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"Remember when weather warnings meant something?" Rena Rouge grumbles, ducking back under the bridge with the rest of them.  They're so utterly drenched even from that quick foray out that Chat's frankly glad he didn't draw the short straw on checking out the situation.

"No, actually," Ladybug says dryly, ducking back in from the other side and lowering Carapace's shield from over her head, ignoring Rena's sudden indignant noise to hand the shield back to a relieved-looking Carapace.  "We've been doing this too long to worry about the weather anymore." 

"Just be glad there's not an icescape out there," Adrien agrees fervently, shuddering at the memory of the last two.  "Or an ocean.  Or a volcano.  Or-"

"I get it," Rena cuts him off hastily.  "I get it, Chat, you can stop." 

"-or nightmares," Adrien concludes stubbornly.

Carapace snorts, slotting his shield against his back again.  Their suits may be temperature controlled anyway, but Carapace definitely has the most protection, where Ladybug and Rena are much more obviously uncomfortable in the cold.  Adrien is, too, but he's closer to Carapace's level of protection than their partners are.   "Nightmares are not weather, dude." 

"They are if you run into someone afraid of thunderstorms.  Or hurricanes."  Adrien tilts his head back and lets it thump against the bridge's foundations, wincing as the impact jolts his cat ears and rattles through him.  "But this is weather-weather, so... now what?" 

It's technically still akuma weather- the last few weather akuma have wreaked havoc on the storm systems, and according to Tikki Miraculous Cure can only do so much to fix that- but there's no specific akuma causing it and therefore nothing to fight.  This is the aftermath of the last few fights with weather-based akuma, colliding in a way that just so happened  to dump several feet of snow on all of Paris. 

It is also, very distinctly, localised to Paris.  If anyone had any doubts that it was a result of Hawkmoth's akuma playing with the weather, the clear cutoff in the storm at the edges of the city is damning proof. 

There's been enough trouble with their weather without Hawkmoth's interference so that's especially aggravating.  Adrien knows of at least two city officials who are now doubling down on blaming all their troubles with the weather on Hawkmoth, including problems that started before Hawkmoth had ever been active.  

And their kwami refuse to confirm it, but Chat Noir and Ladybug both heavily suspect a properly-used Butterfly Miraculous has the potential to help with the weather. That is well beyond aggravating. 

Rena Rouge eyes the swirling snow just outside the safety of their hiding place, taking a quick step forward before hopping back from a crosswind that blows into their face anyway.  They sneeze, one ear flicking with obvious irritation.  "Just exactly how well temperature-controlled are these suits?" 

"Startrain," Ladybug reminds them, shaking her head and smoothing snow from the pigtail Carapace's shield hadn't quite covered.  "So, very."  She considers the rest of them for a moment, leaning against the bridge foundations herself and shrugging herself comfortably into Adrien's side. 

She ducks under his arm with a soft sigh as he wraps it around her without thinking.  He leans into her in turn, grateful for the warmth- their suits do protect them from cold temperatures, but they're not as effective at protecting them from the driving snow or biting wind. 

Adrien winces as he realises visibility is going to be a real problem if there any more akuma today.  He edges a little closer to Ladybug without meaning to.

"So, now what?" Rena asks, glancing from the two of them to Carapace and raising an eyebrow.  Adrien's fairly certain the look they're giving Carapace is supposed to mean something specific, but he's mystified as to what.  Carapace doesn't seem to notice it at all, though, so maybe it's nothing. 

"We wait, I guess?" Carapace suggests, sounding less than happy about it. 

"We could."  Ladybug's voice is dry.  "But I don't know about the rest of you, I personally would rather wait somewhere a little more hospitable." 

They're all silent for a moment, long enough for the drifts piled up around their meagre shelter to loom ominously in the edges of Adrien's vision.  The whistling wind fills their sudden silence like it was waiting for them to drop their guard, hissing through the air like a hidden threat and making Adrien's hair stand on end.  He knows there's nothing there but his subconscious isn't convinced. 

The same biting wind skims swirling bits of snow of the tops of the drifts, sailing around and through their hiding place and setting everyone to shivering again.

Rena looks even less enthused, taking a step back to survey their tiny area when it's clear that Carapace has yet to pick up on- on whatever they were trying to hint at.  Adrien still isn't sure.  He still isn't sure that they are trying to hint at anything.  Plagg would probably know, but that doesn't help him right now.

And a moment later, Rena's eyebrows jump into their hairline with evident glee and Adrien forgets all about it anyway. 

"There," Rena says, gesturing wildly at something behind Adrien, and he reluctantly turns to look without moving away from Ladybug any more than he has to. 

"I don't-" Adrien starts, brows furrowed, and then he tries to take a quick step back and nearly trips over his own tail.  He would have slammed into the concrete foundation, if Ladybug hadn't caught him in time.  "These bricks look different than the rest." 

"They're newer," Rena says.  That spark of glee hasn't faded yet.  "They're walling something off.  C'mon, let's Cataclysm them and find out!" 

Adrien flinches minutely, though he's not sure he could put his exact reasons why into words if he was pressed.  It's just that- something about Rena's easy assumption, their near-demand, rankles in a way he doesn't like.  (It's too familiar a feeling, though without Plagg here to give him a pointed little jab about it Adrien doesn't have to or want to admit that). 

Cataclysm would be the easiest way to find out what's behind those too-new bricks, but Adrien doesn't carry an unlimited supply of Camembert.  One or two cheese wheels he can explain.  More than that, though, and it starts to become a little weird. 

And if word gets back to Hawkmoth, who knows exactly what kwami are and how their recharges work, it's going to look more than just a little suspicious.  Adrien doesn't know if Hawkmoth knows what each kwami prefers to eat, but he's not going to risk Plagg's safety on an uncertainty. 

But Rena is still looking at him expectantly, their head cocked to the side as they tap their foot.  It's not impatient, not yet, but it's close enough to spur Adrien to tug loose from Ladybug's grasp and study the off-colour bricks.  A Cataclysm could take them out, but he's not sure they're different enough from their surroundings for his Cataclysm to stop there.  He doesn't have any particular desire to bury his team under a bridge today.  They don't get enough time together as it is, he doesn't want to cut it short with Ladybug having to Miraculous Cure them back to safety and he thinks that probably counts under misusing their powers.   

Ladybug wraps a hand loosely around Adrien's arm before he can test the wall and find out.  Her hold is loose, loose enough that Adrien doesn't have to stop for her.

He stills anyway, ears flicking towards his partner. 

"Rena, it's not a good idea to ask Chat to Cataclysm anything that's inconveniencing us," Ladybug says, fixing Rena Rouge with a piercing gaze.  "What if there's an akuma in the next hour and he can't recharge? Besides," there's a very strange tone in her voice now, one Adrien can't identify, "You still need to actually ask him." 

Adrien pauses. 

He hadn't even realised that Rena had assumed he would use Cataclysm on their request.  That's what has him on edge.  

He does that for Ladybug, after all, but that's- that's different.  That's only in battle, anyway, and that's because she's the better strategist of the two of them.  Adrien's nowhere near too proud to admit that, not when it's saved both their lives so many times.  He spends far more time in battle with Ladybug than he does with Rena Rouge or Carapace, and a lot of the time what might look like Ladybug commanding him to use his powers is actually silent agreement- they understand each other without words better than Adrien's ever experienced or expected before her.  He's starting to have something similar with Nino, now, but it doesn't come anywhere close to approaching the unspoken connection he shares with Ladybug and if he's honest he doesn't want it to.  That bond with Ladybug is something he treasures as much as he does his kwami. 

A lot of that bond is probably forged through battle, through needing to know what the other is planning without words. 

Adrien likes to think there's more to it than that, even though Plagg groans and complains and generally makes an overall nuisance of himself anytime Adrien tries to suggest things like fate or destiny.  Adrien likes the idea, even if his kwami and his partner have both made it clear that they don't.   

Carapace is giving Rena an unreadable look, too.  "Not cool, dude.  You'd never normally forget that, it's not cool to do that to Chat." He turns back to Chat Noir too fast to pick up on Rena's stricken face.  "Those do look different, though.  Would Cataclysm even get us through there, or would it just take out-" He waves vaguely at the bridge foundations around them- and the bridge itself above them. 

"I don't know," Adrien admits, leaning away from Ladybug just enough to run his claws over the bricks.  (She seems reluctant to let go of him, now).  "They're not that distinct from the other bricks, and I don't really want to have to claw our way out of a snowdrift that size.  Or a rubble drift that size." 

Carapace squares his shoulders, levelling his gaze just beyond Adrien and Ladybug.  "We could try it inside Shellter, if you're up for it."  He glances back at them both, expression softening, and adds, "I've got extra food on me, too. I know it isn't what your kwami prefer, but they'll eat somethin' else in a pinch, yeah?"

"Yeah," Adrien says absently, studying the wall again in light of Carapace's suggestion.  "Yeah, they will.  And I have got some of Plagg's recharge on me, so as long as no one else attacks, we'll be okay." 

"If no one else attacks," Ladybug murmurs, but under her breath enough that Adrien's the only one who hears her.  She doesn't sound that worried, and when he darts a glance at her she doesn't look very worried, either, and he relaxes a little bit. 

Maybe more than a little, judging by the way Ladybug startles before giving him a strange look. 

Carapace hesitates, looking between them, before taking a deep breath.  "And if this goes where I know we all think it goes, then it's gonna be real dark in there.  Chat Noir's the only one who's gonna be able to see and I, uh, I d-don't really mind if you know who I am, dude." 

That hits Adrien with such a physical sensation of shock that it leaves him outright stunned.  He tries to come up with a response for Carapace and fails, ears flattening slowly as he blinks at Carapace instead. 

"No one's gonna be able to see Chat Noir, we'll have enough time to get away from any light," Carapace adds hurriedly, but he's still looking at Adrien as he says it.  "He'll be able to see me, but that's it, dudes.  Is- is that alright, LB?" 

Adrien's not sure what his expression is when he turns to Ladybug, but he's guessing it lands somewhere between 'nervous' and 'hopeful.' 

Ladybug holds up the hand not still holding on to Adrien, shaking her head.  "I'm leaving that up to you two this time.  You know it's a safety consideration, Carapace, but-" Her eyes flit between Chat and Carapace so fast that Adrien almost thinks he imagined it.  "I trust you both, and I'd trust Chat Noir with- with anything, so it's your decision to make." 

Adrien notices that tiny skip before anything, that odd little hitch in his partner's breath, but he doesn't have time to react beyond his heart possibly missing a few beats. 

"I'm all for it," Carapace says immediately, swinging his shield off his back again and moving forward.  "Chat Noir? You up for this, dude?" 

Adrien has some follow-up questions, honestly, but they're for Ladybug alone so he forces them back.  "Ready when you are." 

"Turtle power," Carapace says, halfway to a shout like he changed his mind halfway through, only for his eyebrows to shoot up when Rena Rouge echoes him much louder. 

They're back to grinning when Adrien glances back at them, but there's a shadow in their eyes now as they look between him and Carapace that he doesn't think he's ever seen before. 

He really doesn't think they meant to phrase their request as a command.  It isn't like Adrien had even noticed they'd done it. 

But he can't deny the warmth that wraps him at the way Carapace and Ladybug had told them not to, a warmth strong enough to chase away the chill of the storm.  He would never have expected them to come to his defence like that, not when he was only marginally aware there was anything he was being defended from.  

Carapace halts a good few feet away from the wall, planting his shield in front of him and leaning against it for a moment. He wipes snow from his hood and turns to raise his eyebrows at Ladybug.  "Uh, LB? I'm gonna need you to let go of him. Unless you wanna be in on this, somehow?" 

"...right."  Ladybug clears her throat and steps away from Adrien.  "I don't think this is a Lucky Charm situation." 

 

"Don't say that just yet," Rena jokes, joining Ladybug.  There's a strain in their voice that wasn't there before, but when Adrien looks at them it doesn't show in their face. 

"Ready?" Carapace asks, and Adrien eyes the wall and nods.  "'Kay, same time, or?" He waits for Adrien's shrug before calling, "Shellter!" 

Adrien's "Cataclysm!" almost-but-not-quite overlaps his teammate's shout. 

He thinks he hears Ladybug and Rena Rouge both giggling. 

Adrien ignores that as much as he can, studying the bit of wall trapped inside Shellter with himself and Carapace.  If he'd thought of it he would have asked Carapace to keep himself outside of their Shellter, but there's not a whole lot he can do about it now, so Adrien tries not to jostle the other hero too much when Carapace joins him in studying the bricks. 

"Any particular spot you're focusing on, dude?" Carapace says in an undertone, leaning over Adrien's shoulder in a way that makes him shiver. 

He definitely hears their partners giggle that time.  (Rena might not officially be Carapace's partner the way he and Ladybug are, but- Adrien's seen them fight).  

"No," Adrien admits, raising his hand and hesitating.  He doesn't want to accidentally bury Carapace any more than he does the others, but when he tries to sidle more in front of him Carapace stays stubbornly right where he is. 

Adrien takes a deep breath and swipes at the wall, only to startle when Carapace's shield suddenly locks into place over both their heads. 

The bricks mostly crumble away from them anyway, but Adrien still turns to see Carapace giving him the side-eye.  "Hey, dude, I know you get protective, but I've got a shield, yeah?  You don't gotta keep putting yourself in danger for the rest of us." 

Ladybug actually starts clapping at that. 

Adrien turns to give her a dirty look, but she only graces him with a sunny smile in return. 

And, well- he'd be lying if he said that smile didn't do things to him, so he can hardly hold on to any irritation now

"Into the murder tunnels!" Rena cheers, pushing past the rest of them with a flick of their tail.  "Last one in's a caterpillar!" 

"Why a-" Carapace winces, apparently catching a joke that flies right past Adrien.  "Oh, that's cruel." 

He still makes a point of getting through their broken wall right after Rena, Adrien notices. 

Adrien doesn't realise he's waiting for Ladybug until she takes his hand again to tug him in alongside her.  "Then the two of us can go together."  She raises her voice, echoing oddly even just inside the tunnels.  "How does that one work out for the caterpillars, Rena?" 

Rena's voice, conversely, is strangely muffled.  "Well now you're both bugging me." 

"You are worse than Chat," Ladybug groans, but she squeezes his hand when she says it. 

(By now, Adrien is trying to figure out if he said something, or did something, around Ladybug at some point to make her worry.  She does reassure him often, but not like this, and especially not in front of teammates.  She's been barely willing to let go of him this whole time, and while that's not uncommon for him it's a lot less usual for Ladybug.  He thinks something must have spooked her- he just has no idea what). 

It's still cold in the tunnels, but it doesn't feel like the wind's trying to cut right through him anymore.  Adrien winces as he reaches up to rub at the base of his cat ears, gently- he hadn't realised until now that the cold combined with the rivets had been sapping so much of his body heat. 

Ladybug reaches up and runs a soothing hand between his ears herself, startling a very loud purr out of him, startling them both.

Ladybug snatches her hand back, red spreading out beyond the edges of her mask as Chat watches in confused fascination. 

They're both broken out of their sudden trance by their teammate's voices.

"There's a split in the path up here," Rena calls back, which goes a way to explain why their voice isn't echoing the same way as Ladybug's. "I'm gonna head left, I think." 

"Rena," Ladybug says, raising her voice just enough that Adrien goes still for a moment too long and she leans into him, traces of her blush beginning to fade already.  "I know you can't see, why are you in the lead?" 

As if to underscore that, Carapace's Miraculous beeps from somewhere up ahead.  Adrien's own Miraculous beeps barely a second later.

"I got curious!" Rena sounds a little closer, and Adrien and Ladybug hit the split in the path themselves in time for Adrien to put out a hand and keep either of them from walking into a wall- or Carapace, who's standing at the fork in the path. 

"I stopped when I realised there was a split," Carapace admits, dryly. 

Even in the darkness, though, Adrien can see the way Carapace's arms are folded defensively, his opposite hand hovering protectively over his beeping Miraculous, and thinks that's not the only reason that he stopped. 

Carapace looks a lot more nervous about his Miraculous running down than Adrien had expected. 

Gratitude floods through him.  Adrien tries to let go of Ladybug's hand long enough to go rest his hand on Carapace's shoulder, but like before Ladybug seems reluctant to let go. 

Adrien's sure she would if he made any real attempt to pull away, but he's a little afraid that if he does that she won't want to stay close like this again. He settles for laying his free hand across Carapace's crossed arms. 

"You know," Adrien starts, nerves starting through him like a tripped current now, making his ears flatten and his tail flick.  He's abruptly very grateful that he's the only one in here with night vision.  "If you don't want me to know, you could always just follow Rena Rouge? We can head the other way."  His smile's wry, even if no one can see it.  "Our weapons have probably got a flashlight function on top of everything else, honestly."  

"I don't think it's occurred to Rena to check," Carapace says dryly, but he uncrosses his arms as he says it.  "Nah, dude.  If it's still okay with LB, I kinda- I actually kinda wanted you to know?"  Carapace isn't really looking at Adrien to begin with, he's looking somewhere to his left, but as he says that he looks away anyway and raises one hand to the back of his neck.  His Miraculous beeps again.  "I dunno, dude, I just.  It seemed important to me." 

Adrien makes a noise in response, or he's pretty sure he does.  He doesn't know what kind of noise it is, but he does know that it makes Ladybug draw him closer and slide her hand from his own hand to his arm and then up to his shoulder. 

Both the way he leans into her touch and his quiet purr are automatic responses, pulled out of him without conscious thought. 

"It's his decision, kitty," Ladybug says, softly, and Adrien's ears twitch towards her at the undercurrent of guilt in her voice.  "It's- it's not really a decision I should ever have been making for the rest of you." 

Adrien stops purring.

"Including you," Ladybug adds, even quieter.  "Sorry, Chat." 

"But you," Adrien starts, and then he has no words for an interminable moment, before he manages to blurt out, "But you had a- have a good reason." 

Ladybug doesn't look at him as she shrugs and says, still very quiet, "Everyone's already in danger.  Hawkmoth has all of Paris under constant threat, really, and a lot of my friends and family have already been akumatised.  I don't think any of us knowing about each other is going to have any actual effect on who gets targeted." 

Adrien's heart jars so badly at her words, at the implication in her words, that he doesn't think he could respond if he tried. 

"Besides," Carapace adds, and he's very close to his final beep as he lowers his hand and looks between them, "You were worried Hawkface could figure out identities from his akuma, right? An' now we know he can't." 

We do? Adrien wants to ask- starts to ask- but that's when Carapace's transformation gives out entirely and Adrien's train of thought goes crashing to a halt before it can pick up any momentum. 

He thinks he says Nino's name, or tries to, but if he does it's not recognisable. 

"Hey, dude," Nino says, adjusting his hat as Wayzz flits up to the brim.  Nino pauses long enough to fish a crumpled bag of tamarind candy out of his pocket, handing it up to his kwami.  "I'm Nino, you've uh, you've actually met me a few times?"  His hand's creeping up to the back of his neck again.  "Dunno if you'd remember me, but I was there for, uh, Anansi? Zombizou and Horrificator, too.  And, um, Jackady.  Probably a few more than that..."

Nino trails off with a wince, and Adrien remembers vividly how much Nino never wants to talk about Bubbler.  Not that Adrien would ever ask him to, but some of their classmates do want to talk about being akumatised, and they aren't always the best at noticing right away when someone would rather not. 

Most of them would rather not.   

Adrien takes a step closer to Nino, seized with a sudden terrible need to hug him, and stumbles to a jarring halt.  Nino doesn't know that it's him, can't know that it's him-

But Ladybug is starting to imply that might not be true for much longer, and Adrien can see Nino's crestfallen expression when he stops, and he feels Ladybug's hand slip off his shoulder as he darts in to hug Nino anyway. 

"I know who you are," Adrien says, wrapping his arms around Nino tightly, the same way Nino hugs him.  It had taken Adrien a while to get used to the way his friends hug him regularly, and he hadn't expected the way they all hug him differently, and Nino gives some of the best hugs.  Adrien's not very good at emulating them yet, because he can't seem to rid himself of his initial hesitation where Nino's never hesitated,  but he's been trying.  "You were amazing with Anansi. If I'd been the one to choose Carapace, it still would have been you." 

"You were a little tied up at the time, dude," Nino jokes weakly, but he returns Adrien's embrace just as strongly as ever without saying a word about it. 

Adrien's ring beeps a final time before his own transformation lets go. 

The freezing chill in the air weaves around and through him immediately, sinking straight through his clothes, and when he starts to shiver he notices for the first time how badly Nino is shivering.  Neither one of them is dressed for this weather.  No one had expected this weather, the four of them should really be getting on with their actual patrol to make sure no one else is caught out in it. 

Not that any of them can see through the blizzard outside the tunnels, not even him and Plagg, but he still feels like they should try. 

When Adrien shivers again, Nino hugs him closer.  Adrien is much, much warmer everywhere Nino's in contact with him, and Ladybug's near enough his side still to light a line of warmth as well. 

"Okay, is anyone coming or am I off to explore the murder tunnels on my own?" Rena Rouge calls, leaning from the split corridor and eyeing them with their lips twitching into a faint smile.  "Seriously, I may get murdered, I feel like at least one of you should care." 

"You'll be fine," Nino says, muffled because he still hasn't let go of Adrien.  Adrien's pretty sure Ladybug and Plagg are both laughing at them.  He thinks Wayzz might be laughing at them, and he doesn't think he's ever seen Wayzz laugh. 

"Kids," Plagg sighs, spiralling up above them both before perching on Adrien's head.  "You are hopeless." 

Adrien tilts his head back, trying not to grin as Plagg stubbornly stays put.  He knows Plagg can see in the dark just as well as he can- Plagg's going to know exactly how Adrien is reacting. 

Not that Adrien really minds that.  He's so used to having Plagg around now that he can't imagine his kwami not being there.

(Feast had been bad for them both.  For a week after Feast Plagg had abandoned his usual habit of somehow taking up half the bed in favour of staying curled up on Adrien's shoulder all night- and Adrien's not sure that Plagg slept at all that week.  He knows how paranoid his kwami had been right after Feast.  Adrien had been too). 

"All right, you hopeless cat," Ladybug says, amusement clear in her tone as she reaches for Adrien's shoulder again.  "You're the only one who can see, where are we going?" 

"Hey, cheese first," Plagg interjects, digging down into Adrien's hair in a way that makes him wince.  He knows Plagg won't scratch him, but he also knows there are claws very close to his scalp right now, and it makes him want to hiss and bat his kwami off. 

Which Plagg knows.  Plagg is definitely doing it to irritate him. 

Adrien's not rising to it.  He's not.  He lets go of Nino to fish out Plagg's Camembert and hands it up to his kwami.  "Do not get cheese crumbs in my hair, please, do you know how hard that is to get out?" 

Nino and Ladybug both snicker at that.  Wayzz sighs, huddling closer to Nino's hat.  Wayzz is probably about as thrilled with the cold as the rest of them.  

"It is a pain, though," Adrien says, whining more than a little, knowing he's whining and revelling in not caring because no one here is going to judge him for it. 

Nino does the same thing he always does when Adrien whines at him, which is to reach for his hair to ruffle it, and for the first time Adrien jerks away. 

Nino's hand drops to his side, his face doing something very complicated that Adrien can't read.  "Sorry, dude, didn't mean to startle you." 

"You didn't, you were about to get between Plagg and his cheese.  Didn't want you to get bit," Adrien says, stepping sideways without knowing why until Ladybug's arm wraps around his waist, a sudden flare of warmth that wards against the cold.  Adrien's lungs restrict so fast and suddenly at the sensation that he checks to make sure it is her arm and not her yo-yo, even as he tells himself that wouldn't make any sense.   

But he didn't think Ladybug would want to risk learning what he wears as a civilian. 

(Which is, sadly, not winter weather gear at the moment- they hadn't been prepared enough for that.  It is still freezing, Adrien can't feel his fingertips or toes.  He's really starting to hope that either their kwami have a solution for that or that he can transform back soon).

Ladybug doesn't move away, and she doesn't say anything about it.

I don't think any of us knowing about each other-

She'd said any of us.

Adrien suppresses another shiver as he huddles closer to her.  It's not from the cold, this time.

"Wait, Plagg bites?" Nino sounds bemused.  When Adrien looks back to him, Nino's blowing into his hands and rubbing them, which suddenly seems like a very good idea to Adrien.

"Of course I bite," Plagg grumbles, shifting on Adrien's head.  He must already be done with his cheese.  "Why wouldn't I bite?  Why wouldn't you bite?  You think Wayzz doesn't bite?"

Wayzz sniffs before drifting back down off Nino's hat.  "I do not bite." 

"Trixx bites.  Tikki bites."  Plagg sounds gleeful.  "Why wouldn't you?  Biting's a valid tactic."  

"Why wouldn't I bite?" The look Nino gives Plagg is deeply disturbed. "I don't-"

"I bite," Rena calls brightly from the next tunnel, and for the first time Adrien wonders exactly how close they were when Nino introduced himself.  He knows from Ladybug already that Carapace and Rena do know each other's identities, but he doesn't think that they know that he knows that.  "He's got a point, Cara, why wouldn't you bite?  You've got teeth, use'em." 

"I was going to go with Rena," Nino tells Ladybug, twisting slightly as Wayzz drops down to his hands.  "Now I'm way less sure about that." 

Rena leans on the wall, lounging in a very deliberate way that wouldn't look out of place in some of Adrien's upcoming photo shoots. 

If he's honest with himself, he's desperately hoping an akuma interrupts those.  Adrien had argued against doing them at all but he'd ultimately lost- he always loses, because a lot of Father's points aren't bad points.  Adrien is older now, and it does sell well, and he's hardly the first model to move on to something more mature and it's really not that suggestive, not at his age.

But Adrien still really doesn't want to do it.  Father had been implacably insistent that that is not a reason, while sternly reminding Adrien that it's not good to make excuses for himself, and Adrien genuinely hadn't meant to make excuses especially when he knows how much Father hates that. 

But none of that erases how much he doesn't want to do it.

"I kinda need you to go with Rena," Ladybug's telling Nino when Adrien starts paying attention again.  Ladybug's smile is wistful, downturned at one corner.  "I've gotta talk to Chat about something- it's nothing bad," she adds hastily, probably in response to Adrien stiffening at her words.  "It's important, but it's not bad, kitty, okay?" 

Even though she'd been talking to Nino initially, Ladybug waits for Adrien's faint acknowledgement before she continues to negotiate with Nino. 

Nino and Adrien can both transform again by now, and the paralysing chill in the air means Adrien's extremely grateful when he can relax back into the warmth and reassurance of his leather and mask and the comforting weight of his ears and tail.  

He's always wanted to ask Ladybug if she feels the same way about transforming, but he's never been brave enough. 

He's not even brave enough now, now when Ladybug is waving their teammates away down one tunnel while the two of them take to the other. 

"Stay safe 'til we meet back up, dudes," Carapace says, touching his shield absently as if for luck, and now that Adrien knows who Carapace is it's so easy to recognise the play of real concern in Nino's eyes, so familiar behind his goggles. 

If he didn't recognise Nino until Nino told him, what else might he be missing?

Who else might he be missing?

"Holler if you get murdered," Rena calls from their tunnel, far too cheerfully.

"We will haunt you forever if we get murdered," Ladybug threatens back, but her laugh as she says it rings like church bells in Adrien's ears.  When she gently pulls him further into the tunnels in the opposite direction, he follows without hesitation, leaving Rena Rouge and Carapace behind in the lightless tunnels.

He's not even sure Rena and Carapace bothered to find out if their weapons really will act as flashlights. 

He knows how capable Nino is, and Rena is no slouch either, so he isn't too worried about them as long as they're together. 

It feels strangely familiar to walk through the dark with Ladybug.  He can see, and she can't, and he really should be leading but Ladybug's steps are soft and sure and all Adrien really has to do is stop her from walking into a wall every once in a while.  Now that they're getting farther away from Rena and Carapace, the loudest sound is their own breathing, and if it was anyone else in the tunnels with him that would be unnerving but he's not with anyone else.  Ladybug's breathing, especially as it slows to match to his own, is a familiar comfort instead. 

Adrien's not sure how long they're in the tunnel before they stop.  Time seems stretched and unreal, between the dark and the silence and the warmth of Ladybug's hand in his.  He can still occasionally hear the furious howl of the wind outside when they pass a branching or a turn but it seems remote and distant now, a wind from another world.

The tunnels are a maze, really, and they definitely shouldn't be doing this.  Normally Adrien wouldn't be doing this, because there aren't enough exits down here and it makes his fur- makes his hair bristle, but he has Plagg and Ladybug and he can Cataclysm an exit into existence if he has to.  That doesn't completely stop the nervous flickers of his ears and tail, or the way his head tilts towards every sound from outside that catches his attention, but it does ward off most of his anxiety. 

He has Ladybug.  He has Plagg.  Nino's in here somewhere, too, and Rena Rouge- and Adrien is trying not to think about it, but if Nino is Carapace then he knows who Rena has to be.  Adrien doesn't refer to the two of them mentally as partners for no reason, and Nino is far too devoted a boyfriend for Rena Rouge to be anyone else. 

And Rena is clever.  Alya isn't out to very many people at all yet, and Rena Rouge is out to all of Paris.  One of their favourite things to do is to outfox reporters who either won't respect Rena's identity or who are determined to focus on it over their hero work; they very obviously take vicious delight in shutting those interviews down. 

They're also very determined to make sure everyone knows their city has a nonbinary hero.  They want to be visible about it.   

(Marc had come out two weeks after Rena's first relevant interview.  Their pronoun pins are very noticeably fox themed). 

Ladybug finally stops somewhere deep in the dark and lets go of Adrien, dragging him back to reality. 

"This seems like a good place.  Warmer than we were, too."  Ladybug says that last bit almost absently, as if it's an afterthought, even though Adrien knows the cold hits her worst of them all.

"You wanted to talk," Adrien says, his voice softer than he means it to be.  It's nearly swallowed up in the darkness of the tunnel, drifting off at the end like the snow outside.

Ladybug takes up a position against the opposite wall, bracing herself against it as she raises her eyes to meet his.  She actually does meet his eyes, even in the enveloping dark, and though Adrien knows she can't possibly see him he still feels the usual spark when their eyes lock.

Ladybug takes a deep breath and holds it for long moment.  On her exhale, she says, "Chat.  Why aren't you going home at night?"

Adrien freezes.

"I know you're not," Ladybug continues, her voice suddenly terribly gentle.  "I know you've been out on m-Marinette's balcony." Her lips twitch, though this time her smile is sad.  "You know she knows you're out there, right?  You might be good at hiding, cat, but every night?  That's where the skylight opens.  From her room.  I- she was bound to notice." 

Some distant part of Adrien, the part that connected Alya and Rena whether he meant to or not, is clamouring for his attention.  Ladybug just spilled a lot more detail about Marinette's home than he'd expect from a casual acquaintance. 

The rest of him is struggling to come up with an excuse. 

You shouldn't make excuses-

But these aren't excuses.  These are reasons

"I, uh." Adrien swallows.  His throat is suddenly very dry. 

Ladybug is waiting patiently, and he knows if just tells her he doesn't want to talk about it she'll let it drop.  She always has. 

But he- he kind of does want to talk about it.  He hasn't told anyone else, not after Father had shut down all Adrien's pleas not to have to do it, and he's far less embarrassed talking to Ladybug than he would be anyone else.  There won't be any escaping the gossip once the photo shoot is done and the magazines are out, but Adrien had hoped to stave it off for as long as he could.  He hears enough gossip.  He doesn't want to hear people, classmates, strangers talking about the magazine's slow edge into more mature poses. 

Lila's supposed to be in some of those photos.  If she tries to turn any of them provocative the way he suspects she might, Adrien is deeply tempted to try and cause an akumatisation on purpose so he can get away.

Ladybug is still waiting, but she's slid down the opposite wall to take a seat on the ground.  Adrien follows suit, wincing a little as the freezing ground makes a solid attempt to leech body heat even through his suit, but Ladybug stretches out enough that their legs tangle together and that sends an entirely new rush of heat through him.

"I had... an argument with my father," he says slowly, feeling his way cautiously around what he wants to tell his partner.  There are things he knows Ladybug sort of suspects about his civilian life already, and some of them are correct and some of them aren't, and he's honestly not sure which category this falls under.  "He got his way in the end anyway, but he- didn't- like-"  He swallows again, and he's unwelcomely surprised when his throat seems to stay constricted. 

It's difficult to get the next few words out, and Adrien almost chokes more than once, and Ladybug leans forward and takes his hand again. 

She runs her nails soothingly over his glove, tracing tiny circles and occasionally thumbing at his wrist cuff.  "What didn't he like, minou?  Why did you stop sleeping at home?"  She narrows her eyes, letting their hands drop lower but tightening her grip rather than letting go.  "You are sleeping, right?"

"Yes," he says hastily, because his partner's latched her teeth into this idea strongly enough already. "I'm getting sleep, I promise."  He can't say enough sleep, because that would be a lie and he won't lie to her, but from the way Ladybug eyes him immediately he thinks she knows that. 

"Chat Noir."  Ladybug leans in closer, which doesn't help Adrien's need to swallow around the desert in his throat.  "What didn't he like?  Chat, why did you stop going home?

Her thumb presses harder into his hand at that, just hard enough to make him flinch, and she retreats as quickly as if he'd bitten her. 

(Thank you for that image, Plagg). 

"He-" Adrien has no idea why this is so hard to tell her.  He tells Ladybug everything she'll let him, and she'll let him tell her quite a lot.  Never anything about his identity, not before now, but she's let him ramble for three hours straight to her about the most recent anime he'd watched, or talk about his favourite Jagged Stone album for a full patrol, or explain in gleeful and excruciating detail what the newest destructive chemical experiment he and Plagg have found on YouTube is about. (A couple of those have seen use in Lucky Charms, now). 

Adrien loves talking to her.  He loves talking to her so much, because she listens.  Even if he thinks it's dumb, even if he knows it's dumb, she still listens.  He might be an overexcited cat about anything that interests him, but he's her overexcited cat.

She always listens, and it's that thought that he clings to long enough to say, "He doesn't like it when I- when I disagree with him."  Adrien drops his gaze, unable to keep looking at his partner even knowing that she can't see him.  "And there's- something- there's something he wants me to do, that I don't want to do, and he-" He swallows again, wishing desperately that he had a glass of water handy. 

Or even that he'd stayed detransformed.  He could have Plagg had take over explaining for him, even though he knows Plagg will exaggerate and try to make Adrien's situation seem worse than it really is.  

And something suddenly clicks in Adrien's head, and when more words start to tumble out of him he can't stop them.   They come faster and faster as his heart rate rises.

He still wants his kwami, but for a different set of reasons now.

"Father really doesn't like it when I argue with him.  I've been grounded recently, and there's a gua- a lock on the door," he can't admit to a guard, bodyguards aren't a thing most people their age have.  

He really can't stop now.  It feels like a dam's burst inside his head and Adrien can't stop responding to his partner's obvious concern. 

"My lady, I don't like feeling trapped. I hate it, I want to get out but then when I get out I have to go somewhere, and M-Marinette's balcony is- open, and inviting, and I didn't think she'd mind so I- it's only until he forgets about it.  He'll forget about it."  His ears flatten, and at some point he'd pulled his tail around to fidget with the buckle with the hand Ladybug isn't clinging to.  "I didn't even manage to convince him, anyway.  I know he doesn't- doesn't see it the way I do, but I still don't want to do it.  But I didn't convince him, and he's not going to give me another chance."

His voice goes more and more strained as he starts to run out of words again, and he ducks his head and focuses on his tail and on his partner's hand on his.   

Ladybug's silent, but he knows her well enough not to panic at that.  She listens, and if it's something he's actively upset about she thinks about it instead of responding right away, and he loves her for that because it means she often has at least part of a solution for him. 

(And because it reassures him that she does listen.  She's not ignoring him.  He knows she's not ignoring him, because she makes sure he knows). 

Adrien waits, letting himself fidget in a way he doesn't do around very many people, as the silence stretches on.  Just when it actually does start to make him anxious, Ladybug moves. 

"Tikki, spots off." 

Adrien's still staring at their hands, but his eyes slam shut on reflex anyway. 

"Kitty."  Her voice is so gentle, even now.  "Chat, you can look.  It's okay." 

"You said not to."  He doesn't look up, no matter how much he wants to (and oh, how he wants to).  Adrien doesn't open his eyes at all.  "My lady, you aren't wrong about the danger.  If Hawkmoth ever akumatises me-" 

"If Hawkmoth ever akumatises you, and he will not if I have anything to say about it, then my priority will be you, Chat," Ladybug says, firmly. 

The obvious strength of her conviction is almost enough to snap his head up, but Adrien makes a concerted effort not to look, no matter how badly he wants to.  "My lady.  It's not safe." 

"No one is safe, not now."  Ladybug sounds infinitely sad as she says that.  "So many of my friends and family have already been akumatised at least once.  It feels like a matter of time for the rest.  If we do this, then at least we'll know when we're fighting each other's families, and we can keep each other on track better." She takes his other hand, although she doesn't move it from his tail.  She runs her fingers along the belt buckle alongside his, instead.  "This isn't a whim, Chat Noir, I've thought about it.  I've been talking to Tikki about it all week and she agrees, and she's never agreed before.  Besides, I-" Ladybug audibly swallows.  "I want you to know.  I kinda need you to know, now.  I don't think you hear what I hear when you talk about your father, kitty, but I want to help you and I can't." 

He does look up then, slowly, so slow that he sees all the tiny details first but his eyes and mind refuse to cooperate long enough to put them together. 

There was real anguish in her voice, and he can't not react to that. 

It's a strange sort of shock that hits him, one that settles sluggish in his blood instead of striking him all at once like it had with Nino. 

Because Carapace doesn't fight with them that often.  He can forgive himself not seeing Nino in his teammate, when Nino's never let a single hint slip before today. 

But Ladybug?  He sees Ladybug every day, or just about.  He trusts her with everything he has, everything he is, she's his other half and he aches when he goes too long without seeing her- and too long varies between 'a few days' and 'about an hour,' sometimes.  She's part of him, like they're each half the pieces to a puzzle too complex and wonderful to see at once, too varied and fantastic to be completed with only one and not the other. 

And he loves her, adores her, more than anything. 

Which means his heart is crumbling at the thought that he's never recognised her. 

(But hasn't he- in a million small ways, a hundred tiny interactions that suddenly start to add up, the puzzle's framework snapping into place at last-

- he has recognised her.  They'd found each other so much more quickly than he'd have thought, and she's been so close all this time, and Adrien thinks there's a spark he treasures deep inside that leapt from her to him and him to her that day with the umbrella). 

He gets her name out on the second try.  "Marinette?" 

"You can come inside at night, you know," she says, leaning forwards and drawing his hands closer to her.  She has to be freezing, and Tikki's already darted down to huddle between them in the warmest spot she can find, but Marinette isn't reacting to the cold at all beyond her shivers.  "If it's the being inside you don't like the idea of, I can leave the skylight open.  If that's not enough I can at least bring blankets up to the balcony with me.  You're going to get yourself sick sleeping out there, kitty." 

Kitty grounds him, pulls him back and earths him in the moment again, and his startled burst of shock is beginning to dissipate.  He hadn't known and he can't believe he hadn't known, but that means that he sees her.  He's seen Ladybug in Marinette for a long time without making the connection, and now that it feels like he's had a curtain ripped away he sees Marinette in Ladybug just as much. 

And he loves her, and she's trying to ask him something. 

"You don't have to tell me who you are," Marinette says, haltingly.  "I meant what I said earlier.  I shouldn't be the one making that decision for everyone, but especially not for you." 

"You're in charge, LB."  His voice comes out far unsteadier than he would like.  "You know it was always your lead I would follow."   

Her hands slide easily to his forearms, and he has no idea why until she shakes him.  (But gently- always, always gently).  "Chat, we're partners.  You get a say too." 

He wants to tell her, because he's always wanted to tell her.  He wants to tell her. 

But now that he actually can he's finding himself terrified to tell her.

And he has no idea why. 

"If you don't want to say, you don't have to say."  Marinette lets go and leans back again and Adrien immediately misses her warmth so much that he almost scrambles after her.  He stops himself, but barely.  "But Chat- this thing you don't want to do.  How can I help?"  She lowers her voice.  "How bad is it?"   

He tries to smile, but it feels so cracked that he's relieved she can't see him.  "I'm starting to seriously consider trying to get someone akumatised so I don't have to do it?"

"Oh I can relate to that," Marinette mutters, which is a much better response than he'd been hoping for.  "That's pretty serious, though, kitty.  You really have to do this?" 

"Father's never been good at taking a no for an answer."  Adrien's hands clench involuntarily, his claws scraping in a way that makes him glad that Marinette let go after all.  "And I'm not going to get to argue it with him a second time."  If he can even call the first time an argument.  Father had barely let him speak, and having Nathalie loom silently at his back the whole time had ratcheted his battle instincts up to a hair trigger that had Adrien riled into putting up more of an argument than usual. 

He'd actually felt good about that, up until Father had grounded him and sent him to his room, with instructions to the Gorilla not to let him out for anything but previous obligations. 

(Instructions the Gorilla doesn't seem to feel obliged to listen to, but Adrien hadn't known that the first few days.  He'd only found out by accident when he failed to sneak past and the Gorilla had gestured him along a clear path to the exit instead of stopping him). 

"Seriously, Chat," Marinette says, pained.  "You can come sleep with- stay! Stay with! You can come stay with me any time, okay?"  She reaches out to ruffle his hair, brushing along the base of his ears, and Adrien doesn't even try to stop his purr. 

Tikki edges closer and peers up at both of them, her eyes boring through Adrien in a way that makes him shift uncomfortably.  Plagg does that, too, sometimes, but Plagg already lives with him.  There's nothing Plagg could find out now that he doesn't already know or at least strongly suspect. 

"If this would be easier for you with Plagg's company, you could detransform," Tikki offers, flitting up level with his eyes without moving away from Marinette.  "The night vision only belongs to you and him.  You wouldn't have to tell us." 

Adrien exhales so hard he thinks he expels all his oxygen for a second.  It certainly feels that way. 

He doesn't need convincing. 

"Plagg, claws in," he says, hands clenching again as his transformation falls. 

He wasn't wrong before, the tunnel is freezing.  Without the enhancement from his suit Adrien can't hear the winds from outside anymore but the storm must still be going strong. 

The first words out of Plagg's mouth this time are, "You gotta steal my kitten.  Also, I'm gonna bite his dad.  I'm gonna bite his dad so much." 

"Plagg," Adrien scolds, without much heat.  "We've talked about this." 

"You've talked about this.  I never agreed not to bite him."  Plagg zips up to hover between them.  "I'm serious by the way, steal him." 

"You don't steal people, Plagg," Marinette says, bemused.  "And it's still his choice, not the rest of ours." 

"You steal people when their other people are anything like his dad."  Plagg loops, darting down and phasing into Adrien's overshirt to snag the last of his cheese. 

"Plagg, he's my father."  Adrien's very much back to not looking Marinette in the eye.  He doesn't know why he thought Plagg would make this easier.  Making things easier is not what Plagg does.  

"Kid, he's terrible."  Plagg doesn't perch on his head this time.  He cuddles close against Adrien's chest instead, a tiny speck of warmth as he floats in place right over Adrien's heart.  "I know you wanna defend him but I live there too, an' he's terrible.  I want to get out." 

"I didn't know that.  You never said." Adrien raises his hand, compulsively splaying it over his kwami, careful not to cage Plagg in.  Even knowing Plagg can phase away, Adrien doesn't like the sight of his kwami caged in, not even- or maybe especially- by his own hands.  "Did you- do you need to leave?"  Adrien tries to hide the pain that rolls  through him like banked lightning at the idea, but he'd hate himself if he didn't ask.  "I wouldn't make you stay." 

Plagg drops his cheese and nips Adrien, so lightly that it almost doesn't register.  "Not without you, kid, you're mine."  At a disapproving noise from Tikki, followed by what sounds like a quick scolding in another language, Plagg grudgingly amends, "My chosen, that is.  You're my chosen, I don't mind hangin' out with your girlfriend here sometimes but you're mi- my chosen."  Adrien's pretty sure Tikki just gave his kwami a dark look.  "M'not going without you, what's the point." 

"You weren't going home tonight either, were you?" Marinette asks shrewdly.  "Kitty, this weather's not supposed to let up for days.  You can't sleep outside in this, you'll freeze.  My room's not huge but there's plenty of space for you.  And if there wasn't I would make space for you."  

"M-Marinette?"  He doesn't think he's ever stammered like he has today around Marinette or Ladybug.  He hadn't expected so much of today. 

"Chat?" Marinette slides closer now, nearly into his lap with the way their legs are already tangled, and Adrien has a sudden powerful urge to clutch her close to him.  They're both shivering hard now, and they really should retransform before the cold gets to them.  He doesn't think their kwami will let anything too bad happen to them but it's not fair to put that on the little gods.

Adrien swallows, looking at Marinette's bright blue eyes, so close and vivid that he sees them in after-images when he blinks.  "We don't have a flashlight." 

It doesn't take her long to figure out what he means.  It never does. 

"But I'll see you tonight anyway," she says, touching one earring in a gesture of comfort he recognises easily, now.  "And there's plenty of light to see you by at home." 

"Kid?"  Plagg circles just far enough away to look him in the face.  "C'mon, I know we're goin' anyway, I don't want to freeze out on the roof." 

"Plagg," Marinette and Tikki say in unison, and Plagg snickers. 

Adrien cups his hands around his kwami, loosely.  "I'll- yes.  I'll be there.  Um, tonight."  He glances down.  "As soon as I can get out."

"If you ever need a jailbreak, call me and I'll bail you out, no questions asked."  Marinette's smiling when he chances another look at her, but her voice rang with enough sincerity for Adrien to know to take her offer seriously.

Tikki insists they retransform, after that.  They're both losing body heat, even huddled together in the tunnels, and the suits are much better protection than they'll find anywhere else. 

"Hey!  'Grats on not getting murdered!" Rena Rouge says as soon as they meet back up, tilting their head in a way that flops one ear playfully, and the mischievous spark in their eyes is all Alya- or maybe all Alya-and-Trixx. 

It's strange, to suddenly know all his teammates so well.  He'd known them already from fighting alongside them, but this is different. 

This is the revelation that his team is made up of his closest friends, something he'd never even dared to fantasize about. 

"Who else was aware we are not the only weirdos down in the murder tunnels today?"  Nino sounds far more tired than he had before they split up.  "Because I did not enjoy learning that." 

"He almost got shanked," Rena shares in a stage whisper. 

Carapace gives her a dirty look.  "So did you."  

They shrug.  "Semantics." 

The storm's not over, but then it shows no signs of ending any time soon.

"We can't even get out to look for people in this," Carapace says, thumbing at his goggles.  "Even with these, I can't see anything out there." 

Ladybug sighs.  "You're right.  I'd really hoped we could, but I think we'd all better head home.  It feels like our only other option is sleeping in here, and I am not in favour." 

"I kinda am," Rena says immediately, lounging against Carapace's side so suddenly that he stumbles.  "I love horror movies, it'd be fun.  Right, Cara?" 

"Rena."  He pries them carefully off, but Rena latches on again in seconds.  "The people willingly sleeping in the murder tunnels? Not the ones who survive the movie, dude." 

"Aw, you're no fun."  But they do move away this time.  "Ladybug, where do you want us to give our Miraculouses back? Because I'll be honest, I don't want to detransform in here.  Not a big fan of the shanking experience." 

"What did you- no, actually, I would rather not know.  And hey, Carapace and Chat Noir were totally willing to detransform in here." Ladybug stifles a snicker. "But, uh, actually? I want you to keep your Miraculous this time. At least until the blizzard's over."

Both of their friend's faces positively light up.

Adrien turns just in time to see Ladybug's guilty wince.

"Oh, I wanted more time with Trixx," Rena says, giddily. "Thank you, Ladybug, we'll be careful!"

Carapace's reaction isn't as pronounced, but he's still grinning as he adds, "Thanks for trustin' us, Chat, Ladybug."

The two of them make it to Marinette's quickly after that, though they separate to swing wide before meeting back up on her balcony, staggering their arrivals.

"Spots off," Marinette says breathlessly, landing on her bed and immediately tumbling out of the way to wave him down after her.

He hesitates, looking between her and the corner he's been taking shelter in recently. It's kind of a haphazard mix of furniture tucked up beneath her awning, because he hadn't felt right moving her furniture around too much and he'd felt too exposed when he tried to just curl up on one of her chairs to sleep. Curling up in the corner against the wall had settled his restlessness far more easily. 

"Kitty." Marinette doesn't say anything else, but she doesn't have to.

Adrien follows her down through the skylight, taking a deep breath and bracing himself for the conversations they need to have from here. His problems aren't solved, and while he trusts Marinette completely he doesn't actually know if this is something she can help with. Father's going to be suspicious if Adrien manages to slip out of all those photo shoots, especially after Adrien had tried to argue with him about it.

(But he still doesn't want- but Father doesn't care. Plagg's tried to tell him, but Adrien hasn't wanted to believe him. Father doesn't listen, because Father doesn't care, and Adrien hasn't wanted to believe his kwami because it hurts).

But Marinette will try to get him out of it. Marinette's the cleverest person he knows, and if anyone can succeed it's her.

With another steadying breath, reinforced by the way Marinette herself reaches out to steady him, Adrien breathes, "Claws in."

He barely sees Marinette's eyes go wide before she's pulling him into a hug, pressing close like Nino had earlier. He thinks that's probably a good sign but then he realises there are tears dripping down onto his neck.

"Oh."  Her quiet exhalation flutters against his neck.  "That's- I'm- " 

"Marinette?" Tikki flitters anxiously to Adrien's shoulder, peering down at her own chosen.  "Are you-" 

Marinette lifts her head, her face already tear-streaked, and blurts, "Iloveyou." 

Adrien reels back, feeling unnervingly like he's been hit upside the head.  (A sensation he is unhappily familiar with, given all their battles).

He's hoped so long to hear his partner say that someday that the reality doesn't feel real

"I love you too," he says back, nearly as rushed, because there's nothing else he can say. 

Marinette laughs shakily, trying to brush away her tears, but there are more every time she tries.  She's smiling too, or Adrien would be a lot more worried.  "I'm- I'm sorry, kitty, I'm.  You know- you know why I turned you down?" 

Adrien's arms turn leaden at the reminder.  "You- you love someone else." 

The way she ducks her head against him and tries to pull him impossibly closer revives feeling in his limbs, sparking through him like a static shock.  "You." 

"Sorry?" Adrien returns dumbly.  He knows there's something she's trying to get across, the same way he's always known there's something he's missing about Marinette's behaviour around him, but he still doesn't understand. 

It's a jarring sensation, when he's used to being so in sync with Ladybug.  He'd never have guessed it didn't carry over to their civilian selves automatically.  He's always assumed it would.  

"Hopeless," Plagg groans, flitting off to investigate Marinette's window.  He darts through it a few times before knocking the latch loose.  Adrien's not willing to bet his kwami didn't outright break it.  "Both of you." 

Tikki bristles and darts after Plagg, which is both an interesting sight and something that makes Adrien twitch with the desire to join the chase. 

"You," Marinette says again, recapturing his attention.  She's still clinging to him.  "It was you, cat, it was always you, why didn't I see that.  I should have seen that." 

"That's about how I felt, too," Adrien admits, earning another laugh.  He drops his head to the top of hers, inhaling her scent and relaxing with relief.  "Like I should have seen it."

"I think I just assumed that I would know you."  She squirms, but only to pull him further along the bed with her- away from the skylight, which she really did leave cracked open as promised, even though snow is finding its way through the opening and into her bed. 

Adrien reaches behind them both to shut it. 

Marinette catches his hand.  "If it bothers you, don't." 

"You'll freeze," he retorts stubbornly, hand stilling on the latch without moving to shut it. 

"You wouldn't let me.  You're warm enough, kitty, I think we'll be fine."  Marinette leans back, all the way back, pulling him down on top of her. 

Adrien, who had assumed up until now that he was taking the chaise lounge down below, stares at her and wishes vainly that he had his tail to twist in his hands.  He'd settle for having his ears, just for a distraction. 

When he edges to the side, overwhelmed and fidgeting badly, Marinette lets him.  She does snuggle up to his side, but she leaves the distance between them up to him. 

Because she knows Chat, he realises dizzily.  Because he's napped with Ladybug before, and she knows the way Chat likes to cuddle (to be cuddled), and she also knows that sometimes he hits a point where it's too much and it often takes him by surprise. 

Marinette shifts again, but only to draw the blankets crumpled at the side of her bed over them both. 

Adrien can't help but sigh and curl closer after all when the blankets envelop them.  He's known for a long time that Ladybug doesn't care for the cold, but he hasn't thought very much about how that would manifest in her home life.  Evidently it means she sleeps with what must be a good half dozen blankets draped over her. 

And then Tikki and Plagg both join them, and Tikki darts off while Plagg makes himself stubbornly comfortable on Adrien's side of the bed.  Plagg usually likes to hog as much of the bed as he can get away with it but he doesn't seem inclined to try to get Adrien to move now. 

There's a click from somewhere by their feet and one of the blankets starts to warm as Tikki returns to nestle into Marinette's pillow herself.  The heated blanket feels especially wonderful after their time underground, and Adrien melts into a fuzzy puddle as he finds himself purring helplessly. 

Marinette laughs and frees a hand to bury it deep into his snow-damp hair and scratch, doing very little for his mental faculties.  "We've still gotta talk, kitty.  We need to know what's going on so we can help, you know?  And Alya and especially Nino will want to help too." He barely registers her voice turning rueful.  "Will you be okay waiting 'til the morning to talk about it?" 

Plagg's snickers sound very close to Adrien's ear.  It's really hard to care.  "Oh he's gonna have to wait now, Marinette. You just hit all the kid's weak spots at once, you're not getting him back up and coherent for a while now." 

"Uh.  Whoops." Marinette does sound faintly guilty, but not by much.

She runs her nails over his scalp again, kicking Adrien's purr into rumbling louder.  "Plagg? Where does he have to be tomorrow morning?  I don't have his schedule anymore." 

"Any- oh, fantastic, you're both hopeless." 

"Plagg," Tikki scolds.

"Piano, and no one checks on that unless they're makin' a point of it," Plagg says grudgingly.  "Well, breakfast, but if he's not back for that his bodyguard'll cover for him.  He's done it before." 

"He has?" Adrien mumbles, mostly into his pillow.  He's purring enough now that he's not sure how clear his words are.  He purrs whenever he naps with Ladybug, but never like this.  It's looping on him, soothing him into relaxing more, which makes him purr more, which soothes him more, and he's distantly surprised he's still awake at all. 

Plagg's tiny paws press against his shoulder before his kwami curls his whole weight there.  "Has for a while, kit.  Knew he was good people.  Point is, you two've got the morning an' then some.  Which is good, 'cause I can't believe mine's still awake at all." 

"Plagg."  Tikki doesn't say anything else.  Her tone carries more than enough exasperation. 

Plagg's paws press harder, tiny claws puncturing through Adrien's shirt, brushing his skin without coming anywhere near to harming him.  There's a quiet snarl underlying his words when he says, "Like she's not yours." 

"Not like-" Something rustles.  "What happened?"

"In the morning."  The familiar gruff, protective tone from Plagg makes Adrien smile into the pillow.  He doesn't think he's capable of purring any more than he already is, or he's sure he would. 

"You'll tell me if he can't?" Marinette asks anxiously.  "If he can't, Plagg, not if he doesn't want to." 

"I'll tell you," Plagg says, without further elaboration.  "But he needs the sleep.  So do I.  So do you," he adds pointedly, and Tikki makes an indignant noise.  "You're gonna run yourself ragged too, kid.  Bein' Ladybug doesn't mean fixin' everyone's problems, I don't care if that's what the powers feel like.  Go to sleep." 

Tikki hisses something furiously at Plagg, and the laugh Plagg lets out in return is dark and ugly enough to make even Adrien shudder. 

"Knew she was yours," Plagg says, kind of nastily, but when Adrien's purr starts to taper off Plagg's attention diverts and he starts kneading at Adrien's shoulder.  "Kid, go to sleep."

It takes a little longer than that, but between the shared warmth of his partner and their kwami and the comforting nest of blankets, the lurking knowledge of the easy exits, and the reassurance of the promise of help Adrien finally drifts off. 

He's still purring when he does.