this was written for the APS Secret Santa, 2020. i cracked up when i saw i got you alyce since i'm still trying to finish your birthday fic hgkjshgkjh. Looks like you getting Christmas gift first

Also, big thank you to Tali and Maryssa for beta-reading. Oh and just a wee heads up that I see the characters all being about seventeen in this


How to Be a Hot Mess

"Well?" Alya said, stopping in front of Adrien's table and striking a pose with her hands on her hips.

His brow furrowed. That question, combined with the pose, was a dangerous combination. She wanted him to react to something, but he'd seen her wear those jeans and that jacket a million times. Her hair looked the same, too. Was it her glasses then? Did she buy new ones?

Wait. Had she always had that scarf? It was woollen and wintry blue, not a usual colour for Alya. But what if he was wrong? What if she had trimmed her hair and got all offended because he didn't notice?

"Uh … you look great?" he said.

She snorted. "Well, of course I do, but I meant the scarf."

"It was the scarf," he groaned, slumping his shoulders. "I knew I shouldn't have second-guessed myself."

She grinned and patted him on the head. "There, there. Better luck next time."

The bell to the café tinkled. Marinette and Nino entered and made a beeline for their table.

"Sorry we're late," Marinette said, placing her bag down. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold.

"You're not late," Adrien assured her warmly, and then paused. Marinette and Nino were both wearing blue woollen scarves. He stared at them, then over to the one that Alya was wearing. His eyes widened. "Wait, they're identical."

Nino laughed. "Yeah. Marinette made us these sweet threads so we can have matching friendship scarves."

"I wanted to make them pink, but Alya would have none of that," Marinette said teasingly as she shrugged off her coat and scarf, then took the seat next to Adrien.

Alya held up her hands. "All I'm saying is just because you don't mind matching the décor of Barbie's dreamhouse doesn't mean everyone wants to."

The three of them laughed. Adrien smiled in a way that felt too tight around the cheeks and stared at his drink. He wasn't jealous, of course. Not one bit. They could wear all the matching scarves they wanted. After all, he had this hot chocolate that was frothier than Foaming Mouth Guy's fanboyisms, and he had four big squishy marshmallows on his plate, not the usual two. (Perks of the café guy thinking him cute.) So Alya and Marinette and Nino could keep their matching bestie scarves, because he was gonna drink this giant mug of sweetness and then order another and—

"I have plenty of scarves anyway," Adrien muttered.

Nino blinked. "Huh?"

Adrien said nothing. He had been betrayed by his own mouth, so he stuffed two of the squishy marshmallows into it to ensure it could not betray him further, making his cheeks puff out. Too bad Alya had heard him. She leaned on his shoulders from behind and rested her chin on his head.

"Aww, feeling left out?" she cooed.

Heat crawled over his face.

"Don't worry, I bet Marinette has a special bonus gift planned for you if she's not going to give you yours now. Probably wants to get you all alone and—"

"Alya!" Marinette yelped, wide-eyed like a startled rabbit. The rosy blooms on her cheeks darkened.

"Is this true?" he asked, at least once he managed to swallow the two marshmallows.

"Nope!" Marinette said, waving her arms frantically. "Nothing at all for you!"

Well, there went his hopes like a deflating balloon wheezing its shameful, dying throes.

"Dude," Nino said, raising his eyebrows at her. "That's cold."

A little groan escaped her lips. "No, no, no, that's not what I meant. Of course I have a scarf for you, Adrien. It's right here." She rummaged in her bag and handed him a beautifully knitted scarf to match the others. "I only meant that Alya was wrong about me wanting to get you alone to give you a special gift. Not that you don't deserve a special gift, and not that I don't want to be alone with you." The startled rabbit look returned to her eyes. "I mean as friends! Just friends, who are alone together, like normal friends can be and—"

"Girl," Alya said, and reached over to pat her on the shoulder. "It's okay. We get it."

Marinette let out a relieved sigh.

Adrien smiled and then tried to peer up at Alya, who was still leaning against him with her chin propped on his head. "Mind getting off?"

"Can't. Too comfy."

"Well, I would like to thank Marinette properly, and I can't do that with you using me as a leaning post."

"You hear that, Marinette?" Alya poked him in the cheek. "He wants to thank you properly."

Pink splotched its way over Marinette's face. It snuck its way around Adrien's ears as well—hot waves that throbbed to the beat of his heart. Trust Alya to make it sound so suggestive. (The fact that he would like to do more than thank Marinette did not help.)

He glanced at Nino for help, but the smile curving Nino's lips suggested that there would be no support there. Traitor.

"Just get off," Adrien grumbled.

Alya did, though she snatched a marshmallow from his saucer along the way. Now that was just rude. He had earned that squishy bundle of sugar.

Ignoring her crime for now, he leaned over and hugged Marinette, holding her close enough so that her hair tickled his nose. A sweet, fruity scent wrapped around him—the shampoo she liked to use. "Thank you for the scarf."

"You're welcome. I mean you're our friend too, so I wasn't going to leave you out."

He squeezed her tighter, closing his eyes.

Neither pulled away.

"Uh," Nino said, "you gonna come order with us, Marinette, or do you plan to sit here hugging our boy all day?"

She shot back with the speed of Ladybug's yoyo and toppled off her chair, only avoiding going splat on the floor like a sad pancake because Adrien managed to lurch forward and grab her hands. The chair had not been so lucky; it clattered to the floor with embarrassing loudness. Heads swivelled around from all corners of the café.

Marinette pinkened and laughed. "I'm fine. We're fine."

Most people resumed what they were doing, but a few nosies kept watching.

Adrien helped her to stand. "That was close."

"Yeah."

They shared a smile. It was another few seconds before he realised that he should probably let go of her hand. Oops. (But at least she was nice enough not to call him out on it.)

No need to expose himself on main.

oOo

A last-minute photoshoot dragged him away from the others. He sat in the backseat of his father's car, holding on his lap the scarf Marinette had knitted for him. His thumb stroked the soft wool—soft because of course she had made sure to choose nothing rough or scratchy. Of course she had made sure there were no holes or funny little bumps. She put her all into everything.

Ding!

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and smiled at the photos Nino had shared in the group chat. They'd taken a bunch of selfies in their matching scarves—most with dramatic poses and silly expressions—but there was one where they simply had their arms around each other, grinning for the camera, heads pressed close.

His gaze lingered on Marinette, who was squished next to him.

Marinette, with her bright eyes that crinkled up so cutely when she laughed. With her hair that looked like the darkest of twilight skies woven into silk. With those little freckles sprinkled on her nose and cheeks. And with lips that looked so, so soft …

The car braked abruptly, lurching him forward in his seat. Adrien blinked, even as car horns honked like angry geese. It looked like something had happened up ahead.

He sighed and leaned against the seat, shoving his phone back in his pocket. Well, there was no point dwelling on his feelings for Marinette. Alya may like to tease them both, but he was pretty sure there was no hope for him there. Marinette saw him as a friend. Heck, she'd said as much in the café. And he had experienced enough rejection from Ladybug to not be in any rush to taste that sting again.

He touched the scarf, biting his lip. But it was a pity.

oOo

Night came. Adrien hesitated by Marinette's skylight, wind whipping at his cheeks. The magical suit protected him from the cold, but that didn't mean he couldn't feel anything.

He raised his hand to knock, then paused. Visiting her was not going to help. He knew that. It would be better to leave now. Better to spare his heart. The lovesick part of him just wanted to see her again. That part always wanted to see her. Be with her.

He knocked.

"Chat Noir," she said with a smile, opening the latch. "Come in."

The scent of cookies lingered in her room. No doubt a fresh batch that she or her father had made. She was dressed in white and pink fluffy pyjamas that had a hamster-shaped hood, including little pink hamster ears. Fluffy slippers were also on her feet. It was stupidly cute, and he had to bite back the I love you that threatened to spill from his lips.

He could be cool. He could totally be normal and not declare his love to her, even though every beat of his heart demanded that he should. They were friends. He could be her friend.

"Cookiesloveyou," he said, very uncoolly and in some terrible garbled mess. A cat hacking up hairballs would have more finesse.

"Huh?" she said.

He grinned, hoping she wouldn't notice the strain in his cheeks or the slight twitch in his right eye. "I smell cookies. Any left for me?"

"Oh, is that all you came here for, hmm?"

"And kisses—"

Her eyes widened.

"Dresses! I-I meant dresses. Because that's what you do. You make dresses. I would like a dress."

"You would?"

"Yes!"

She flashed that beautiful smile. "Well, of course I'll make you one if you want. When do you need it done by?"

"Don't worry about deadlines or anything."

What the hell was he saying?

"Great!" she said. "I'm pretty busy at the moment with school, so that's good to know. What kind of style were you thinking?"

"Something fun and cute."

He was really committing to this, wasn't he?

She steered him to the chaise and got her notebook and pen out, asking him more questions and scrambling down the random things he said. He couldn't stop the flow of words. They just kept coming and coming, and the next thing he knew, she was getting him to stand up so she could get his measurements.

Heat tickled his cheeks as he stood there, arms spread. This shouldn't feel so intimate. It was a routine thing he'd had done a million times. But having Marinette standing close with a measuring tape made his heart thump that little bit faster, made his breath catch in his throat and his gaze follow her every move, fingers itching to touch.

Oh, how he wanted to touch her. Innocently. Lovingly. A simple brush to her cheek. His hand on hers. To take advantage of how her hamster-eared hood had fallen back and let his fingers slip through her hair, then hold her closer and—

"What?" she said.

He blinked. "What?"

"You keep staring at me funny."

"I, um …"

Quick, quick! What could he say? That he was fantasizing about kissing her was absolutely out. Words. He needed words.

"Fluffy," he blurted.

Damn it. Not those words.

She tilted her head. "Uh, okay."

"I mean your pyjamas look cosy and fluffy, but I can't approve of your choice of animal."

"Excuse me, there's nothing wrong with hamsters."

"Cats are better."

She leaned closer. "Oh, is that so?"

"Mmhmm. Cuter too."

"Says who?"

"Says everyone."

Another inch closer. They were almost nose to nose, and his heart played a thumping drum against his ribs. He could smell that teasing fruity scent again. Berries? Coconut? Wait, was it even her shampoo? He didn't know, but it was a ribbon of sweetness in which he would happily be entangled.

"Well, I prefer hamsters," she said.

His gaze dropped to her lips. Pink. A little glossy. Would that gloss be flavoured? Would she ever let him close enough to find out?

"Cruel," he murmured, "to say that to my face when I've come here specifically to visit you."

"Please. We both know you're only here for the cookies. Besides, your ego is inflated enough, kitty cat." She flicked his bell.

The drumming song in his chest got louder, thundering in his ears. "I don't come for the cookies, Marinette."

She laughed. "Ah, yes. It was a dress this time."

He met her eyes. Here was a perfect moment. All he had to do was break script—say that he came here for her. No banter. No joking air of suaveness or self-importance. Just take her hand and tell her she was amazing and that he wouldn't care if she gave him gross gym-sock-smelling camembert every time because he'd still come here just so he could see her smile.

Tell her that he was stupidly in love with her and that he didn't know how to stop these feelings. Didn't even want to. Because, yes, he had fallen hard and fast for Ladybug, but what he felt for Marinette had sneaked up on him so gradually that it was like a seed taking root and had grown and grown until his heart was filled with her. Until all waking thoughts were of her. Until every time they met, it was like he had to express all that thumped and fluttered inside him or he'd burst.

Her hand was so close. It would be so easy to reach for it.

"Y-yeah," he said with a shaky laugh of his own. "I mean how can I say no to a Marinette original, right?"

The corner of her lips twitched. He had to resist the urge to groan and tear at his hair.

Coward. He was an absolute coward. He was also a masochist, it seemed, for he leaned in close until he could smell the light scent of berries and coconut that clung to her—close enough that he could have let his lips brush the shell of her ear if he dared. Not that he would, no matter how much his blood hummed and whispered that she would taste just as sweet. He was her good friend, and he would never betray her trust like that.

"Can I tell you a secret?" he said softly.

Did her breath just catch? Or was that just his hopeful imagination?

"What?"

"I like hamsters better, too."

She snorted and turned to look at him, putting their faces close once more. "Glad to see you have some taste."

"Only some?"

"You did try to argue that my pyjamas would be better if they were cat themed."

He gently pulled the hood up over her head and let his hand linger, cupping her face. "You're right, how silly of me. You're perfect like this."

Pink bloomed on her cheeks like a shy rose and her lips parted in surprise. His face felt hot. Too hot. The words were supposed to have come out as a cheesy one-liner, the kind of thing he tossed around when he wanted to get his suave on. But his voice had been low and soft. It had pulled the barriers away from his heart—from a charming hero's smile to shields of protective bone—and showed what thrummed in the unsteady beat.

Nervousness. Adoration. Love.

She moistened her lower lip. "Chat …"

Her voice was hushed. One second passed, then another. He didn't move. Could barely breathe. She seemed just as frozen. Then she dared to lean closer. He swallowed, throat bobbing. Was she going to—was this really happening?

She sucked in a sharp breath and pulled away. "Anyway, I have a gift for you."

He closed his eyes briefly, trying to pull himself together. "For me?" He plastered on one of his best toothy grins. "Marinette, you shouldn't have."

If she was going to ignore the almost kiss, he should as well, right? Or maybe it hadn't even been an almost kiss. Maybe she had just swayed a little or something. Right. That made far too much sense.

She opened a drawer and brought out a scarf, beautifully knitted just like the other one she'd made for him, except this one was green.

"What, no matching blue to be part of your bestie squad?" he teased. "I'm wounded."

She blinked.

He stiffened from his toes to the tips of his pointed cat ears. Uh-oh.

"What?" she said, a faint tremor in her voice.

"Um—"

"How do you know about the friendship scarves?"

He grinned, if a little manically. "I don't?"

Marinette's brow furrowed. Not that he could blame her for staring at him like he was a robber wearing a black mask and holding a money bag as he professed his innocence. That had to be the weakest response ever.

She pointed her finger at him, her eyes suddenly huge. "You're Adrie—"

"Please don't tell anyone," he begged as he stepped close and gripped her shoulders. She let out a small squeak. "Please, Marinette."

Her gaze darted from his hands to his face. Her eyes were still round and her mouth a gaping O, but as she looked at him, determination etched its way across her features. She clamped her hands on his cheeks.

He blinked. "Um, what—"

She pulled his head down and crashed her lips against his. Their noses bumped, their lips were stuck in some weird smoosh, but it was a kiss. An awkward, chaotic kiss. When she pulled away, her cheeks were rosy as if she'd been outside in the cold. His own face was hot and his heart fluttered and stumbled in a dizzying rhythm.

"Okay," he said, meeting her eyes. "Now I'm confused. I didn't think you wanted to—I mean, before you just pretended like we hadn't—"

"I love you."

His jaw dropped.

"I've been in love with you for years, Adrien. And then I fell for Chat Noir and I was so confused and I didn't know what to do and—" She bit her lip, a shy smile peeping through. "And then I found out you're the same person."

One of his hands moved down to hold hers. "Does this mean I can kiss you again?"

She nodded.

He made sure to get a better angle this time. Their lips brushed gently at first, then with more pressure as he dared to pull her closer. Strawberry tingled on his lips, his tongue. So, the lip gloss did have a flavour.

Her fingers wound into his hair. Heat glowed on his cheeks and his blood hummed through his veins, stirred to life by every silky caress, every spark-lit touch of her fingers. This was what he had dreamed of. Him. Her. And it was thunder and warmth and a drum that could not be silenced.

"I love you," he whispered into her lips.

She kissed him again. Kissed him like she was trying to memorise the shape of his mouth. Kissed him until all he could taste was strawberry and he was sure his knees would buckle.

He pulled back, pressing his forehead to hers as he hugged her and tried to catch his breath. They stood there like that, eyes closed, hearts racing.

"Adrien."

"Mm?"

"Can I tell you a secret?"

A smile twitched to life. "What?"

She leaned up, lips brushing his ear. "I'm not the only one who fell in love with the same person twice."

Creases formed on his brow. Wait, what was she saying?

He opened his eyes and met her gaze. Pink dusted her cheeks and she brushed some of his hair away from his face.

"Hi, kitty," she whispered.

His jaw dropped for the second time. "Ladybug?"

She nodded.

A laugh escaped him and he swept her up into his arms, peppering her face with kisses and spinning her around. It all made sense now. Of course, he had fallen for Marinette. How could he not when he had already been in love with her for so long? Just as it made sense why he could never quite let go of Ladybug.

"We really have been blind," he said with a smile.

She hugged him closer. "But we have each other now."

He pressed a light kiss to her forehead. That they did, and he knew they always would.