If it hadn't been for Marinette and Nino, Adrien probably would have assumed that- somehow, impossibly- Alya hadn't heard about Ladybug and Chat Noir's visit to the mansion. For once, she had clearly put a lid on her curiosity and restrained herself from interrogating Adrien about what the superheroes had said. Alya hadn't stopped theorizing, of course, but she wasn't doing it in front of Adrien, or even in places where Adrien might 'accidentally' overhear.
"She's pretty dead on with her assumptions," Marinette told Adrien as they planned their next "meeting", two days after the first one. It had seemed a bit soon to both of them at first, like they were desperate to be seen, but- well, it made sense that Adrien would want frequent updates. A lot could change in two days, at least theoretically. "She guessed that they were probably just keeping you updated and that there wasn't much to report yet."
Plagg cackled. "Technically, she wasn't completely accurate," he quipped. "As I recall, you tried and failed to talk about the weather, too."
"Okay, yes, but- hey, it's what we intended to have people think!" Marinette protested. "It's what we would have said if we were actually doing the meeting. And I did give an update and there wasn't much to report yet."
"Yeah, that's a bit- well, maybe I had my hopes too high that the Order would be able to help Mom really fast," Adrien sighed, leaning into Marinette's side. She leaned back, solid and comforting, and he relished in the contact. They still had to be careful with how they acted around each other most of the time- whenever people might pop in on them- so the moments when they could be close were fewer than Adrien really would have liked. "I mean, I know they're doing their best, and I really appreciate that they're working so hard to be careful so that Mom doesn't get worse, but today's update was still 'stabilizing and starting research'."
"They did tell us that it could take a while," Marinette pointed out quietly, pulling him closer to her side. "There's a lot of possibilities of what could have gone wrong, and how the magic could have affected her. Acting on the wrong assumption could make it harder to heal her properly once they figure out what the real problem is." Her chin rested against the side of his head, and Adrien couldn't help but smile as she nuzzled him. "D'you want to come over tonight as Chat? My parents commented yesterday that they hadn't seen you around recently."
Adrien perked up. Did he want to come over? Did he ever. "I'd love that."
"I figured you might." Marinette gave his hair an affectionate ruffle, and Adrien gave into the urge to lean into her hand and purr right away. "I'll get out the blankets when I get home."
"But that's later, and we still have to do today's 'visit'." Marinette peeled herself away from Adrien (who absolutely did not whine at the loss of contact) and reached into her bag, pulling out a small box that Adrien recognized as a Miraculous box. "It's pretty much the same time as the last visit, and regularity is probably a good thing."
"Right, we won't have to do as much to get people to come and look." Adrien glanced over at Marinette. "You know, if you wanted, we have a study room that overlooks the courtyard. You could just transform and stay in there and be able to get a pretty good view of what's going on."
Marinette considered that, then shook her head. "Not this time. I need to be able to be pretty sure that there won't be any surprise pigeons that could disrupt the illusions on their way over. Once I don't have to really catch people's attention, then that would be nice. I'd just have to remember to include a bit of illusion in front of the window, so that no one sees me looking out."
Adrien hadn't thought of that. It was really smart, though. One glimpse of anything Fox-related, and Alya would be on them in a second. With a sigh- he didn't really want to get up- Adrien pushed himself to his feet. "Okay. I'll go out to the steps. Meet you back here afterward?"
Their second 'meeting' went much like their first. Adrien frowned at the gawkers by the gate more openly this time- seriously, didn't any of these people have common decency? Or something better they could be doing?- but only a very few people skittered away.
"We could try to get the Gorilla to shoo them away," Marinette suggested afterwards. She was flopped on Adrien's lap, idly playing with one of her hair ribbons. Her one undone pigtail was splayed out over one of his legs. "Mention that it's annoying to have people taking pictures and trying to listen in. Honestly, it would probably just add to the realism, don't you think? After all, why would anyone bother staging something fake if they didn't want anyone else looking?"
"Except he might do too good of a job." Adrien twisted his fingers through Marinette's loose hair, happy to be able to play with it. "And we still need to get you in a picture or two with Ladybug. Maybe we can do that if people pick up on the schedule and we get, like, bigger crowds or something. He'd probably pick up on it on his own at that point."
"D'you want to add yourself to the illusion sometime next week?" Adrien suggested after a minute. "We can ramp up the closeness at school a bit, so it's not a surprise that you would be over here. Then we can get a picture or two with you and Ladybug out."
"Yeah, sure. I don't think it'll take much, honestly." Marinette leaned into his hand, and Adrien didn't miss the opportunity to brush his thumb across her cheek. "Alya knows that we've hung out together without her and Nino before, and not just when they 'subtly' ditched us."
Adrien had to laugh at that. Now that all of their feelings were out in the open, the truth had come out about their friends' not-so-subtle attempts to set them up had come out, too. And now that he had more context for the weird behavior- the weird behavior from all of his friends, not just Marinette- and he wasn't wondering what he was missing or doing wrong, it was all pretty funny.
"Are we taking bets on if the Ladyblogger is going to start up the matchmaking again soon?" Plagg asked, zipping around to join them now that his cheese was finished. "Or do we think that she's still off on her assumption that Pigtails is dating Chat Noir?"
"I have a name, Plagg," Marinette said with a sigh. She started to sit up, only to stop and flop back into Adrien's lap with a huff of amusement when he let out a whine automatically. "And it's hard to tell what Alya's thinking about that at the moment. She's stopped with the hints and pointed questions and whatnot, but it's hard to tell if she's dropped the idea completely or if it's just that there's so much else going on and there's more important things to worry about."
Adrien worried his lower lip. That probably made things more difficult, then. Marinette would be the one who would have the best idea about what Alya was thinking, and if she didn't have any idea of what Alya thought…
"My guess, though, is that she hasn't forgotten," Marinette spoke up again after a minute. "She's not had any truly conflicting evidence yet, so she hasn't had any reason to drop the idea fully."
"Unless she's realized that her jump to conclusions didn't exactly have any evidence, either," Tikki chimed in. "Isn't that a possibility?"
Marinette snorted. "You're talking about the girl who was convinced that Chloe was Ladybug. No."
Adrien turned red and glanced away. He had been thrown off by Alya's suspicion, too, at least briefly. In his defense, thought, he had assumed that she would have good evidence if she was willing to risk Chloe's wrath. "Uh. Right."
"But I guess it doesn't really matter, not right now," Marinette said. She grinned up at Adrien. "We'll see what happens later, after the other meetings and after Ladybug and Chat Noir start dating."
Adrien grinned back. "I can't wait."
The next several meetings went smoothly, now that they had gotten into a groove. General public curiosity seemed to have largely dropped off- after all, there were no dramatics and they couldn't hear anything anyway- but a couple tabloid reporters could be counted on to always show up, peering through the gates and snapping a few photos of Adrien and the superheroes before they could get chased off by the Gorilla. A few times, paparazzi had even managed to snap pictures of a girl with Adrien, standing at his side and listening in on part of the conversation before excusing herself to head indoors and give him a bit of privacy with the superheroes.
Alya pounced on Marinette after that, dragging her off to the locker rooms to interrogate her about what she had heard. She was a bit disappointed to hear that Marinette hadn't stuck around long enough to hear anything of interest, but had to admit that it was probably smart to do it that way.
And despite the regular- and frequent- meetings, no one suspected the Fox's involvement at all. Ladybug was good at keeping her illusions safe and far away from anything that might disturb them. On top of that, she had decided one day to add on an illusion of pigeons flying right past Ladybug and Chat Noir, making Chat Noir 'sneeze' and almost giving Adrien a heart attack in the process because she had forgotten to warn him that she was going to do that beforehand. He had been convinced that all of their hard work to separate their identities was about to go up in twin puffs of orange, pigeon-scented smoke, and for it to not do that…
Well, it was lucky for both of them that Adrien hadn't slumped to the ground in relief once the illusions landed safely. That would have looked pretty suspicious, though it was possible that they would have been able to chalk it up to the news: Mrs. Agreste's condition had been fully figured out, treatment had started, and she was already making great improvement with her recovery.
And then, a day after they got the news that Mrs. Agreste had woken up, Ladybug and Chat Noir were seen looking very close in public. Paris went mad when Madam Chamack managed to get her hands on a photo of the two superheroes sharing a kiss over what looked like a midnight picnic.
And Alya was clearly left confused, if the multiple texts consisting entirely of question marks that she had sent Marinette was any indication. Marinette had just sent question marks back, playing dumb about why Alya would be anything besides ecstatic that the superheroes were clearly dating now.
Next to her, Adrien had snickered at the exchange. He had come back to the bakery with her after their picnic (not, of course, without a fair bit of teasing about going home with her on the first date) to help put things away, and he had lingered long enough to watch the entire exchange.
"I would have thought that you would be over the moon about Ladynoir actually happening, Alya!" Rose exclaimed the following morning, when her eager 'Alya! Alya, did you hear?' was met by a long face. "You've wanted it to happen for ages now? What happened?"
"Oh, I, uh…." Alya started, clearly taken aback at being questioned by anyone, and Adrien snickered quietly from his spot next to Marinette. He knew as well as she did that Alya couldn't exactly admit to thinking that Marinette was dating Chat Noir without explaining why, and even with Hawkmoth behind bars she wasn't supposed to tell anyone about her secret identity just in case- but clearly she couldn't explain that she was hoping that she was right about Marinette dating Chat Noir so that she could figure out his identity. And now, since they weren't dating, her dream of finding out who he was that way had gone down the drain. "Uh…"
Neither of the two superheroes felt at all guilty about the destruction of that particular dream. Alya shouldn't have been trying to ferret out their identities in the first place, she shouldn't have been jumping to conclusions, and she shouldn't have been bothering Marinette about the "relationship" at all, even if it had been confirmed instead of just speculation.
"They're so cute, I don't know how anyone could be anything but thrilled!" Rose gushed, apparently not willing to wait for Alya to finish muddling through her half-baked explanation for why she wasn't thrilled about the superhero development. "A midnight picnic on the rooftops of Paris, how romantic! Did you see the candles in the photos? A candlelit midnight picnic!"
There were murmurs from their classmates. Mylène nodded in agreement, clasping her hands together just like Rose. "It's so cute! I do wonder about the timing, though- do you think that they wanted to date before, but didn't let themselves because of Hawkmoth? And then now that-" Mylène caught herself, ducking her head sheepishly as she glanced at Adrien and then away again. "Anyway, now it's safe, and everything's being dealt with, so they can relax and date!"
"Or they were already dating and they were just keeping it secret, like in a novel!" Rose beamed at the thought. "I mean, there were pictures and videos of them kissing and flirting before, but they just denied that they were in a relationship and that things were taken out of context. Maybe that was actually just when they slipped up!"
There were murmurs at that, and then the gossip exploded as people chimed in with interactions that they had seen themselves, if they thought it was romantic, the likelihood that the superheroes had actually been trying to hide a relationship…
The general consensus, from what Marinette could make out in the babble, was that the superheroes would have done a better job of hiding their flirting if they had actually been dating in secret. She supposed that that was about as good as she could hope for.
At least her classmates had some faith in her and Chat Noir. Marinette would have been super embarrassed if they decided that the superheroes just didn't have enough common sense to be able to hide their relationship properly.
"How are you doing, dude?" Nino asked, appearing at Adrien's side. "Let me know if you need to, like, step out or anything."
"I'm good," Adrien assured him, smiling. "I've gotten used to- to everything. And it's not like I'm not interested in Ladybug and Chat Noir anymore or anything. I think it's sweet that they're dating."
Nino looked supremely unconvinced. "You, the ultimate Ladybug fanboy, are totally fine with Ladybug dating Chat Noir instead of you?"
"Chat Noir knows Ladybug, though," Adrien pointed out reasonably, though his cheeks had turned pink. "Way better than anyone else in the city. Are you really going to think that I would throw a fit over someone dating my celebrity crush?"
Nino considered that, then shrugged. "Nah, fair point. I always think of celebrity crushes on being on famous people that you've never met, I guess, and you've definitely met Ladybug. But I can see how that's different!" he added hastily. "Or how meeting Ladybug is kind of like doing meet and greets with bands or whatever. You don't really get to know them, just meet them. They're not, like, suddenly obtainable because you've met them once."
Adrien nodded, a little too fast and jerky. "Yup! Exactly."
Nino narrowed his eyes suspiciously at that, but didn't comment on it, simply shrugging and moving on. "Did you know about it before the news broke? I think you're the person that the superheroes have been in closest contact with."
Adrien blinked. "I… don't follow?"
"Were they being obvious flirts, I think he's asking," Marinette cut in before Adrien could give away anything potentially incriminating. "Which they wouldn't be, right? They always seemed pretty down-to-business from what I saw."
"Yeah, they pass on what they know and then they're off," Adrien agreed. "After answering any of my questions, of course. They have lives to get back to, after all, and they probably have to make excuses to go out and talk to me."
Nino considered that. "Okay, yeah. That's true. But speaking of which…" He glanced around to make sure that they had some privacy- all of their classmates seemed to be caught up in the gossip and speculation about Ladybug and Chat Noir, and Marinette could overhear Alix and Kim tossing the word 'bet' around- and then leaned forward, genuine curiosity and concern on his face. "How's that going? Any word on your mom yet? I heard she woke up."
Adrien grinned. "Yeah! So yesterday, the superheroes told me…"
Mrs. Agreste returned home once she was fully recovered, accompanied by a police escort to keep away gawkers and people who might have some misplaced anger at her because of Mr. Agreste's actions. Adrien met her at the mansion, with Marinette at his side.
They weren't dating as their civilian selves, not yet. The delay between the superheroes' announcement and theirs would hopefully be a good buffer of time so that people wouldn't associate the two fledgling relationships too closely, and so people wouldn't be so suspicious about the admittedly odd timing of them starting to date right after Adrien's father had been arrested and his mom had been found in a coma. It would also allow time for Emilie Agreste to return to Paris and reunite with her son before also having to adjust to the idea of her only child dating. Adrien thought that his mom would be delighted- despite being married to Gabriel Agreste, she was a romantic at heart- but Marinette was a little more cautious.
She didn't want Adrien's mom to dislike her just because she came back to everything changing too fast and Marinette was an easy target to blame for some of that change. Maybe that wasn't likely, if Adrien was to be believed, but it was better to not make waves. Mrs. Agreste could meet Marinette as Adrien's Very Good Friend, notice the romantic vibes between them, and get eased into the idea of Adrien dating someone a little more slowly.
Tikki thought that it was a good approach, too. Adrien had groaned about it for a little bit- after all, with his mom home, it would be far harder for him to slip out as Chat Noir, so he wouldn't get to do rooftop dates with Ladybug as often- but admitted that it was probably smart. If his mom was having a really hard time adjusting, they could always tell Marinette's parents that they were dating in secret and be able to cuddle there until Mrs. Agreste was more ready to accept their relationship.
Hopefully it wouldn't take long. Having to sneak around wasn't much fun, not after months and months of sneaking and excuses and flat-out lies so that they could go fight akumas. Even though it wasn't serious sneaking- they could probably just tell his mom that they were studying together- it was just…. well, a little exhausting after everything else.
The gates swung open, silent and imposing as ever, freshly oiled by the Gorilla just that morning, and the Agreste family car turned in. Two police cars pulled in neatly behind them, but Mrs. Agreste paid them no mind. She burst out of the car as soon as it pulled to a stop, dashing up the steps towards Adrien with a beam on her face.
"Darling!" she called, scooping him up in her arms. "You've grown! My goodness, you're going to pass me soon at this rate. You look so good! What have you been up to? No one has been able to tell me much. And who is this? Are you Adrien's girlfriend?"
Marinette blinked as the human hurricane that was Emilie Agreste turned to her. "Uh…"
She- she hadn't been prepared for Emilie to be completely eager for Adrien to have a girlfriend. Or- or maybe she wasn't, but she was just excited and so everything was exciting and fine with her and once- well, once everything hit her and she started getting readjusted to life in Paris, maybe she would be less fine with everything.
"Mom, this is Marinette- she's one of my best friends from school!" Adrien told Mrs. Agreste before Marinette could pull herself together. "She wanted to make sure that I wasn't waiting for you on my own, because I definitely would have gone crazy from anticipation."
"That's so sweet of you!" Mrs. Agreste exclaimed. "I'm glad that Adrien has made such great friends at- at school, right? I think I heard something about that."
Adrien nodded, and for the first time, Marinette saw some hesitance there. He had mentioned that his mom had been the one in charge of his homeschooling, at least for the earlier years, so she might be less than pleased about his move to public schools. "Yeah. I wanted to get out and go to classes and- and make friends. And it's been great! I'm learning a lot, and not just school stuff, either! There's a lot of social stuff that I've learned- that I'm still learning-"
"All good things," Marinette added hastily, before Mrs. Agreste could start jumping to conclusions about what kinds of things Adrien might be learning. "Dupont is a really well-behaved school, everyone- well, most everyone- is really nice."
"There's the odd bully, but everyone else is fantastic," Adrien added on. "It's really great, getting to experience group projects and proper presentations and, like, not being the only one answering questions. There's so many different points of view that people bring to the table!"
"I suppose that as long as the school is a quality one, it's probably fine," Mrs. Agreste decided after a moment's pause. "And normally I would assume that it had been properly vetted by Nathalie, but- well, I suspect that she's been a bit distracted. I'll want to have conferences with your teachers. When I get the time, that is." She sighed. "I suspect that I'll be quite busy for a bit. And- well, you're going to be entering lycée soon, I suppose I had better get on researching schools for that, too."
"My parents can send you some materials for the schools that most of the Dupont students end up going to," Marinette offered before Mrs. Agreste could get too wrapped up in lycée worries. "They're good schools, really- well, there's one that's not fantastic, but my parents won't have stuff for that school anyway."
Mrs. Agreste perked up. "Oh, that would be lovely, dear. Yes, yes, I suppose it wouldn't make much sense to look at all of the schools in the city anyway."
"Right," Adrien chimed in. He glanced at the waiting policemen. "Uh, should we see what they want…?"
Mrs. Agreste glanced that way, too, and the policemen took that as their cue to jog up the steps to join them. They smiled at Adrien and Marinette, then turned to Mrs. Agreste.
"We want to let you get settled and caught up with your family, of course, but we just wanted to let you know that the Paris police department is here for you," the shorter of the two policemen told Mrs. Agreste. "Let us know if people give you any trouble or if you need help with anything while you're settling back in. We started the procedure of undoing your status as a missing person as soon as the superheroes found you, so hopefully you won't have too much trouble as far as paperwork goes."
"Thank you," Mrs. Agreste told him. "And thank you to your entire department for arranging my flight home! It was so nice to have someone accompany me and make sure I didn't get lost in the airports on the way home!"
The policeman smiled. "Of course. And we do apologize that we couldn't just magic you back and you had to go through the flights in the first place. The superheroes wanted to use the- the Horse Miraculous, I believe?- to just magic you back home, but unfortunately that just couldn't be done."
Adrien and Marinette winced in unison. Using the Horse had been the plan originally, but somehow the Tibetan government had caught wind of the whole situation and stepped in. They had been none too thrilled with the idea of people magicking themselves over their borders unannounced and unmonitored and had ended up banning it. Which- well, a ban wasn't going to make the magic not work, but it was probably a good idea to act like they were going along with it. After all, Ladybug and Chat Noir would be popping over to the temple when they could for training in the future. If they resisted the government's order for Mrs. Agreste to travel the normal way, that could result in the temple being closely monitored and it would be impossible for them to slip in undetected.
So Mrs. Agreste had flown back to Paris.
"Oh, it's fine," Mrs. Agreste assured him. "I understand, and it wouldn't have made sense to cause an international incident over me. The important thing is that I'm back now!"
The police smiled at that, then quickly said their good-byes and piled back into their cars. They pulled out, and Marinette watched as the gates smoothly swing shut behind them. There were a few gawkers that had been near the gates, but they didn't linger long when the police cars paused.
"Well, now we're on our own," Mrs. Agreste announced, pulling Marinette's attention back to her. She was beaming at her and Adrien. "Why don't we all go inside? I want to hear about everything."
Marinette and Adrien ended up waiting for two and a half weeks before they decided to "start dating" publicly, but as their civilian selves this time.
And, much to their relief, it went over well. It went over really well. Marinette's parents and their classmates had been waiting for it to happen, that much was obvious, and Mrs. Agreste….
Well, Mrs. Agreste was smugly satisfied with herself for having called it "literally the second that I got back, Adrien, I just knew that you were going to start dating that girl!".
The satisfaction, from what Adrien had told Marinette, was because she had been concerned that she wouldn't know Adrien like she had before and he might seem like a stranger to her now. The fact that she had picked up on the 'strong romantic currents' between the two right away had apparently been incredibly pleasing to her.
Marinette had laughed at that, but it had honestly been worth waiting a couple of weeks to "start dating" just for that reaction alone. It had helped Mrs. Agreste feel even more comfortable than they had anticipated, and that was definitely a good thing. Every time Marinette had seen her Mrs. Agreste had seemed a bit on the flustered side, trying to catch up with everything while still spending as much time with Adrien as she could. With the confidence that her son wasn't a completely different person and hadn't grown into someone unrecognizable- well, everything else didn't seem to be so daunting.
And- well, Mrs. Agreste's obvious approval put both Adrien and Marinette at ease, too, so it was a win on both sides.
Marinette smiled as she joined Adrien in front of the school, twining her fingers with his before they started up the steps together. A lot had changed recently, but- well, it had all been resolved really well. Adrien had a caring (if perhaps a little overly involved) parent at home again, he and Marinette were dating, and their secret identities were safely- well, secret. There were maybe a few odd ends that had to be wrapped up at some point- after all, Chat Noir had been coming over on a fairly regular basis and then suddenly stopped, and Marinette's parents were bound to wonder what had happened to their friendship at some point unless they did something about it- but for now, everything was in a good place.
"Where do you want to go for our lunch date?" Adrien asked, pulling Marinette out of the first musings about what, maybe, they could do about the whole Chat Noir-Marinette friendship situation. "Anywhere in particular?"
"Oh, there's a lovely little place down the street that sells these really good wraps," Marinette said at once, remembering the small store. "And we could either eat there or in the park. It's supposed to be really nice out today."
Adrien nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Yeah, that sounds good. I like that idea." He squeezed her hand lightly, sending her an adoring look that she automatically returned and- yeah, maybe it wasn't that much of a surprise that his mom had managed to pick up on their interest in each other. "I like this whole getting to go out on dates publically thing. No more secrecy, no more sneaking around."
Marinette nodded, rolling up onto her toes to press a quick kiss to his cheek, because she could do that now, and it was amazing. "Me too."
Paris was safe, and now- now they could be normal teenagers again.
a/n: Woo and that's the end! I'll admit that I went back and forth on whether or not I was happy with how many things kind of got skimmed over/summarized, but it was either that or a zillion micro-scenes... and micro-scenes and I just don't get along. At all. So I'm going with this.
Thanks for reading! As always, comments make my day :)