a/n: Alphabet Challenge Part 6! J, Q, U, W, Y and Z down, only V and X to go!

...I've not even started those two yet whoops.

Marinette had grown up with stories of different relationships and their oh-so-romantic starts. Her parents met in university, during one of their baking courses. Her father had asked her mom out after a couple classes because he had already been interested in her- it was pretty much love at first sight- and, well, it went from there. They had been classmates, then dating, then engaged and married and boom, she came along.

It was adorable and romantic and a fantastic example of what Marinette wanted to happen to her, too.

Her Cheng grandparents had a very similar story. They had met at a mutual friend's party, her grandpa asked the friend if her grandma was seeing anyone, and when the answer was no, he tagged along with the friend the next time that they were seeing her grandma and asked her out. She said yes, and they were still together.

The Dupain grandparents, well- like the others, they had met and almost immediately started dating. Even though they weren't still together, it had sounded cute at the time.

In short, all of Marinette's relationship examples hadn't included a purely friendship stage. Sure, they had been friends while dating (and Marinette's parents had referred to each other their best friend more than once), but that came after the dating started. She had heard about friends-to-lovers before, but she had never been particularly convinced by that trope. It just didn't seem realistic. Once people were friends- well, she had always heard older kids referring to their good friends as 'like a brother or sister', and, well, once somebody saw a friend as a sibling, then there wouldn't be any chance for romance there, right? And if people were really good friends, they wouldn't want to risk messing things up by confessing feelings.

And yet the movies made it look so easy, the protagonists moving past considering touches fully brother-sister platonic to romantic and flirty. They didn't seem overly concerned about confessions getting in the way and getting awkward. It just...it didn't ring true.

What if one person fell for the other and the other person didn't return their feelings? Things could get awkward then. What if they both had feelings but were too worried about risking the friendship to ever say anything and then they eventually ended up with other people and heartbroken? What if the other person didn't return the feelings and agreed to try dating anyway and it didn't end up working and everything was weird after that? What if-

Well, life wasn't a romantic comedy and everything working out perfectly didn't sound very realistic. So obviously the only real-life friends-to-lovers relationships that worked were just the rare exceptions.

More examples popped up as her classmates started dating. Ivan and Mylène had known each other before Ivan asked out Mylène, of course, but they hadn't been close friends or anything. They were just...friendly acquaintances. Classmates.

And then Marinette fell for Adrien. And obviously the path to getting a good relationship was asking him out first, then getting to know each other as they dated and became friends. So she tried to ask him out, she really did. But her tongue just kept on tying itself in knots, and she kept on embarrassing herself in front of him.

In short, it was far from the relationship starts that Marinette had heard about all of her life. Her parents had talked about nerves, sure, but not overwhelming, tongue-tying, trip-and-fall-on-your-face nerves. More just small butterflies before dates.

Marinette's nerves weren't small butterflies. No, they were giant, screeching eagles.

The months crept by and then turned into a full year, and Marinette was no closer to asking Adrien out than she had at the start. She could talk to him when she didn't have dates on the brain, sure, but when she was trying to ask him out? Forget about it.

And that meant that something had to change.

"Okay, are we actually going to get anything done today, or are you two just going to flirt the entire time?"

Nino and Alya broke apart with identical sheepish grins as Adrien gave them an unimpressed look. From her side of the table, Marinette watched Adrien's exasperated grumbles with amusement, trying and failing to not blush when Adrien proclaimed her his favorite out of everyone else at the table, because she was actually working on their assignment.

Even after a year of being sort-of friends with him (and a year of failed attempts to ask Adrien out), Marinette couldn't help but get flustered whenever Adrien paid her special attention. Alya always squealed over it with her after the fact, which- well, that probably wasn't helping Marinette's case of permanent blush, but it was still fun to get excited about it.

Well. Sometimes. Other times, it was just anxiety-inducing stress.

"Okay, so what was our topic again?" Nino asked, settling back into his seat and picking up his pencil again. "Have we decided yet?"

"You would know that if you were actually paying attention," Adrien grumbled, crossing his arms and sitting back in his seat. "We were trying to pick a movie trope to do our report on, and we got about as far as having Marinette pull up a list of tropes to pick from before you two got distracted."

Nino laughed. "Do we even need a list? I already know what trope Adrien is going to vote for. He's a sucker for friends-to-lovers."

Adrien frowned at Nino, crossing his arms. "I am- I am not. I mean, I like it, yeah, but I'm not a sucker for-"

"He's pretending that I didn't see him browsing a Tumblr list of friends-to-lovers movies a week ago," Nino told the group. "And then checking out the summary for at least one of those movies."

Marinette blinked as she turned her attention back to Adrien. He liked friends-to-lovers? That was- well, she didn't think that it was realistic, but it was good to know that about Adrien. Maybe- maybe it would help. Somehow.

"I just think it's a good set-up for a healthy relationship," Adrien was saying when Marinette re-focused on what was going on around her. "I mean, they already know each other, and what the other person is like, and how to cheer the other person up when they're down, and their favorite kind of food, and their dreams, and-" He cut himself off mid-sentence, shrugging sheepishly. "They already know that they work together well. If you just jump into a relationship out of nowhere- I mean sure, it could work, but how likely is it? There's not that base already there. There has to be a much steeper learning curve, right?"

There was a pause.

"Okay, so one vote for friends to lovers trope from Adrien," Nino drawled, sitting back in his chair. "Uh, I don't really have any strong opinions about it, I guess. Alya?"

"I'm not anywhere near as passionate about any of those tropes as Adrien is, but you know me- anything with superheroes is great," Alya said with a grin, and Marinette jolted as she got kicked under the table. "But I think Marinette might be a little superhero-ed out after listening to me talk about the Ladyblog all of the time, so maybe we can listen to Adrien wax poetic about his favorite trope some more and just copy down what he says, write it up, and call it a day."

As Adrien started protesting the waxing poetic bit of Alya's statement, Marinette sat back in her seat. Adrien was clearly super-passionate about the friends-to-lovers thing and he listed off a lot of good points. It kind of sounded like he would want his own romantic relationships to develop out of a friendship, so he wouldn't be trying to- as he had put it- be trying to build a base together from scratch when starting a relationship. Given how reserved Adrien could be around people he didn't know, that- well, that kind of made sense.

Scratch that, it made a lot of sense.

Marinette leaned forward to watch Adrien banter with Nino, amusement glinting in his eyes and a grin pulling at the corners of his lips. His expression was warm and open and comfortable, a far cry from what he looked like whenever she made one of her confession attempts and ended up babbling nonsense instead.

She would have to change her approach, that much was clear. If Adrien wanted a friends-to-lovers relationship, well...

Then she would focus on being the best friend to Adrien that she could be and just hope against hope that eventually, he might return her feelings.

Adrien couldn't help but half-collapse against Marinette's side as he laughed, snickering more as she groaned at her accidental pun.

He wasn't sure what had changed exactly, but a few months ago Marinette had stopped sometimes getting awkward around him and her full teasing side came out around him. They had similar enough senses of humor that they got along like a house on fire, joking around and teasing each other all the time. Depending on the day, Marinette either punned just as much as he did or groaned at every increasingly bad pun that he threw her way.

It was fun.

It was actually really good timing, Adrien reflected as Marinette returned his lean. Nino and Alya had gotten increasingly more attached at the hip lately as they started getting more serious about their relationship, and Adrien missed the close friendship that he and Nino had had. He was sure that Nino didn't mean to ditch him- it didn't help that Alya was always rushing off to record for the Ladyblog or edit submitted videos or write up articles and organize superhero photos and Nino helped out a lot with that now, and Adrien couldn't come to all of the hangouts that he used to because his father had tightened the reins thanks to the increased fan attention after Adrien branched out from modeling- but it didn't change that Nino did run off with Alya more often than not.

But Marinette seemed less interested in the superheroes than her best friend did, so she wasn't dashing off all the time. It was natural for the two of them to gravitate towards each other.

"Always with the cat puns," Marinette complained, though Adrien couldn't help but notice the note of amusement in her voice. "Bread puns are a much higher art form."

"Meow-tch, Marinette, always so judging," Adrien teased, jostling her with his shoulder. "Though at yeast you can appreciate some puns."

Marinette laughed that time. "Some puns are bread-er than others. But purr-haps we should put aside the buns- er, puns- and actually get the homework done."

Adrien grinned. "That sounds like a good idea. I think our teachers have forgotten that they're all giving us homework, we're getting so much. There's not enough time in the day to get all of it and my activities done." He had finally had to ask Nathalie to start cutting back on obligations, starting with commercials and other extras on top of photoshoots. It had helped, but soon he was going to have to start looking at what else he could cut. If he didn't have being Chat Noir on the side he would be able to handle everything just fine, probably, but dropping that was definitely not an option, so his other activities were all up for potentially being sent to the chopping block instead. "I'm looking forward to the summer, though I wouldn't be surprised if Father hires a tutor again so that I can stay ahead of the curve."

Marinette made a face, then glanced over at him. "I would say that that stinks, but it makes classes during the school year easier, doesn't it?"

"It makes more of a difference in some classes than others, so maybe I'll be able to persuade Father to only have the tutor do those subjects. Math and science are good to had a head start in," Adrien clarified. "Literature, not so much. And with History... well, the curriculum varies so much, I could spend all summer working on memorizing dates and names, only to get to school and find out that we're focusing on something different."

"Ooh, that's gotta be frustrating."

Adrien shrugged. If it weren't for the fact that he had hoped that the head start would help him when it came to keeping up despite his superhero activities, he probably wouldn't have cared that much. His tutors for history had always been big on names and dates, whereas he saw the general events as more important. Either way, the memorization would have eventually become a waste of time.

The two of them fell into a companionable silence as they worked on their homework, only interrupted by the occasional question. They ended up working through a couple math problems together, puzzling through a strategy that they had apparently both missed hearing in class together. Marinette's brow furrowed and her tongue stuck out as she focused, and Adrien grinned at the image before returning his attention to his own paper.

Doing homework with other people hadn't been a perk that Adrien had thought of when he first started going to school, but he had to admit that it actually made homework somewhat enjoyable. Both he and Marinette were getting helped by it, and, well, Adrien had never liked doing homework alone in his large room.

He was so, so lucky to have Marinette as a friend, he really was.

"My father is going to kill me."

Nino winced as he looked in the tear in Adrien's jacket. The fabric had ripped when an overzealous fan had grabbed at Adrien's jacket when he was trying to head to class, and Adrien had reflexively jerked away. Chloe had chased the unfortunate girl off, but the damage was already done. "Can't your father just make another for you? Or buy another, I don't know how it works when he owns the company."

"I wish. But this is from a discontinued line." Adrien carefully pulled the jacket off, careful not to pull on the fabric further. "And he always wants me to treat my clothing carefully, anyway. It won't matter that a fan grabbed onto it."

"But it's not even your fault!" Nino exclaimed, clearly frustrated, and Adrien couldn't help but wince. He knew that, just as well as Nino did, but he knew what his father would tell him: even though the fan shouldn't have grabbed him, Adrien should have asked them politely to let go of his clothing before moving away. Jerking away not only endangered his clothes but also looked impolite. No matter how often Adrien tried to explain stuff like that to Nino, his friend seemed stuck on how unfair it was.

Adrien knew how unfair it was. He didn't need to be told. That was just how his life was, and he had to work with it.

"Yeah, but I could have avoided the tear still." Adrien looked at the jacket again, trying not to sigh. It was one of his very favorites, and now it was ruined. "What's worse is that it's a little chilly for just a t-shirt, but I can't be seen out and about with a torn jacket."

Nino made a face. "Yeah, that's tough."

As the two of them headed into the classroom, Adrien folded up his jacket, setting it down on the seat next to him. He would grab another one to wear for the afternoon when he went home for lunch, but he would just have to be a little chilly for the morning.

(His mom had loved the look of that jacket on him, saying that the collar was a good shape to compliment his face. He hadn't been looking forward to outgrowing it, but to have it ruined before that, even...)

"Morning, you two!" Alya greeted them cheerfully as she entered the classroom, Marinette not far behind her. Then she caught sight of Adrien's expression and frowned. "What's with the long face?"

"Some fangirl latched on to Adrien's jacket and tore it," Nino explained before Adrien could. "And he's worried about his father's reaction."

"What kind of tear?" Marinette asked at once, sliding into her seat and leaning forward over the desk. "Can I see? Maybe I can fix it."

Adrien lit up at once, picking up his jacket and shaking it open so that he could show Marinette. "Here, right along the buttons in front. It's in kind of a bad spot, though."

Marinette took it from him gently, eyes already inspecting the tear. "It isn't big, though, which is good. And your jacket is white, so I have thread in my bag that matches. Or at least I should." She set the jacket down and started digging in her bag, coming up with an aha and a sewing kit in her hand. "The fabric is a bit thin near the tear, though, so you might want to get it stabilized, too, so it doesn't tear in the future. I should have the materials for that at home, if you want me to do that after school."

Adrien slumped in relief. "Thank you so much. I didn't want to get rid of that jacket."

Marinette beamed at him as she pulled out a length of white thread and cut it. "It's no problem, really!"

Adrien watched as Marinette threaded her needle and then started inspecting the tear, pinning it in place so that she could start stitching. The bell rang before she could get in more than a stitch or two, though, forcing her to push it to the side for the time being.

Throughout the morning, Marinette worked on the jacket when she could, attaching the sides of the tear back together with tiny stitches. She had it back together by the time the bell rang to release them for lunch.

"Just be careful with that bit until we get it stabilized after school," Marinette warned him as she handed the jacket back. "That won't take long, it's just an iron-on piece to make up for the fact that that area is worn a bit thin."

Adrien nodded eagerly as he inspected the repair. The new seam was about as close to invisible as it could possibly be, which was a true testament to Marinette's skill. "Thank you so much, Mari. You're a lifesaver."

Marinette just ducked her head, suddenly shy. "It's really no problem. I'm glad to do it."

Later that day, once the thin spots had been expertly strengthened so that the jacket wasn't in any danger of ripping again and Marinette was blushing under his heaping praise, Adrien was glad that he had such a fantastic friend as Marinette.

"Wait, can you do that move again, but slower?"

Marinette laughed as she repeated the move, just as quickly as before. Onscreen, her bot smashed her opponent into the ground. "What, and give away my secrets? How am I supposed to win then?"

"We could team up and play partner mode," Adrien suggested as the computer screen flashed with Marinette's victory. "And how are you meant to get better if you keep all of your secret moves to yourself so that I can't win?"

Marinette just laughed, her nose scrunching up adorably as she did.

Adrien hung over her shoulder as she started up the next game. "You would leave your teammate in the dark and put yourself at a disadvantage by keeping moves to yourself?"

"You could always watch and learn," Marinette teased, only taking her eyes off of the screen for long enough to stick her tongue out at him. Adrien thought about catching her tongue with his fingers, just to tease her, but he thought better of it last minute. "That's how I started out."

"Okay, first of all, I'm hardly starting out, and second- have you ever watched your fingers? They're too fast to follow."

Marinette sniffed. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Are you sure? Would fluttering my eyelashes help?"

"That's not flattery, that's flirting," Marinette said with a laugh. "Not the same thing. And that won't get you far, either."

Adrien pumped one fist, undeterred. "Not far isn't the same as nowhere. It's progress!"

Marinette half-groaned, half-sighed. "You- you can't just flirt with people to get your way, Adrien."

"I wasn't going to go around flirting with everyone I meet, I was just going to flirt with you!" Adrien grinned over at her. "If I flutter my eyelashes enough, can I at least get a hint about the combo?"

Marinette's smile turned impish. "Sure. If you do enough fluttering, then you can get a hint."

Adrien didn't trust that smile, but he leaned over into Marinette's space and gave his eyelashes a good flutter, like he had seen Chloe do before. Marinette didn't look impressed, so he upped his game, fluttering his eyelashes until he could barely make out Marinette's face between the flutters. A snort of laughter told him that he had succeeded and Adrien sat back, triumphant.

"All right, one hint," Marinette announced, her voice quivering with barely-suppressed laughter. "And your hint..."

Adrien nodded eagerly.

"...is that making the combo requires hitting buttons on the controller."

"Marinette!" Adrien complained at once, lips falling into a pout. "I already knew that, that doesn't count!"

"If you want a proper hint, you'll have to up your flirting game to more than just eyelash fluttering," Marinette said primly. "That's beginner stuff. Everyone can do that."

Adrien smirked at her, crossing his arms. "Are you telling me to up my flirting game? 'Cause I can totally up my flirting game. You're playing with fire, Mari."

Marinette's scoff was enough to fire up Adrien's competitive streak. Pulling his feet up, he rolled over on the couch into his best flirty pose. Mentally thanking his exposure to modeling shoots- while he wasn't old enough yet to participate in the sexier shoots (a fact that he was endlessly thankful for), he had been in the area to get ready for his own shoots while the older models settled themselves into more alluring poses for more mature shots- Adrien lounged on the couch in his best seductive pose, finishing the pose with a quirked eyebrow at Marinette.

She did not look seduced. Instead, she burst into laughter.

"Oh come on," Adrien complained, lip sticking out in a pout. "That was flirty!"

"If you were wearing the right clothes, maybe," Marinette said with a laugh. "But Adrien, you're wearing a bread pun shirt and your hair is a mess. It's a funny contrast, that's all."

"Are you saying that a bread pun t-shirt can't be seductive?" Adrien demanded automatically before his brain caught up with his mouth. Once it did, he winced. "...uh, can you forget that I said that?"

The answer, he was guessing, was probably no. Marinette had fallen off of the couch laughing, her nose crinkled in clear delight. It was pretty adorable, actually, and Adrien couldn't even find it in himself to be embarrassed. Instead, he couldn't help but chuckle along as Marinette cackled on the floor.

"Oh my god, I can't believe I ever thought that you were cool," Marinette finally managed, flopped out bonelessly on the floor as giggles still occasionally shook her frame. "You're a dork. An adorable Grade- A dork."

"I can be cool," Adrien protested, but it felt more automatic than anything else. If Marinette thought that he was an adorable dork, then he was an adorable dork. "I can prove it!"

Marinette's giggles picked up again. "Is this gonna be like you 'proving' that you can flirt? Because I have some concerns."

Adrien could only smile at Marinette as she laughed, the beam on her face lighting up the room. She made everything she touched brighter, she really did.

He was so, so lucky to have her in his life.

Chat Noir hated romantic akumas. He hated them.

Part of it was that they had a tendency to have mind-control powers. That always stunk. He didn't mind getting knocked around- super-suits made getting thrown clear across Paris a minor inconvenience. But getting mind-controlled? Getting turned against his Lady? That stunk.

The other part of it was- well, he hated the reminder that Ladybug didn't see him in the same way that he saw her. And sometimes they had to act the part of a couple to fly under an akuma's notice, and that was always hard, too. He couldn't get distracted by cheek kisses or snuggles or- anything, really. Especially the way that Ladybug played an attentive girlfriend, acting as though she was in love with him.

Akuma battles were always at least a little physically exhausting, but those battles were pretty emotionally exhausting as well. And Chat Noir- well, he wished that it wasn't like that. He wished that it would just be like any other battle where he had to watch out for particularly destructive powers.

He had tried moving on from Ladybug before, when he had talked to Kagami and came away with the suggestion that he switch targets. But that was easier said than done, and that whole day ("date", technically) had just kind of been a mess. While Adrien liked Kagami well enough, his feelings for her were more friendship and admiration than love.

When Adrien had told Nino about it a while after the fact (in the vaguest of terms, because he didn't want his friend asking about who his mystery love was, because how was he supposed to explain that it was Ladybug? Nino would think that it was a celebrity crush, something simple and not deep at all), Nino had groaned, rolled his eyes, and told Adrien that of course Kagami had made that suggestion, because she had a crush on him and of course she wanted him to move on from the other person. It wasn't meant to be good advice, it was meant to get him to look her way.

It hadn't worked, at least not very well.

But Nino hadn't really given Adrien any other advice in place of Kagami's, but maybe that was because Nino didn't have any experience with moving on from a past crush. He had switched his attention from Marinette to Alya, sure, but that had happened pretty much instantaneously and had Adrien wondering how on earth that had happened and if Nino's crush had really been on Marinette at all.

(After all, Marinette was amazing. And Alya was pretty cool, too, but Adrien just couldn't understand how someone could fall out of love with Marinette, let alone that fast, and then fall for someone else entirely within the space of an hour or so. That was just- it was unthinkable, really.)

But that was all beside the point at the moment: once again, there was a romantic akuma, and once again, he and Ladybug had had to play the part of a romantic couple to defeat it, to avoid getting hit by its powers. Once again, he was more affected by it than he wanted to be, considering that Ladybug- well, Ladybug had made it pretty clear that she wasn't interested in him like that and he had to respect that and move on. Somehow.

So naturally, Adrien went to Marinette, telling her everything (well, aside from the whole "superhero" thing- that wouldn't be a good idea, even if she was probably one of the most trustworthy people in Paris. He just dubbed Ladybug as a colleague, which- well, he could do that. He had a job outside of superheroing, after all) and then finishing with Kagami and Nino's input.

"Okay, yeah, Nino was right about Kagami's advice," Marinette said with a wince. "That's- if you're in love with someone else, just jumping into another relationship is never going to go well, you're just going to be distracted. It's not going to magically get you to move on."

"Yeah, okay, it's good to hear that," Adrien said, his shoulders relaxing. "I was worried that I just didn't give it enough of a try. But I- I want to be able to move on. Not necessarily with Kagami, but I want to respect my colleague's feelings. She's already rejected me, and holding out hope- well, I realized that it was just resulting in me being pushy."

Marinette smiled at him. "That's good about you to recognize that! But, uh..." She worried her lips. "I don't know what to say. I mean, maybe just be open to moving on and developing feelings for other people? Like, be able to recognize those potential feelings instead of just shutting them down as not a possibility, which- I can't read minds, I don't know if that might have been something that you've been doing or not. Only you can do that."

Adrien thought about it. Plagg had teased him about having feelings for Kagami and- well, actually, Marinette as well. And Adrien had kind of shut down the idea. Whether it was because he didn't actually think of them like that or because of Ladybug...well, it could be either. It could be both.

Clearly he needed to do some self-reflection next time Plagg claimed that Adrien was crushing on his friends.

"And then I would just say to make sure that you can actually commit and aren't still hung up on this other girl," Marinette added. "No one likes playing second fiddle. If you aren't ready to fully move on, don't rush yourself." She grinned. "I know it can be hard, with so many of our classmates in relationships, but..."

"Solid advice," Adrien agreed. He had to admit that yeah, seeing more and more of his peers starting to date had made him long for the same sort of relationship and the same sort of closeness, but Marinette was right. If he started dating, he needed to actually be properly invested in the relationship, not just trying to use it to move on from Ladybug. He owed whoever his future girlfriend might be that much. "Thanks, Marinette."

She just beamed at him. "No problem."

Adrien smiled back, feeling better about the whole situation now. Marinette always knew what to say, it seemed. He would take her advice for sure, and Adrien was sure that it would serve him well.

Whoever ended up with such a fantastic girl in the future was a lucky, lucky person, and Adrien hoped that they would treat her right.

Stress hung over Marinette like a stormcloud. Adrien watched her with concern, his brow furrowing as he watched his friend start freaking out a bit, digging herself into a hole of anxiety as she tried to figure out how to tackle her pile of things to do.

Adrien couldn't let her do that to herself. Marinette helped out him- helped out all of her classmates- whenever she could. And now it was his turn to help her.

"Marinette, breathe," Adrien ordered, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Breathe. What are you panicking about?"

"I just- I have too much stuff to do!" Marinette exclaimed, hands knotting in her hair. "And then I get interrupted by other stuff, and I have less time, and exams are coming up, and- and-"

"Breathe," Adrien ordered, giving Marinette's shoulders another squeeze. "What all do you have to do?"

Marinette let out a huff. "Studying, of course. I told Alya that I would babysit for her tonight, before all this piled up- well, that was more of a regular thing, so it was assumed that I would do it this week, too, and I can't get anything done when I'm watching Ella and Etta, and then Jagged Stone wants me to design an outfit for him and I'm supposed to email him my concepts Saturday morning, and then I have some mending to do for Kitty Section's outfits, and then I'm supposed to be organizing something for this year's Heroes Day and I just- I don't know what I should be doing, if another picnic would work or if I should organize some volunteering thing, or- I don't know. If I do a volunteering thing, I have to get that figured out soon so that I can contact the appropriate people, and-"

"You're not breathing." Adrien's thumbs started to rub circles on Marinette's shoulders. "Slow down. We can work through this. First of all, drop the babysitting. Tell Alya that you can't do it this week. She's your best friend, she wouldn't want to be one of the reasons why you're stressed out." And if Alya had any problems with Marinette backing out, Adrien would have words with her. "Okay?"

Marinette's nod was jerky.

"I personally really love the volunteering idea for Heroes Day." Adrien glanced down at Marinette. She nodded, though there was a small bit of a wince there. "I know I've heard of organizations kind of taking advantage of the celebration to set up volunteering opportunities, so if we can find a collège-level one, it might just be a matter of clearing it with Ms. Bustier and signing the class up."

Marinette looked up at him. "W- we?"

"You didn't really think that I wouldn't offer to help out, did you? Not a single chance." Sure, maybe his schedule was pretty busy too, but Adrien could manage. Besides, he could probably do some research to find an opportunity when he was getting driven around to photoshoots and his assorted other activities.

The look of utter relief on Marinette's face- wow. She clearly had been stressed beyond belief.

"Kitty Section can make do without the repairs until you have time," Adrien continued after a second, remembering the pieces that Marinette was referring to. "And I don't think we have any performances for a while." He gave Marinette a fond look. "You were just trying to be ready for anything, weren't you?"

"Maybe just a little," Marinette admitted with a shaky giggle. "It's just one more pile in my room, always reminding me that I have to do it. And it wouldn't take long, necessarily- none of the repairs are that big- but I can't get other stuff done at the same time."

Adrien smiled, even as he pulled her into a hug. "That's very you. But just set them to the side and remember that they aren't a priority. It's not worth stressing yourself out over."


"And Jagged Stone is really understanding, you know he is," Adrien finished. "Email Penny and tell her that you've got a little too much going on at the moment to be inspired for something properly rock 'roll and you need a little more time. I'm sure he commissioned you with plenty of time in mind."

Marinette nodded into his shoulder.

"I can text Nathalie and ask permission to come study with you," Adrien added quietly, tucking Marinette deeper in his arms. "I know it can be easier to study together sometimes, so that you stay focused and we can quiz each other. If you want to study alone, just say the word, but if you want to..."

"I want to study together," Marinette said quietly, hugging him tighter. "I have some questions about our math unit, and I've really been struggling with studying for that test. And you seem to understand it."

"Of course." Adrien smiled into Marinette's head. "No problem." He paused. "D'you want to start studying right away, before class starts, or...?"

"Can we just stand here for a bit?" Marinette asked quietly. "I just need to breathe for a minute."

Adrien hugged her tighter, more than willing to prolong the hug. "Of course."

No matter what Marinette needed, Adrien would be there for her. She was amazing, but even the most amazing people needed support every now and then. They couldn't be expected to carry their load all on their own. They couldn't. They would eventually break under the pressure.

And Marinette was far too precious to let break.

Adrien had just realized that his heart had gotten tangled up. Again.

It hadn't- it hadn't exactly been a sudden realization, more just one that crept up on him over time. He hadn't realized it sooner, probably because with Ladybug, it had been immediate.

With Marinette, it had been gradual. They had gone from friends-of-friends to actual friends to best friends, pretty much, and now...

Yeah, he was in over his head, and he hadn't even realized it before.

Adrien smiled as he watched Marinette laughing with Rose. It was such a far cry from the strung-out anxious look that she had worn only weeks prior, and it was such a better look on her. She had passed her exams with flying colors, Alya had found a different babysitter to take over when she went out on dates with Nino (which was for the better, in Adrien's opinion; after all, Marinette wasn't getting paid for the extra work and she had a lot more than Alya did on her plate), their Heroes Day trash pick-up volunteering opportunity was lined up for right after school, Rose had helped finish up the mending, and Jagged Stone's outfit sketch had absolutely burst out of Marinette and onto paper as soon as all of her other worries had been sorted out, and the rock star had loved it. Marinette had started working on getting pattern pieces cut already, but Jagged Stone had assured her that really, there was no hurry, he just had wanted to get in line for a Marinette original before she hit it big and forgot about him.

Adrien's smile got bigger at that particular memory. Marinette had giggled at Jagged Stone's dramatic proclamation, turning pink. Her, getting so famous that she forgot about Jagged Stone? Unlikely. But he clearly had a lot of faith in her, and was more than willing to work with her schedule instead of her having to actually hit any deadline. And he was paying her well, too, which Adrien had (briefly) been concerned about.

He didn't want anyone taking advantage of Marinette's kindness and eagerness to help out, so he was glad that Jagged Stone at least understood the importance of actually compensating Marinette fairly for her time and talent.

Her extensive talent. Ever since they became close friends, Adrien had gotten to see more and more of Marinette's work and it was so creative and fun and bubbly and her. No matter what she decided to do in the future, be it being an independent designer or joining some lucky company, she would excel.

And Adrien wanted to be there to see it firsthand, from Marinette's side if possible.

Plagg sniggered from inside of Adrien's jacket, making Adrien startle and pull his gaze away from Marinette. He had been staring, and being far too obvious about it.

"Well, you've gotten your friends-to-lovers romance," Plagg sing-songed, smirk clear in his voice. "Like I've called all along."

"There's no to lovers yet," Adrien hissed back, trying not to move his lips. He was already weird because of the smell that came with Plagg's cheese obsession; he didn't need to be labeled as the boy who talked to himself, too. "I've fallen for her, sure, but there's no way to know if she feels the same way."

Which was the problem with the whole "friends to lovers" trope, he was now realizing. Sure, he fell for Marinette and absolutely everything about her, but what now? Did he flirt and see if she flirted back? Would that even mean anything if she did? They already had a pretty flirty dynamic, so how was he meant to up that without it going a little too far? He didn't want to make Marinette uncomfortable at all, and he didn't want to risk losing their close friendship.

Romantic comedies made it look so easy, transitioning from friends to something more. It was not easy.

"Yet," Plagg stressed. "You can't just sit back and magically be dating. You gotta ask her."

"That's the hard part!" Adrien complained. "I don't know if she feels the same!"

And there was no way to safely figure that out. If Adrien asked Alya she would probably know, but the likelihood that she would tell Marinette...no, he couldn't risk it. Alya might be too interested in the possibility of double dates to keep the secret. But Nino...

Well, Nino could maybe give him some advice. Nino was in a relationship, and he and Alya had kind of been friends before they started dating, though they hadn't been anywhere as close to each other then as Adrien and Marinette were now.

...and Nino had tried to confess to Marinette (Adrien was so, so glad now that that attempt had been thoroughly bungled), panicked and claimed that he was in love with Alya, who apparently had been close enough to overhear somehow (he had never quite understood that part of Nino's explanation), and then got locked in an empty panther cage for long enough for them to actually talk through the awkwardness and figure out that they might actually be interested in dating.

It was very possible that Nino was not a shining example of how to start a relationship. Still, there was a friends-to-lovers sort of dynamic there even if he and Alya pretty much powered accidentally into the awkward stage , and Nino knew Marinette and had Alya as a girlfriend, so maybe he would have some insights there.

Adrien dithered about it for several days, trying to decide if it was really a good idea. Best-case scenario, Nino didn't tell anyone and dished out some good advice. Worst-case scenario- well, worst-case scenario either had Nino telling Adrien that he knew that Marinette wasn't interested, or had Nino telling Alya and Alya telling Marinette and everything going completely weird. But he didn't- he couldn't sit in limbo for forever. It just wasn't in his nature.

So Adrien told Nino.

"-and normally I would just flirt and test the waters that way but we flirt for fun anyway, we have for ages, so I can't do that. And I've watched a bunch of my favorite movies to try to get ideas, but romantic comedies made the whole confession thing look so easy but what if I confess and she doesn't feel that way? What if I make things weird? Nino, help," Adrien all but begged, eyes widening hopefully at his friend.

His friend, who was laughing at him.

"The two of you are ridiculous, you really are," Nino said with another chuckle. "Especially you, watching movies to get ideas. Obviously they aren't going to be particularly realistic, they're fantasies."

"I was desperate!"

"Yeah, I can tell," Nino muttered. Then he sighed. "Hopeless."

"Do you have any suggestions, though?" Adrien asked, feeling a little less hopeful now. "I just don't want to ask and make things weird if she's not interested in me like that, so I need to figure it out on my own first, and-" He groaned, running his hands through his hair. "I just don't know how to do that. And if I misread her and ask her out when she's not interested...I just don't see how that wouldn't mess stuff up between us."

Nino ran his own hand through his hair with a mutter and a groan, then dropped his hands back down with a sigh. He fixed Adrien with a look. "Okay, I'm not supposed to say anything under threat of disembowelment, but trust me- you will not be disappointed if you ask. Seriously."

Adrien stared at Nino. "Have- have you heard something? How do you know that?"

"I've got my connections, all right? That's all I can say." Nino glanced over his shoulder towards where Adrien and Marinette were talking across the courtyard. "Trust me, and ask her out. Just make sure that you don't overschedule yourself and end up with a photoshoot or something when you promised to take Marinette out on a date, okay?"

With that, Nino nodded to Adrien and headed towards Alya, a spring in his step. Adrien watched him go, stuck between elation and worry.

He trusted Nino. If Nino promised that Marinette liked Adrien like that, then Adrien wouldn't question him. But Nino had brought up another concern- Adrien had to cancel things all the time thanks to 'last-minute photoshoots' or 'extra piano lessons' or- he couldn't remember all of his excuses, even. They were pretty much all actually akuma attacks that he had to go deal with, but it wasn't like he could actually say that. And Nino was right- it wasn't as though Adrien could just go around canceling dates all the time without it having some impact on his relationship with Marinette.

If they started dating and he was canceling all the time, they would probably end up breaking up, and that would be even worse for their relationship. No, he couldn't do that. He would have to wait until Hawkmoth was defeated- but he didn't know how long that would take. Marinette might move on to someone else in the meantime, thinking that he wasn't interested, and Adrien would find himself with a one-sided crush again.

But at least he would still be friends with Marinette then.

"Kid, I know what you're thinking, and it's not going to work like that," Plagg told him, popping out of Adrien's jacket. "You're forgetting that Nino knows that you're interested in Marinette now, and he's probably going to tell Alya pretty much right away. They're both going to be waiting for you to ask Marinette out."

Adrien groaned. He had pretty much backed himself into a corner now, hadn't he? That was frustrating. He just- he didn't want to ruin things. "Plagg, I need your ancient wisdom. I'll get you a round of really fancy cheese if you help."

Plagg snorted. "I'll help just to get you to stop moping around, but the cheese is a nice touch." He shifted, settling down more comfortably in Adrien's pocket. "I'd say be honest with Marinette. Like, she knows that you have to dash off sometimes. You've been friends long enough for her to know that. She might be able to come up with a solution to work around your need to run off. That, or at least acknowledge that she's willing to go into a relationship with the understanding that you might have to cancel and reschedule stuff."

...okay, Plagg could give out good advice when he wanted to. Adrien let out a breath, considering Plagg's words. He made a good point; Marinette knew him already, and put up with him dashing off for akuma attacks (or 'last-minute photoshoots') without complaint. Communication was important, Adrien had heard Mr. Dupain and Mrs. Cheng say that before. Even though it was intimidating, Adrien needed to include Marinette in the conversation. He couldn't take her decision away from her.

If she wanted to try dating with the understanding that he might have to cancel last-minute, then they would. If she wanted to wait until his schedule settled down, then they could do that and Adrien would seriously step up his game as Chat Noir and try to brainstorm ideas (potentially with Ladybug's assistance; after all, she was the creative powerhouse of their team) to track down and defeat Hawkmoth for once and for all.

It took a couple days for Adrien to build up the courage to bring up the topic with Marinette. He was worried about how to approach the whole thing- he didn't want to get her hopes up about potentially dating him, only to be let down when he made it clear that last-minute cancellations would be unavoidable. Adrien had decided that if she gave him a chance, he would do his best to let Marinette know before transforming and heading into battle, instead of ghosting and then letting her know later.

Despite having practiced (and refined, and practiced and refined some more) what he was going to say, Adrien muddled his entire prepared speech in front of Marinette, words and points out of order to the point where he wondered if anything was comprehensible. Marinette sat patiently, listening until Adrien's words until they tumbled to an uncoordinated stop. Adrien had turned steadily redder as he talked, and now his cheeks were flaming.

He was sure that the Dupain-Chengs were right and communication was important, but right now, communication was feeling a lot like spilling his guts on the ground in an ungainly heap and then cringing in mortification.

Thankfully, Marinette was ever-understanding and fantastic. She took a minute to parse through all of Adrien's words, then nodded and sat back, her own cheeks pink.

"Okay, if I'm understanding correctly- you're interested in dating me, but you're worried about having to miss dates because of things scheduled for you last-minute," Marinette started, watching Adrien's expression. "And you don't want us to start dating and then break up because of that."

Adrien nodded, swallowing. "Right."

"And Nino gave away that I would be interested."

Adrien gulped. He hadn't realized that he had given that away in the rush of word vomit. "Uh."

"If you hadn't told him that you were interested first, he would be dead," Marinette muttered, then she smiled and scooted closer to Adrien. "I understand that you have a lot more stuff going on in your life than a lot of other kids our age, Adrien. And I know that you sometimes get called away for stuff unexpectedly. I do too, sometimes." She reached out, squeezing his hand. "We can work around that."

Adrien looked into Marinette's eyes, swallowing hard as he searched for any hesitation. There wasn't any, just her normal lovely determination. "It might get frustrating after a while. I know Nino didn't mind at first, but it got really old, really fast. And that was just with, like, study sessions. Not dates."

"We can make it work." Marinette's smile was small, but determined. "We can be flexible with our planning. Maybe we can set stuff up last-minute, once we know that you don't have an activity shoehorned in. And we can keep our dating pretty laid-back, too. Like, one date per week instead of two or more like Nino and Alya are doing. And we don't have to if we're really busy. Like, dating isn't just about going out."

"We can keep doing our study sessions, like normal," Adrien chimed in, picking up where Marinette was going. The knots in his stomach were slowly unraveling. The way that Marinette was describing their potential relationship was a lot less intimidating than what Nino always talked about, with multiple dates per week and dinners with the parents and literally always cuddling and being together. What Marinette was talking about was them, just with some relationship stuff mixed in.

Marinette giggled. "Though we could start throwing in kisses as celebration for finishing a section."

Adrien officially approved.

"There's no one-size-fits-all relationship, my parents have told me," Marinette finished once the two of them were done nervously giggling at the concept of kisses. "And no single right way to do a relationship. We just have to find what works for us and not be concerned about other people's expectations for us."

"You are officially too smart for me," Adrien said with a laugh, but he scooted closer anyway, gaze dropping to Marinette's lips. "Too much wisdom."

Marinette giggled, and he didn't miss the way that she shifted closer to him, too. "It all comes from my parents, honestly. If you hang around them enough, it wears off on you."

"Well, I think they're usually working when I can come over, but maybe if I spend enough time with you, I'll learn their wisdom by proximity," Adrien suggested, leaning closer. Their noses were practically brushing now. "What do you think?"

"I think that you should stop teasing and kiss me," Marinette breathed, tipping her chin up. "It would be nicer- mmm."

Adrien smiled into the kiss, pulling Marinette closer as they pressed their lips together. His heart was racing, but kissing Marinette just felt right. It felt perfect, and it just got better as Marinette let out a content little sigh and shifted to a better angle.

She was right again, of course. Kissing was much better than teasing.

a/n: I might have gotten a little stuck on the snapshots to a relationship stories with first Under the Umbrella and now this, but honestly, is anyone going to complain? :D

As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, reviews make my day! :)