In Chinese tradition, the orchid is a symbol of spring. It means nobility, integrity and friendship. It can represent a cultured gentleman and scholar.

The school's winter dance was coming up in a few weeks, and people were beginning to think about who they'd go with. If they went with anybody at all, that is – most people in Marinette's year were just going in groups of friends. Going to the dance with somebody, like with with, was rather a big deal. Marinette didn't really think she was ready for that yet. A girl could dream, yes, and she did - but honestly? She was happy for those dreams to stay dreams. It'd be so much pressure to turn up with someone. Everyone would talk about it. The sixteen and seventeen-year-olds going to the senior dance made a big deal out of dates and the magic of the one night, but the teachers encouraged the students going to the lower school dance to not take it so seriously. And usually, they didn't.

Which is why it was such a surprise when Adrien came running up to her and Alya at lunchtime, panic on his face, saying "Please say you're going to the dance with me!"

The two girls looked at each other, one with mouth dropping open, the other not sure who exactly he was talking to. Then they saw Chloe coming up fast behind, calling out to "her Adrien", and Nino attempting to catch up with the pair. Or reach Alya first, it wasn't clear which.

Alya put the pieces together far faster than Marinette did, grabbed Adrien's arm and pulled him behind Marinette, sticking his hand in her friend's and closing their grip tight. Then she called out "Nino, over here!", and started running towards him. Adrien let out a panicked whimper and started to follow, but on pure instinct Marinette held him tight and he subsided. As Alya passed Chloe she "accidentally" tripped her, sending the blonde sprawling. Alya stopped to help her up out of the dust, apologising, which gave Nino an extra few moments to catch up to them. The three tangled in apologies and accusations, all the while approaching Marinette and Adrien who still stood fast together under the tree.

Marinette's brain wasn't quite working – she was holding Adrien's hand – but her instinctive response was to protect. She fixed her feet into a balanced stance and fixed the others with a strong stare, ready for what came. Adrien wasn't sure why Alya had put him behind the tiniest person of their little group, but... he couldn't deny that he suddenly felt safe, for no good reason.

There was some trash talking that followed, and a fair bit of attitude from more than one of the five. But by the end of it, Chloe had left, tossing her hair. Adrien felt sad for the look he recognised in her eyes as she turned away – the long loneliness that they both understood all too well – but he couldn't fix it for her, either. Going to the dance with her was too much of a statement when people just didn't go to the dance with each other. He knew to avoid public statements. It was a lot safer to go with a group of friends. Adrien felt relieved, glad and... another emotion he couldn't name... that he now had such a group of friends to go with. Nino put a hand on his shoulder, and Alya stepped up against Nino's side. "We've got your back, dude", Nino said.

The thing that made Adrien's heart swell almost to breaking? It would have been Nino's words – but his senses demanded he notice the small girl in front of him. She hadn't said a word to him this entire time, as usual – she almost never spoke to him when the four of them were together – but she still stood with her body balanced as if she would fly into battle with any threat that came at him, and she still kept a firm grip on his hand.

So when his Mandarin tutor wandered off into one of their frequent discussions of Chinese cultural traditions, with all the metaphors and proverbs that make a four-thousand-year-old language so intricate, Adrien asked about flowers and their meanings. And he took careful notes. He liked the meaning for a gift of orchids – a sign of friendship. It was still winter, and orchids weren't normally in the shops until spring – but that was what his allowance was for, non?

On the day of the dance, his driver took him first to Nino's house, then to Alya's, and lastly to Marinette's just by the school. As Marinette got in the car – more for the look of it than anything, seeing as they only had to drive around the corner – she pulled out four little boxes. "I still can't believe you got these for us, Adrien" she said, almost squealing with delight.

"I'm just glad you were able to use them", he replied shyly.

"Girl, show us!" Alya grinned, reaching for a box.

Inside each box was a mini corsage, each with a single orchid flower against a glossy leaf. Nino seemed a bit bemused, but let a happy Alya pin one to his shirt. Adrien lifted one hand, then said to Marinette "Would you mind?". The young designer began to pin his onto his shirt, carefully adjusting it so that it was at just the right angle. "It didn't take me too long to make them, once I worked out how to use the wire without stabbing myself", she said to Alya and Nino, avoiding Adrien's eyes as usual. He sighed. He'd got one sentence out of her. So far that was his personal best. He couldn't explain this new fascination with his classmate – it wasn't love, but rather some kind of trust that went deeper than he could explain, to Plagg's endless and unreasonable amusement. She just didn't seem to reciprocate. He slumped a little more.

"Ow! What was that for?" he yelped.

Marinette glared at him, finger ready to poke him again. "Sit up straight or I'll put this pin in you".

He sat up straight, smiling. Two sentences. Personal BEST.

A/N: This story will have a chapter for each flower given, plus an interlude and possibly an epilogue, so it'll be six or seven chapters long. Much of the meaning and information about the flowers comes from an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, called "Flower Power: The Meaning of Flowers in Asian Art". Chinese culture is pretty broad, both geographically and across time, so I don't promise to have the exact same meanings for each flower as anything you find on the Internet or even the most common Chinese meanings. By all means, read up and research for yourself! I'll be updating this story whenever I write a chapter, which will be erratic (sorry!) - I will probably come back to it whenever I'm having trouble getting started on something else I'm supposed to write :-)