"Please just listen to me for a second." Cat Noir shouted desperately.
Ladybug stopped walking. She had never heard Cat Noir use that pleading tone of voice before, and it broke her heart to hear. She turned around slowly, afraid of what he wanted to say.
"Look, I know you are tired of hearing about my feelings. I won't bring it up again. I just want to ask for one favor."
"Ok, you know I'd do anything I can for you."
Cat Noir flinched and took a second to collect himself. He swallowed hard and finally said, "Every time I try to talk to you about my feelings, you push it aside with the same statement. Please just tell this guy how you feel and see if you can make it work or not."
Ladybug was stunned. She replied slowly in a tone of disbelief, "Your favor is for me to tell another guy that I love him."
"Yes. I want you to be happy, you know. And..." he looked away from her for this piece of honesty, "I can't move on while you are single. I can't stop myself from hoping, and I just don't want to anymore."
Ladybug flung her arms around his neck trying to comfort him. "I'm so sorry, Kitty." She held him for a while, but she began to think it was making things worse. He started out not returning the hug and ended up clinging to her. She broke away and said, "I will talk to him as soon as possible." She didn't trust herself to say more, and she studiously avoided his gaze thinking it might break her determination.
Cat Noir forced his voice to be light, "I'll see you soon." But his serious mood overtook him, and he finished intensely, "I will always be here for you, Milady. No matter what you decide." He gave her a searching look then bounded away.
As soon as he was out of sight, Ladybug finally let her guard down. She collapsed to the ground and cried. She let herself really feel Cat Noir's pain until she was cried out. She recovered after a few minutes of deep calming breaths and began to think.
Was Cat Noir right? She had put off telling Adrien how she felt for years thinking that she was content to be friends. But she continued to keep Cat Noir at arm's length so their relationship would stay functional. Could it be she had been too cowardly to talk to Adrien?
She didn't want to be a coward, so she pulled out her phone and texted Adrien: do you have plans tonight? I need to talk to you about something and I'd like to talk in person
Quicker than she thought possible, Adrien texted back: of course! I don't have plans. Where and when?
Ladybug smiled then. It was time to move forward. She sent him her new address and jumped off towards home.
She landed in an alley two blocks away from her apartment, transformed back into Marinette, and walked home at a normal human pace.
As Marinette put the finishing touches on dinner, she looked around to verify nothing embarrassing was laying around. She had grabbed her homework and design notebooks and stashed them in a closet. When she was satisfied that everything was immaculate, she was stressed anyway. As a final nervous tick, Marinette texted Alix to be on alert. Just in case.
Across town, Adrien answered his phone, "Hi Alix. Omniscient as usual."
"Not this time. What did you say to her? She sent me an alert!"
"Nothing really. Or at least, nothing she was listening to."
Alix didn't respond for a long time. Adrien sighed at her silent disapproval, "Fine. I asked her for a favor and guilt-tripped her into telling this guy that she's into him. It's for the best, Alix. For all of us. She feels weak because she can't face this..." he trailed off, but picked back up more honestly, "I can't move on until she figures this out, and I need to move on. I can't quit, I can barely go a day without checking in with her. I need things to change."
"I know, Adrien." She hesitated, very unlike her, "So, uh, how did you leave it?"
"I just left. I..." he stammered as emotion takes over, "I looked back and she was crying. But, I couldn't go back. She needs to face this."
"Are you on your own tonight? Do you want me to come over?"
"No, don't cancel on Nate. Marinette invited me over for dinner. I think she wants to talk about life after university, and it will be good to hang with someone who doesn't know about any of this."
"Now that's interesting."
"Alix." He chided.
"You deserve to be happy. I'm cheering for you."
"Well, I'm going to get ready for my date. Fingers crossed that it won't be interrupted."
"Have a good night, Alix. Don't worry about me."
"I always worry about you Kitty-Cat. Good luck."
Adrien hung up and pushed everything else out of his mind. Tonight, he was hanging with Marinette. "Come on, Plagg. Let's go buy some wine."
Marinette opened the door and greeted Adrien in a sing-song voice, "Welcome to my home!"
As soon as Adrien saw her smiling face, he relaxed. "I'm so glad you texted me. I've been having a terrible day." He kissed her cheeks and offered her the wine.
"Oh, I'm sorry your day has been bad." She looked worried. More worried than the occasion called for, Adrien thought. She opened the wine and poured it into the decanter.
"It isn't your fault. Quite the opposite. Seeing you has already improved my mood."
She blushed prettily, like she did every time Adrien paid her a complement. He felt himself relax further. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"Oh, that can wait until after dinner." She invited him to sit down at the tiny table and served him dinner.
He took a bite and exclaimed, "Mmm, this is amazing! You have outdone yourself."
Marinette picked at her food nervously and drank her first glass of wine quickly. She was calming down with her second glass, and she was finally ready to put herself out there.
"Adrien, I need to tell you something, and possibly two things depending on how you react to the first thing."
Adrien smiled, "Convoluted as always. What do I have to say to hear both of the things you need to say?"
"You are so amazing."
"Thanks, Marinette." He blushed.
"I mean it, Adrien. You are the most amazing man I have ever met." She paused and tried to shut off her brain, to speak from her heart. "Adrien, I love you. I have loved you from almost the day we met."
Adrien froze. He wasn't ready to have another conversation like this today.
Marinette took his silence as rejection. She was mortified, but she refused to lose his friendship over it. "Hey look, it's ok. Honestly, I just thought it was time to tell you."
Adrien responded in a strange voice, "You love me?"
Marinette nodded, it was safer than trying to speak.
"I had no idea you felt that way." When she didn't say anything else, he asked, "Um, so what's the other thing?"
"The other thing was a secret that I have been keeping, but I don't think it matters now."
Adrien looked up at her. He loved her, he knew, but was it right to tell her when he loved her less than someone else? Less than she deserved. Less than someone else might love her.
"Marinette..." he began, but her face blanched and she snapped the stem off the wine glass she was holding. He whipped around to see what startled her. "What are you doing here, Bunnyx?"
Marinette dropped her face into her hands and cried out agonizingly, "Why does this keep happening? Are you doing this on purpose, Alix?"
"You know who this is?"
Bunnyx called out "Counterclockwise!" and transformed back into Alix. "This is not what you think, Marinette. I'm not who you think."
Marinette looked up then. She breathed out, "future Bunnyx?"
"Exactly, though you aren't really Minibug anymore."
"Why do you keep stopping me from talking to Adrien? I finally got to tell him how I feel. Are you taking it back again?"
"What does that mean?" Adrien asked confused. Both women ignored him to continue their conversation.
"No, I am here to fix something. It's been a very long day. I spent most of it with 14-year-old Ladybug trying to stop 16-year-old Cat Noir from destroying the world."
Marinette fired up in defense of her partner, "That was NOT Cat Noir's fault. He was akumatized. How could you blame him for that?"
"Woah there Minibug! I'm not blaming him." Then she looked over at Adrien sheepishly, "Really, it wasn't his fault. I was just saying that it's been a hard day."
"Why are you here, Bunnyx?" Marinette demanded.
"LB, I am here to help. That's all. I think I hurt you today, my today anyway, and now that you have adult powers, you are ready to hear some truths."
Adrien stared at Marinette for a long time. No one broke the silence waiting for her to speak.
"I hadn't even told him yet."
"He already knows. Look at his face."
"You... you're Ladybug?" He stammered in joyful incredulity.
Adrien rephrased, "You're Ladybug, and you love me?"
"Yes." Simple sentences felt safe.
Adrien smiled and turned back to Alix, "So you aren't the Alix I was talking to before I came over here?"
"No, I am three years older than now. Roughly, I mean we don't age like everyone else because we hold miraculous, plus I spend a lot of time outside of time, but I still experience that time. So, I could be several years older."
"But not wiser apparently. I ordered you to never let anyone else know who you are, with two exceptions. Adrien is neither of those exceptions."
Alix raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Your stress is interfering with your brain there, LB. Of course, Adrien is one of those exceptions."
Marienette appeared to be deeply hurt by this. "You have been keeping me from telling Adrien how I feel because you know he belongs with you?"
Adrien reached out and caught her hand. "No Marinette. Alix knows that I am Cat Noir, which I assume is the other exception."
Marinette pulled her hand away from Adrien and slinked over to her couch. She dropped heavily and crossed her arms.
"And that's my cue. You are ready to give up your love for Adrien AND Cat Noir to save Kitty-Cat from pain. You CANNOT keep doing this. Pushing Cat Noir away is driving him crazy. He will end up joining Hawk Moth to get away from you."
"I would not." Adrien contradicted immediately.
"You will. When tonight did not go as planned, Marinette didn't tell you that she is Ladybug, so you reject her. The reason you give is 'even though you love her, you also love someone else and you don't think that's fair to her.' LB still won't date you because she is afraid of you becoming akumatized again, and she's holding out hope that Adrien will change his mind. You eventually try to give up on Ladybug cold turkey. When you can't stand it, you finally give in and show up to help her. She stupidly tells you that she doesn't need you, so you throw your miraculous at her. Hawk Moth finds out who you are and drags you in when you are weak. Together you defeat Ladybug, and Hawk Moth makes his selfish wish. It's disastrous, and I will not let that happen."
Adrien was stunned by how reasonable her explanation was, but Marinette looked like she could kill Adrien.
"Stop it, Marinette. You didn't kill him when you found out he killed future you, you won't hurt him now."
"Betrayal isn't the same as accidental death."
"I killed Ladybug?" He said, anguished.
The fire died out of Marinette's eyes instantly, and she answered gently, "Not you, and not on purpose. It was Cat Blanc while he was fighting against the akuma. He never tried to hurt me, I swear. He was just confused."
Adrien fell silent again. He felt like his life was falling apart, even as it was starting to make more sense.
"And Adrien, you didn't fall apart when you fought Beetle. You won't fall apart now. You aren't trapped here, you want to be here."
"Beetle? I don't remember an akumatized villain by that name."
Adrien got up from the table and walked over to sit on the couch by Marinette. "I fought akumatized Ladybug last year. We erased the trigger afterward because the citizens of Paris didn't trust Ladybug after that."
Alix waited for the two superheroes to process the information she had laid out so far. Marinette looked up at her with an almost frantic look of confusion on her face.
"LB, you aren't supposed to make decisions based on the future for two reasons: 1) as you told me, you should make the decision based on which action is right, not the outcome itself. If the actions taken are right, the outcome will be right. And 2) as I have found, the future changes with every decision made! You can't plan based on the future because it's like building on sand. And like building on sand, you are destroying the foundation for your future. You cannot keep Cat Noir from feeling pain. He has already experienced pain that you cannot understand, and he is stronger because of it. Just decide whether you love Cat Noir or not and be done with it. If he is akumatized again, I will help you stop him. If you are akumatized again, I'll try to stop you. I have to admit, that was a hard battle thought."
Marinette smiled at last. "You know that you are complicatedly telling me to not worry."
"Yes, but I only promised to stop saying those exact words, not that I would stop implying them. I love you, LB, and sometimes you need to hear it. Worrying about the outcome stops you from taking action needed to prevent that outcome." Alix gauged Marinette's response. It seemed to have had its effect. "Now, I am going to go home to my fiancé so you can sort yourselves out. Good night!" She transformed back into Bunnyx and burrowed home.
Marinette glanced over at Adrien staring fixedly at the floor. She was feeling better every second. This man really does love me! She stood up and kicked her shoes off and walked over to straddle Adrien's legs on the couch. She leaned down to kiss him, but Adrien leaned back a little and said, "Don't you want to talk?"
He undercut the rejection by running his hands over her waist.
"Do you feel the same way about me now that you know who I am? What I am capable of?"
"Do you still want what you mentioned this afternoon?"
"Good. We are finally on the same page. I've wanted this for a long time." She kissed him passionately.
He lifted up and laid her down on the couch. He climbed on top of her and continued kissing her.
After a while, Marinette said breathily, "Do you want to get more comfortable? We could move to the bed."
Adrien hesitated again. "Are you sure you are ready for this? We only just now settled how we feel about each other. This is moving fast."
"I'm ready, but if you aren't, that's fine. We can pick this up again." She kissed his neck and said, "and again, and again."
He shivered. "God, I want to, but I know I shouldn't. I want to thoroughly enjoy this, and I'm still feeling a bit off." He stood up shakily and pulled her to her feet, and he hugged her tightly. "Do you want to go to a movie? There's a new romantic comedy that Nino was telling me about. He took Alya last week."
"Absolutely, the theater is close enough to walk to. Give me a minute to clear up, then we can go."
Adrien and Marinette tackled the dishes together, punctuating the chore with delighted giggles and easy conversation.
When the apartment was once more immaculate and it was probably time to leave for the movie, Adrien gently pressed Marinette up against the wall and whispered huskily, "I believe you said we could pick this up again?"
She giggled delightedly and nodded as he leaned down to kiss her.