, rubbing warmth into them as she shifts her weight. There's a hesitance in her posture that seizes his heart, and he second-guesses that he heard her correctly at all.
"If you want to," she adds.
It's an affirmation, and Chat restrains the giddy disbelief that bubbles inside him. It astounds him that she can question his desire to spend time with her. And the prospect of stealing another moment with her, when there's a different reality waiting for him at home, is far too appealing to refuse.
"I would love to," he says softly.
Ladybugs don't bake.
At least, not in Adrien's experience. But how she managed to get ahold of such a large amount of pastries this late at night, on such short notice, is nothing short of miraculous.
They had spoken briefly about their favorite foods in some of their conversations, but he hadn't imagined she'd remember. And as Chat chews a mouthful of the sweet, flaky crust, he finds a new reason to love her.
"Do the people you live with even feed you?" she laughs.
He flashes her a toothy smile, "Not like this."
Ladybug shakes her head at him, and he's momentarily distracted by the warm light from the Notre-Dame on her face, casting the rest of her features in shadows.
The heroes' legs dangle freely over lone pedestrians below, couples and onlookers that stop to snap photos with the Cathedral's timeless architecture. So far no one has spotted the two teenagers perched 115 feet above their heads.
"I'm sort of dieting," Chat admits, "And sweets aren't usually on the menu."
Ladybug glances at him, and he can feel her eyes move over his figure. "How long have you been dieting?"
He shrugs, "A few years?"
She pinches her pastry, tearing a piece off and popping it into her mouth. Her eyes are downcast, focused on something in the distance.
"I know we don't talk about our personal lives," she says quietly, "But if there's something bothering you, I want you to know that you can talk to me about it."
"I'm not being starved," he pledges.
Ladybug fixes him with a dubious look as he reaches into the pastry box between them. He waves his treat at her before biting into it.
"Especially if we make these outings more frequent."
She rolls her eyes, but there's amusement playing on her lips. "I don't think I can afford it."
"I'm not an expensive date," Chat teases.
"Well, that'll be good news for whoever dates you, then."
He raises his eyebrows. "Are you not thrilled?"
She elbows him, and Chat Noir lets out a cough of laughter. The tension from before seems to have faded for now, and he's glad for it.
It's a pleasant quiet that stretches between them. It settles in the space where their legs nearly touch, their shoulders brushing comfortably. Ladybug's gaze lingers on him as he eats, and she leans back, head resting against a pillar.
Chat licks his fingers, a heartening warmth spreading through his stomach.
"I'm serious, Chat." she says quietly.
He turns, taking in her somber expression.
"About dating me?"
This time, when she elbows him, he expects it.
"About listening to you, if there's something you need to get off your chest," she prompts.
Chat leans back against the opposite pillar. Their knees touch, and he almost doesn't mind the new distance between them.
Ladybug bumps his leg with her own, and it draws his attention up to her eyes. She's staring at him, and there's something steady and pressing in her expression.
"Before anything else – we're friends."
It could be the pastries, settling comfortably in his gut – or the warm light on her red suit, glowing pleasantly off her skin. The combination is a sedative, and he can feel himself relax against the stone behind him.
"And you don't mind?" he asks.
"Of course not! Why would I?"
Chat gestures between them.
"You've said before, that it's better we don't know about one another."
Ladybug frowns. "I know I've said that, but–"
"You've said we should keep our lives private."
"That's for our own safety."
Not for the first time tonight, Chat's stomach tightens.
"It's safer for us to keep secrets from each other?" he asks.
Ladybug stills, and he can sense the companionable atmosphere fade. There's something in her expression, and it pulls him back to before, on the rooftops. There's hesitation, and another emotion he can't pinpoint.
"Chat, it's not like I want this."
He shouldn't be upset – he knows that. He respects her feelings, and he respects her need for privacy. But there's an ache in his chest that he hasn't shook from his encounter with Nathalie, and it gnaws at his insides.
It whispers insecurities and fears in his ears, reminding him of his shortcomings. It tells him that Ladybug is better off without him, that she doesn't want to reveal herself to him because she's ashamed of him.
It's absurd – and more absurd is that he's tempted to believe it.
"I don't either," he says.
She turns her head, eyes moving to the near-empty cardboard box. There's sadness in the slope of her brows, disappearing beneath the mask.
"If something were to happen to you – to either of us – and Hawkmoth had an opportunity to get information out of us, it would be better if we didn't have any knowledge to give."
She lifts her gaze. "Wouldn't you feel better knowing that if something happened to me, I wouldn't be able to give you or your family away?"
His pulse thrums. "You wouldn't."
"You think I would?" he whispers.
"Of course not!"
"Then why is this an issue?"
"Because I have to keep you safe!" she exclaims.
Chat's mouth goes dry. He can see the emotion now that he didn't recognize before.
"Why?" he breathes.
Her expression shifts, and she levels him with an incredulous look.
"Because you're my partner. You're my friend, Chat, and–"
"We're a team," he says, "We're a team that is equally responsible for each other. We take care of each other. This isn't a one-sided thing, bugaboo."
She looks down, and he plows on.
"It's not your job to keep me safe. Why–"
He throws his head back, letting out a frustrated noise.
"Why is everyone so concerned with keeping me safe? You're not keeping me safe, you're keeping me in the dark. It's like you don't trust me."
His heart pounds, and it's in his ears. He closes his eyes, willing it to slow to an even rhythm.
"Chat, this isn't just about me, is it?" she murmurs.
No, it's not.
"I have a lot of things on my mind."
A beat passes between them. Her hand slips over his, and his eyes fly open. She's leaning forward, arm stretched across the space between them. Her dark hair spills over her shoulders, a hint of red ribbon glimpsed behind her ear.
Her voice is hushed. "Talk to me?"
Ladybug's irises are gentle and blue, just as he's imagined them countless times in his dreams. But she's not smiling, and there is no playfulness between them – not now.
Her hand is warm, and he turns his over, palm-up. She looks down at where their fingers intertwine – red on black, spots and claws.
His voice is low and tremulous. "There's someone that needs me, and I don't know how to help him."
She speaks slowly, as though carefully mulling over each word. "Is he hurt?"
His mind goes back to his father, to the day his mother left. He watched a silent, stiff Gabriel look over his wife's portrait with unseeing eyes.
"How do we usually help people that are hurting?"
He pulls in a breath.
"We tell them it's going to be okay."
He feels her squeeze his hand, and Chat looks up. She's on her knees now, so close he can feel her breath stirring his hair. Ladybug ducks forward, until their eyes are level. He can see the faint freckles splashed across her nose, the flush in her cheeks from the cool, night air.
It grounds him, and for the first time tonight, Adrien doesn't feel like he's escaping reality.
"Chat." Her voice is firm, "That's all you can do."
He searches her eyes, but there's no pity there. There's no expectation and no resentment. It sends a pang through his chest, and Chat feels the tear slip down his cheek before he's even registered it.
"It's not good enough."
Her gloved hand slips around his neck, and Chat lets her pull him forward. His forehead falls onto her shoulder, and her dark hair tickles his face.
"You are good enough," she says quietly, resolutely.
She holds him as though she knows, and perhaps she does. The scent of vanilla fills his nose, and Chat inhales deeply. It's just as he's dreamed it, but this time, he doesn't have to close his eyes.
She rests her chin on his head, and his heart slows to a steady, languid rhythm as she draws her fingers through his hair. He clings to her, and she doesn't pull away.
"It's okay, Chaton." she whispers.
Ladybug says it again, and even after the third time he doesn't tire of it. It's a cool balm on his chest, and he pulls in long, even breaths. He can feel her heartbeat against his ear, and lulls him into a warm, comfortable place. A place where he feels safe – loved.
Her voice carries him into the late hours, and he forgets himself.
He forgets that this place – their place, is real.
This was written as a submission piece for the Meowraculous Chat Noir Zine that I was selected to participate in. I had a wonderful time working on this, and there were many, many other creators that produced art/writing for this zine. If you're interested in the zine, you can find more information for it on their tumblr - ( .com)Thank you for reading!