i present to you: a ladrien au for my beloved cheklmn (who refuses to read my twilight au) that i only planned to be 15k long. it skirts the line of being light-hearted at times before it gets serious, has chloé and luka as the supporting characters, and has me wondering how sweaty marinette would get under her mask when i can barely handle six hours at my work (╥﹏╥) i hope you guys enjoy this!

there's going to be a lot of minor character deaths: including murder, demons possessing someone and committing suicide, and an off-screen suicide later on. it's not very graphic, barely features blood, and the "fight" scenes are few and far between.

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc

"Can I have your autograph?"

It was a guy clutching a book to his chest.

"Yeah, sure," Marinette agreed, adjusting her cap. "Who am I making it out to?"

"Adrien," he requested, passing the book over. It turned out to be one of the newest issues of a comic about her. "I'm really glad I bumped into you here."

She laughed. "Bumped?"

"Okay, I might've barged my way here," he confessed with a nervous laugh at the end. "But I've always wanted to meet you! I'm a huge fan!"

After asking him for a pen, she questioned, "Is this for you?"

"Yes," he replied, smiling brightly. "I think you're really cool. Thank you for everything."

"I mean, I get paid." Marinette shrugged. "Thank the government for funding me."

He laughed. "I'm not thanking them for anything."

She leaned in and whispered, "You'll get me fired that way. You really don't think I'll run around and save the city without getting anything out of it, right?"

Adrien asked, "My gratitude isn't enough?"

"It won't pay my bills," she said. "This is my job. I'm not a vigilant who hides in the shadows."

"Because you like your sleep," he replied, nodding.

"You've seen my interviews?" Marinette laughed. "I guess you really are a fan."

He shifted on the spot, ears turning red.

After handing the comic book back to him, she patted his shoulder and said, "Well, thanks for supporting me. Always cool to meet actual adults instead of children that think I'm an alien."

Their conversation was cut off by a police officer calling out, "Ladybug, come here!"

"That's my cue," she said, gesturing over her shoulder. "See you around some time."

"B-bye!" Adrien stuttered out.

She waved before crossing the road back over to where the police officers were. They greeted her like normal, directing through to where she needed to go around the restaurant that had been wrecked.

"Hey," Luka greeted her, sounding ever-so-tired. "You're not hurt, are you?"

Marinette blinked at him. "I'm sweaty and tired."

"You say that every time," he replied. "You'd be so much worse in the summer."

"You think I'm grateful for the rain?" she muttered, feeling the wetness in her shoes. "I got out of my ride and stood in a puddle. I almost screamed."

He had no sympathy for her. "You should've checked."

"You're so mean," she accused, crossing her arms and slipping her gloved hands up the sleeves of her hoodie for warmth. "Statement time, yeah? Do you think we could do it somewhere else? I want to pick food up before I head home."

"This is private information," he said.

She sighed loudly. "Someone's probably already posted a video about it online. Is anything really private any more?"

"As soon as you give me the details, I'll let you go," he offered. "You won't have to come down to the station with me for long."

"How about not at all," she countered. "It's not like you'll be told off for it."

"I like doing my job properly," Luka protested. "I don't want special treatment."

"Yeah, but I do," Marinette said in a singsong voice. "I deserve that much."

He stared, expecting her to say that she was joking.

"I have no shame," she reminded him, reaching up and adjusting her mask so it wouldn't slip down while she was talking. "Let's get down to the gritty details, shall we, detective?"

-x-

Luka called her at five in the morning.

"Are you serious?" she complained, rolling over and pressing her face into the pillow. "I saw you last week. This is ridiculous."

"It's pretty bad," he replied, sounding more alert than she felt. "I'm coming to pick you up. Be outside in five minutes."

She grumbled, "That's not even enough time for a shower."

"You're not going to be sniffed," he shot back. "You'll be fine. Spray on some perfume."

"I'll spray it like I'm a teenage boy."

"You'll stink out my car," Luka muttered. "I'm hanging up. If you fall asleep, I'll cut your pay."

The call ended as she exclaimed, "That's bullshit—"

By the time she'd thrown on the nearest clothes and tucked the mask over the bottom of her face, Luka's car was parked illegally on the curb out front. She tutted at him as she climbed in.

He ignored her.

"Who's throwing a tantrum so early?" she questioned, yawning until tears appeared in her eyes. Groggily, she wiped at them with the back of her hand, almost knocking her bucket hat off in the process. "Can we get coffee or is it that bad?"

"A bit bad," Luka admitted with a sigh. "They broke their husband's leg after getting possessed. Thankfully, the target's a neighbour so the husband was able to call us."

She clapped. "It's not domestic abuse, then!"

"...Did you miss the part about the broken leg?" he asked, giving her a pointed stare.

"Collateral damage," Marinette said, waving a hand dismissively. "He's not the target, therefore they're in love."

Luka bluntly told her, "You've become very desensitised to this."

She winked.

He sighed.

The scene of the crime was an apartment building. From the outside, other than the police officers waiting downstairs with an ambulance, the only out of place thing was the broken window a few stories up. Marinette put a hand over her eyebrows and squinted as she looked up, trying to determine whether she'd be able to hit her target from so far below.

Luka gave her a nudge. "Go inside."

She was the one to sight that time. "Do I have to?"

"I'll buy you coffee after," he proposed.

With a frown, she replied, "I can get it for free?"

"But that weighs on your conscience, doesn't it?" he questioned, brushing his black hair away from his forehead. "It's good to support people in different ways sometimes."

"Detective, you're really delusional if you think I'm going to start paying for everything," she replied without hesitation, reaching up and patting his shoulder. "I'll let you pay, though. It's the money you get from babysitting me, so I'm entitled to some of it, right?"

The shadows under his eyes were as bad as hers.

"I'll wait for you here," he said. "Go save the day or whatever."

She saluted.

The elevator wasn't in service.

Well, that wasn't quite right. A few of the residents had decided to press the emergency stop button in hopes of avoiding the possessed victim. It was a move that had been repeated frequently over the years, and it never stopped being annoying when there was only lift in the building.

She was sweating by the time she made it up.

It wasn't flashy.

Marinette nudged the ajar door open with her foot, saw the victim trashing the home that was reportedly not theirs, and took her glove off and managed to get lucky and hit them from across the room.

It was over in a matter of seconds.

She had to trudge back down the stairs, hooking a finger under her mask in an attempt to get more air.

It was securely back in place by the time she was downstairs, walking outside and momentarily blinded by the flashes of cameras. Marinette acknowledged a few familiar faces with a nod while making her way to Luka, choosing her favourite way of greeting him in the early hours of the morning.

She leaned forward against his back, muttering into his jacket, "I want to die."

"All finished?" he asked, turning around and making her stand upright.

"Yeah, they're knocked out," she confirmed. "What even pissed them off?"

"...The upstairs neighbour walked around loudly at night," Luka told her quietly. "I guess waking up enough times to that can drive you crazy."

"Oh, I would hate that," she agreed. "It's almost as bad as waking up because fans are knocking on your door. Have you experienced that yet?"

He laughed. "I'm not the star of the show."

"Is that a fucking pun?" she demanded, shoving him.

"The neighbour wants to talk to you," he informed her. "He asked to stick around to see you."

"Can I have that coffee yet?"

"Soon," Luka promised. "I need to fill out paperwork first."

Marinette yawned. "I should've known it was too good to be true."

One of the newer officers went and got coffee for her instead. They were eager to please and looked honoured when she so much as smiled at them, but that kind of adoration hadn't grown stale.

She thanked them gratefully.

The neighbour had a blanket wrapped around him.

As soon as he saw her, he perked up, jumping to get up as he stuttered out, "I—thank you for coming."

Marinette laughed. "No problem, dude. Maybe keep it down and try not to annoy your neighbours, yeah?"

He looked a little embarrassed. And now that they were face-to-face, there was something familiar about him.

She tilted her head, trying to think what it was.

"You gave me an autograph last week," he blurted, ruining any sense of mystery about him as he thrust his hand out for her to shake. And when he said his name, it came out sounding like a question. "I'm Adrien?"

"Oh, yes," Marinette replied, shaking his hand before it into the pocket of her hoodie. "With the comic, yeah?"

His smile showed dimples on his cheeks. "That was me."

"Sorry to tell you, but your home's wrecked," she said, gesturing with a nod of her head behind her. "Like, your computer's smashed to bits and everything."

"...Just the computer?" he questioned.

"That's the important part," she replied, clumsily putting her straw under her mask and taking a sip of her drink.

"You're right," he agreed with a breathy laugh. "I—it hasn't really sunk in yet. But thank you for getting here, really."

"You've already thanked me," she pointed out. "And I'm not the one that got you out of there? Direct your gratitude to the others that saved you from having your legs broken."

He winced.

"You should know there's a fund for victims like you," Marinette said, lifting up her hat to brush some stray hairs under it. "Cooperate and you'll have a shiny new place to stay from tonight to get you back on your feet."

All he could say to that was, "Thank you."

She shrugged. "It's my job."

"Really, thank you," he insisted, the nervous tone combined with the set of his shoulders showing how awkward he felt. "I-I'm—"

And to her horror, he burst into tears.

Adrien buried his face into his hands, shoulders shaking as he sobbed.

She awkwardly stood there, unsure on what to do. Marinette shot a panicked look to the officers near her, but they looked just as confused on what to do. It was an ambulance worker that came over and offered Adrien a blanket, assuring him that it was a perfectly normal reaction for someone in his situation.

Through his tears, he looked up and tried to talk to her, only to hiccup and struggle to get his words out.

In an attempt to comfort him, she gave him her coffee.

He cried harder.

The reports that came back were different than usual.

Marinette wanted to cry when Luka called her, expecting there to be another attack.

He called her out for that coffee instead.

She happily accepted.

"The neighbour—"

"Adrien?" Marinette questioned.

Since they didn't want to be overheard in the café and she wanted to avoid the station, they were in Luka's car.

She almost felt like it was a second home at that point.

"Yes, him," Luka confirmed with a nod. "He was on a call with a friend when the incident happened. It turns out when the demon broke down the door and saw him, it started destroying the place instead of him."

With a frown, she remarked, "That's... new."

"It's strange," he agreed. "Adrien was able to get to the hallway and be escorted out safely. The only other casualty was the husband."

"I haven't seen that before, since I know that's what you're going to ask," she contributed, shifting to put her knees against her chest and her shoes on the car seat. "It's always murder and all that. I've never seen the target ignored before."

"Keep an eye out," he suggested.

"That's your job," she grumbled. "I'm already tired from running around the city."

"You don't run," Luka pointed out. "You get free rides from everyone."

She beamed. "They're paying me back for all my hard work."

"You're exploiting them."

With a laughed, she replied, "I'm past the point of saying no to free shit."

"You've sold out," he muttered.

"No, that's when I take brand deals."

He raised his eyebrows. "You almost did—"

-x-

"Here's your drink, L-Ladybug," the barista stuttered out.

Marinette looked up from her phone with a smile. "Hey, thank you."

"I got you a metal straw," she blurted. "It's better for the environment."

There was a darkness behind her that wasn't quite corporeal.

"That's kind of you," Marinette replied, taking her drink and holding it in one hand. With the other, she tugged her glove off, and as she squinted from the sudden influx of light in the room, she reached out and tapped the barista's forehead for a brief moment. "Here's your reward, I guess."

The demon behind her disappeared.

"I—thank you," the barista choked out, tears appearing in her eyes as she touched her forehead. "I thought—I didn't know."

"Eh, it's hard to tell sometimes," Marinette lamely replied, trying to hold her drink while slipping the glove back on. "Have a good day, yeah?"

There wasn't anything special about her day.

Marinette packed up her belongings when she returned, taking the elevator down to the first floor and placing her suitcase into her ride. The driver greeted her with a large smile, striking up conversation and being overly friendly the whole drive to another hotel.

She took her glove off for him, too.

He was so grateful that he had tears in his eyes.

Marinette checked in at the lobby, taking the card for her room for the next few weeks, taking in the grand lobby before making her way to the lift. There was more than one.

It was in the morning when she wandered down that she bumped into him.

Adrien was sweating. His hair was stuck to his head with some of it brushed to the side messily, while his clothes stuck to him in a way looked terribly uncomfortable. He was stopped in front of the elevator that she'd just stepped out of, hands on his knees as he tried to regain his breath.

Marinette raised a hand and simply said, "Hi."

He made a strange noise before running in the opposite direction, taking the stairs.

She didn't think anything of it before she saw him doing the same thing the following day.

"Did you go for a run?" she asked.

Adrien looked even more horrified than before, choosing to run straight through the lobby and out the entrance.

She saw him sat on the curb outside, face buried in his hands.

Instead of approaching him, Marinette went about her day. It wasn't any of her business, and the poor dude looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but in front of her whenever she noticed him.

It wasn't her fault that he kept popping up.

The next time she saw him, it wasn't when he was sweaty. He was standing beside a blonde-haired woman, who was almost as tall as him, the two of them in a heated conversation in the middle of the hallway.

She had to pass them to get to her room.

The woman noticed her. "Ladybug!"

"Hi," she replied, holding up her card and gesturing down the hallway. "Not to be rude, but I really need a nap."

While Adrien looked at her with wide eyes and didn't say anything, it didn't deter the woman beside him. "Do you like the room?"

"Yeah, it's nice," Marinette replied, yawning and placed a hand over her mouth despite the mask in the way. "How's yours? If you're even staying here."

"I live here," was the response to that. Then, it was accompanied by a proud introduction of, "I'm Chloé Bourgeois. I'm the owner's daughter."

"Oh, cool," she said, a bit half-hearted. "Having a rich family is, like, my dream. Don't squander it and waste my jealousy."

"I won't." Chloé laughed, throwing an arm around Adrien's shoulder and bringing him closer. "And you've met Adrien before, right?"

"He looks familiar," she replied, amused.

Adrien grimaced. "Chloé—"

"He adores you," Chloé announced, not caring that she was embarrassing him—or that had been her intention in the first place. "He's got this huge poster of you in his room, too."

Those kind of interactions were pretty common. "You in his room often?"

Chloé pulled a face. "He's my brother."

Marinette squinted. "I almost thought he was a stalker for a bit. But you lived here first?"

"I—" Adrien choked out. "It's not like that."

"He moved back," Chloé helpfully explained, still holding him close while his body language screamed that he was uncomfortable. "His apartment was destroyed, remember? So he's back to staring at all your posters in his old room."

"Can you stop—"

"Fucking thank you for choosing to stay with us!" Chloé exclaimed, shoving Adrien to the side. "I've been waiting forever for you."

She blinked. "Sorry? I pretty much pick one at random from all the offers."

"This is the best hotel in the city," Chloé retorted, putting her hands on her hips. "You won't find another with our services anywhere else."

Marinette gave a thumbs up. "Your breakfast is good."

Chloé smiled brightly. "Really?"

"I'm sure sitting in the restaurant is as good as the room service," she replied, gesturing to her face. "But I can't really do that."

Chloé sighed. "I could rent it out to you."

"That would just seem like a setting for a horror film, but thanks," she quipped.

"Can you—" Chloé started, suddenly finding it hard to find the right words to say what she meant. Instead of talking, she gestured up to her face meaningfully.

"Chloé, that's so rude," Adrien hissed, getting out his first sentence, mortified at his sister's actions. "You can't just ask that."

Marinette shrugged. "I'm used to it."

"What? I got her one of the best rooms!" Chloé shot back at him, shooting him a dirty look. "I deserve something in return."

Adrien sounded offended. "Chloé!"

"It's cool," Marinette insisted, reaching to tug off one of her gloves. "But in return, I'm gonna go nap after this, yeah? If I fall asleep out here, one of you might steal some of my clothes and auction them off."

Chloé scoffed. "Why would I do that? They aren't even designer."

She laughed.

-x-

There was coffee waiting outside her door in the morning.

It was cold.

Marinette picked it up, touching the metal straw that had been shoved through the little opening at the top, swirling it before taking an experimental sip.

There was nothing warm about it.

The second day, it was much the same. It wasn't warm any more, there was no note to say who it was from, and there was another metal straw for her to use. The only reason she suspected it wasn't poisoned was from the security at the lobby; unless identified as a guest or cleared to come in, random people from the street couldn't waltz in and roam around.

It was one of the reasons she was excited to live there for a while.

From living in a bed and breakfast for a while, she was relieved from how off-limits she was in a large hotel.

The coffees continued.

She wasn't surprised that someone knew her favourite syrup. It was common for baristas to ask for pictures with her if the store wasn't busy, and then to post that and the information online. There was barely anything that was a secret any more.

The secret of where the coffee was coming from was revealed when she got a call from Luka.

Marinette trudged out of bed, adjusting her short hair before putting a bucket hat on and grabbing one of her masks, and she happened to open the door as it was being set down and the straw placed in the hole.

Adrien looked horrified before he turned and ran, going for the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

It was hot that time.

Although he'd been embarrassed, it was there the following morning. Marinette woke up naturally instead of having her phone scream at her, and she'd sleepily wandered out to fetch the coffee after making sure her mask was on first.

She wasn't going to complain about such a service.

There was the fact that he couldn't look her in the eyes when she'd spoken to Chloé, though.

But if they were siblings—

It meant that his family ran the hotel, right?

Calling the front desk informed her that it was an invasion of privacy to try and be connected to his phone, sadly.

She asked whether she could talk to Chloé.

The employee said they'd pass her message along, so that wasn't a complete failure.

It took until the next day for Chloé to come and talk to her.

Marinette adjusted her pyjamas, slipping on her mask before opening the door.

Chloé's expression was suspicious. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Yeah," she confirmed, crouching down to pick up the drink that Chloé had almost kicked over. "Want to come in?"

Chloé's face lit up at that.

"There's nothing special about the room," she replied with a laugh. "It's yours."

"I had them buy new sheets for you," Chloé proudly said, brushing her long hair over her shoulder. "If you don't like them, I'll fire whoever bought them."

She raised her eyebrows. "They're fine, thanks."

Chloé nodded. "Good."

There was an awkward silence.

Marinette sat down on the sofa, crossing her legs and putting a pillow on her lap, and holding the takeaway cup with two hands. "Adrien's the one that keeps buying me coffee, right?"

Chloé scowled as she sat down in an armchair. "What?"

"These?" Marinette held up the drink in question. "They've been at my door every morning without me ordering them. And I did see him putting the straw in it, so..."

"He should know that's fucking creepy," Chloé complained, leaning back in the chair and looking entirely more comfortable than she had moments ago. "Do you want me to kick him? I'm going to do it anyway. I'll just throw in another for you with shoes on."

"What? No," she spluttered, a bit taken aback from the reaction she'd received. "I'm not asking because I'm offended. I want to talk to the dude, that's all."

Chloé frowned. "What?"

She bluntly asked, "Is he embarrassed because he cried in front of me?"

"That's putting it lightly," Chloé muttered with a roll of her eyes. "He's mortified."

"Why?" Marinette questioned. "Loads of people cry. I mean, most of the time they have some kind of injury, but it's a normal reaction."

"You're, like, his idol."

She shrugged, not sure how to respond to that.

"You sure you want to talk to him?" Chloé questioned, narrowing her eyes. "He's likely to slobber all over you."

Amused, she asked, "Aren't you my fan, too?"

"That's different," Chloé replied. "I'm classier than he is."

Marinette laughed. "Are you? All you've got going for you is that you haven't burst into tears."

"I'm good at fake crying," was the deadpan response to that.

"Impressive." She gave her a thumbs up. "But you haven't been bribing me with coffee."

And to emphasise that, she put the straw under her mask and took a pointed sip. It was cool enough not to burn her tongue by that point.

Chloé scowled. "I can get you anything."

"Adrien."

"You can have so many better things!" Chloé complained, throwing her hands up. "Why do that want to talk to that loser? You could've just asked for him instead of me!"

"The front desk wouldn't let me," she replied, honest. "But they took a message for you."

Chloé clicked her tongue.

She laughed. "No explanation for that?"

"I don't have to explain myself to you," Chloé muttered, crossing her arms. "I thought you'd seen the light and wanted to be my friend or something—but no, you're sweet-talking me to get to him."

It was a little cute how Chloé was close to throwing a tantrum.

She took another sip.

And then, Marinette bluntly informed her, "The demon avoided hurting him before. I wanted to try and see why that was."

Chloé pointed out, "The police wasn't able to get anything out of him."

"Yeah, and they have jobs to do," she replied with a shrug. "I waste my days away doing whatever I want between attacks. If he's so close, might as well try and see why."

"He's not special."

Amused, she said, "I never said he was."

"He's lame," Chloé reaffirmed like a spoiled child. "And he's going to be so tongue-tied and stupid around you. You're wasting your time."

"I'll let you take a selfie with me," she offered.

Chloé sniffed. "Two."

"Two if you get him here today," she bargained.

"One without your hat," Chloé shot back.

Marinette touched her hair. "But I'm not wearing one?"

"You never leave without one," Chloé pointed out. "And they're all awful."

She joked, "Because they're not designer?"

Chloé nodded, utterly serious.

True to her word, Chloé dragged Adrien to her door. It was only after taking the two selfies first—they had to be retaken a few times, complete with primping in the mirror, and Marinette had stood there amused as Chloé demanded to brush her hair and make it look more acceptable under her hat.

Adrien looked close to throwing up as he raised a hand and stuttered out, "Ladybug, hi."

Chloé ruffled his hair before leaving.

"Want to come in?" she offered, opening the door further. "It would be more comfortable."

His ears were red by the time he sat down on the sofa.

"You—you wanted to see me?" he questioned, looking anywhere but at her.

"Yeah," she confirmed, sitting down in the armchair that Chloé had been in hours ago, throwing her legs over the arm and getting comfortable. "I'm bored and figured I'd kill two stones with one bird, you know?"

"Two birds," he quietly corrected.

She asked in a singsong voice, "What's that?"

"Two birds with one stone," Adrien said, speaking louder. "You had it the wrong way around."

"That makes a lot more sense," she mused. "Thanks for the coffees, by the way. If that's your way of saying thank you for the one I gave you, you've more than repaid me by now."

"I-I don't mind," he stuttered, running a hand through his hair. "I'm out for a run anyway—"

She grimaced. "So early?"

"My sleep is messed up," he admitted. "But I try to have a routine."

"Messed up doesn't really warrant almost being murdered," she remarked. "Unless you're a dick and play loud music?"

He hesitantly asked, "You—you didn't read the police report?"

"Not my business," she replied with a shrug. "I don't care about all that. Luka tells me anything important that I need to know."

"Luka," he repeated, whispering the name under his breath. "Detective... Couffaine?"

"That's him," she confirmed. "Might as well be my manager at this point."

Adrien questioned, "You don't have a manager?"

"Nosy," she accused without any heat. "No, I kind of just... do what I want? I mean, I'm not dragging my family into this. And I didn't really have friends before this all started, so that's a plus."

Wide-eyed, he lifted his head up and looked at her. "You had no friends?"

She snapped her fingers and pointed at him. "I'm awkward."

"You're... not."

"I gave you a coffee and ran away instead of comforting you," she pointed out.

He quietly replied, "It's not your job."

"It shouldn't be a job to comfort people," she answered back, able to admit her faults. "I handle emotional situations with humour—which isn't really a good coping mechanism. I've had a lot of criticism because of that."

"They have no place to criticise you," he blurted, the loudest his voice had been yet. "They—you're not like anyone else. You do so much—"

"It's okay," she interrupted to assure him. "I didn't invite you over to, like, stroke my ego or something."

He flushed, shifting in his seat.

"I can't see anything on you," she told him directly, getting straight to the point. "You don't hear anyone whispering in your ear or shit, right?"

Adrien fiddled with his sleeves, gaze falling down to his lap. "Not really? I'm pretty sure I only hear... my own thoughts?"

She nodded slowly. "I mean, that's not that unnatural."

"You think I'm unnatural?" Adrien exclaimed, lifting his head fast enough to cause his hair to move.

"Not you specifically," she replied with a shrug. "The demon just acted weird with you, that's all. I'm glad you're not injured or dead, don't get me wrong."

He swallowed. "Really?"

"It's never happened before," she reminded him. "Murder and pain is usually all that's on their mind. The person being possessed can't listen to their conscience and say no to it."

He murmured, "Maybe they did—"

"I'm sure the police already told you the same thing," she interrupted, raising her eyebrows. "And the news is claiming it's a miracle that you're okay."

"It was luck," Adrien said, touching the nape of his neck. "I didn't—I don't know what happened."

"Yeah, I figured," she mused. "Chill, I'm not here to interrogate you. I told you, I'm bored."

"And—and you want me to fix that?" he questioned, baffled.

Marinette shrugged. "Might as well hang out with the owner's son."

"But I'm a fan," he lamely replied.

"Isn't it a dream come true to spend time with me?" she asked, tilting her head. "You don't look like you're having the time of your life right now."

He blurted, "I feel like I need to pee."

And as soon as that was said, he buried his head in his hands, hiding his expression.

At least he wasn't crying.

Marinette really tried not to laugh, but it came out.

"You're so nervous!" she exclaimed, voice breathy from her amusement. "Come on, I want to pay you back for the coffees."

Adrien mumbled in his hands, "But they were a gift."

"And I'm a gift to you," she replied without missing a beat.

She couldn't describe the noise he made.

-x-

He turned up at her door the next morning without a coffee in his hands. Instead, his hair was wet from showering, clothes were ironed and of better quality than she'd seen him in before, and he'd followed behind her stiffly when she said she wanted to go somewhere.

"Why?" Adrien questioned.

"I'm bored," she repeated, squinting as she stared at the scoreboard. "And everyone else refuses to come here with me."

"You've tried to go bowling with others?" he asked, sounding incredulous. "Why?"

"Come on, it's your turn," she encouraged, patting his shoulder.

He jumped at the sudden contact, blood rushing to his cheeks.

"Pick a ball," Marinette guided him, gesturing with a hand to the ones in their lane and wiggling her fingers. "I'm very competitive. I'll be disappointed if you turn out to be shit at this."

Adrien looked at her strangely. "You had the barriers up."

"I never said I wasn't bad at this," she replied, amused. "It's only fun if I try and beat everyone else, right?"

He blinked. "You have strange ideas about fun."

She picked up a random ball and put it into his hands. "And you seem like you're going to faint any moment. Relax, Adrien. I'm not interviewing you to become my sidekick or anything."

All he could reply to that was, "I don't have any powers."

"Kick my ass in a completely normal way," she said, pointing to the pins that were waiting for him. "Luka refuses to come out with me after I took him to an arcade last time."

"You—arcade?" Adrien stuttered out.

"What else would I do?" she questioned with a smile. "Get a job? Don't be ridiculous, I already do enough work as it is."

He replied, "You told me you didn't leave your room yesterday."

She laughed. "It was work getting you to agree to come here."

To her delight, Adrien was better than her.

"Yes!" she cheered as he got another strike.

Adrien was standing there, embarrassed from her sudden cheers and awkwardly touching the back of his neck. He fidgeted a lot, didn't know what to do with his hands when they were talking, and any closeness between them made him jump.

Her offering him a high-five had him blushing.

"So, what do you do?" Marinette asked after her abysmal throw that wasn't helped by her gloves. "I don't know anything about you."

"I... don't have a job right now," he admitted, a bit embarrassed. "I don't know what I want to do."

"Oh, cool," she replied. "I had no idea either. This kind of just fell in my lap and I stopped the job hunting."

He smiled. "You didn't live here originally, right?"

"You really are a fan!" Marinette laughed. "Yeah, it was never the plan to stay here. Maybe I can travel more when this has all stopped."

"Do you think that—that this will stop?" Adrien asked, standing there without picking up the next ball, instead interested in what she had to say.

Her response was non-committal. "Maybe?"

His voice was quiet. "You really don't know?"

"No way, dude," she said, the laugh that left her forced. "I woke up one day with my hand glowing. Do you think I know anything?"

There was a moment of silence.

"Sorry," Adrien whispered, tearing his gaze away to stare down at the shoes he'd been given at the counter. "I-I know you hate answering questions about this."

"It's fine," she replied. "I'm used to it."

"I didn't—I didn't want to bother you," he stuttered, reluctantly picking up a bowling ball. "I wanted to have fun with you."

"We still are!" she exclaimed. "There's a few throws left before you get crowned the winner. Rub it in more, will you?"

His smile didn't each his eyes. "You're weird, do you know that, right?"

She flashed him a peace sign. "That's why I have no friends."

He wetted his lips. "I'll be your friend."

"Yeah?" she asked, smiling wider. "That means being able to high-five me. You sure you're up for that?"

Without hesitation, he replied, "If it's for you, yes."

And then he was immediately embarrassed about that. Adrien threw the ball clumsily, causing it to land with a loud noise instead of going smoothly, yet even without the barriers he got a better score than her for that round.

When he turned around red-faced, Marinette had her hand held up expectantly.

He touched his against hers instead of slapping it.

She didn't tease him because he seemed so flustered.

Marinette asked for his number when he drove them back to the hotel. She exchanged it easily, telling him that she changed it every few months for security reasons, and smiled when she saw that his background was a drawing of her.

She text him memes.

Adrien's shyness didn't translate into text. He seemed more confident when she couldn't hear his tone of voice or stuttering. There was also the fact that she wasn't able to see his body language, too.

They got along well through texts.

Marinette bothered him when she was bored, asking all sorts of random questions to pass the time. More often than not, he replied within a few minutes, though he made sure to say when he was going to sleep.

She didn't bother him.

He was never the one to text first, not even in the mornings.

Marinette knew that he was bound to be up before her because of the coffee, though. She tended to open the conversation by asking if he was busy, then suggesting he could come into her room to hang out.

Their trip the bowling alley had become known quickly. Pictures of them together had surfaced within hours of them being there, complete with an employee gushing that she'd paid them instead of accepting a freebie, and Adrien told her that his sister was upset that she hadn't been invited to come along with them.

Adrien was reluctant to go out together after that.

So, that left her room.

He was too nervous to sit beside her at first.

But with the passing days, he eased up. Marinette didn't wear a hat inside the room, instead leaving her gloves and mask on, sometimes still in pyjamas when he came over, while he seemed to be dressing up each and every time and turning up without a single wrinkle in his clothing.

She asked, "Do you have a maid?"

Adrien frowned. "Isn't your room serviced?"

It came out sounding like a question. "Yes?"

"It should include your laundry," he replied.

"Oh, no," Marinette said with a grimace. "I rejected that bit. Last time half of my clothes went missing."

His eyes widened at that. "They did? I didn't hear anything about it."

"Because I kept it quiet," she answered. "Wasn't worth making a big deal about it. It wasn't like the employee was doing it to anyone else."

"But you're—"

"It was a small place," she clarified. "I doubt they'd get big names going there."

"That's not the point!" he exclaimed. "They—your name being attached to it means people will stay there specifically because of you. What if it happens again?"

She waved a hand dismissively. "Not my problem."

"What."

"It's that little voice in your head that whispers for you to bad things," she replied, tapping her temple. "Some people are weaker to it. That's how they get possessed in the end."

Adrien frowned. "I... wouldn't know."

"I think it's always been there?" Marinette mused, some sort of wistfulness in her voice. "I remember doing all this weird shit when I was younger for, like, no justifiable reason. I didn't hate someone, so why did I set their shoes on fire?"

"You—what?" he questioned.

"It all sounds so appealing," she said. "But then the possessions started happening and the bad voice in my head stopped. I can't blame my actions on anyone else now."

He swallowed. "You don't hear it?"

"Me and me alone," she confirmed with a wink. "Turns out I'm not such a shitty person, which is a surprise. I was worried about myself for a bit."

"Is Chloé okay?" he blurted.

Marinette looked at him in surprise. "What?"

"Is there—do you see anything on her?" he asked, stuttering out his words. "Because she was really mean the other day—"

She laughed.

Adrien's cheeks turned red. "I'm serious."

"She seemed fine last time I saw her," she assured him.

"Are you sure?" he persisted. "Maybe—maybe it's gotten worse? That's a thing. She got someone fired because they coughed in front of her yesterday."

And from seeing how genuinely concerned he was, Marinette made the decision to reply, "I can take a look, if you want."

It was worth it to see how his face lit up.

At least, that was until Chloé turned up with him the following morning. Much like her brother, her clothing was impeccable, while the only difference was that her hair was, too.

Adrien's was wet from his shower again.

It always seemed to be when he first arrived to see her.

"I am not possessed," Chloé hissed, stumbling forward through the door from being pushed by Adrien. "And since when were you such good friends? You said we were going out for breakfast!"

"I can order food," Marinette volunteered.

"No!" Chloé said, going as far as to stomp her foot on top of Adrien's. And as he cried out in pain, she exclaimed, "I wanted to go out! Not be suspected of being defiled by a terrorist!"

"Well," she started, awkwardly getting to her feet. "The good news is that you're fine, congratulations. Want me to give you a touch-up to make sure?"

Chloé punched Adrien in the arm.

"I didn't do anything!" he complained, touching the part she'd hurt. "You're being rude!"

"Me?" Chloé exclaimed, fuming as she turned to face him. "You're—you're embarrassing me!"

"I wanted to make sure you're okay!" he defended, taking a step away before he could be hit again. "You've been really angry lately!"

Marinette stood there and watched them, unsure of how to interrupt.

Chloé yelled, "Because you're keeping Ladybug to yourself!"

Adrien held his hands up in surrender. "It's not my fault!"

"I'm prettier than you," Chloé told him, jabbing a finger into his chest. "And my hair's shinier."

"Yes, absolutely," he agreed. "But your personality is kind of shit."

"I'm neglected."

"I'm as neglected as you," Adrien countered.

Chloé snorted. "Fuck off."

"I was invited here!" he exclaimed.

"Not to interrupt your touching moment," Marinette said, tucking some loose hairs behind her ear that wouldn't stay put. "But if you're gonna fight, are you cool with me going to shower?"

Adrien looked like he was going to cry again.

"Yeah, sure," Chloé said, looking at her with narrowed eyes. "Your hair's greasy."

"Because I haven't showered," she admitted, touching the strands. "I'll be back in a bit, then, I guess. You two order some food and have breakfast or something."

Adrien blurted, "You're not kicking us out?"

She winked. "No, you're my entertainment."

Chloé elbowed Adrien in the side before he had a chance to respond.

-x-

They stayed out to eat.

As she couldn't eat without taking her mask off, Marinette opted for a milkshake while Adrien had something for dinner. His stomach had growled when they were out, and she'd been the stubborn one to drag him in and demand that he eat.

"Why?" he questioned, touching the menu on the table before grimacing because it felt sticky. "I could've had something at home."

"I want to spend more time with you," was her answer to that.

He held the menu up to hide his face.

Marinette laughed, pushing it down to see him.

"You can't say things like that," he whispered, face red as he shyly met her gaze.

Her smile reached her eyes. "Why not?"

He wetted his lips. "I can't think straight when you do."

Jokingly, she asked, "Damn, you're gay?"

"What?" Adrien was startled, sitting upright and slapping the menu down on the table. "I'm—I'm very into you!"

"Into me?" she questioned, amused.

He struggled to find the right words for a moment before coming out with, "I like you. A lot."

She tilted her head. "Is that why you always shower before coming to see me?"

"I—yes," he admitted, running his fingers through his hair. "I want to smell nice? And you said before that you don't like cologne—"

"Such a fan," she teased.

"Ladybug," Adrien started, clearing his throat. "Am I your friend?"

"Yeah, dude," she confirmed without hesitation. "Do you really think I would've bothered you to spend all this time with me if I disliked you?"

He fidgeted. "But—"

"You're cool," she told him sincerely. "I like spending time with you, and I like seeing you get flustered because of me."

He questioned, "Do you take everyone out to dinner?"

"No one wants to eat alone, so no," she replied. "I haven't sat down and had a meal with someone properly for years."

"Not—not even your parents?"

"I can't let them in the city," she pointed out. "And if I leave and there's an attack? That would be a disaster."

After the waitress came and took his order—including her milkshake that she asked for extra cream on—he didn't bring up the topic again. It was clear that he was hesitant to say anything at all from how he'd taken out a napkin and started to fold it in different ways, never making one shape in the end.

She broke the silence to ask, "Why are you my fan?"

"You—" Adrien cut himself off to clear his throat. "Do you really want to know?"

"Sure?" Marinette replied. "It's not like I've saved your life before or anything—for you to become my fan, I mean. You already liked me before that happened."

"I think you're cool," he stated, fiddling with his napkin.

She raised her eyebrows. "I am?"

"Even if you dress like you're homeless sometimes," he blurted before wincing. "Not that it's bad, but—"

"It's okay, I've accepted fashion isn't my thing," she told him, touching her bucket hat. "It's best to wear things that cover me up. It's nice that they're becoming more of a thing because of me—which is weird to think about—but going out shopping is always an effort."

"You could order clothes online," Adrien suggested.

"And give out my private information?" she questioned. "It's a crime to try and take off my mask. Imagine what'll happen if my name gets leaked."

He looked stumped at that. "Oh."

She shrugged. "It is what it is."

"I could... I could get them for you?" he suggested. "I like shopping."

"I've never seen you in the same clothes twice," she mused.

He shyly admitted, "I like looking nice."

"You do look nice," she agreed, not trying to stop her laugh when he shyly shifted in his seat. "Do you need my sizes or do you know that already?"

"I don't know that!" he exclaimed, louder than intended. "You'd really trust me with that?"

"It doesn't matter if it gets leaked," Marinette pointed out. "What's some demon going to do with my sizes? Try and find out my identity from my bra?"

"B-bra?" he stuttered.

She hummed. "I could leave that one to Chloé."

He stared at her, wide-eyed.

The waitress came back with their orders.

"Chloé?" he asked.

"Sibling bonding time, yeah?" she suggested. "I don't dislike her or anything. You're very... low maintenance to be around."

He winced. "She's a lot."

"So, you can take her shopping," Marinette said with a nod. "Want me to give you the money now or—"

"You don't have to!" he interrupted, hastily shaking his head. "I don't mind paying for it. I want to help you out."

"Helping me out and buying me a whole new wardrobe are two different things," she replied.

"Fashion is a hobby of mine."

She blinked. "That's nice."

"Let me help you," he all but pleaded, looking at her with those wide eyes again that didn't seem to hold any ill intent. "You've done so much for all of us—"

"Okay, okay," Marinette interrupted, a bit embarrassed. "If you stop singing my praises, I'll give in."

He was overjoyed at that. "Yes! You won't regret it, I swear."

She regretted it as soon as she opened the door.

It wasn't just one bag that she could see. He had at least four on him, and then Chloé came carrying one, shoving past him and knocking their shoulders so Adrien stumbled, catching himself on the doorway and managing not to fall over.

And when Marinette spoke, it wasn't a question. "What is this."

"I'm burning your clothes," Chloé said, brushing past and opening the wardrobe without waiting for permission. "I'll let you keep anything that has emotional value, so you better tell me now."

"What—"

Chloé was already pulling the clothes off the hanger, throwing them onto the bed.

"She's kind of got a one-track mind," Adrien said as he placed the bags down neatly, not as chaotic as his sister. "Also, hi. I hope you don't mind us coming round so early."

Marinette looked down at her pyjamas. "It's fine?"

"Chloé set an alarm," he explained. "I haven't even gone for my run yet."

"Oh, no," she replied. "You're going to waste away at this rate."

"Maybe," he agreed with a laugh. "But now you'll look super nice, so that's something."

She raised her eyebrows. "I didn't look nice before?"

"Super nice," he repeated, not as shy as before. "You look very nice right now. The bedhead suits you."

"Bedhead is all I know how to do," Marinette mused. "Well, that and hat hair. Those are my signature looks."

Adrien's smile showed his dimples.

Chloé threw a shoe at him.

-x-

When there was an attack, Luka called her and gave her the location, telling her to get a ride since he was on the other side of the city.

And rather than waiting for someone to offer or trying to get the attention of the cab, Marinette called up Adrien.

"Hi?" he replied. "I left for dinner, like, ten minutes ago. I didn't forget anything, did I?"

"Me," she said. "Are you free?"

"Yes?"

"Cool, want to be my getaway driver?" she asked.

He laughed. "Is that code for asking me to runaway with you?"

"More like drive me to the scene of the crime," she replied. "I'd much prefer running away for a bit. Maybe we can do that tomorrow?"

"Crime?" he questioned, latching onto that word. The worry was clear in his voice. "Is—is there an attack?"

She didn't sugar-coat it. "Yes."

"I can drive," he blurted. "I-I can do that. Yes."

She grinned. "Meet you out front?"

Like she requested, he drove close to the scene and stayed a few streets away for safety. Adrien had offered to come with her, stuttering out his words and making his nerves clear, but she wasn't going to put him in that situation.

It was protocol for civilians to run away and clear the area to avoid being hurt.

"Stay here," she said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. "And we'll get something to eat after, yeah?"

He reluctantly agreed.

There were a few casualties.

The demon had been able to have strength that surpassed a regular human's that time. Marinette had been knocked into the wall and hurt her back. She was thankful that nothing was broken, although she'd be feeling the bruises for a while.

Adrien was waiting in the car, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel when she returned.

"How'd it go?" he asked.

"You didn't even listen to music?" Marinette questioned, wincing as she climbed in. "Fine as ever, I guess. I shouldn't say that when it's still pretty fucking tragic."

"I... saw some stuff online about it," he said, running his fingers through his hair. "His body's going to be fucked now, right?"

"To put it lightly," she agreed. "I think he pretty much broke every bone in his body—the demon, I mean. He wasn't in control any more."

Adrien didn't start the car. "It sounds scary."

"It is scary," Marinette replied. "And I have to be the one to run in there every time. Don't you think I peed myself the first few times?"

He let out a laugh at that. "I would, too."

"You better stay out of trouble," she warned, waggling a finger at him. "If you end up in the hospital, I'm going to waste away from boredom."

Adrien pointed out, "You have other friends."

"Eh, not really. And those I do talk to have jobs," she said. "They're busy, unlike you."

"I'm busy," he lamely replied.

"You've never rejected hanging out with me," Marinette reminded him. "That's telling me otherwise."

He touched his neck. "Because I want to be with you."

"Oh, be still my beating heart," she teased, placing a hand on her chest. "You're being cute again."

Adrien's smile was a bit shy. "Again?"

"You're cute a lot," she assured him. "It's different when I'm trapped in a car with you."

"Trapped?" he questioned with a laugh. "The door isn't locked. You can run away whenever you want."

She grinned. "I'm only running from you if you get possessed."

"I feel pretty possessed when you smile at me," he admitted.

"You can't even see it," she protested, touching her mask. "How do you know I'm not frowning?"

His voice was quiet as he told her, "It reaches your eyes."

"Okay, so I need sunglasses next," she quipped.

"No one's going to find out your identity because you've got pretty blue eyes," Adrien replied. "I think you'll be fine."

She purposely blinked slowly. "You think my eyes are pretty?"

And when he spoke, his voice cracked. "I think all of you is."

Marinette tried not to laugh.

Adrien made a wounded noise and turned away, choosing to start the car and drive back to the hotel instead of addressing what had just happened.

It was becoming obvious that he didn't only feel admiration for her.

The time they spent together had been fun; Adrien was always up for coming to see her whenever she text first, had loosened up slowly and didn't look like he was going to vomit from being nervous any more, and he'd picked out really nice clothes for her to wear.

He was nice to look at, too.

So, it didn't feel out of the blue when she said, "You know I like you, right?"

Adrien kept his eyes on the road. "What?"

"I'm not completely oblivious," she mused, going to put her feet on the seat before thinking better of it. "But I can't do anything about it."

His sounded breathless. "You—you like me?"

She smiled, leaning back in her seat. "You couldn't tell?"

He was still caught up on it, confusion clear in his voice. "I—you like me as more than a friend?"

"Yes."

"You like me," he whispered, amazed. "Ladybug likes me."

"We can't do anything," Marinette reminded him. "It's important to keep my identity a secret, and it would only get you in more danger if people knew."

He swallowed. "You think that... demons would come after me?"

"They would," she confirmed. "It's happened before—with close friends, I mean. That's why I rarely meet up with them."

Adrien pointed out, "You're meeting up with me."

"You're the son of the hotel owner," she replied. "There's nothing special about this."

He quietly said, "It feels special to me."

"To everyone else, I mean," she corrected, putting a finger under her mask and pulling it out a little to breathe better for a while. "Anything sets people off for possession nowadays. Who knows? There could be a diehard fan out there that'll feel slighted if I announce I'm dating you. You'd be targeted in a moment."

"That—that doesn't even make sense," he protested, pulling into his reserved parking spot. "If you're going by that logic, I'd be targeted for being your friend in the first place."

"Listen, I'm just going by what I'm told—"

"So, this isn't even what you think," he said, interrupting her for one of the first times. "Do you honestly think that I don't already know that it's dangerous being with you?"

Marinette didn't know how to reply to that.

Adrien turned in his seat to face her. "A hotel got wrecked a couple of months ago because you stayed there."

"It did," she agreed.

"I'm not asking for anything," he said, fiddling with his sleeves. "I haven't even—you're the one that confessed, not me."

"Does it really count as a confession?" she questioned. "It's more like making my feelings known to avoid any awkward situations."

He frowned. "When you know I have a crush on you."

"Yes?" It came out sounding like a question. "To avoid you—I don't know, kissing me out of nowhere?"

"How would I do that?" Adrien exclaimed. "I'm not just going to pull your mask down! And doing that without consent is awful."

"I'm just saying," Marinette said, holding her hands her in a sign of surrender. "Nothing can happen between us."

He stared at her with a strange expression. "Okay."

And then she followed up that with, "Unless we're in the hotel."

He blinked. "What?"

"My boss is serious about the no dating rule."

He asked, "You've got a boss but not a manager?"

"Is that what you should be focusing on?" she shot back.

Adrien mumbled, "I'm getting very mixed signals."

"Yeah, same," she said, reaching up and adjusting her hat. "You like me and I like you."

"But you said—"

She blurted, "I may not be able to kiss you, but I can hold your hand."

Adrien was speechless for a moment.

Then, with a red face, he quietly admitted, "I thought you were going to suggest we could do something else at first."

"I'll hit you," she threatened, clenching a fist. "I'm not that easy."

"I'm not trying to say you are!" he exclaimed, shaking his head. "I'm confused. You want to hold my hand?"

Her face felt hot. "Is that a problem?"

"But you're not allowed to date."

"Well, it's more like a very strong-worded piece of advice," she mused. "And I'm pretty sure if we're caught hugging, a demon might come after you."

He sounded confused as he said, "We were seen bowling?"

"In a purely platonic way," she pointed out. "You couldn't even stand next to me back then."

He wasn't offended as he replied, "I wasn't that bad."

"Adrien, you avoided me because you were embarrassed that you cried before."

"No, I was embarrassed that I'm an ugly crier," he corrected. "There's a difference."

"...Sure."

He crossed his arms. "I want to be pretty for you."

"You're very pretty," she assured him, reaching out and patting his arm. "Want to come up to my room? I'll tell you how pretty you are in private."

Adrien was flustered at that. "What—"

"Oh, I forgot you missed dinner," she continued on, taking off her seatbelt before stretching her arms out. "Want to come hang out after? I'll order something, too."

He asked, "Are you gonna hold my hand?"

She smiled. "Do you want me to?"

"Yes," he admitted, touching his hair. "I do."

"Lots of hand holding, then," she proposed.

He didn't try and hide his smile.

-x-

Chloé was disgusted with the development.

"Unbelievable," she said, shooting her brother a narrow-eyed glare. "You barely have any friends, but you're dating Ladybug?"

"We're not dating," Marinette corrected.

Adrien nodded. "We're not."

Chloé stared at them. "You're holding hands."

Marinette looked down at where their hands were joined between them. They were sat close enough on the sofa to be shoulder-to-shoulder, and they'd been watching videos on her laptop until Chloé had arrived.

"You don't hold hands with your friends?" she asked.

"That is not a friend hold," Chloé retorted.

"But we're friends," Adrien said, tracing patterns on the back of her glove with his thumb. "And we're holding hands. How can you explain this?"

"Oh, so now you're not embarrassed to be beside her?" his sister demanded. "You couldn't even look at her a couple of weeks ago!"

Marinette laughed. "You wanna join us or not? I heard your friends cancelled on you."

"They didn't cancel," Chloé replied, crossing her arms. "I told them not to bother."

"How come?" she asked.

Chloé pulled a face. "They wanted to go to a rundown pub."

"Somewhere too cheap for you," she teased.

Chloé raised her middle finger.

It was a refreshing exchange.

As much time as she spent with Adrien, Chloé did turn up and and join them, making it so it was the two siblings mostly talking. Marinette was content to let them bicker and sit back and enjoy it, intrigued by their good relationship despite Adrien complaining that Chloé was a monster with a temper.

Chloé had a mixture of admiration and irritation towards her that was fun to experience. She wasn't good at putting her feelings into words, while Adrien felt too much and let it be known from his expressions to his expressions.

"You two get on well," she remarked.

Chloé wasn't happy with that. "Fuck off."

"It's a begrudging friendship," Adrien pitched in, not shy about holding her hand again. "I'm the only one that can put up with her for hours, apparently."

"That's not true at all—"

"You get bored with your friends after a few hours," he pointed out. "And come whining to me about it."

Chloé exclaimed, "Because you're a pushover!"

"You groomed me into that," he deadpanned.

Chloé scoffed. "Not my fault you're a weakling."

"No, I just nod and let you talk," he responded with a laugh.

Neither of them were disrespectful. They hadn't tried to ask for her real name, hadn't butted in and demanded to know any information that wasn't open to the public already, nor had either of them tried to get her to remove her mask.

Adrien averted his eyes whenever she fiddled with her mask.

"You should grow your hair out," Chloé said, but it didn't sound like a suggestion.

She touched the strands that were brushing her eyebrows. "It's getting long."

"You look like a little boy from the back," Chloé muttered, giving her hair a look filled with distaste. "How can you be happy with that?"

She replied with a simple, "I like it."

"Adrien has longer hair than you."

"That's nice," Marinette said, not at all offended. "But I'm going to keep this. My parents said it suits me."

"What—"

"It does," Adrien agreed, butting in before Chloé could say anything rude. "And you don't look like a little boy."

She smiled. "No?"

"Definitely not."

Chloé exclaimed, "Okay, gross."

Adrien cried, "No one asked you!"

"I'm leaving if you're just going to flirt!" Chloé announced, jumping to her feet. "Whatever. I've lost so much respect for you, Ladybug."

And with that, Chloé slammed the door on her way out.

"She's not going to say anything," Adrien told her, linking their fingers together. "Want to watch some more? I think I've got another episode in me before I fall asleep."

"You better leave after," she replied. "I'll die if I try and sleep in this mask."

He forced a gasp. "You sleep naked?"

Marinette winked. "With my face so-very-naked."

And as he gazed at her with a soft look in his eyes that had become more apparent lately, he whispered, "I can't even imagine it."

Her chest felt warm. "Want to know a secret?"

"That depends," he mused. "Is it going to put my life in danger?"

She leaned in and whispered, "I have freckles."

He pretended to swoon. "Dangerous for my heart, got it."

She laughed loudly.

Although it was a nice change of pace to spend time with him—as most people she met and chatted with had jobs to get to—she didn't tend to stay in the same place for too long. It wasn't that she felt bad about staying there for free; rather, demons started to swarm around where she stayed the longer she was there. She hadn't had a stable place to stay since she'd come to the city and awakened her powers, though the first place she'd rented had expired long ago when she started to recognised by the public.

It wasn't a question when Adrien murmured, "You'll be leaving soon."

"Probably," she agreed, tucking her legs underneath her and leaning onto his shoulder. "I've been here almost a month now."

"It's been fun," he told her. "Make sure to come back to us in the future."

She laughed. "Is now the time for that?"

"It's the highest rated hotel for a reason," he retorted. "Appreciate it. You even got me in the deal this time, isn't that worth it?"

"Oh, very," she said, still laughing. "Can I have the Adrien package in the future, too?"

He spluttered, "You can't just mention my package—"

Her laughter grew louder.

"Where'd you think you'll go next?" he asked.

"Not sure," she replied, honest. "I'll pick one at random, probably. As long as I give Luka the location beforehand so he can check it out, it's fine."

He mused, "You've got everyone wrapped around your finger."

"Does that include you?"

"Yes," he confirmed, looking down at her with a smile. "Can't you tell?"

"Well, you are letting me hug you when I want now," she said, emphasising that by wrapping his arms around him in a loose hug, continuing to rest her head on his shoulder. It felt very one-sided on her part. "But when are you going to to squeeze me back?"

He replied, "I don't want to break your ribs or something."

She snorted. "You're not that strong."

"You said I was strong the other day," he pointed out.

"That's because I was too lazy to carry anything," she answered shamelessly. "And you're very reliable. Am I really going to leave here before being embraced by those reliable arms?"

He sighed. "Why do you phrase it like that?"

"I'm trying to be a poet."

"There's noting poetic about calling my arms reliable," he told her.

"Yes, there is," she insisted, giving his waist a squeeze. "You can write in on your dating profile. And if you put down that it's a shining review from Ladybug, you'll get a lot of attention."

He choked out a laugh. "You're so considerate."

"I know," she happily replied. "And I'll tell anyone that asks that it's true. You'll be set for life, bro."

"Can you not call me bro while hugging me?" he requested.

"That depends."

"On?" he asked.

She grinned. "If you hug me back."

And when he did, he squeezed tight enough for her to wheeze.

"My ribs," she lamented, being dramatic.

Adrien squeezed her again. "You wanted this."

-x-

It was rare, but there were times were she ran into demons first.

To be more specific, she was either there when a demon fused with a human nearby, or she was the cause of it.

Chloé seemed fine.

She'd been laughing, making the same mean remarks that didn't have any heat to the words, and cracking jokes that would've sounded like insults when they first met. And yet, the reminder that Marinette would have to leave soon and find somewhere else to stay had caused it to happen in a matter of moments.

Marinette had had her back turned, pouring water in a glass before fetching one of her many straws.

Adrien's voice was what alerted that that something was wrong. "Chloé—"

There wasn't an uneasy feeling in the air, no prior warning that anything had changed.

And yet, when she turned around, Chloé didn't look the same.

Her skin had lost colour, far more than if she had simply been sick, and all of hers eyes had gone black, including the sclera.

"Adrien!" Marinette called out, carelessly dropping the glass before crossing the room. "Move!"

He listened, jumping back.

She had her glove off in seconds.

Marinette squinted, unable to look at the light coming from her skin, and it was a natural thing to push a pulse of energy from hand and have it connect with Chloé's slumped form from where she was touching her.

Chloé's eyes closed as the colour slowly came back into her skin.

"Well," she started, slipping the glove back on with a weak laugh. "That was... yeah."

"Was there—was there anything wrong with her before?" Adrien asked, kneeling down and touching his sister's face, inspecting her for any injuries.

"I didn't see anything," she confirmed. "But it happens. It's not unusual for it to be a sudden thing instead of little whispers in your ear for a while."

His voice cracked. "Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me," she replied, making sure her hand was completely covered before coming to sit beside Chloé. "She'll be passed out a while."

"This hasn't happened to her before," Adrien said, sitting down on the floor and making it clear he had no intention of moving. "She—she's angry a lot, but I didn't think..."

"It happens," she repeated. "We're just lucky you noticed before her powers could manifest."

He didn't look away from his sister's face. "She'll really be fine?"

"No powers means no broken bones yet," she helpfully pointed out. "To be honest, I doubt she'll even remember it? She didn't even wake up after the possession, so..."

"Thank you," he repeated, finally meeting her gaze with an earnest expression. "I-I don't want to think what would've happened if you weren't here. Thank you, Ladybug."

It didn't need to be said that the chance of it happening would've been so much lower if she wasn't there. She'd stayed in the hotel for too long; the demons were starting to get closer, and the fact that one had gotten into the same room as her was telling.

She shifted. "Thank my magic fingers, not me."

"I do like your fingers," he agreed, smile not quite reaching his eyes. "And I don't think you're that bad at comforting."

"Oh, I really am," she argued with a laugh. "I don't have coffee to offer you this time."

"You could hug me instead?" he proposed.

"And have Chloé wake up to that?" she quipped. "She'd kill you."

Adrien stood up, stretching his arms over his head. "I don't care. I want a hug."

"Hug your unconscious sister," she said.

"I'd rather hug you," he replied, offering out a hand for her to take.

She accepted it, getting up to her feet and wrapping her arms around his waist. And as she leaned in, resting her head to his chest, she let out a content sigh as he returned the embrace without her prompting that time.

"Last time, it was a restaurant near here," he whispered, running his fingers through her short hair. "You're really leaving."

"It's about time," she murmured. "It always catches up to me."

"Is it true that they—that the demons know things if you tell them? That they remember?" he questioned, voice barely audible. "I never know what to believe some the reports."

She sighed. "I think so."

"So, that's why—"

"That's why a lot of things," she replied. "It makes sense to try and kill the only person that can stop them. I mean, the police can try and lock up anyone that's possessed, but they'd just... die eventually? There's no cure for it naturally. And sometimes their powers are so fucking weird that they can't be held down when they can levitate or some shit."

He softly agreed, "It's so strange."

"I've gotten used to it," she murmured, closing her eyes and leaning into him. "It means I have to dip and live somewhere else for a while, that's all."

He asked, "Can I visit?"

"Give me a couple of days to settle in first," she proposed. "I need to actually know where I am before being lazy again."

Adrien questioned, "Where have you decided?"

"Not sure," she replied. "All I know is that it won't be as expensive as this place."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"Overpriced," she muttered.

She could feel it as he laughed. "Chloé will come back from the dead and kick you for that."

With a laugh, she corrected, "She's resting, not dead."

He sniffed. "She was so young."

-x-

It was a motel.

The room was nice, the mini-fridge worked, and the shower supplies that were provided were definitely not what every customer got. Marinette greeted the ones working behind the front desk, thanked the owners for letting her stay when they came and awkwardly shook her hand, and she spent almost an hour chatting with random teenagers that were skateboarding in the parking lot instead of unpacking her clothes.

She got the call that there was another attack near the hotel.

"Ladybug," Luka started as she climbed into his car, buckling her seatbelt. "The target was Adrien again."

Her breath caught in her throat. "Is he—"

"He's fine," he told her, getting straight to the point. "His sister is, too. They had the same story."

"Story?" she questioned. "But the demon's still there."

"He was able to get out again."

Her brow furrowed. "What?"

"They were in the restaurant," Luka said, paying attention to the road. "And like the last time, the demon took one look at him before trashing the place instead. No one else was targeted."

Confused, all she could say was, "It always targets a person."

"Not with him, apparently," Luka mused. "Are you sure there's nothing... special about him?"

"What? No," she denied, baffled. "There's nothing, I swear."

"Well, this is two times he's walked out of potentially being murdered without even breaking a sweat," he pointed out. "The demon's still in there destroying the restaurant instead of chasing him."

She had to ask, "How'd you know it was him it wanted?"

"He knocked his drink over and got it over them."

She almost laughed. "Really?"

"Maybe they were having a bad day," Luka said, sounding very much like that statement was intended for him. And with a sigh, he pushed his hair away from his face. "And that was their tipping point. It's happened."

Marinette sagged back in her seat, watching the streets pass. "Yeah, you're right."

"Tell me what you want for dinner and I'll order it to your room later," he proposed.

She gave him a thumbs up as she got out of the car.

The restaurant was a wreck.

The windows were shattered, tables were turned over with the chairs mangled and no longer in working condition, and glass was everywhere. The demon was more focused on pouring alcohol out over the place instead of paying attention to her.

She clicked her tongue.

In the past, she'd learned the hard way that her powers would ignite it.

She picked up one of the candle holders, squinting to try and make her aim better.

It missed.

The third one hit her target, though. The demon turned around, eyes completely black and able to be seen from the distance, and everything about the body language screamed anger.

She didn't know what their power was that time.

Marinette raised a hand and waved.

And instead of attacking her immediately as they had done in the past—back in the beginning—the demon stared back before mimicking her wave.

"Oh, hi," she replied, a bit surprised. "Whatcha doing?"

The response to that was to pour more liquor on the floor, splashing it over the bar before covering the seats. Then, when the bottle was empty, they shook it to get the last drops out.

"Cool, cool," she said, feeling extremely out of place standing in the middle of the room. "And... after that?"

Another bottle was picked up.

It didn't look like anything supernatural had happened to the wrecked room. Marinette could've done the same level of damage if she wanted to.

The only positive was that it was on the first floor. The other guests had been escorted out at that point, police were surrounding the exits and the entrance, and medical staff were treating anyone that had gotten accidentally hit by the demon that seemed to be more focused on destroying the place than anyone else.

"So," she started, taking her glove off and shoving it in her pocket. "Any chance you'll let me exorcise you or—"

The bottle was smashed on the ground.

She sighed.

Calling Luka didn't provide any help.

"March over there and slap them in the face," he suggested.

"And set them alight?" she questioned, keeping her glowing hand behind her back so she wouldn't have to squint. "I mean, they're just destroying the place. That's better than giving the dude awful burns that'll never heal properly—and that's if you can even get them out first."

And in response to that, the demon poured the next bottle over their head, drenching their hair and clothes in the liquid and making any chance of her slapping them with her hand impossible without hurting the one possessed.

It happened, but she wanted to avoid it.

A few months had passed since the last casualty and she wanted to keep it that way. Broken bones and amputations were better than losing their lives.

Luka replied, "Lure them out."

"I've tried!"

"Push them out the window," he said.

"We're on the first floor!" she spluttered. "That's a terrible idea."

"You're not being very cooperative," Luka told her.

She retorted, "Your ideas are shit."

"Why are you calling me, then?"

"It's better than talking to myself," she replied, honest.

Luka didn't say anything before hanging up.

Cautious, she took a step forward to see what their reaction would be.

The demon didn't threaten her—they continued pouring the alcohol, tucking another bottle under their arm before going to a part of the floor that they hadn't touched yet.

"So, like," she started, following after them. "What's the goal here?"

Her shoes got splashed.

"I know you can talk," she said. "You've spoken to me before—well, not you specifically. Your brothers? Sisters? Your people, you know."

"There is no point in talking to you," they replied.

"That's rude," she replied, pushing up her sleeve and momentarily being blinded by the brightness of her exposed hand. "It's not like I want to kill you or anything. You guys are usually covered in blood and shit. You're probably the most peaceful I've seen for a while."

There was a hint of humour in their voice. "You think I'm peaceful?"

She shrugged. "Eh."

"For someone so special, you're quite stupid, aren't you?"

Marinette huffed. "That's even ruder."

"Why is it you?" the demon asked, pouring alcohol over their shoes without flinching. "You're... so plain."

She scoffed. "Are you done insulting me?"

"No," they replied.

"I prefer it when you try and hurt me instead," she muttered.

"That is a consequence of you getting in the way," they stated. "Do you have a deathwish, Ladybug?"

Marinette responded to that with, "Not really."

"Why bother with this, then?" they asked. "This does not benefit you in any way."

"Are you trying to talk me out of this?" she questioned, tilting her head. "Because that's a typical villain move. I've seen it enough times in films."

"We won't stop."

"That's nice," she replied. "Any chance you'll give me a hint on how to, like, destroy you or something? Or about whatever's controlling you?"

Another bottle smashed. "You know already."

"I know you can infect anyone that's upset," she pointed out. "I don't get what you gain from this?"

The smile on their lips didn't look friendly. "And why would we tell you?"

"Eh, it was worth a try," she mused. "Are you done with the alcohol yet? It's getting a bit boring."

"I have enough."

"Okay—"

And what she was about to say was cut off by a flame coming from their hand, aimed at their chest. The alcohol in the clothes caught alight, the fire spreading in seconds and flowing out where all the liquid had been spilled, and Marinette's only option was to run back and attempt to look for a fire extinguisher.

She didn't find one in time.

-x-

With his family's hotel shut down because of the fire, Adrien had the option to move into their summer home in the countryside or find somewhere else to stay.

Marinette was the one to suggest staying at the same place as her.

"You'd—you'd want that?" he questioned, surprised.

"Yeah, we're friends," she replied. "Besides, demons are weird with you. This is the second time they've avoided you and wrecked stuff instead of hurting anyone else."

He looked like he was going to cry from the mention of it.

"Adrien," she said, bumping her shoulder gently against his. "It's not your fault, dude."

"But it was because of me," he murmured, the slump of his shoulders giving away his sad mood. "That person died."

"I'm not trying to downplay their death," she started, cautiously taking his hand into hers. "This isn't the first time it's happened. The demon being after you doesn't make it your fault. Hell, most of the people that get possessed and survive end up with permanent injuries."

"But—"

She interrupted him with, "If they were truly scared of dying, they would've moved the hell out of the city years ago."

He didn't argue with that.

She asked, "How come you never moved?"

"To be close to my family," he admitted. "My dad, he'd... he didn't want to leave. It was a pride thing, I guess. The hotel being hit has probably made him rethink having a vacation for a while."

"I'm not forcing you to stay here or anything," Marinette reassured him, squeezing their linked hands. "But it really is strange how demons react to you."

He swallowed. "The police said that, too."

"Well, yeah," she mused. "They didn't touch a single hair of your pretty head."

Adrien smiled. "You think I'm pretty?"

"I think your head is," she replied, trying not to laugh.

He jutted his lower lip out.

"So pretty," she confessed, leaning closer and resting her head on his shoulder. "I'd kiss you if I could."

"I'm starting to think that you don't have lips or something," he joked.

Marinette elbowed him gently. "I wish that was it."

"Yeah, yeah," he replied, shifting so he could wrap his arms around her middle and bring her closer. "Your identity is more important than anything else."

"I've been told to kill you if I reveal my identity," she lied.

He nodded. "A worthy death."

"You don't have to stick around in the city for me," Marinette told him again. "You can run off to the countryside with your family. Chloé's already packing, isn't she?"

"She's packed," he confirmed.

"Are you?"

"A bit," he said, sighing. "Only one suitcase so far. Are you really sure it's a good idea for me to stick around?"

"It's your choice, not mine," she reminded him. "You don't have to put your life on the line because demons are weird with you—or to stay with me more. You're used to a more... expensive place than where I'm staying."

It surprised her when he said, "If you're there, it's worth it."

Her chest felt warm.

There was a lot of things that she felt for him; his smile made it hard not to smile back at him, the soft way he looked at her made her feel wanted, and his sense of humour was one that she could easily get along with. The only downfall of it all was that she was a public figure.

Being with him would put him in danger in the long run.

It could've been a fluke that he was fine the first time he was targeted, but the second left everyone in confusion.

And when he made a decision, he made it in a way that left her speechless.

Adrien brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead as he confessed, "I'll stay."

Her breath caught in her throat.

Chloé demanded to take more selfies together because she left for a while. She said she'd return when the hotel was repaired and up and running, shooting a glare at her brother while saying she wasn't going to live in poverty in the meanwhile.

Marinette didn't take any offence to that.

Chloé had made it startlingly clear from the beginning that she was rich and spoiled.

And when Adrien moved into his own room at the motel—choosing to be near her instead of at another hotel where meals would be provided—it became clear that while he wasn't as stuck-up as his sister, he was horrified by the quality of the shampoo and conditioner that was provided to him.

"Buy your own," she suggested.

Adrien dragged her to a store to do that.

He was careful not to hold her hand or be any closer than friends in case they were seen, but she thought that was pointless when he looked at her with that soft expression that disappeared when he talked to anyone else.

It was obvious that he cared for her.

And the fact that she could tell that, when she'd been oblivious growing up, meant that others could tell, too.

Adrien had stuck around for her. He could've gone off with his family and been safe from the occasional horrors of the city. It put him in what could've been considered the most dangerous position close to her side.

"Can I come to your room?" he asked.

While they'd stayed in his family's expensive hotel before, there wasn't a lot for the motel to offer. There was one chair and a small table by the window instead of the plentiful options to sit on before.

He looked incredibly awkward sitting next to her on the bed.

Marinette flopped back against the mattress, getting comfortable.

"Are you—do you like it here?" Adrien questioned, shifting his feet. He'd taken his shoes off when she'd asked him to, though he was staring at the floor a lot.

"It's not bad," she replied. "The owners are nice, too. They keep asking whether I want them to order me food or not."

He blinked. "They do that?"

"I'm special," she said with a wink. "It's either them or getting Luka to do it for me. I think he's a bit pissed off at me texting him at midnight for that, though."

Adrien pointed out, "Don't you normally get stuff for free?"

"Do you know how awkward it is calling up a place and saying I'm Ladybug?" she lamented. "It's so embarrassing. It's fine in person when I can prove it."

He laughed. "So, no free deliveries for you?"

"No," she muttered. "Luka doesn't want me signing up for any of those delivery sites either. It's better for me to go through someone else, apparently."

"That sounds very... unnecessary."

She exclaimed, "Thank you for agreeing with me!"

"I could order food for us?" Adrien said, it coming out like a question. "I'm here. And I need to eat, too."

Marinette hummed. "If you're sure? I'd have to be a gremlin and go eat in the bathroom or something."

"I could turn my back," he offered.

"It's not that I don't trust you," she started, reaching up and pushing her hair out of her face. "But if you get possessed, I'm fucked. I can't risk it."

He wasn't offended. "I get it. Sorry for pushing."

"Don't be sorry," she replied, sitting up and stretching her arms out.

"I'm already blessed with seeing you hatless," he teased, touching the top of her head with confidence that had slowly grown with her over time. "How can I ask for more than that?"

She breathed out slowly. "I can't think when you're like that."

"Like what?" he questioned, scooting closer to rest his head against hers. "You're the one that said you'd kiss me if you could. I'm only getting my payback."

"Payback?" she spluttered.

"You made my brain stop working for a whole day with that," he proclaimed.

She shoved him off her gently. "That's a lie and you know it."

"It turned into mush from your cuteness," he told her, touching his side with a pout, as though it really had hurt him. "And your rejections only make it even worse."

Marinette asked, "When have I ever rejected you?"

He sniffed. "Right now."

She patted his arm. "There, there. You'll get over it."

"So comforting," he muttered.

-x-

There was definitely something strange about Adrien.

Two weeks into staying at the motel near her, another possession happened. It was when they'd wandered to a nearby restaurant to pick up food to take back.

As before, the demon avoided hurting him. Adrien was ignored in favour of using their powers to destroy the place, not going after anyone else.

She didn't know what to think.

Adrien was in much the same position.

"People are going to start calling you something weird," she mused. "You might as well be my side-kick now."

He'd stopped being so shaken up after a few days, though that didn't get rid of his confusion. "It—I'm your sidekick now?"

"People are speculating that you are," she said, happily showing him the page on her phone she had open that showed instances of all the times they'd been together in public and photographed. "And now I'm not the only one that knows demons are weird with you. It makes sense that you'd team up with me, right?"

Adrien looked down at his bare hand. "I'm not a glowstick."

"And I am?" she demanded.

"You took your glove off because you were too lazy to turn the lights on!"

"You can't use that against me!" she spluttered. "That's called being smart!"

Adrien snorted. "You complained about light spots in your eyes for hours after."

"Well, that's because I was dumb and looked directly at it," she muttered.

"So... smart?"

She huffed. "Shut up."

"I don't glow," he said, touching his chest. "There's—I'm not anything special! My grades were average!"

"That's nice," she replied, lips curling into a smile. "I think you're pretty special, actually."

"Now isn't the time to flirt," he complained. "I'm an unemployed bum."

She laughed. "Want me to employ you as my side-kick?"

"No!"

"It should be an honour!" she retorted, tackling him into a hug and causing him to fall back on the mattress. Marinette was curled into his side, an arm wrapped around his waist. "I'm not going to force you into it or anything."

Adrien's eyes widened. "Wait—are you serious?"

"I do need a driver, and you're nearby," she pointed out. "Luka already said I can get you in the payroll."

"...You're giving me a job?" he questioned, surprise clear in his voice. "What?"

"It was their idea, to be honest," Marinette admitted. "Not that I don't want you around. That would be great. But your—well, built in demon repellent is a first. I've never seen anyone else like you before."

"For once, that doesn't sound like you're flirting with me," he muttered.

"I'm always flirting with you," she replied, resting her head on his chest and gazing up at him. "Think of it this way, dude. A side-kick can be a getaway driver."

He was quick to point out, "It's not a getaway driver if I'm driving you to demons."

She snorted. "Details."

"My job title is a big detail," he defended.

"Are you accepting, then?" she questioned.

"Why would I reject spending more time with you?" Adrien replied, smile reaching his eyes. "And if—if it does turn out that this whole warding off demon thing isn't a fluke, that means you can trust me, right?"

She blinked. "I..."

"I've never heard any voices in my head," he reminded her. "And you—you haven't seen any darkness on me, right?"

"No," she confirmed.

He sounded unsure as he proposed, "What if they're—they're repelled, too?"

"That's... plausible," she mused, sitting up and no longer embracing him. "That would explain why you've never heard anything."

Luka wasn't impressed when he came over.

When there was a knock at the door one late afternoon, Marinette wormed herself out of Adrien's embrace, yawning as she shuffled over and peered through the hole to see who was there.

At the sight of Luka impatiently looking at his phone, she opened it and asked, "Hey, dude. You lost?"

"Funny," Luka replied with a sigh. "You weren't answering so I came over anyway."

"I was napping," she said, honest. "Sorry, I think I had my phone on silent."

He clicked his tongue. "That's real smart."

"Someone would knock on my door to make sure I'm not here if there's an attack," she defended, opening the door further. "You coming in? I smell food."

"I regret buying this for you now," Luka muttered, stepping in and taking his shoes off without being asked to. "I even got your favourite."

She beamed. "You love me!"

"You—" Luka started, cutting himself off when he saw Adrien sitting awkwardly on the bed.

Adrien's smile looked more like a grimace as he lifted up a hand and waved. "Hi?"

"Hello?" Luka's response came out sounding like a question. "I didn't know you were here."

"I—I'm staying here for a bit?" Adrien stuttered out, pointing to the wall. "In another room, I mean. Yeah. Not here here. That would be weird."

"He's cute," Marinette supplied, happily taking the plastic bag and fishing out her favourite. And after getting the plastic cutlery provided, she started to the bathroom. "Thanks for the food! You're free to stay and interrogate Adrien, if you want."

"What—" Adrien started to say.

She closed the door, locking it for good measure because Luka would tell her off otherwise, and sat on the toilet before taking her mask off. It was a light-coloured one, so she didn't want to risk getting food on it.

From the other room, she could quietly hear them talking.

By the time she'd finished, checked the mirror to make sure she hadn't gotten sauce over her, and put her mask back on, she was greeted by Luka slipping his shoes back on. The other containers of food were piled neatly on the bedside table, empty and ready to be discarded with her own, while Adrien was still sat on the bed, but in a more comfortable position than before.

"Answer your phone next time," Luka told her.

She saluted. "Yes, sir."

He left after that.

Adrien flopped back on the mattress and sighed.

"Had fun?" Marinette asked, jumping to sit beside him and patted his stomach. "Did you get any of the food?"

"He shared with me."

"That's a sign he likes you," she revealed, hand wandering underneath his shirt before rubbing his stomach. "Food is very important. I only share with people I like, too."

"Can you not flirt while treating me like a baby?" he complained.

She laughed. "No."

"He gave me his number," Adrien admitted, putting his hand on top of hers to stop her. "And asked for me to say whenever I'm giving you a ride, since you're unreliable, apparently."

"I'm not that bad," she spluttered.

He wasn't having that. "You are."

"You barely know me!" Marinette exclaimed.

"I've known you for, like, two months now," he pointed out. "That's plenty of time to realise your mistakes."

She glared. "You're supposed to be a fan."

His smile showed his dimples. "I've transcended into being your friend."

"You're more than a friend," she replied.

"Yeah, but I can't be your boyfriend unless I turn out to be demon-proof, right?" he said without hesitation.

Her face felt warm. "I guess."

"You guess?" Adrien complained, holding her hand and squeezing. "That's real good for my self-esteem, you know."

"I don't know yet!"

He sniffed. "Oh, it hurts."

"I'm not going to fantasise about it when it's probably impossible," she retorted, resting her head on his stomach, angled in a way that she could still see his face. "I think I'm already pushing it by endangering you like this."

He flicked her forehead. "You won't even fantasise about me?"

"That's not what I said!"

"I'm so hurt," he complained, gasping when she slapped his hand away. "And now you reject my touch? It's all adding up."

"Why are you so dramatic?" she demanded. "Go back to being flustered around me. I preferred that."

Adrien replied, "I've accepted you won't leave me because I'm an ugly crier now."

"That's not—"

"I make up for it by being pretty the rest of the time," he stated, utterly serious. "I have to have some faults, too."

She mused, "I think your fault is your confidence."

"I'm rich and hot," Adrien replied. "What more can you want?"

"Someone I can kiss?" she countered.

"Well, I might be that," he said, tapping her mask where her lips were covered. "We've gotta find out whether I can't get possessed, right? And then, I'll be your confidant."

Humouring him, she asked, "And how do you propose we find this out?"

"What if I just get really mad and see if it works?" he questioned. "But I cry when I'm mad, so maybe turn around for that."

"How will I see if a demon's attracted to you, then?" she shot back.

He clicked his tongue. "So, the only option is for you to look at me when I'm ugly?"

"You're never ugly," she scolded him. "Stop that."

"I get snotty and my eyes get all puffy," he complained. "There's nothing kissable about that."

"What? You're only pretty when you're kissable?"

His smile was smug. "Have you got a problem with that?"

"You're ridiculous," Marinette accused, unable to keep her fondness from her voice. "Why do I even put up with you? I regret everything."

Adrien winked. "Who else are you going to roll around in bed with?"

"Don't phrase it like that!"

"But it's what we're doing!" he exclaimed, pointing gesturing between them. "And you're using me as a headrest!"

She sniffed. "You're comfortable."

"I'm comfortable with you," he replied, eyes crinkling at the corners from his smile. "If you leave me for someone else, I'll cry and be even uglier than before."

"I don't know anyone else that's unemployed and as well off as you," she said. "Unless I call Chloé over here—"

Adrien laughed. "She's too busy in a heated pool right now."

She sighed. "I see what her priorities are."

"Taking pictures in her bikini is very high up, yes," he agreed. "And she knows I like you."

"So?" she replied. "She'd jump at the chance to spend time with me and shove it into your face."

"Exactly," Adrien said. "She'd flaunt it, make me cry even more, and then she'd throw money at me to try and make me feel better."

Marinette remarked, "It sounds like you've experienced that before."

He flashed her a peace sign. "It's the same with our dad."

"Money solves all problems?" she questioned.

"Pretty much," he confirmed. "It's never really been an issue with us? I went to a public primary school and didn't realise how—well off I am? Not until I was older. I was a bit of a dick back then."

"You were a kid," she pointed out.

He wrinkled his nose. "A kid that showed off."

"I was an insufferable kid," she admitted with a laugh. "I always picked up a new hobby and did it for about a week before moving onto the next. It used to drive my parents crazy."

Adrien winced. "Too bad this whole demon thing isn't a hobby for you."

"It's my biggest commitment yet," she lamented. "I don't even know why me. It's not like I signed up for this, or met some powerful dude and had it passed onto me! I just woke up and blinded myself one day before seeing people start to get possessed."

He asked, "Why were you in the city?"

"That's top secret info," she replied, stretching her arm out to poke his cheek. "I'm not allowed to tell anyone that."

He pouted. "Not even me?"

She hummed. "Maybe in the future? You're my probational side-kick right now."

"If I get it full-time, you'll tell me your secrets?" Adrien questioned.

She winked. "If you're really immune, I'll give you everything."

And for the first time in a while, his ears turned red.

-x-

"No."

"Think about it," Marinette said, taking a pointed sip of her milkshake to let him mull over it. "Four times, Luka. Four! That's four more than anyone!"

"That doesn't mean—"

"And no one else gets hurt during it!" she exclaimed.

"That's not true," Luka denied.

"Other than when the person is first possessed," she clarified. "As soon as they see Adrien? It's done. They trash the place or kill themselves instead of harming anyone else."

Luka sighed, putting his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. "You really think that's grounds for revealing yourself to him?"

"It means he can be trusted," she pointed out. "How are demons going to get my deets when they can't even touch him?"

Luka cringed. "Don't say deets."

She snapped her fingers. "Focus!"

"Ladybug, I didn't want to say this, but—"

"Then don't," she interrupted.

"Ladybug." He sounded entirely fed up. "This is serious."

"You think I don't know that?" she replied, raising her eyebrows. "This has fucked up my whole life. I'm not saying this because I want to get laid or whatever. I can't even show my face to you, and I trust you completely."

"You barely know him," Luka said, smile not reaching his eyes. "And you're—what? Going to risk your identity? It could leak and put your family in danger."

She sighed.

Luka ran his hand through his hair. "Have you considered that he might... be the one in control of all this?"

Marinette raised her eyebrows. "Of the demons?"

His answer came out sounding like a question. "Yes?"

"That's a theory," she replied, dumbfounded. "There's no evidence that that's even a thing!"

"Possessions only happen in the city," Luka said. "And they never happened before your powers appeared. It's entirely possible that there's someone like you that's able to control it."

"It's not," she spluttered. "What do they do? Ask a demon to attack whoever's feeling emotional that day? Hell, the other month it was a teenager!"

He sniffed. "I never said it made sense."

"I don't agree with the theory," she muttered. "And you suggesting that it's Adrien? No way, dude. I'm never going to believe that."

"Because you like him."

"Because he's a good guy!" she retorted. "Why would he destroy where he's staying twice? There's no sense in that."

Luka helpfully pointed out, "There's no sense in demons avoiding him."

"It could happen to a lot of people," she defended. "We don't know. The victims are chosen are random. There's no way everyone that lives here has been targeted yet."

"Ladybug—"

She interrupted him with, "I'm not going to tell him my life story or anything."

Luka breathed out audibly. "I can't stop you."

"Yeah, but you're my parental figure now," she replied, finishing the last sip of her drink. "If you tell me you're disappointed, I'm going to cry."

"I'm not that much older than you."

She nodded. "You adopted me."

"I got assigned to you," he corrected.

"Same thing, isn't it?" she mused, hopping up out of her seat and patting his shoulder on her way past. "I'll see you later, daddy."

Luka looked horrified.

She laughed on her way out.

It wasn't that she was being reckless.

At least, it didn't seem that way to her. Adrien had been a constant in her life since she'd stayed at his hotel, appearing whenever she text him and had recently started to seek her out himself since they'd started to live beside each other for the meanwhile at the motel.

He'd gone from being a fan that knew trivial information about her to being one of the closest people to her. Since the time Luka had come over with food, Adrien was more than happy to let her eat in the bathroom while he sat down on the floor by the locked door, talking to her through it as well as he could.

When she'd had trouble hearing him properly, he'd suggested they could text.

She thought he was sweet.

He didn't push her for anything; didn't complain when she detangled from his embrace to go sleep in her own room, never tried to do anything more than kiss her forehead or the top of her head, and didn't accuse her of playing with his feelings.

Marinette was very clear about what would happen if they stayed together, and he'd been the one to choose to remain.

When she returned, Adrien greeted her with a smile that almost hurt to look at.

He was—

He was so nice.

With her laptop on and open for the two of them to watch a show while being beside each other in bed, it was her that rolled over to face him.

Adrien made an inquisitive noise.

She didn't pause it.

"You okay?" he questioned, pushing her short hair away from her forehead, his hand cupping her face over her mask. There was no toying with the parts looped around her ear.

Her voice was a whisper. "Yeah."

"Not feeling it?" he asked, gesturing with a jerk of his chin to the laptop. "We can watch something else? I was zoning out, to be honest."

She enquired, "What were you thinking about?"

He wasn't embarrassed in the slightest. "What do you think? I'm hugging you."

"You like me, right?"

"Yes," he confirmed, an almost confused-looking smile on his lips. "That should be obvious by now."

"I'm making sure," she said with a laugh. "You could be with anyone, so why are you sticking around me?"

Adrien pointed out, "You're the one that came to me first."

"I always greet the owners," she replied.

"You didn't know that," he answered, tapping the end of her nose before withdrawing his hand and putting it under his own head to get more comfortable. There was barely any distance between them, their chests almost touching. "I know we haven't... put a label on what we are or whatever, but you're the only person I have feelings for right now."

She lamely replied, "Cool."

Adrien asked, "Are you feeling insecure?"

"Maybe," she said, slipping a finger under her mask and allowing her some more room to breathe. "Do you think I can trust you?"

"What's with that?" he asked with a small laugh. "I'm not the one that gets to decide that."

"No?" she questioned. "I think you have a choice here."

He raised his eyebrows. "About whether you trust me?"

"Yes," she agreed. "What do you think? Can I tell you my secrets?"

"Like why you were in the city before?" he asked, curiosity clear in his voice. "I thought that was off-limits."

"A lot of things are off-limits," Marinette mused. "But most people aren't like you."

He beamed. "Are you praising me?"

"I wasn't trying to, but yes," she replied, smiling. "You're incredible, Adrien."

"That's not the most appropriate thing to say in bed," he quipped.

And it was just so very him.

Adrien had a knack for cracking jokes at the worst and best times—to make her laugh when she was wrapped up in feelings, making her feel comfortable and unguarded around him. He'd managed to come into her life in a time where she hadn't realised how lonely she was, his clumsy and embarrassed responses to her in the beginning opening her heart without her being aware of it at first.

She didn't want to regret anything with him.

So, she murmured, "Can you close your eyes?"

He didn't question her.

She tugged her mask down, the sudden air against her skin refreshing and a welcome change. Marinette wetted her lips before moving closer, making it so their noses brushed as her intentions were clear.

"Can I?" she asked.

His voice cracked. "Yes."

The kiss was slow.

It was the first time she'd been close to someone in so many years. Marinette shuffled closer, arms going around his neck as he returned the kiss with the same amount of hesitance, the feel of his breath on her skin grounding her.

She leaned into him, fingers idly running through his hair.

It wasn't nerves that she was feeling.

The kiss was clumsy at best. Adrien was being cautious, holding her close before backing away a bit, clearly unsure of what their boundaries were, while she was just happy that he wasn't pushing her away for being selfish.

Because that's what it was, wasn't it?

Trusting Adrien with her identity was heavy. While it wasn't his fault that demons behaved so oddly, keeping him close and putting him in danger had to outweigh any of the happiness he got from being with her.

When they parted, breathing heavily from the close distance, she pressed a chaste kiss to his lips before opening her eyes.

His were squeezed shut.

"You can open them," she murmured, cupping his face with her hand before kissing his cheek.

He didn't.

"Adrien," she whispered, emphasising that with another kiss to his face. "Look at me."

She could hear it as he swallowed. "No."

"Adrien," she called again. "I trust you."

"That's—"

"You said I get to decide," Marinette reminded him, bumping her nose against his gently. "This is what I want."

He joked, "You want me to see your freckles?"

"Yeah." She laughed softly. "Is that a problem?"

"Other than this being against the law?" he asked.

"I'll give you a pass," she replied, kissing his cheek again. "Open your eyes, dude."

"You can't just call me dude during an emotional moment," he spluttered. "That's totally ruining the mood."

She grinned. "And you rejecting me isn't?"

"I haven't rejected you—"

Marinette demanded, "Look at me."

"No," he denied.

"Why not?" she asked.

He muttered, "I'm shy."

"I thought you got over that," she replied, amused.

His response to that was to clumsily take her hand and put it over his heart.

"Cute," she whispered.

Adrien turned and buried his head in the pillow, avoiding her.

She kissed his hair. "I promise not to call you dude."

"Are you sure you can keep that?" he muttered.

"Yeah," she said, running her fingers through his hair. "Are you going to look at me now? I promise I'm not hideous."

"That's never even crossed my mind!" he exclaimed, sitting up abruptly and whipping his head around to face her.

He stared at her in shock.

Marinette put her hand under her chin, striking a pose.

Adrien made a wounded noise before burying his face in the pillow again.

"Adrien," she complained, moving closer and stretching her arm out over his back. "That's not good for my ego. You looked like you'd seen a ghost."

His voice was muffled. "A pretty ghost."

"Say that to my face, you coward," she teased.

And when he turned to look at her, still pressed against the pillow and making his smile lopsided, it wasn't nerves that she felt.

His voice cracked as he said, "You're pretty."

She beamed. "What was that?"

"You're pretty!" he exclaimed, reaching out and covering her face with his hand, pushing her slightly. "This is even worse when I can see your lips!"

She licked his hand.

He pulled it away, startled. "What are you? Five?"

Marinette winked. "I could show you five minutes in heaven."

Adrien's face was red. "It's seven minutes, not five."

"I could do seven," she said, taking his hand in hers and linking their fingers. "What about you? Think you're up for being with me that long?"

He didn't respond.

Instead, he was staring at her mouth.

"What?" she asked. "I haven't got food in my teeth, have I?"

He sounded confused as he said, "It's weird seeing you talk."

"Is it?"

"So weird," he murmured, letting go off her hand to cup her face. "You—you really trust me?"

She leaned into his touch. "Yes."

Adrien trailed his thumb across her lower lip. "You're so pretty."

"You've said that already," she teased.

"I'll say it until I calm down," he murmured, finally lifting his gaze up to look into her eyes. "You're—you're so beautiful, Ladybug."

She grinned. "Now you're just trying to butter me up."

"Your teeth are very white," he stated.

With a laugh, she replied, "Thank you?"

"I never thought about your teeth," he admitted. "Now I don't think I'll be able to get them off my mind."

"I think the only other people that think about them so much are dentists," she mused. "I've had a lot of them try and offer their services, even going as far as to propose a police officer going in with me to keep my identity a secret."

He swallowed. "Not even a doctor's seen your face?"

"No," she confirmed, taking his hand and pressing a kiss to his fingers. "Just you."

His ears were red.

-x-

It was a good sign that she wasn't dead the next day.

When she woke up the next morning, Adrien was already awake, smiling at her.

She yawned. "Shouldn't you be going for a run?"

"My heart's already running looking at you," he replied with a wink.

She pulled a face. "It's too early for flirting."

"Are you my girlfriend?"

Marinette replied to that with, "I'm your girlfriend who needs to brush her teeth."

His smile was earnest. "Can I watch?"

She squinted at him. "Isn't that a bit weird?"

"A bit," he agreed, not embarrassed in the slightest. "But I want to see you do normal everyday things. I can't take my eyes off of your lips."

"Go for your run," she said, pushing the covers off of her. "And I'll order breakfast."

He was wide-eyed. "I'll get to watch you eat?"

"Yes."

There was no door between them during meals.

It was her that kept initiating kisses. And whenever she pulled away, his smile reached his eyes and was one of the happiness she'd ever seen.

Even if there was an evil mastermind behind the demons, it wouldn't be Adrien.

He was too nice for that.

Adrien was jobless, never questioned how expensive something was and bought it without a second thought, and was so-very-caring that she was momentarily speechless whenever he turned up with her favourite things without warning her.

There wasn't a lot that she could give him in return.

"I don't need to know your name," he murmured, pressing a kiss to her lips.

"You sure?"

"Very," he confirmed, looking her in the eyes. "You being with me like this is more than enough."

It was his idea to move into a different hotel together.

With it coming to a month since coming to the motel, she was waiting for the police to send her a few options that they'd checked were safe. Adrien had told her that he'd follow along regardless of her answer, though it was a tempting offer to be with him.

Chloé was still in the countryside with her father, sending texts to Adrien about any time that his picture appeared on the internet.

Luka told her she was being an idiot, but he didn't try and stop her.

Adrien had proven to be trustworthy since she'd revealed her face. He hadn't taken any pictures of her, not even when she was asleep, and was more than happy to prove that when she'd brought it up one time as a joke. Adrien pointedly showed her his photos album almost daily, demanding a kiss in return for his hardwork of not being a jerk.

She wondered where along the line she'd fallen in love with him.

"You're stupid," she said, nothing but affection in her voice. "So, so stupid."

Adrien winked. "Isn't that my charm?"

"I thought that was your face?"

"Well, that and dumbness," he mused, brushing his hair off of his face. "It's a killer combo, isn't it?"

She deadpanned, "Your ego kills me."

He beamed.

The new hotel had room service rather than the owners calling to see whether she wanted anything.

Adrien took the key in the mornings for his jog, coming back and waking her up if she wasn't already out of bed by the time he'd returned. There was a routine built up between them, including which of them liked to shower in the morning or at night, and it all felt so domestic.

It was nice living with someone.

"I miss my parents," she admitted. "I lived with them before all of this."

"But they don't live in the city," he said.

"No, they don't," she replied, pleased that he'd remembered that. "I said I was here for a reason, right?"

Adrien clicked his tongue. "A secret reason. It's not fair to keep taunting me with this."

"You know that I trust you," she replied, bumping their shoulders together before lounging more against him than the sofa. "I was here for university."

Surprised, all he could say was, "You... were?"

"I had to drop out," she revealed. "I mean, I woke up with glowing hands. My exam worries paled in comparison."

"I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't that," he admitted.

She laughed. "You didn't think I'd study?"

"It's... so normal."

"And I'm not?" she questioned. "I think I'm pretty normal—me and you, we just laze around all day if we're not needed."

"You can't lump me in with you now," he said, waggling his finger.

She swatted it away. "You're my sidekick."

"I'm your boyfriend," he corrected, smile utterly smug. "It's demeaning to call me a sidekick in this relationship."

"I'll kick you," she threatened.

His smile showed his dimples. "It would be an honour to be kicked by you."

She kissed him instead.

Adrien got a lot more attention from going out with her. It wasn't a one off day out of them bowling; he was at her side at the store, in diners and cafés, and picking up everyday things such as a new pair of gloves or a hat for her. He was there to check her choices to make sure that any clothing she bought wouldn't clash horribly with everything he bought with Chloé.

And with them both staying in the same room, he had the opportunity to pick out her outfits for her when she was in the shower.

He was really happy with that.

When he heard her cursing through the wall, he'd called out and asked her what was wrong.

"Do you know how hard it is to put gloves on when your hand is wet?" she shouted back.

He'd laughed loudly.

It was the police's request for Adrien to wait with them at a possession instead of in the car. While it was for his safety, there was the chance that his presence would help the others beside him from being attacked.

Unlike the demons that targeted him, all of the others were violent and hurt anything in their way to get to who'd triggered the possession.

Marinette ended up with a ripped shirt one time.

It was one that Adrien had bought her and proudly picked out that morning, saying that it brought out the colour of her eyes.

He took her shopping the next day, buying more than one shirt despite her saying it wasn't necessary.

"I don't need this much," she protested.

He stared at her and picked up a pair of socks.

"I've got enough socks!" she complained.

He picked up another.

So, she eventually learned it was best to keep her mouth shut.

To her horror, they got a package the following day. Adrien had rushed to go down to the front desk and collect it, waving her off and explaining that it was for him, and she didn't think much of it until he'd come back up and excitedly passed it to her.

It was more clothes from Chloé.

She grimaced. "You're too alike."

"I'm better," he claimed. "See, look at this. This colour makes you look washed out. If she paid any attention to you at all—"

She shut him up with a kiss.

He didn't complain after that.

Marinette sent a picture to Chloé of her wearing the new shirt.

Chloé was horrified by Adrien's head on her lap.

"She's always been like this," he told her, snickering. "Anytime I show someone else affection, she freaks out and doesn't know how to react. It doesn't help that she really likes you."

"Too bad you can't kiss me in front of her," she teased.

"I can kiss your forehead," he pointed out happily. "That would get the same reaction out of her. To be honest, I don't think I even felt this... comfortable in any of my other relationships."

She hummed. "No one else got your fancy head kisses?"

He laughed. "I wasn't mature enough to give them, I guess."

"I'm very happy to receive them," she replied.

And to that, he placed a sloppy one on her forehead.

She cringed. "Thank you so much."

"Anything for you, babe."

"Don't babe me," she muttered.

Through his laughter, he tried to say, "It's the same as you calling me dude—"

"It is not!"

"You should call Chloé dude more, she hates it," he suggested. "And maybe mention me in the same message. It'll be getting all her weak points at once."

She squinted. "You're her weak point?"

"I'm her darling brother," he proclaimed, putting his hand on his forehead and striking a pose. "Wouldn't you care about me, too?"

"...As my brother?"

"It would be different if we grew up together!" he protested. "Look at Chloé! She grew to love me and now we're, like, inseparable."

She pointed out, "She's across the country."

"It's a holiday," he dismissed.

"She's been gloating almost daily about how she wishes you'll stay away from her forever."

He insisted, "You've gotta read between the lines."

"I'm sure," she replied, dubious. "I don't have any siblings, so I can't even begin to understand you two."

"You like listening to us bicker," he said.

"I like listening to you," Marinette said, pressing a kiss to his lips before moving away from his reach. "And Chloé's funny. Your reactions to her insulting you are my favourite."

He sniffed. "You like me being insulted?"

She winked.

"You're horrible," he accused.

"I'm your girlfriend," she reminded him. "And your hero, right? You're my fan."

He crossed his arms. "This is harassment."

"I can harass you more," she offered, scooting along and bumping their shoulders together. "What do you say? I can keep you up past your bedtime."

Adrien didn't get as flustered any more. "I don't have a bedtime."

"Because your sleep is horrible," she teased.

"It's getting better!" he insisted. "I'm trying to sleep earlier with you now instead of drawing it out."

She laughed. "How did you survive before me?"

"With horrible dark circles," he said, touching his face. "My complexion is a lot better than it used to be."

"Your dark circles are barely visible," she assured him.

"They used to be even worse," Adrien admitted, fiddling with his sleeve and pulling it over his hand, stretching the fabric in a way he told her off for. "And I used to cry even more, so my eyes were red a lot."

As before, her skills at comforting people weren't very good. "Have I unlocked your tragic backstory?"

"That would be helpful, considering I don't even remember it," he quipped, giving up on the sleeve and pushing it up to his elbow instead. "You told me your secret, so I'll give you one in return."

She blinked. "You have secrets?"

"Dark and terrible ones," he replied, smile reaching his eyes. "But I think I can trust you with them."

"If you think so," she said.

Adrien made a big deal of it.

He drummed his legs, looking at her expectantly.

Marinette joined in, barely hitting her thighs.

He lifted his hands up and wiggled them dramatically as he announced, "I'm adopted."

All she could think to say was, "That's nice."

He threw his head back and laughed.

"So..." Marinette trailed off. "That's it?"

"That's a deep secret!" he complained. "You wouldn't even find that out if you searched online!"

She laughed. "Well, thanks?"

"Does this mean I also have a secret identity?" he mused, tapping his chin. "I don't even know who my birth parents are. That counts, right?"

Amused, she replied, "I don't think so."

"I'm going to go with yes," he decided with a serious nod of his head. "Therefore, I'm perfect for you. We're meant to be."

"Hang on, fanboy," she teased, reaching out and flicking his nose. "You're getting ahead of yourself here."

He looked offended. "You can't tell me that when we literally sleep in the same bed."

"You have a point there."

"Of course." Adrien raised his chin haughtily. "I'm always right."

She snorted. "I'm not sure about that, dude."

"Babe—"

-x-

When Chloé came back, she insisted on sitting between them .

"I'll throw up if I have to watch you flirt," Chloé proclaimed, stubbornly crossing her arms. "Keep it for when I'm not around."

"We can still flirt from afar," Adrien quipped.

His sister glared at him. "I'll kick you."

"Your tan's nice," Marinette complimented, trying to stop their bickering as the waitress came closer.

Chloé had barged her way in and sat beside her, pushing her away from Adrien on purpose so they couldn't play footsie underneath the table.

"Everything about me is nice," Chloé said, utterly serious.

"You missed your armpits," Adrien helpfully told her.

Chloé squawked in offence.

The two of them ordered food while Marinette opted for a milkshake. They'd gone to a more upscale restaurant, one that would suit Chloé's tastes more since she wasn't as used to the simpler things like Adrien, but that didn't mean that it was any different than any other time that she went out.

Marinette helped a woman in the bathroom by banishing the demon clinging to her.

The owner came out and told them their meal was free before they'd even gotten to the end of it.

"It's weird being out with you," Chloé said, tapping away at her phone. "I'm used to being the centre of attention."

"You might be after this," she replied. "I'm not being seen with you outside for a while now. Your single time for the month is up."

"Once?" Chloé complained. "I deserve, like, five."

She sighed. "I'll give you two."

"You're not special like me," Adrien teased, poking Chloé's cheek.

Chloé slapped it away. "You've never been better than me."

"My grades were better," he pointed out.

"My follower count is higher."

Marinette laughed. "You're as special as each other."

Adrien looked at her in betrayal. "You're supposed to love me!"

"Am I?" she questioned. "I don't think we're quite there yet."

"Okay, shut the fuck up," Chloé interrupted. "I don't want to hear this."

She assured them, "I'm complimenting you both!"

Chloé was disgusted. "No."

The hotel that belonged to Adrien's family opened up again. And despite his father trying to coax him to come back and live there for a while, he chose to stay with her for the meanwhile. Marinette let him pick out the location from the lists sent from the police, not surprised when it was within waking distance from his family's place.

It was easier to see Chloé that way.

They went to her instead of meeting up outside in the public. Adrien's constant appearances by her side hadn't caused as much as an uproar as they'd thought it would, though it was a plus that he'd be immune to any demons that came after him.

The first time she met his and Chloé's father, she had the awkward moment of having to rid him of his darkness.

Their father took her hand in his and told her she could stay there for free whenever she wanted.

Then, she woke up the following morning with an extravagant gift basket delivered at the front desk.

He was like his children in giving too much.

"Money's money," Adrien said with a shrug. "Who's to say how I can spend it? I have enough to get by for the rest of my life without lifting a finger."

"You're bragging."

"I'm stating the truth," he corrected with a smile. "And that means I can take care of you, too."

She snorted. "Since when was I in this plan?"

"Since you started dating me," he replied matter-of-factly. "I hope this isn't just a fling for you, otherwise I'm going to resent you forever."

Marinette laughed. "That's nice."

"I have good looks, money, and a good personality," he started, placing a hand over his heart. "What more could you want? The only reason to leave is a problem with you, not me."

She tried to keep a straight face. "Your ego is outrageous."

He sniffed. "I'm quite humble."

"...Yeah."

"I am," he insisted. "I'm an ugly crier. It's my only flaw."

"Adrien, sometimes I think you might be an idiot," she fondly told him, reaching out and patting his knee. "But I love that about you."

He beamed.

"It wasn't a compliment," she said.

"You saying you love me is always a compliment," he replied.

"I said about—"

"Love is love, Ladybug," he interrupted, almost giddy. "And there's no getting rid of me. I'm latching onto you forever."

And as he hugged her to emphasise his point, she said, "You're coming on a little strong."

"You came onto me first," he rebutted, nuzzling his cheek into her hair with a content sigh. "Not that I'm complaining. The unemployed life is worth living if I get to be with you."

"Have you ever had a job?" she asked.

"No," he happily told her.

"That's not something to be proud about."

He questioned, "Isn't this your first?"

"No," she denied. "I had a job afterschool for a while."

Adrien gasped. "Baby Ladybug worked?"

"It's not that weird," she said, throwing an arm around his waist and getting more comfortable. "I helped out my parents, that was all. It wasn't, like, official, but I got paid for every hour I was there. That counts for something, right?"

"What do your parents do?" he asked.

She made a disapproving noise. "That's forbidden, sorry."

"Right, right," he muttered. "I haven't unlocked that stage yet."

"You're not unlocking me at all," she retorted, sitting upright and flicking the end of his nose. "That's classified information, my dude. You're not finding out any time soon."

"Okay," he agreed, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. "I can wait."

She squinted. "When did I ask you to wait?"

"You're not getting rid of me," Adrien pointed out. "That means I'm sticking around. Whenever these demons disappear, I'll be here still, patiently waiting."

She replied, "It almost sounds like you're guilting me."

"I'd never," he denied, pulling back so she could see he was sincere by his expression. "It doesn't change anything that I don't know your past. It's enough that you're here with me."

"Even though you don't know my name?" she asked.

"I'm sure it's as pretty as your face," he replied, smile reaching his eyes. "And if I ever learn it, I'll never stop saying it."

She smiled. "That'll get boring."

"Absolutely not," he assured her, bumping his nose gently against hers. "I'll shove it into every sentence just because I can. It'll be empowering."

"It won't even sound like a name if you do that," she teased, pressing a chaste kiss to his lips. "What if I do that to you?"

"You can, if you want," he offered. "I like it when you say my name."

"You do?"

He winked. "It makes me feel tingly."

She pulled a face. "That was greasy."

"I'm serious!" he exclaimed through his laughter as she pushed him away. "My hearts does that pitter-patter shit when you say it."

She couldn't help but laugh. "Pitter-patter shit?"

"I'm trying to be romantic!"

"You made it sound like a disease," she replied, crossing her arms. "Your way with words is something else, Adrien."

His smile showed his teeth. "I told you, I'm the full package."

"I think someone lied to you," Marinette said, giving him a once-over. "Where did it all go wrong for you?"

"When I fell in love with a superhero?" he mused, tapping his chin. "That's gotta do something for one's ego, you know? I was bright and innocent before you."

She spluttered, "You can't say it's my fault!"

"I can and will," he claimed, nodding. "You're the one that kept pestering me until I went out with you."

"That's not even remotely true," she denied. "You kept leaving me coffee!"

"You're my hero, that doesn't count," he rebutted.

She raised her middle finger.

He placed a hand on his chest. "It's pitter-pattering again."

"I didn't even say your name," she muttered.

"It's whenever you do something cute," he replied. "Which is always, so I'm doomed. Tell my family I love them when my heart eventually gives out, will you?"

"You're ridiculous," she accused, amusement clear in her voice. "I'll tell them you died as you lived—being stupid."

"That's good enough for me," he said with a smile. "But make sure you tell them, okay? I was a nightmare as a kid, so dying quietly isn't an option for me."

She raised her eyebrows. "Worse than Chloé?"

"Okay, maybe not that bad," Adrien admitted. "But I did have nightmares a lot. Dad says I gave him all his wrinkles from keeping him up."

"Nightmares?" she asked.

"I don't really remember?" It came out sounding like a question. "It's been so long since I've had them, so it's all kind of a blur. I had a load of therapy as a kid, too."

She tried to make light of the situation with, "Oh, the tragic backstory."

Adrien winked. "You've earned it."

"Thank you."

-x-

The worst case of darkness she'd seen without someone being possessed was a man she saw while walking on the street.

She couldn't call out to him to purify him when it was so crowded and busy, and by the time she'd crossed the road, there was no sight of him any more.

There wasn't a reported possession that day.

It was times like that where she marvelled at the fact that Adrien was untouched. There was no darkness lingering on him, not like Chloé had at times that Marinette banished away after taking her glove off, and it made her wonder how he'd managed it.

"I don't meditate," he replied, amused.

"You must do something."

"I don't even have a balanced diet," he said with a dramatic sigh. "And I don't drink enough water. Maybe I'm too unhealthy?"

She huffed. "You go for a jog everyday."

"Otherwise I'll get fat," he complained.

"So, you cry ugly and have a bad metabolism?" she questioned.

"It's not that bad," Adrien corrected. "I can eat whatever I want if I jog. It's a fair trade, right?"

She patted his head.

Chloé hated him for that, apparently.

When they went out for dinner—Chloé's allowed time with her after Marinette had turned down going shopping—dessert was awkward with two plates between the three of them.

"I thought it was for you," Chloé said, staring down at the dessert as though it had offended her.

Marinette pointed at her mask.

Chloé scowled.

"I can eat it," Adrien volunteered, happily holding his hand up.

Chloé snapped, "Shut up."

"What?" he asked. "It's either that or we take it away for Ladybug to eat later?"

"I'm not a big fan of it," Marinette helpfully told him.

"It's your favourite, Chloé," Adrien insisted, pushing the plate towards her. "I picked it out for you."

"I didn't—"

He interrupted her with, "One dessert isn't going to ruin you."

"Fuck off, I know that," Chloé retorted, picking up her spoon with a jerky movement that showed her annoyance. "I'm not shovelling trash into my body like you."

"But I'm eating the same as Ladybug," Adrien replied, bemused. "Are you insulting her?"

"You should," Marinette said. "I eat terribly."

Chloé squinted. "I can tell."

"What?" she questioned, looking down at herself. "I look perfectly healthy, thank you. I get check-ups at the hospital regularly, too."

"All you drink is sugar," Chloé said.

"It's tasty," she responded. "What else would I do? Sip water? That's boring."

Chloé put her spoon into the dessert with enough force to make a noise against the plate.

"I'm going to the toilet," Marinette said, getting up before looking around. "Which way is it?"

"Not sure," Adrien replied.

"I'll ask someone," she decided, heading towards the bar to ask one of the employees.

It was when the toilets were pointed out to her that she noticed that one of the guests sat down at a table had darkness around them. The amount of astounding, only able to be seen when she looked in the right direction, but it was around his shoulders and clinging to every movement that he made.

She wondered how bad the negative things going through his head were.

It had always sounded so strange to her; the bad thoughts in her mind were purely her own now, while for others, it was a demons influence, trying to get them to do the things that they wouldn't usually. And when they listened and agreed to be possessed, giving up control of their body for the goal that had aggravated them so much in the beginning, that was a rare event that caused havoc.

Other than her powers, the only way to get rid of the possession was to kill the host.

And as she walked to his table, forgetting her quest for the toilet, the strangest thing happened.

The man saw her and hurriedly threw money down on the table before leaving.

He ran from the sight of her.

"People usually run to me," Marinette complained as she sat back down. "Am I that scary?"

"Maybe he didn't realise it was you?" Adrien suggested, not sounding convinced of his own words.

She pointed to her face. "Who else would wear this?"

"And the gloves," Chloé helpfully added. "Halloween's the time to be you, not now."

She shivered. "Sexy Ladybug scares me."

Adrien's eyes lit up.

"No," Marinette shot down before he could say anything.

He pouted.

Chloé threw a bundled up napkin at him.

Although there was a possession popping up the following day, it wasn't the man. It was a young woman who'd ended up with the majority of her bones broken from the demon's control, though her family were bawling at the scene and thanking her for helping.

Marinette awkwardly said it was her pleasure before realising how horrible that sounded.

It was on the drive back that Adrien asked, "How come you never go to any of the funerals?"

"Not my place," she admitted, adjusting her seatbelt for something to fiddle with. "It would take away from the family and make it about me."

"Sounds like it happened before," he remarked.

"In the beginning," Marinette told him, leaning back against the chair and shuffling to get more comfortable. "I went to the first few because I thought—I thought it was my fault that they died? But it's happened so many times now that I'm kind of... desensitised."

He snorted. "That sounds horrible when you say it like that."

"You know what I meant," she lamely replied.

"I do," he agreed, looking at her with a smile before his gaze went back to the road. "You're really kind, Ladybug. And no one faults you for not going to them. I was just curious because you never answer that question."

"I run away if they ask me that kind of stuff," she confessed with a laugh. "And if they bring up anything about my family. I'm gone like the wind."

He laughed. "So fast."

With Adrien's increased presence at crime scenes, it was inevitable that people would try and talk to him while she was taking care of the problem. There were times where they knocked on the car window and tried to get his attention, or if he was waiting outside before coming to stand by the police officers, that was when they approached him.

He didn't know how to react when he was invited to a funeral.

"This is so weird," he whispered, running a hand through his hair.

His reaction was the same when he started getting free stuff, too.

"I'm rich," he said, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "Do I look pitiful? Is that it?"

"They're thanking you for being my sidekick," she told him, patting his shoulder. "Accept the stuff with a smile, otherwise they'll get offended."

He sniffed. "You'd know."

"I'm used to it now." She made a peace sign with her fingers. "It was awkward as hell in the beginning, don't get me wrong. I used to carry cash around with me everywhere and try and shove it in their hands."

"What if I leave a tip?" he asked.

Marinette shook her head. "You can't tip for free things."

He clenched a fist. "This is ridiculous."

"You'll get used to it," she assured him.

"I don't want to!" he exclaimed.

"You have no choice, partner," she joked, nudging him with her elbow.

He pouted. "You didn't even give me a howdy before that."

"...That's not what I meant."

"I can dream," he muttered.

If anyone asked her why she was seen out in public with him so much when she'd been so careful in the past, Marinette was honest and said it was because he was her partner now. It helped that the police were on board with it, giving the same responses when they were asked, it was only Adrien that was flustered when he was asked directly about it.

He wasn't shy with everyone.

Although he wasn't the tongue-tied disaster that he'd been with her, it was easy to tell when he was nervous; he fiddled with his hair a lot, touched his neck, and kept looking down at his sleeves as he adjusted them during a conversation.

She had the pleasure of being able to look up videos of him online now.

People like to make compilations of them interacting.

And because of Adrien's sudden popularity with the media, Chloé wanted to get in on it and demanded that she be able to post pictures of the two of them on her social media account.

She didn't say no.

It was good publicity for the reopened hotel that Adrien was connected to it.

However, with his continued exposure, it brought up how easy it was to find out where he was by being with her. Posts were made online if they were spotted outside together, crime scenes reported him waiting to drive her back, and the occasional time where she met up with Luka for coffee meant that he was invited, too.

She saw the man that had the demon draped over him again.

And as before, when she made eye contact, he ran away.

Marinette didn't run after him. Instead, she jogged over to where Adrien was waiting, cutting off what he had to say with, "Who was that?"

"I don't know?" He sounded bewildered. "A fan, I guess? He was asking whether my name's right."

"Your... name," she repeated, dubious.

Adrien shrugged. "Just seemed like a nervous old man, I don't know."

"How old?" she asked.

He squinted. "Old?"

"Helpful."

"I don't know what you want me to say?" he replied, running his fingers through his hair. "Are you jealous that he approached me instead of you?"

"No," she denied, peering around him to see whether the man was still nearby or not. And when there was no sight of him, she sighed. "Forget it."

He still sounded confused. "Okay?"

-x-

Luka wasn't impressed that she took so long to tell him.

"This is important," he said, putting his hands down on the desk. "Did it not even cross your mind—"

"In my defence, I thought it was a one-off," she interrupted.

He sighed. "Be quiet."

"I came here to see you, and this is the thanks I get?" she mumbled, putting her feet up on his desk.

Luka wasted no time in knocking them off. "This is my office."

"And I'm a guest," she pointed out, tucking her feet under her instead and shifted to get comfortable. "Can you get a picture of him or something?"

"I can try," Luka replied, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. "I'll need to get permission first. I'm not breaking the law for you."

"Say it's for me and they'll do anything," she helpfully told him.

He denied, "That's not how it works at all."

"Isn't it?" she questioned. "Everything I want gets done anyway."

"Because I'm the one making it happen," Luka informed her, entirely fed up. "I already have so much paperwork because of you, now you're springing this on me out of nowhere? You're so heartless."

She beamed. "Adrien can confirm I have a heart."

"Don't flaunt your love-life in front of me," he complained. "All my suffering is because of you."

"Hey, you got a promotion because of me," she pointed out.

He sighed. "All it did was make me suffer more."

"And get paid more," she said. "That's always a plus."

"You not telling me things isn't a plus," he replied.

"In my defence—"

"You've already said that," Luka interrupted, raising his eyebrows. "Anything else to tell me? Other than seeing this man that looks close to being possessed near Adrien more than once."

She smiled. "I'll buy you coffee?"

"You'll get it for free," he corrected. "And fine, my break's soon."

She happily jumped to her feet. "I'll wait outside!"

Adrien wasn't helpful when she filled him in on what had happened.

"I don't really remember what he even looked like," he admitted with a laugh. "Is that bad? My memory's shit."

She put her hands on his shoulders. "You're so stupid."

Adrien laugh was more sincere then. "Are you coming onto me?"

"He's approached you three times!"

"And clearly didn't make a good impression," he pointed out. "How do you expect me to remember that? I'm like a celebrity nowadays because of you."

She sighed. "Stop talking to everyone."

"I'm friendly," he said, putting his hand under his chin and fluttering his eyelashes. "Doesn't that make me more attractive?"

Marinette flicked the end of his nose.

He cried out in pain.

Before Luka had permission to investigate a random man, Adrien met him again. It wasn't at an attack while Marinette was preoccupied; rather, she'd excused herself to the bathroom quickly, only to come back to the man standing at their table before running away at the sight of her.

She didn't run after him.

It wouldn't have been worth it. Her job was to get rid of possessions, not chase strange men that kept approaching her boyfriend in public.

Adrien didn't look up from his clasped hands when she came back.

"You okay?" she asked.

Startled, his knee hit the table. "Ladybug, hi."

"Hello?" she replied, a bit amused by his reaction. And as she took her seat across from him, she nudged his foot under the table. "He didn't do anything weird, did he? He ran out of here looking really suspicious."

"He—" Adrien cut himself off to laugh, his expression matching the insincere. "That's the guy, isn't it?"

She frowned. "That keeps approaching you? Yes."

He breathed out loudly. "He's so weird."

"And that means?" she questioned, furrowing her brow.

"He—" Adrien rubbed his hand over his face, messing up his hair further. "He said he's my dad."

All she could say to that was, "Like a lame movie villain?"

"Exactly!" he exclaimed, slapping his hands down on the table with more force than necessary. He made the glasses with their drinks shake. "That's—it's not even public knowledge that I'm adopted, but some old guy's coming up to me and claiming that?"

She didn't know how to feel about it.

And from the emotions he was showing, Adrien didn't either.

"He really said that?" she asked quietly.

Adrien swallowed. "I've got a name you can give to the detective."

"We can go to the station now," she suggested.

He nodded, pushing his drink further away. "Please."

It didn't take much more convincing after Adrien told the police about his last encounter with the man. Adrien's body language screamed that he was uncomfortable the whole time, enough for Luka to suggest that he step outside for some fresh air to calm down, though it didn't help when he started fidgeting as soon as he returned to the office.

As with all her other serious requests, it went through.

Adrien provided the name of Gabriel Agreste.

"So, it's true," Adrien murmured, staring at the papers that had been handed to him. His hands were shaking as he gripped it tightly. "He's—"

Marinette put a hand on his arm in an attempt to comfort him.

Luka was better than her with emotional responses. "The next page might hard for you to read."

Adrien rubbed at his eye until it was red from irritation.

His voice was quiet as he asked, "Do I want to?"

"It's up to you," Luka told him. "If you want nothing to change, I can try and get a restraining order against him for you. Reading about the past isn't always for the best."

Marinette didn't know what to say.

She settled with trying to be a reassuring presence beside him.

"I don't—I don't know," he murmured, running a hand roughly through his hair. "That's not—I don't even remember him. Who remembers shit from when they were five?"

"I don't," Marinette helpfully pitched in.

Luka sighed. "I'm not an expert on children."

"I was removed from his care for a reason," Adrien said, looking down at the file again. "This—I don't care that he's biologically my father, he wasn't the one that raised me."

No one said anything to that.

It was hard to answer that when it was such an unknown situation. Marinette wasn't adopted, didn't have a parent that she was forcefully taken from, nor did she understand what it was like to be in his shoes even in the slightest. Adrien had told her about his family in confidence, trusting her with that secret.

That had extended to Luka and, surely, more of the police force because of Gabriel's continued appearances.

It was with shaking hands that Adrien pushed it across the desk back towards Luka.

"No?" Luka asked.

"Can you—can you just tell me why he's only approaching me now?" he questioned, voice shaking as much as his hands. "I know I'm in the news with Ladybug now, but I... I've been featured with my family before about the hotel."

Luka didn't have to look at the papers. "He was in prison."

Adrien made a choked noise. "Prison?"

"He was released..." Luka said, turning to the second page to read the information. "Three years ago."

There was a beat of silence.

What could she say? There wasn't anything she could say to make him feel better.

Adrien's gaze was on his lap as he quietly asked, "Why?"

Luka didn't reply.

"What did he do?" he clarified, nails digging into his trousers.

Luka cleared his throat. "Are you sure you want to know?"

"I—maybe," Adrien stuttered out, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment before he lifted his head up and met Luka's eyes. "Yes—yes, I want to know."

Luka scratched his cheek. "Murder."

"Murder?" Marinette blurted, unable to keep quiet at that.

Adrien repeated the word under his breath.

Luka shifted in his seat, uncomfortable.

It felt like she shouldn't have been there for this conversation. And yet, Adrien had wanted her to stay in the beginning, and dragged her inside as soon as Luka had had time for them, showing no signs that he wanted to be alone.

In that moment, she realised she hadn't seen him that upset since they'd first met.

His eyes were welling up with tears.

Marinette reached for the box of tissues on the table, ready to pass one to him.

Adrien cradled the whole box against his chest instead, squeezing his eyes shut and causing the tears to roll. "Why?"

"Are you sure?" Luka questioned.

Adrien's voice cracked as he repeated, "Why?"

Luka quietly told him, "He murdered your birth mother."

Suddenly, him holding the whole box of tissues wasn't extreme any more.

-x-

Adrien was terrible at keeping secrets, it turned out.

Chloé knew within the following week, storming over and ready to fight Gabriel if he so much as showed his face in front of Adrien again. As much as they bickered, the two of them got along well.

"I'll kill him," Chloé declared, clenching a fist and digging her nails into her palm.

Adrien pried her fingers away. "You wouldn't survive in prison."

She sniffed. "I'm rich, they'll let me off."

"I don't think we should risk it," he replied, smile not quite meeting his eyes. "Let's just—not do anything stupid, yeah?"

"I can punch him really hard when I purify him," Marinette volunteered, holding her hand up and wiggling her fingers. "It'll be seen as a public service."

Chloé nodded. "Like a violent baptism."

"That's not—"

"I'd rather not see him at all," Adrien admitted, fiddling with his sleeve. "Having you two hurt him would only draw attention to it, right?"

"No one's going to believe some homeless dude saying he's your dad," Chloé said with a roll of his eyes. "Money talks. We'll bribe anyone that tries to run that story."

"It's always reassuring when you're so blasé about breaking the law," Marinette mused.

Adrien snorted. "It's not the worst thing she's done."

"It's not?" she asked.

Chloé's smile showed her teeth. "I'm the problem child between us two."

"You're an adult," Adrien corrected.

"I'm always the child compared to you," Chloé replied.

"I'm only a few months older!" he retorted, sounding more like himself when he bickered with his sister. "Besides, you're the one with the forehead wrinkles!"

Chloé made an offended noise and slapped a hand over her forehead. "I had botox!"

Marinette laughed.

With the days that passed, Adrien grew more relaxed and loosened up. They didn't go out to collect their food for a while, choosing to have it delivered instead, and there was no restriction on how often Chloé could come over for the first week.

There wasn't an attack that week, thankfully.

They stayed in the hotel room for the most part. Marinette was the one to go to the store, assuring him that she'd be fine without him by her side.

Adrien just didn't want to see Gabriel's face.

She could understand that, at least.

It was when it was late at night and they were trying to sleep that he brought up the questions to do with Gabriel.

Adrien's voice was but a whisper. "Was I there?"

"There?" she asked.

"When he—" Adrien cut himself off to breathe out loudly. "What if that's my nightmare? I don't remember them, but that—that seems like it could be possible, right?"

"You could ask your dad if you ever mentioned anything about them," she suggested.

It didn't need to be said which parental figure she was referring to. Gabriel may have been his biological father, but he wasn't ever going to acknowledge him.

"Already a no," Adrien said with a sigh. "Dad doesn't know shit."

"Not a surprise there," Chloé muttered.

"Be nice," he chided, flicking her arm. "He's the one that dropped you off here, isn't he?"

"That's just because he wanted to hug you!"

"I am very hugable," Adrien agreed.

Chloé shoved him.

It was while they were bickering that Marinette fetched a bucket hat and put it on, collecting a reusable bag to put her shopping in. Adrien didn't try and come along, while Chloé shouted out what she wanted for dinner, making it obvious that she was planning on sticking around for as long as possible.

Marinette didn't mind eating in the bathroom if Chloé was there to keep him company.

"Anything else?" she questioned, hand on the doorknob.

"I don't think so," Adrien said. "Unless we can shove Chloé in the closet so you can kiss me first."

She pressed her fingers over her mask and blew a kiss to him.

Adrien pretended to catch it.

Chloé pulled a face. "What are you? Twelve?"

She saluted before leaving.

While waiting in the restaurant for her takeaway order to be ready, she sipped on the free drink she'd been provided. The guests that came in made excited noises at the sight of her, and she was friendly enough with them and took a few pictures before gesturing for them to get to their seats.

It wasn't as exhausting as it had been in the beginning.

Marinette had never thought that she was that much of a social person. Yet, years of being in the spotlight and slowly getting more comfortable as the guilt was brushed off of her shoulders, she'd opened up and become more confident.

The employee didn't accept her money for the food.

She touched them without her gloves briefly for a moment instead.

They were almost in tears from thanking her after that.

It was outside the hotel that she noticed him.

Rather than call the police to report him, Marinette crossed the road and approached him from behind instead. He was too focused on staring at the building to notice her.

"Gabriel, right?"

For once, he didn't run.

Gabriel turned around to look at her, nothing but loathing on his expression when he recognised her. His facial features were pinched, cheeks thin and almost gaunt-looking, and it was hard to connect his looks to Adrien's.

"Ladybug," he said.

"Adrien isn't coming out," she told him, getting straight to the point. "And he's going to get a restraining order against you."

There was so much darkness clinging to him.

It swayed without wind, curling around his shoulders, and it was so much more than she'd seen on any other person. There was no telling the things in whispered in his mind, and it was a wonder that he hadn't given in to being possessed thus far.

Gabriel took in a deep breath, running a hand through his thin hair. "I only want to talk to him."

"Yeah, no," she bluntly replied. "He doesn't want anything to do with you."

There was nothing healthy about his complexion. "I'm his father."

"Who murdered his mom and got locked up," Marinette stated, snapping her fingers then pointing at him. "Why would he want to meet you after learning that?"

For a moment, it seemed that he struggled with what to say before coming out with, "He was loved."

"He's loved now," she pointed out, adjusting her grip on the bag. "And doesn't remember you at all."

"It's my fault, he—" Gabriel breathed out. "He needs to know it's not his fault."

"Well, yeah, he was five."

There was no reason to stay out talking to him.

"I'm doing this because it's my job," she said, awkwardly pulling off her glove before taking a step towards him. "You look like you're going to be possessed any moment, dude."

Gabriel backed away, shielding his eyes with a hand from the sudden light. "Don't call me dude."

Unimpressed, she replied, "Even kids can stay still for this, come on."

"Ladybug—"

The demon didn't disappear when she reached up and touched his face. There was no reaction from the darkness clinging to him, not a single ripple or movement, and she was momentarily stunned from the lack of change.

And as she went to touch him again, Gabriel slapped her hand away. "Do not touch me."

"I'm trying to help you!" she exclaimed, frustrated. "Unless you wanna wind up in hospital with broken legs in the future."

"I am not breaking my legs," Gabriel denied.

"That's not the point and you know it," she retorted, wincing from her sensitive eyes looking directly at her hand. "Let me touch you and the bad thoughts will all wash away."

He backed away. "I am not here for that."

"Well, it's all you're getting," Marinette replied. "Adrien's busy with his sister."

Gabriel scowled.

She jumped and tried to hit him in the face.

He dodged it.

"Dude!" she complained.

"I do not need your help," he spat out, looking at her with contempt.

"Okay." Marinette sighed, rolling her shoulders so one of them would click. "Not nice to see you and all that. Stop stalking Adrien."

Gabriel turned his back to her and started to walk away.

She took the chance and leapt at him, pressing her uncovered hand to his head and pulsing her powers. The movement was abrupt, more similar to what she did to demons if she had to get close to them, and Gabriel tried to shove her off before succeeding in elbowing her in the stomach.

Marinette made a pained noise.

And by the time she'd recovered and stood up properly, Gabriel was walking quickly down the road, leaving.

The demon was still clinging to him.

It wasn't that her powers were at fault.

She confirmed that the following day when she purified one of the guests staying at the hotel, the darkness around them disappearing in a moment, and she stared down at her gloved hand in contemplation.

There had never been any other time where it had failed. If it didn't connect when she tried to send out a pulse from a distance, sure, that didn't work because it missed—but to touch someone and have it fail? That was a whole other matter.

"Evil," was Adrien's verdict.

She snorted. "That's not even a thing."

"He's a murderer," he pointed out.

"That's not even a good excuse," she denied. "Others have been, too. And I'm sure you've committed a crime in your lifetime."

He boldly stated, "My only crime is being so good-looking."

Marinette raised her middle finger.

Reporting to Luka made it so at crime scenes, there was an officer looking for Gabriel. It wasn't clear whether it was to keep him away from Adrien or to keep an eye on him in general.

The demon refusing to leave him was a new occurrence. There wasn't any protocol to deal with them. Marinette explained what she could about the situation, making sure to emphasise that she'd touched him directly at least twice and that it had had no effect.

It wasn't as though the police could arrest him. He hadn't done anything wrong and they weren't about to break the law to keep him under supervision because he was suspected of being possessed within the upcoming days.

Gabriel didn't show up outside the hotel.

Still, when it came for them to change, Adrien picked one with higher security.

He started to come outside more.

When a month had passed, it seemed like Gabriel had given up attempting to contact him.

At least, that was until Adrien checked his social media and saw that he multiple messages on different apps, all saying the same things.

He pulled a face. "Ew."

"What's up?" she questioned, leaning into him and resting her head on his shoulder. And when she saw his screen, all she could say was, "Oh."

Adrien blocked him without reading the messages.

Gabriel made more accounts.

Then, Gabriel made the mistake of contacting Chloé next.

Chloé's solution to the problem was taking a screenshot, posting it with the caption that this random man was stalking her.

"He really doesn't give up," Marinette said, rereading Chloé's second post made about him. It had more swear words than the last. "What if he even hoping to gain out of this?"

"Fuck knows," Adrien muttered, grumpily throwing his phone on the sofa. It almost fell off.

She picked it up, gently placing it in a more secure place. "That's expensive."

He sniffed. "So is my time."

"Okay, cranky," she said, patting his knee. "Want to get your feelings out? I can close my eyes for you to cry in peace."

"I'm not gonna cry," he muttered, crossing his arms. "He doesn't deserve my tears."

"Wasn't that in the movie we watched last night—"

"It was good advice," Adrien defended.

She laughed. "It was about a breakup."

"Good advice is universal," he replied, haughtily raising his head. "It's not my fault that a film is better at comforting me than you."

She slumped against him dramatically. "Rude!"

"I accept you for your faults," he said, leaning down to rest his head on top of hers. It had to be an uncomfortable position for him. "You're a good pillow, I'll give you that."

"You're not even saying that to my boobs," she muttered.

"What boobs?"

She elbowed him.

"You're so mean, Ladybug," he complained, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer until they were squished together. "I'm being harassed and in dire need of comforting. Let me hug out all my anger."

"Angry, are you?" she asked.

"Very," he confirmed.

She remarked, "I've never seen you mad."

"There's not much of a difference to when I get upset," he grumbled. "I cry and can't get a full sentence out."

"You're talking just fine," she assured him, snuggling closer, her cheek pressed against his chest.

She could feel it as he laughed. "That's because you're absorbing all my badness."

"That's not how my powers work at all," she denied.

"It's how you are with me," he told her, voice as soft as his expression when he looked at her. "I feel like I'm doing something good when I'm with you."

"I'm something good?" she joked.

Adrien laughed. "Ladybug!"

"You have a job with me," she teased.

"It's good to be needed," he replied, pressing a kiss to her hair. "You're the light of my life, Ladybug."

"Get your own line," she muttered. "That's already been said about me before."

"Yeah, but I mean it romantically," he pointed out, squeezing her for a moment so she let out a breath loudly. "Reporters aren't lusting after you."

She snorted. "That's because they thought I was a minor at first."

"You're mine, they're not allowed to now," he proclaimed, rubbing his cheek against her hair. "I'll fight anyone that looks at you inappropriately."

Marinette laughed. "I don't think you have anything to worry about, dude."

"Let me be possessive," Adrien complained. "I'm not allowed to sing about my love for you from the rooftops. I have to make up for that by glowering at anyone that looks at you."

"It's anyone now?" she asked. "I thought it was only people that checked me out."

"You're pretty, everyone's going to," he said.

Amused, she replied, "I thought you're the good-looking one of us both."

"Yes," he confirmed without hesitation, his arrogance somewhat adorable by that point. "But that doesn't mean you're ugly, Ladybug. Have some confidence."

Through her laughter, she managed to get out, "I feel inadequate beside you sometimes."

"You're beautiful," he assured her, emphasising each syllable with a kiss to her head. "And I'll keep saying it until you accept it."

-x-

With his messages online ignored, Gabriel left post-it notes on Adrien's car.

Adrien scrunched them up and threw them in the bin without reading them.

He didn't cry, though he did say that he was annoyed.

"This is ridiculous," he complained, throwing the crumpled paper and missing the bin the third time. He continued on to the next note instead of picking it up immediately. "I wondered what my birth parents were like when I was little but—I'm twenty-four! This is so stupid!"

"I already hit him, but I can do it again," she offered, half-serious.

Adrien clenched a fist. "I'll do it if I see him again."

There wasn't any affection there.

Adrien didn't care to hear Gabriel's reasons, didn't want to sit down and have a civil conversation, and the mention of him made Adrien irritated and vent his frustrations of being unable to resolve the situation in any other way.

His parents were the ones that brought him up, not a murderer that had tried to barge back into his life.

"What more is there to even say?" Adrien questioned, running a hand roughly through his hair. "I don't—I don't care."

"And that's valid," she lamely replied.

Her comforting skills were as good as ever.

He snorted. "Thank you."

She smiled. "You're welcome."

More post-its appeared on his car. Marinette saw that they all included a cell phone number when she'd been the one to scrunch some up with Adrien's permission.

"You could call and tell him to fuck off," she mused. "Think that would do the trick?"

Adrien's response to that was to open up an inbox on social media and show the unread messages from a few accounts that didn't have profile pictures. The small snippet of the message that showed as a preview all said the number.

"I mean, you haven't actually spoken to him since he did that whole, blurting out he's your dad thing in public," she said, reaching up and adjusting her hat. "Send him a text to fuck off and block the number."

"He'd call on another number, I bet," he muttered.

She patted his arm. "Want me to publicly declare him a pervert?"

He sniffed. "Maybe."

"It'll make you feel better," she offered. "Or we could get Luka to visit him and give him a warning to fuck off."

"Luka's not going to do anything he's not ordered to," Adrien pointed out.

"But I always get what I want," Marinette declared, fluttering her eyelashes. "That's how I got you."

His smile showed his dimples. "You want me?"

"That should be obvious by now," she chided, tapping the end of his nose. "We're lovers for a reason."

"I thought we weren't putting a label on it," he mused, kissing her gloved fingertip before she pulled her hand away. "It's just inviting danger, isn't it?"

She winked. "I'm anything you want me to be."

"Want to be cute and get milkshakes together?" Adrien suggested with a wide grin. "We can be cheesy and share one straw."

"That sounds uncomfortable," she replied, trying to imagine it. "Do people actually do that?"

Adrien linked their hands together. "We're pretty, we can get away with it."

"If you say so," she said, amused.

They couldn't agree on a flavour.

Chloé decided for them over text.

And when it came, complete with an obnoxious amount of whipped cream on top and two brightly-coloured straws stuck into it, Marinette snapped a picture and sent it to her before they could ruin it. She'd had to smack Adrien's hand away to prevent him from making the cream lopsided.

Chloé sent back an angry emoji.

They didn't consider that Chloé was too vain to make her social media accounts private. So, when Chloé posted the picture that Marinette had sent—with more angry emojis—it made sense that where they were was leaked.

As it was, one of the other customers had come over and asked Marinette for a picture, to which Adrien had happily taken the phone and directed them to smile again since it had come out blurry.

He had high standards.

They were given a second milkshake for free without ordering it.

It was the same flavour as before.

"This is quite hard," Adrien agreed, putting his elbows on the table and resting his jaw in his hands. He was leaning forward to suck on the straw, trying to pose in a way that kept making her laugh. "How do people do this?"

"I don't think they actually do," she replied.

He kicked her foot.

She kicked back.

He grinned before trying to take a sip through his straw.

Marinette kicked him again, laughing loudly when his arm slipped, causing him to jerk and almost hit his head on the table.

The straw had been pulled out from that, still in his mouth.

His expression made her laugh more.

Adrien's ears turned red.

It was nice that he could still get so embarrassed around her. Adrien straightened up, cleared his throat as he touched his hair and tried to rearrange it to look pretty again, and she kept laughing as she tried to pretend that nothing had happened.

At least, that was until he saw that the milkshake had gotten onto his t-shirt.

"No," he lamented, holding out the fabric and seeing the bright stain. "I can't button up my shirt and cover this. That'll completely ruin my look."

"We're going home," she pointed out. "No one will know."

"I'll know," he said, crossing his arms and failing to cover the patches. "I'm not sacrificing fashion for practicality."

She laughed. "I'll buy you a bib in the future, then."

"As long as it's a nice one," he muttered.

Marinette winked. "Only the best for you."

He refused to drink any more.

She placed the straw carefully under her mask and drank enough to feel a pain in her temples. Adrien patted her head in mocking sympathy, to which she glared up at him, and she finished it all before getting up and ready to leave.

He left a tip on the table.

They held hands as they left the store, Adrien swinging their arms with gusto as they turned in the direction of his car, and he'd barely taken two steps before he stopped.

Gabriel looked worse than before.

His complexion was terrible, dark circles under his eyes, and the hat didn't conceal the greasy state of his hair. Then, there was the added factor of the demon clinging to him, acting as a shadow that was attached to his body at all times.

Gabriel straightened up, smoothing out his coat that didn't flatter his thin figure in the slightest. "Adrien—"

Adrien took a step back, his back touching her chest. "Why are you here?"

Marinette touched his arm, uncertain on what to do.

There was nothing healthy about the stuttered breath that Gabriel let out. "You won't talk to me."

"Oh, I wonder why," Adrien muttered, squeezing her hand. "I don't want anything to do with you. Bye."

Gabriel didn't move.

It wasn't the best place to talk, no matter how against it Adrien was. They were in the middle of the street with people passing by, curiously looking at her, and the options were to either leave him to deal with it himself or go somewhere quieter.

Marinette tugged his hand. "Let's go to the car."

"Ladybug," Adrien started, a furrow in his brow.

"Come on," she encouraged, smile not quite reaching her eyes. "Let's get this over with somewhere else, yeah? I'm not leaving you alone."

It didn't need to be said that Gabriel followed them. She didn't have to look over her shoulder to confirm he was there when there were audible footsteps behind them as they walked into the parking lot.

Adrien's grip on her hand was tight.

She didn't try and shake him off.

He had his keys clenched in his other hand, a few steps away from his car when he asked without turning around, "What do you want?"

"Adrien," Gabriel said, ever-so-quietly that he was barely heard. "You're—you've grown up so well."

"Thank my family for that," he muttered, glancing at her before facing him. "If you want me to listen to you, let Ladybug try and cleanse you or whatever."

"Adrien—"

And with another glance at her, Marinette took her glove off. She winced at the sudden light, letting go off Adrien's hand to approach Gabriel who obediently stood still with a grimace on his face as she pressed her fingertips to his skin.

The darkness didn't disappear.

She kept her hand there, pulsing more power.

"Nothing," she said, tucking her glove back on with a frown. "You're not, like, the evilest dude ever, so what's up with this?"

"It won't work," Gabriel said, averting his eyes and looking down at the ground. "It's useless."

"What?" Adrien asked.

Marinette's reaction was just as eloquent. "Eh?"

"It's—" Gabriel sighed, running his hand roughly over his face where she'd touched him. "It's not your fault, Adrien."

"...Yeah, I know that," was his response to that, complete with an irritated tone. Adrien was looking at the man in front of him with nothing but loathing. "You harassing me just for that?"

"I need to talk to you," Gabriel insisted.

Adrien took a step back, taking her by the wrist and doing the same for her, putting distance between them. "You do know what you're doing is a crime, right?"

The laugh that left Gabriel wasn't sincere.

Adrien's expression worsened. "You have no right to talk to me."

"You are my son."

"You're not my dad," he denied, almost spitting out the words. His hands were shaking again. "I don't even remember you, man. And all I've found out is that you're a murderer and, apparently, can't understand what no means. That's not exactly making me want to get to know you."

It was the next sentence that confused them.

Gabriel looked stricken as he said, "I did this to find you."

Adrien's response came out like a question. "I'm here, please leave me alone?"

"Adrien, I—" Gabriel cut himself off to frustratedly adjust his hat. "When I got released, I tried everything to find you again."

He scowled. "So what?"

"I never—this wasn't what was supposed to happen," Gabriel fumbled through his words, gesturing between the two of them with a thin hand. "I didn't want to hurt anyone."

Marinette had never felt more out of place in a conversation.

It wasn't up to her to butt in and demand answers, and although Adrien was keeping her by his side, she couldn't offer him any comfort.

The fact that he hadn't gotten into the car and left meant that he somewhat wanted to hear what Gabriel had to say—and that was something she didn't know what to do with. He'd been so adamant that he wanted nothing to do with Gabriel that for him to stand there and confront him seemed out of character from what she knew.

Except—it wasn't a situation where any one response would be logical. She couldn't fault him for being curious.

"You harassed me for days just to say this bullshit?" Adrien questioned, keys making a noise in his hand as he clenched a fist. "I'm serious, don't come near me again. I don't need to know anything more about you."

Gabriel replied to that, "Not even me being the reason you're immune to demons?"

Marinette stilled.

"You?" was all Adrien could say.

"Me," Gabriel confirmed, putting a hand on his chest and touching his heart. "I did it for you."

The demon clinging to him all of the time suddenly made her stomach turn from looking at it.

The only way to describe Adrien's expression was revoluted. "What are you—"

"If I couldn't find you normally, I thought—I thought this would work," Gabriel said, almost falling to his knees as his body shook with an insincere laugh. His voice wobbled with his laughter as he continued on, "It was a mistake, one so much worse than my last."

Marinette stepped in front of Adrien, though it did nothing to disrupt his view from over the top of her head.

For the countless time, Gabriel stated, "It's not your fault."

"What did you do?" Marinette demanded, feeling suffocated underneath her mask.

Gabriel's smile was as sincere as his laughter before. "What didn't I do?"

"Answer the question," Adrien butted in, nothing about his tone friendly. She didn't need to look behind her to know that his expression matched. "Stop talking vaguely."

"Son—"

"Not your son," he rejected. "I got taken away from you for a reason. Respect it."

"Adrien, please," Gabriel whispered, sounding as stricken as his appearance. "I need you to understand."

The reply was immediate. "No."

"I don't remember you," Adrien repeated, emphasising the word with his displeasure. "And now you're saying you have something to do with these—these demons? What the hell makes you think I'll welcome you back with open arms?"

"You're safe," Gabriel told him, reaching out as if to stretch his arm over Marinette's shoulder and touched him. He'd barely extended his arm before it fell back down to his side. "They will never touch you."

It was Marinette that asked in suspicion, "How?"

"They won't touch what's mine."

And rather than dispute that and tell Gabriel that he was delusional, Adrien was quiet.

Her stomach churned uncomfortably.

There had never been any point where she'd truly suspected someone of being behind the attacks. They were random, a supernatural force that was suddenly able to possess people coming out of nowhere like her powers, and despite some claiming that they were the masterminds in the past, no one had been able to prove it.

And yet, a man that couldn't have the demon banished from him was plausible.

She wasn't trained for this.

Hell, she'd never been trained at all. Marinette had learned a few basic defence moves from Luka's insistence, yet she'd never had to use them while fighting a demon. It was a matter of hitting them with magic—either from a distance where it was unreliable or point-blank in a way that she'd have to touch them to make it work—and it was over and done with.

She'd never punched someone before.

"I sold my soul to meet you once again," Gabriel murmured, looking at him with such a sad expression that made him look frail. "And you want nothing to do with me."

Adrien's response was, "What the fuck?"

"My mistakes are not your fault," Gabriel told him, eyes tearing up. "None of them. I was obsessed with finding you for my own selfishness."

"Are you, like, monologuing right now—"

Marinette was the one interrupting him. "Are you saying it's your fault?"

Gabriel stared at her.

Her hands were shaking.

"Did you—this is because of you, isn't it?" she demanded, voice trembling. "You're the reason so many people have died."

And suddenly, it wasn't hot underneath her mask any more. She felt cold, like she wasn't really there at that moment.

Gabriel didn't look away from her. "I never wanted this to happen."

"A yes or a no," she retorted.

Adrien took one of her shaking hands in his, him being the one to offer her comfort.

Gabriel swallowed. "It is out of my control."

"That's a yes." Her voice cracked on the last word. "You—"

There were no words to describe how she felt.

It was because of that man that she'd been separated from her family for so long, that she'd seen countless people commit murders and other crimes from being possessed, and all the deaths that had added up and weighed on her conscience should've been on his all along.

And yet, he was standing there, imploring Adrien to give him the time of day.

Adrien's tone matched her feelings. "How—how could you?"

"I do not command them," Gabriel insisted, desperately tapping his chest in an attempt to get him to understand. "They do not—they're not something that can be controlled. I gave them freedom and I got nothing in return—"

"I don't care about that!" Adrien yelled, raising his voice for the first time. "You're the reason so many people have died!"

"I gave them passage to be more than whispers, not instructions to kill!"

It wasn't her place to butt in, was it?

It didn't matter that the man in front of her had fucked up her life and changed it irrevocably, forcing her to hide her identity for years on end. Adrien didn't even know her name because of him—

But any words she wanted to say didn't make it past her lips. Her throat felt tight, the coldness of her body no different than a few minutes ago, and she was feeling increasingly more nauseated with every passing moment.

Stubbornly, she stayed standing between the two of them.

Adrien's voice cracked. "Why?"

"I had nothing," Gabriel proclaimed, daring to take a step forward. "I was given an offer to help and foolishly took it."

"To help... find me," he said, no question to his words. "Why approach me now?"

Gabriel's smile didn't reach his eyes. "The only help I received was a promise not to harm you."

"In exchange for killing so many others?" Adrien demanded, the quiver in his voice a tell-tale sign that he'd started to cry. "I don't—you should've never told me this. I never wanted to know you."

Gabriel couldn't look away from him. "I was never a good father to you."

Adrien might've picked up her habit of dealing with emotional situations in the worst way. "Thanks for the confirmation?"

"I wanted to see you smile," Gabriel said ever-so-softly. "I've always wondered what it would look like with you all grown up."

He didn't reply to that.

Marinette felt revolted.

It was with an audible sight that Gabriel murmured, "You look so much like your mother."

Again, Adrien didn't talk. It was a testament to how uncomfortable he was that he wasn't rambling on.

Marinette decided to step in and say, "You do know I'm going to get you arrested, right?"

There was no hesitation in Gabriel's answer. "Yes, I'm aware."

It made her feel sick.

As much as people would believe her, without proof, they wouldn't be able to do anything against him. Marinette could speak out and accuse him, and have the city on her side and start to hate him, but that wouldn't do anything in the long run.

She had to ask, "Would locking you up do anything?"

Gabriel let out a laugh. "No."

"No," she repeated under her breath.

It took her by surprise when he said, "I know a way to fix this."

"Why would we trust you?" Adrien demanded, voice more stable than it had been in a while. "You're—"

Gabriel was looking at her as he said, "You'll know."

"What?" she questioned, furrowing her brow.

"You got changed with me."

She blinked. "That really clears it up, thanks."

"You'll see," Gabriel told her before lifting his eyes up to look at Adrien, his expression turning more sad and causing the wrinkles on his skin to look worse. "You've grown up well, Adrien."

It didn't sound smug as he replied, "I know."

"I won't contact you again," he said.

"Do you think that'll stop us going to the police?" Adrien questioned, sounding baffled.

"No," he admitted, smile not reaching his eyes. "I have enough time to do what I need to before they get here, however."

She eyed the demon clinging to him warily.

And as if realising where she was looking, Gabriel touched his shoulder and reminded them, "I do not control them."

With that, Gabriel started to walk away.

Adrien touched her arm. "Should we stop him?"

"I-I don't know," she stuttered out, unable to quite pinpoint what she was feeling.

"Call Luka," he suggested.

"Yeah," Marinette agreed. "Yeah, let's do that."

Adrien nudged her. "You have to actually get your phone to do that."

-x-

As expected, Gabriel couldn't be arrested without concrete evidence. While he might've been able to say that he was the one responsible and be unable to be cleansed from the demon, that didn't mean that it was completely accurate. He hadn't proved it in person, hadn't used supernatural powers of any sort, and had simply stood there and told his sob story in an attempt to win Adrien over.

Adrien hated him even more because of it.

They didn't tell Chloé completely what had happened.

After Gabriel had left, Marinette had called Luka and asked him to come to where she was staying so they could talk in private. It was luck that people getting into their cars hadn't been interested in their conversation in the first place.

"You need something indisputable for me to do anything," Luka explained with a sigh, pushing his hair away from his face. "I can't do anything that isn't approved."

Marinette grumbled, "You won't get fired for me?"

"No," he confirmed. "I'm not even thirty yet, Ladybug. It'll ruin my life if it goes wrong."

"It was a joke!" she insisted. "I'm not asking you to, like, do anything. But can you give him a warning not to harass Adrien any more or something?"

"I can drive by where he's staying after work," Luka offered. "And have a friendly chat, but that is it."

She winced. "Maybe don't talk to him in person."

"Because you think I'll be possessed." It wasn't a question. "It'll be even stranger if I call him."

"Then, don't do anything," she said, defeated. "You're not—you're not immune like me or whatever. I don't want anything happening to you."

"It almost sounds like you care about me," he teased with a smile.

She sniffed. "Let's not push it now."

Luka laughed.

Adrien didn't get any more post-its on his car or any messages on social media. However, that didn't mean he holed himself up inside and was reluctant to leave again. He was stubbornly trying to pretend that everything was normal, bottling it all up and avoiding talking about it, and she allowed him to do that.

She didn't know how to comfort him.

So, Marinette did what she did best—told jokes, stuck to his side, and pressed kisses to his skin when they were inside and away from prying eyes. Adrien was more affectionate than before, if possible, always wanting to hold her when he could, going as far as to lean on her when she was using the kettle and almost burnt herself with the water.

He decided to be sensible after that.

When there was a possession, there was no sign of Gabriel at the crime scene. Adrien had stuck close to the police officers outside, looking over his shoulder ever few minutes to look around, and his watery smile when she walked out with a shoulder that would probably bruise in the upcoming hours made her grin right back.

"Missed me?" she asked.

"Always," Adrien agreed, correcting how her hat was sitting on her head. "Want to get some food on the way home?"

"Maybe later," she answered, taking his hand in hers happily. "I'm a bit queasy right now, honestly. It wasn't nice in there."

"Oh, right," he murmured. "Sorry, I didn't think about that."

She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. "It's fine. I could eat some snacks later or something."

"Unhealthy," he accused.

"I gain all the nutrients I need from your smile," she told him.

He snorted. "That's not how that works."

"Love is mysterious," she informed him matter-of-factly. "No one has all the facts."

"I don't need facts to know that you're not eating right."

Marinette muttered. "You're starting to sound like your sister."

With a gasp, he exclaimed, "That's rude!"

"What? I like her," she replied, turning her head to look up at him. "But I wouldn't want to kiss her."

He complained, "I'm not kissable now?"

She winked.

It wasn't the best conversation to have in public. Snippets of it made it into the news and online within hours, Chloé turning up at the hotel and barging in without being invited, and Marinette laughed loudly when Chloé kept hitting him with a pillow until he apologised for insulting her.

"It was Ladybug!" he shrieked.

Chloé whacked him in the face. "I can't hit my hero!"

"But I'm fine?"

"You're used to it," Chloé retorted. "Now suck it up and take my abuse in the name of love."

Marinette took a picture of the two of them bickering, sending it as an update to their father.

She got given in return a snapshot of a grainy picture that featured the two of them as children in an inflatable swimming pool.

She put it as her background and waited to see how long it would take for Adrien to see it.

As it turned out, that was two days later.

"What is that?"

"You and Chloé," Marinette replied calmly. "Super cute, right?"

He whirled around to face her and demanded, "Are you in cahoots with my dad?"

She made a peace sign with her fingers. "Got a problem with that?"

"I—no," he admitted, not trying to hide his bright smile. "That makes me really happy, actually."

"I'm happy with your baby pictures," she teased, tapping her phone screen. "Look how cute you are!"

"I have a sunburn there," he grumbled. "That's not cute at all."

"It's so cute," she disagreed. "And Chloé doesn't look like she's going to knife me. She looks pure and innocent."

He laughed. "Lies."

It took him a while to talk about his feelings. And when it happened, Marinette was right there, making him a hot drink and passing it over to encourage him to let it out.

He cried a lot.

She told him that he was just as attractive when his eyes were red.

Adrien had buried his face in a pillow and refused to look at her after that.

The resolution to it all was him stating, "He's a stranger to me and it's staying that way."

She couldn't agree more.

There was never a moment where she had to convince him that the deaths of people weren't his fault. Adrien was torn on whether to believe Gabriel or not about being the source of the demons, but the thought of all those deaths had been overwhelming at first.

Marinette had dealt with it before.

She was probably the best person that he could talk to it about it, even if she was awkward.

Adrien hugged her closely when he said, "You're amazing, you know?"

She grinned. "I am?"

"Really," he assured her, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

"It's nice to be appreciated," she replied. "Do you want my autograph again?"

"Maybe when I'm able to know your real name," he mused. "That would be cool. I'll put it side-by-side with the other one."

She laughed. "That might be just a dream."

"I'll wait," he replied. "It's worth it."

There was so much that she liked about him.

He was also quiet in the mornings when he got out of bed to go for a run, which she was thankful for. If he woke her up at random times when it was still dark, she would've been grouchy and complain about it, but through months of living together, it had rarely happened.

Adrien was considerate.

He had breakfast delivered by the time she woke up.

It was still warm.

"You're the best," she gushed, shoving a large amount of food in her mouth and making an appreciative noise. "For real, the best."

He passed her a napkin with a smile.

And when she said that she was going to shower, he excitedly asked whether he could pick out her outfit for her. Marinette almost always agreed—he'd picked out the majority of the clothes as it was, and he enjoyed fashion.

It was worth it to see his smile when she had on the completed outfit.

"I'll be back soon," she said, latching onto him and pressing his face into her chest from her hug. "You better be here when I'm out. I'll cry if you ditch me for Chloé again."

He spluttered, "It was one time—"

Showering was one of the times she took her gloves off. At first, she'd tried to go in with them on, only to end up with greasy hair and wet gloves that felt terribly uncomfortable, so she'd learned to look away from her hands, avoiding the light coming from them.

And yet, when she took her gloves off, she didn't squint.

Rather, Marinette stared at the skin of her hands, able to actually see her nails that she'd blindly snipped for years, could see the scar on her palm that she'd only been able to feel—

She slapped her cheeks.

The light didn't come back.

She could see her hands—

"Adrien!" she yelled.

He shouted back, "What?"

"Adrien!"

His footsteps were audible as he came running, knocking on the door before opening it up. And when he caught sight of her, instead of being surprised with her, he yelped and put his hands over his eyes.

"You're naked!" he exclaimed.

"Forget that, look at my naked hands instead," she demanded, prying his hands away from his face and waving hers in front of him. "Am I hallucinating? Or am I blinding you right now?"

His response was eloquent. "The fuck?"

"Right?" Marinette clenched and unclenched her hands, extending her fingers and inspecting her nails, not at all embarrassed by the state of them. For part of her body that she hadn't seen clearly for years, it was so strange to see. "What the hell is going on?"

He made a choked noise. "Can you please put some clothes on?"

"Oh, I didn't even shower yet," she admitted.

"Yeah, I can tell that by your hair," he replied, turning his head away, showing his red ears. "I'm just—I'll wait outside."

She didn't dry her hair before running out, towel around her shoulders, still mesmerised by her hands. They looked so much better when the dirt underneath her nails were gone, and she searched the room for clippers and stole one of Adrien's nail files before sitting down beside him.

His greeting to her was, "You have hands."

Marinette grinned. "Nice ones, right?"

"Very," he agreed. Then, almost cautiously he reached out to touch one, pausing the movement to hover before he'd actually made contact. "Can I—"

She held his hand.

"Soft," he murmured.

"It's been sweating in those gloves like a sauna for years, so I should hope so," she remarked. "But thank you for the compliment."

"Has this—has this ever happened before?" he questioned, curiously turning her hand over and inspecting her skin.

"No." She shook her head. "They've been like a damn glowstick for years."

Adrien trailed his thumb over the back of her hand, the sensation so much gentler and intimate when it wasn't over the top of her glove. "What does this mean?"

"Hell if I know," she replied, working out where he was holding her hand to start to file her nails. "But now I probably need to use a lamp if I get up in the middle of the night to pee."

He laughed. "That's your main concern?"

"I'm focusing on the little things first," she mused. "Otherwise I might breakdown and cry."

"I'm sure you're a pretty crier," he assured her, tracing a mole on her hand. "Everything else about you is pretty."

She fluttered her eyelashes. "Even my naked body?"

He choked.

She laughed loudly.

-x-

Luka didn't believe her until he saw her hands with his own eyes.

She hadn't quite accepted it yet. It was habit to have her gloves on at all times to avoid blinding herself. While the time she spent with Adrien bare-faced and free were so refreshing, to suddenly add the bare hands into that list seemed like it was too good to be true.

It had been two days since her hands and glowed.

In that time, there hadn't been any possessions. Then again, they were random, never a set time to them, and the longest between attacks had once been almost two months. It was normal for news stations to have a timer that counted each day without an attack while talking about recent events.

The plan was to not alarm the public. Marinette kept up appearances, didn't suddenly reveal her bare hands to anyone that approached her on the street, and the police advised her not to say anything until they could understand what was going on.

If someone else stepped forward with glowing hands, the responsibility would fall onto them.

There wasn't anything supernatural about her any more.

It wasn't clear at first whether she wasn't around anyone with bad thoughts, that were actually demons whispering in their ears, but she didn't see darkness clinging to anyone that she walked past.

"The hell am I going to do if there's an attack?" she lamented, tossing her hat off and missing the dresser she'd been aiming for. "I can't, like, run in there and murder someone. That's completely different."

"No one's asking you to do that," he pointed out. "We'll... let's not think about that for now, yeah?"

She sighed. "Yeah..."

"Maybe it was your time or something," he mused, slipping off his shoes and stretching his arms over his head. "You've done or part or whatever. It's your turn to tutor the next."

"Hell, no," she denied immediately. "I've done my part. Plus, it's not like I had anyone guiding me."

"So you'll let them go in blind?" he questioned with a gasp. "You're so mean, Ladybug."

She put her hands on her hips. "My suffering has to be shared."

"I never thought you'd be so cruel," he said, dramatically putting a hand on his forehead. "I see you in a new light now and I'm not sure I like it."

She tilted her head. "Is it because I'm not special any more?"

"You're always special to me," Adrien replied without skipping a beat. "Even if you're not technically a superhero any more."

"I'm retired," she agreed.

He asked, "Does that mean you're going to get a job now?"

Striking a pose, Marinette smugly claimed, "I'm loaded."

"We can be unemployed together!" he excitedly said, clenching a fist. "A true power couple. Everyone will be so jealous."

She laughed.

It was when they were sat together with her laptop out in front of them that Adrien brought up the question, "Do you think that he—that Gabriel has anything to do with this? He did say that you got changed with him."

"Maybe," she said, conflicted. "He did say some pretty weird shit, though."

"Yeah..." Adrien agreed, trailing off.

They left it to Luka to call Gabriel's number, shoving the responsibility onto him.

The answer they got back was that the phone was turned off.

After another week passed and there weren't any attacks or sign of Marinette's powers returning—which was still so weird when she could actually feel things properly—that was when she started to feel restless from not knowing anything.

She got Gabriel's number from Adrien's inbox, but the call didn't go through.

And in true fashion of Luka doing everything she wanted, she pestered him for Gabriel's address.

Except he didn't give it to her.

She didn't know that he planned to visit it first until she got the call later that evening.

"Gabriel Agreste is dead," was Luka's greeting.

Marinette blinked. "Excuse me?"

"He's dead," he repeated, no quiver in his voice showing that he was upset. "It's a suspected suicide."

"I'm sorry, what—"

Luka quietly told her, "I'll get back to you with an approximate time of death, but I think it might've been... not today."

"He's dead," she repeated, lacking the questioning lilt at the end. "Like... for real dead."

The reply she got was short. "Yes."

It was information she didn't know what to do with. Hearing about people's death was common place for her by then; she'd seen so many hurt and injured because of demons, yet it had never been someone that claimed that they were the source of the problem before.

So, she asked Luka to tell her in the future if the death date matched up to when her powers disappeared.

"If we're connected, as he says we are—were, then it would match up," was her explanation.

Luka didn't try and tell her it was far-fetched. When supernatural things randomly start happening in only one city in the world, a lot of things were accepted without real explanations.

Adrien's reaction to the news was as she expected.

"Oh," he said, surprised. "Rest in peace, I guess?"

She shrugged.

He shrugged right back, mirroring her expression. "I didn't expect that to be his resolution."

"Yeah..." Marinette trailed off, unsure of what to say.

He was in much the same position.

So, they didn't say anything.

There was no funeral held for Gabriel.

And as time passed with no possessions, Marinette wondered whether she'd have to keep up appearances for long. The gloves suddenly felt stifling when she wasn't trying to hide anything, and it occurred to her that if she wasn't needed in the city, she could—

She could see her parents.

The police wanted her to wait to see whether she was needed despite her saying she'd be useless without her powers. There had been no mentions of her powers being missing on the news, no one had suspected that anything had happened at all, and Gabriel had never been officially dubbed the person that caused all of the chaos.

Even after two months, some were reluctant to believe it in the police station when the evidence was building up.

The city was happy that there hadn't been any incidents.

Marinette hadn't seen a single demon clinging to anyone.

And Adrien—

He was beside her the whole time, waking her up in the mornings after his run, happily suggesting that they could go out and spend the day together lazing around without any responsibilities.

Marinette happily interacted with anyone that came up to her, taking pictures and posing with ease, though she never took her glove off to cleanse anyone any more. When she said that she wasn't feeling up to it at that moment, no one pushed her to do it.

Though, it did lead to some running to a pharmacy and fetching her cold medicine that she couldn't reject.

She had a stash back in their hotel room now.

"You're hoarding," Adrien accused fondly.

"They'll come in handy in the future," she replied seriously. "And I'll be stocked for an apocalypse."

He hummed. "You'll share with me, right?"

Marinette laughed. "I'll share everything with you."

"That's against the law," he pointed out. "You're not allowed to do that."

"Does that matter any more?" she asked, holding up her bare hand. "I'm not special any more."

Adrien replied, "You haven't been given permission to be officially retired yet."

"I don't think that even matters at this point," she mused, bumping her shoulder with his before leaning into him. "I'm not qualified for the job any more, and I'm not going to lie forever when I'm free to leave here. Give it, like, another week or two and they'll let me go."

"Maybe a month or two," he suggested. "You're being too optimistic."

She beamed. "So you also think I'm getting fired."

"You're a fraud," he accused without any heat, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her into a half-hearted hug. "But I love you for it."

Her chest felt warm. "You know I love you, right?"

"Oh, absolutely," he confirmed. "And not just because I'm pretty."

"You are so pretty," she assured him, reaching up and cupping his cheeks. "And so, so nice."

Leaning into her touch, he squinted. "You're making me suspicious."

She snorted. "Can't I show my love for you?"

"It makes me think you want something," he said. "What are you after?"

"You," she replied with a smile. "Want to go on a trip with me?"

"Another hotel?" he questioned.

"To see my parents."

He blinked. "You'd—you want me to come? With you?"

Her smile showed her teeth. "They have to meet my boyfriend sometime, right?"

"But you haven't seen them for so long," he said, sounding a bit confused. "It should be—"

She pressed her hands further into his cheeks to stop him from talking.

"I want you there," she stated, leaving no room for him to question it. And when he didn't try and reject that, she let go off his face and kissed one of his cheeks where she'd poked him. "And they'd be delighted to meet you. I'm sure they're curious from seeing you in the news so much."

"But—"

"No buts," she interrupted. "I want you to meet my parents and I'm not taking no for an answer."

He laughed. "So forward, Ladybug."

"Marinette."

He questioned, "I'm sorry?"

"Marinette," she repeated, smile on her lips from being able to utter it after such a long time. "That's my name."

Adrien's eyes grew wide. "Marinette."

"Yeah, that's right," she encouraged. "I'm not Ladybug any more."

"Marinette," he murmured under his breath, getting more comfortable with each pronunciation of her name. "That's—that's so pretty."

She asked, "Want to know a secret?"

"Is it all coming out now?" Adrien questioned. "Have I unlocked your backstory?"

"Not quite. You have to earn the rest," she teased, taking his hand and putting it on her chest. "You saying my name does make my heart do that pitter-patter shit."

He threw his head back and laughed.