"Adrien Agreste, this is the Miraculous of the Snake. Which grants the power of-"
"I said 'no', Ladybug."
"But- But- You could help! We need someone with your strength to wield it! I know you want to help your friends. Don't you want to be a hero? Even if it's just for a day?"
More than anything.
But he had his chance and blew it. He wasn't going to put himself through that again. He wasn't going to put her team in jeopardy just to satisfy his selfishness. Besides:
"I'm sure Nathaniel would be a perfect fit."
Not likely, considering how well the artist had taken to the Goat.
Ladybug shook her head. "I chose this Miraculous specifically for you. I know you've felt useless lately, but you're not. You protect your friends, you always try to see the best in people, and I think . . . I know you're up for this."
Adrien felt something warm bloom in his chest, weakening his resolve. Maybe it would be okay? Maybe he could-
He flinched and took a step back. "I don't. I don't know that. And I can't take that chance."
"It's okay to be unsure, to doubt yourself. The important thing is to try. Let me help you."
". . . I'm sorry, Ladybug."
Disappointment covered Marinette's masked face. "I see . . . Well, better find a recruit and hope he says 'yes'."
Shame and anger surged through Adrien as Ladybug swung away. His fists trembled and it was hard to breathe. How dare she look at him like that!? He didn't owe her anything!
He was being responsible! She was better off with someone else!
It's not like I hate her.
And it was true . . . mostly. His anger was reserved for three people and she wasn't one of them. She had lied but . . . hadn't he done the same?
Still, there was no reason for Marinette to give him such a judgemental look. So he didn't want to make a fool of himself in front of her for the thousandth time, so what? She had the crème de la crème to choose from. Why would-
Because she cares about me. She sees me every day at school, she knows how I've been.
Which was even more reserved since discovering his closest friends were superheroes. Marinette wanted to help him open up again. Unfortunately, her idea of helping was apparently to shove his trauma in his face. Unintentionally, but still.
Adrien's emotions roiled in an ill-defined mess, leaving him confused as his anger faded to a phantom ache. Ladybug was usually the more levelheaded out of the two of them. It's probably why she'd taken to Panthera so quickly. His father had warned Adrien that his emotions could get the best of him and he hadn't listened. Panthera was even cooler under pressure than Ladybug. His father barely let him express anything so of course Chat Noir had gone to the other extreme and expressed everything. Ladybug didn't have any trouble getting Panthera to listen, he was always patient. Something Chat Noir never had enough of.
No wonder Ladybug looked at Panthera like that. She had never looked at Chat Noir like that. In fact, the only time Adrien remembered seeing that expression on her is when she was . . . Marinette. And talking to . . . him.
"So my daughter wasn't rejected by one of her loves but both of them!"
. . . He was such an idiot.
She has a crush on me.
Or rather had if he was interpreting their interactions correctly.
He expected it to hurt. The lies, the missed opportunities, the laughable situation they found themselves in. And it did. But he had already accepted the fact that neither side of her, Marinette or Ladybug, would ever love him. So, the pain was a distant throb instead of a searing fire. That explained why she'd thought so highly of him. 'Love is blind' and all that. Adrien grasped this new understanding and was surprised at how well it fit into the tangled mess that was his life.