Ladybug loved her boyfriend so much.
Some people could say that their significant other lit up a room when they entered. But Ladybug? Ladybug’s boyfriend lit up all of Paris. In the City of Lights, Chat Noir was the light that shone the brightest. All of Paris knew it, but nobody as intimately as Ladybug did.
Nobody but her knew just how bright his smile could really be. Nobody knew how his whole posture, tail and ears included, lit up when he heard her approach. They didn’t know the way his eyes sparkled even in the darkest of night, the sparks that flew when his hand brushed against hers, or the warmth in his whispers and kisses. They didn’t know how vivid he was even on the darkest of days.
That wasn’t to say that her Chaton didn’t have his flaws, of course, because he did. Chat Noir was a complete disaster. He was the dictionary definition of dork and a prime example of overcompensation. He was all bark and no bite, and he seemed to go through life as if it were a movie and he was the star— no, wait— he went through life as if it were a movie and she was the star, and he was the star’s love interest desperate to be well-liked enough by audience to appear in the sequel. He was bombastic and over the top, with terrible timing and a flair for the way too dramatic. He shoved his insecurities and sadness down, far down, hoping that they would die with him, and somehow always managed to surprise himself when that didn’t work.
When Ladybug had first met him, she had mistakenly believed that he didn’t care enough, that he was too flippant, too distracted. But she’d quickly grown to learn that the opposite was true. Chat Noir cared so deeply. He cared with a passion only rivaled by Ladybug herself, and he was willing to die for what he loved… and unfortunately, he loved a lot of things.
Loving Chat Noir was a rollercoaster. It was the sobs wracking her body from holding her love in her arms as he drew what could’ve been his last breath. It was the bubbling laughter that burst through her chest when she saw him waltzing with himself on a dark rooftop, just begging for her to join. It was the heated arguments pertaining to way-too-close calls. It was the way that, whenever she was at her lowest, he reminded her of all the things she should love about herself. It was cold shoulders, and it was bouquets of roses.
He was the yang to her yin, her other half. She was creation, and he was destruction. They were opposite in so many ways, and yet understood each other on a level that nobody else could. He didn’t even know her name, nor she his; on a surface level, they knew nothing about each other—yet in their eyes, they knew everything about each other.
Ladybug could interpret the subtleties in his posture with remarkable success. She could see the way his smile didn’t reach his eyes some days, or the way his belt tail flicked too much or not enough. She’d know exactly what to do, what ways to approach certain subjects, what spots on his head to scratch (behind the ear, under the chin, behind the cat ear). She knew her Kitty, and she knew when he was lying about how okay he really was.
(When he was being honest, more often than not he’d tell her the same thing. “Feeling a bit lonely”. He was lonely. She wondered why Chat Noir always felt so lonely.)
And though she didn’t know exactly what went through his mind on the days she wasn’t at her peak, she could sense the way his voice grew gentle with her, the way he’d prod her less, shoot her concerned glances, and tell her jokes to lighten her mood.
(He always asked for hugs, but on days she was trying to mask her stress, he always seemed to ask for more. Sometimes she wondered if he really wanted the hug for himself, or if he was simply masking an offer.)
Yes, Ladybug loved Chat Noir. She loved the romantic rooftop escapades and the way that they shared a burden that no other pair ever had. There was nobody else in the world that filled Ladybug’s heart with warmth the way Chat Noir did. Ladybug loved her boyfriend.
But Marinette? Marinette hated her boyfriend.
Because when Ladybug was no longer needed, and her costume dissolved, it was Marinette that remained. Marinette, the girl that supposedly had no relationship with the two superheroes. Marinette, who didn’t even know her boyfriend’s damn name. Marinette, who had to go through life as if she were single despite being in a committed two-year long relationship.
And Marinette was Marinette more often than she wasn’t.
While Ladybug spent her evenings picnicking with her boyfriend atop the Eiffel Tower, gorging on pastries with their legs tangled together, Marinette spent her nights… alone, lying in bed, clutching a pillow that held none of the warmth that her boyfriend did. She’d thumb through her phone contacts, wallowing in the regret of Why didn’t I give him my number? Why don’t I have his number? Why can’t I text him? Why can’t I call him?
But she knew why. She knew why, and that reason was that she loved him. She loved him too much to knowingly put him in danger, and any step closer to knowing his identity was a step closer to Hawkmoth knowing his identity. She repeated the mantra in her head every night, reminding herself of why she couldn’t be with him as Marinette. Why she couldn’t just drive up to his apartment whenever she was feeling lonely, why she couldn’t invite him over to hers, why she couldn’t introduce him to her friends, to her parents, to Alya.
Keeping her relationship a secret from Alya was perhaps the hardest of all. Alya had been there for Marinette through her rocky first relationships— the few unsuccessful dates that she’d gone on when she was 14 and 15, and the (very brief) time she’d dated Luka… Alya had heard all about it. She’d recount the fine details and nuances to her friend, her confidant, and it had been cathartic. She’d trust Alya with her soul, and yet there was so much she had to keep from her.
Because once she and Chat Noir started dating at 16, suddenly her lips were sealed. To Alya, Marinette, who had openly loved romance before, had seemingly completely given up on love out of the blue. All of Marinette’s pitiful attempts to convince Alya that she was content with being ‘perpetually single’ fell flat because Alya knew her too well. Fortunately, she hadn’t put together the fact that Marinette had a super secret boyfriend. Unfortunately, she was convinced that Marinette was wallowing in a trench of self-pity, dug by her own singlehood, and needed someone to help her out.
Though, in some ways, she was right. It was difficult for Marinette to not feel lonely when she was third-wheeling Alya and Nino, or to listen to Alya’s recounts of the ridiculous things Nino had gotten himself into without saying Oh, you think your boyfriend is ridiculous? Don’t even get me started on Chat Noir!
There were times Alya would tease her about a nice waiter or an acquaintance, practically begging Marinette to give them a chance. What could it hurt? If you don’t like them, there’s no obligation to go on a second date! But Alya didn’t get it. She couldn’t get it. Marinette was not looking to date anyone else, because she was perfectly happy where she was now in life.
… At least, she tried to convince herself of that. But some days her bed just felt way too cold, and her apartment far too empty. She longed for the ability to introduce her boyfriend to her friends, to go on double dates with Alya and Nino, to go on a date to a real theater (instead of using her yoyo and a makeshift shoebox projector against a chimney wall), to show him her favorite restaurant, to see the way he looked in the morning… She wanted to show him her designs, to recount to him her dreams for the future, her ambitions, her major, her classes. She wanted to tell him about her day, much like Ladybug did, but with real detail. She wanted to bring him along to her cousin’s wedding, she wanted…
She wanted to know who he was.
She wanted to know anything about him. She wanted to know his dreams and ambitions. She wanted to know what his family was like, what his friends were like. She wanted to know what made him so happy on the good days and what brought him so low on the bad ones. She didn’t want the vague, identity-protecting bullshit explanations of ‘I got in an argument with someone today,' she wanted names.
When their relationship had only just started, and she was first feeling the weight of loving someone whose name she couldn’t know, she had tried to end it. She didn’t think their relationship could be sustainable, and she’d tried to break things off. But then she’d arrive at patrol and see a smile on his face— she loved his smile— and she’d know she couldn’t bring herself to take it from him. Some days, she’d see the tension in his shoulders, and ask herself why she would ever want to add to it. Some days it was raining, and how cliché would it be to break someone’s heart in the rain? Or it would be sunny, and who would she be to ruin a perfectly good day outside?
She’d make excuse after excuse to not leave him, and she’d tell herself that she’d know when it was the right time. But deep down, she knew the right time would be the day she fell out of love with Chat Noir. And she knew that day wouldn’t come.
Because Ladybug loved her boyfriend so, so much.
Marinette had a terrible sense of time.
It wasn’t until she was outside her locked classroom door that she bothered to double check the time. She thought she was running late, sure, but not late enough to have completely missed the lesson. But when she pulled her phone out and saw that she had a full two hours before classes started, well… that was just ridiculous.
Groaning, she dragged the palm of her hand down her exhausted face and turned on her heel. Apparently, in her half asleep stupor, she had completely misread the time and thought she was late— and leave it to Marinette to not realize it until after she had already taken the transit and arrived at her university’s campus. She could’ve still been asleep right now!
She allowed herself to collapse on a bench and take out her phone, paying no mind to the students with actual morning classes passing by. The past few months, Marinette had been even more stressed out than usual. Starting university was as terrifying as it was exciting, and she wondered if Chat Noir was dealing with similar anxieties. He’d seemed to be considerably more stressed and quiet as of late, and, well… she couldn’t help but be stressed on his behalf.
She wished she could call him. She wanted to ask how his morning was, if he had tried that herbal tea that she had given him, if he was even awake this early in the morning. She shook the thought from her head.
Well, Alya was surely awake right? Perhaps talking to her friend could help her waste some time. She pulled up her friend’s contact and gave her a call, crossing one of her legs over the other as she listened to it ring.
“M… Marinette? Is that really you?”
“Ye—” Marinette began, interrupted by her own yawn, “—ah… who else would it be? Good morning, by the way.”
“Uh, yeah! Exactly!” Alya laughed. “It’s the morning . I thought you didn’t have any morning classes?”
“I do.” Marinette said, leaning tiredly against her backpack.
“Eleven doesn’t count.”
“Actually, it’s a ten thirty class, thank you very much,” Marinette said with a playful huff, “And it’s called ten in the morning for a reason, Alya. Because it’s morning.”
“Uh huh. Sure.” Marinette heard some rustling on the other end of the line. “That still doesn’t tell me why you’re awake already. Even I’m still getting ready.”
“I don’t knoooww,” Marinette whined, leaning her head back, “Have you ever… Have you ever been so tired you read an eight and thought it was a ten?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
Marinette sighed, “Or maybe… Maybe it was ten past eight but you just read the ten?”
Alya laughed. “Literally nobody in the history of the world has ever done that.”
“I guess I made history, then,” Marinette said, her amusement not well reflected by her sleepy tone. She yawned again.
“Girl, why don’t you go back to sleep?”
“I’m already on campus,” Marinette said, plastering on a nice smile as she waved to one of her professors as they walked by. Once they were gone, her face dropped back into dreariness.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me…”
“I wish…” Marinette mumbled. “I just… called you because if I hadn’t, I probably would’ve fallen asleep on a bench, and I don’t want everyone on campus to think I’m a disaster.”
“You’re right. They have the next four years to figure that out.”
“Mhhmmm. How’ve you been, by the way?”
“Same as yesterday… drowning in homework.”
“I hear ya.”
“Sorry to break it to you, Mari, but I can’t stay on call much longer. You got some coffee, dontcha?”
“Oh…” Marinette blinked her eyes open, “Coffee…”
“Yes, Marinette. Coffee.”
Forcing herself up onto her feet, she slung her backpack back around her shoulders and began walking down the pathway. “I suppose some coffee could help… you don’t happen to have any recommendations, do you?”
Alya hummed. “By your campus? I think… well, what about that little café we stopped at while we were touring?”
“Oh… hm, yeah.” Marinette changed directions. “I think I remember where that was. I’m heading there now.”
There were an abundance of cafés near her university, but the one in question was a fair distance away. What it lacked in proximity, it made up for in a calm atmosphere and minimal crowding. With Alya having already hung up on her by the time she was in line, Marinette shoved her hands in her pockets and busied her mind with admiring the quaint woven chairs and potted plants.
Once she had her double shot vanilla latte in hand, she pulled up a chair at one of the small tables at the far wall. She sat with her back to the door, taking in the scent of her drink as she took in the moment for what it was. It wasn’t often that she got to take her time with her coffee on a peaceful morning— usually she didn’t get up early enough to have any at all, and if she did , she brought it with her to class.
Sipping her coffee with one hand, she thumbed through the apps on her phone with the other— catching herself up on the latest Ladyblog articles, completing an easy level in her time-killing match-three game, and double checking that she was caught up on all her messages.
Once again, her thoughts wandered to Chat Noir, and she wondered what he was doing right now. Did he ever have coffee in the mornings? Once they finally revealed themselves to each other, would they go on dates to places like this? How nice would it be to have Chat Noir, without his mask, sitting beside her in a quaint little café just like this...
“Hello,” Chat Noir said, right behind her.
Marinette nearly threw her coffee her in the air.
She fumbled, catching herself before she fell out of her chair, and gripped at the table so tight she thought her fingers might snap. She didn’t dare turn around— frozen in place as her mind tried to conjure up any possible way that he could’ve found her, what was happening, or if she was simply just going mad. Surely it was a mistake, wasn’t it?
Was he expecting her to say hi back? Even if he was, should she? Was this actually Chat Noir, or just a random stranger that she was projecting his voice onto? If so, why was a strange man trying to talk to her? What was happening? What—
“No, I just got coffee,” the voice continued, respectfully quiet but loud enough for her to clearly hear, “... … Huh? Wait, wait— slow down.”
Marinette realized four things.
One, he wasn’t talking to her. He seemed to be talking on the phone, which meant that he wasn’t expecting any response out of her. She would’ve relaxed a little at that, if it weren’t for the fact that—
Two, that was definitely, unquestionably, without a doubt, Chat Noir’s voice. She’d known him for too long and spoke to him too much to not recognize his voice when she heard it.
Three, Chat Noir had no idea who he had just sat down behind. He had no clue that he was sitting near Ladybug. He was literally just living his life. As a civilian. In what just happened to be this goddamn café, out of all the cafés in Paris.
Four, she was totally, unequivocally, fucked.
Marinette held her hand over her mouth, staring wide-eyed down at her cup of coffee. She didn’t know what to do. The responsible part of her, the part of her that liked to remind her ‘Your identities are secret for a reason!’ cried out for her to just get up and leave the café.
But every other part of her told her to stay. Stay because she’ll never get a chance to have a glimpse into his personal life like this again. Stay because, even though she saw him all the time, she missed him so, so much. Stay because just moments prior, she was longing to be sitting beside him… even if this wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind.
Her hands shaking, she grasped her coffee cup and forced herself to take a sip as if nothing was wrong. Because she was just a normal, average girl, in a normal, average café, doing her normal, average thing. What was wrong with that?
“You really said that?” He asked.
Yes, Chaton. I did. She thought to herself, a nervous smile on her lips as she continued to slowly sip at her beverage. In her mind, they were being a real couple. They were sitting together at the café, having a conversation, drinking their coffee and getting ready for the day…
Okay, it was a bit ridiculous. A small part of her worried that she was breaking some of his trust by staying…
“That’s a bit extreme...”
You know what, Minou? You’re right. If he knew this was happening, he’d probably find it hilarious, or be offended that she hadn’t sat down with him at his table the moment she found out. That was the kind of guy he was.
The person on the other end of the call didn’t seem to agree with him, though. She heard what could best be described as screeching coming from his phone’s speaker— the sound briefly clearer than before, as if he held it away from his ear for the moment.
His ears were sensitive, after all.
“Ah, okay, okay! I’m sorry! It’s just… you know...”
You have nothing to be sorry about, Chaton.
“Maybe you could try to see things from their point of view?”
Marinette rubbed her thumb against the side of her mug. She wondered who it was that he was talking to and what kind of relationship they had. Were they friends? Family? Were they close? Maybe this mystery person was to him as Alya was to her.
Though, the person certainly seemed to be noisier than Alya. The screeching began once more, and Marinette felt sorry for her poor kitty’s ears. Actually, were his ears still sensitive when he wasn’t transformed? She wasn’t sure. That was something she should know.
“... I know, I’m sorry. I just... I mean, I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose.”
There he was apologizing again.
“How bad’s the stain?”
She closed her eyes, letting the world around her fall to the wayside as she just… listened. Listened to half of a conversation between two people whose names she didn’t know about a situation that she had no context for.
“Ah, I don’t know if I should…”
There was something strange about hearing her Chaton talk like that. She knew he’d been having a bad couple of months, but something about his voice sounded so… small. She could practically hear him rub the back of his neck with his hand. That was his tic, after all.
“I dunno, I’ve just been busy with classes and stuff, and…” He trailed off.
Marinette couldn’t help it. She hated hearing him like this, and every part of her wanted nothing more than to gather him in her lap, scratch behind his ear, and let him recount all of his problems to her. In a momentary loss of reason, she opened her eyes and turned her head, stealing a glance at the boy behind her.
They were sitting back-to-back, of course. She couldn’t see his face, but his hair was just as sun-blonde as it was when he was transformed. She chewed her lip, memorizing the way he styled his hair (differently than Chat Noir’s, surprisingly), and the way the top of his head looked without leather cat ears attached (weird. It looked weird).
“Maybe it is?” He let out a breathy little laugh, drawing Marinette out of her train of thought. She quickly turned her head back to her coffee, cheeks pink as she felt her heart race. What if he had turned around? “I don’t know. I just… haven’t felt like going out much lately.”
She made a mental note to herself to stop by her parents’ bakery later today. She needed to bring him extra pastries tonight… and give him extra hugs, and extra kisses, and tell him how amazing he was. She couldn’t imagine a Chat Noir that wanted to hole himself up— he was always so vibrant and outgoing.
What’s wrong, Minou? I’m worried about you...
“What? No, no! Nothing like that! I just… haven’t been getting much sleep lately, I guess.”
I know. You told me before. I just really, really hope that’s true.
“Nah, it’s okay. I got some new tea the other day. It helped a bit last night…”
Her heart fluttered at the mention. Any remaining doubts about whether or not this was really her Chaton went out the window. Chat had told her about his sleeping problems before, and just last night she’d brought him some of her favorite sleepytime tea. It made her smile, just a bit, to know that he had tried it.
Her smile was quickly washed away, however, when she heard the squeaking of chair legs against the floor. Chat Noir had stood up out of his seat, and Marinette locked her eyes on her cup to keep herself from looking up.
You finished your coffee already? No. Don’t leave. Tell me more about your day. Tell me how you’re really doing. Come sit with me. Please, please, don’t leave.
She heard the sound of steps as he walked away. His voice grew quiet from the distance. She couldn’t make out what he was saying anymore.
Please, come back.
She heard the café door swing open and shut.
She didn’t know how long she sat there frozen, eyes staring at her mug. She didn’t know how long she held her breath, or how long it took for her to admit that he had left. With a shaking hand, she brought her mug back to her lips, taking a painful sip of her coffee.
It was cold.
Going through the rest of her day as if nothing had happened felt wrong.
She felt silly, really. A small part of her was still in disbelief that the whole café incident had happened at all… and even if it had, so what? Accidentally running into her boyfriend shouldn’t have been such a big deal. She hadn’t learned any vital or world-shattering information, she literally just overheard him chatting on the phone. Hearing her boyfriend, who she saw all the time , having a conversation with someone else shouldn’t have been such a big deal. At least, not to most people.
But dammit, Marinette was not like most people.
There was a thrill that came with having a run-in with Chat Noir outside their masks. There was something sickeningly sweet about knowing that the two of them had crossed paths, that out of all the possible cafés for them to both visit, they were both at that one, sitting in adjacent seats. Marinette wasn’t sure how else to describe it other than ‘destiny’… or maybe just a really awesome coincidence. The fact that she’d heard him, the real him, interact with someone from his real social circle, about his real life… she almost, for a moment, could pretend like she was actually a part of that life, too.
When this whole ordeal with Hawkmoth was finally behind them, and they could finally reveal themselves to each other, their paths could finally intertwine. No masks, no secret identities, and no bullshit. They would become a part of the other’s daily routine, not just nightly, and they could work on building their lives together. She thought about him introducing her to his friend, or being the person that he called early in the morning to talk about his day.
Her body was on autopilot for the rest of the day, her mind completely lost in the fantasies of it all. The only thing that drew her attention back to the present was patrol.
And oh, she couldn’t wait to see him.
With a folded blanket under her arm and a bag of various pastries in hand, Ladybug landed atop their favorite rooftop. She got on her knees, laying down the blanket and brushing it out. Their patrols were more or less just a formality, after all— they very rarely found anything worth taking action.
“Oh? I didn’t know we had a date planned tonight,” his voice, the same voice from the cafe, cooed out behind her. This time, however, she could actually respond. “If I had known, I would’ve worn my good bell.”
Dear Tikki, she loved him so damn much.
With a satisfied smile, she crawled onto the blanket and sat down, looking up at him and patting the space beside her. “Don’t worry, the venue’s pretty casual.”
He, being the absolute dork that he was, got down on all fours and crawled onto the blanket not unlike a cat. Why did he have to be so over the top about everything? He slumped down into a lazy sitting position, his shoulder bumping against hers. “So, what’s the occasion?”
I felt a little bad about eavesdropping on your conversation.
I heard you talking to your friend this morning… and you seemed kind of sad. I wanted to do something for you to try to cheer you up.
I was thinking about you all day.
“Do I need a reason to want to have a picnic with my boyfriend?” Ladybug snorted, reaching to grab the pastry bag from where she’d left it. “Maybe I just… I dunno…”
“Yeah. That.” She smiled, pulling out a single passionfruit macaron (his favorite) and tossing it to him. He scrambled, but successfully caught it. She had to stifle a laugh.
“You spoil me!” He laughed, scarfing down the treat. She smiled and grabbed a macaron for herself. “How many do you have in there?”
“Ah, ah, ah. I’m not letting you stuff your face all at once. We’re gonna space them out, okay?”
He pouted at her, and she smiled. It was moments like these that really reminded her of why she put up with such a convoluted relationship.
She fiddled with the macaron in her hands. “... How was your day, Chaton?”
“Hm? Purrty typical, I guess…”
He seemed to brighten up a little. “Oh! Yeah, I tried the tea you gave me! It was pretty nice. I want to say I slept a little better than usual?”
I know, Chaton. You said the same thing this morning.
“Only a little?” She teased, taking a bite out of her macaron. “... Still, I’m glad to hear it. I can always bring you more, if you’d like. I mean— once you run out.”
He nodded, his head falling limp against her shoulder as his arms wrapped around her waist. She smiled, finishing the rest of her macaron so she could comfortably rest her head against his.
“I missed you,” she whispered, and instantly felt silly.
“I missed you too,” he whispered right back.
“You see me all the time.”
The two were silent for a moment. She turned her head and pressed her lips to the top of his brow.
“What kind of treat do you want?” She whispered.
“Is that a euphemism?”
“They’re pastries, Chat.”
“Hmm…” He turned his head so that his chin was perfectly propped on her shoulder. “Surprise me.”
She pecked his nose and fished out a croissant from the bag, tearing it in two and handing him the larger half.
“You know, not that I’m complaining,” he began, taking his half of the croissant and reluctantly removing his head from her shoulder so he could eat it, “But I feel like you’ve been really nice to me lately.”
“What?” She was almost offended. “Am I not usually nice to you?”
“No, I don’t mean that…” he said, tearing off a piece of the croissant with his claws, “I mean… you’ve been especially nice.”
She was silent for a moment, watching him pick at his food. He wasn’t wrong, not really. He was fine, still functional, but she knew him too well to not have noticed the way he was just a bit more tense than usual as of late, and it worried her. She couldn’t help him with his problems, not in any meaningful way with their secret identities, so she did her best to at least make his nights a little brighter.
“Because I’m worried about you,” she said, honestly.
“I told you, I’m okay…” he sighed, “I just haven’t—”
“—been getting enough sleep,” she finished for him, “I know. But why aren’t you?”
Silence. She hated the silence. She couldn’t help but fidget a bit.
“You… You know, if you need the sleep, we can always cut back on patrol—”
“No!” He interjected, eyes wide as he looked to her, “No, no, it’s not because of patrol. I wouldn’t give this up for anything.”
“Then what, Chat?”
He eyes cast down to his croissant half, and Ladybug almost felt bad for making him frown. But she needed to know. How could she help him if she didn’t?
“Just… a lot of stuff happened,” he said, quietly, “A lot of changes.”
She nodded. “Like starting university?”
Another beat of silence. “Yeah.”
She hated this. She wanted to press him for details, to know the ins and outs of his life. She wanted to be there for him, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t because she needed to trust him, and trust that any information he was omitting was out of necessity. She wanted to believe that he danced around the subject because it was too specific, too identifying to say out loud. She wanted to believe that he would tell her if he could.
But what if he wouldn’t? What if he was just ashamed or was avoiding the issue? What if it was something that she could help with, but he was too proud to bring it up? Did he think she wouldn’t care? And how would she ever know if that were the case?
“I’m sorry, Chat…” Ladybug said, quietly, “I wish I could do more.”
He looked up at her.
“Ladybug,” he said, their eye contact unbreaking as he scooted even closer to her, knocking his hip against hers, “You’re already doing so much for me. You’re the one constant in my life.”
She wasn’t sure that she liked that. She wished she could be more for him— be more than just a constant in his life. She wanted to be a presence in his life.
She forced a small smile and kissed him, because it was all she could do.
Apparently, Chat Noir had a very regular morning schedule. Every morning at 8:42, he arrived at the café to have his morning coffee. Some days he ran a little late and arrived at 8:45, and others he was a bit early and came at 8:39, but he always sat in the same spot, and he always left at 9.
Now, coincidentally and completely unrelated, Marinette had taken to waking up a few hours earlier than she had to, going to the same café at about 8:25, and sitting in the seat that just so happened to be the one beside his. Totally normal, average Marinette thing to do. After all, who didn’t love mornings?
Marinette. Marinette didn’t.
When pressed for a why (by Alya, of course, who could not believe that Marinette was suddenly good at waking up), Marinette gave the excuse of ‘Well, it’s nice to have time to get ready in the morning without scrambling!’
The only problem with that excuse, of course, being the fact that she had to scramble now more than ever before. Being a few minutes late to class was one thing, but being a few minutes late to the café meant chancing running into him outside the door, and she absolutely couldn’t let that happen.
After all, their secret identities were secret for a reason, and she would never do anything to jeopardize that… right?
She was teetering on the edge of a disaster, she knew. There was nothing practical or advisable about what she was doing, if Tikki’s disappointed looks and gentle reprimands were anything to go by, but being on the verge of a catastrophe was Marinette’s normal. She hoped her luck would carry her far enough to let this go on without incident, and, well…
If disaster meant having Chat Noir in her life, was it really so bad?
Of course, she’d never purposefully endanger their identities. She tried to be as punctual as she could, and if she was running late, she wouldn’t come at all. She always kept her eyes to the ground as she traversed the café, eliminating any risk of her accidentally making eye-contact, and only looked up when spoken to by the barista.
Unfortunately, unlike what her first encounter with the cat might’ve suggested, Chat Noir did not usually take morning calls. He usually sat alone, just as she did, and drank his coffee in silence, just as she did. By all accounts, sitting behind him in complete silence shouldn’t have been worth the hoops she jumped through, but somehow it was. Somehow it was both exhilarating to know she was breaking the rules, and calming to know that she was sharing a sweet and quiet moment with her boyfriend every morning.
… A moment that he knew nothing about, of course, and perhaps that was wrong of her. But what would happen if she told him? Would he be upset at her? Would it excite him just as it did her? Would he quickly discover her identity by noticing what girl always sat behind him? Would she have to stop?
Swinging a leg over the other, she relaxed in her chair and sipped her coffee. The entrance to the café chimed, and she stole a glance at her phone to check the time. 8:42. It was him.
She smiled, letting the usual warmth wash over her as she got ready for another peaceful, quiet morning with her boyfriend. She heard the chair behind her squeak as he sat down, and everything was normal and right with the world.
A couple minutes passed, and the entrance chimed again. This wouldn’t have been a problem, of course, if it weren’t for the voice that followed. A voice that she knew all too well.
“You look like absolute shit.”
Chloé fucking Bourgeois.
Of all the people to come and ruin her tranquil morning, it of course had to be her high school bully. Marinette bristled, gripping her cup as she tried to think of what possible response she was supposed to have to that. She didn’t want to be having this conversation in front of Chat Noir— what if he recognized her voice? What if—
“Gee, thanks,” Chat Noir snorted.
Why was Chloé Bourgeois talking to Chat Noir? What was happening? Did the two know each other? Of all the possible things for them to have in common, knowing Chloé Bourgeois was one of them?
She heard the squeaking of chair legs, and it didn’t take a genius to realize that Chloé had sat down beside him. Chloé , Marinette’s longest standing rival, just casually sat down in the seat that Marinette longed for… and why? Why was she sitting by him, or talking to him at all? Was she trying to get some sick kicks out of tormenting him?
“I’m only being honest,” Chloe sniffed, “I mean, seriously. Did you even look at yourself in the mirror this morning?”
“Can’t this wait until after I’ve finished my coffee?” Chat sighed, “What are you even doing here? You hate this place.”
“Yeah. Because it’s gross.”
Marinette leaned her head back and closed her eyes, taking careful breaths to keep her emotions in check.
“I think it’s nice… and quiet,” Chat said. Marinette agreed.
“Yeah. Because it’s gross. Nobody comes here because it’s gross.”
Typical Chloé. She found anything that wasn’t plated in gold and lined with diamonds revolting. Marinette rolled her eyes.
Chat sighed. “Then why are you here?”
“Because I knew you’d be here,” Chloé said, “Like, you’re so damn hard to get ahold of lately! What the hell is up with that?”
Wait. Were they friends?
“I know, I know…” Chat said quietly, sounding a bit dejected, “But… classes are keeping me busy, and…”
“That’s bullshit!” Chloé yelled, single handedly ruining the café’s nice atmosphere, “You have more free time now than you ever had before! You’re such a bad fucking liar! Don’t lie to me!”
Marinette sucked in a breath, her eyes wide as she stared down at her cup. She knew she shouldn’t intervene, but she couldn’t help but want to save her poor Chaton from this dreadful conversation. She certainly didn’t blame him for not wanting to hang out with Chloé Bourgeois of all people. Maybe if she—
Wait. ‘Chlo’? Marinette shuddered. Maybe this was why this was a bad idea— seeing glimpses into his personal life with no context behind any of them were pretty jarring. What the hell was his relationship with Chloé?
“I’m not an idiot. I know what you’re doing,” Chloé hissed.
Chat didn’t say anything to that. Marinette wondered if she should leave, if she was violating his privacy too much by listening in to an argument. But what if Chloé noticed her on the way out?
“You’re wallowing,” Chloé huffed, continuing with a (terrible) impression of Chat’s voice, “ Boo-hoo! I’m so sad! Nobody loves me!”
Marinette bit her lip. Did Chloé know something she didn’t?
“That’s not what I sound like!”
Chloé continued, “ I’m so lonely! I’m so alone but I don’t want to put in any actual effort to make actual friends! I made up a fake girlfriend to make myself feel better!”
Marinette was glad she hadn’t taken a sip of her coffee, because she was sure she would’ve spit it out.
“Oh, please!” Chloé almost laughed. “You’re pathetic. You know that, right?”
Marinette felt her blood boil. Maybe it would be worth it to sacrifice her and Chat Noir’s secret identities if it meant whacking Chloé Bourgeois upside the head. What did she think she was doing? Marinette dug her heels into the ground, ready to pull out of her seat if needed.
“What are you doing?” Chat hissed, clearly not liking the conversation. Who the hell would?
“I’m trying to knock some sense into you!” Chloé groaned, “I told you, you’re wallowing! You’re trapped in a spiral of self pity, and you won’t fucking admit it! I’m worried about you!”
Marinette felt her muscles relax. She was worried about him?
There was a beat of silence.
“Chloé…” Chat muttered, “I’m fine. Really. You don’t need to be worried about me…”
“You! Can’t! Keep! Saying! That!” Chloé yelled, clapping between every word, “You’re a broken fucking record!”
“I keep saying it because it’s true!” Chat huffed. “Why does nobody believe me when I tell them I’m fine?”
Because you’re not.
“Because you’re not!” Chloé yelled, plagiarizing Marinette’s thoughts just like she plagiarized Marinette’s essay in middle school. “You finally get away from that ass of a dad of yours, and what do you do, huh? What do you do?”
Chat was silent, and Marinette held her breath. She didn’t know anything about Chat Noir’s home life, let alone issues with his dad…
“You hole yourself up! You isolate yourself! What the fuck is up with that? You’re finally free from him, and you’re just doing his fucking job for him! Why? Why? ”
Chat didn’t respond, and Marinette had no idea how to process what she was hearing.
“I don’t know!” Chat yelled, his voice cracking almost as much as Marinette’s heart.
“Because you’re an idiot!” Chloé answered, “You thought that once you were free from that tacky fucking prison of a house, that you’d suddenly make friends and live a ‘normal’ life, huh? But you’re too fucking depressed to put the effort in, so you still have no fucking friends and you mope around about how lonely you are instead of actually fucking doing something about it!”
Marinette felt as though she was drowning in all this new information about Chat Noir, and she needed air. She needed time to process all of this.
Chat didn’t respond, so Chloé continued, “You need to get out there. You need to fucking talk to people! Do you think I enjoy holding your hand through everything? You think I like being your only fucking friend?”
For what felt like forever, the only sound Marinette heard was the thumping of her heart.
“I’m sorry,” Chat finally said, voice weak, and Marinette felt her heart break.
“I don’t want your fucking apologies.”
“I just didn’t…” Chat muttered, “... I didn’t… expect you to care that much?”
A fly landed on Marinette’s hand, but she didn’t dare move. Her eyes locked onto the insect, but her attention remained on the conversation behind her.
“I mean— I just…” Chat hesitated, “... I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting this conversation. Especially not so early in the morning.”
“It’s been building up for a while. I talk to my therapist a lot about you,” Chloé sniffed, “She thinks you’re pretty fucked up. At least, that’s how I’m hoping you come across.”
They were both quiet for a moment.
“Yelling at you is exhausting,” Chloé huffed, breaking the silence, “You’re skipping class and coming with me.”
There was the sound of chairs squeaking behind her, and Marinette was startled to feel the back of Chat Noir’s chair bump against hers. The fly flew away.
“H— Huh?” Chat stumbled, “What? Where are we going?”
“I don’t know? Shopping or something? Who cares? We’ll figure it out.”
Marinette heard the sound of footsteps and the entrance chime, but it barely registered in her mind. She stared down at her coffee cup, but despite the conversation playing over and over again in her mind, she couldn’t formulate a single thought about it.
Disbelief. She was in disbelief.
She raised a hand to brush away tears she hadn’t realized she’d shed.
Once the initial shock had worn off, Marinette was left to reassemble the broken pieces of everything she thought she’d known about Chat Noir.
Because when Chat Noir was waltzing across rooftops, he was vivid and bright. He was passionate, he was charismatic, and he lit up any street he passed. He had such a loud personality, and the way he spoke had such an air of confidence to it that screamed extrovert .
Marinette never considered that it’d be any different when he walked the streets.
Whenever Ladybug and Chat Noir parted ways, she’d always assumed he was going home to his family. Whenever he was sad and couldn’t tell her why, she’d always assumed he had other friends to confide in. Whenever he couldn’t text her, she’d always assumed he’d text somebody else. She thought he kept quiet about his other friends for identity’s sake. She never considered that he didn’t have any.
(Well, no one other than Chloé Bourgeois, apparently. She was still in shock about that.)
No wonder why he always felt so lonely.
Tikki’s gentle reassurances of ‘you couldn’t have known’ fell flat, because Marinette didn’t believe that was true. She could have known if she had asked, if she’d pressed him for the information he was reluctant to give, if she’d actually been a part of his life. ..
And she should have known, because Chat Noir was the love of her life, and she felt like she was letting him down, like she was failing him. Not only as his girlfriend, but as his friend and partner as well.
She needed to talk to him. She needed to see him, to open up to him, to hold him in her arms and tell him how wonderful he was. He needed to know how loved he was, how appreciated he was, and how no matter what, she was going to be there for him.
But they didn’t have patrol that night.
She tossed in bed for hours before she actually fell asleep.
Marinette’s feet dragged on her way to the café. She didn’t know what time it was when she ordered her drink, or how much time had passed before it was ready for her at the counter.
Unlike before, the time didn’t seem important.
She held her coffee to her chest and let it warm her fingers as she turned to the tables, holding her head up high and allowing herself to see who was there.
She wasn’t going to avoid it anymore.
There was a blond boy sitting in Chat Noir’s seat, his bangs brushed over his eyes just enough that she couldn’t make them out… but the rest of his face was unmistakable. His profile was one that she had long committed to memory, from the bridge of his nose to the curve of his jaw... the only thing missing on his face was a mask.
And the rest of him? Well, the rest of him was completely wrong. His hair seemed carefully styled, far tamer than her Chaton’s, and the clothes he was wearing… well, they were nice, but weren’t a leather catsuit, that was for sure. She could even see his hands— his bare hands— as they lifted his coffee cup to his lips.
Just looking at him— looking at her boyfriend — felt like a sin. She was breaking every rule that she had previously laid out, and if Tikki had realized what she was planning on doing sooner, she surely would’ve stopped her.
But words couldn’t describe the way her heart stuttered, the way the butterflies in her stomach fluttered about, or the way her hands shook with anticipation like she’d never before felt. And all it took was a glance in his direction.
She took a single step towards him, her legs wobbling from the war within her mind.
Turn back before it’s too late.
Sit next to him. Tell him you love him.
She took slow strides towards him, feeling as though she might throw up.
Don’t interact with him. Don’t let him know who you are.
Let him be a part of your life.
She tripped on nothing, momentarily stumbling before quickly regaining her balance. She held her breath and watched him. He didn’t look up.
Leave before he sees you.
Take his hands in yours. Tell him you’re there.
She stopped right beside his table and stared.
Leave. Leave. Leave.
He looked up at her.
Marinette felt her heart stop.
A wave of familiarity washed over her as their eyes met. He was Chat Noir, that she could tell, but at the same time he wasn’t. His eyes, though still a stunning shade of green (she was so thankful that they were actually green— she didn’t know if she could get used to them if they weren’t), were far too human to be Chat Noir’s.
No, the boy before her was not Chat Noir. He was the one behind the mask, yes, but he wasn’t Chat Noir. She didn’t know who he was. She didn’t even know his name.
“H…” Marinette began, her voice trying desperately to break through the lump in her throat, “Hello…”
“Hello,” he replied, eyes wide and confused as he stared up at her.
She didn’t think she’d get this far.
She averted her gaze. Her hands shook as she placed her cup down on his table and trembled as she pulled out the seat across from his.
He said nothing, and she was afraid to look up at him again. She sat in the seat and hung her head.
Could he tell who she was?
“I…” She spoke, voice strangled as she tried to find the words, “I’ve been, uh… s-sitting behind you… every day… for the past few weeks…”
She peered up at him through her bangs. He seemed to be in shock— though whether that was because he figured out her identity or because she sounded insane was anybody’s guess.
He didn’t say anything, so she kept talking. “I… I’m sorry. I know it… it was wrong of me. I should’ve told you I’d found you… but I was selfish. I did… didn’t want to mess it up and have to stop doing it. I-I didn’t want you to find out who I was.”
He sucked in a sharp breath. She continued, voice hushed, “I didn’t… I… I know it sounds weird, but… I recognized your voice when you were on the phone. I never saw your face. I didn’t… I didn’t know your identity or anything, just that you kept coming here, and…”
“My Lady?” he choked out, his voice no louder than a whisper.
A dam broke.
She sobbed, her hands flying up to wipe desperately at her eyes. This was happening. It was really happening. All the years that they’d worked to keep this exact thing from happening, to keep their identities from being found out, and here she was throwing it all away, and for what?
“I-I’m so-sorry—” she cried out, unable to look at him as she worked to tame her flowing tears, “Y-You— I’m je-jeopardizing e-everything, I know, b-but I—”
“Bug,” she heard him choke out.
She shook her head, taking deep breaths to calm herself. She felt his fist nudging her hand, and opened her eyes enough to see that he was offering her a napkin from the table. She took it without a second thought and used it to soak up her remaining tears.
They were so fucked.
She sniffled and, after finally regaining her courage, looked up to meet his eyes. He was staring at her, his eyes wide in wonder and cheeks damp with tears of his own.
He was so, so beautiful.
“Let’s… Let’s start over,” she managed out, forcing a wobbly smile on her face as she held her hand out to him, “I-it’s nice to meet you. I… I’m Marinette.”
He didn’t take his eyes off of hers, not even for a second. She supposed she couldn’t blame him for being so shocked— she really did spring this on him with no warning at all… what was she thinking?
Still, he moved to grip her hand in his, and Marinette felt a wave of electricity wash down her spine. She’d never held his bare hand before.
“Marinette…” He whispered, as if testing the feeling of her name on his tongue, and his expression of bewilderment morphed into one of exuberance. It had been a while since she’d seen her Kitty smile like that. “Marinette!”
“You…” She started, but interrupted herself with a laugh. He was so cute . “You’re supposed to tell me your name!”
“Oh! Right! I’m—” He began, nearly knocking his coffee cup over in his excitement. He (unfortunately) let go of her hand to scramble to catch it before it spilled, letting out a small, breathy laugh as he set the cup back upright. “... Adrien. I’m Adrien.”
His name was Adrien .
Adrien. Adrien, Adrien, Adrien, Adrien, Adrien, Adrien….
“Adrien…” Marinette whispered, her cheeks warm. It was only a name, and just a first one at that, but it was a name that she’d spent years wondering about… a name she’d dedicated herself to not knowing.
“Marinette,” Adrien said once more.
“Adrien,” she repeated, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
“Marinette,” he repeated, a cheeky grin on his face.
She smiled at him. “What’s your last name?”
“Do you want what it is now?” Adrien said and smirked in a way she knew all too well, taking her hand once more into his own and holding it up to his lips, “Or what it’s going to be? Because I’ll need to know yours to answer that…”
“Oh, please, ” she laughed, her cheeks flushing brighter than his flirts had ever accomplished before. It just felt… realer now. “... Dupain-Cheng. … It’s hyphenated.”
“Dupain-Cheng…” he repeated to himself with a smile, pressing a kiss to her knuckles, “Marinette Dupain-Cheng…”
“And yours? I seem to recall asking first.”
“Well, I’m going to be Adrien Dupai—”
She kicked his shin under the table.
“—Agreste!” He laughed, reaching down to rub at his now-sore shin.
“Agreste?” She smiled. “Is it spelled the same as Gabriel Agreste?”
He was silent for a moment, and she briefly wondered if he knew how Gabriel’s last name was spelled. “... Yeah. Like Gabriel Agreste.”
“That’s so funny,” she mused, “I’ve always been a big fan of his work.”
He watched her for a moment, and she couldn’t quite read his expression. “Really?”
“Mhmm,” she nodded, glancing down at her neglected cup of coffee. She wasn’t sure her stomach was going to be settled enough for another sip any time soon, but she supposed the excitement of this interaction alone would be enough to keep her awake all day. “You know how I told you I was some sort of artist? I… I’m actually learning fashion design.”
“Really?” He lit up. “That’s awesome! You have to show me your designs sometime!”
“Of course!” She nodded, her smile wide. “I… There’s a lot we need to catch up on.”
“Yeah…” He agreed, pausing for a moment before fishing his phone out of his pocket. He handed it to her with his contacts open.
“Well, I gave you a fact about myself,” she said, happily taking his phone and adding in her information— full name, phone number, address, email, social media, anything she could think of. She was keeping no more secrets. “I think it’s only fair you give me a fact about you, right?”
He hummed, watching her as she entered her information. “... Well, my father’s pretty big in the fashion industry. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”
She nearly dropped his phone into his coffee.
The initial steps towards their new life together were the most difficult, and introducing her boyfriend to her friends and family had been an especially awkward endeavor. Considering the abruptness of it all, she couldn’t blame her loved ones for being a bit skeptical.
‘Yes, Alya, I know I never mentioned him to you before.’
‘Yes, Nino, I’m sure he’s not a serial killer.’
‘Yes, Papa, I’m very serious about this relationship.’
‘Yes, Maman, I know it’s sudden, but I need you to trust me on this.’
But in many ways, it was easier than she’d expected. Chat Noir was boisterous and over-the-top, and Marinette had long planned for the ways she would have to explain or excuse his behavior to her friends and family. He wasn’t rude, not at all, but meeting him for the first time could be a bit overwhelming if you didn’t know him well.
But Adrien wasn’t like that. Adrien was polite and unassuming, and he wore the kindest smile as shook their hands, laughed along with their jokes, and offered to help them set the table. He was gentle, and though the light of Chat Noir still shone brightly through him, he was anything but intimidating.
It didn’t take long for her loved ones to open up to him and accept him as part of her life, and soon Adrien had found himself a new home in her social circle.
‘Yes, Alya, I can bring Adrien along.’
‘Yes, Nino, I can give you Adrien’s number.’
‘Yes, Papa, I’m sure Adrien would love to do taste tests for you.’
‘Yes, Maman, Adrien’s doing fine.’
Being introduced to Adrien’s friends and family was a bit more difficult, however. The look on Chloé’s face when Adrien introduced Marinette as his (definitely real) girlfriend was priceless, but the interaction was more than a little uncomfortable. Marinette and Chloé didn’t exactly hit it off (their history together certainly didn’t help), but they found common ground in their want for Adrien to be happy, and Marinette soon realized that Chloé really wasn’t as bad as she used to be.
Adrien’s family was the worst of it all. It took months of scheduling before they finally found a time that Gabriel Agreste was willing to have dinner with her. The dinner itself was awkward to say the least— the formal, hushed atmosphere was incredibly foreign to her, and once the meeting was complete she couldn’t help but want to shake herself off, scream at the top of her lungs, and feel something.
Maybe if she had been raised in a house like that, Ladybug would’ve been a bit more like Chat Noir, too.
But despite the rocky start, Marinette wouldn’t give it up for the world. Gone were the days of lonely nights, cold beds, dreadful longing, and wondering if all the hoops they had to jump to to make their relationship work was all really worth it. It was worth it. It was worth it because she had Adrien in her life now, and his presence provided a warmth in her life like no other.
She loved the increasingly ridiculous wake-up texts she received every morning. She loved the way she could drop by his apartment whenever he was sad, or invite him to hers whenever she was overwhelmed. She loved the double dates with Alya and Nino, and she loved snuggling up with her boyfriend on a cushy couch, watching and laughing at their favorite shows under warm blankets.
And as they sat across from one another at their favorite café, sipping at their coffees and recounting their plans for the day with their bare hands intertwined, she knew she didn’t regret a thing.
Because Marinette loved her boyfriend so, so much.