a/n: So this is a sibling story of sorts to Superhero Lessons, where Master Fu (gently and somewhat indirectly) corrected Adrien on some of his less-desirable behavior. I dropped a couple lines about Plagg thinking about Marinette needing lessons about not blaming herself for everything at the end of that story, and people seemed to like that idea a lot. So thus this story happened.
For those unfamiliar with Superhero Lessons/haven't read it recently: Adrien has basically done the same thing as he did in Despair Bear with telling Chloe he won't be friends with her if she's being awful, only this time he's followed through, and he teamed up with Marinette to quietly point out holes in Lila's stories to people one-on-one, so they've both basically become a non-issue.
As this is a continuation of sorts of the previous piece, I did not take Reflectdoll/most of S3 into account while writing this.
Plagg hadn't thought that this would be so hard.
When Tikki and Master Fu had decided to have Marinette and Adrien switch Miraculous temporarily (thanks to a subtle suggestion from Plagg, but framed so that they thought that he was kidding), Plagg had thought that all it would take to knock her out of her mindset of having to feel responsible for everyone else's actions and reactions all the time would be to just make some snide comments when he saw adults behaving badly. Marinette- Ladybug- was smart, surely she would pick up on the clues fast enough and then Plagg could sit back for the rest of the week, relax, and enjoy the plethora of cheese bread that came along with living in a bakery.
He was wrong.
Sure, there had been plenty of opportunities for side-eying and "offhand" comments, and Plagg had taken pretty much every single one. But Marinette had brushed the comments off or repeated the party line of "I have to be the bigger person" every. single. time. It was enough to make Plagg want to scream.
Not that it was a bad thing for a Ladybug to be kind and caring and self-aware, of course! Those were very good things. And yet. And yet.
Marinette's parents were caring and loving, sure, but they seemed to have higher expectations for Marinette than they did for actual adults sometimes. They- and Tikki, and probably the teachers in Marinette's life, too- had drilled in the lesson that Marinette had to be kind, had to be understanding, had to be accommodating and giving and accepting and not hurt people's feelings and always apologize when she did something wrong and-
Ugh. There was such thing as too much. Teenagers would make mistakes and have honest reactions sometimes, and it was supposed to be up to the actual, literal adults to understand that and not get disproportionately upset about it. Maybe an apology would make sense some of the time, but when Marinette was the only one apologizing for an honest misunderstanding?
It was just one more thing on the pile of stuff to stress about, one more subtle push towards you have to be perfect, you can't ever make anyone upset ever, everyone else's feelings and reactions are your fault.
Plagg had had kittens who were sensitive and anxious before. He knew how they thought. There most definitely was such thing as taking on too much of the blame and too much responsibility.
If a grown-ass adult got akumatized because of something a frustrated teenager said... yeah, that was definitely on the adult.
So that was annoying, and Marinette seemed to be slipping further and further down the path of fully believing what she had been told, always careful to try to keep her own emotions under control but taking what seemed to be full responsibility for when other people couldn't manage to do the same.
And then there was the whole overworking thing.
Plagg had thought that Adrien was busy for his age, with all of his activities- the fencing, the basketball, the Mandarin and piano and modeling and commercials. But Adrien at least had plenty of time set aside in his schedule for homework and studying and projects. If he was scrambling to get stuff done, it was usually because the akuma attacks at that time had been longer than usual (or more numerous than usual) or because Adrien had spent too much time on the Ladyblog. If Adrien mentioned that he didn't have enough time to study or do a quality job on his homework, Nathalie would rearrange his schedule at once to give him more time, canceling extra lessons for a week or two while Adrien got himself caught up.
Marinette's activities could largely be framed as self-imposed, but there were so many of them that it was honestly a miracle that she could balance everything.
Or...maybe less a miracle and more a necessity, because she just couldn't say no and people took advantage of that. Like, a lot.
"It's not that bad this week!" Marinette told Plagg on their third evening together as she finished hand-sewing a seam on a doll that someone- Plagg had neither caught the name nor cared- had commissioned from her so that they would be done and put away before Alya and Nino brought their siblings over for Marinette to babysit so that the two of them could run off and suck face together instead of being responsible older siblings. "Sometimes I have commissions and tests and other stuff all in one week. Tikki helps me study, sometimes. And then other weeks, I have almost nothing and I can catch up."
...seriously, how was she living like this?
"I didn't hear them asking you to babysit," Plagg said instead of vocalizing any of his concerns, because he couldn't give away his lazy cat reputation right away. "What, did I sleep through that or something?"
"No, it's... it's kind of an ongoing thing, I guess." Marinette didn't look at all enthused about that. "They asked once, a few months ago, and I said yes then because they sounded so excited about this movie that was running and they wouldn't be able to catch it during their normal date time on the weekend, and they, uh..."
"Took that as a standing invitation to keep doing it," Plagg filled in, entirely unimpressed. "Wow. Great friends you have there. What if there's an akuma attack while you're babysitting? What if you have stuff to do? Don't you have a test to study for on Friday?"
Marinette's shoulders hitched up, just a little. "I just- I'll study tomorrow, over lunch. Then I can catch up. And I'll tell my parents that I can't play video games with them until Friday evening at the earliest."
"So let me get this straight- you don't get any free time so that your friends can have more free time to go groom each other's faces?" Plagg demanded. "Fun trade-off you have going on there. Also, I didn't hear an answer about the akuma thing."
"I just like helping!" Marinette protested. "That's- that's all, really. I can handle it."
And that was the end of that conversation. Even with Plagg's increasingly heavy-handed comments, Marinette seemed determined to ignore the issue and assure him that she could handle it. Even when Twin No. 2 pulled the pinned pieces of fabric off of Marinette's mannequin and spilled a box of sewing machine threads, taking away an hour of Marinette's sleep as she tried to put everything back together. Even when one of her classmates asked Marinette to fix a torn shirt right away, eating up half an hour of her study time. Even when Manon got dumped on Marinette for a bit of emergency last-minute babysitting with absolutely no warning and without really asking her if it was okay.
Seriously, did no one else notice how much work they were dumping on her? Even without taking her superhero activities into account, it was a lot. With the superhero activities, it was crossing the border into too-muchland. And if Marinette wanted to do anything fun? Anything for her?
There just wasn't any time.
Had Tikki said nothing? Plagg knew that she was all about being productive and staying busy and making the most of opportunities and potential and helping people, but not to the point of running her Chosen into the ground!
Thankfully, Plagg was going to get another week with Marinette. Tikki had requested an extension under the guise of Adrien needing more time to actually figure out how to use Ladybug's powers, since during their one swapped-Miraculous battle so far, Lady Noire had told Mister Bug how to use the Lucky Charm that he had gotten. To Plagg, she had said something about teaching Adrien to enforce his boundaries.
Well, okay, maybe she had been a little more specific than that, but Plagg had gotten distracted by the news and had been trying to think of how he could knock Marinette out of the frankly toxic mindset that she had been pushed into when Tikki was talking and so he hadn't quite caught all of the details. But the gist of it was that Adrien didn't push back enough when people made him uncomfortable and Tikki was working on changing that somehow.
Plagg wished her luck. His advice whenever Adrien had commented on people clinging to him had been to bite them. Or, alternatively, shove them off. Adrien had been horrified by both suggestions, and that whole thing had gone nowhere.
Nowhere, like how things with Marinette seemed to be going. But it was the weekend now, and so Plagg had time to absolutely drive Marinette up the wall until she cracked enough for him to drag her frustrations out and actually push her towards doing something about them besides just "work harder".
It would be more effort than he normally put in, but Paris needed Ladybug to be rested and focused and not overwhelmed with responsibilities. If she fell and Adrien was left to fight on his own...
Plagg wanted to believe in his kid, he really did, but Adrien had a habit of relying largely on Ladybug to lead the battles and decide a course of action. If Ladybug fell in battle, or if she ended up akumatized because of all of the pressure that was being put on her...
Well, it wouldn't be pretty.
So naturally, Plagg decided to antagonize Marinette. And by that, he meant that he presented her with a list of completely unreasonable demands for her to fulfill since they were going to be spending a second week together, and he kept ramping it up until she had gone from being mildly irritated to gritting her teeth to being so frustrated that she was on the brink of screaming at him.
And then, very deliberately, he pushed her that little bit more.
"I can't!" Marinette finally snapped at him, glaring at Plagg with a poisonous expression. "I just can't! You're asking too much- I'm busy, and you know that! I need time to sleep and study and get caught up on my school projects and work on that draft of Clara's dress and do my class rep duties and I just told you that I have to remake Ivan's Kitty Section mask because it fell in the river and I don't! Have! Time! To do a special run to the cheese market all the way across the city to find some really rare cheese that might not even be in stock this week, and I don't have time to make you a special embroidered bed with thirty-three pillows or a monogrammed bathrobe, and I don't have time to do anything on your list, really! I already don't have any time to myself, and you're not! Helping!"
"But I require it," Plagg said haughtily, though he was keeping a careful eye on the window. If he was going to wind Ladybug up, he had to make sure that he could pull the plug if needed. "You make everything else work, don't you?"
"Barely!" Marinette was barely holding it together, he could tell. There were frustrated tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. "I'm so busy this weekend, and I have more tests this week and I'm already so worried that I'm going to fail because I don't have time to study, and if there are any akuma attacks this week then I'm absolutely screwed, because I'll fall behind again and won't have time to catch up!"
Very deliberately, Plagg yawned as wide as possible and then made a show of inspecting his (nonexistent) claws. "Mm-hmm. So...about the cheese-"
"NO!" Marinette half-shrieked. "No, no, no, I refuse. I can't, I literally can't, so no, I am not eating up even more of my sleeping time just so that I can go across the town and comb through some out-of-the-way cheese shop to find some cheese that they might have. I cannot. I'm tired of giving up all of my free time to bend over backwards and meet everyone's expectation, okay? Enough!"
There was a pause, and then Plagg smirked.
"So you can say no. I was starting to wonder."
Marinette's eyes snapped to him, still glimmering with frustrated, stressed tears. The first one finally broke free and started to make its way down her cheek. "Huh?"
"You say yes to everything that people ask of you, no matter how much it inconveniences you. No matter how busy you already are. Even if you want to do your own things, and other people are being selfish in their requests on your time." Plagg zipped around Marinette's head, forcing her to spin around to follow his progress. "How many of the things that you have coming up this week aren't necessary? How many are other people's responsibilities that they're shoved onto you? Aren't you supposed to have a vice president to help you with your class representative duties? Why is other people's free time more important than yours? Why are other people setting deadlines for you when you're the one who has to work under them and you'd prefer a deadline later on, so that it doesn't coincide with tests and result in you pushing yourself so hard?"
Marinette swallowed hard, not saying anything as she stared at him. She was still shaking, and even if Plagg wasn't nearly as attuned to emotions as Nooroo, he could still tell that she was brimming with frustrations, all ready to come out.
So, if Marinette was actually being truthful with him and with herself, he might as well get it all out.
"So if we're being honest, how do you feel about the babysitting?" Plagg prompted, zipping closer. "About giving up your free time so that your friends can run off and suck face more? About having three rambunctious kids running around your room for hours and tearing everything up? Do you like that?"
Marinette wavered for a moment, but clearly he had done a good job with pushing her frustrations to the top. "I hate it! It's fine some weeks, but most weeks I don't have time to deal with getting distracted for three hours and then having at least an hour of clean-up afterwards! I have homework and commissions and superheroing and- and everything to do! And Alya has the Ladyblog, but clearly she's not lacking for time to work on it considering some of the highlight videos that she's put up recently. And there are weeks where they ask me to babysit more than once, even though I don't have time for it, and- actually, it's not so much asking so much as telling me that they'll need me to babysit, because they just assume that I'll be able to do it!" Another frustrated tear slid down her face. "And then they have more free time and I have less, and I'm already starting with less free time than they have, and they- they know that!"
Plagg hovered and waited for her to get it all out.
"I thought that the babysitting would be a one-time thing, that's why I agreed- well, that and the fact that I just can't- can't say no," Marinette said, finally starting to sound actually angry. "And they know that, and it just feels like they're taking advantage of that because they want more than one date per week- and it's more than two, too, if you count the times when they eat lunch together at the park or outside of school! And they always talk about what a fun time they had, and how nice it was to be able to spend some time together and relax, and then here I am, not having fun or relaxing at all!"
...okay, so there was maybe more frustration there than Plagg had been expecting.
"I'd be much happier if I didn't have to babysit anyone besides Manon, and only Manon if I get some warning and actually get asked," Marinette continued, fiercely wiping away yet another tear before it could get too far. "I'd get some time back to myself. It wouldn't make everything better, but it would take off a lot of stress- but they don't see that! They're apparently blind to everything except for their dates! Never mind that Marinette is falling asleep in class or that she's working on homework literally whenever she can fit it in, let's add some more stuff to her plate!"
If Marinette got akumatized while Plagg was with her, Tikki would actually kill him. So maybe it was time for Plagg to step in.
"So say no," Plagg cut across before any purple butterflies showed up. "You can, I know you can. Set boundaries. I've seen you stand up to people before. What's different this time?"
Marinette glanced at the floor, worrying her lip. After a moment, she sighed and looked up. "Because they're my friends. And when Madam Chamack shows up with Manon, she's a family friend and an adult. And I don't want to let them down."
"Yay! Honesty! Almost as good as cheese." Plagg smirked at her eye-roll. She was still a little wobbly-looking, but a small distraction was good. "If they're taking advantage of you to the point where you're stressed and strung out and they still don't back off, then is letting them down a little really the bigger evil?"
There was a pause, and then Marinette shook her head.
"Are you the only babysitter in Paris?"
That got a laugh out of Marinette. "Not even close."
"Is there some law that says that they can only ask you to babysit?"
"Do they need to respect your needs and boundaries if they're your friends?"
Finally, Marinette smiled. "Yeah. I- I'll tell Alya next time I see her that if they want to go on a date when they're supposed to be babysitting, they need to find someone else. I can't do it anymore. Even on my slower weeks, I just- I need a break from their siblings." Then she paused, suddenly unsure. "Is- is that selfish? To not help out on weeks when I can spare the time?"
Plagg paused for a moment, still stuck on that when they're supposed to be babysitting. That sounded a whole lot like Alya and Nino were shirking their responsibilities without their parents knowing, which made the whole situation even worse, but that- that was beside the point right now. He could pick at that little tidbit later. Instead, he yawned, flopping down on the desk. Now that Marinette's emotions had stabilized again, he could get back to his normal careless persona. "Who cares? If you get a slow week, in my eyes, you earned it and get to enjoy it. Sit back, sleep in some sunbeams, eat some cheese..."
Marinette laughed at that, her shoulders relaxing just that little last bit. "Thanks, Plagg." Then she paused, glancing over at him. "I'm still not getting you your crazy fancy cheese, though. Or any of that other ridiculous stuff."
Plagg did his best to hide his grin. "Ah, well. It was worth a try."
By the time Monday rolled around, Marinette had gotten all of her pent-up and packed-away emotions worked out and had started an action plan list on how to become less stressed. The name had made Plagg gag- action plan? That sounded like a lot of work!- but after seeing the list, Plagg had to admit that it wasn't nearly as bad as it sounded.
First of all, there was the end of all babysitting for her friends for her foreseeable future and Marinette had told her parents that she would only babysit Manon when it was an emergency, and she reserved the right to say no without being questioned as to why she couldn't do it.
That was important for her to say up front so the adults wouldn't try to make her feel guilty by questioning why she wanted her free time for herself, and Plagg was proud of her for doing it- not, of course, that he was going to let that on too much. She would think that he was getting soft on her.
The second part of her plan was entirely Marinette's idea, though she was giving Plagg the credit. No longer was she going to let other people set inconvenient commission deadlines for her when they could easily wait a week for their pieces and put not even a quarter of the amount of stress on Marinette. And while she was more than willing to help people with their problems, she wasn't going to take over their responsibilities for them, and if they had something that, say, needed mending but wasn't needed right away, it might have to sometimes wait a day or two until Marinette could actually spare the time. She would actually use her calendar for keeping track of her own deadlines out a ways, and then all of her activities and responsibilities would be spread out and more manageable instead of hitting her with all the grace of a brick wall.
All of this, of course, was easier said than done. People had gotten used to Marinette shoving aside absolutely everything that she was doing to help them that second, and no doubt some people might question the change and that might be hard to stand up to- especially if Tikki was in Marinette's ear and trying to convince her that she could manage just one more thing. But Marinette seemed determined to stick to her plan.
Which was great! Now Plagg could just sit back, relax, and enjoy the cheese bread that he was getting in place of his Camembert (he would have asked for a baked Camembert bread bowl, but, well, Marinette did have exams coming up and even without the babysitting and with the deadlines for her other, non-school stuff pushed back, she was a bit busy). Marinette seemed to have a handle on how to most effectively use his powers, which wasn't surprising. Back when she and Adrien were starting out, she had given him directions on what he should be using his Cataclysm on more often than not. Learning how to use the staff to helicopter herself around had taken a little practice and it was obvious that she didn't have the fencing background that Adrien did, but she could batter stuff into submission just fine.
In fact, just fine was maybe a little bit of an understatement. Her battering was actually kind of terrifying. Not that Plagg was worried about his own life, of course- the ability to phase through things came in handy at times- but, well...
Adrien had made a mistake. Or perhaps Plagg should say Mister Bug had made a mistake.
During the previous akuma battle, Lady Noire had apparently made some comment about how Mister Bug's outfit was more interesting than her usual one, just as a little side comment. Plagg was willing to bet that she had been glancing at Mister Bug's outfit to try to get ideas to change her own usual suit, but that was neither here nor there. Instead of simply accepting the comment and moving on, Mister Bug had said that he was close to the fashion industry, so of course he had creative design ideas and did she maybe want him to help her come up with a new design for her Ladybug suit?
Plagg had winced at both that and the dog-whistle pitch that Marinette had reached while relaying that particular comment. Mister Bug was really, really lucky that the akuma had made a reappearance right then so that Lady Noire hadn't had time to respond.
"Okay, so I gotta have a talk with my kid and tell him to shut his big fat mouth, got it!" Plagg said loudly before Marinette could descend any further into displeased mutters. He had frankly been incredibly surprised to find out that Ladybug's civilian self was so interested- and so successful- at design and fashion when he first learned her identity, but after talking with Tikki and finding out how unsure Marinette had been when she first transformed...yeah, okay, he could understand the footie pajamas look. It probably had just become too engrained for her to consider changing it before. "Though I wouldn't be surprised if Tikki has already told him the same thing."
Marinette finally giggled, some of her murder look finally slipping off of her face. "I can't see Tikki ever telling anyone to shut their 'big fat mouth'."
"She might word it a bit differently, whatever." Plagg landed on Marinette's desk, confident (at least for the time being) that she wasn't going to go berserker on him. "So, redesigning the Ladybug suit?"
"I didn't realize that I could, before." Marinette tapped her fingers against her desk before reaching for her notebook and a pencil. "I just- I'm used to what I have now. And I know that I shouldn't design anything that could snag, or get in my way, or- I don't know." She frowned. "That leaves me with- what? Black paneling and trim?"
"And armor and padding," Plagg added helpfully. He paused, then lowered his voice conspiringly. "My kid doesn't actually have a six-pack or ripped arms. The suit just makes it look that way, because that's what he wants."
Marinette giggled some more.
"And the way his costume looks has less to do with design and more to do with his obsession with all things anime," Plagg continued loftily, yawning widely. "And comics and magical girl cartoons. I just put his wishes together in a tasteful manner."
"I like this whole exchange kwamis thing. I'm learning quite a bit." Marinette tapped her pencil against her lips, then started sketching. "I want to be careful about where I put any armor, I think. I need to stay flexible and not have excess resistance when I'm dodging. But maybe some protection on my arms and legs would be good, and if I put some black here..."
Plagg let out a relieved breath as Marinette threw herself into her sketches, Mister Bug's comment apparently forgotten in favor of designing, and tried not to think of how close Adrien had come to getting gutted for implying that he was better at design than a contest-winning aspiring fashion designer.
Hopefully that was all the drama there would be for this week, because Plagg wasn't sure how much more he could take.
Plagg clearly needed to stop thinking that his job was done. Every time he did- every time that he thought that maybe now he could nap the day away instead of sitting alert and making sure that Marinette wasn't crashing and burning with her resolution to not get herself crazy overworked- something came up.
Thankfully, it wasn't the reporter girl trying to get Marinette to change her mind about babysitting again after having taken the day before off. No, she seemed to have accepted Marinette's decision well enough. But it did have something to do with the reporter girl. The reporter girl, and his regular Chosen.
So naturally, Plagg had to get involved.
If someone had asked Plagg before to describe Marinette, he would have said that she was confident, yet sometimes randomly turned into a tongue-tied mess around Adrien.
...there may have been some misconceptions there.
He was partially right, of course. It would have been hard to be completely off, considering how much time his Chosen spent talking about his friends. But the panicking...
Yeah, not random. Not random at all.
Plagg watched with no small amount of bemusement as Marinette got pretty much railroaded into coming along on an outing with her friends where the goal was clearly to shove Adrien and Marinette together so that Marinette would have some space to ask Adrien out. Marinette clearly wasn't comfortable with the idea (and Plagg didn't blame her- he had, unfortunately, seen the results of what he could only assume were similar set-ups), but Alya clearly wasn't taking no for an answer.
...seriously, was this the girl who had pretty much branded herself Best Friend of the Year? Couldn't she see how panicky Marinette was getting?
Plagg sank back into the bag, frowning at the air. Okay, so he couldn't be his usual brush-off self here, that much was obvious. That was not what Marinette needed. Her emotions were already high enough, and that was dangerous.
What was Tikki doing in these situations? Was she just encouraging Marinette along? That seemed likely, but couldn't she tell when endless encouragement just wasn't helping? It seemed like Alya shoving Marinette into situations she wasn't ready for could easily turn into prime akumatization territory, considering how often it seemed to end in anything ranging from embarrassment to full-on humiliation. Add in the fact that both of them knew that Adrien was pretty much entirely hung up on his superhero partner (and had been minorly distracted by Fencer Girl, but that- Plagg knew that that wasn't serious at all), and trying to get Marinette to confess just didn't seem like a good idea at all.
Seriously, when had he turned into the kwami who did all of the advice stuff? It was weird and he didn't like it.
"How often does that happen?" Plagg asked as Marinette dropped her phone back onto the desk with a groan. "When she tries to set you up when you don't want to, I mean?"
Marinette had to think about it. "Bigger set-ups like this? Every other week, maybe? Smaller things at school...whenever she can manage it, really. And since she's dating Adrien's best friend..."
Plagg could fill in the blanks there. It was happening really, really frequently.
"Doesn't seem like she's being that great of a friend if she's not listening to you when you say no," Plagg said, making sure to adopt his laziest voice. He threw in a toothy yawn for good measure as he rolled into a ray of sunlight. "Especially when you're practically melting down over the idea."
"I just- I just need a push or I'll never do it, that's all!" Marinette defended at once. Plagg suspected that that was what she had had Alya tell her over and over before, and ugh, how had Ladybug ended up with so many bad lessons drummed into her head? "I mean, maybe I'll be uncomfortable when I confess, but if I actually manage it- and if things go well, I guess..."
By the way she trailed off, Plagg deduced that she was trying to convince herself, too.
"Do I gotta make you cry again so that you'll be honest with yourself and with me, or can we skip the excuses this time?" Plagg asked bluntly, and was faintly amused to see the startled way that Marinette blinked at him. "How do you feel about the whole situation?"
There was a pause. Plagg waited. Then...
"I don't like it."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Sorry, I didn't hear that. Repeat louder, please?"
"Ugh, you're so annoying!" Marinette scowled at him, but that didn't last long. "Fine, I don't like it! I always feel so uncomfortable and make a fool of myself and maybe Alya finds that amusing, but I don't! Adrien is going to think that I'm a complete nutcase and then even if I ever do manage a confession without immediately walking it back again, he's not going to be interested! Not that he's interested now- I know he likes someone else, but Alya always insists that maybe he would change his mind if he knew that I liked him, which- how likely is that, really? Maybe it worked for her and Nino, but that's an exception to the rule!"
Plagg settled in. It seemed like this was going to be a long rant.
"And I tried letting Adrien go and moving on before, but they said that I couldn't give up!" Marinette continued, and Plagg cocked a brow at that. Oh, THAT was interesting. Also something he could use. "And I don't- I mean, I understand the value of staying positive, but I just don't..." She sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I don't know if it's realistic anymore."
"Well, at least we've gotten past the denial stage," Plagg commented. He had wondered. Instead of saying that, he shuffled into a more comfortable position and turned an eye to watch Marinette. "D'you ever feel comfortable around model kid?"
"Yes! We're friends now, and we can talk most of the time. It's just when I'm expected to be trying to ask him out that I get all tongue-tied and make a fool of myself." Marinette flopped back in her chair and- yeah, she and Adrien were meant to be together. They were both crazy dramatic people. "I just don't know what to do."
Plagg snorted. "Isn't it obvious? Don't try asking him out, duh. Problem solved."
Marinette narrowed her eyes at him, suddenly suspicious. "Why do I get the feeling that you're trying to get me to give up on my crush so that I'll date Chat Noir instead?"
Plagg snorted, resisting the urge to bash his head against the wall. "D'you really think I want my kitten dating? He's sappy enough when he's just at crush stage. And he would be even more self-sacrificing if you two were dating, and that's already gotten real old, real fast."
Marinette's wary expression stayed in place for a minute longer, and then it dropped as she glanced away. "I- I can see where that would make sense, but if I don't at least try, I just feel guilty for not making use of the opportunities Alya sets up for me. Like, that just feels rude somehow."
Plagg snorted. "The opportunities that pretty much get dropped into her lap because of her boyfriend and that she's set up even though literally everything about you is telling her no, you don't want to and aren't ready? How very generous of her to keep going against your wishes."
He didn't get a response to that. He hadn't expected one.
Plagg forged on anyway. "Like, kid, I've been with you- what? A week and a half? And I could tell that you didn't want to get pushed into confessing again, so it's not as though you aren't being plenty obvious about it. And clearly the 'shove you in the deep end and hope you swim' method isn't working. It's not suddenly going to start working. And if model boy already likes someone..."
"Then I'm just setting myself up for disappointment and failure," Marinette finished. Her expression- no, her entire being- drooped, but then she straightened back up, and this time, it was like a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. Which kind of seemed like the opposite of what should have happened, but maybe the whole 'keeping her hopes up' thing had been harder on Marinette than he had thought. "So I should just give up on my crush, then."
"I mean, it might be a good idea." Adrien would 100% chop Plagg's cheese supply in half if he knew that Plagg was encouraging Ladybug to stop crushing on civilian-him, but it was better than Marinette actually working up the courage to confess, only for Adrien to reject civilian-Ladybug and potentially mess up their friendship. "Or at least, like, not act on it. If your friend sets up 'opportunities', then just hang out with model-kid as friends. And, uh." He waved at the pictures on the wall. "I mean, if you want this kid to come over and hang out..."
Marinette drooped, and seriously, her spine was getting one hell of a workout with this conversation. "He's already seen them. When we had Jagged Stone over here, he missed seeing the bathroom and came up here and broadcast live to all of Paris. And Adrien was watching. But now he thinks I just have them because I'm a fan of his father's designs!" she added quickly, as though Plagg didn't know that already. Adrien had been rather puzzled by that explanation at first, Plagg knew, but had decided to just accept it eventually.
"It might still be weird for him to come over and have his face staring back at him all over the place," Plagg said helpfully instead. "'Specially if he's the only model that you have featured on your wall."
That made Marinette pause.
"Just something to think about," Plagg added airily. "That, and the fact that I've already heard your friend complain twice about you missing stuff when you were out fighting akumas, so if you were dating someone..."
Marinette caught on right away and she threw her head back and groaned. "You're so right! How did I not think of that? Even if Adrien did like me, even if I did actually successfully ask him out, even if he did say yes- I would be just like his father, flaking out on him all of the time! We'd never last, and I'd just end up hurting him in the process. And that means that it wouldn't ever have been a good idea to try to move on from him with Luka," she added. "And I shouldn't even think of dating before Hawkmoth is defeated."
Plagg breathed a little internal sigh of relief. Thank goodness. Crisis averted. Marinette wouldn't date anyone until Hawkmoth was defeated, then they could do their little reveal, find out that her partner had been model boy all along, and start dating and being all mushy. No one would be dating anyone else and mucking things up, and they would be in a good enough mood that he might be able to persuade Adrien to buy him the really fancy cheese.
...or they would be so busy being mushy and gross with each other that they would forget about Plagg and he would go unfed, but he was trying to think positive.
"So what are you going to do on your little outing tomorrow?" Plagg asked, rolling over so that he would stay in the middle of his sunbeam. "Are you going?"
"It would be nice to. I have time." Marinette sent him a small smile, and Plagg grinned in response. "Besides, if I don't go, then Adrien will be third-wheeling for Alya and Nino, and that's no fun. I would know, I've definitely done it plenty. And the last time he got to come out, it was on a group outing and Lila spent most of the time clinging to his arm, which is also no fun."
"Lila was Volpina and Chameleon," Marinette told him, as if Plagg didn't already know that- and okay, maybe he wasn't supposed to know that, whatever. "The liar. She's been pretty much completely discredited now by our class, but she still likes trying to cling, even though it's obvious Adrien hates it. Last I heard, she was trying to claim that she just wanted to fit in and that was why she had made up all of the stories she did, but I don't think anyone has bought that."
"I'm surprised she got to come along on the class outing at all," Plagg commented. He had said the same thing to Adrien at the time, and-
Marinette sighed. "We don't really exclude people when it's an entire class outing, or Chloe wouldn't have been invited to most of the stuff we've done. There's some stuff like birthday parties where we don't have the entire class come, but everything else..."
-Adrien had given the exact same excuse, almost word-for-word.
"At least Chloe's been better recently," Marinette added absently as she reached for her mouse to wake up her computer. "Ever since Adrien put his foot down with her, she's really been trying to improve. And then when Chloe behaves better, Sabrina behaves better. So we don't mind having them along as much, it's just Lila being an annoyance now."
Ah-hah. An opening! Tikki was apparently still having trouble with getting Adrien to enforce his boundaries (because he was dense as a fruitcake and didn't understand that he could have boundaries, seemingly) and Master Fu had said no on a third consecutive week's swap, which meant that they had to try something different. And different might, in this case, mean using a friend as their mouthpiece.
"Maybe you could help Adrien get Lila off of him," Plagg suggested. "He would probably appreciate that."
Marinette paused, glancing over at him. "...I guess that would be a good idea. I mean, I know Nino's mentioned it a few times before, but..."
Okay, maybe this would be harder than Plagg thought. But Adrien had to catch on eventually. Maybe. Hopefully.
...a kwami could hope.
By the time Plagg was returned to Adrien on Sunday evening, they had accomplished several things.
First of all- and most importantly, in Master Fu's eyes- Ladybug and Chat Noir had a deeper understanding of each other's powers and would be able to use the other person's Miraculous in an emergency. Adrien had used Lucky Charm without help from Ladybug several times in a row now, and well, Marinette had mastered the baton. But that wasn't all.
Marinette had gotten her schedule sorted out and the perfection complex addressed, and seemed to have figured out how to use the word no. She had successfully gone on their friend group's outing without stuttering at all around Adrien, and while Alya seemed a bit miffed that Marinette hadn't even tried to ask him out, Adrien seemed plenty pleased to have been able to hold a normal conversation with Marinette.
(Although a 'normal conversation' was not what Plagg personally would have called it. They had started out a little awkward after Alya unceremoniously dragged Nino off- and that was something that maybe should have been addressed, because Plagg knew that Adrien was missing spending as much time as he used to with Nino- but after Marinette had accidentally punned and Adrien had lit up in utter delight, they had ended up spending a great deal of time giggling over absolutely ridiculous puns together. Then Adrien had decided to be dramatic about something- a pun that Marinette had pretended not to be impressed by, if Plagg's memory was serving him correctly- and, well, they were pretty hopeless after that. Calling them normal would be completely and utterly inaccurate.)
Marinette had even managed to score a point on the 'enforce Adrien's personal space' board by commenting on Lila's insistence on clinging to Adrien's arm when he was clearly uncomfortable with it and throwing in the word 'harassment', just loud enough for a nearby teacher to overhear. Madam Mendeleev had been on the case at once, and from what Plagg had heard, Lila had gotten detention and Adrien had finally been convinced that he didn't have to put up with unwanted clinging, thanks in large part to their teacher's intervention.
It was a very devious way of going about that, but Plagg couldn't say that he didn't approve, because he very much approved. If he had been assigned to Marinette from the start- well, she might have been a better fit with Tikki, but she would have made a fantastic Black Cat as well.
"Did you have a good week?" Adrien wanted to know as Plagg wolfed down a giant wedge of Camembert. Cheese bread had been good and it was always good to mix things up, but Camembert was always going to be Plagg's true love. "Tikki was loads of fun!"
"Oh, yeah, all smooth sailing," Plagg lied at once, choosing not to tell Adrien about having made Ladybug cry. It was all for the greater good, after all. Besides, Tikki would probably end him herself once she found out. Then, a thought struck him, and oh, yeah, he probably should say something before Ladybug transformed again with her new suit and Adrien decided to open his big mouth and comment on it. "But Adrien?"
"Do me a favor and don't say anything that might sound like you're implying that you're a better designer than Ladybug," Plagg demanded, remembering the absolute ire that he had felt zing through Lady Noire when Mister Bug had made his comment. "If you value your life. Seriously. Don't."
Adrien has the audacity to look puzzled. "Wait, why? I was just trying to offer some help!"
"Can't tell you. Identity stuff." Adrien would be kicking himself as soon as they did the reveal, whenever that was, but he just had to have an ounce of self-preservation between now and then. When they did, though...
Well, based on what Plagg had seen over the past two weeks, the reveal would go really well. By the time it happened, Marinette and Adrien were pretty much guaranteed to be fantastic friends. There would be feelings on both sides, he was willing to bet, and while Plagg was already gearing himself up for plenty of moaning about how gross the two of them were together, well...
After doing so much to save the city, the two of them deserved some cuddly mushiness. He could tolerate it.
a/n: Plagg's version of helping is somewhat...unorthodox, but hey, whatever works, right?
I wanted to focus on Marinette's unhealthy behavior of taking too much on and taking the blame when she shouldn't be, since that both a) isn't healthy even if the show tries to pretend it is and b) never gets addressed by the show (and c, isn't just something that they're playing up for giggles like Marinette's crush, which they're already beating her up about). Too many people are making demands of Marinette's time and she needs to be able to enforce her boundaries, even with her friends and family.
(Talk about a perfect opportunity for a lesson other than Lying Is Bad! In the infinite words of Dumbledore, 'it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but do they use it in the show? No!)
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, reviews make my day!