Through the dark mist of twilight, Chat Noir watched the bench where he, as Adrien, would be meeting Marinette in a few minutes. Now, his tail twitched. His fake ears swiveled, and the bench remained deserted. His girlfriend was not early.
Not surprising. After six months together, he felt like he knew her inside and out. She'd be between ten and fifteen minutes late, pink-faced and puffing. He wished that for once he would be wrong. This wait was going to kill him.
Ladybug, who he knew even better than Marinette, was right on time as usual. Her landing on the bridge behind him was soft and expected, but still enough to make him jump, as taut as his nerves were.
"What's so urgent, Kitty?"
He spun around to find her, his eyes leaving the bench for the first time since his arrival. "I told you I'm dating someone, right?" He knew he had. Ages ago, as soon as they'd made it official.
Ladybug snorted. "Only every time you open your mouth." She spun her yoyo around in three full circles, waiting for his response to her jibe.
"Is everything okay with you two?" she asked.
"Hm? Oh, yeah! She's great. It's nothing like that. It's just..." Secret identities were so important to his partner, so he already knew what her stance on this would be.
"I hate lying to her," he said, and held his breath.
Ladybug leaned forward, staring at the water so far below. Reflections of street lights sparkled on the surface. "You want to tell her," she said. Her tone wasn't accusatory, or even surprised.
He took it as a good sign and went on. "Yeah. I'm meeting her in a few minutes. I just wanted to tell you about it first."
"You're sure she won't-"
"Tell anyone?" He was ready for that question too. "Absolutely."
"Not even if you two break up?"
There wasn't any suspicion or ill will in her voice. The neutral tone she'd asked with caught him off guard as much as the question.
Break up? Never. Heat started to creep up his neck. There was no way he was letting Marinette go. But that wasn't the answer LB was looking for.
"Yes, I'm sure she'd never say anything," he said. Out of everything, that was the least of his worries. Marinette was too kind, and loved Paris's heroes too much. She would never.
Ladybug crossed her arms over her chest. Before she could voice another excuse, Chat Noir cut her off. "I'm not asking for your permission," he said. "I just... wanted to let you know beforehand."
Ladybug stared, then nodded slowly, like she was accepting the hopelessness of her situation. "You're braver than I am, you know," she finally said.
Chat Noir smiled and covered his heart. "So you admit it at last."
"I mean it," she said, grabbing his hand. One quick squeeze, and then she let go. "I've wanted to tell my boyfriend, but I've been too much of a chicken." She smiled. "Let me know how it goes?"
"What are you scared of?" Chat Noir said. "I'm sure he'll be thrilled to find out he's been secretly dating Ladybug this whole time."
"Knowing him, probably," she said, tapping her chin. "No, definitely."
Chat Noir couldn't see her reaction, but it sounded like she was smiling. His attention was already back on the empty bench. "I'll see you on the next patrol."
Ladybug's yoyo zipped out, a flash in the dark, and he turned back to catch her last words before she leaped away. "Good luck," she said. "Not that you'll need it. I'm sure she'll be thrilled too."
Adrien strolled down the sidewalk to his and Marinette's meeting spot (the same spot as their very first date, and he knew she would notice), hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking, and eagerly playing out the scenario in his mind. He'd tease her with the promise of forbidden knowledge. Shock would follow when he gently broke the news that he'd been keeping a secret from her, but she'd quickly forgive him when she learned what it was. He knew exactly what her shy blush would look like, how it would make her eyes and her freckles seem brighter.
It wasn't until he'd sat down on the bench and forced his palms flat against the slats in an effort to relax his jittery fingers did he start to think that something was odd. Ladybug had been easier to convince than he'd expected. Where was the argument? Where was the lecture about safety? Even weirder: She herself was tempted to share her secret? That was the strangest of all, but he didn't have time to dissect this new facet of Ladybug's psyche he'd unexpectedly uncovered.
Eleven minutes into their date, Marinette ran up, pink-faced and puffing.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" she said, waving at him with both hands. "I had a thing."
"We need to talk," he said, already wincing at his delivery. Marinette was tough, but easily alarmed. She reached for her purse instinctively, then dropped her hands just as quickly, like she hoped he hadn't noticed.
"It's nothing bad," he said, patting the spot next to him.
"So it's good?" She sat, leaving six inches of space between them. Six inches too many.
"Yes," he said, sliding over to her and taking her hand. It was soft and unsettling and comforting all at once, just like the first time, when he first told her that he thought he liked her as more than a friend and asked if maybe she'd like to go get ice cream or something with him.
Adrien rubbed his thumb over her palm. "This is something that I've never told anyone else, ever," he whispered. Yes, yes, better. Build up the anticipation.
As nervous as she was, curiosity won out, and Marinette's eyes found his.
"And you can't tell anyone," he said, holding up a pinky. "Promise?"
"Yes?" she whispered, hooking her little finger with his.
Adrien took a deep breath. This was the moment. He steeled himself, eyes closed, gathering strength. "I know what I'm about to tell you is incredible, but I'm telling you the truth. I'd never lie to you, especially about something like this."
His eyes snapped open and in a rush he said, "I am Chat Noir."
As he expected, wide-eyed shock flashed across her face. "What?" she croaked.
"Really, I am," he said.
She nodded dumbly.
He took it as a sign to fill up the awkward silence that she was making. He showed her his ring, told her that he'd hated lying to her this whole time, and that he trusted her.
"So," he finished. "You must have a lot of questions. Are you okay with this?"
The explanation should have given her enough time to collect her thoughts, but Marinette continued to stare at him. Cars flashed past them on the street, flickering shadows onto her face, only allowing him flashes of her expression. Concerned? Afraid? Unhappy? This wasn't going according to plan.
"Listen, I know this is very shocking and kind of a lot to take in. But it's still just me, okay?" His voice rose in pitch in time with his anxiety. "And- and I promise I won't let anything happen to you!" The bench creaked beneath him as he shifted forward, leaning into her space. "Just... just say something, please?"
Timid fingers came up to his cheek, and Marinette traced the outline of his mask across one cheekbone.
And then she started laughing. Hard.
Adrien leaned backward in surprise, letting Marinette's hand hang in the air between them, until she finally let it drop and doubled up, giggling into her knees.
Marinette had never laughed at him when he was being serious, so she must have thought he was joking.
"I... I'm telling the truth!"
"Oh," she said between peals of laughter. "I know you are. It's just- it's just that-" Her sentence broke off into spluttering chuckles.
Adrien let her laugh for another minute as he marinated in his confusion. He could think of no reason for this reaction. What was he missing? He thought he knew her better than this. "Your boyfriend is a famous superhero," he finally said. "The least you could do is be impressed."
Marinette snorted into her lap again. "Sorry," she said. "It's just..." She reached over and patted his knee. "Us. This whole thing..."
Adrien sighed loudly. "You weren't supposed to find this so funny," he said.
"Sorry," she said. She breathed in quick short gasps, like she was trying to swallow her giggles, but several escaped anyway.
"If you're quite done," Adrien said sulkily. He got to his feet and offered her his hand.
"I'm sorry for laughing," she said, though her voice still shook with the effort of controlling herself, and her lips were pressed too tightly together.
He raised an eyebrow, disbelieving.
"Don't be like that," she said, pushing herself up onto her toes to kiss him. After the first spark of contact faded, Adrien relaxed, his tension seeping away. Until Marinette laughed against his mouth.
"Oh, come on." Adrien broke away from her hold and crossed his arms. "What is so funny about this?"
"Everything," she said.
"And are you going to explain 'everything' to me?"
"Didn't you have something planned for us tonight?" she asked, lacing her fingers through his and smiling up at him in a way that said, I know how much you love me and therefore I can get away with anything.
Adrien huffed. At least he could still read that expression, though he hated knowing she was right. There was no getting information out of her now. "Sure."
"Lead the way, superhero," she said, even as she started to drag him toward the waiting limo.
Still musing, Adrien opened the door for his girlfriend and handed her in. It was unsettling, how he'd been so wrong about her reaction. Marinette had always been an open book to him, and suddenly that gleam in her eye hid something that he couldn't explain, some secret that she was keeping from him.
And her eyes gleamed that way for the rest of the night.
Early morning shadows clung to streets of Paris like mist as Chat Noir vaulted himself out his window and into the sunshine that peeked in between the skyscrapers. Patrols were still his favorite way to start the day, and this morning it was especially a relief. Patrols made sense. His sync with Ladybug was infallible, as easy as breathing, and that was exactly what he needed right now. Some predictability.
That idea was shot to pieces when he touched down on the Eiffel Tower's observation deck and found Ladybug waiting for him. Ladybug, who hated mornings. Ladybug, who always showed up rubbing her eyes and trying to swallow her yawns. Ladybug, who had never before beaten him to a morning patrol with a chipper wave and a muffin for him when he sat down next to her.
One more link in the bizarre chain that was the last twelve hours.
"So how did telling your girlfriend go?" she asked.
Chat Noir peeled the muffin's wrapper back and took a bite. "She thought it was funny," he said around a mouthful. "Funny! You find out your boyfriend risks his life on a regular basis and that's funny?"
Ladybug's nod was deep and solemn. "You're right," she said. "This is very serious business. She should have been amazed and awed at your courage to fight akumas, and your skill at making terrible cat puns at the same time."
He bumped her shoulder and pretended she wasn't teasing him. "I honestly thought she wasn't going to believe me. I had this whole speech prepared to convince her I was serious and that she didn't need to worry and how this didn't change anything. I practiced and everything."
"And you didn't get to use it? My poor Kitty."
"And when I introduced her to Plagg," he said, tucking the empty muffin wrapper in his pocket, "they just got along instantly, like they'd been friends for ages. Kind of worries me, honestly."
"Knowing Plagg, I'd say that's something to worry about, Adrien."
The light from the sun seemed to go out all at once. "W-what did you just call me?"
"I said 'Chat Noir.'" Ladybug had her chin in one hand, peering up at him like she hadn't just upended reality.
"N-no, you didn't."
"Well, you-" Ladybug covered her mouth, shook her head, and tried again. "It all-" Her own laughter interrupted her. Her head dropped onto his shoulder as she doubled up, folding her legs up to her chest.
Not you too! he thought. Had his view of the world always been this skewed? Or was he simply missing some crucial piece of information? There was nothing funny here, but Ladybug was laughing herself silly into her knees, just like Marinette had done.
He set those concerns aside to ask the more important question: "How did you know?"
"You told me yesterday, you big dork."
Chat Noir slid away from her to give himself room to breathe. "No, I didn't. I-"
Suddenly, he saw a flash of pink light, and his girlfriend blinked into existence, holding the same posture that Ladybug had, fingers pressed to a broad smile, shoulders shaking, eyes shining. "I'd been hoping I could last longer," she said. "It would have been more fun to keep you guessing."
"I think I'm still guessing." But the missing pieces were already starting to fall into place. How had he missed this? How? He thought he had known them both.
Marinette was still smiling. "Would you like to hear how I'm super impressed with your superheroing and grateful to you for saving my life a bunch of times?"
"No, no," he said, letting his transformation go as well. "You've saved me just as often. Let's just drop it."
He wished he could smile back at her, but he settled for watching the wind play with her hair and hoped he looked contemplative. "I don't know you as well as I thought I did."
"I know! Isn't it great?" she said, throwing her arms out wide.
"Uh, sure," he said. "I love surprises."
"You know," she said, peeking around them and then tugging on his sleeve, "civilians aren't supposed to be up here this early."
"A shame really," Adrien said, letting himself be dragged back toward her. "They could enjoy all the peace and quiet if they were here."
"How long do you think we can stay up here without getting into trouble?"
"What, just stay out here without our suits and hope no one catches us?"
Marinette laid her head on his shoulder and nodded.
The Ladybug he knew would never be so cavalier with her identity. Would she? "Who are you, and what have you done with my lady?"
She turned her face, giggling into the fabric of his shirt and following it with a kiss, a familiar touch from her that was at odds with the surreal setting, and it grounded him. Marinette was here. Marinette was happy to have learned something new about him.
"I'm glad it worked out like this," she said, snuggling into his side. "This is perfect."
Maybe she was right.
Author's note: I wrote this story for the Adrienette Zine "In the Rain." It's currently available in digital format and has tons of stories in it. (And there's an interest check right now to see if enough people are interested in having a print version!) Please check it out at adrienettezine dot tumblr
This story needed a lot of work to get from a terrible first draft (it started out so bad, you guys) to the piece it is now. I'd like to thank galahadwilder, noirshitsuji, shaiforger, antisocial-dipstick, khanofallorcs, and actuallycannotflirt for giving me such great feedback! I know it looks like I went overboard on asking for help with this, but really I don't think I did. I was super unsure of how this story was turning out and I appreciated every single person's comments a whole lot.