a/n: Sorry about the delay! I had had the second part ready, then RIGHT before I posted it I was doing one last edit...and I wasn't happy with it. So it got pulled and I've been re-working it ever since. And now it has three parts, because I expanded some stuff to add more details.
Alya had not dropped it.
Oh, sure, she had stopped openly teasing Chat Noir about his girlfriend during the battles where Rena Rouge (and later, Vixen) was called on, and she wasn't bugging him about Marinette during their camera-moving patrols, but there were little side comments (though not enough to attract Ladybug's attention, unfortunately) and, as Adrien, he overheard Alya pestering Marinette with increasingly less veiled comments. Lila hadn't helped things at all when she overheard a few of the comments and then told Alya afterwards about how she had seen Marinette with someone who looked like he was maybe her boyfriend a couple of days prior. Sure, Lila had been largely discredited a week later, after Ladybug had completely shot down Vixen's proposed rescue of Lila during an akuma attack by calling the Italian girl a liar and a thief and not worth their time (the look on Vixen's face as that sunk in had been hilarious), but Alya still seemed to think that maybe Lila hadn't lied about that one sighting. After all, all of her other lies were about famous people, just to boost her reputation, and why would Lila bother to make something up about Marinette?
It was frustrating, and even more so that Chat Noir couldn't do anything about it. Ladybug had told him that giving any sort of reaction to Alya-slash-Rena-slash-Vixen was probably just going to end up egging her on. That meant that he was limited to snorts and eye-rolls when Vixen started up with her comments. Despite Ladybug's insistence on that strategy, it didn't seem to be getting through to her at all. Maybe it would have been more effective back at the very start, when Alya had just gotten the idea, but it was too late to go back and change things now.
Still, he wanted to make things right and get it through Alya's head that Chat Noir wasn't dating Marinette, because Marinette's family had been nothing but fantastic to him and repaying that with almost endless nagging from Alya didn't seem very kind.
And then one evening, Chat Noir made an accidental discovery during an impulse visit to Marinette's balcony that made it even more important that he deal with Alya's continued belief that Chat Noir was dating Marinette. Like, now.
Because Ladybug was Marinette and if he wanted to date her- properly date her, with both of them in their civilian forms- without giving away his identity to Alya, too, then he needed to knock that belief right out of Alya's mind.
The only question was how.
"She's just so set that she's right about Chat Noir and I dating now, even if we've given her no ammo recently," Marinette groaned as the two of them sprawled out in the ever-growing pile of blankets in her room. They had decided to forgo their regular patrol- the cameras weren't due to be moved yet anyway- to hang out and talk about the surprise reveal so that they wouldn't give anything away during school the next day by acting off. Adrien could tell that it had been a good idea, because if he had thought that he had been surprised when he dropped by Marinette's room for a surprise visit before patrol and saw her transforming into Ladybug, Marinette had been even more knocked off balance by his impulsive reveal. They had only just managed to pull themselves back together and fall into their normal routine after the silence had gotten to be too much for both of them and they had burst out into giggles. "I mean, it's possible that all we would have to do to convince her that she's wrong would just be to start dating and she would realize that she was being ridiculous and just jumped to conclusions- I know Nino's been telling her that pretty regularly, so it's not like the idea hasn't been floated- but there's always that chance that she- well, that she'll make the correct assumption. And maybe Hawkmoth will be gone soon, but- well, I just don't want to start spreading my identity everywhere. Just in case anything pops up in the future."
"So what should we do?" Adrien asked, the question as much for Marinette as it was for their two kwamis. The had decided to both stay detransformed while they were hanging out just to get used to it, and while it was a little awkward to have Tikki and Plagg so actively listening and chiming in on their conversation, he couldn't deny that their wisdom and experience might be helpful. "Because I don't want to have to wait years to date you, just because of Alya and her overactive imagination. That's too long."
"Well, there's always dating in secret," Marinette offered up, shifting her spot in the blankets so that she was half-resting against his side. "But then if we get caught, it'll look even more suspicious, like you revealed your identity to me and we were just trying to hide that. There wouldn't be any coming back from that."
Adrien groaned some more.
Plagg snorted. "I still think that the best way to prove that Chat Noir isn't dating Marinette is to have him date someone else. Ladybug and Chat Noir can date, Alya will drop it, and then you can wait a bit before Adrien and Marinette start dating, just to hide the coincidence."
"But what's stopping Alya from assuming that Marinette is Ladybug, then?" Adrien challenged him. "Because if she could make the jump from me hesitating over the word friend to assuming that we were secretly dating, then the jump from Marinette is Chat Noir's girlfriend but Ladybug is Chat Noir's girlfriend to Ladybug is Marinette isn't very far."
"Why did you hesitate, by the way?" Marinette asked, gently bumping his arm with her fist. "We're friends!"
Adrien caught Marinette's hand and gave her knuckles a kiss, just because he could. "Because I was worried that it wasn't a good idea to admit that I was friends with a civilian as my superhero self. Because I wondered if Chat Noir and Marinette were close enough to be considered friends or if us being friends as civilians was influencing my definition. Because I overthought it. Choose your favorite."
They fell silent, both of them doing their best to brainstorm. Adrien closed his eyes, basking in the warm patch of blanket that he had just wriggled into.
Maybe he wasn't actually a cat, but there was no denying that the warmth of the nearby radiator combined with the soft blankets was heaven. There was a reason that he kept on ever-so-stealthily expanding Marinette's blanket collection, and- well, this was it.
(Adrien idly wondered if there was a good way for him to more sneakily keep adding pillows and blankets to Marinette's collection so that she wouldn't tell him to stop. Maybe he could suggest making a fleece knot blanket together, and of course it would make more sense for her to keep it in her room since they spent all of their time there anyway. But that was just one blanket, and really Adrien would love a nice, thick pile, perfect for burrowing in and wrapping himself in and draping himself over, so he would have to come up with more ideas.
But that- well, that was a secondary problem, just a little one, and not nearly as pressing as the one that he was meant to be thinking about, so maybe he would think about that later.)
"I suppose you would have the same problem if Marinette dated Adrien," Tikki mused aloud after a couple minutes, making Adrien startle. Apparently he had been drifting off with the blankets and the sun and the company. "And of course, if Ladybug and Chat Noir were ever caught acting too close, Alya could figure out both of you. Hmm." She considered that. "What if you fake a break-up? Then you could just wait a little while before dating publically."
Both Adrien and Marinette instantly made a face at the suggestion. Tikki bristled.
"I just don't think it would work," Adrien started slowly, glancing over at Marinette. "Like, Alya is currently under the assumption that Chat Noir and Marinette are dating, right? And the assumption that she knows about it, and Chat Noir knows she knows. I feel like she would be expecting us to stage a break-up so that I could date Marinette as my civilian self without Alya finding out my secret identity. And maybe the timing is weird, because we haven't defeated Hawkmoth yet, but we are close to finding out who he is and she might think that we're trying to get the slip on her."
"Exactly," Marinette agreed. "That is exactly the kind of convoluted reasoning that she would jump at. And- I don't know, that just feels like letting her win a bit, you know? It would be rewarding her tendency to jump to conclusions, and then she'd maybe be more likely to keep on doing it because she was 'right' this time."
Adrien nodded. Maybe it was a little petty, but he didn't want to vindicate Alya's scoop, not after she had spent weeks and weeks bugging Marinette for details about a relationship that didn't exist. How Marinette had put up with that, he really didn't know. "That, too."
"Ugh, you're being so difficult," Tikki complained, but Adrien could tell that she could see their point. "Fine. Uh, maybe if we…" She trailed off, frowning, apparently just out of ideas as the rest of them were.
That was a bit concerning. If the centuries-old kwamis couldn't think of a solution, what chance did the rest of them have?
"What we really need," Marinette said slowly, "is solid, indisputable proof that we aren't Ladybug and Chat Noir."
Adrien snorted. "Which is hard, since we are. Except- oh!" He shot upright at once, positive that he had caught on to Marinette's idea. "The Fox! We just need to use that Miraculous and make an illusion of all four of us- our superhero selves and our civilian selves- together, where Alya can see it!" That was a great plan, really. They might have to tweak the illusion a bit so that Alya wouldn't notice how similar they looked- and wasn't it a good thing that Marinette had started changing up how she wore her hair from day to day?- but it would be the proof that they would need to make any of their other ideas work without backfiring.
And all they would need would be a simple illusion. One shot, one illusion with the four of them near the bakery, and they would be home free. By next week, he could be sitting in a cafe with Marinette on a date, sharing a plate of pasta Lady and the Tramp-style.
"It wouldn't be quite that simple," Marinette warned him, pushing herself up from the blankets as well and pulling Adrien out of his daydream of kisses over a basket of garlic bread- or maybe just regular bread, since garlic bread probably wasn't a great idea for a first date. "Alya knows about the Fox and its powers, since she's used it so many times before. If we're too obvious about it and about going out of our way to make sure that she notices, then she might get more suspicious instead of less."
Adrien frowned at that, puzzled, but decided not to question it. Marinette knew Alya better than he did, so if she thought that a simple Mirage of Adrien and Marinette next to Ladybug and Chat Noir would make Alya suspicious, then he wouldn't argue.
After all, Marinette- as Ladybug- had figured out that his comments as Chat Noir would make Alya suspect that he was dating her before Rena Rouge had even said anything. Clearly she knew how her best friend's brain worked.
Next to him, Plagg groaned. "Oh, no, not the convoluted plans again! Spare me!"
Marinette ignored him. "The main problem, as I see it, is that we don't have many excuses for Ladybug and Chat Noir to visit Adrien and Marinette publicly, in a scenario that wouldn't look staged. The most believable scenario would be a rescue during an akuma attack, but I don't know if it would actually be a good idea to try to create an illusion then. We'd be rushing, the chances of Alya seeing it wouldn't be great, and the chances of something going wrong and disrupting the illusion- well, that might be too high to risk it."
"It would make us look even more suspicious," Adrien agreed. He half-frowned, half-pouted as he considered the problem. Maybe he was usually pretty good at being patient, but now that he knew who his Lady was and that she like-liked him, he wasn't particularly interested in sitting around on his hands and not doing anything about it. But he wasn't coming up with any solutions that didn't have major potential for backfiring identities-wise, and he knew how important her secret identity was to Marinette. He wasn't going to press for anything that might endanger that. "Ugh. This is a disaster."
"There, there, kitty." He could hear the muffled laughter in Marinette's voice as she patted his head. "We'll figure something out, even if it takes a few weeks."
Adrien could only groan, throwing his head back. "Ugh. That's going to feel like forever."
Three days, later, Adrien was suddenly facing a much more pressing issue, one that shoved all of his other thoughts about how unfair their current situation was to the side. The net of cameras had finally managed to capture the source of all of the corrupted butterflies…..and they were indisputably coming from the Agreste Mansion.
In the end, it was Dragoness who took Hawkmoth and Mayura down, in very typical Dragoness fashion.
"Oh, this is dumb," she had groaned after all of the superheroes had gathered to brainstorm how to attack Mr. Agreste and Mayura. Idea after idea had been shot down, because they wanted to be safe about the entire attack instead of rushing in and risking injury, and clearly the deliberations were wearing on Dragoness' patience. "We hesitate, and Mr. Agreste has more of a chance to do damage or find out about the police effort and the fact that we know who he is now. We can do one small ambush attack and be done, and then go back to our normal lives."
And with that, she had hopped off of the roof, dashed for the Agreste Mansion before anyone could stop her, turned into pure lightning, blasted through the window, and knocked both Mr. Agreste and Nathalie unconscious with a well-aimed jolt to the head before they even realized that she was there. The fight between superheroes and supervillains ended not with an epic battle, but with the rather anticlimactic thud of two unconscious bodies hitting the floor in a pristine home office while static crackled through the air.
The rest of their group stared.
"Well, that's one way to do it," Ladybug said dryly after several moments had passed and she had regained her composure, swinging through the window that Dragoness had shattered. "Nice work. Vixen, Leonardo- I want you to call the police to come pick these two up and then go out front to let them in. The rest of us can get the Miraculous and start documenting and gathering up anything else Miraculous-related."
Vixen opened her mouth- to protest, Ladybug was pretty positive, because of course she would want to poke around all of the Miraculous stuff but that wasn't going to happen if Ladybug could help it- but Leonardo elbowed her and pulled her out of the room before she could say anything.
"I'd also like someone watching Mr. Agreste and Ms. Sancoeur even after we take their Miraculous," Ladybug added. "Make sure that they're still breathing and don't wake up suddenly."
Cobra nodded. "I can do that. I've taken first aid before, I know what to look for."
"Good. Thank you." Ladybug let out a long breath, then looked around the room. Chat Noir was clearly doing all he could to not look at his fallen father and Nathalie, but everyone else seemed to be relatively unrattled. "Chiron, can you hack into the computers? If there's any information in there about motives, that would be great to know. Dragoness-"
"I have retrieved the Miraculous." Dragoness held out her hand to Ladybug, the Butterfly and the Peacock glittering from her palm. "They were not trying particularly hard to hide them, oddly enough. I would have expected more effort."
"Well, they weren't expecting people to find out about them," Ladybug pointed out with a little laugh. She took the Miraculous, tucking them away in her yo-yo, then glanced around again. Chiron had grabbed Mr. Agreste and was using the limp fashion designer's hand to get past the lock screen. Cobra looked less than certain about the manhandling of the unconscious ex-supervillain, but he wasn't objecting yet, either. "So there's no point in tucking the Miraculous away behind layers and layers of fabric. And they're camouflaged anyway, so..."
Dragoness looked less than convinced. Still, she turned away, working her way around the room, looking behind paintings and photos for hidden safes. Chat Noir had already opened the safe behind the portrait of his mom, cracking the door in half with his baton. Ladybug dithered for a moment, not entirely sure where she should start. Before she could go for the drawers of the desks- a fairly logical place to hide things, really- Chiron looked up from the computer.
"Ladybug? Chat Noir? I- I think you should see this."
Hawkmoth was defeated. Paris was safe. Adrien's father and Nathalie were safely in jail, recovering from the healthy jolt of electricity to the head that they had gotten. All of the temporary Miraculous were back with Ladybug- after all, it wouldn't be a good idea to have too much magic jewelry floating around, even if they had good teammates- and Mrs. Agreste had been found, thanks to the information that Chiron had found on Mr. Agreste's computer, and Voyage'd off to Tibet for soul purification and healing with the restored temple of Guardians.
And, well, it turned out that having one's father exposed as a supervillain did have one very convenient upside.
After all, now it wasn't unbelievable that the superheroes might drop in and check up on Adrien every so often to make sure that he was coping with his father's arrest and to give him any updates on Mrs. Agreste's condition. And since the superheroes were very likely to be busy and need to be on their way quickly, it would make the most sense for Adrien to meet up with them in the mansion's courtyard.
And of course, for that to actually happen…well, it required a little bit of Miraculous magic, and a bit of planning.
Or a lot of planning, since Marinette was involved and wanted to make sure that all of their bases were covered and that nothing would go wrong. Adding to the difficulty, of course, was the fact that Alya had used the Fox Miraculous before and would be more likely than most people to pick up on anything that wasn't quite right. They had gone over the plan dozens of times, reviewing and fine-tuning it before the superheroes' first "visit".
And yet Marinette was still really nervous about something going wrong, considering that she was going over the plan again. Adrien would remind her that he already knew it by heart- after all, he had been present and active in the whole planning process- but if going over the plan again out loud was going to help Marinette be less nervous, Adrien wasn't going to stop her.
"I'll start the illusions a bit away, in an obvious area," Marinette was saying, pacing back and forth across the room as all of the kwamis watched her. "Then they'll swing by your window so that you know to come out to the front and pretend to chat. They'll stick around long enough for people to get in a picture or two, then leave. And remember-"
"-don't touch the illusions," Adrien finished for her, figuring that it was a good way to show her that he was listening and hadn't just checked out. "I know. I'll be careful."
"I'd make you an illusion, too, just so that there could be a little more interaction between you, but if the Gorilla comes out at all…" Marinette sighed, finally flopping onto the couch. "Hopefully he doesn't, or at least doesn't try to come over and listen in. I can do conversation, of course, but I'd have to actually think of things to say. And voices- I can do mine, obviously, but yours?"
"Chat Noir could always have a nasty cold that made him lose his voice," Adrien pointed out. He reached for Marinette's hand as she slid on the Fox Miraculous. "You've got this, Bugaboo. You've done illusion improv before and did amazing. I trust you. And I'll help, too, if he comes out. I can prompt the conversation with questions. You don't have to overthink this."
Marinette let out a long breath, her shoulders finally slumping as she relaxed. "Right."
Adrien pulled her into a hug. "You've got this."
"Right." Marinette took another deep breath, then called on Tikki and Trixx. With a flash of light, she transformed, and then she wasted no time at all in leaping out of the window, headed across the rooftops to find a place to hunker down so that she could watch her illusions without getting spotted herself. Adrien settled back down on the couch, keeping one eye on his window and the other on his phone, open to the superhero tag. He wanted to be able to let Foxybug know when her illusions were spotted, so that they could stop lingering and instead head straight for the mansion. After all, they wanted to balance getting attention with being believable, and favoring one over the other could easily be enough to raise some suspicion.
Despite the fact that the akuma threat was gone- or perhaps because of it, since sightings of the superheroes had gotten fewer and further between- it wasn't long before people started noticing the superheroes and posting about it online. A few were even posting pictures, and Adrien grinned when he saw one that had Ladybug and Chat Noir with their heads together, clearly deep in discussion about something serious. Foxybug wasn't having them go anywhere in a hurry, but- well, considering that the superheroes would have probably felt a bit awkward around Adrien if he hadn't been part of their team in the first place, their hesitation before talking to him was understandable. Two teenagers who hadn't been trained in giving news to family members of- well, family members of people who weren't in the best shape- would be a bit apprehensive.
Adrien's grin got wider. Marinette was so clever. He would have had the illusions wandering back and forth to get attention- the most obvious route to take, at least in his mind- and that would have been far more suspicious. Her ability to plan out believable scenarios, even when they weren't the most obvious- and often right on the spot, too-
Well, she was just incredible. That much was obvious- and had always been obvious.
Adrien couldn't wait until their plan had worked and he could safely date Marinette.
A tap at his window startled Adrien out of his thoughts, and he looked up to see the superhero illusion. He waved at it, then got up and headed for the courtyard in front of the mansion, squinting a little against the sun.
Unsurprisingly, the superhero illusions had beat him there and were waiting at the top of the steps. Perhaps a little more surprisingly, Adrien could already see a couple people not-so-discreetly peering through the gate, their phones out.
If this had been a real update meeting about how his mom was doing, Adrien would be pretty ticked at the invasion of his privacy, even though no one would actually be able to overhear their talking from the gate. As it was…
Well, he was still a bit irritated by it. After all, real or not, people were clearly prioritizing their interest in gossip over his right to privacy. But it was what he and Marinette wanted to happen, to keep their identities safe, so he wouldn't complain.
(Too much, at least.)
An awkward moment passed as illusions and civilian stared at each other, suddenly feeling too awkward to act. Since Adrien got the information on his mom at the same time as Ladybug did, there was no need to actually discuss her now, but that meant that they had to decide on a topic of conversation unless they just wanted to mime a conversation and hope that there were no binocular-eyed lip-readers in the group lingering at the gate.
"Er- thank you for coming, Ladybug and Chat Noir," Adrien finally said, breaking the silence even as he struggled to come up with a topic to discuss. Even with his background in modeling and dabbling in acting, he didn't think that he could pull off a several-minute "conversation" with the superheroes about nothing and make it look believable. "So, uh, how is my mom doing?"
…well, it wouldn't hurt to just reiterate the little information that he had already heard, he supposed. They could manage that, surely, even if both of them had suddenly gone tongue-tied.
So much for not overthinking things. Really, it was a miracle that they had done so well with akuma fights when they managed to get wrapped up in their own heads
Ladybug blinked, then sighed. "Oh. So we're actually talking, then."
Adrien tried not to laugh at that. "I figured that it would probably be more convincing than just standing around staring at each other, yes."
"Right- I mean, obviously, yes, mouths should be moving, but now I have to think of dialogue."
Adrien was starting to struggle to keep a straight face. If he laughed, that would be crazy suspicious. "We could just talk about the weather. How's the air above Paris, Chat Noir?"
There was a pause, and then Chat Noir scrunched up his nose at Adrien and said, in what was possibly the worst imitation of his voice that Adrien had ever heard in his life, "Paw-sitively purrfect."
Adrien practically choked in his effort not to laugh at that.
"Anyway, there's not much to report," Ladybug said a little louder than necessary, probably to cover up any suspicious noises from his muffled laughter. "The Guardians have reported your mom's safe arrival, and tests on her condition are expected to begin shortly. They just want to ensure that she will be stable during tests."
Adrien rearranged his face into something more suitable for the occasion. "What, you didn't like the weather talk? Pity."
"There's only so much I can think to talk about that's weather-related!" Ladybug protested. "Anyway, my timer is beeping, I'll have to wrap this up. We'll check in with you in a few days."
Adrien nodded, stepping back to give the illusions plenty of space to take off without crashing into him before turning to watch them go. He glanced at the gate- there were still people there, and a few withdrew hastily when they saw him looking at them as though he might not notice them there, while others clearly weren't at all ashamed at getting caught- and then turned and headed inside.
"First meeting was a success, I think," Marinette said as soon as Adrien stepped into his room, making him startle. For some reason, he hadn't guessed that she would be able to circle back and rejoin him so quickly, but he really should have. She was speedy, after all, and she would have been reaching the end of her Fox transformation. "Not everyone who was peeking in had their phones out for pictures, but most did. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one photo hits the internet."
"A necessary annoyance," Adrien agreed, flopping down on the couch next to her and resting his head against her shoulder. Now that that was over, he could properly relax. "And Alya follows the superhero tags religiously, so if it gets posted, she'll see it."
"Exactly." Marinette glanced over at him, grinning. Clearly she was feeling just as relieved that the first part of their plan was over with. "So. What do you want to do now?"
a/n: The third and final part will be coming (for real this time) after the next The Substitute Ladybug update (so hopefully about two weeks?). I'll be moving states at that time though, so that might push things back a bit.
As always, comments make my day!