"Come on, girl," Alya whined from the phone Marinette had pinched between her shoulder and her ear. She was quickly throwing things into a bag—extra socks, some gloves, extra gloves in case someone forgot theirs— "Everyone is practically here already. You're gonna be late."
"I'll be there," she breathed, eyes darting around the room for her scarf. "They just finished getting the rink all set up, it's not going anywhere until January, Alya."
"Yeah, but I want to get my fix before the little kids and ice ballerinas gouge it to hell."
"Marinette." The woman on the other end of the line finally sighed. "For once, can you ever be early to something? Just one time?"
"Even if I said yes, it wouldn't happen now," she muttered. She located the scarf on the rack in the corner and ripped it off before darting for the stairs. "I'm leaving now. I'll text you when I get there, okay?"
"You better hurry," she advised, a new tone in her voice that had Marinette narrowing her eyes. "Adrien just got here with Nino, but Chloe is already on the ice so you can imagine—"
"I said I'm on my way…And will you stop pretending like I still have a crush on him? We're just friends."
"You both can keep chanting that all you want. But you better hurry," Alya taunted before ending the call.
Marinette pulled the phone from her ear and groaned, pulling her coat on and winding the scarf around her neck. She pulled out a small scrap of knitted fabric and held it open in front of her.
"What is that for?" Tikki asked, zipping up beside her and looking into the little hole at the top. "Did you knit a balloon?"
Marinette laughed. "No, silly, I figure we'll be outside for a bit, you can hang out inside here to keep warm. You've always just been inside the pocket of my coat, but I don't want to fall and squish you."
Tikki dove down into it and poked her head back out. "Oh, thank you, Marinette!"
Marinette grinned and tucked the little bundle of cloth and kwami into her backpack. "Now let's go or we're going to be late. I need to save Adrien from Chloe before she gets her claws too deep into him."
"Or you could just tell him how you feel for once and he can tell Chloe he wants time alone with you," Tikki suggested as Marinette closed and locked the bakery doors behind her.
"I've told you a million times, Tikki. I'm over him. I have been for a long time," she muttered.
"Yes, yes," Tikki sighed.
"It's been too long," Marinette admitted. "I think I lost my chance years ago. Maybe he'll never really be just a friend to me, but I feel like if I told him now, it would ruin the really close friendship we've built over the last couple of years and I don't want to risk that." Marinette pursed her lips in thought as she let the words settle in her head. "Yeah, I'm comfortable with my relationship with Adrien right now. I don't want to ruin it."
Tikki hummed in thought for a second. "I know things with Luka didn't end exactly how you thought, but maybe he'd be interested in catching up at least? Who knows where things can go from there!"
Marinette just cast a doubtful look down to her companion. Dating Luka had just been one big ball of weirdness.
"Well then, what about Chat Noir?" Tikki suggested. "You already know he's in love with you."
Marinette eyed the critter in the side pocket. "Why are you so set on setting me up with someone?"
Tikki shrugged. "I just don't want you to be lonely forever."
"I'm not lonely!" she defended. "Besides, I do love Chat Noir kind of the same way I love Adrien. But we're just friends. Besides…Adrien sees the real me. Chat Noir only sees Ladybug, not who I really am. He doesn't know Marinette. And we have such good chemistry working together. I don't want to ruin that, either."
"What if you knew who Chat Noir really is?" Tikki tried.
"Tikki we both know that can't happen." Tikki only grinned in response. "You've known who he is for years now and you wouldn't tell me who he is even if I asked, so why would you toy with me like that?"
"For a long time. Since that first incident with Dark Owl when you were fourteen." she nodded, remembering. "He has to want to tell you. And since his kwami knows who you are, I don't think he's told Chat Noir about you, either. That's how it has always been."
"I'm surprised you remember that one," Marinette muttered as they stopped at a crosswalk. "I barely remember that one. That was Mr. Damocles, right?"
"You haven't ever even dropped a hint you knew who Chat Noir is," she mused.
"I'm very careful."
"But it's not a good idea," Marinette sighed.
"No, it's probably not," Tikki agreed with a little nod.
The light turned green and Marinette moved to step out into the street when an explosion to her left rocked the road, setting off car alarms all around her.
Marinette groaned at the poor timing and ducked down into an ally. "Ready Tikki?"
Ladybug ground her teeth as she caught her yoyo and landed on the edge of a roof across the park from the newest menace to Paris. A giant butler with a laser monocle. Great.
"Where in the world is Chat Noir?" she muttered to herself between deep breaths. A small sound of feet landing behind her and she resisted the urge to groan.
"You called, M'Lady?"
She did roll her eyes. "Where have you been? He's turned everyone on the block into statues."
"Sorry," he shrugged. "I was a little held up. Had plans with friends, and this guy is interrupting."
"Same," she sighed. "I think the akuma is either in the cane or the monocle."
"I trust your judgment," Chat called over his shoulder as they both pushed off the roof towards the akumatized citizen. "Any idea who it is?"
"Not a clue. Well, I mean, there are clear clues, but I don't know who he is."
"Ha," he breathed as they landed in the street. "Nice one."
"Be quiet and let's hurry," she sighed. "I'm late enough as it is. Look." She pointed as the giant man came to a bridge, shrinking to go under it. "He can change size. Maybe if we can get him inside somewhere, he'll shrink to something we can handle."
"Since when has size been a problem for us?"
Ladybug glanced at him tiredly, hearing the double meaning in his words but ignoring them. She tossed out her yoyo and leapt up towards the shoulder of the man.
"Oh, come on! Why are you so grumpy today?" she heard him call after her.
Well clearly it's because she's fighting an akuma instead of hanging out at the new outdoor ice rink with her friends. But she kept her mouth shut and helped Chat Noir maneuver the giant man into shrinking, pushing him through the large glass windows and into the lobby of some hotel.
"Alright, this I can handle," Chat Noir laughed, landing beside her. "Eight feet tall isn't that bad."
"Better than twenty."
"We just have to keep him in here."
"Go for the monocle, I'll get his cane."
She poked him in the side and he took off, vaulting over the man with a simple flip and landing square on his shoulders. Ladybug took the opportunity that came with the distraction and tossed out her yoyo. With lucky accuracy, it wrapped around the bottom section of the cane, and she raced towards the other two, sliding easily between the man's feet.
With a single jerk, the bottom of the cane slid out from the man's hand and the heavy top brought the whole thing shattering to the ground. With a pang of agitation, Ladybug hopped to her feet. "Not the cane, it has to be the monocle!" she called to her partner, dashing forwards again.
But the man must have been distracted by her shout. He spun towards her and caught her by the upper arm. He jerked her back, her right shoulder screaming in protest of the motion, but she never got a chance to reorient herself before the man had tossed her across the room roughly.
She recognized Chat Noir calling her name, but was too distracted by the sudden burst of pain radiating from her shoulder as she collided with the floor. Ladybug slid across the slick tiles until her back hit the wall, jostling her and she let out an involuntary cry.
"Ladybug," his voice snapped again, and she gasped as she sat up, her right arm hanging oddly at her side.
"I'm alright," she ground out, using the wall to stand. "Just get his stupid monocle."
Chat Noir stood on the other side of the man, watching as Ladybug shakily stood up. "Alright, sir, I'm going to need you to calm down for a minute." With a precisely aimed Cataclysm, the hooped chandelier fell around the man tightly, and he wasted no more time plucking the round gold disk off the man's face and destroying it beneath his foot.
He cast a glance towards Ladybug. "You sure—"
Without another word, and partially thankful she could capture an akuma with her left hand, Ladybug tossed out her yoyo, caught, and released the little butterfly. Despite the black spots dancing in her vision now, she threw her yoyo up and let it explode above their heads.
She watched with a grimace as the red around her faded and almost everything went back to normal, to how it was before. Well, almost everything. The room swayed a little, enough that her foot shifted subconsciously to keep her upright. And the harsh pain in her shoulder hadn't subsided.
This was going to be bad. She was too weak from the pain. She didn't have enough power left to heal herself after fixing everything else. How was she going to explain this away? She had to get out of there before anyone recognized that her shoulder was very clearly dislocated.
"Ladybug." Suddenly Chat Noir was in front of her, concern painted all over his face and he walked towards her. His eyes were trained on her shoulder, his hands up and positioned to grab her.
Instinctively she turned the shoulder away from him and put her other hand on her hip, hoping to throw him off. "Good job!" she said as cheerily as she could through the pain. "Pound it." He half-heartedly returned the gesture, still eying her.
"You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," she breathed, hoping it came off as more exasperated than in pain. She added a half chuckle at the end for good measure. A beeping in her ear and her blood ran cold. Now was definitely not the time. "Crap. But I didn't use my Lucky Charm…"
She let out a yell as he stepped forward and bumped her arm as she tore away from him a few steps. His face hardened. "I'm fine—"
"You're not alright. I can see, Ladybug." He stepped towards her and cupped her cheek, forcing her to look up at him. "This is the only secret you've ever kept from me," he said as he ran his thumb over the edge of her mask, his voice a low rumble. When had his voice gotten that deep? "I've respected that because I care about you, but you're hurt."
"Please just go," she begged, holding her right arm gently to her with her left. As she took a few steps away from him to put some distance between them, she glanced around the room and spotted a maintenance closet off the one side. "We can't know—"
"I'm not about to leave you here like this," he snapped, but he didn't make any move to approach her again. "You're hurt. Maybe it's time we did find out, LB."
Chat Noir's ring ticked as well, warning him his time was almost up, and Ladybug took that distraction to dart for the closet. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out in pain, but almost as soon as she got the door shut and pressed her left shoulder into it, she could hear him at the door, twisting the handle.
"Go away, Chat Noir, please," she begged. "I'll be alright, I promise. It's just a bruise. I'm being a baby. I'll be fine."
"Ladybug," he groaned, and she winced in silence as the familiar warmth of the transformation took over her and left her in her street clothes.
Her eyes darted around the dark space around her lit only by the thin streams of light leaking in from the cracks in the door frame, but she didn't see Tikki anywhere.
"Come on, don't do this. Let me help you."
A sudden silence on the other side of the door gave her the chance to slide down, using her good hand to check the floor around her. Finally, her fingers brushed a small, warm lump and Marinette wasted no time scooping her up.
"I'm sorry, Tikki," she murmured to her. "I wasted too much of my power. Are you hurt?"
"I'll be alright," her tiny voice responded, barely reaching Marinette's ears.
"I changed back, too," Chat Noir muttered through the door, knocking once. She could imagine him leaning his forehead against it, trying the handle a couple more times.
"Then you need to leave." Marinette shifted so she was leaning against the door on her left side, her legs curled beneath her.
"You need help," Tikki said. "Your shoulder is dislocated."
"Listen to your kwami." There was a pause. "What's its name?"
"Her name is Tikki," Marinette grumbled, wracking her brain for a way to get out of this without revealing her identity.
"Tikki. Cute." He chuckled and she could tell he, too, was leaning against the door on the floor now. "Mine's name is Plagg."
"Plagg. Like plague, but Plagg."
"Hey! Toy with revealing your own identity, not mine," a lighter voice argued on the other side of the door.
"You already know, Plagg," Tikki called to him through the door, flying up out of Marinette's hands. "Tell him to go home!"
"He doesn't listen to me," the other kwami scoffed.
"You didn't even try!"
"We've had some close calls before," Chat Noir mused, ignoring the critters' argument. "We've almost revealed ourselves to each other before."
"Right," she agreed slowly, a few times coming to mind. "But I don't want this, not right now. I'm telling you—I'm fine."
"You know I don't believe you, right?" There was a pause. "What if I told you who I was, first? I mean, I have some pretty solid suspicions about your identity for a few years now…"
She sighed. "I still wouldn't tell you. I feel fine, please trust me. I can totally throw a pitch right now—" The door shook violently as he banged his elbow back into the wood and she jumped in surprise, jostling her arm. Marinette bit her cheek to keep from making a sound. "Jerk! You startled me. Just go home, Chat Noir."
"That's not my name," he said cheekily. "You're not even curious as to who I am?"
"Not even a little? I'm pretty sure I know yours," he cooed through the door.
Marinette wasn't sure if Chat Noir had seriously tried to figure out her identity, or if he was baiting her. Either way, she wasn't about to give in. "No. I want to go home. I have homework. Please leave."
"Nah," he sighed. "I think I'd rather get to know you a little bit better, since you're feeling fine and all. We've worked together for what—three years now, almost four?—and I feel like I barely know you. You're still in school?"
"You knew that. And you should know more if you really think you know who I am."
"Did I?" he countered jocularly and she was pretty sure she could feel his smirk through the door. "Do you have a favorite class? I know a girl like you is probably surrounded by friends. Maybe we know each other in school."
Well, he wasn't wrong about the friends bit. Ever since Alya moved to Paris, she'd been more open with her classmates and they'd all grown close over the years. But Marinette couldn't help the bitter laugh that escaped her mouth. "No, we probably don't know each other. We probably don't even go to the same school."
He hummed in agreement. "I'd recognize those gorgeous eyes of yours in person if I ever saw you."
"Oh geez…do you ever quit?"
"Hm. That brings up a good thought," he mused. "It's been a while since we talked about personal lives—you know, one of us is a little less open than the other. You used to mention a boy in school a couple of times before. You seeing someone?"
She laughed again, more genuine this time if not a bit sad at the thought. "No. No significant other. It would be hard to explain the random disappearances and flaky behavior."
"All the more reason to tell me who you are," he coaxed. "Would be nice to have someone that understands."
"Not a chance."
"Worth a shot. Still hung up on that classmate, then?"
"That boy never gave me the time of day. We're just really good friends now, and I'm still happy with having just that," she mumbled, half hoping he wouldn't hear her. But she was not going to let him figure out who she was, so it was a moot point. "What about you? Does Chat Noir have a girlfriend?"
"Nope. I've only got eyes for you, Buggaboo."
"Well, if that were true, you'd listen and respect what I'm telling you when I say go home Chat Noir."
There was a heavy sigh and Marinette heard him shift to stand on the other side of the door. "Alright. But just know you're going to be the reason I don't sleep tonight because I'm going to be worried about you." His voice grew softer, not directed at her, "C'mon, Plagg. I'll slip you some cheese when we get there."
"If you're lying to me—" Plagg let out a surprised squeak.
Marinette kept her mouth shut, relieved that he seemed to be leaving.
"Marinette, what are you going to do about your arm?" Tikki pressed quietly, flying on her own now.
There was a pause outside the door and she held her breath, waiting to hear his footsteps disappearing away from the door. Her blood turned to ice, hoping with all her good luck that Chat hadn't heard Tikki say her name.
"Just let me know you make it home okay, alright?"
"Thank you," she said weakly, finally hearing his footfalls leaving the lobby. Some kind of emotion lodged itself in her chest next to the pain and worry. Was it regret? It sure felt like it.
"Marinette, you need to go to the hospital!" Tikki flew into Marinette's face and poked her nose. "Let's go!"
"Right," she breathed, leaning on the door in an effort to get off the floor painlessly. Her hand hovered over the handle, hesitating.
"What if he's tricking me?" she asked. "What it he's still outside—"
"If you don't go now, I'll go find him and bring him back myself," Tikki snapped. "Your identity is the least of our concerns right now!"
Marinette nodded briefly and pushed the door open, relieved to find Chat Noir was nowhere in sight. Nor did she catch a single glimpse of him the whole walk across the city to the hospital. Her father showed up after they'd reset the bone and were in the process of fitting her with a sling.
"Oh, Marinette," he sighed, wiping the remains of tears off her cheeks. "What did you do?"
Marinette floundered, still reeling from the pain and the earlier events. She hadn't taken the time to come up with a solid story. "I was leaving the shop, going to hang out with friends."
"Did you fall off your scooter again?" he asked, cupping her cheek with a small smile. "My clumsy, clumsy seventeen year old. If you're not careful you won't see twenty at this rate."
A giggle bubbled up her throat at the perfect excuse he just handed her, and she returned his hug one armed. "I'm sorry to cause too much trouble," she mumbled into his shoulder.
"I'm just glad you're okay. You worry me some days."
"I want to go home," she mumbled as he pulled back to look at her. He nodded and left to go find the doctor.
"This isn't like Marinette to be this late," Alya chewed her lip in concern as her call bounced straight to voicemail for the third time.
"Yeah, being a no-show is usually your thing," Nino commented, looking up at Adrien, who only shrugged.
"I hope she's alright," Rose sighed. "She usually shows up eventually, but it's been hours."
"You don't think something has happened to her, do you?" Alya dared to ask their dwindling group. She tapped Marinette's number again to call her phone. "Maybe I'll swing by her house on the way home, just to check in on her."
Nino nodded and leaned over to give her a quick peck on the lips. "Let me know what's up. I gotta head home."
"Me, too," Rose sighed. "I need to study for that history test tomorrow."
"Bye, guys," Alya muttered weakly, frowning as Marinette's voicemail kicked up again. She glanced up at Adrien. "You can't tell me you're not worried."
"I am," he said slowly. "But I was just hoping she wasn't caught up in that Akuma attack."
"Yeah," Alya sighed, pocketing the phone for now. She bent down and hoisted her bag and skates over her shoulder. "A couple of other people weren't healed completely by Ladybug's power like usual."
Adrien frowned. "What?"
"Nothing serious," Alya brushed it away with a wave of her hand. "Worst I heard was someone got a couple stitches for a head wound. Everything else I heard about was mostly just bumps and bruises. I hope she's okay, too."
"Yeah," he mused quietly, frowning and checking his own phone. "Look, I gotta go, too, but please let me know if you hear from Marinette, alright?"
"Will do," she saluted as he turned away. "I'm sure she's fine. She'll show up tomorrow at school with some elaborate Marinette story."
"I'm sure you're right," Adrien called over his shoulder, forcing a laugh. He'd always had his suspicions, but there was a deep, nagging feeling in his heart and he'd never hope more so than now that he was wrong in his theory…
Adrien groaned and handed a piece of the foul cheese over to his kwami before flopping down onto the sofa in his bedroom. "Girls are so damn stressful," he complained. "Any message from Ladybug?"
"Why? Ladybug said she was okay. Would she lie to you?" Plagg mumbled around the food in his mouth.
"Lie, no. But withhold the truth so that she doesn't think I'll worry, yes." He held his phone up above him as it vibrated and tapped the screen to open the group chat. "Any message, Plagg?" he asked again.
Finally got Marinette on the phone. She's fine.
A round of messages immediately began blowing up the chat and he just dropped his phone back onto the couch. He sighed in relief. "At least Alya was right, and Marinette missing us today was just her being…her."
Plagg choked on his cheese for a second before clearing his throat.
Adrien sat up and leaned over the back of the couch to glare at Plagg. "Chat got your tongue?" he asked when the tiny critter immediately averted his gaze.
"No, I just swallowed it wrong," he defended, turning away from Adrien.
Adrien flopped back down onto the couch. Maybe his theory was wrong. Just when he was leaning towards Marinette possibly being Ladybug, there was always something that happened to push him further the other way. Either way, Marinette was fine, which was good. She was finally starting to behave normally around him for once.
It had bothered him for years. The first year or so that he knew Marinette, it wasn't such an issue. But over time, it started to nag at him. She was sweet and kind to him, sure, but he could tell she didn't feel like herself around him and it bothered him. Sometimes he'd show up on her balcony as Chat Noir if only to have a normal conversation with her, to experience what literally all of his classmates got to experience on a daily basis.
She was so sassy, so witty when he was Chat Noir. It kind of hurt him that she couldn't be that way with him as Adrien…
"Maybe we should go check in on Marinette," he muttered aloud.
"Maybe we should not," Plagg shot back, clearly still eating. "I'm tired, I know you're tired, and if you miss another lesson your dad is going to keep you locked up all weekend."
"Just a quick swing by her house?" He glanced at the time on his phone. "We can be there and back before the instructor even shows up."
"A quick trip now, or getting to see her all weekend," Plagg mused. "Your funeral. You can go see her as Chat Noir later this weekend, too." Sometimes his kwami understood him better than he thought.
Adrien was turned around in his seat to face Alya, so he didn't immediately see her when she walked in. But he saw Alya's face go white and her jaw drop.
"Marinette, oh my god!"
Adrien followed her gaze, whipping around to the door as Alya tore past behind him and rushed up to her. Marinette's face grew red with a blush as others formed a little circle around her, and Adrien found himself among them, completely cold inside.
"What happened, girl?" Alya snapped, a hand hovering above the sling Marinette's arm was in keeping her right arm pinned to her chest. "You didn't mention this on the phone last night!"
"I didn't want to worry you or anyone else," she said quickly, waving her only free hand. "I was on my way to meet you guys and my scooter threw me off. I dislocated my shoulder. It's really silly and embarrassing actually. I'm so clumsy."
"Oh Marinette," Rose sighed. "We were so worried."
"I'm sorry," she replied sheepishly, blushing again. "I hope I didn't ruin your day out."
"We'll just have to go again this weekend," Alya sighed before giving her best friend a wink. "You don't need arms to ice skate. Or we can just find you a big strong guy to hold you up." Another wink and Marinette rolled her eyes.
The group began to disperse after a few words, and Adrien took his chance. "I'm glad you're okay," he said, reached out and putting a hand on her good shoulder. "Can I talk to you out in the hall for a second before class starts?"
Marinette blinked at him, glancing at the hand on her shoulder before coming back down to earth. "Oh—I—wait—yes." She spun on her heel and led Adrien out the door, shooting a meaningful glance towards Alya as she left, who gave her two thumbs up and a huge grin.
"Did it hurt?"
"A little," Marinette lied, offering up a one-armed shrug. "Like I said, it was really dumb, how it happened and all..."
"You fell off your scooter?" he meant it as a statement, repeating the story she'd told the others, but it came out more like he was questioning her, and Marinette didn't miss the insinuation.
Her eyebrows lowered fractionally. "Yeah, pretty dumb."
He felt anger flare up in his chest, a protective and ridiculous feeling, the memory of her flying through the air and tumbling across the marble floor replaying in his head. "Are you sure that's what really happened?" The words were out of his mouth like a whip and he instantly regretted it the moment his mouth snapped shut. He had always been so careful with his father, making sure to think before speaking, to calculate his words carefully, but something about this woman was making his mind hazy.
"What do you mean?"
Ladybug's words from the previous night were ringing in his head like an alarm bell, her personal feelings beginning to override his own.
Suddenly he found himself in a mental battle. He didn't want to oust her like this; he didn't want to force her. But she had forced him. They were partners. They were in this together. Right? He didn't have a right to know, as Plagg kept reminding him—her identity was hers to offer up. But she would end up knowing his, too.
He was pretty sure he figured it out now. And if Marinette was Ladybug? How had he not known for years? How had he missed every signal, every subtle clue?
Of course, he didn't experience her flakiness like the others did—he flaked just as much, being Ladybug's partner and all. Any weirdness had been masked by his own anxiety over his own weirdness. He'd had his inklings, little what ifs that clouded his mind on sleepless nights as he wondered who she could possibly be…
Adrien ran a hand through his hair. "I was worried," he mumbled, settling for being vague, a mental compromise. He didn't feel as confident without his mask, either. "Last night."
Marinette's dark brows pulled together in confusion. "The—the rink?" she asked for clarity. "I meant to worry you—Didn't! I didn't mean to worry you."
"No—it wasn't—" Adrien took a slow breath and decided to not outright say it. Maybe if he gave her enough clues, over time, she'd come to the same conclusion he had. "Yes. That, too."
Well, he'd meant to be a bit subtler. But then again, there was a bubble of anger curling in his chest over this whole situation. Her voice, twisted and mangled as a cry left her throat. The sound of her body bouncing across the floor…He should have been the one to help her, rush her to the hospital and stay with her. Had she been alone for the whole thing? Had she been in pain most of the night on her trek to the hospital?
He studied the way her fingers twitched, dangling uselessly from the sling.
"Can I sign it?" he asked finally, pulling a pen from his back pocket. "Your sling?"
"Uh, people don't usually do that, do they?" she stammered, but she didn't move to stop him or step away.
He threw a grin to her like he would if he'd had the mask on and leaned for her sling, holding her gently by the elbow to steady it so he didn't jostle the joint at her shoulder. He spent a few seconds doodling instead of signing a name.
Adrien grinned as he straightened and capped the pen, watching as Marinette tilted her head to see the image upside down. "It's a…cat?"
"A black cat," he confirmed with a wink. "Anything to cheer m'lady up." He watched her frown deeply and his smile wavered, but he held strong to his resolve. No. This was the right thing to do. She could be as mad as she wanted, but he would continue to bombard her with hints until she got the point.
She'd kept plenty from him over the years, claiming that some things were a need-to-know basis. He, on the other hand, has kept nothing from her.
He hated secrets, and this one had gone on for far too long. He agreed with Plagg, in the beginning, they were kids. Thirteen year olds with tremendous power and very little knowledge of the real world, of the cruelty of man. Now they were seventeen—nearly adults and getting ready to be thrust into the world on their own.
When college rolled around, how would he know where Ladybug ended up if he didn't know who she was? She had been hesitant to give out any information as to her identity, carefully leaving words vague enough for no unintentional hints. Until last night.
"You're a—I guess you—you have no idea how long—," she floundered visibly in front of him, her face getting pale and her cheeks getting red. Emotions flickered quickly as she struggled to form words. He knew she was starting to connect the dots just as quickly as he had the minute she'd walked through the door that morning. He could feel Plagg's attempts to get his attention from the pocket inside his jacket, but he only responded by pressing a hand on top of him to keep him still.
"We should get back to class," he said with a sly grin, one he only ever held for his Ladybug.
Marinette's jaw worked as she fought to speak, but reached out to grab his sleeve as he turned to return to class. He stopped and turned, giving her an expectant look. He waited patiently for her to finally speak.
"You?" was all that left her mouth, and barely loud enough for him to pick up.
He took another step towards her, choosing his words carefully in case he was mistaken and she hadn't just figured it out like he had. He crossed his arms. "You didn't contact me last night to tell me you made it home okay."
"This is such a bad idea," a voice grumbled from inside Adrien's jacket pocket, and he instinctively jumped to cover it with his hand, but Plagg poked his head out anyways. "You are the most impatient person I've ever met."
"It's too late now," a new voice sighed, rising from Marinette's purse to join them.
"How did you sleep last night?" Marinette asked flatly, putting her good hand on her hip. She studied his face but found no immediate signs that he truly was Chat Noir.
"Like a baby," he said flippantly with a grin. There it was, a flicker in his mannerisms—that grin so familiar she could see the mask and green eyes flash across his face in her mind's eye. And suddenly her mind was reversing, going backwards through their conversations, today and all the ones before. Signs that he was the famous Chat Noir jumped out at her now, signs she'd obviously missed before because who would have thought Chat Noir would be the quiet blond model?
"So…up every couple of hours and super needy?" she joked before looking him up and down with a frown. "Little old to be wetting the bed, though."
"Ha ha," he said dryly, crossing his arms. "Actually, I didn't sleep at all. You know, you're talking a lot more eloquently to me now that you know I'm Chat Noir. Is the clumsy-spastic-girl thing an act? Pretty brilliant, actually…"
"What?" she practically shrieked. "I don't—you have no idea that—what I mean is—" Marinette floundered after hearing him say it out loud, the reality finally sinking in that Adrien was Chat Noir.
Her breath caught in her throat at her next thought.
Chat Noir was in love with Ladybug. And now that he knew who Ladybug was…but he didn't know. Her heart slowed its pace a bit. He didn't know who she had a crush on. She'd never told him. She was safe for now, but what if he put two and two together. Oh, god, the embarrassment….
But her heart deflated as suddenly as it had quickened. Adrien was in love with Ladybug, not Marinette…
"You okay, Marinette?"
"No," she breathed. "I'm going back to class."
He darted to move in front of her. "Look, I'm sorry, Marinette, I know you wanted to keep it a secret, I know—"
"This is bad, Adrien," she whispered harshly, gesturing between them quickly. "What if you or I get akumatized now—Hawk Moth can get both of our identities! Like, really easily." She stood straighter, deepening her voice mockingly. "Oh, hey, Ladybug. Now that you're akumatized, who is Chat Noir really?"
Adrien reached out and cupped her cheek. "If you got akumatized, we have a lot worse things to worry about than identities."
"In case you forgot, it's happened before," she breathed, trying to find her voice through the raging river of conflicting emotions around her because oh my god, Adrien is touching her cheek but also oh my god, Adrien is Chat Noir.
Adrien blinked at her, his pale brows pulling together as he thought. And then his hand dropped from her face. "Oh, right. I forgot about that."
"Ladybug showed up late," she grumbled, crossing her arms. "You were so mad."
"That was right before we met Queen Bee," he mused lightly, sending a spark of new annoyance through Marinette.
"That was why we needed her," she ground out. "And let's not forget about you."
Marinette crossed her arms. "Camera Man?"
Adrien's face grew pale and he frowned. "That was the stupidest name ever."
"Are you starting to see my point?"
Adrien just grinned. "I'm not emotional enough to get akumatized like that again. And besides, Marinette and Adrien can get akumatized all they want, but until Chat Noir or Ladybug get akumatized, we don't have an issue."
"Oh, and I am emotional enough?" she scoffed, moving to return to class. "Come on, Tikki." The little kwami that had been quietly conversing with Plagg flew back into the opened bag and helped Marinette close it. Adrien simply held his jacket open for Plagg to return to his hiding spot.
"That's not what I meant, I just mean—"
Marinette rounded on him just inside the doorway. "I'm still mad at you," she hissed quietly. "I told you yesterday I didn't want this."
He couldn't keep the angry stare off his face. "And you didn't think I wouldn't put two and two together when Ladybug dislocates her shoulder and suddenly a classmate shows up with one?"
"Coincidences happen, Adrien." She spun around to walk away from him, but he grabbed her wrist and held her there until she turned to him. Marinette was taken aback a little by the fierceness in his eyes, something foreign on Adrien's face, but she'd seen it countless times on Chat Noir. Their eyes were different, she noted. Chat Noirs were undoubtedly more cat-like with their elongated pupils.
"You have no idea how worried I was over you," he hissed lowly. "I'm sorry you didn't get your way for once, but you were hurt, Marinette. And you wouldn't let me help."
"I didn't need your help," she snapped back. He dropped her hand and she walked away from him, slightly proud of herself that she hadn't stammered in front of him once. But she could feel her cheeks embarrassingly turning red again as she thought about the weight of what she'd just found out.
Chat Noir was Adrien. Adrien was Chat Noir.
Marinette ran a hand down her face in a vain attempt to hide her blush and squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe this was all a dream. Yeah, the pain killers gave her a very vivid, very real dream.
"You okay?" Alya asked her, and Marinette turned her head to look at her. "Your face is so red. What did Adrien want? Oh my god, did he—"
"No," she interrupted quickly. "It was nothing like that."
Alya's expression sobered when she saw that Marinette wasn't smiling. "Wait, what happened? Are you okay?" Her voice grew a bit louder and she turned to address Adrien, who was settling into his chair and pulling out textbooks. "Did you guys just have an argument?"
Marinette studied the way Adrien's shoulders tensed and she knew he was listening despite ignoring her friend. "It was nothing, I'll tell you all about it later, alright?" She glared down at Adrien's back. Let him chew on those words for a bit.
Alya shrugged. "You still gotta tell me in detail how you hurt your shoulder."
Alya linked her arm through Marinette's good one as Marinette quickly made her way towards the entrance of the school to leave for lunch.
"No way, girl," Alya laughed as Marinette frowned down at their arms. "You are not getting out of this one. I don't care what we do for lunch, I'll pay for yours, but you are giving me the whole story." She glanced behind them and leaned towards Marinette, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. "Including that little anecdote about Adrien."
Marinette looked behind them to see Adrien walking with Nino, but neither of the boys had noticed them. She wished she had a free hand to rub the headache out of her forehead. "C'mon," she sighed. "My parents are making lunch today."
"I was hoping you'd say that," Alya laughed, letting Marinette drag her as quickly from the school as she could. "What is your hurry?"
"I just don't want to make this a group lunch today," she grumbled.
When Alya was sure the boys couldn't see them anymore, she broke away from Marinette and slowed down, forcing Marinette to slow as well. "Did Adrien say something bad to you?"
"No, nothing like that." Marinette's jaw worked as she fought to find the words to tell her friend what had happened without lying. It killed her sometimes to keep so much of her life from Alya, to lie to the one girl who had tumbled into her life and stayed by her side. "I'm sorry about yesterday, by the way. I felt awful not being able to contact you to tell you I wasn't going to be there."
"Like I said, it's fine."
"My phone died," she mumbled the lie again, it tasting bitter in her mouth. "I felt so bad."
"Did you just, like, not pay attention and hit a pole or something?"
Marinette shook her head with a smile. "No, I didn't see a rock or something on the ground. My wheel stopped and I flipped over the whole thing. I landed on my arm funny."
"Oh! I'll bet you looked like Ladybug flipping through the air!" Alya decided enthusiastically. Marinette just laughed and held open the door for her friend to enter the bakery. Alya inhaled deeply. "I don't know how you can leave this place every day."
"It takes effort," Marinette nodded solemnly, playing along. She called into the bakery for her parents, leading Alya up to the kitchen.
Marinette spent the quick lunch telling Alya about them resetting her arm, how much it had hurt, and how she had wandered to the hospital alone. Because her phone was dead, of course. In reality it was because she had no way to explain to anyone how she had ended up on the opposite side of town in some random hotel lobby instead of headed for the ice rink.
"Alright, girl, let's go to your room and brainstorm for that project before," Alya hinted as they put their now-clean dishes away.
"The one Adrien told you about this morning," Alya hinted through clenched teeth.
"Just don't be late getting back to school," her mother told her with a kiss on the cheek as she passed to return to the bakery below.
Marinette slowly led Alya up to her bedroom, dropping down unceremoniously into her desk chair, and she watched as Alya closed the door and pulled the other chair closer to her friend.
"Alright, spill," Alya demanded with a wave of her hand.
The longer Marinette thought back to the conversation with Adrien that morning, the harder she knew it was going to be to explain. And she couldn't—not really. Not enough to get it off her chest the way she wanted, the way she needed.
"This is a lot more than just what happened with Adrien this morning, isn't it," Alya guessed softly.
"I don't know…I can't…"
Alya slid her chair so she was sitting directly in front of Marinette and cupped the girl's cheeks so that she was forced to make eye contact.
"Marinette. Girl. Talk to me," Alya demanded gently. "I promise you, whatever it is; we can work it out together. Whatever is said will not leave this room. I swear."
"I can't," Marinette whimpered as her face crumpled. "I wish I could, Alya, but I can't. It's complicated."
"Tell me as much as you can then. Give me a hypothetical situation, anything. I want to help you." Alya sat up straight and crossed her legs as Marinette took a second to compose herself, looking around the room.
"I had a pen pal," she started quietly, latching onto the hypothetical suggestion. "I never knew his name, he never knew mine. Usernames." Alya nodded slowly. "We've talked back and forth for years. He became like a best friend to me. He's helped me through some things that I just couldn't go to anyone else about."
"Even me?" Alya asked quietly.
Marinette offered a small smile. "He was just detached enough from my life that he helped me with things I didn't want to get anyone else involved in."
"Okay," Alya replied, trying not to talk that admission personally. "So, what? You guys have a fight?"
Marinette shook her head, her face pinching again. "No. About a year after we first started talking, he asked to know who I was," she felt bad altering facts like this, but she could feel herself falling apart on the inside. "He admitted he was in love with me. And it was so silly to think about—how could you be in love with someone when you don't know who they really are?"
"It's their essence," Alya smiled. "He just sounds like a guy that loves you for who you are inside rather than what you look like."
Marinette's eyebrows furrowed and she shook her head. "No, that's not it. The things we talked about—I never gave myself away like that. We didn't talk about interests or normal things like that. It's hard to explain but I don't want to say what we talked about."
"Girl this is getting a little kinky," Alya muttered with a smirk, eliciting a half a giggle from her friend like she'd hoped.
"No, nothing like that either." Marinette thought for a second. "We talked a lot about Ladybug and Chat Noir, which is how I knew he lived in Paris at least. There was mention of schoolwork and having plans with friends, so I knew he was about my age. But other than that…not much."
"Alright, so what's the problem?"
"We both decided a long time ago to keep who we are a secret. It was just…better that way." Safer… "But yesterday he figured out who I was and confronted me at school."
"Because the boy is in love with you, and knowing you went to school with him he ignored your request to stay private."
"Yes," Marinette whimpered, thankful that her friend was catching onto her feelings immediately. "And I'm so embarrassed and…hurt and I feel like I shouldn't."
"How did he find out who you were?" Alya asked, holding up a hand.
"I told him last night that I dislocated my shoulder," she admitted. "It was stupid and too personal and I shouldn't have. I messed up big time."
Alya thought back through the events of the day, and she'd been next to her best friend through nearly all of it, helping her carry books and take notes. The only time anyone had her alone was…."Adrien," she muttered aloud. Her eyes widened when Marinette frowned. "Adrien?"
Alya let out a hysterical giggle before she caught herself. "Girl, why are you upset over this? Adrien is in love with you!"
"No!" she wailed, dropping her face into her good hand. "He's in love with L—with some anonymous girl he met online! He's in love with a version of me. If he was in love with me it wouldn't have taken him three years to see Marinette the way he is now."
Alya looked at her friend sympathetically. "Marinette, no. I'm sure that's not how it is at all." She scooted closer to Marinette. "I feel Like Adrien has feelings for you, Marinette, but the mystery of this girl he loves online was what was holding him back from asking you out. Finding out they were the same person, imagine how freeing that must feel?"
"I don't know…"
"You love a guy whose identity you don't know, but you also have some feelings for a boy in school," she started to rationalize, holding up one hand. "On one hand, online-guy is always there for you, and you guys have an amazing friendship, but you don't know who they really are so you can't really initiate a romantic relationship." She held up her other hand. "On the other hand, here's this gorgeous boy in school that you know in real life, but are afraid to initiate anything with because what if Online Guy changes his mind and was to meet in real life. And then, you find out it's the same person."
Marinette shook her head and Alya frowned, realizing that Marinette still didn't see it. "It just doesn't feel like that. It feels like he didn't see me as anything other than a good friend until he found out who I also was."
"You'll never know if you keep avoiding him. You gotta talk to him about this, girl."
"I can't," she sighed, subconsciously running her hand up the strap of the sling. "It's stupid, I'm probably overreacting and I'll get over it soon."
Alya stood and put her hands on her hips. "Your feelings are not stupid, and you need to talk to Adrien. Regardless of what happens, you still want to be friends, right? Don't ruin that, too."
"I just don't want to talk to him right now."
"You don't have to do it now," Alya shrugged. "But just don't put it off too long, or you'll just make it harder. The next day or two?"
Marinette weighed that idea in her head. Yeah, she could give her feelings a day or two to sort themselves out. Besides, Alya had already planned a make-up outing for Saturday, which was only two days away. She could talk to him before then.
"Alright," she finally conceded.
"Good. Now. Let's get back to school. I can't afford to be late again."
Hours later, when the sun had set, Marinette found herself alone again. She felt numb from the pain medications the doctor had given her to take, and her dad had convinced her one wouldn't hurt to help her fall asleep that night.
She was slumped in her desk chair staring down at a work in progress sadly when she heard the familiar creek of the door above her head opening slowly. She frowned further down at the lump of fabric. She'd been trying to rip the seams out one-handed, but it was going very, very poorly. This was going to be a long recovery…
When she heard no more movement, she spun in her chair and looked up at the door. "I really don't want to talk right now, Chat Noir. I'm sorry."
"In general, or to me?" he called down softly, legs dangling down into her room.
"I don't know," she sighed, turning back towards her desk.
"Please don't be mad at me."
"I'm not mad."
"You literally said you were at school this morning," he reminded her, finally dropping down into the room. He walked around her and leaned back against her desk, crossing his arms. "I told you last night I had some suspicions about your true identity, and I've kept them to myself for nearly three years. But this…" he frowned at the sling. "I just couldn't ignore that."
"You didn't even try," she mumbled.
Chat pushed off the desk to crouch beside her, gripping the armrests and spinning her to face him. Marinette was surprised by the intensity of his gaze, the fire in his eyes and how tense his jaw muscles were. He almost looked…pissed…
"We are a team, are we not?" he ground out, fighting himself to stay gentle and calm. "I hate secrets and I've done my best to not keep anything from you. You've had your share—" Marinette's head tilted in defiance and she opened her mouth to argue, but Chat cut her off. "—for good reasons, but the only one I've leveled with you on is identities. You wanted yours kept private and I understood—I still understand. But you put me in a hard place when you forced me to leave my partner hurt like that."
"It's what I wanted."
"What about what I wanted?"
"It wasn't about you!" she snapped in disbelief. "Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but not everything is about Adrien Agreste."
Chat's eyes narrowed at her and a shallow pain filled his chest. Marinette had something against Adrien? Against him? He pursed his lips in thought for a second before straightening, looking down at Marinette now. "New scenario. An akuma hurts me—things are broken. I can't move without screaming. What do you do?"
"What do you do?" he asked slowly. "Your partner is hurt, Ladybug. What are you going to do about it?"
"Purify the akuma and reverse everything," she ground out. She only realized how close they'd been when he rolled his eyes and pushed away from her, standing up straight.
"And if that doesn't work?"
"Say it," he challenged lightly. "Say it out loud. Say you would leave me there. Say you would leave your hurt partner—"
"If that's what you asked of me," she finally snapped in a display of emotion Chat Noir had never witnessed from Marinette before. Sure, he knew she could be emotive and passionate, but her cheeks were red, he eyes glassy, dark brows pulled down to narrow her eyes. "If you wanted me to leave, I would have."
Chat scoffed. "Really? Because knowing you, knowing Marinette, you wouldn't have. You would have talked me out of it, tried to reason with me until I could get the help I needed. Because that's how you are."
She knew deep down he was right. She would have told him he was being stupid and that it was only her, she would be the only one who knew, and it wasn't like the whole of Paris knew his identity. Just his partner. She'd wholly regret it later, feelings becoming similar to what she felt now, but initially her mission would be to get him healed.
Marinette looked up at the blond, now clad in jeans and a dark long sleeve shirt standing in front of her. "It's not the end of the world."
"It's not," she conceded. "But it doesn't excuse the fact that this could be very, very dangerous."
"So is everything else we do," he rebuked calmly, a faint smile playing on his lips.
Marinette just gave him a tired look through her lashes. Adrien turned away from her to pull her other chair over to her desk and dropped into it. Their knees were almost touching and Marinette could feel her cheeks heating up at the proximity. She practically cursed herself silently. How many times had they gotten this close over the years and she'd learned to control herself, to be okay?
Never alone, though. Never one-on-one.
Her eyes slowly slid up his from their knees, loving the way his jeans sat on him, the way his cotton shirt looked on him. She could see some semblance of muscles beneath the sleeves, and she'd always attributed it to him being a model, but now it made more sense that they'd been muscles earned through fighting akuma.
"I'm sorry about what I said to Alya, I wasn't going to tell her," she confessed, distracting herself. She was feeling embarrassed that she'd stooped to such levels of immaturity in the first place over that.
Adrien just shrugged a shoulder. "I know you. You wouldn't do something that stupid."
"Gee, thanks," she muttered, spinning in her chair a little and playing with the seam ripper in her hand. "Glad to know you still think revealing identities is stupid."
Adrien rolled his eyes. "You know why it's different."
Marinette only raised an eyebrow and dropped it, biting her lip to keep from revealing Alya and Nino's sometimes-secret second identities. If she couldn't protect her own identity, she was sure as hell going to protect her friends'.
"You know," Adrien began, rolling his chair closer to hers so that their knees touched, his bumping into hers on the outsides. He took her hand in his, stilling her fingers as they prodded the spikes on the end of the seam ripper. "I'm really glad it turned out to be you."
Marinette choked back a groan and pulled her hand from his suddenly. "You don't have to pretend."
"You never liked Marinette they way you liked Ladybug."
Adrien frowned. "But you are Ladybug."
"You had no interest in Marinette until you found out I was Ladybug," she whispered to her lap. "Anytime I talked to Chat Noir, I would tell you about this boy in school. Whether I was Marinette or Ladybug. Chat Noir only ever talked about Ladybug. And you?" She looked up at Adrien, tilting her head as she studied him, finding nothing in his eyes but pure concern. "Adrien never noticed me."
Adrien sat, staring blankly at Marinette, and then it dawned on her and she could feel her face heating up and knew it was probably bright red. Oh, man, he hadn't figured it out. He hadn't figured it out, but she'd just voluntarily ousted herself. She was not fit to have a secret identity anymore.
She dropped her face into her hand to hide her embarrassment. Thoughts froze in her head and she was beyond her typical ramblings.
Adrien didn't seem to know what to say, either. "Me?"
"Oh, geeze," she groaned, dropping her face into her hand. She felt like curling into a ball and disappearing forever. Surely wherever Tikki was hiding in the room, she was hiding out of embarrassment. Some superhero she was. "This is getting so, so messed up."
"Nino said…" Adrien started slowly. "I was told years ago that you had moved on."
"It was a little crush years ago," Marinette managed to assure around a tongue that suddenly felt ten times too big for her mouth. But whether she was trying to assure him or herself, she wasn't sure. "I value our friendship, Adrien."
He let out a single, solid laugh. "We are friends," he nodded. "And I like being your friend. But I love being your partner."
"Ladybug over Marinette."
"In your head, is Ladybug like a separate entity from you?" he asked, voice taking on a new tone she'd never heard before. An irritated, but curious one. "Because without you Ladybug doesn't exist. You understand that, right? Everything Ladybug is comes from you."
"Ladybug is more than I am—"
"So you're saying Chat Noir is more than I am?" he asked gently, noticing immediately how her eyes started to dance around the room, looking anywhere but at him.
She was silent, and he felt a rock forming in his throat at his next question, trying hard to force it out calmly. "Let me take you out."
"On…on a date?" she asked dumbly, then immediately wanted to smack herself.
Adrien smiled at the disbelieving look on her face. "Yes."
"Me," she clarified.
"Yes. Marinette, brilliant fashion designer and secret savior of Paris. I want to take her on a date." He watched as her face smoothed out, but a frown still tugged the corner of her lips downward. "Let me show you that I want you, not anyone else."
"And how would you prove that?" she challenged with a raised eyebrow. "How do I know you aren't settling?"
Adrien stood and shoved his hands in his pockets, staring down at her with one eyebrow raised. "I am not settling, Marinette. You are not someone that anyone is settling for," he said forcefully but with a sly smile. "Just think back to every encounter you as Marinette have had with Chat Noir. I could have visited any girl in all of Paris. All the time, any of the times I visited you. We spent a lot of time up on that balcony of yours as Chat Noir and Marinette."
"Yeah," she agreed slowly, following his pointed finger to the door overhead.
"Any girl in Paris, but I was drawn to you." He watched as Marinette mulled this over, looking down at her desk where her unfinished work laid. He stepped towards her after a few beats and put a gentle finger under her chin, guiding her eyes back up to his. "I'm going to pick you up tomorrow at six if that's alright."
"Yes," she breathed. "That's fine." He leaned down quickly to press a kiss to her cheek, pulling away to see her face bright red now, and he fought the urge to laugh.
"I'm glad you're okay, though," he said seriously, but he couldn't help the smile on his face. "You really had me worried last night."
"Well, it'll heal. I just might be out of commission for a few weeks," she grumbled, looking down at her sling. "The doctor said a few months, but that I can get back to regular activities in three weeks."
"That doesn't include superhero activities," he laughed. "We have plenty of allies. Queen Bee and I can handle it for now. We'll keep you sidelined until the akuma is free for capture."
Marinette sighed unhappily. "There's always Rena Rouge and Carapace, too, I guess."
"Having friends makes things easy, huh?"
She tried not to read into that statement too much. She didn't know if she could handle him telling her he'd figured out who Alya and Nino were sometimes, too. "You're insufferable," she sighed. "Just know, forever, that this isn't how I wanted things."
Adrien smiled sadly. "I know. But it is what it is, and I think it's for the best. It'll make things easier for us in the long run. We're old enough to handle it now."
"Plagg," Adrien called, glancing over his shoulder into the rest of the room.
"What?" came the exasperated sigh from Marinette's closet. Marinette couldn't help the giggle that escaped her lips.
"You two better be keeping it PG in there."
Marinette looked scandalized. "Just what kind of kwami do you think Tikki is?"
"It's not her I'm worried about," he grumbled down to her. Towards the closet, "C'mon, Plagg. Claws out."
"You can stay longer if you want," she mumbled when his green eyes trained back on her.
"What do you want, Princess?" he asked gently.
"Oh, now you want to know what I want—"
"Marinette." Chat Noir grabbed her good hand and pulled her to her feet so that she was closer to him, his arm gently wrapped around her waist. "I'm sorry."
"I know," she whispered, looking up at him and wondering once again when he'd gotten so tall. "And as much as I hate to admit it, you're probably right. It'll make a few things easier." Her tone changed a bit, her expression souring. "But no way in hell is Chloe ever knowing who Ladybug is."
Chat threw his head back and laughed at that. "Alright, I'll level with you on that one."
"No, you have to swear to me, Adrien Agreste."
"Ooh, full names."
Chat's hand trailed lightly down her wounded shoulder, and his smile faltered. "I swear to you, I won't be the one to tell her your secret. I'm not going to tell anyone."
"Thank you," she said, bouncing up on her toes to peck his cheek. "Now go before my parents find out I snuck a boy in my room."
"This is hardly the first time—"
"Chat," she hissed with a giggle, pushing him towards the ladder.
"Alright," he sighed. Lifting her good hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles gently. "You have my number. You can text me if you decide you're lonely. Otherwise I'll see you tomorrow in class?"
"Yeah," she nodded, and watched as he shot up the ladder and out of her room.
Tikki immediately flew from the closet and nudged her cheek gently. "See, I told you, everything always works out in the end."
Marinette's quiet doubt worried Tikki and had her frowning. "Yes, I like to believe so."
"I don't know, Tikki. I still feel weird about Chat Noir being Adrien and suddenly asking me out like that—" Marinette ranted, her voice quickening. She dropped down onto her bed and gently lay back with a groan.
Tikki was suddenly above her, looking determined. "I have known about Adrien since almost the beginning, Marinette. And he's right! Any girl in Paris and he visited you."
"You think he had feelings for me as Marinette, too?" she asked softly, eyes skimming the bare walls of her room. They'd once held magazine cutouts and clippings of Adrien, but when she'd tried to force herself to move on, she'd thrown them away in the effort.
"I do," Tikki nodded. "I think he had feelings for Marinette and Ladybug. You can love more than one person, you know."
"Maybe," she sighed.
"No!" Tikki argued, landing beside Marinette's head. "Marinette, you have loved Adrien all this time. But you also loved Chat Noir, right?"
"In a way," she said slowly. "Yeah."
"And you had feelings for Luka—"
"That was different, Tikki," Marinette sighed, sitting up and looking down at her kwami.
"But it just proves my point, Marinette," Tikki said with a grin, stretching her arms out wide. "There are so many different types of love, and someone isn't limited to loving just one person. Maybe the love he had for Ladybug, and the love he had for Marinette—maybe it combined when he found out you were the same person!"
Oh, sweet wishful thinking little thing. Marinette couldn't help the way her heart skipped a beat at the thought, though. She couldn't deny that finding out Chat Noir was Adrien didn't make her love him any less, and finding out Adrien was Chat Noir…she felt like the love she held for the two entities was muddy and unclear, a fog in her face. Was this what an identity crisis was like?
Marinette couldn't help but be distracted the next morning as she flipped through her notebook, trying to decipher Alya's cursive notes from the previous day. Her eyes flicked up to Adrien's empty chair for the millionth time that morning and Alya finally sighed loudly, gaining her friend's full attention.
"What?" Alya groaned. "Girl, you're so spacey this morning. Adrien isn't coming to school today, remember? It's that big holiday shoot that's going to take like, three days." Alya flipped her own notebook shut agitatedly. "Lucky he got to take the science test early and won't tell me what questions are on it."
"I forgot," Marinette blinked, glancing down at the empty space a final time.
"Yeah, well," Alya dropped her pen on the desk and slouch down in the chair dramatically. "I guess I can't blame you. The last day or two have been pretty crazy for you, huh?"
Marinette frowned and fidgeted in her chair. "Oh, before I forget to tell you, something…happened last night…"
Alya visibly switched into reporter mode, sensing the gossip coming. The change in her was immediate. "What happened?" she demanded. Marinette watched her eyes light up as pieces clicked together. Her voice dropped. "Did you talk to Adrien?"
"Sort of?" Marinette tried shyly, knowing that when the news of their date that night broke, that was it. It was official. It was real. And people would find out about it. Unlike her identity to Chat, she wanted control of how this got out. Because it would get out. You don't date a famous teen model and keep it a secret for long.
Oh, god. Date. She was going on a date with Adrien. Were they dating? How many dates until people would say that?
"Marinette!" Alya snapped her fingers in her face, and Marinette blinked a few times to clear her head, adjusting the strap to her sling subconsciously to keep herself busy. "What did he say?"
"Uhm, we talked about what happened and some other stuff that needed to be said."
"And…?" Alya prompted, sensing more.
"He's taking me out tonight," she said lowly, leaning towards her a little.
"A date?" Alya gasped, shock quickly turning to glee on her face. "Oh my gosh, girl I'm so excited for you!"
"'Bout time," Nino shot over his shoulder with a quick smirk.
"Stop eavesdropping," Alya snapped, throwing her pen at him.
He laughed and turned back around in his seat. "You guys aren't exactly being quiet." He jerked his chin towards the long table next to his and the girls followed his gaze. Marinette immediately whipped back around in her seat, folding into herself. She could feel Chloe's intense glare on the side of her face.
"Can we help you?" Alya called over to her, the voices in the room quieting around them.
"Help me?" Chloe sneered. "You can help me understand why Adrien would ask her out…"
Alya rolled her eyes. "And just when I thought she was becoming a tolerable person," she grumbled to herself, deciding not to answer her.
Marinette took a slow, deep breath and looked back up to Chloe with a kind smile, filling her head with thoughts of Queen Bee and all the help she'd been over the years. "You'll have to ask Adrien, I don't know myself, really."
Chloe huffed and spun back in her seat.
Alya pulled her phone from her pocket and checked it as their teacher entered the room. Marinette sighed, feeling her own phone vibrating in her purse at her ankle. "Girl the group chat is blowing up."
"I can tell," she sighed, leaning into her good hand, elbow propped up on the desk. "Is nothing in my life a secret anymore?"
"Only how he asked you, but I promise I'll get that from you at lunch," Alya chirped quietly, opening her notebook to a clean page.
Marinette sighed again and resisted the urge to check her phone. Adrien was a part of the group chat, too, so now he would be well aware that everyone else knew. But she couldn't bring herself to feel bad, or keep the small smirk off her face. Served him right.
Marinette was glad Alya hadn't taken it personally when she'd rejected the other girl's offer to help her get ready for her date.
"I mean, not that you need help picking something out to wear—" Alya had started, but Marinette had held up a hand to stop her.
"I'll be alright. I just need a little time to myself to think. Everything is just changing so fast I…"
Alya had smiled kindly before pulling her into a gentle hug. "I get it. Just call me if you need anything."
She was especially grateful since when five-thirty rolled around, she was standing in her underwear in the middle of a pile of clothes, pulling her own hair out.
"Marinette calm down," Tikki commanded through a laugh, lounging on her pillow on Marinette's bed. "I'm sure he'll like whatever you'll wear. You know he's a fan of your work."
"That's the problem, Tikki!" Marinette exclaimed. "He'll be happy with anything."
"Why is that a problem? You're really over thinking this…"
"I want him to see Marinette, future fashion designer. I want him to look at me with renewed amazement every time I put on a special outfit for him, I want him to be wowed more and more every time," she cried dramatically. She turned her head when she stopped her frantic flailing to look at the blank wall that had once housed an embarrassing amount of magazine cut-outs of her model-classmate. "I shouldn't have taken them down."
Tikki giggled at her deadpan tone, before both sobered at a roar echoing outside the windows. Marinette leaped over a pile of dresses and slammed into her window, pushing it open to lean and peak down the street. Sure enough, a cloud of thick dust twisted up towards the sun a couple blocks away.
"Then again, you do look nice in red and black," Tikki teased, flying out past her shoulder to view the minor devastation herself.
"Of course he does," she sighed, pulling herself back into her room long enough to pull on the jumper she'd worn to classes. "I can't exactly do much like this."
"He knows. Where are you going?"
Marinette sighed, looking up the ladder to the hatch in her ceiling. It was going to be a long climb. Tikki helped by pushing open the door as she slowly hobbled her way up. She let out a sigh and dropped down onto the lounge chair on the roof, feet tapping anxiously as she waited.
"Marinette, maybe we should just go back inside where it's safer," Tikki advised when another puff of smoke billowed up just a little bit closer.
"He'll be here," she grumbled. "They need me."
"Chat Noir can handle himself."
"He can't purify the akuma, Tikki," Marinette argued, voice a bit harsher than she'd intended.
"No, but he can capture it," Tikki soothed, unaffected, and she landed on Marinette's shoulder just as Chat landed lithely on the railing in front of Marinette.
"Princess," he greeted with a grin. "Your ride is here."
"Quicker than an Uber," she teased lightly, standing and taking his outstretched hand. "How are we going to do this?"
Chat hoisted her up onto the railing with him, keeping her balanced and against his chest. He smirked down at her as her cheeks warmed. "We'll figure it out. You can't fight."
"We know that," Tikki chimed in, quickly moving to hold onto the strap of Marinette's dress at her shoulder.
Once both were secured with him, he pushed off the roof and swung them towards the commotion in the streets. But as they got closer, Chat scrambled to dodge a shiny spike thrown at them by an amorphous silver blob several blocks down the street. Marinette let out a squeal as she fell towards the street, instincts making her want to try and flick out a yo-yo that wasn't there.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," Chat grunted when he snatched her out of the air, ducking them into an alleyway. He placed her on her feet and she immediately tucked into herself and began pacing. "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting projectiles."
"I can't do this, I can't do this," Marinette whispered to him in a rush, fingers digging into his elbow.
"Calm down, Marinette," Chat grunted, scooping her up out of the alleyway and vaulting them towards the top of the building. He set her on her feet a few paces from the edge of the building, and she immediately started pacing again. "Marinette."
"I can't do this," she repeated. "I need to be out there helping you guys. I—"
"You wouldn't be much of a help," Adrien replied bluntly, crossing his arms. Marinette blushed at the way his suit clung tightly to the bulging muscles of his arms when he did that.
She cleared her throat, trying to get her mind back on the akuma at hand. "Thanks for the words of encouragement…"
Chat rolled his eyes and stepped up to the front of her, lifting her chin up to look down at her, forcing their eyes to meet. "You know what I meant," he whispered. "Stay here, try not to get into trouble, and I'll come get you when it's over, alright?"
Marinette slowly rose on her toes, and she watched as he reacted instantaneously, his head tilted and lids shutting. "Take me to Master Fu," she breathed before their lips could touch and she pulled away with a teasing grin.
"What?" He blinked at her, surprised. "No, you need to stay here—"
"I need to get the fox miraculous to Rena, or you and Queen Bee are on your own." Marinette watched him closely, hoping he would just do it. She couldn't climb down the fire escape herself, so he could very well trap her on the roof if he wanted.
One side of his lips turned upward. "You can just tell me who Rena is and—"
"Not a chance, Kitty Chat," she interrupted airily. "You already stole my secret identity from me, I'm not letting you get hers, too."
Chat's eyes practically rolled into the back of his head as he stepped away from her, his head lolling backwards. "I'm sorry," he groaned, straightening and holding out his hand. "Come on. Let's do this quick. And try not to hurt yourself, alright?"
Marinette grinned, ignoring the blush rising to her cheeks as she wrapped her good arm around his neck. Chat bent and swept her feet out from under her and took off, leaving her with a chaste kiss to the cheek at Master Fu's doorstep.
"Where the heck is Ladybug?" Queen Bee managed between breaths. She helped Chat Noir to his feet and they dodged another spike thrown towards them, dashing behind a car.
"She's a little preoccupied."
"Oh, like, what is more important than this?" she snapped, gesturing over her shoulder vaguely towards the morphing metallic blob of an akuma hovering above the street behind them.
An orange blur dropped to the ground in front of them, making Queen Bee jump. "Seriously, I'm getting worried."
"She's fine," Chat Noir pressed, the irony of saying that not wasted on him. But if Rena had joined them, then Marinette was alright. "She just got a little hurt last week. She's benched for a bit."
"That explains the cryptic note on the miraculous," the fox muttered thoughtfully. "Carapace?"
"Not joining us this time," Chat mumbled, checking a car mirror to see down the street.
"Then how the heck are we supposed to cleanse the akuma?" Queen Bee glanced frantically between the other two.
"Girl, calm down," Rena Rouge sighed. "I'm sure there's a plan."
"There's always a plan," Chat smirked with a wink. "Ladybug is hidden, she'll come capture the akuma when we get it free. Or are you ladies telling me the three of us can't disarm one little akuma on our own?"
That sent the two girls into an appropriate outrage, and Chat just gestured vaguely over his shoulder towards the akuma.
It took them forty miserable minutes to figure out how the amorphous silver blob worked and to rip the akuma from the beaker in the civilian's hand. Chat was pretty impressed with how Ladybug cleansed the akuma one handed—with her non-dominant hand, even. She quickly made her way down from the top of the building to meet them on the street, making her way slowly towards them.
"Ladybug—" he began to protest, seeing her right arm straightened and at her side as opposed to bent across her chest like it should have been. He guessed the sling would have been too much, the other girls might have had that huge clue to her real identity like he had. Chat worried for a beat that that was what she was truly concerned around.
"Pound it!" again, he met her fist half-heartedly. "Great work guys. Sorry I can't be of much help."
"You were hurt?" Queen Bee asked, skeptically looking over Ladybug but finding no immediate signs she was injured.
"It doesn't matter," Chat Noir interrupted. "This is just how things are going to have to be for a few more weeks."
"We can handle it," Rena said cheerily, before glancing down at the necklace pinging at her collarbone. "Maybe I should just keep this for the time being?"
Ladybug looked like she was about to protest, her eyes darting to Chat Noir, wide and slightly panicked.
She was going to give him another earful. "For now," he pressed. "As soon as Ladybug is fit for duty, we'll need it back."
Rena Rouge gave him a grin and a haste salute. "Then if you guys don't mind, I'll catch you later."
"Rena—" Ladybug tried to call out to her, lifting a hand uselessly as the fox disappeared beyond the rooftops. She sighed and rubbed her eyes, turning back to the other two. "I can't believe you just did that."
"I knew you'd be mad."
"But you did it anyways."
"Hear me out," he argued, holding up his hands in a placating manner. "This way there's less you need to worry about. You can stay hidden until we need you." Queen Bee's eyebrows rose at the implication, and it had Chat backpedaling. "Not that we don't need you the whole time, I just don't want—you need to be—"
"Oh you poor thing," Bee sighed, frowning mockingly. "We get what you mean." She turned to Ladybug, fingers brushing the clip in her hair as it pinged. "If you really are injured—"
"—then we'll take care of things until you're fit to fight."
"I appreciate that, Queen Bee," Ladybug offered up a small smile. "And trust me when I say I would not want things to go this way if I had any other options."
"I know," she smirked, glancing between the two of them. "I just like messing with you."
"Go," Chat sighed. "Unless you want us to know—"
Queen Bee flipped up into the air, disappearing from their sight and leaving the two alone on the street.
"Take me home," Ladybug mumbled.
Chat frowned, crossing his arms and looking her over. "Why do I have to take you home? Your legs still work."
Ladybug's eyebrows shot up in surprised and she fought to keep the smirk off her face. "Well, maybe I'll just go have dinner with my parents. See you later, Chat Noir." Like a breath, Ladybug vanished and Marinette was walking down the empty street, Tikki flitting around her quietly. He was relieved to see that her arm was now back in the sling, but her words suddenly hit him.
"Hey, wait!" he called after her, springing forward and collecting her in his arms in one fluid motion. His staff pushed them up above the buildings and Marinette let out a breath of surprise as they peaked in the air.
"You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days, you know."
"Let's save that milestone for after our first date?" Chat suggested with a sly grin as he propelled them towards her balcony, Tikki flitting closely behind.
"Is that your idea of fun, Kitty Chat?"
"Pawsibly," he winked before landing and setting her gently on her feet. His hands hovered above her. "Alright?"
"I'm fine," she grinned. Marinette adjusted the strap and took a step away from him, glancing over her shoulder as Tikki help flatted out the back. "You should go, there's this boy in school and he's coming to take me out."
"Yeah, well I passed him on the street," Chat replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "He said he might be a little late. He got caught up in the akuma attack."
Marinette rolled her eyes at an excuse she might have believed before. She had, once upon a time, and the idea of it made her giggle. "Sounds like him. Goodnight, Chat Noir."
"Goodnight, Princess." Chat flipped up onto the railing before sliding down into a crouch. "He might be half an hour, maybe?"
"Plenty of time," Marinette chirped as she pulled open the hatch to her room.
"Need help getting down?"
"Don't let her hurt herself, Tikki," Chat sighed, waiting for the kwami to giggle and node before bidding him goodnight as well. He waited until the door shut before taking off for his own house, a new anxiety building up in his chest again at the thought of a date. With Marinette.
"You're so hopeless," Plagg grumbled when Adrien released the transformation and immediately returned to digging through his closet.
"You don't understand, Plagg, she's a designer. My outfit has to be perfect or I'm going to make her look bad," Adrien called out.
"I hope Tikki doesn't have to deal with crap like this…"