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fierce competition

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1. caught

Marinette is sitting on the front steps of Collège Françoise Dupont with Alya, Nino and Adrien. Her friends are talking, but she's not really listening, instead taking the opportunity to stare at Adrien's beautiful green eyes as he animatedly explains a math problem to Nino. She can never get enough of looking at him, and it's times like these when they're all sitting together but nobody is really paying attention to Marinette, that she can indulge. 

She's jerked out of her thoughts when Adrien glances down at his phone, breaking her line of sight. "We should get going, class starts in five minutes,” he says, holding up his screen for the rest of the group to see. Marinette doesn't look, taking his word for it in favour of spending a few more glorious seconds taking in the slight dimples in his cheeks when he smiles.

Everyone jumps when Alya suddenly squeals, and Marinette is rudely awakened from her Adrien-induced trance for the second time. "Oh my god, Adrien!” Alya screeches. “Where did you get that wallpaper? You have to send it to me!"

"Alya, please, my ears," Nino complains, shooting her a wounded expression.

Marinette takes a curious glance at Adrien's phone. What she sees sends her heart racing. Adrien's wallpaper is a close-up photo of Ladybug, smiling at the camera. Her breath catches in her throat. Why does Adrien have a picture of me – well, Ladybug – as his wallpaper?! She can feel her cheeks burning and she quickly looks away, trying to avoid attracting attention with her sudden redness. 

Luckily for her, Alya is doing enough of that for herself to divert any unwanted eyes away from Marinette. She's practically bouncing where she sits. "Nino, you don't understand! I've never seen that picture before. And I practically live in the Ladybug hashtag!" 

From the corners of her eyes, Marinette sees Adrien's cheeks turn pink. He quickly tries to stuff his phone in his pocket. His hands must be shaking, however, since he struggles quite a bit. "I— uh— I— I think I found it online?" he stammers.

"I didn't know you were such a big Ladybug fan," Alya says, eagerly leaning closer in an obvious attempt to catch another glance at Adrien's phone screen.

Neither did I, Marinette thinks to herself, still stunned by the revelation.

"'Fan' is a big word," Adrien mumbles, glancing down and finally managing to put his phone away. "A— Anyway, we should—"

"Dude, you're blushing!" Nino exclaims, a predatory grin on his face as he too, metaphorically, pounces on Adrien.

"Aww, does someone have a crush on their heroic saviour?" Alya teases with a fox-like grin, finally giving up on catching a glimpse of Adrien's phone now that it's safely hidden away.

Marinette can't help but openly stare as the blood that's rushing to Adrien's rapidly reddening cheeks seems to reach terminal velocity, his face taking on a scarlet hue that would give her Ladybug suit a run for its money.

"I— I like her a normal amount!" Adrien squeaks as he stands up, hugging his backpack to his chest. "Wereallyshouldgo!" he blurts and then dashes up the stairs.

Marinette's vaguely realises that her mouth is hanging open as she watches him go, but she can't quite get the necessary grasp on her facial muscles to close it again. "What on earth?" she wonders aloud. Did Adrien just admit to having a crush on Ladybug?! 

It's like her brain is stuck on a loop, unable to process what just happened. If Adrien likes Ladybug… is that the girl he was talking about? The girl he likes? Is she the girl he likes? What is she supposed to do with that?! She can't very well tell him it's her.

Alya lays an arm around her shoulders. Marinette can feel her shaking with laughter, but doesn't look, unable to move her eyes away from the door Adrien just ran through. 

"Sorry, girl, seems like you've got some fierce competition," Alya says teasingly.

Nino chuckles, an amused grin on his face. "I'd say so," he agrees with a shrug.

"I'd say so," Marinette echoes, baffled.

 

2. circling

"I have a problem," Ladybug laments as she theatrically drapes herself across one of the Eiffel Tower's support beams. Since revealing her secret identity to any of her friends is out, she has resorted to the only person she can talk with about her insane discovery. After all, she needs all the advice she can get.

"What is it?" Chat Noir asks, curiously looking up at her slumped form.

She lets go of a deep sigh. She can't believe she's telling Chat about this, of all people. But she's desperate and aside from his (now thankfully quiet) crush on her, he is one of her closest friends. "I think the boy I like has a crush on me."

"Hold on," Chat says, holding up a finger to halt her as he frowns intensely.

They stare at each other in silence for a couple of seconds.

Chat shrugs and drops his finger. "I give up," he declares. "I have no idea how that could possibly be a problem."

Ladybug wails melodramatically and rests her forehead on top of her arms. "Because he's got a crush on Ladybug! Only on Ladybug!"

Chat opens his mouth. Then closes it. Then he tilts his head to the side, his eyes sliding off into the distance as if in thought. "Huh," he finally says, his eyes returning to her. "Well that's something."

Ladybug groans, burying her face in her hands. "This would seriously only happen to me," she complains. At least Chat doesn't seem to be upset to hear her talk about her failing love life – or happy, which would have been worse.

Chat scoots closer to her and pats her shoulder consolingly. "There, there, Bugaboo. I'm sure we can think of a solution!"

Ladybug raises her head and pouts at him. "How? I can't exactly ask him out, he'll just turn me down because he likes someone else…"

"Gee, I wonder what that's like," Chat deadpans, meeting her gaze straight on.

Her cheeks flush. "Oh, sorry… Too soon?" They'd had a rather serious talk just a couple of months earlier, after he'd had the unfortunate timing of confessing to her once again just a couple of hours after she had been turned down by Adrien. She'd been tired and overwhelmed after the subsequent akuma attack and had spontaneously burst into tears at Chat's words. It had taken him absolutely no time at all to promise to lay low with the declarations of love for the foreseeable future.

Chat laughs, and it's genuine, shoulder-shaking, eye-crinkling laugh. Ladybug breathes a sigh of relief. 

"Nah, it's okay. Not that I'd turn you down if you ever asked me," he assures her with a broad smile and a wink. "But, well," he averts his eyes, his smile softening around the edges. "You've been my best friend for just as long as you've been my crush. And if this guy you like already likes Ladybug, he's pretty darn close to making you very, very happy." He shrugs, looking abashed, and softly adds, "That's something I've got to support."

Something tight seems to seize Ladybug's chest for a moment as she looks at the gentle expression on his face. It's not often that Chat lets his mask of cocky bravado fall; not that it's a mask like the ones they're hiding their identity behind, as she's pretty sure both sides of Chat are genuine, but he doesn't show his soft side nearly as often as he does his wild one.

"Thanks, Chat, that means a lot, coming from you," she says softly, moving down from the upper support beam to sit next to him. She reaches out to squeeze his shoulder, and then sighs. Crossing her arms over her drawn up knees, she looks out over the beautiful view of Paris from 320 metres up in the air. "I hope you have suggestions for that solution, though, because I'm all out of ideas."

Chat lays a finger to his chin, looking up as he thinks. Then, a toothy grin spreads across his face. His eyes flick to hers, dark and mischievous, and she already knows she's not going to like whatever comes out of his mouth next.

"You can pretend to date me!" he announces triumphantly.

Ladybug shoots him the most disappointed look she has ever given in her life. "Literally how will telling him I'm dating Chat Noir help him fall in love with me?"

Chat nearly doubles over with laughter. "Not like that! I mean Ladybug should pretend to date Chat Noir! Then when he finds out Ladybug is taken he will move on and hopefully notice you instead!"

Ladybug blinks. It's not actually as bad an idea as she initially thought, but the potential for success seems lacking. What if Adrien just ends up being sad that Ladybug is in a relationship? She wants him to like her for who she is, not as a second choice after having his heart broken.

"I don't know…" she says at last. "It's not horrible, but so much could go wrong with that plan." 

"What? Are you afraid you'll fall in love with me for real?" Chat asks, waggling his eyebrows at her.

Ladybug gives him a playful shove. "Definitely not," she assures him. "But he must already know the chances of him ever dating Ladybug are slim… I'm not sure if making the chances seem even slimmer would make a difference. People pine after celebrities in relationships all the time."

Chat shrugs. "Alright, I see your point." He's silent for a while longer as he thinks. "Okay, second option: what if you act mean to him and convince him that Ladybug is a bitch? Surely he will stop liking you then."

Ladybug frowns, annoyed that Chat would think she'd agree to such a strategy. "I don't like that idea at all," she says. "I don't want to be mean to him. I don't want to be mean to anyone." Not to mention I don’t think I physically could act cruelly to Adrien, she thinks privately.

Chat sighs, leaning back so that he is lying flat atop the Eiffel Tower, only his lower legs dangling over the edge. “In that case, short of revealing your identity to him, I’m not sure how to fix your problem, my Lady.”

Ladybug lays down next to him and gazes at the clouds. "At least you tried," she offers. "Thank you." 

Chat rolls into his side, pulling his legs up slightly so his knees rest lightly against her thigh. He lays his head in the crook of his elbow. "That's what I'm here for, my Lady."

She rolls her head to the side to look over at him and smiles when she sees the sincerity in his bright green eyes. Laying here, like this, she can almost imagine falling for Chat Noir instead. 

Almost.

She is drawn from her thoughts by Chat's never ending curiosity. 

"So how did you find out about this anyway? Haven't you liked this guy for, like, going on three years?"

"Two," she says. "I met him only a couple of days before I met you."

"Really?" His eyes widen at this revelation. As much as she's turned him down, she never really spoke in much detail about Adrien. In part to hide her identity (it's rather easy to narrow down the list of suspected Ladybugs when one finds out she happens to have a famous teenage male model as a classmate), and in part to spare Chat's feelings. 

"So if that first akuma had been just a couple of days earlier, it could have been me at the other end of your crush?" he asks with a pout.

Ladybug rolls her eyes. "Dream on, kitty," she deflects. What use is there in imagining could-have-beens when she's this close to a mutual crush with Adrien Agreste?

He chuckles. "Fine, fine, but tell me. How come you only found out about his Lady-crush now?"

She looks up and huffs out an annoyed breath. It's mostly aimed at the universe at large, not at Chat. "He's got me as his wallpaper," she says, still slightly weirded out by the idea.

Chat raises an eyebrow. "And then… you deduced that obviously he must be madly in love with you?"

Ladybug rolls her eyes and shoots Chat an unimpressed look. "And then my friend jokingly asked him if he has a crush on Ladybug, and he responded, and I quote," she wiggles her fingers in the air above her head, "'I like her a normal amount.' Like, who even says that? And then he ran away. So I'm pretty certain he likes me. Likes Ladybug. More than a normal amount, that is."

She watches the clouds go by for a moment, waiting for Chat's inevitable laughter. When it doesn't come, she looks over to him.

His eyes are wide and his face is ashen. His mouth hangs open as if he's been frozen mid-sentence.

An uncomfortable nervous tingle settles into the pit of Ladybug's stomach. She props herself up on one elbow, frowning at her friend. "Chat? What's wrong?" 

He just continues to stare at her. Once, his lips twitch as if he is going to speak, but then he reverts to his frozen state.

Ladybug sits up, her eyes darting around to find where the danger is coming from. Surely there must be an akuma nearby? Why else would Chat act like this?

Then he speaks, and she, too, freezes.

"Marinette?!"

 

3. found

It can't be. It can't be.

And yet it makes so much sense. The picture of Ladybug that even Alya had never seen before. Adrien's uncharacteristic panic when he was confronted about it. 

Chat who has always liked her, and Adrien who was in love with someone else all this time, and she, like an idiot, continually chasing after one while turning down the other.

She puts her hands over her mouth. "Oh my god, A—?" She cuts herself off just in time, just in case, because she could still be wrong. She can't reveal too much.

Chat bolts upright, his eyes still wide but his cheeks rapidly shifting from pale to pink as his eyes roam over her face, clearly searching.

She does the same, taking in his eyes — green, but she'd never given that a second thought — his hair — the same brilliant blond, but wilder than she's used to. Then again, isn't Chat as well?

How could she have been so blind?

"Is it you?" he asks, and it sounds breathless, hopeful, as he looks at her with wide eyes.

"Is it you?" she echoes, feeling much the same.

"You like me?" they ask at the exact same time.

"Okay, you say it first," Ladybug orders before she can so much as think about her words. He'd said her name, after all. It's only fair he says his own as well.

He opens his mouth. Closes it. His eyes seem to flare with intensity, the green more breathtaking than ever and, Wow. Has Chat always been so devastatingly handsome? 

It's a stupid thought. She knows he has. She's been ignoring how attractive Chat is for years, in favour of Adrien. The irony makes her want to laugh and cry all at once.

"I'm… Adrien," Chat finally confesses, and this time his voice is soft, almost shy. As if he's afraid she won't approve of him. Which is a ridiculous idea, because in what universe would anyone not be thrilled to see Adrien Agreste?

He's probably just hesitant to reveal his identity, Ladybug decides. 

“And you are…?” Chat asks, biting his bottom lip as he looks at her.

Ladybug is glad her hands seem to be frozen where they are gripping the metal bars they are sitting on. Had she not been holding on so tightly, she might just have fallen down from sheer anxiety.

For a moment, she hesitates. Master Fu's firm warning is still fresh in her mind, even though he last gave it several years ago. I must not share my identity. I must protect my identity. But Chat has already guessed who she is, and in the spur of the moment she has asked him to tell her his name… can she really decide to hide now? 

Breathlessly, she closes her eyes and takes the leap. "I'm Marinette."

Chat starts laughing, and the sound of it pierces straight through her heart. Hurt, she opens her eyes and looks on in horror as he doubles over, cackling.

Of course he'd laugh. Of course he'd find the thought of his clumsy friend being the same Ladybug he's been crushing on for two years absolutely hilarious.

Completely shattered, she turns away, biting her lip as she tries to think of something to say that will excuse her for running away from here. Something that will excuse her from ever facing him again.

He notices, though, and quickly reaches out, holding her firmly by her upper arm.

"Sorry! I'm not laughing at you. I'm glad it's you!" His smile is blinding and the brightness of the joy in his voice makes her meet his eyes. In them, she finds nothing but warmth. 

The shift in conversation dazzles her. She has no idea how to even begin parsing his words. “What?” she stammers meekly. 

"I'm sorry," he repeats, giving her arm a friendly squeeze. "I was just thinking… how dumb it would have been if you had pretended to date me. You know. To stop my crush on you."

She considers it for a moment, glad to take a momentary break from the rollercoaster of emotions she's been on the past three minutes. When she pictures it, she can't help but chuckle along. "Yeah, that would have been a mess," she agrees, looking down at her knees. “You would probably just have been happy.” 

Her own words make her stomach drop, and she whips her head around to look at him. Part of her is terrified that he'll start laughing again. That he'll tell her his crush was on Ladybug, not her, and that he's cured of that now, thank you very much.

He doesn't do any of that. Instead, his fingers slide from her upper arm to the crook of her elbow, to her wrist, and then finally to her hand, which he gently takes in his own. "Ladybug. Marinette."

Her breath catches in her throat as her wide eyes meet his gaze, which could only be described as loving.

"I would be happy. Very happy. So… How would you feel about really dating me? As Adrien Agreste and Chat Noir?"

"Like I might explode into a million pieces," she blurts out as her brain-to-mouth filter short-circuits. A fierce blush overtakes her and she turns away. “I mean— I mean—”

It figures that the moment Chat reveals himself as Adrien, her awkward side would come out in full swing.

"I mean— I feel— I want—" she stammers, ducking her head as her cheeks growing hotter and hotter with every syllable that passes her lips. Say something! she thinks desperately as she fumbles for words, but her brain is not cooperating. 

Gloved fingers gently lift her chin up until she can no longer avoid Chat's eyes, looking down at her like she's the most precious thing in the universe. 

"My Lady… Marinette," he says, his eyes twinkling with happiness. The sight of him looking at her like that turns all her joints to jelly. Thankfully, they're already sitting down. 

His thumb gently strokes the curve of her jaw. It makes her feel like he's setting her on fire from the inside out. Never before has she wanted to kiss him so much as she does right now. And… maybe she can?

He seems to have a more traditional goal in mind, however, because he says, "Please do me the immense pleasure of going out on a date with me."

Dazed, she nods. Why would she do anything else? Her heart has belonged to him for years now. Before she can talk herself out of it, she quickly leans in and kisses his cheek. Blushing, she leans back and tells him, "The pleasure is all mine."