"You made me dinner!" Cat Noir chuckled as Ladybug was startled by his sudden entrance. She had jumped slightly, but she recovered quickly. He knew that she wouldn't want him to know he had unnerved her, even for a second.
"I thought if I was going to ask for a favor, I could at least feed you."
Cat Noir laughed gently as Ladybug handed him a drink. He saluted her with the glass and sat down at the elegant table. He observed the domestic scene with a bittersweet smile and couldn't stop himself from imagining that she wanted his company as much as the favor. Still, a chance to see Ladybug without an emergency was all it took to get him to show up, and he would never turn down an opportunity to help her.
Ladybug laid the first course down in front of him, and he got caught up in watching her move around the little kitchen again. He turned his attention to the food hoping she wouldn't notice him watching her. Things had been good between them lately, and he really didn't want to mess them up again. He took a bite and exclaimed, "Mmm! This is amazing. Why are you good at everything?" He couldn't stop the question, though it had more heat to it than the playfulness he had intended.
She answered quietly, "I'm not good at everything. I do have a lot of experience cooking though."
The conversation fell flat, so Cat Noir got to the point before he could get too lost in the fantasy of playing house with her. "What do you need?"
She continued playing with her food and avoided looking at him. He reached over and stilled her hand. "Come on, LB. You can ask me for anything."
"Heh. This is a little much for my first request."
"I guess you really haven't asked me for anything before." He scratched his ear thoughtfully. She had received many favors from Cat Noir, mostly things she needed that he gave willingly without being asked… including throwing himself in front of any attack thrown her way. "Honestly, I can't think of anything you would ask me for that I would refuse. You may as well get it over with."
"Ugh, k. It's actually two favors. I want to go to Tibet to visit the Guardian temple, and I want you to go with me."
"Oh." His mind raced through several questions, but he focused on the one that might be the most pressing. "How would it look if we were traveling like this?" He indicated his suit.
"Well that brings me to the second favor. I want to know your secret identity so that we can travel together unnoticed." She was trying to gauge his reaction, but he schooled his expression to hide all reactions for now. She continued in an unsure voice, "I know it's a lot to ask, but we have our adult powers now. I feel like it's time."
This is too good to be real, or it could be real. Could it be real? I want this to be real, and she looks serious. Cat Noir thought that his luck wouldn't allow him to get everything he wanted, but an opportunity to fully know her plus the idea of being with her for an extended period of time… That was a close second to his heart's true desire. He was freaking out, but he managed to keep his voice fairly calm. "To be clear, you want to tell me who you are... so that we can go on a trip together?"
She smiled. "Yes, but not in the way you made it sound."
Yes! It is real! Immediately, he recognized that she won't back out, so he teased, "Ok ok. What's it worth to you?"
She frowned. Just like he knew she would. After years of fighting Hawk Moth together, he could predict her responses to most situations accurately, almost perfectly if it was a situation that he was concocting. "That really depends on what you want."
Bingo! "20 questions?"
"You want to guess who I am before I just tell you?" She takes a full minute to think about it, but he knew she wouldn't turn down the game. He waits patiently for her to figure that out too. "That could be fun. Do you want more wine?"
He nodded and considered his questions while she refilled the glasses. Start out slow… "What did you do right after our last mission?"
She blinked at that. Not expecting that, huh? "Uh, I went home and took a bubble bath."
"Nice! Great way to relax." He murmured distractedly. He considered again, but there was only one thing he wanted to know. "Have you ever had feelings for me?"
"So, this could be fun, but we are going to do this instead."
"Just answer the question."
"I did, years ago."
"That's a separate question." She cautioned.
He shrugged. It was worth it even if it was the last question she would answer.
"Right after we met, but I met someone else who turned my head around the same time." She paused for several seconds and stared down into her dinner. "He still does."
Yeah, not going near that yet. "Do you have any pets?"
She smiles slightly at the subject change. "Not yet."
"What is your favorite color?"
"What is the best thing about being Ladybug?"
She got up to put the next course on the table. "Are you still hungry?"
"I'm always hungry. If I'm not running around with you, I'm training at the club. It's a miracle I am consuming enough calories to survive."
Ladybug giggled, and Cat smiled broadly at the sound. "The best thing about being Ladybug is being a part of a team with a common goal."
Cat Noir continued gently, "What's the worst?"
She glared at him for a second, but answered honestly, "The loneliness that comes with being the only one who knows."
Cat Noir nodded. That was a feeling he could understand. "I can see that. Do you talk to Bunnyx about it?"
"I do. It's why I finally gave her a miraculous. After all our allies were revealed... after Chloe defected, I had a terrible summer. I stayed in my room and stopped working on all my hobbies. My mom told me that she was worried about me, but I couldn't tell her why I didn't want to leave the house even to hang out with my friends. She wouldn't let it go so I found Alix and told her everything. She tries to understand, but she isn't in command." She had trailed off but picked it back up. "Still, she has a unique trial from knowing too."
"You used that phrase before. What do you mean by 'knowing'?"
She silently eats a couple bites looking incredibly guilty. She finally looked into his eyes and bluntly answers. "What happens when we lose."
"We've never lost before."
"Of course we have, Kitty. You knew that Alix has been involved with our team since Queen Bee defected. She told me that she had talked to you. Did you think she was just carrying around a miraculous and never using it?"
Not going near that either. "What happens when we lose?"
She shook her head. "You aren't supposed to know that."
"How can you do what you must if you know the consequences if you fail?"
"Please, LB. I'll be fine." Cat knew there was nothing that would stop him from protecting Ladybug. Nothing.
She considered him briefly, but Cat knew she would watch his reaction carefully. He schooled his reaction again, trying for a neutral pose that he used while modeling. "One of us dies. Usually you, me, or both of us. One time all of us except Bunnyx. She burrows me out of my time to fix everything. I added it up once: I'm at least a month older than I should be."
A month! Almost thirty losses? Don't react, don't react. He looked down at his wine trying to control his face, to keep her from seeing his panic. "How often has it been my fault?"
"It's never anyone's fault. We work as a team, and sometimes we need to reset the board and try again."
"What happened the time we all lost?"
"Oh uh..." She took a large sip of wine before answering, "you were akumatized." He couldn't keep the pain from crossing his face, and she grabbed his hand. "Kitty, it's not what you think. You fought against the akuma and defeated Hawk Moth. And when I showed up to fix everything, you didn't try to hurt me. You were really confused, and you had been alone for too long, but you only tried to take my miraculous."
He gently shook his head and changed the subject. How did this get so serious? "What are your hobbies?"
"I sew, paint, draw, bake. I like to stay busy."
Cat Noir mused, "You like to create." He tried to move on, but the sadness followed him. It wasn't fun like he wanted the game to be, but he desperately wanted to know. "Have you ever been akumatized?"
"Technically yes, but Hawk Moth lost control. I woke with my fingers on my earrings. That was before Bunnyx."
His eyes widened, but he didn't respond beyond that. He did NOT want to ever fight Ladybug, and he was immeasurably relieved. "When was I akumatized?"
"I was 14, I'm not sure how old you were. I THINK you were older, by maybe a year. I was supposed to find out as little as possible, but I think we had been dating a while before it happened."
"We were dating? As in, you and I? You kept that a secret." He couldn't quite keep all the heat out of his voice. It hurt that she hadn't told him.
"Well, that version of us that doesn't exist anymore were dating."
He rolled his eyes at that. It didn't matter that it technically didn't happen. He deserved to know. Ugg, just let it go! "Do you still live with your parents?"
"Part of the time, mostly I live in an apartment near my university. I don't want to keep the miracle box there, so I stay with my parents a lot to always have access."
"What do your parents do for a living?"
"They own a bakery that's fairly popular. You have one more question."
Huh, should have kept count. There was only one thing he needed to know then. "Who is the boy you love?"
"Are you sure you want to know that?"
"Yes. I'm sure all your other friends know so you don't need to worry about telling me."
"Heh, I think everyone knows but him. It's Adrien Agreste. I believe you know him." She took another sip of wine.
He did a double take. "Are you serious?"
"What's with the tone? Yes, I am serious."
He stared at her open-mouthed. He couldn't make his brain work even though she was clearly waiting for him to say something.
She continued uncertainly, "I met him around the same time I met you, and I had a crazy crush on him for a long while. But the crush grew into something more as we became closer friends. There was a time I couldn't speak in complete sentences around him, but when I gave up on trying to tell him how I feel, I could finally talk to him. Now he's one of my best friends." She spoke quickly, rushing through her words nervously.
Her nervous chatter cleared his mind. He wouldn't leave his lady stuck in that state. "I never would have thought he is your type."
"Ok I'll bite, who do you think is my type?"
She looked up startled. "Does that mean you know who I am?"
He reached over to touch her cheek, but she moved away slightly. "How can it be you? I saw you standing next to her."
"That's not a guess."
She whispered "spots off" and transformed back into Marinette. "It was the bakery, right? Dead give-away."
He just stared completely bemused until Tikki spoke to him. "It's nice to see you again, Cat Noir."
"It's certainly been a while. Are you hungry? Feel free to try some of mine."
Marinette chuckled fondly at Tikki and said, "That's not what she wants. Tikki has a sweet tooth. Are you ready for dessert?"
He nodded. As she got up to grab the dessert, he followed her movement around the kitchen. This is surreal.
She placed a dish in front of him and waited for him to take a bite. Then she gave Tikki the first bite of hers. "So, do you think you are up for the trip?"
He couldn't stop the blush that infused his face, and he tried to ignore Marinette's obvious confusion. He hadn't been embarrassed the first time she asked. "What are you thinking right now?"
He really wanted to go on a trip with her, but how was he supposed to maintain his easy friendship with Marinette when he clearly wanted more? She hadn't been exaggerating at how long it took her to get comfortable around him as Adrien. It had taken years to get her to treat him like her other friends… though he hadn't been able to figure out what he had done for her to treat him differently in the first place. I guess I know now.
He ignored her question and asked instead, "Have you thought about using Kaalki?"
"Our powers don't work properly when we use them for personal gain. I was going to take Kaalki with me so that I can return to Paris if I'm needed."
"I am well aware of that."
"Really? When have you used your powers for personal gain?"
Please let this be right. "When you gave me a miraculous, and I took it to impress you. It was the wrong reason to use a miraculous power, so even when my motivation changed I could not get it to work. So, I watched you get captured over and over again until I couldn't take it anymore. Then I got to watch Luka save you when I couldn't."
Marinette blanched as his meaning sunk in. She stood to walk away, but Cat Noir grabbed her arm before she could run away from him.
She called out to Tikki, so he let go. "That's not necessary. Claws in." He transformed into Adrien and continued soothingly, "I would never hold you against your will. All you had to say was 'let go'. Marinette look at me. Please."
She looked up at him but had difficulty meeting his eyes. He breathed deeply, but he didn't manage to bury his confusion. "Why didn't you ever tell me how you felt? I've been fighting feelings for you for years!"
"I thought you weren't interested... and honestly, I was worried that my feelings for you were based on everything you had in common with Ladybug. It was too confusing, so I thought I should let it go. Your friendship means everything to me, I didn't want to hurt you." He sounded desperate even to his own ears,
"I'm glad we are friends."
He flinched at the chill in her voice. "Didn't this start as you asking me for a favor? How did this turn into a fight? You can't be angry at me because of who I am."
"I'm not angry. I'm embarrassed." She paced away from him.
"I'm sorry I embarrassed you. It was too tempting to ask you. I never expected you to say my name, but you have to know that I feel the same way about you. I've always loved you, Marinette. I just didn't know your name before." He reached out to touch her face again, and he was pleased when she doesn't move away. She looked up at him, and for a moment he was transfixed by the look on her face. "I've been waiting a long time for you to look at me like this."
She smiled weakly and replied, "That just shows how little attention you pay to me. I look at you like this all the time." She moved closer to him and giggled. "I'm sorry I freaked out."
"I'll admit this is a little ridiculous."
He couldn't help himself. He had to tease her. "The part where you've been hung up on me for YEARS!"
She rolled her eyes, and it felt completely normal between them. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a hug. She nuzzled his neck and whispered, "I love you, Adrien."
He leaned down and kissed her. Finally. He let himself get swept along at her pace and broke away at the first indication from her. He smiled mischievously while considering her mood.
"Uh so…" He scrubbed his hand through his hair trying to seem innocent, but he knew he was about to get a rise out of her. "We're going to Tibet."
She blushed deeply, and Adrien had to bury his laughter. She just got there. "Just figure out how embarrassing it would be to spend all that time with someone you are crazy about? Don't worry, love. I'm crazy about you too."