Adrien had accidentally found out that one of his best friends had a crush on him. It had started innocently enough, with the natural curiosity one friend would feel for another friend's love life. He had asked Alix why Marinette never seemed to be dating anyone.
Alix had looked at him like he was a complete idiot and said with some heat, "You cannot possibly be serious!"
Adrien was used to Alix's straight forward conversational style, but he wasn't expecting her to be so blatantly rude. Ever since Alix had officially become Bunnyx, they had gotten along famously. She was the only person who knew he was Cat Noir, and she understood Cat Noir better than even Ladybug. But apparently, he was falling short of her expectations.
He turned to her to better read her facial expression, but she just looked seriously annoyed. "I don't understand why you are upset by that question. She never talks about boys to me. Is there someone she's interested in?"
Alix looked even more annoyed at him. She sighed heavily and said carefully, "I am very good at keeping secrets... but I also know fairly well when it's time to give out information."
Okaaay. "I know that's a strict line that you walk. You do it well."
She rolled her eyes at him, "Yeah thanks. Anyway. I will tell you if and only if you swear on your miraculous that you will not ever tell her that I told you."
He smiled slyly at that. She was obviously worried, and that meant the information must be good. "I agree to your terms."
"I'm serious about this, Adrien. If you tell her, I will totally sneak through time to steal your miraculous."
"Whatever, I swear on my miraculous that I will never tell Marinette that you told me," he said mockingly. He continued playfully, "Cat's honor."
She tried not to smile as she stared at him a long time seemingly weighing whether to tell him after all. He waited patiently for her to decide to trust him, all the while wondering why she was so agitated by a simple question.
"Did you ever notice that Marinette stuttered majorly when taking to you? Even though she is generally open and confident with everyone else?"
"Well yeah." He scratched the back of his head in confusion. Why was she trying to change the subject? "I've been working on making her comfortable around me for like two years. I think I've made some headway with our friendship recently. She hardly stutters around me at all now. Are you finally going to tell me what I did to her for her to find me so intimidating?"
"Really? How did you miss this? Everyone knows! I mean literally everyone, even our teachers know."
"Ok ok, I feel sufficiently stupid! Please just tell me."
"Marinette likes you, silly Kitty. She has ALWAYS liked you, and she never dated anyone because she doesn't see anyone else. I've tried, trust me. Almost all the guys in our class have liked her at some point, but she just brushes it aside and continues staring at you."
"Are you messing with me right now?"
She rolled her eyes again and muttered, "Both of you are completely blind." She said aloud, "Try flirting with her if you don't believe me. She will blush and stutter just like she used to."
"Marinette ... likes... me?" He smiled broadly at that. Marinette was the kind of girl that he would want to catch the attention of. She was special, their 'everyday Ladybug'. "Why didn't she ever tell me? Wait, are you sure she still feels that way now?"
"She tried. A lot, like hundreds of times. And yes, she still talks about you." She punched his arm playfully. "What are you going to do with this information?"
He had no idea. He shrugged at Alix and gave her his best cheeky smirk. "I'll verify your information and see how I can use it to my advantage as usual."
Alix looked shocked for half a second then chuckled, "Alright Kitty-cat, you keep your secrets. Just remember that I am not as blind as you are."
He had planned on ignoring Alix's 'information' because he was still very much in love with Ladybug, but he couldn't stop watching Marinette. She was clever and confident when she was talking to anyone other than himself.
He found himself continually finding reasons to be around her, both as himself and Cat Noir. Adrien invited her to movies with Nino and Alya and eventually to lunch with just himself as she became more comfortable around him.
He quickly realized he was in trouble when he started showing up at her home as Cat Noir, completely out-of-the-blue for her though she didn't seem to mind. She acted like herself around Cat Noir, not reserved and anxious like she was around his alter-ego, and he found that the more he knew about her, the more he wanted to know.
Marinette treated Cat Noir like her other friends, offering him pastries and insights into her design process. He would show up at her balcony and watch her draw or work on homework. Sometimes he brought small gifts usually related to her many projects, like designer buttons and expensive fabrics or new sketch books (he had discovered early on how insanely fast she went through paper), but more often he would show up at the end of a long day and just hang out with her.
After a couple of months of regular hangouts, Cat Noir had stopped by just to see her again, and she was waiting for him. Impatiently. He smiled broadly at the progress he had made in their friendship, but his smile faltered at Marinette's greeting.
"Hey Cat, I think you owe me a favor for constantly eating my pastries, right?"
He thought to himself, more like a hundred favors for all the times you talked people down before they could become akumatized, but he shrugged and answered simply, "That seems fair. I offer to you one favor, Princess. What do you need?"
She had taken him off guard by asking nervously, "I want to learn how to fence, and you are the second-best fencer I know. Can you teach me?"
He was a little offended at that and asked more irritably than he intended, "That depends. Who is the best fencer you know?"
She had blushed prettily and said, "Don't be annoyed, it's a close second."
He narrowed his eyes at her.
"Ugh, fine. My friend Adrien, but like I said, it's close. Like this close," she held up her forefinger and thumb almost pressing them together.
He was flattered then being the two best fencers she knew but made a show of thinking it through. He smiled mischievously, "Ok, I will teach you if you promise to challenge Adrien after you finally beat me. Deal?"
Her laugh sent shivers through his body, and he was astonished when she appeared to be calculating. I wish she was always like this around me.
"Ok, deal. I'll give you one month to teach me. If I can beat you by then, I'll challenge Adrien. I'll let you know when, and you can even come watch."
Yep, should have seen that coming. "Train first, then we'll worry about beating Adrien."
When they first started sparring together, he was surprised at how quickly Marinette picked it up. He was so used to the idea that she was clumsy that he hadn't noticed how graceful she could be when she concentrated. "Have you been practicing or something? I thought you were a novice... maybe we should try some advanced moves?"
"But I just started! We can't do hard stuff yet!"
He chuckled at her panic. That is very Marinette! She really was doing well, and he worked tirelessly to build her confidence. It had taken about two weeks for her to surpass everyone in his fencing academy, and after two more weeks, she could disarm him half the time.
After a particularly eventful bout, she surprised him with a move he hadn't taught her, knocking him back so he fell. That's a first. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"Where did I learn what? How to distract you and get under your guard?"
"Well yeah. I didn't teach you that. Do you have another teacher or something?" He was a little jealous at that thought.
"Nope, that was all intuition!"
She was so pleased with herself that he couldn't be annoyed. She even graciously helped him up before dancing around like a dork.
"You are definitely ready to take on the Boy Wonder."
That stopped her dancing, he noted amused.
"Really? Oh... I don't know about that."
"You'll do great! Once the masks are down, you can just imagine fighting me, and you'll have no problem beating him to a pulp."
He told himself that he would wait one week before calling her out for not keeping their deal, but she surprised him again by asking the next day.
"Uh, good morning, Adrien... I guess... no I know it is a good... uh... hi!"
"Good morning, Marinette!" He wasn't going to help her through this. He wanted her to be comfortable enough to ask him without prompting.
He saw her take a silent deep breath before she looked up with those beautiful blue eyes of hers. His heart thudded at that; she DID look at him differently. Maybe just differently than she saw Cat Noir?
"I've been learning how to fence, and my teacher says that it is time for me to challenge the best fencer I know to a duel. Are you up for it?" She bit her lip nervously, he noticed that quite clearly as it distracted him to no end.
He looked back at his locker to gather his thoughts. "Who is your master?"
She giggled at that. "Not a master, just a silly Tom cat." Then she covered her mouth shocked. "I mean, a friend of mine has been teaching me. He's good, but he isn't a master."
Actually Adrien was a master and that technically made Cat Noir a master too, but there wasn't any need to brag about that. His mastery didn't mean much to him as it was at his father's insistence that he be the best. Sparring with Marinette had been more excitement than he had felt in a long time. "I would be honored to duel you. Are you ready now? We could fight at the academy this afternoon! That would be way more interesting than my usual class."
"Oh, this afternoon... I'm free, but I bet he won't be able to come watch."
Yep that's the idea! "Do you want to duel another day? My schedule is pretty full, but I can plan out a time with you."
"No today is fine."
She had messaged his CatPhone number, and he was able to get out of watching easily. He reminded her to pretend Cat Noir was under the mask and tried to boost her confidence throughout the day with cute messages and dumb Cat Noir memes. It was a lot of fun for him to see her reactions, especially when she snorted loudly at a particularly dumb meme.
When they arrived at the academy, it only took a second to get permission from the instructor, with a promise to stay out of the way of the regular class.
They squared off, saluted, and went on guard. He began by taking it easy on her, fighting in the style Cat had taught her, but he laced in some of the Italian manner and a bit of the English manner so she would feel a difference. She parried with ease. He pressed the attack, and she would fall back smoothly. Gracefully even. He began leaving obvious openings to his guard and waited for her to take the bait, but she reacted as if she knew it was a trap. She had excellent stamina, but she began to wane leaving gaps in her guard.
He lunged to exploit, but he realized too late that she had been watching his moves and adapting. Too late, he realized it was a trap, and she disarmed him.
His heart was pounding, and he couldn't stop staring at her. He had been dueling with her for weeks, and she would work tirelessly to beat Cat, but she had never shown that much passion with Cat. They unmasked and bowed to each other, and then he figured out it wasn't trouble that he'd gotten himself into... he was in paradise.