a/n: And after the world's longest pause (okay, okay, it's just been two and a half months, Alphabet Challenge Part 7! After this, I just have V to do, woo! :)
It had been four months since life in Paris had been flipped upside down.
That, Marinette thought, was perhaps a bit of a dramatic way to put it, even in her own head, but that was what it had felt like. The final battle had happened on a sunny spring day, Mr. Agreste was revealed as Hawkmoth and Nathalie Sancoeur as Mayura, and the akuma battles had finally, finally drawn to an end.
It should have been a happy moment for Ladybug and Chat Noir. They were finally fully victorious, and would no longer have to deal with akumas disrupting their day-to-day lives. The threat was gone, and they could semi-retire, spending their time helping people out when they wanted to instead of being called into battle whenever Hawkmoth decided to interrupt their days.
But their supervillains were Gabriel Agreste and Nathalie Sancoeur, and even if her partner hadn't been Adrien- and that particular revelation had come out mid-battle- Ladybug would have felt devastated. Sure, Adrien's relationship with his father had been steadily breaking down over the years, as he found new support in his friends and their families, but it was still his father. The betrayal still hurt.
It had hurt him enough that Cat Noir- Adrien- hadn't wanted to know who she was. He had already had enough shocks for one day, he had told Ladybug with his face buried in her shoulder, curled together out of sight of the cheering citizens in the streets. Another identity reveal, another shock, even if it was a good one...well, he wasn't ready yet. It would be overwhelming.
Ladybug had respected that. Even months down the road, despite all of the healing progress that he had made, they hadn't broached the subject again.
But she wanted to. Adrien had been turning to Marinette more and more to hang out- whether he was subconsciously seeking her out because she was Ladybug or just because he found her presence more comforting than other people's, Marinette didn't know- and she just wanted to be able to support his full self, no secrets between them.
She wasn't going to pressure him, though. Adrien needed every part of his support network, and if she pushed for a reveal sooner than he was willing, he might stop coming over so often.
"I think that he might do better with more lead-up to the reveal," Plagg offered one afternoon, after she had found him lounging on her balcony. Apparently Adrien had fencing and Plagg didn't feel like hanging out in a stinky gym bag. Marinette made a mental note to offer to show Adrien how to wash it the next time he came over. "Like, if you just walk up one evening and say, 'hey, we both know who you are, but lemme drop my transformation real fast', that wouldn't give him any time to prepare, but if he had several days leading up to it…"
Marinette considered that as she plucked dead leaves off of a couple of her plants. "So, like, if I asked if he would be ready and then said, like, okay, now just wait a couple of days? That just seems odd. I mean, I understand the waiting period's purpose!" she added hastily. "It makes sense, so that he can have a couple days to tell me if he's still not feeling ready and so it doesn't feel like it's just being sprung on him. But just being straightforward about it- I don't know, that set-up just seems strange."
Plagg groaned. "Oh, no, are we gonna have to deal with another convoluted plan? No, why can't you be straightforward?"
"Because that just comes off weird, that's why." Marinette was already brainstorming, her mind whirring. "I'll figure something out soon."
"Ugh, fancy plans," Plagg muttered, but dropped it. Instead, he turned one grumpy green eye on Marinette. "And what's with all of the plants up here? My sunning spot is all shady! Get rid of them!"
Marinette yelped as Plagg made to move towards the newest of her beloved flower planters. "Don't you dare! Tikki, come tell Plagg to keep his paws off!"
It didn't take long for Marinette to come up with the perfect- or maybe she should say the purr-fect- plan.
She had played with the idea of asking Chat Noir to lunch, which would mean inviting him one day, giving him several days to adjust to the idea, and then hopefully having him be ready the day of their lunch. That idea was pretty much discarded right away- while it would get rid of the awkward issue of her promising a reveal in several days' time without any occasion to go along with it, it ran a chance of Adrien somehow missing that it was going to be a reveal and then being taken by surprise. It also took the timeline out of his hands, since their lunch date would have to be set. Even if she had him set the date initially, what if he got cold feet and backed out last minute?
No, what she wanted was something that would allow Chat Noir to be able to have complete control over the timing, to be able to change his mind and pause if he needed to. Something that would be flexible and wouldn't leave him feeling obligated to rush his recovery.
She came up with a treasure hunt.
Making it a game would hopefully put her partner more at ease, and after the past few months that he had had- Marinette was still annoyed that Ladybug had had to step in to the degree that she had to get the police to stop interrogating him as Adrien, and she had had to do the same to get the press to back off- a game would (hopefully) be just the thing.
Now she just had to come up with the clues.
"Obviously I want to be upfront that there will be an identity reveal at the end," Marinette told Tikki as she worried over a blank piece of paper. "And I want to choose places that other people won't be able to go. I don't want someone finding one of Chat Noir's clues and trying to follow the trail themselves."
"And I think you should number the clues as a countdown, too!" Tikki chirped. "That way, Chat Noir knows how close to the end he is and that won't come up as a surprise."
"Ooh, good idea." Marinette wrote that down. "Okay, so- hmm. I was thinking about our favorite spot on the Eiffel Tower as a possible place, because no civilian can get to it, but we meet there at the end of patrol most of the time! Unless I hid it- and then that would just frustrate him when he's trying to find it- he would just see it right away."
"It could be one of the first clues," Tikki suggested. "Like, you could tell him at the start of patrol about the game and the first clue being at the end. It would be a nice, easy start."
Marinette wrote that down. It was a good idea.
Together with Tikki, she came up with a list of possible places to hide her clues. She wanted to start at the Eiffel Tower and end at her balcony- that way, she wouldn't end up waiting somewhere else on a night when Chat Noir wasn't going to show up, because she knew that he would feel guilty about that. Andre's ice-cream cart made the list- she was sure that he would agree to holding onto a clue, and the frequency with which Andre moved would add in a little bit of difficulty for Chat Noir- as did a very specific bell on top of a nearby church. Then there were other favorites of theirs, both places that they had found for hunkering down during akuma fights and shops that they had visited on patrol and loved. Her own family's bakery made the list- earlier on, so that her grand finale wouldn't be spoiled- and a particular chocolatier's shop, where they had bought hot chocolate on a regular basis during winter patrols and hang-outs.
It ended up maybe being a slightly longer list than she had expected, but knowing her partner, he wouldn't mind. If he was getting frustrated, she could always adjust later on and cut out some of the steps.
"I want to leave little gifts at each one, I think," Marinette mused as she looked over the list. "Or at least at some of them, it wouldn't be practical for all of them. I could pre-buy treats at several places, maybe. I mean, that would limit when Chat Noir can go to that place, because he would have to actually go during business hours, but he shouldn't be up all night anyway."
Tikki giggled. "I think he'll enjoy that!"
"I hope so. I want it to be fun for him." Marinette considered her list, her lips twitching up. "Wouldn't it be funny if I were the one manning the counter when he comes into the bakery?"
Tikki giggled more. "Oh, that would be funny! I bet Chat Noir would say the same once he finds out that it's you. Maybe you should try to do that! You can follow where he is in your treasure hunt and then volunteer to work the counter."
"That only works if he goes directly from one spot to another, though. He might have other stuff to do, or want to pause in between." She could probably still do it, though, just by putting Chat Noir alerts on her phone and also keeping an eye on Adrien's schedule. Smiling at the thought of his reaction- he was definitely going to call her cheeky for that, she knew her partner well enough to know that- Marinette quickly brainstormed up another couple gifts that she could give to her cat, non-perishable things that would be easy enough to hide.
This was going to be fun.
Chat Noir was super excited about the idea of a reveal. Like, surprisingly so.
Like, to the point where Ladybug wondered if maybe he was ready to just learn her identity now and if the game was, instead of a buffer and something fun, just making Chat Noir work to learn her identity when that wasn't the point at all.
"You know, if you're ready to know, I could just-"
"Nuh-uh-uh, I know what you're going to say and you are not just going to tell me!" Chat Noir cut Ladybug off mid-sentence, wriggling a scolding finger at her. "I have been promised a game, and I will not be deprived of my hunt, thank-you-very-much."
"Okay, okay, it was just an offer!" Ladybug protested, laughing. "If you want to play, then we can do that."
Chat Noir pumped a fist in the air triumphantly, and she laughed even harder.
"So do I get my first clue now?" he asked eagerly, practically bouncing in place. "So I can start right away?"
Ladybug grinned. His enthusiasm was contagious, it really was. "You'll find your first clue-"
"Ooh, I have to find the first clue!"
"Shush, I have to tell you!" Ladybug protested, laughing. "You'll find it at the end of patrol- and no cheating and taking shortcuts either!" she added when Chat Noir moved to take off right away. "I know patrol is mostly for fun, but-"
"You didn't say no speedruns!"
Ladybug tried to sigh, but it came out as a giggle instead as her partner took off like a rocket, a spring in his step as he raced off without waiting for any more information. She was glad to see him so cheery about the game. Even with Plagg's assurance that he was ready to find out her identity, part of her had been worried that he wasn't ready yet or wanted to be able to broach the topic on his own time. That clearly wasn't the case.
"Silly cat," Ladybug murmured fondly, taking off on her own route a little faster than normal. "If you were so eager to know, you could have just asked."
It didn't take long at all to finish, and soon enough Ladybug was headed for the Eiffel Tower. Oddly enough, she couldn't see Chat Noir there yet.
….had he already found his first clue and taken off to find the next one?
Before Ladybug could swing herself up to their spot, Chat Noir barreled in like he had been shot out of a cannon. When he saw Ladybug, he smiled sheepishly.
"I forgot to ask where we were ending patrol today, so I got paranoid that I might go to the wrong place and went and checked the other spots first," he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "Because they were on the way."
"See, that's what you get for being an impatient kitty," Ladybug teased. "If you had waited a few more seconds, I would have told you."
"Where's the fun in that?" Chat Noir was already moving again, peering behind beams and clambering all around. "Do I have to search the entire Eiffel Tower- aha! Nope, I found it!"
Ladybug smothered another laugh. He really did look like a cat, scrambling around on all fours like that, but she wasn't going to tease him about that. He might try to stop, and it amused her too much for her to risk that.
"Names and dreams, locks of love; Sometimes I can be a sentimental bug," Chat Noir read off the paper. "Aww, bugaboo, I knew you didn't mind that nickname as much as you always pretend to!"
Ladybug tried not to wince. She had tried, but...poems were not a strength of hers. After a bit of deliberation and discussion with Tikki, she had ended up just going with the clues that she had come up with, even if some of the clues weren't nearly as clever as she had hoped they would be.
"I'm pretty sure I know what you're going for," Chat Noir announced after another moment of thought, clearly delighted. "That's easy! See ya, bugaboo!"
Then, with a quick kiss to her cheek and another bounce, he was gone.
"Well, now I'm glad that the first few can all be done whenever," Ladybug commented to thin air, grinning when she spotted her partner's silhouette bounding over the skyline. "He's not going to get any sleep tonight, the dork."
She watched for another minute, tracking Chat Noir's progress on her yo-yo- it hadn't taken him long at all to get to Pont des Arts, clearly he wasn't tired from patrol in the least- before heading back to her house. Ladybug touched down lightly, detransforming and checking on all of her plants before heading inside.
Today had been a success. And hopefully before long, she would be coming back inside with her partner by her side.
The next day dawned early and bright, and Marinette woke up to several messages on her phone from Chat Noir, consisting entirely of him pouting about having to wait until businesses opened to continue his hunt.
"Well, he's certainly eager," Tikki said with a giggle, peering over Marinette's shoulder to read the messages. "I mean, I bet having the pause for him to adjust to the idea of having a reveal is helpful, even if he doesn't realize it, but I don't think that we're going to have any trouble with him getting cold feet about finding out last-minute."
Marinette nodded in agreement, shooting back a silly response before exiting out of her messaging app- one that she and Chat Noir had found that encrypted the other person's number so that they didn't have to risk a reveal or deal with the expense or hassle of burner phones- and searching the Chat Noir hashtag to see if he was up yet.
As it turned out, he was.
"He's going to end up at the bakery soon," Marinette commented, pushing herself out of bed and trotting down to the main part of her bedroom to get dressed. "And then- oh, gosh, I did end up with a lot of clues, didn't I? I was only planning on twelve, and I think I ended up with twice as many."
Tikki giggled. "Well, I don't think Chat Noir will complain! He really seemed to like the idea of a hunt!"
Marinette could only smile and shake her head in amusement as she pulled out an outfit. It was a cute grey and pink dress, designed after her Multimouse outfit, and was sort of an inside joke between her- well, civilian her- and Chat Noir. Paired with a necklace that resembled the Mouse Miraculous more than a little and- after a short deliberation, because she didn't want to tease him too much- a single bun instead of double buns, she was sure to get at least a little reaction out of him.
If not now, then later, for sure. The number of cat hunting mouse jokes was sure to be off the charts.
"Oh, that's a cute outfit," Mrs. Cheng commented as soon as Marinette got downstairs, tying her apron around her waist as she entered the bakery. "Are you taking over the front counter for me?"
Marinette grinned and nodded, sliding into her mom's spot and glancing around the shop to gauge how they were doing. It was decently busy, enough that the register was getting a semi-continuous stream of people but not so busy that they were overwhelmed or anything.
"Don't forget, Chat Noir might come by today and pick up Ladybug's surprise for him," Mrs. Cheng reminded Marinette. "It's not a for-sure thing, and we don't know when he might come by, but…"
Marinette hastily muffled another giggle. Oh, she definitely wasn't going to forget. After all, she was the one to set it up, even if she had been wearing her spots at the time. "Of course, Maman."
"Great." With a smile, Mrs. Cheng fully stepped back from the counter, going back to her small decorating station and picking up her work from where she had left off. Marinette watched her for a few seconds, marveling at the lovely frosting flowers taking shape under her mom's fingers, before turning her attention back to the customers browsing in the shop.
One hour flew by, then two. Marinette checked her phone to track her partner when she could, but apparently Adrien had been called back to his normal life for the time being with a private fencing lesson. She could imagine the little pout on his face at the realization that he had to step away from his game for even a short while, the hunt momentarily sidetracked.
Ah, well. He would appreciate his treats more if he didn't eat them all at once and give himself a stomachache.
At hour three and a half, Chat Noir bounced through the door, tail flicking eagerly as he came in. He managed to contain himself to pause long enough to say hi to a couple little kids before making a beeline for the counter and Marinette.
"I like that outfit, Marinette!" he told her, lips twitching upwards as he took in the Mouse-esque details. "It's very cute on you. Uh, did Ladybug leave something for me here?"
"Thank you," Marinette said right away, grinning up at him. "And as a matter of fact, yes, she did!"
Reaching under the counter, Marinette pulled out the pre-arranged box with all of her partner's favorites- passion fruit macarons, pain au chocolat, and an assortment of cookies- and Ladybug's next hint on top, folded over and taped down.
"Ooh, she spoils me," Chat Noir said happily, peering in the box. "Thank you, Marinette!"
Chat Noir paused on his way back towards the door, glancing over his shoulder. His brow furrowed slightly, no doubt puzzled at her wording, and then he shrugged it off, waving at her before heading out of the bakery.
Marinette muffled a giggle. Oh, he was going to be kicking himself later about missing that clue.
And it was going to be hilarious.
Chat Noir showed up to patrol the next evening ten minutes late, but apparently he had been trying to get in one last clue before coming because the business was going to be closing for the evening before they finished patrol.
"I couldn't get much searching done today because I had stuff going on in my normal life, but I wanted to make some progress," he told Ladybug. "And if I didn't get that clue, then I wouldn't have been able to get anything done until tomorrow."
Ladybug was grinning. "It sounds like you're enjoying the treasure hunt."
"Plagg was grumbling about it being 'unnecessarily complicated'," Chat Noir told her with a laugh. He gave her a fond look. "I think it's fun, though. And I love all of the little presents along the way."
"I thought you might." Ladybug leaned against him gently, enjoying his warmth as they looked out over the city. It was a quiet night for sure, and they could probably take it easy. After all, Chat Noir had spent the last couple days dashing back and forth across the city whenever he could.
He was probably sleeping well, if nothing else.
"I might have gotten a little too into the whole coming up with clues thing," Ladybug admitted after a minute. "I hadn't intended for there to be so many of them, but I just started coming up with places and then couldn't narrow things down."
"No, no, it's fun! I like it this way. It's more of a proper hunt."
"Are you sure?"
Chat Noir grinned. "Paw-sitive. I haven't had so much fun in ages. It's nice to have something to force me out and about again during the day. I've... well, I've maybe been hiding inside a little more than I should have. And even if it isn't as, y'know, my civilian self, it's still a step in the right direction."
Ladybug smiled. She had to admit that she had noticed that as Marinette, but she...well, she didn't want to push Adrien. The amount of betrayal and loss that Adrien had gone through, and when he had been so well-known by the public even before Hawkmoth's identity had come out...well, it was hard to fully comprehend how he must be feeling, and being in the public eye wasn't exactly helping. Add in the fact that there were all sorts of conflicted, tangled feelings there between father and son, years of neglect and longing for love and betrayal and frustration and- and-
Well, it was probably no small wonder that Adrien tended not to go out a lot as himself unless he had photoshoots or other scheduled activities. He had been doing a lot better- summer always brought new news to brush away the old, tired headlines that had kept running over and over during the cooler months- but he hadn't returned to his previous self yet, not quite. When the two of them hung out, it was usually in Marinette's room or in her family's living room, getting Adrien out of his room but not where other people could approach him or he could overhear their whispers.
(One of these days, Marinette was actually going to square up with one of the more obnoxious whisperers. Maybe it would get her a reputation, but that was fine. If people were scared of her, maybe they would think twice about their dumb gossiping.)
This time, they had a more relaxed patrol, choosing to run together instead of splitting apart. It wasn't as though they needed to be surveying the city, after all. It was mostly just an excuse for them to hang out and be generally visible so that Paris wouldn't worry but criminals might think twice about trying anything. As they bounced along, Chat Noir recounted all of his treasure hunt adventures, including the time he had somewhat accidentally recruited an entire army of children to help him search a park for one of his clues. He had ended up being the one to find it- after all, Ladybug hadn't wanted civilians to be able to accidentally stumble on her hints- and having the kids "help" had actually just resulted in him taking more time to find the hidden hint, but it had been pretty cute.
(Ladybug had actually seen pictures of that, and it had been hilariously adorable. The kids had probably been seven at most, and had taken the job Very Seriously. Every park bench and large stone in the part had been dutifully inspected, top and bottom, as well as every tree, every trash can…)
"I didn't tell them what was going to be at the end of my treasure hunt," Chat Noir assured her, vaulting over a street with a fancy flip and landing with all the grace of an actual cat. "Just that it was a game we were playing. But because you were involved, they all thought it was the coolest thing ever."
"You know that everyone thinks that you're just as cool," Ladybug protested. "They just wanted to hang out with you, you know that!"
Chat Noir's answering smile was bright.
Marinette had stayed glued to the Chat Noir hashtag for practically the entire day, trying to figure out if her partner would be getting to her last clue tonight. He was on a roll for sure, but she had thrown in a couple more difficult clues in the final stretch and those might slow him down. And then if he saw her last spot early….
Well, it would be pretty hard for him to miss.
"He's headed for the last one, Marinette!" Tikki told her as soon as she came upstairs after dinner. "Unless Adrien has something going on tonight, he's going to be coming here."
Marinette grinned, scooping up a few last-minute supplies and heading up to her balcony. "I guess we better get everything ready, then. I bet a kitty-cat is going to come sniffing around after sundown."
Up on her balcony, Marinette's table had been decked out with a tablecloth, fastened down securely so that even the strongest gust of wind couldn't send it flying. Two plates sat in the middle, the forks and a knife to cut the cake she had baked for them were lined up neatly, and two chairs were pulled up to the table. Up above, several strands of fairy lights had been carefully hung, criss-crossing in what would clearly show up as an X from above.
It was something that Chat Noir would easily be able to see, from the top of his extended baton. It had taken Ladybug several attempts to fling herself into the air for long enough to make sure that the lights were neatly hung enough that there was no mistaking what shape the lights made.
A fitting end to a treasure hunt, if she did say so herself.
"Hopefully everything goes smoothly tonight," Marinette told Tikki, adding two kwami-sized plates on top of the normal ones and carefully getting the Swiss roll that she had made settled next to that. Plagg might whine and complain about having cake instead of cheese, but she had seen him happily eat cake before, too, even if he denied doing such a thing afterwards. Besides, she had used cream cheese frosting in the cake. "But the forecast looks good, Chat Noir is definitely excited about the reveal now, Maman and Papa are going to bed soon so there won't be any interruptions…"
"You might make Chat Noir sick with the amount of sugar you've been feeding him over the past couple of days," Tikki teased, but she didn't sound very serious as she followed Marinette around her balcony, helping her snip off dying flower blossoms and dead leaves. "Or maybe that's why he's been practically bouncing off of the walls lately!"
"It is nice to see him feeling more normal again," Marinette said, choosing to ignore the first part of Tikki's comment. That was an exaggeration about the sugar, really- there were things that didn't have to be eaten right away, and then a couple of the treats she had gotten for him were savory, not sweet.
(Besides, Marinette knew full well that Adrien had shared at least a couple things from the bakery with Nino. It wasn't as though he was stuffing himself.)
As the sun set and dusk fell, Marinette finished sweeping her balcony and looked around to make sure that everything was in place. Then she popped downstairs, changed into a red-and-black dress that she had made for the occasion, and returned to the balcony with a sketchbook to kill some time. As she did, she flipped on the lights.
Everything was ready. Now, all she had to do was wait for Chat Noir.
One final clue for my best friend
How else do all treasure hunts end?
When darkness falls
X marks the spot
I'll wait for you there
Without the dots
This was quite possibly the vaguest clue yet, Adrien mused to himself as he waited (im)patiently for- well, for darkness to fall. The sun was getting close to the horizon now and he was tempted to just head out and see if he could get a head start on puzzling out Ladybug's final clue, but something told him that it probably wouldn't do much good.
If Ladybug said- well, strongly implied- that he would have to wait until dark, that probably meant that she wouldn't go to whatever spot she was referring to until then. He would have to be a good cat and wait until dark. He could manage it.
"X marks the spot," Adrien mused again, holding the card up to the light in case there were any clues he had missed. He had heard of spies hiding messages in normal letters by putting pin holes in certain letters to spell something out, but he had no such luck. Apparently that was all the clue he was getting.
….had Ladybug originally hidden a map of Paris or something with the clue? But then why wait until after dark? Why couldn't they meet up during the day? Except that did mean that Ladybug only had to be in her spot for a certain window of time, instead of all day, but she could have specified meeting between certain hours instead.
Maybe the darkness was a clue. Or maybe it just lent itself to clue form more easily than, say, saying three to five.
"You could always wait until dark and think about it then instead of pacing a rut into your carpet," Plagg suggested. Adrien shot him a Look.
"But I don't even have any ideas about where I should start! Like, 'x marks the spot'- are there any pirate areas around here? Oh! D'you think she means the Couffaine boat? But why would she be there? Plagg, am I overthinking this?"
"You're biased, though." Adrien glanced out the window again. Darker, but probably not quite dark enough to really qualify as proper darkness. "I just don't want to be going out without any leads. Like, what does she want me to do, wander around in the streets until I stumble on her? She wouldn't do that. All of the other spots were places that we've been to before together, so I want to think that there's just some obvious place that I'm missing."
Plagg let out a long-suffering sigh. "You could always call up Ladybug and ask for another hint if you go out tonight and can't find her. That's an option. It's not like she's hiding until you find her."
"Aww, but that would be like admitting defeat, though!" Adrien tried (and failed) not to pout. He glanced out the window one more time. It was about as dark as it ever got with all of the light pollution in Paris. "I think we're ready. Plagg-"
"Are you really going to go meet Ladybug in that old, ratty t-shirt?"
Adrien glanced down at himself and yelped. Sure enough, he was just dressed in the first thing that he had grabbed that morning. It was a perfectly fine everyday outfit, but he was going to be meeting Ladybug detransformed tonight. He had to at least put in a little effort. And his hair was a mess because he had been running his hands through it, and he should really brush his teeth, maybe-
Ten minutes later, Adrien had freshened up and transformed, slipping through his window and up to the mansion's roof. He still hadn't made any progress on figuring out Ladybug's clue, so he was just going to go out and prowl the city, looking for anything that- well. Anything that looked like an x, he supposed, or maybe something pirate-themed. Maybe.
He wasn't sure, honestly.
Five minutes in, Chat Noir was still at a bit of a loss. He had been wandering more or less aimlessly across rooftops, trying to see if something would jog his mind, but nothing had. He had tracked down the Couffaine houseboat, just in case, but the occupants weren't acting as though anything was out of the ordinary. He dithered for a minute, then poled back towards his house to mull over it some more. Halfway there, he decided that the best way to inspire himself- the best way to just happen to spot whatever place Ladybug was thinking of with her clue- was probably way up high.
Thankfully, he had an extending baton that could do just the trick. He shot up, up, up, into the night sky, and Paris spread out beneath him. Lights twinkled along roads, in buildings, over the river. Some restaurants had twinkle lights that were criss-crossing in what could maybe be considered an X shape, so maybe he should go investi-
No. There. Glowing bright, too clean and distinct to be anything else, was an X for him to see. It was oddly close to his house, all things considered, but Chat Noir didn't even pause to consider the implications of that as he tipped his baton towards the lights. He slowed his fall with a helicopter spin of his baton, eyes locked on his target. Right before he landed, he realized exactly where he was going with a jolt of excitement and glee.
It was Marinette's balcony, on top of the Dupain-Cheng bakery. And under the lights, very prettily made up and wearing a dress that was definitely Ladybug-inspired, sat Marinette, paging through a fashion magazine.
He wasn't even surprised, really. There had been times that he had wondered about Marinette and Ladybug over the years, but there had always been some convenient excuse about why she had been in that spot, or why she couldn't possibly be Ladybug. He hadn't pushed- after all, their secret identities were secret for a reason, even from each other- but he had tucked the thought away in the back of his mind, to be considered again at a way later time.
And now was that time, and he was so, so excited. He absolutely adored Marinette, and to have his two favorite girls be one….
It was incredible. How was he so lucky?
"Marinette!" Chat Noir exclaimed as he landed in a controlled tumble, popping to his feet at once and practically tackling Marinette backwards in a hug. She let out a small yep, clearly not having seen him coming. "Fancy seeing you here- no, wait, that could have come out smoother, uh…"
Marinette giggled from her spot in his arms, and he rather belatedly realized that, as far as greetings went, his was maybe a little exuberant. Trying (and failing) for a sheepish grin- it was hard, he was just far too excited- he rightened both his partner and her chair. "Hi, Chaton. I see you found your way all right."
"I was a little confused at first," he admitted, because he might as well admit to it now rather than have Plagg admit it for him later on, since his kwami would make a huge deal out of it. "But as soon as I was up in the sky…" He trailed off. Marinette probably already knew that, because she had planned it. And if she had planned it, she had no doubt tested it first to make sure that things would work the way she wanted them to. That was just the way Marinette worked. So he decided to drop that particular subject in favor of another, but what to say…
He wasn't normally this tongue-tied around his partner, but now he was stumbling over his words and scrambling to act smooth, like a collège boy trying to impress his crush with a good first impression.
Except they were partners, not just meeting, and his collège days...well, he was older than that now, and in theory wiser, too, but clearly his ability to interact with incredible girls hadn't quite grown with the rest of him.
"Was your hunt fun?" Marinette asked, and oh, she was smug when his head shot up, the words jogging something in his brain from only a few days prior- Marinette, at the bakery counter, dressed up rather like Multimouse.
Mouse. Cat and mouse. Hunting.
She must think herself so clever. She wasn't wrong.
"My Lady, you were teasing me!" Chat Noir complained, ignoring the second chair that had clearly been left out for him in favor of scooping Marinette into his lap and sitting in her chair instead. "With that mouse outfit- very cute, by the way, nice nod to your own mouse suit- and that comment!"
Marinette looked even more smug, like the cat that had caught a canary. Clearly she knew exactly what she was doing to him and had planned it all out in the first place. "I thought it was funny."
"And just sending me to the bakery in the first place, and being at the counter…" Oh, she was being a sly little bug. She had specifically placed herself where he would see her- and where he would see her and think nothing of it, just a normal everyday encounter that she had actually engineered entirely herself. He tapped her nose. "Smugbug."
Marinette laughed at that. "I knew you'd find it funny. Do you want to detransform, or are you good hanging out like that?"
"If I detransform, we have to deal with Plagg," Chat Noir told her, burying his face in her hair. "Can we just stay like this for a little while longer? I want to enjoy having you to myself without any snarky kwami comments."
"Of course." Marinette shuffled around in his lap to snuggle closer to him, and Chat Noir happily helped her wriggle her way around so that they were facing each other. She beamed up at him, and his heart skipped a beat. Seriously, how was he so lucky as to have the eye of the most incredible girl in Paris? "I'm glad you came, Adrien."
Chat Noir could only smile back, hopelessly enamored. "Me, too."
The very next day, the two of them stepped out onto the street hand-in-hand, exchanging soft looks as they wandered through Paris together. Adrien hadn't ended up going home at all the previous night, instead staying with Marinette and chatting until Tikki had begged to see Plagg again, then releasing his transformation and staying out even longer. They had eaten their cake around midnight before going inside and crashing in Marinette's bed.
Getting to wake up with her next to him… well, it was definitely something that Adrien could get used to. Getting ready with her, having breakfast together, teasing each other and working together to wash up their dishes….
Adrien was in heaven.
The last few months had been tough, there was no denying that. There had been far more public attention than he had wanted as he tried to adjust to his father and Nathalie's betrayal, and being interrogated so much by the police as a possible collaborating suspect had been really hard on him mentally (especially before Ladybug had stepped in like a furious avenging angel and got them to back off, and he had fallen a bit more). But now, things were settling down and he was moving on.
There would be bumps in the road, he knew, and times when people would decide to judge him based on what his father had done. It wouldn't all be smooth sailing. Nothing in life ever was, but, well, he was going to have his Lady- his Marinette- by his side.
With the two of them working together… well, they could achieve anything.
He couldn't be happier.
a/n: As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete. And as always, comments make my day! :)