A/N: This chapter was influenced by the amazing lyrics to "Clarity" by Defeat the Low: "It makes a lot more sense to be slapped in the face with the truth than to die from a lie / open your mouth and be fed or keep it closed and just starve to death"

Marinette woke up feeling extremely comfortable. Her pillow felt pleasantly warm, and when she snuggled deeper into it, it began to purr softly. "Mmm… good dream."

She opened her eyes to see the self-satisfied model that she was laying on. She wasn't entirely certain that she had woken, but then the pillow kissed her forehead and sighed happily. Pillows don't sigh, she thought groggily. "Oh, not a dream then," she murmured sleepily rubbing her eyes.

"Did you know you talk in your sleep?"

She felt her face flame. "I did know that. What did I say?"

"You said that you love me."

"Phew, good. That's not embarrassing. You already know that."

He looked at her confusedly and sat up, "No I didn't. You kissed me last night, so I figured that you are attracted to me, but last night was the first indication that you feel anything for me. You usually shrink away from me as Adrien and keep me at arm's length as Chat Noir."

Marinette moved to sit next to him. "Adrien, I have always loved you."

"I thought we were done lying to each other." His blissful countenance morphed into subdued anger, and he looked away.

"I'm sorry I didn't really explain this last night." She pulled his face to look over at her. "Adrien, I have been in love with you almost since we met. By the time I gathered my courage to tell you, you had told me you were in love with someone else."

Adrien shook his head slowly in disbelief. "If you were in love with me, why did you always push me away?"

"I obviously didn't know you were you. It's the same for you. You didn't notice my feelings because you were in love with Ladybug."

"Oh." He laid back down and pulled her back to lay on his chest. "Umm, Marinette?"


"I love all of you. I have… for a while."

She squeezed him and said, "I know. I realized that when I asked you to watch over me. You reacted strongly when I said my name." Marinette closed her eyes again and snuggled against Adrien.

After several minutes of holding each other, Adrien gently said, "I have to go soon." He brushed his hand through her loose hair and sighed.

Marinette giggled. Even though he was being serious for once, she was tickled that he wanted to stay with her. "You'll see me in a couple hours. It'll be ok."

"It won't be the same," he replied plaintively. "I'll have to pretend we are only friends and that I don't know you are upset… ugh! and deal with whatever Alix has to accuse me of today."

"Oh, I talked to Alix. She didn't realize that I am Ladybug before, and she wanted to warn me against hurting you… as Chat I mean. She didn't tell me who you are or anything." She hesitantly ran her fingers down Adrien's chest, not exactly certain it was ok to do, but he closed his eyes with a soft sigh and boosted her confidence. "I explained that Ladybug had fallen for Chat Noir, and there were no doubts anymore. I wouldn't hurt you. Honestly, I think Alix won't bring it up again."

Adrien's alarm blared, warning them that time was up. He climbed out of the warm bed without further complaint. As he settled on the couch to pull on his sneakers, he delicately asked, "Mari? I don't want to overstep here, but can I say something?"

"Umm, yeah. You can say anything you want to me, like always. I hope that hasn't changed."

Adrien's face broke into a very Chat-like smirk and he said, "If we haven't changed, then I already know you won't like this. You've never taken my input seriously, but you are right, I'm going to give it to you anyway."

"It's too early for this. Just give it to me," Marinette mumbled.

Adrien chuckled and raised an eyebrow suggestively. Marinette chucked a pillow at his face in response, but that only made him laugh harder. "Hey now. I WILL retaliate, you know." He laid the pillow to the side and seemed to become serious again. "You remember the other night when your mom popped up to tell you goodnight? She told you to talk to someone, and it didn't have to be her." He fidgeted with his shirt before looking back up at her again and said baldly, "I think you should tell her about what you are going through. I feel like you can trust her."

Marinette stared blankly at him, not really sure what to say.

"I know you worry about putting them in more danger, or putting us in more danger, but your parents are even tempered. They won't become akumatized or share your secret, and they really want to understand what you are going through."

Marinette was confused about his motives. "Are you saying this because you want to tell your father who you are?"

"Uh no, definitely not. I don't want to have my freedom taken away, so I'm not planning on telling my father about being Chat Noir anytime soon, probably ever, but I wouldn't mind your mother knowing who I am."

Marinette looked away to think through his words, but Adrien climbed back onto the bed to kiss her goodbye. "Think about it, ok? Someone who wants you to be ok even if it means you are keeping secrets, that's someone who can be trusted." He called Plagg to transform him and moved to the skylight. "I'll see you at school, Princess."

Long after Adrien left, Marinette was still thinking through his words. The truth was glaring at her: she was in danger from exposure all the time. After her run-in with Hawkmoth, she couldn't pretend to be safe anymore. It was the reason for her panic.

Her parents would understand, she was almost certain. She was practically an adult so even if they didn't understand, there was little they could do to stop her from being Ladybug.

When she had made up her mind, she worked on the Chat Blanc painting until her alarm went off. She dressed quickly to walk down to the bakery to speak to her mom before school. The bakery was busy, but her mother spotted her immediately.

"Good morning, sweetie! You had a call yesterday, and we got the message this morning. Jacqueline Martin wants to meet with you over lunch today."

Oh right… Adrien said Tuesday. "I was expecting that. Umm, Mom? Can we talk upstairs for a couple minutes?"

Her mom paled but nodded solemnly. They walked out towards Marinette's room, both filled with anxious energy.

Her mom sat on the chaise, but Marinette continued pacing. "Look mom, I don't know how you are going to react to this, but I need you to stay calm." She heard Sabine's sharp in-take of breath and finally stopped pacing. Calm settled on her as she finally said aloud, "I'm Ladybug."

She found the courage to look up at her mom then, but Sabine's face was completely blank. "What?"

"That's what's wrong. When the nightmares started, I had accidentally exposed all of my allies and the guardian of the miraculous to Hawkmoth. I walked into class the next Monday and panicked. Almost all of them are in my class."

"You are really Ladybug," Sabine whispered in awe. "Of course, you are! I knew you weren't so irresponsible. There had to be a reason for the disappearances and the truancies. Are you doing any better, sweets?"

"A little bit. The art therapy idea has helped, and I should probably admit that Chat Noir has been sleeping here a lot recently. He's been catching akumas that come after me so that I can sleep."

"Oh? Do we need to worry about him being here?" Her mom asked with a pointed look.

"No. It's professional. Mostly. I mean… I uh… Well…" Marinette cleared her throat and tried to explain, "Nothing has changed between us, but I think it's about to. I love him, mom."

"Hmm, we should probably have him over for dinner again then. It's a unique situation to be sure, and I know how much Ladybug trusts Chat Noir… I have to ask though sweetheart, do you know who he is?"

"I do now. He mentioned that he wouldn't mind if you knew, but I'll let him introduce himself." Marinette ran a hand through her hair, "You are taking this well. Better than he did even."

"It makes sense, and once you said you were her, I could see it. I have to wonder now how I never saw it before."

Marinette sighed, "Well there is something else. Jacqueline Martin wants to display the paintings I have been working through. I-I-I think you should see them." Marinette handed her mom the stack of rejected paintings. "Chat and I agreed that these shouldn't be displayed, but I want you to understand."

"What is this?" Sabine held up the painting of Bunnyx burrowing in front of a broken moon.

"These depict the time Chat Noir was akumatized."

Her mother turned to the next canvas and hissed, "He killed you."

"Not specifically me, mom. He killed everyone, but he was akumatized and defeated Hawkmoth at the same time. He was incredible, mom." Marinette removed the painting depicting her cataclysmed body to reveal the painting of Chat Blanc crying in her lap. "Chat was older and stronger than me, but when I showed up to help him, he didn't hurt me. He was confused and tried to take my miraculous, but he didn't hurt me."

Sabine looked through the rest of the stack of paintings, smiling at the last painting of Chat Noir sadly holding a white butterfly. "He has always protected you. I remember that from even the earliest news reports."

Marinette looked away sheepishly and murmured, "Yep, no matter how many times I told him to stop, he still dove right in front of me." She moved the stack of paintings back to their hiding spot and shuffled around nervously, "I wanted you to know the truth, but I am going to tell Jacqueline that it was a nightmare that I evolved into a series. I will not mention anything about Chat Blanc. The city has nothing to fear from Chat, and I don't want to cause a panic."

"I think that's wise." Her mother stood to leave. "You have to get to school soon. Jacqueline said in the message that she will be here over lunch today. Does that work for you?"

"Yes, I'll be ready." Marinette hugged her mom fiercely. "Thank you for understanding, mom. I hope you know that I never wanted to lie to you. I was trying to keep you safe."

"I know. Have a good day, sweetie. I'll see you at lunch, but I need to get back to the bakery to help your father." Sabine brushed Marinette's cheek affectionately and walked out.

Marinette let out a whoosh of breath and collapsed on the chaise to recover for a couple of minutes before leaving for school.

Adrien stepped out of the town car and looked around. Neither Marinette nor Alix were in the courtyard, so he gravitated towards Alya and Nino. They were talking fervently away from the crowd, and Adrien was about to walk away to give them privacy until he heard his name.

"…get over Adrien. She's been a mess ever since he finally started going out with Kagami. How is that for coincidence?"

Without considering the consequences, Adrien cut in, "Me? I'm not dating Kagami. Why would you think that?"

Alya and Nino jumped. They stared at him in stunned silence then turned to have a silent conversation with each other. Nino shrugged, and Alya responded, "Everyone thinks you are dating Kagami. When we all went out for ice cream, you two shared sweethearts ice cream, and Marinette said that you were really close when she was hanging out with you the day before."

Nino added, "You also asked Marinette for help setting up a date for you and Kagami, dude. Remember?"

"Oh god, I did! Marinette thinks…"

"What does Marinette think?" The trio startled at the sound of Marinette's voice.

Alya and Nino both said "nothing" guiltily, but Adrien glared at them. They shouldn't be lying to her.

"Hey! Can I talk to you for a second?" Adrien didn't give her a choice as he grabbed her hand and pulled her a little away from their friends. He had to clear this rumor up before it ruined their budding relationship. He had waited so long for this. "You don't think that I am dating Kagami, right? I would never do that to you."

"Oh, I mean, I did think you were, but after last night, I assumed I was wrong." Marinette looked uncomfortably at her feet, "I'm sorry, Adrien. I think I started that rumor. After we all hung out that one day, I…"

"You have nothing to apologize for! I should explain though," Adrien cut her off frantically, but he didn't know how to start.

"I think I understand, Kitty. You needed to move on, right?" Marinette looked off towards Nino and Alya shuffling nearby.

Adrien looked back at them too. "I want to clear the air. I was trying to move on, and Kagami did expect… I mean, she tried…" he broke off to clear his throat and continued in a lowered voice, "to kiss me, but I didn't umm kiss her. We aren't dating, and we are hardly even talking anymore."

Marinette closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "It's weird, because I KNOW you have been in love with me for as long as I have been in love with you, but I also know that you weren't in love with me all the time that I wasn't in love with you, and I am trying hard to put the two instances of us together into one, but it's a lot."

"Marinette, breathe. We don't have to figure out everything all at once. I just need you to know two things: one, there was never anything between me and Kagami, and two, I adore you." He picked up her hand and kissed it in Chat Noir fashion, "All of you. My Princess and my Lady."

Marinette gently pulled her hand away while blushing furiously and waved Nino and Alya over. She continued looking into Adrien's eyes as she addressed the couple, "Turns out we were wrong about Adrien and Kagami dating."

Adrien smirked. She said that with such a Ladybug sass, he had trouble temping down his reaction, letting all of the adoration he felt show on his face.

Marinette turned away towards the stairs, mumbling as she walked by him, "So much for pretending nothing has changed." She linked her arm in Alya's and said conversationally, "You aren't going to believe what Adrien did to me this weekend!"

Adrien let out a surprised squeak. Does she not know how that sounds?

Alya looked back at him suspiciously and asked, "What did he do?"

Marinette sighed dramatically and answered, "He gave my name to the head of a gallery, and now I am being cornered at lunch to do a showing of my paintings!"

Adrien scoffed loudly, "You made it sound like I did something terrible! I found you an amazing opportunity to showcase your work." He paused to tug on one of her pigtails. "You are welcome, by the way."

Marinette rolled her eyes at him, and he smiled delighted. Maybe this will come together easier than I thought.

"I didn't know you were painting, Marinette. When did this start?" Alya asked in confusion.

"Oh. Well, you know that I've been furiously drawing the last week or so? I uh turned some of those drawings into paintings. I showed Adrien a couple of the paintings, and he set up a meeting." Marinette finished nervously.

"Are you excited or nervous, Mari?" Adrien asked smiling.

"Nervous. She's stopping by over lunch today."

"Do you want me to join you? She already knows me, so she probably wouldn't be surprised if I'm there to introduce you to her."

Marinette beamed at him. "I would greatly appreciate it. Do you think you can get away for lunch? You usually go home…"

"I will be there with you, Princess."

Marinette smirked at him and flicked his chin like she would normally flick Chat's bell. "I know you will be. The food is better at my place."

Adrien snorted in surprise but recovered quickly to roll his eyes at her. "Yeah, that's why."

Marinette sat down heavily feeling emotionally drained. In her head, she knew she should be relieved, happy even, that things were going well with Adrien and that her mother knew her secret. But her heart refused to release its heaviness.

What if I never feel better? What if we can't fight together anymore? Oh god, what if Adrien jumps in front of me and I lose him?

"Marinette?" Alya whispered urgently in her ear. "What's wrong, girl? Worried about meeting the gallery manager?"

Marinette shook her head vigorously, not sure if she was trying to answer Alya's questions or ward off the feeling of panic. Her lungs tightened, and she poked herself in the diaphragm trying to get the muscles to relax so she could breathe properly. The tears started streaming down her face, and her panic grew.

Everyone knows that you are panicking. They know you are weak. You can't even handle good news. What's wrong with you?

Marinette looked down to see Alya shaking her arm, completely detached from the feeling. She looked around to see a lot of her classmates watching her break down and accidentally caught Chloe's eye.

Chloe snorted and whispered loud enough for most of the class to hear, "Attention seeking much?"

Fury broke through her blind panic. She screamed at Chloe, "You have NO RIGHT to speak to me after what you did! You hurt every person I love because you couldn't understand the basics of having a secret identity. You…"

Adrien grabbed her wrist firmly, tugging her back into her seat. When did I stand? "Look at me, Princess. Remember what we talked about? You need to breathe for me ok? Breathe in. Marinette, look at me ok, don't look at her. Breathe out. Good. Again."

Adrien looked at something behind her, and Marinette tried to turn to see, but Adrien grabbed her chin gently and whispered, "Keep your eyes on me. Breathe in… ok, breathe out."

Marinette startled as she heard the distinct sound of Bunnyx's burrow opening above her head, and she looked up in time to see Misterbug's yo-yo capture an akuma that was floating by her ear.

She pushed Adrien's hand away and turned around to see Alix sitting calmly in her seat in the back of the classroom. Marinette had twisted too fast and fell out of her chair, but ironically, the pain made her feel better.

Before the portal closed, a note sealed with a Ladybug sticker landed on her desk. She dove for the note and ripped it open. It was Adrien's handwriting: You are ok, Mari-mouse. We are all here for you. There were three more stickers inside instead of a signature: a black cat, a turtle, and a bunny.

She ran a shaky hand through her hair, yanking out the bands holding it in pigtails. Adrien reached towards her hesitantly, and she didn't want him to think she had been rejecting his help while she had been panicking, so she grabbed his hand from the air and kissed it gently. She held up the note to point at the ceiling with it and said fervently, "Thank you."

Adrien paled and asked as quietly as he could, "That wasn't Ladybug?"

Marinette looked around the room to confirm her suspicion that everyone was watching them talk. Great, it's not in my head. She quickly thought through her answer. Determining to keep Bunnyx a secret, she murmured, "No, it was Misterbug and Carapace." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Alya and Nino flinch.

Ms. Bustier asked with voice cracking, "Are you ok, Marinette? Do you need to be excused?"

Marinette blushed deeply and admitted reluctantly, "It was a panic attack. I think I'm ok now. I don't need to be excused."

Chloe snorted again, and Marinette flinched but ignored her to concentrate on breathing in and out.

I will not lose. I will not give in to Hawkmoth. I will not lose Adrien. We will win.

A louder voice in her mind tried to drown her in negativity again, but she forced her thoughts towards positivity. There is a solution to every problem, and I will always search for it.

She ignored the lesson and took out her sketch book. As she picked up the book, images of destruction entered her mind, but she firmly set Chat Blanc aside to think of something positive. She picked up her pencil to sketch the memory of Chat Noir's face when he saw her transform into Ladybug. THAT was something worth remembering.