The warm glow of the bakery lights shone in the dark chill of the Paris evening. Despite the late hour, the heavenly scent of freshly baked sweets filled the surrounding streets. Parisians hurried by, eager to get in out of the cold, none the wiser that one of their favorite heroes was helping to produce such a mouthwatering aroma.
Inside, Cat Noir unleashed another frustrated huff, while Marinette struggled to suppress a giggle, hiding her mouth behind her hand so Chat wouldn't notice her grin.
"It's no use, I'm unteachable!" he whined, slapping his batter-covered claws down on the counter with an audible splat. Marinette took pity on him. He really was trying his very best, but it wasn't amounting to much.
When he had first come to her earlier that week, asking her to help him bake a treat for Ladybug, she was afraid it might be a bad idea. Spending too much time with him outside the mask could lead him to connect some dots she would rather leave segregated. Hawkmoth could happen to see him leaving the bakery and target her and her family to get to him. It definitely had the potential to make it more difficult to squash the ever growing feelings for him that she had buried down deep inside.
All of these worries and fears flooding through her mind, but never once had she worried that it would be a bad idea for this reason. Never had she imagined that her parent's bakery kitchen would be absolutely coated in a fine dusting of flour, or that the countertops would be positively smeared with batter. And she definitely hadn't pictured a droopy-eared kitty wearing an apron and copious amounts of powdered sugar. Nope, never in her wildest dreams had anything like this ever happened, and if you had told her yesterday that this was in the near future, she would have rolled on the floor laughing like you were insane.
But here they were, and she couldn't help but feel bad for her poor kitten, trying his hardest to impress her when this was clearly so far outside his comfort zone it may as well have been in China.
"I'm sorry Marinette. You're just so amazing and I thought for sure you could help even someone as miserable as me bake, but I'm just so lame compared to you."
For a split second, another sad and lonely blonde boy flashed across Chat's features. Marinette quickly shook that thought away, however, and gave Chat a comforting smile.
"Hey. You're not lame. You literally save Paris on a weekly basis, sometimes more. How could you possibly think that you're lame compared to little old me? You pole vault across rooftops for goodness sake!" she said defensively.
She assessed the damage around them, taking in the scene along with a deep, centering breath. "Okay, let's try a different approach, shall we?"
She tidied up their area with a clean cloth and began to set out new ingredients.
"Maybe macarons were a bit too ambitious for your first ever baking project. Let's tackle some sugar cookie cutouts instead?" she suggested.
Chat nodded enthusiastically. "That's a great idea! I used to make those with my mom at Christmas every year, I bet I could handle that! Plus, I'm super good at tackling things, so this will be a breeze."
Marinette rolled her eyes playfully at his lame joke and continued gathering their ingredients.
She pointed at them one by one, naming them to be sure she had gotten everything. "Vanilla, eggs, sugar, flour, butter, salt, baking powder, almond extract, and some cookie cutters, shaped like cats and ladybugs, of course!" she emphasized with a wink.
"Well, aren't you clever?" Chat chuckled. "Ooh, could we get some hearts, too?!"
"Let's not get carried away, Lover Boy. Last I checked, LB's feelings for you were strictly platonic," she chided.
Chat shot her a lopsided, dopey grin. "Hey, a cat can dream, can't he?"
Shaking her head with a smirk, she replied "Yeah, you can waste your time however you choose!"
He stuck his tongue out at her before finally returning his attention to the ingredients before them. "Okay, oh wise sensei. What now? That's a lot of ingredients."
"So its actually not really as advanced as it seems. Honestly the majority of these are used in almost every baking recipe, so its really just made with lots of basic baking staples. So, to begin, we need to cream the butter and sugar together. We will use the mixer for this, so that should be simple enough for you to manage. Go ahead and drop the butter in and pour in the sugar."
Chat complied, then turned obediently to Marinette to await further instruction.
"Good," she nodded. "Now turn the mixer to low so we can blend those together, increasing the speed gradually until you have it set at medium."
She observed his progress quietly. "Okay, great! Now drop the eggs in one at a time. Exactly, just like that! Mix in your extracts, then slowly add in these dry ingredients," she said as she reached for a bowl she had set aside, with the baking powder, salt and flour mixed together in it. "Hey Chat, I think you've really got this!"
Naturally, she spoke too soon. Somehow, by some freakish accident, Chat's claw got caught on the mixer bowl and yanked it free of the stand, launching it into the air. Miraculously, Marinette was able to catch it and pull it into herself, like a football player catching a winning touchdown pass.
Chat let out a huge, relieved sigh. "See what I mean? Super lame," he pointed at himself before continuing. "Like, how did I even manage that, honestly?"
Marinette giggled a little before gently setting the bowl back on the counter and switching the mixer off. "I'm not entirely sure, nor do I know how exactly clumsy me caught it! Now we can move on to the fun, and hopefully much less dangerous step of rolling out and cutting the dough."
She picked up a handful of flour, spread it on the counter and reached for the rolling pin.
"Hey, how come when you do it, you're working, and when I do it, its just me making a mess, huh?" Chat asked.
"Because, you literally were just making a mess!" Marinette quipped. "Besides, this step is necessary to prevent your dough from sticking to the counter surface when rolling it out. See?" she gestured to the now perfectly flat and even oval of dough that was ready for cutting.
Marinette reached for the cat cookie cutter and Chat followed suit, grabbing the ladybug. He watched her press the cutter firmly into the dough and give it a slight jiggle. Then, she lifted the cutter back up and picked up a perfect cat cut out. "There. Now you try," she instructed, gently laying her dough cat on the nearby cookie sheet.
Chat leaned forward, scrutinizing the cutter in his hand, then the mass of dough on the counter. Ever so carefully, he mimicked Marinette's actions, taking great care to press the cutter down with the palm of his hand, to keep his claws from marring the dough. Lifting up the cutter, he smiled down at the ladybug shape he had created. He reached his claws forward to pick it up, only to realize it seemed to be stuck to the counter. He pried and slid and lifted, every effort proving to be fruitless as he mushed his perfect ladybug into a torn and squashed lump. He huffed again. Marinette laid her hand on his arm. "It's okay! Just try again! We have plenty of dough."
After three failed attempts, it became apparent that his claws just would not cooperate. Marinette sensed his growing frustration and shoved the rolling pin into his hands. He quirked a confused eyebrow at her and she offered him a sheepish smile. "Why don't you try your hand at rolling the dough back out?"
He could see she was really trying to find something he could succeed at, so that he didn't feel like a complete and utter failure. Only half of their dough had been spent, so he knew it didn't really need to be rerolled yet. It warmed his heart to know that she cared this much about him, that she would take time out of her busy schedule to help him, especially with the complete disaster it was shaping out to be.
"As you wish, purrincess," he said theatrically, bowing low enough that his ears nearly grazed the floor. A laugh bubbled up from her lips and she encouraged him to keep going. Painstakingly, he clumped all the dough back together and did his best to roll it back out the way he had seen her do before. Only, his claws kept dragging back and forth in the dough due to the way he had to hold the handles of the rollers with his hands. He couldn't seem to find any way to work around it no matter what angle he came at it from. His claws were just too long.
His frustration finally reached a boiling point, and he exploded, crying out. "If I could just take these stupid claws off!" he said, harshly emphasizing each word.
Plagg happily complied, in a sudden flash of green light, leaving a sheepish Adrien standing before a shocked Marinette.
"Um...hi?" he said, giving her a slight wave, before reaching back and scratching his neck instead.
Building up slowly, a sound very akin to a boiling tea kettle began to emanate from Marinette, and Adrien's expression turned panicked as her face began to turn red and he worried that she might actually blow steam at any second.
Plagg began cackling madly while doing flips through the air. "Oh my gosh you should see how stupid you both look! Ahahahhaha!" Suddenly, a red blur zipped past Adrien's face and stopped dead in front of Plagg, chewing him out. "Plagg, how dare you! That was some stunt you pulled, you know darn well that wasn't what Adrien meant, you should have held his transformation! This is terrible, they were supposed to reveal themselves when the time was right! How could you do this!?"
"But Sugarcube, these two idiots have been dancing around each other forever, and besides, this is way more fun!"
Adrien's attention snapped to the little red kwami and he began to splutter unceremoniously. Combined with Marinette's shrill squeak, they were quite the sight, and despite how serious the matter at hand was, Tikki couldn't help bursting into a fit of giggles herself.