As they finally made it back up to the top of the cliff, Cat reassessed their situation. He had to get her to the park ranger soon for better care. He was trying his best, but he was unsure how much he was helping. Though he knew one thing that would definitely help her injury. "Ok, we all made it. Marinette, can you stand for just a moment? I need to slip your earrings back on. They will help you heal faster."
"Ok, to the ground then, just hold on to me." She looked terrified as he started to move towards the ground, and she whimpered at the movement. "Hey, now. I've got you. I won't let you fall again." He tried to move as slowly as possible, but she was still scared. "Uh Tikki, can you hold the earrings for me? Plagg, hand over my ring. Close your eyes Princess but don't fall asleep."
He detransformed Kaalki and slipped the glasses into his jacket pocket. He breathed easier as he slipped the ring back on his finger. "Ok, let me get these earrings back on, then we'll walk back."
Marinette opened her eyes as he spoke and smiled up at him. "Oh good, you really are ok." She looked around confused again, "Where did Cat Noir go?"
"Oh, he had to leave. I'll explain later."
"Oh right, Kaalki," she said as if that explained everything, but hey, if that helped her relax, he wouldn't complicate things right now.
He put her pack on his back and leaned down to her. "Uh Marinette, will you let me carry you back?" It felt completely different to think about carrying her as Adrien. She was looking up at him with those eyes, that look that she kept just for him. How did it take me so long to realize that she likes me? I must be the dumbest Cat in the world.
"If you don't mind… I-I don't know if I can walk that far."
"It would be my pleasure. Just hold on tight, ok? It's downhill from here, but the ground is slippery." He checked his watch and blanched. They were going to be so late.
He picked her up carefully and descended quickly trying not to disturb her. "Marinette, I'm so glad you are ok."
She leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered, "I'm glad you didn't fall, Adrien. I'll be ok, I'm just a little stunned."
Thankfully, the hike back was much faster. He kissed her forehead again and finally walked back into the main cavern. He saw their teacher's anger morph into fear as Marinette groaned again trying to turn away from the light. "It's too bright here."
"What happened?" the teacher demanded.
"She fell and hit her head. I'm pretty sure she has a concussion, but it took me a while to get to her. I kept her awake, but that's all I know about concussions. Can we see the park ranger before we go?"
They took Marinette to the ranger station, and the ranger gave them an ice pack to reduce swelling. "Be sure to go to a doctor when you get home, ok? Keep her awake for another couple of hours. If she has no further lapses in memory, then she can sleep. The wound on her head is shallow, and I don't think it will continue bleeding. But remember, don't take pain killers for a couple of days because they can cause you to bleed."
Marinette nodded to her instructions, but the ranger looked to Adrien. "I'll make sure she follows up. Thank you, ma'am."
"Do you think you can walk, Marinette?" their teacher asked kindly, but Adrien picked her up again.
"No need. I can carry her back to the bus." He switched his focus back to Marinette, "With your permission, Princess."
She stared at him for a full thirty seconds before nodding. "Are you confused again, Marinette?" He was wondering if he should pull out Kaalki and transport her directly to a hospital for better observation.
"Uh yeah, but not in the way you mean." She looked over to where their teacher was walking just ahead of them and then down at his hand on her arm. Her eyes narrowed right before she looked back up into his face. He watched as she bit her lip in concentration.
"What are you thinking about so hard?"
She glared at him in suspicion and whispered, "It wasn't possible for…" she peered over to their teacher again, "him to be here when I was in trouble."
He grinned down at her. "Yeah, I know, but can we talk about this later? We don't want to be overheard."
"Am I what, Princess?"
"Infuriating, that's what you are. You know what I am asking."
He pulled her in tighter and kissed her forehead again. "Yes."
"Yes, you know, or yes, you are."
"Uh, both." He tried to keep up the confidence, but he was a little worried at her reaction. After staring blankly at him for most of the walk back to the bus, she laid her head against his shoulder, "I'm glad."
She used no inflection, but her eyes said that she really meant it. He got a little distracted looking down at her, and he was startled to realize that they had made it back. "Can you walk from here, Princess? I don't think I can maneuver you onto the bus."
"Sure, no problem."
He put her down, and she staggered a little. "Here, put your hand right here, and I'll be right back. Don't move." He hurriedly placed the pack under the bus and closed it up. He gently put his hand on Marinette's back and led her on. "Lean on me as much as you need to, honey."
Someone on the bus gasped at the nickname, and he watched Marinette's face blush lightly. He was happy to see some color in her cheeks and happier that he had put it there.
Then they walked past Alya who squealed, "Is that an ice pack? Why were you guys so late?"
Marinette winced at the loud noise, but replied evenly, "I fell."
"Oh god, Marinette! We were hoping that you had gotten distracted." Adrien smirked at the obvious innuendo. It was nice to think Marinette's best friend was cheering for him.
He whispered back to Alya, "Not yet, our plans got a little side-tracked." He winked at her then sniggered at her expression. He knew that he was acting a little too much like Cat Noir, but he was so relieved that he couldn't keep it in.
"Please take your seats children, we are going to be late enough as it is."
Adrien helped Marinette to her seat and settled in with a pillow and blanket before turning to look at Alix. He noticed that she had sat with Nathaniel in the seats beside him. She looked relieved. When she noticed his scrutiny, she mimed, 'don't let her sleep' at him.
He turned to Marinette to see her eyes closed again. He tapped her cheek gently again and murmured, "Princess, you have to stay awake."
She smiled and purred without opening her eyes, "I know, but how do you plan on keeping me awake?"
As the bus started moving, the lights turned off. He noticed several couples slinking down in their seats. A quick review of the students in the nearest seats relieved Adrien from the fear they might be overheard. All of the students were occupied.
"How about this? There is so much I have wanted to know about you. Can I ask you those questions?"
"That could be fun."
"And keep you talking. Hmm," he thought through his most pressing Ladybug questions, and tried, "You remember when Ms. Medeleiev was akumatized?" He looked around again to ensure they wouldn't be overheard. "How did you do that?"
A very Ladybug-ish look crossed Marinette's face. This is going to take some getting used to, he thought wryly.
"I was wearing all of them, you know." Marinette looked over the seat at Alya before continuing. "The fox's power," she continued cryptically.
"How much of that fight?"
"Starting right after I called for my lucky charm."
He stared at her bug-eyed. "That was elaborate," he looked down at her, "and necessary. I immediately thought it was you, but obviously it couldn't be you if I saw you standing next to her."
He gently tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, and he was pleased when she blushed again. I could get addicted to that.
"Umm, how are you feeling uh about this? I was planning to tell you who I am soon, but that must have been a shock."
"It's weird, right?" She must have recognized the fear on his face because she reached out and touched his cheek where the mask would normally sit. "I can't stop seeing it now. I wonder that it never occurred to me before. It makes so much sense!"
"Obviously, I didn't know who you were when I asked you out earlier…" Please say yes, please, please don't change your mind now. "I understand if you changed your mind, but I was hoping that you would still want to get dinner."
"Of course I still want to go out with you. Oh god!" She blushed deeply again and punched Adrien in the arm.
"Ouch! What was that for!?"
"You've been asking me about you! Ugh! That is so embarrassing." She dropped her head into her hands and let the ice pack fall.
He moved the ice pack and gently touched the back of her head. "That looks better already."
She made an angry sound at the subject change. Adrien sighed and tried to pull her hands away from her face. "Come on, Marinette! Don't be mad at me. I told you how I felt too. You know… even if you didn't know I was talking about you."
She stiffened and looked up at him with a soft expression in her eyes. "Oh."
"How can I make it up to you? I didn't mean to break your trust. You know that, right? I just wanted to…" Any way he finished that sentence would sound pathetic. I wanted to make sure that you actually liked me because I couldn't take being rejected by you after being rejected by Ladybug for years…
He watched bemused as understanding lit up her expressive eyes, but she just repeated, "Oh." She leaned her head against his shoulder and whispered, "I love you, Kitten. It turns out I always have."
He leaned down to whisper back, "I know this will take some getting used to since I spent several months falling in love with you while trying to get over you…" He chuckled as he felt her stiffen again. "But does your offer still stand? Will you take in a stray kitten while you work on your projects? Or will you leave the poor kitten out in the cold Autumn night?"
She giggled before whispering back, "You are incorrigible."
"I think you mean adorable."
"That too." Even though her voice was playful, her eyes were plainly flustered.
It had been a few weeks since her eyes had contradicted what her mouth said, but he enjoyed that he could fluster her. He dimly wondered if Ladybug would start giving him that look, the one she kept only for Adrien. A smile crept across his face as he imagined it, and he dropped a kiss on her head.
"Sleep now. We can talk later."
Marinette snuggled in closer and softly kissed his cheek before laying her head back on his shoulder. Adrien thought she might have fallen to sleep immediately.
When the bus stopped outside the school, Adrien tried to rouse her. Marinette resisted the pull to awaken, and he was unsure what to do. He started packing up her things carefully to avoid awakening Tikki who was dozing in Marinette's bag, but everyone else had already filed out.
He grabbed her pink bag and gently lifted her. He checked their seats to make sure he wasn't leaving anything behind and shuffled sideways down the aisle to avoid bumping her.
Her father was waiting outside of the bus. Adrien saw Tom chuckle at his conundrum, and he laughed gently himself. "Can't get her to wake? She always sleeps like the dead."
"I've got her if you can get our bags? I don't mind carrying her back." Tom leaned down to pick up the packs that Adrien indicated. "You should probably know that she took a fall in the cave and hit her head pretty hard. The swelling is gone, but she should still probably see a doctor." He went on to explain what the park ranger had said as they walked back to the bakery.
Her room had never seemed inconvenient before, but it was all the way at the top of the house. Adrien internally groaned at the first staircase, but he was unwilling to release his hold on her now that he could carry her.
He carefully placed her on her bed and pulled off her shoes. Her clothes were dirty, but there wasn't anything he could do about that. He did notice that she couldn't lay her head flat with her hair up, so he carefully pulled out the bands. As much as he wanted to continue watching her sleep, he knew she would freak out if she knew that he had put her to bed. So, he kissed her forehead again whispering, "Be well."
Tikki popped out of the small pink bag and touched the back of Marinette's head. She flew over to Adrien and kissed his cheek, "She'll be fine, Cat. Don't worry."
Adrien nodded to the kwami and slipped out of Marinette's room. Ladybug is always right, he thought hopefully. It was a perfect day.