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The Bravery of Adrien Agreste

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As hard as she could, Marinette threw the magazine against the balcony floor. Angry tears threatened to fall down her cheeks.  Deep breathes. In through the nose, out through the mouth, peaceful thoughts. You can do it girl.

Screw that! God, she wanted to be angry right now.

Marinette rammed her hand in her pajama pocket, reaching for the charm bracelet there. Her fingers cataloguing the beads one by one.  Each bead was different, but she knew their unique textures by heart.  It was a meditation that normally helped calm her. But tonight, the action felt empty.

Her eyes fell to crumpled magazine. Of course it fell open to that page.

It was a picture of Adrien and Lila. Their beautiful smiling faces turned toward the camera. Lila’s hand on his chest, fingers splayed possessively.

Figures. She had carefully selected that fashion magazine. It focused on pattern building and draping.  It was one that Gabriel never featured in. But there they were! It wasn’t even an article, just a half page perfume ad toward the back. 

Adrien was looking beautiful as ever, but Marinette could see the discomfort in his eyes. He didn’t want Lila to touch him. And, Lila seemed to know that too. Marinette stared at the triumphant gleam in her eye, bile rising in her throat.

She inhaled a shaky breathe.  Held it for five counts, and exhaled.

Does it matter, as long as you and I know the truth. Adrien’s words hunted her.

“Yeah, it matters.”  She spat aloud to no one in particular.  “It’s worse.”

She pulled the blanket tighter around her body. It was after 11 o’clock, on a cool autumn night.  She sat on the floor of her balcony, her back resting against the wall.  The past few hours were a busy whirlwind of essays, studying and working on her commissions.  Some alone time with her new magazine was her reward for a solid 5 hours of work.  

Marinette sipped her mint tea and gazed at the Paris lights. She pulled out the charm to look at it. The colors were muted in the yellow glow of her string lights.  Adrien tried his best to copy the one she gave him. The colors and materials were different. But the size and number of beads was the same. It was a sweet gesture, it really was.

“Evening purrrinccess.”  A familiar black leather clad figure appeared on her railing, sitting on his haunches.

“Hi, Chat,” she answered politely.  “What are you doing out? It’s not your patrol night.”

“It’s nice to know your keeping tabs on me.” Chat smiled playfully.

Marinette knew she should try to think of an excuse, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.  The patrols were hardly secret.  There was probably a Ladyblog post about them.  Akuma attacks never happened on patrols.  It was more to show the people of Paris that their superhero team was always there for them.  Not to say Marinette didn’t enjoy their jaunts around the city.  Jumping from roof to roof was exhilarating when there wasn’t an Akuma chasing you.

Marinette realized that neither had said anything in a while.  Chat remained at his perch, watching her.

“I’m afraid I’m not good company tonight,” she admitted.

“Anything I can do to help?” Chat offered, jumping down from the railing to sit beside her.   “They say, cats are very good listeners.”

Marinette exhaled and stared at the skyline again.  She liked having him next to her, as Marinette.  His rooftop visits were few and far between. But she always enjoyed when he stopped by.

Chat was different around Ladybug.  With Ladybug, his bravado often overpowered any trace of sweetness.  Over the years, the flirting subsided, but Marinette’s uneasiness remained.  Ever since Bunnyx showed her that horrible future, she strived to always be professional.  She always worried that a touch here or a wink there might lead to. She never wanted to give Chat false hope.

“You seem upset,” Chat said after a minute. “I can go if you want me to."

“I don’t, it just,... it’s just,” Marinette sighed, “I guess I am upset, I shouldn’t be. Its just me being stupid.”

“I don’t think you’re stupid.” Chat smiled sweetly.

Marinette gave a halfhearted laugh.  “You don’t know me that well.”

She went back to studying the string of beads in front of her.

“What’s that?” Chat asked.

“It’s a luck charm.”  She stated flatly. “It doesn’t work.”

‘Oh,” he said quietly, shifting slightly. “Why do you keep it then?”

Marinette could feel tears start to fill her eyes. “A good friend gave it to me. Or at least, I thought he was a friend.” 

Chat seemed to wince at the words.

“What changed?”

“Nothing really.  I just realized something about him.”  Marinette took a shaky breath, already hating herself for what she was about to say.

“He’s a coward.”

She didn’t look at Chat, but she could tell her was watching her.

She sighed and leaned head head back against the wall, gazing up at the stars.

“I mean, I get it. His father is super strict.  He was homeschooled forever.”Marinette closed her eyes and exhaled. “He probably never had the chance to stick up for himself, much less anyone else”

Marinette expected Chat to say something, but he remained silent.  She debated how much she should tell him.  It wasn’t really fair to unload on him.  But after the expulsion fiasco, she couldn’t really talk to Alya or her parents.  And Chat did offer to listen.  After several moments she continued.

“There’s this girl at school. Lila. You’ve met her. Volpina. Chameleon.”  Marinette twisted a few beads. She saw him nod out of the corner of her eye.

“She hurts people.”

“Not physically, though.” Marinette clarified. She’s much too clever. But she lies, and she manipulates.” She could feel the tears escape her eyes.  “And if you ignore her threats, she turns everyone you love against you.”

Marinette could feel her voice cracking. “Parents. Friends. It doesn’t matter. She’ll get them in the end. She’s good at telling people what they want to hear.

“She had me expelled, you know? She had my parents believing the most horrible things about me.”  Tears were streaming down her face now.  “And just like that, she got me reinstated.  Just to gloat over the power she has over the school!”  She could feel Chat fidget beside her, but she continued looking straight ahead.

“Early on my friend convinced me to take the high road, not to expose her.”  Her throat tightened.  “I shouldn’t have listened.”

Marinette clutched the charm tightly in her fist and brought it to her chest.  Her breath was coming out as shaking sobs. “I loved him so much! I would have done anything he said.”

“You loved him?” Chat’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Marinette half choked, half sobbed. “Yeah,…"

She took a few more breaths to calm her breathing.  Chat made no attempt to speak.  He really was a good listener. “I was cruel to him when we met.” Marinette admitted.  She opened her fist to look at the charm again.  “I thought he was a privileged spoiled white kid.  But he had amazing kindness and sincerity to him.” Her finger trace the carved rooster figure in the charm.

“I was so awkward around him, and he was so patient with me.” She paused a moment before she continued.

“After I got to know him more, I learned how much his home life sucked. But he still gave his best, always believed the best in people.”

She could feel a sob rising in her chest.

“But,.. He knows what she is, he’s known all along! And then, he  smiles with her! He holds hands with her!” Marinette knew she was yelling now, but she didn’t care. “He lets her touch him when his eyes are screaming for her to go away!”

Marinette leaned forward so she could bring her arm back. With the years of throwing her yo-yo, her muscles knew the action well.  Using all her strength, she hurled the charm bracelet against the hard stone of her balcony.  The red string broke on impact, scattering the charms.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed, making no effort to calm herself. Chat was here, if a butterfly came at her, let him  cataclysm it.  For once, she could let herself feel. Let herself cry, let herself behave like a normal teenage girl!

The dam broke.  All the emotions she keep pushing down, came at her with full force.  She felt so alone, with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Fu was gone.  She had no idea how to be a guardian.  Her friendship with Alya was slipping away.  Her parents no longer believed her.  Lila was making her life a living hell, and she had no idea how to stop her.

The sobs continued to tear at her throat as hot tears poured out. 

And then there was Chat.  Chat who loved Ladybug but knew absolutely nothing about her.  And that was the way it had to be.  If it slipped, if Chat ever found out. Well, shit, that could end the world!

She knew she was ugly crying now,

Even though Ladybug could never allow herself to get too close to him, to show true affection, Chat was forever loyal, ever faithful.  Even now, without having any idea what is going on.  Chat was being there for her. Supporting her. The immense gratitude she felt for her partner further prompted more sobs.

He had no idea how much she needed this. But then again,  he always had her back.

After a few minutes, Marinette’s breath slowly steadied. She wiped her nose and eyes on her blanket, wishing she had brought a tissue.  She sighed again, feeling some of the tension leave her muscles.  Marinette leaned back against the wall of her balcony, staring up at the sky.

“I’m sorry he disappointed you.” Chat whispered, his voice weak.

Marinette turned to face her partner.  His shoulders were slumped, his head down, he was staring at hands. Tears were dripping down his mask and falling onto his gloves.

She made Chat cry?

“No, Kitty, no.” Marinette shrugged off her blanket to kneel beside him. Chat looked away from her. 

“Hey,” she cupped his cheek. Gently, she used her thumb to wipe away a tear. “Don’t be sad, none of this is your fault.”

He made a slight choking noise.

“Please, Chat. Don’t be upset.”  He wouldn’t turn his face to her.  Chat seemed to be staring intently at one of the scattered charms.

“Dear sweet kitty, I shouldn’t have unloaded on you like that.  That wasn’t fair. When you give so much to the city every day.”  Her thumb kept wiping away tears, but they continued to fall.

“I should have helped you.” Chat finally spoke.

“No!” She said louder than needed.  “Don’t feel bad over this. There was nothing you could have done.”

“You don’t know that.” He sounded so small.

“Chat, you’re the bravest person I know.”  She cupped both his cheeks now. “Please look at me.” She pleaded.

Chat didn’t move.

“You are brave, kind, selfless, and amazingly sweet. You’re a wonderful friend and and extraordinary partner.” Marinette paused for a moment.  “And occasionally, you’re jokes are even funny.”

Chat scoffed.

He turned his head to look at her, eyes bloodshot. “You’re only saying that because you were in love with me.”

Marinette smiled at the memory of her bizarre rooftop confession. 

“Yeah,” she admitted, “I do love you.” Marinette meant it too. Sure, it was a different love than she had for Adrien.  It was different from the love she felt for her parents and Alya too.  She leaned her forehead to his. “I can’t help it. You’re very lovable.”

“Not to ladybug,” Chat stated dryly, his eyes shifting down.

Marinette’s heart froze.  How could her poor kitty even think that?  She sat back on her heels and grabbed his gloved hands.

“Hey,” she coaxed.  “I need you to look at me.”

Marinette waited, and after a few moments, Chat finally met her eyes.  

“Ladybug. Loves. You.” She said slowly, enunciating every word. 

His chin quivered as he shook his head. “No, she doesn’t.” His voice small. “She always says,…"

“She says what she has to say!” Marinette interrupted. “She can’t let herself be in love with you. But NEVER doubt that she loves you.”

Chat seemed to be stunned by her outburst.  Marinette continued anyway.

“She has to be the responsible one, especially now.”  She was saying too much, but she just desperately wanted her kitty to understand.  “If she truly gave herself to you, the power and intensity of that love…” She paused at a memory of a white clad, blue eyes kitty. 

“It could destroy worlds,” she whispered.

Her eyes were weeping again. Though, the sad expression on Chat’s face been replaced with pure bewilderment.  He watched her with confusion in his eyes.

“Please don’t be sad anymore,” she sniffed. Slowly she leaned over to kiss his forehead, tenderly stroking the hairs out of the way. 

She heard Chat sigh into the gentle contact. She cupped his face and gently smiled at him.  He was gazing at her, almost curiously.

She leaned forward to kiss his cheek. Chat closed his eyes, ever so slightly turning into her hand.

Marinette pulled back to look at Chat.  His eyes were still shut, his face still rested in her hands. There was a soft contentment to his expression.

Her heart warmed. She did love her kitty.  Ladybug couldn’t show him, but he needed to know.  He needed to know how incredible, how amazing, how lovable he was.

She tenderly kissed his lips.

It was slow, but chaste. Chat’s lips were warm and soft against her own. Surprisingly soft. His skin smelled lightly of aftershave. He didn’t kiss her back, but he made no attempt to turn away.

Marinette broke the contact, leaning back in her heels. “I’m sorry, I should have asked.  It was highly inappropriate,…"

“I didn’t mind.” Chat admitted, his voice low.

Marinette was at a loss for words.  She stared at him stupidly until Chat broke the silence

“So, ummm,.. thank you?”

"Uh, sure. I mean you were sad and I just,... uh.” Marinette groaned. This is a disaster.

“Well, I guess I’m less sad now.”

“Yeah me too.” 

Marinette played with the hem of her pajama top as moments of awkward silence passed between them.

“Marinette?” Chat asked, his voice soft. “May I kiss you again?”

She felt his gloved hand on her cheek, guiding her toward him. Chat was leaning forward now, so there was less space between them.

She let him lead her forward until their noses touch. She could feel his breath on her skin. “May I?” He asked again, his words creating feather light touches against her lips.

Marinette pushed forward ever so slightly to complete the contact. A shiver raced though her body, as her stomach twisted in knots. Her heart started pounding in her chest.  The kiss was so different than just moments ago.

Chat broke the kiss for a split second before pressing into her again. Another long slow kiss. Marinette’s hands shyly touched his arms before sliding them up to his shoulders

She felt his lips pull back in a smile.  Her own face broke into a giddy grin.  Marinette felt herself being lifted and resettled on the tile floor between Chat’s legs.

Marinette wrapped her arms over Chat’s shoulders and around his back.  She buried her nose in his neck and inhaled deeply.  God! He smelled good.  Marinette felt him pull her against his chest, Chat’s fingers gently caressing her back.

She could stay like this forever.

Marinette couldn’t remember the last time she left so content, so protected, so safe.  Even dancing in the arms of Adrien, she never felt like this.  This was something different, something calmer.

Marinette frowned when his arms left her back.  She wasn’t ready for this,… whatever it was, to end.  Stubbornly, she gripped Chat tighter, squeezing her eyes closed.  

She felt the familiar texture of the blanket on her shoulders.  Marinette could feel the muscles of Chat’s back move as he positioned the blanket over her body.  Once he seemed satisfied, Chat returned his arms to her back, holding the blanket in place.

Marinette pulled away from his neck to rest her head on his shoulder, gazing at Chat’s profile.  He seemed pretty pleased with himself.  Chat was staring straight ahead with the smallest grin on his face.

“Thank you, Chat.”  Marinette beamed, smiling brightly.

“You’re welcome, Princess.” Chat whispered, turning his face toward her.

There was so little space between them now. Marinette tried to look at his eyes, but her focus kept drifting toward his mouth.  Oh God! His smirking mouth, where just a minute ago, those smooth warm lips were on her own.  Marinette suddenly couldn’t breath.  They were so close, and she desperately wanted to feel his lips again.

She forced herself to look at his eyes.  They were heavy and staring at her lips. Marinette slightly tipped her chin up towards Chat, watching him closely.  Her heart was pounding in her ears.

Chat’s eyes met hers for the briefest of moments, before he bent his head down. And kissed her again.

Marinette sighed into his impossibly soft lips.  The kisses were harder this time, and faster. All she could hear was her pounding heart, and the tiny wet noises from their mouths.

Marinette tightened her hold on Chat’s back. She wanted to feel more of him. Marinette twisted in his arms until her chest pressed against his own.

A sudden jolt of pain made Marinette jump in Chat’s embrace.  Her hands came suddenly to her lip. Did Chat just bite her?  She looked up to see his cocky face.  Oh, two can play at that game!

Marinette sat up on her knees and turned to face him straight on.  He was taunting her, daring her.  He didn’t need to say anything, Marinette could tell what her partner was thinking with just his eyes.  And she was up for a challenge.

He watched her with an amused expression on his face. Marinette smirked back at him.  Then, climbing onto his thighs, she took his head in her hands, and attacked his mouth.

He didn’t even defend himself, not really.  Within seconds Marinette triumphantly nipped his bottom lip.  Then, his top one for good measure.  She felt his hands grab her waist, pressing her toward him. Both of their mouths were wet, but she didn’t care.

The hard fast kisses gradually slowed, but the intensity increase.  Marinette fingers traced Chat’s jawline as she gently coaxed his mouth open. She ran the tip of her tongue shyly across his bottom lip. 

She felt Chat’s body freeze.

Oh no! She went to far. Marinette tried to move off his lap when strong hands grabbed her and held her in place.

“Sorry,… I didn’t mean...” Chat stammered.

“No, its okay,..” Marinette could tell her face was bright red.

“It just surprised me is all.”

Marinette suddenly found Chat’s bell very interesting.

“Could you, um,.. do it again?” Chat asked quietly.

Marinette felt herself smile, but she still didn’t look at him.

Once again, his mouth was on hers, his tongue shyly begging entrance. It was like a jolt of electricity when their tongues touched.

She moaned into his touch, fingers in his hair. It should be illegal feel this good.  She broke the kiss to catch her breath, arching her back to look up at the stars.  Chat continued kissing her jawline, then down to the sensitive skin on her neck.

Marinette heard gasps escaping her throat, but she didn’t remember making them.  But, she couldn’t find it in herself to care either. Chat was suckling at the base of her neck. Liquid pleasure filled every ounce of her being.  

She closed her eyes, wanting to focus completely on the new sensations flooding her body. Marinette squeezed Chat’s shoulders in encouragement, grinding her hips against his.

A sudden flash of green glowed through her eyelids, as Chat’s naked arms clamped tightly around her.

“This it NOT what the super suit it for!” Shouted an annoyed voice.

Marinette heard the sound of a tiny object whizzing through the air at high speed, then it was gone.

“Plagg?”

Chapter Text

 

“Claws out!” 

Nothing happened.

The girl in his arms squirmed, but he maintained his vice like grip.  Marinette had pulled her arms off his back, but they still hovered over his shoulders. Adrien’s hand cradled the back of her neck, forcing her chin over his shoulder. 

His naked shoulder.

“Plagg! Stop this now! This isn’t funny.”

Silence.

The cold reality of his situation washed over Adrien.  He was in a very compromising position with Marinette.  A girl who just moments ago, was kissing him, and pressing herself against him. Oh, yeah, the same girl he had absolutely screwed over with the whole Lila thing.  A girl who loved him once, but hated his guts now. And with good reason.

“Plagg, please?” his voice was tiny and pathetic.

Marinette still straddled his hips.  Without his suit, he could really feel the heat of her… of her…  God! There were only thin pieces of pajama fabric separating them. How had things got this far so fast?

If she sees me…?

Adrien suddenly felt like he was drowning.  His breathes came in short shallow bursts.  His throat felt tiny as he gulped down air. Adrien knew he was holding Marinette too tightly, but he couldn’t even begin to relax his arms.

“Chat, please relax.” Her voice was strangely calm.

“You don’t understand, I can’t be here, you can’t see me.” Adrien’s voice was high and tense.

“I won’t look.”

“I,.. but Plagg,.. you can’t” he barely choked out the words.

“Breathe with me, okay?  Inhale.”  Marinette breathed an exaggerated breath, encouraging Adrien to do the same.  After serval attempts he was able to fill his lungs deeply with the night air.  “Hold for 5.” Man, the beating of his heart was deafening.

“And exhale…”

Adrien let her coach him though a few more breaths. He relaxed his grip on her back, but still held her head firmly over his shoulder.

“We can figure this out.” Marinette assured.

“But he just,…"

“Has this ever happened before?” She interrupted.

“No.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“I don’t know, he seemed pretty annoyed.” Adrien sighed.

“Chat, its okay.  We can get though this.” Marinette was using her confident class representative voice now.  It was impressive really. Shouldn’t she be freaking out? A strange man was holding her against him. He gulped. In an extremely intimate way.

“First. umm,… Chat?” She hesitated. “Are you wearing anything?”

“Just my pajama bottoms,” Adrien blushed, then cringed.  Great! She thought was naked.

“Ohthankgod” He heard her mutter under her breath.

“If I bring you downstairs, out to the street. Can you get yourself home?” Marinette asked.

“I think so.”  Getting into is house was another issue.  Its not like he carried keys.

“I need you to trust me.” There was that strong voice again.

“But, if you see,..” He sounded desperate.

“You trusted me before. As Multimouse, remember?” Yeah, he remembered.  It was a good memory too. Marinette was amazing.  

“I also promise, not to say a single word to Ladybug.” There was a slight tease in her voice.  Despite the tense situation, Adrien found himself half smiling.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, how do we do this?”

“Chat. My eyes are closed tight.  I need you to let me go.” Marinette instructed.

Adrien slowly peeled his sweaty palms off her body and wiped them on his pant leg.  Marinette leaned back to face him.  True to her word, her eyes were clamped shut.  Like, really shut, as if she was trying to use all the muscles in her face.

Marinette climbed off his lap, finger tips delicately touching the ground.  With her eyes still closed, she turned away from him and crawled toward her skylight.

Adrien watched her crawl away, his eyes falling to the curves of her bottom.  Get a hold of yourself, Agreste. Stop lusting after your friend.

Once Marinette reached the skylight she sat back on her heels, ending Adrien’s view.

“I need to open my eyes to use the hatch.” Marinette explained.  “My back is turned, I won’t be able to see you.  Once I’m inside, wait 60 seconds then head down.”

Marinette disappeared and Adrien began to count down from 60. His eyes wondered over to the scattered beads on the tiles.  Still keeping the countdown in his head, he gathered them one by one.  A few were scratched and cracked, but none were broken completely.  He paused when he came to the silk cord.  He sighed.  There wasn’t any way to fix it.  Poetic justice, he supposed.

When he got to zero, he headed toward the skylight.  “I’m coming down,” he whispered as loud as he dared.  His heart was pounding in his chest again.  What if Marinette forgot about the countdown? What if she looks this way?

He scrambled down onto her bed and down the ladder of her loft. Channeling his inner cat, he went as quickly and stealthy as he could.  Marinette was standing by the trapdoor opening of her room. Her head down and her back toward him.

“Come, stand right behind me.  I’ll go down first.” She whispered.

The ladder stairs creaked under her weight.  Adrien didn’t remembered it being so noisy.  The steps groaned louder when he followed her down several moments later.

Marinette stood in front of the entry door, her back safely toward him.  Adrien could feel relief wash over his body.  This was it.  They were going to make it!

Marinette finished unlocking the last lock. She began opening the door. The relief was so immense, Adrien almost felt giddy as he walked over toward her.

He was startled back to reality when a light behind him flicked on.

“Marinette? What’s going on?” A female voice said.

Marinette spun around to face him. Eyes clamped shut.

“Go! Run. Don’t look back.” She commanded, holding the door open.

Adrien leaped past her, and fled.

He jump down the stairs five at a time, heart pounding in his chest. He crashed into the exit door at the bottom of the stairs, adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Bare feet hit the sidewalk as the rough texture scraped his feet.  But Adrien didn’t care.  A mantra kept playing over and over in his head.  I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. I don’t care if he’s a god.  I’m going to kill him.

After several blocks, he stopped to catch his breath.

“Plagg! Get back here! That was too close!” He wheezed.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it might be funny.  Here he was, standing alone in the street.  Barefoot, shirtless, and in his pajamas.  Taking to himself like a crazy person.

Once his breath had steadied, he turned again toward his house.  Walking slowly this time.  He shouted any and all threats he could think of.

“I’ll take the batteries out of all the remotes!”

“I can change the password to my Netflix!”

“Come back. Or I’ll buy dairy free cheese!”

Suddenly, the tiny flying cat appeared in front of him.

“Fine! But you owe me an apology.” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms.

“Me, owe you? You detransformed! She could have discovered my identity!” Adrien retorted.

“May I remind you, I am the suit! It is for fighting akumas, not grinding against your girlfriend.”  Plagg accused.

“She’s not my girlfriend.

“Yeah, I heard. Doesn’t think too much of Adrien. So what possessed you to start making out!?!”  Plagg’s little arms were on his hips now.

"I,... I wanted to make her feel better.” Why was his voice so high?

“You wanted to make her feel better?” Plagg repeated doubtfully.

“Maybe, she loves Chat Noir.” Adrien sighed  “Or at least she used to.”

“And what about the whole ‘Ladybug loves you. Your love is so powerful blah blah blah.’?” Plagg mimicked in his falsetto.

Adrien looked down at the ground.

“She was telling you exactly what you’ve always wanted to hear!” Plagg shouted.  “You’re both so... so... Arg! This is why I stick to cheese!”

Adrien wrapped his arms around himself, squeezing the loose charms in his hand.  Honestly, he didn’t even know what to think anymore.  His mind was struggling to comprehend all the things that happened tonight.  The things Marinette said.  The things Marinette did.  The things he did with Marinette.

“It’s cold, Plagg, Can we go home?” Adrien asked, defeated.

“I want to hear you say it first.” Plagg insisted, still acting offended.

“Really?” Adrien grumbled. “Fine. I’m sorry. I won’t make out with girls in the suit again”

 

———

 

The front door slammed shut. 

Marinette hesitantly opened an eye.  Sabine had an unreadable expression on her face. Empty glass in her hand.

“Who was that?” Sabine asked firmly.

“Just a.. friend?”

“A friend? At 11 o’clock at night. In his pajamas? Who was that, Marinette?”  Sabine demanded.

“You and dad are usually asleep by now.” Marinette offered weakly, crossing her arms.  She should not not have said that. Sabine’s expression shifted.  Oh man, here it comes. She rarely saw her mom this angry. 

“How long has this been going on? Do you sneak boys into your room often?  Marinette! We trust you to be more more responsible than that. If you have a boyfriend over, we need to know.”

Marinette bent her head down. A lecture. Well, I guess it was to be expected.

“Your a teenager now.”  Sabine continued, “and we know you’ll start having more mature relationships. But with that come certain expectations and responsibilities.”

“Nothing happened, Mom.” Marinette whined, “he’s just a friend.” 

“Marinette, I know your lying!” Sabine’s voice was much stronger now.

“Is everything alright girls?” A sleepy-eyed Tom appeared in the hallway.

“Mom, please don’t tell,…"

“Marinette was sneaking a half naked young man out of her room.”  Sabine stated, matter-of-factly.

“Our Marinette?” The confused expression on her father’s face broke her heart.

“Dad, I’m sorry."  Marinette said, pitifully.

“Who was it?” Tom asked softly.

“She won’t tell me.” Sabine snapped.

“I,…”  Marinette hated this. This wasn’t fair!

Tom walked over to her.   Marinette just stared at floor.  She felt his hand squeeze her shoulder.

“Marinette, Honey, we are worried. Please talk to us.  Who was that?” His voice was gentle and soft.

"Umm,... Chat Noir?” She confessed pathetically.

“Chat Noir? Who’s love with Ladybug? Who rejected you months ago.  Was up in you room, in his pajamas? Doing God knows what!” Sabine quipped.

“Nothing happened!"

“Stop it, Marinette!”

It never occurred to Marinette that they wouldn’t believe the truth.  She starred back at her mother dumbly.

“Furthermore, This is highly inappropriate giving your fathers history with Chat Noir.” Sabine reminded.

Marinette looked over to her father.  She saw his kind eyes fill with shame. 

“Honey,” Tom spoke gently, “if it was Chat Noir, he could have left through the roof or window.  He wouldn’t have needed to sneak out of the front door.”

Marinette sighed “I’m sorry. Dad, It won’t happen again.”  She was suddenly very tired. “Can I go now?”

“That’s not good enough Marinette.” Her mother was staring, arms crossed over her chest. “Until you start telling the truth, I’m afraid your grounded.”

“But, Mom!”

“Please go get your phone.” 

Marinette huffed up her ladder, grabbed her phone, and stomped back down.  Glaring at her mother, she silently handed it over.

“For how long?”  Marinette demanded.

“Excuse me?” Sabine seemed surprised.

“How long am I grounded for? Two days, a week?”

Tom and Sabine exchanged sad looks. "You need to understand how serious this is, young woman.  I’m afraid your grounded until you tell us who that young man was.” Sabine stated firmly.

“It was Chat Noir!  I know he was untransformed, but it wasn’t his fault!  He gets his powers from a tiny cat god.  But Plagg, the cat god, his Kwami, got upset, and left…”

“Stop! Marinette. Enough.” Tom rarely raised his voice, she froze at his words.  Marinette wanted to sink into the floor.  “Just go to bed. We can talk more in the morning.”

“Fine!” Marinette turned around with a growl.  She raced upstairs and slammed her trapdoor shut. Stomping over to her sink and she ripped out her hair ties, and began yanking a brush through her hair.

When she caught sight of her reflection, she paled. Her brush fell to the floor.

Her lips were puffy and swollen.  The skin around her mouth was bright pink.  But worst, was at the base of her neck, off to one side.  A dark red and purple bruise contrasted against her pale skin.

“Tikki. I really screwed up.”

Chapter Text

Alya was annoyed. Annoyed and bored.  She arrived at school early to give Nathaniel a copy of her art history notes.  It had to be art.  The one subject they didn’t get to use their digital tablets.  Alya needed her notes. Her paper notes.  And her notes were not here.

Marinette had her notes.  And that was okay, she didn’t mind sharing with her bestie. But she kinda promised Nathaniel could use them too.  He spent the last week compiling a huge archive of fanart for the Ladyblog.  That boy was dedicated.  When Alya first suggested the idea, she had no idea the amount of work Nathaniel would put in.  He poured his heart and soul into it.  And, as a result, he didn’t bother taking notes all week.

Adrien walked into class and gave her a quick hello.  Alya looked for Nino behind him, but no. She watch Adrien sink into his seat and rest his head on his arms.  Poor guy, he looks beat.  She knew he would politely chat with her if she wanted.  But, it just seemed kinder to let him rest.

Alya drummed her fingers on her desk.  “Come on, Marinette,” she muttered under her breath.

A few minutes later, Nino and Marinette walked in. Finally.

“Hi, Alya,” Marinette greeted brightly.

“Did you bring my art history notes back?” She probably should have opened with a hello.  But class was starting soon, and there wasn’t much time to run to the copier.

“Sorry, did you need them?” Marinette asked while siding into her seat.

Alya groaned “Yeah,… I texted you this morning!”

“Oh,” Marinette replied dejectedly, “I’m kinda without a phone for awhile.”

Alya sighed. “Break another one? You’re too clumsy, girl.”

“Nope, just grounded.”  Marinette leaned back against her seat, staring up at the ceiling.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alya saw Adrien slouch further into is arms.

“Why? For skipping school again?” Alya teased.

“I wish. No, something worse.” Marinette let out a long breath, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Oh, okay.” That hurt a bit.  Maybe they were not as close as they used to be, but Alya was still her friend. Ever since Marinette was expelled and reinstated, she seemed more distant.  Alya tried her best during that situation, she really did.  Its not like Lila did those things on purpose.  And, the whole reason Marinette was back at school, was because Lila had set things right.  Marinette had changed after that.  Lila kept trying to mend their friendship, but Marinette kept shutting her down.  Alya still didn’t understand Marinette’s hatred toward Lila.  But then, they never talked about Lila anymore.  They never talked much about anything anymore.

“Well but I’m here if you need me.”  Alya assured, then looked for a way to change the subject.  “Awesome scarf, by the way. Is it silk?”

Marinette reach up toward her throat, fingers lightly touching the fabric. “Yeah, and vintage. My uncle sent it to me from China.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah.” 

It was quiet again. Why was it so hard for Marinette to talk to her anymore?

“I’m sorry about the notes,” Marinette said sadly.  “If there was more time, I’d run home and get them.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alya smiled. “I haven’t had a pastry in a while. Let’s grab them at lunch!”

Marinette smiled brightly, then her face fell.

“I don’t think I can have you over for lunch, being grounded and all.  I’ll leave the notes in the bakery, you can grab them from my parents.”

 

———

 

Alya and Marinette didn’t share the last class before lunch.   After she loaded her backpack, Alya headed toward the school entrance.  A small group of her classmates had gathered at the outside of the doors.

"Hey Alya!” Lila waved excitedly.  “Want to eat lunch at the park with us?  I was going to tell everyone about my latest trip to England.  You’ll never believe who I met!”

“I’ll catch up with you later, I got to stop by Marinette’s first.” Alya told her friend.

“Grab me an Eclair!” Shouted Nino.

"I’ll take a scone!” Added Kim.

“I’m there to pick up my notes, not to take orders.” Alya called back.

“Oh, I love Marinette’s parents! They’re the nicest people.” Lila smiled, taking her arm.  “I’ll come with you.  Meet you guys at the park!”

Arm in arm Lila and Alya walked over to the bakery.  Once inside, Tom was busy helping costumers.  He seemed worn out today. Poor man. Alya shuttered at the thought of getting up at 4AM every day.

Alya and Lila took their place in line.  After a few minutes, Alya felt a light tap on her arm.  She looked over to see Sabine, with a tired smile.  She had Alya’s art history notes in hand.

“Sweet!” Alya grinned, taking the notes. “Thank you so much!”

“Thank you for letting Marinette borrow them” Sabine replied politely.  Alya, expected her to leave, or at least exchange more small talk.  But Sabine just stood there, nervously twisted her wedding ring.

“Alya, may I talk to you for a moment?” She finally spoke.

“Sure” Alya answered cheerfully.

Sabine’s eyes fell to Lila.  Something in her expression told Alya  that this needed to be a private conversation.

“Oh, don’t mind me.” Lila said, dropping her arm and turning her back to them.  She walked over to the display case. “Everything looks so good! Its going to take me forever to decide.”

“Thank you, that’s very sweet of you Lila.” said Sabine.

Alya looked at her, curiously. She seemed to be struggling to find words.  Sabine looked serious though. Alya patiently waited. 

“Has Marinette been seeing anyone at school?” Sabine blurted out.

Alya blinked. “Like a boyfriend?”

Sabine nodded.

"Well, I know Luka is interested, but Marinette just never seems to be feeling it.”

“And does Luka have blond hair?”

Weird question. “Naturally? I have no idea. It’s currently blue. Teal. Turquoise. Something. What’s this about?”

Sabine lowered her voice,“We are just worried about Marinette, about some of the choices she has been making.” She paused for a moment.  “With boys.”

“With boys?” Alya repeated, surprised. “I don’t think you need to worry. You know how Marinette gets when she’s around a boy she likes.  Anyway, I think she might be taking a bit of a break right now. She doesn’t even gush about Adrien anymore.”

Sabine looked around nervously. “Please, this needs to stay between us, but Marinette had a boy in her room last night. Very late. Naturally, her father and I are extremely concerned.”

Alya felt her mouth drop open.

“Can you think of who it might be?” Sabine prodded.

“No. Ma’am.” None of this made any sense. “What did he look like?”

“We don’t know. We only saw his back when he was leaving.” Sabine sighed, obviously worried.

What the hell, Marinette?

“Please, Alya, if you find out anything, let us know. We are very worried. This isn’t like her.” Sabine said, sadly.

“I will.” Alya promised.

Alya was in daze as she ordered and paid for her muffin.   Mr. Dupain gave Lila a box of macarons to share with the class, on the house.  Alya thanked him numbly, her thoughts elsewhere. What was that girl up to?  How did she go from dreaming about holding hands with Adrien, to having boys in her room?  Lila and Alya exited the building silently.  After a moment, Lila spoke.

“Are you okay, Alya” Lila asked, her face full of concern.

“Yeah,” replied Alya. “Just a lot on my mind”

She paused for a moment.  “Did you hear any of that just now?”  Alya asked her friend.

“Me? No. My tinnitus has been super bad lately. I didn’t want to say anything because of how much trouble it caused last time.  But, its really hard for me to hear right now.” Lila admitted.

Alya put her arm around Lila’s shoulder.  “Don’t feel like you have to keep things from me, Girl. Friends help each other out”

“Thank you, Alya. Your the best!” Lila smiled.

 

Chapter Text

 

Adrien was exhausted.  If he slept last night, he didn’t remember.  His brain was a mess. But Adrien knew one thing for certain.  He was a coward. And now, he learned, Marinette was grounded.

Adrien sat on the top stair of the staircase at Françoise Dupont High School. It was toward the end of lunchtime, but Adrien never went home.  A quick text to Nathalie explained that he was going to study through lunch, to make up for missing a class.  Last week’s photoshoot and all. But Adrien really just wanted time alone with his thoughts.

Lila was still hurting Marinette.  The very truce he had made to bring Marinette back to school, was causing his friend to cry her heart out to virtual strangers.  And why wouldn’t it? In Marinette’s mind, he was in bed with the devil.

Adrien rubbed his temples. He hated those photoshoots with Lila.  He hated her voice, the sing-song way she complimented and flirted with people. He hated her laugh. Hated her smell. But he hated her touch the most. And boy, that girl loved to touch him.  A touch that revolted him to his core. Adrien thought he was good at hiding it.  With practiced professionalism, he swallowed his disgust and smiled toward the cameras. Always desperate to get the shoot finished as soon as humanly possible, so he could run home and take a scalding shower.

But Marinette saw through him. Sweet Marinette. His friend who loves him. No, his mind corrected, his friend who loved him.  What was that supposed to mean anyway?  At the time, he couldn’t really ask her to elaborate.  She couldn’t have meant in love.  She never flirted, asked him on dates, or wrote him poetry, brought him flowers, or kissed his hand.  Adrien paused for a moment.  How do girls even show they are in love anyway? He knew Kagami was interested in him because she told him.  She was direct like that.  Adrien sighed.  Maybe if he wasn’t homeschooled, maybe if he wasn’t so socially awkward, maybe if…. maybe if he wasn’t such a,.. such a,.. coward.

And God! He was a coward!  How could he just leave her like that? He left her to deal with her mother on her own.  The great Chat Noir fleeing into the night!

Adrien slumped. He knew why he didn’t stay.  For as heartbroken as Marinette was, her finding out his true identity now,… that would be an unimaginable cruelness.

Adrien sighed, he shouldn’t have kissed her.  He knew that. He even knew that at the time.

…why did he kiss her?

She started it! Adrien thought defensively. Great, how old am I? Five.

Adrien groaned and covered his face with his hands.  He kissed her because he wanted to. He kissed her because her lips were soft.  Because she felt good. Because she tasted nice. She called him Kitty, just like his lady.

But she wasn’t his lady.

He felt a bit guilty, but not as much as he expected.  He wasn’t in love with Marinette.  But the all-consuming flame he once carried for his lady, wasn’t the same either.  He was still in love with her, of course. That would never change.  Though, she seemed more distant now. Fu's departure had rattled her immensely.  Adrien sighed. It made sense though, he wouldn’t want the responsibility of all those miraculouses.

Adrien looked down to see Plagg asleep in his shirt pocket.  He still didn’t know what on earth Plagg was thinking.  He seemed uncharacteristically bothered by what happened to the suit last night.  As Chat Noir, he had been covered in monster saliva and Plagg never complained.  Hell, he’d even swam through the sewer. Was he really bothered that much by Marinette rubbing against him?

He felt himself flush. This was not the place to be replaying last night’s make out session. 

It was nice, though, Adrien mused. Even just holding her under the blanket was nice.  Or her kiss to his forehead.  Adrien smiled at the memory, his mom used to do that.

Adrien looked down. His classmates had started gathering to the side of the stairs.  From the sounds of it, they just had lunch in the park across the street.  Lila had bought the boys macarons.  Normally, Adrien would have felt bad that he had missed out on the fun.  It was just as well.  Adrien didn’t really feel like talking right now.

The group was busy chattering below him. Adrien wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation.  His focus was across the courtyard, on the entry doors.  Waiting for Marinette to come through.

He knew he should talk to her, think of something clever to say. All lunch he had been racking his brain, what could he say to her.  Were there any words that might make her life better right now?  Was it too late to say he was sorry for the advise about Lila? Would Marinette feel better if he promised never to do another photoshoot with her?

He sighed, feeling pathetic. Adrien glanced at his watch. 5 minutes until class, and he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

More and more students were filing through the entry doors. Until, finally, he saw her.  Adrien felt a slight blush rise on his cheeks, and his heart started beating faster.  He was nervous, okay, 30 more seconds do to think of something to say.

Marinette was walking slowing, eyes cast down. She probably wouldn’t see him if he waved.

“Hey, Marinette! Hold up a minute!” Alya called.

Adrien watched her run toward her friend.  Alya began talking to Marinette, but it was too far away for Adrien to hear.  It didn’t look like a good conversation. Marinette had her arms crossed defensively, and Alya stood firmly with her hands on her hips.

Maybe she never got her notes back.

“I’m so sorry Marinette couldn’t join us at the park today.” Lila spoke, suddenly the conversation below him became interesting.   “I’ve been trying so hard to be her friend again. I feel so bad for what happened between us”

“Give her time. She’ll come around.” Max said confidently.

“I even stood up for her, you know.” Lila continued.  “Several days ago, some older boys were claiming they saw her profile on a Sugar Daddy website.”

Adrien growled  What the hell was Lila saying now?

“What’s a sugar daddy site?” Asked Ivan.

“Its a dating site where older men, ‘Daddys’ look for younger women to date.  Its usually rich men who exchange expensive gifts for sexual favors.” Informed Kim.

“Isn’t that prostitution?” Asked Max.

“Only if its for money.” 

“How the hell do you know this?” demanded Ivan

“Common knowledge,” Kim beamed proudly.

"Anyway,” Lila interrupted.  “I told them ‘No way!’  Marinette is my friend, and she would never do anything like that.  It must be another bluebell-eyed, half asian.”  Lila started to choke up. “I’m trying to be good friend to her.  Why can’t she see that?”

Max walked over to her and padded her shoulder gently.

“You’re so kind, Max, but we should go. I don’t want to make us late for class.” Lila said sweetly.

Once the group had left, Adrien stood up from his vantage point on the stairs.  He felt physically ill.  His hands were sweating and his heart was pounding.  He told Lila to leave Marinette alone! He threatened her. He warned her. He endured humiliating and degrading photoshoots with her.  And she still,.. 

Bile was rising in his throat as he desperately looked for the nearest bathroom.  He ran fast as he could, barely making it to the sink before the dry heaves took him. He hadn’t eaten today, guess that was a blessing.

Once his stomach settled, Adrien washed out his mouth and looked up into the mirror.  His face was flushed, his eyes were red, tears streaming down his cheek.

He stared hard at his own reflection.

“Coward” he spat.

 

_____

 

Adrien was late to class. When he finally arrived, Marinette had her head down, staring at her tablet. So much for having something to say. She wouldn’t even noticed if he waved.

During class Adrien noticed a certain coolness between Alya and Marinette.  They were still polite to each other, but the conversation seemed forced.  Those two used to chatter effortlessly, he hated to see their friendship wither.

Once school finally ended, the students exited the class as a group.  Adrien packed up his bag, slowly.  He wanted Lila to leave first, so he could keep an eye on her.  With her seat in the back, Lila usually was the last one to leave the classroom.  Once she left, Adrien followed from a distance, far enough away not to be dragged into any small talk.

The girls from his class were busy talking in a group in the courtyard.  He watched as Lila ran down the stairs and joined up them.

“Hey Marinette!” Lila called cheerfully, waving.

“Lila.” Marinette greeted dryly.

“I was wondering, since you are such a good designer, I was hoping I could commission you for a new purse.  Well, not a purse, more like a clutch. There’s a big event at my mom’s embassy next week, and I would love to show off a Marinette Designed original.”  Lila gushed in her sweetest voice.

Alya nudged her and muttered. “Play nice, she’s trying to make a fresh start with you”

“Thank you for thinking of me, Lila, but I really am too busy right now.” Marinette stated flatly.

“Oh, and I could total pay you for your time and materials.” Lila grinned sweetly. “My uncle, the one that’s a famous pianist, gave me €100 for my birthday.  He told me to spend it on anything I want.  And what I want the most.” She paused for dramatic effect “Is something made by my dear friend Marinette.”

Rose squealed as she clapped her hands together and smiled. “That’s so sweet, Lila.”

Adrien didn’t like this.  She was up to something. By now, even the boys started gathering around them.  Everyone knew of the feud between Marinette and Lila.  He wasn’t sure if his classmates were gathering in anticipation of a fight, or to see the birth of a friendship. Either way, he knew their presence was putting pressure on Marinette.

“Marinette, say something,” urged Alya.

“Well, I guess I could make a few sketches.” Marinette offered.

His classmates started cheering. Literally cheering.  Adrien started sweating. This was wrong, all wrong.

“You’re the best Marinette! I pinned a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board, for inspiration.  Here, take a look.”  Lila handed Marinette her phone.

Adrien watched as Marinette politely swiped through the images. Alya, Rose and Juleka curiously peaking over her shoulder.

“And for the material, I was thinking silk.” Then, fast as a viper, Lila snatched the scarf from Marinette’s neck. “Like this. Oh my god, Marinette! Did you hurt your neck?”

The phone hit the ground as Marinette ripped the scarf back from Lila’s hands.  Adrien had never seen his classmate so angry before.  Marinette looked absolutely feral.   Her eyes were glaring, her face was red and her mouth could only be described as a snarl.  She pulled back her fist, as if to strike. “You!”

Suddenly, everyone as shouting at once.

“Whoa! Marinette!”

“Calm down girl!”

“Is that a hickey!”

“What the hell!”

“Not cool."

Adrien’s heart was racing. The mark on her neck. That was,... that was,... oh god! That was from him. And now, Marinette was trapped, in a circle of friends, being humiliated by Lila. He had to do something! But what? Think! 

Then, Adrien saw the most amazing thing happen. He watched as Marinette shut her eyes, inhale deeply, then reached down to pick up Lila’s phone. 

“Sorry. I’m so clumsy.” Marinate smiled dryly, handing Lila’s phone back. “Lila, I’m afraid I really can’t take on any commissions at this time.”

Without saying another word. Marinette turned and walked out the entry doors. Holding her scarf in her hand.

The group watched, stunned, as she left.  When Marinette was no longer view, the chattering began.

"Holy hell!”

“You saw it too!?”

“Marinette has a boyfriend!”

“This is so unlike her!”

“Could she really have a sugar Daddy?”

“I don’t care what anyway says,” Lila defended firmly.  “I’m sure it isn’t a hickey. Maybe Marinette has a rare rash? I think I saw something like it when I was in the kingdom of Achoo.”

Adrien ran into the locker room. He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, he wanted to break something. He wanted to cataclysm her smiling, lying face! Lila had set Marinette up.  Again! Instead of playing the victim like last time, she was playing the role of the dear concerned friend.

But it didn’t make sense! How had Lila known that Marinette’s scarf was concealing a hickey? He had been watching Lila all day, she never got close to Marinette.  Was it a guess? Sure, a scarf was an odd choice for a fashion accessory this time of year. Did she simply take a calculated risk? If her neck was blemish free, what was the point if that whole act.  No, she had to have known something. But how?

Alya and Nino walked to the locker room.

“...she has been off lately. Not buying the whole “sugar daddy” thing, though,”  Nino crossed his arms. “I wish I knew who started those rumors.”

Adrien wanted to pull his hair out. You were there when the rumor started! There were no older boys to start them! It was Lila!

“…even her parents are super worried her sudden reckless behavior.”  Sighed Alya. 

Wait. What? How would Alya know her parents are worried?

A single image jumped into memory. Lila holding the macaron box with the familiar TS logo. “Alya! Did you go to the bakery today?” Adrien shouted from across the room.

“Yo, Dude! Didn’t see you there.” Nino called back.

Adrien marched over to his friends. “Did you go to the bakery with Lila, and talk to Tom or Sabine?”

“Yeah,.. why are you interested?” Answered Alya, taken back.

“What did they say?” Demanded Adrien, a little more forceful than he meant too.

“Excuse me?”

“What did they tell you?” Adrien asked again, calmer this time.

“That they are worried about Marinette.” Alya explained.

“Why?” Adrien prodded.

“Your freaking me out with the questions here. Why are you so interested?” Alya stared at him, confused.

Adrien took a deep breath, forced his muscles to relax, and continued.  “Please Alya. I’m her friend. It’s important.”

“Dudes. This is looking pretty intense, so I’m just gonna go chill in front of the school.  Meet you all there.” Nino backed away from them, wide-eyed.

Alya sighed.  “Listen, I know it would mean a lot to Marinette that you are so concerned right now. And, its not much of a secret, now, with that huge hickey in her neck.”  Alya paused before leaning in closer. “This needs to stay between us, okay? Sabine told me she caught Marinette sneaking a boy out of her room last night. A blond boy.”

Adrien paled. 

“Don’t worry. No one thinks it’s you. It would take a SWAT team to bust you out of that fortress house of yours. At first, I thought it might be Luka, because they have a bit of chemistry there, but her parents said he had blond hair.” Alya thought for a moment. “Is Felix in town? 

“No.” Adrien answered dryly.  He took in a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. “So, Marinette’s parents don’t know who it was?”

“They only saw his back.” Alya replied.

“And they told you this,” He exhaled, “in front of Lila.”

“No, well, I mean, she was in the room, but it’s not like Lila could have heard anything anyways, her tinnitus is super bad right now.”

Adrien pushed past her, without saying goodbye. He ran across the courtyard, his hands in tight fists, fingernails digging into his palms.  Lila had heard Sabine. She knew Marinette had a boy in her room last night.  When she sported a neck scarf the next day, it wasn’t a difficult leap to believe that Marinette had a reason for hiding her neck.

Adrien exited out the entry doors and stood on the steps, panting.  Why didn’t he say something? He was right there when Lila started in on her lies again. And all he did watch watch. He knew she was up to something when she approached Marinette. He could have interrupted. He could have grabbed Marinette’s hand and dragged her out of there.

But he didn’t. 

And now, he had let Lila hurt his friend. Again.

Adrien was done. He was so done. He was done doing nothing. Done watching his friend get hurt.  If Lila was an Akuma, he would have pummeled her senseless with his baton. But as Adrien, he didn’t know how to fight her.  She was always too cleaver, always a step ahead.

Adrien knew he couldn’t fix what happened today.  Lila’s plan had been executed perfectly. Flawlessly.  But there was something he could do. And at this point, he didn’t care about the fallout. He was done being a coward.

Adrien inhaled a deep shaky breath, and headed toward the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie.

 

——

 

The bell brightly twinkled as Adrien opened the bakery door.  

“Welcome! We’ll be with you in a moment.” Sabine’s voice called out.  It was late afternoon and the bakery was closing soon.  Most of the pastries had been sold, and Sabine was  wiping down the counter. She smiled when she saw Adrien.

“Adrien! Wonderful too see you again. What can I get for you?” Sabine asked politely.

“Nothing today.” Adrien replied much faster than he meant too.  Sabine watched him as he stood dumbly in the in middle of the bakery.  

What’s wrong with you, Agreste? Make words! Adrien thought.  Great. Now that he was here, he had no idea what he was going to say. Stupid. Stupid.

Sabine finally spoke. “If your here to see Marinette. I’m afraid she’s grounded.”

Adrien tried to swallow, his throat tight, heart pounding in his ears. “Actually, I’m here to talk to you.”

Sabine blinked. “How can I help?”

"I want you to unground Marinette.” Adrien blurted out.

Sabine stared at him a moment before she sighed. “I appreciate the concern, but Marinette was grounded for a reason.  And until she,..”

“She’s protecting me!” Adrien shouted. He was shaking uncontrollably now.  He could feel the beads of sweat forming on his brow. He could do this!  This was something he could fix.  Even if it meant loosing his miraculous, even if it meant being punished by his father. He. Could. Fix. This.

“I beg your pardon?”

“She’s protecting me.” Adrien repeated, softer now.  “I,.. it was me, leaving the apartment last night.” There, he exhaled. It was done.

Sabine silently watched him, a confused look on her face.

“Umm,..” He continued, “you see, my father is always looking for excuses to pull me out of school. And, if it got back to him that I snuck out,.. he’d... he would…” He knew he was stammering.

Adrien took a deep breath and tried to focus his thoughts.  He paused for a moment before speaking again.

“Marinette’s trying to do the right thing, she’s trying to shield me from my father.  But, rumors are starting at school.  And,… I can’t bear to see her hurt. Not when I can help.”

“Are you dating my daughter?”  Sabine asked, still confused.

“No, but, umm, things got a bit out of hand last right.” He held up his hands. “It was mutual, I respect you daughter very much. I would never,..”

Never what? Not sure where he was going there.

Sabine walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. She looked up at him with kind eyes.  “Adrien, you’re a good person.  And it was very brave of you to come here.”  She said without any trace of irony. “I won’t be calling your father.”

“Oh thank God!” The words escaped his lips before he knew it.

“And Adrien? Please know, you are welcome here, any time of day, for any reason.” With those words, the small woman hugged him tenderly.  Adrien was shocked by the sudden contact. Before he could think of returning the embrace, Sabine pulled back.

“And thank you, Adrien, for your honesty” Sabine said sincerely. 

“So um,… Are you going to unground Marinette?” Adrien asked awkwardly.

“I think that’s only fair,” answered Sabine.

Adrien relaxed. He could breathe again. He did it.

“Is there anyway you could not tell her I came by? She’s pretty determined to deny it was me.”

Chapter Text

 

Marinette laid on her rug on the floor. How was this her life?  When she woke up this morning, she thought things couldn’t get any worse. Man, was she wrong.

She was Ladybug for crying out loud. She could battle super villains, but she couldn’t defeat Lila Rossi. Though, she’d take an army of akuma over that girl any day.

“You handled that terrible girl so well today!” chirped Tikki.

Yeah. Marinette supposed she did. God! she wanted to punch that smug little face, she almost did too.  Marinette sighed.  She felt numb.  She was so tired of feeling. She didn’t even mind being grounded at this point.  Marinette didn’t want to see her friends right now.  And, even if she had her phone, Alya would be pestering her with questions.

Marinette groaned. Alya

Somehow, Alya was convinced she was hiding something from her. Girl, I know something’s up. What are you hiding? Alya practically pounced on her in the courtyard.

Oh, not much. I run around in skin-tight magic suit, playing superhero. I’m the guardian to a bunch of powerful gods. Oh! and last night I made out with Chat Noir.

She blushed at the memory, then sighed. What kisses they were! She had never kissed a boy like that.  Ladybug had kissed Chat before, when it was necessary in battle. And once on top of Montparnasse Tower, but she couldn’t remember that one.  Maybe there were more kisses that day she couldn’t remember?

Marinette yawned and stretched.  She hoped Chat made it home okay.  He seemed pretty freaked out last night.  She couldn’t blame him though.  If her transformation dropped when she wasn’t expecting, who knows how she would deal.  She doubted Tikki would ever do that to her, not if she could help it.

Tikki explained Plagg really disliked the mushy stuff, unless it was mushy cheese. Still, dropping the transformation seemed extreme.  It wasn’t like they could really do anything with Chat’s suit on.

Marinette groaned. Why are you thinking about that!? Its not like she could have any future with Chat Noir. Bunnyx had made that pretty clear. Still, she mused, his kisses felt nice.

“Marinette?” Sabine called from downstairs. “Can you come down here for a minute?"

She moaned and pushed herself onto her feet.  Her mom probably wanted her to help close the bakery. Marinette slowly walked downstairs, dragging her feet. 

Sabine held out her phone. “You can have this back now.”

Marinette blinked, “Why?”

“You’re no longer grounded.” Informed Sabine. 

“Um, thank you?” Marinette took her phone back. “I don’t understand. Are you no longer mad?”

“I’m still angry you lied.” Sabine admitted “and with giving you your phone back, I need you to understand something.”

Here it comes.

Sabine gently grabbed her shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “Whatever you and your friends are going though. Your father and I are on your side.”

Huh?

Sabine pulled her into a warm embrace, rubbing her back. “If you have a problem, talk to us. We love you and we’re here to help.”

Marinette hugged her mother back, bewildered. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.” Sabine let go and turned to head back down to the bakery.

Marinette watched her mother depart, still stunned. Slowly she climbed back up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door.

“Tikki, I have the best mom in the universe!”

Chapter Text

The sky was still dark, when Adrien woke up before his alarm. He felt relaxed and energized at the same time.  This was it! The beginning of a new Adrien. He would be the friend Marinette needed him to be.  

Rolling out of bed, Adrien fell to the floor and started his morning routine of pushups, sit-ups and squats. Push-ups first.

Lila was changing her tactics, covering her tracks. Instead of outlandish lies and playing the victim, she was playing the master manipulator. And she already had Marinette on the defensive.

twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven,… Adrien could  feel his shoulder muscles start to warm up.

Lila might have reached to high, though.  A sugar daddy? Marinette? Was she forgetting that some of her classmates had been friends with Marinette since grade school? Adrien smiled when he remember Nino doubting the rumor.  Plus, there must be an easy way to fact check.  How many sugar daddy sites could there be? Maybe he could ask Max, or Alya to look for him. You know, out of concern for their friend.

Adrien flipped over and started his sit-ups.

Marinette needed to know she wasn’t in this alone anymore.  Together, they could watch Lila more closely, share notes, discuss strategies.  And if she needed to vent, he could be there to listen.

Adrien paused at the top of his sit-up and hugged his knees.  If she needed to cry, he could be there too, as Adrien.  He inhaled deeply.  He could be the friend she needed all along.  While getting her ungrounded was a good first step, he needed to do more.  Even if his classmates didn’t believe the sugar daddy story, they still saw the mark on Marinette’s neck.  Naturally, there would be rumors and speculation.

Adrien started his sit-ups again …thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three,..

Thankfully, he knew Marinette would never out Chat Noir. Still… It might be fun. Adrien smiled imagining his classmates reactions. Rose would be all for it. Alya would demand an interview for the Ladyblog.  The guys would give her a round fist bumps.  Hmm,.. maybe its not a bad idea.

Adrien finished his set and lay on his back.  No, he sighed.  If word ever got back to Hawkmoth that Marinette was connected to Chat, it would be dangerous for her and her family.  He couldn’t do that to her, to them.  Adrien sighed as he remembered Sabine’s warm arms holding him.  He wasn’t expecting that. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Sure as hell wasn’t a hug though. 

Maybe he could convince Marinette to tell everyone it was him. Adrien. He blushed at the thought.  Why not? Her parents already thought that. He’d have to think of a way to explain how he got out of his house. But that didn’t seem to hard.    Though, Kagami wouldn’t like it.  She had been waiting patiently for him to get his act together. So, he would have to explain himself carefully.

He groaned. How could he explain it to her? He could barely explain it too himself.  The truth was just far too messy.  Was there an explanation that even made sense? Even now? Much less once you removed Lila, his love for Ladybug, and a trouble-making kwami?

He smiled over at Plagg sleeping on his pillow. While he would never go so far as to thank his tiny friend, maybe this was the push he needed.  The catalyst to push him into action.  Starting today, he was a brand new Adrien!

Adrien stood up and stretched, then he began his squats.  Things will get better, Marinette. You’ll see. We’re a team now. We can do it. You and me against the world!

____

Adrien was tapping his foot nervously as he sat alone in Ms. Bustier’s classroom.  Should he have waited for Marinette in front of the school? Maybe he should have picked her up from her house?  No. Probably best to avoid Tom and Sabine for awhile.  He didn’t want to to come on to strong either.  Marinette was skittish on the best of days, and Adrien didn’t want to overwhelm her.  Maybe he should have texted her?  Did she have her phone back by now?  Had Sabine told her what he did?  Adrien looked over at the clock, then double checked his phone for the time.

  “Relax, Adrien, you just saw her yesterday.” Came a tiny voice from his bag.  “I still don’t see why we had to get here early.  It’s not like Marinette is ever early.”

“I couldn’t relax at home.” He answered. While true, the nervous energy he felt at home paled to what he felt now.

One by one, his classmates walked into the room.  Adrien greeted them cheerfully.  He put in his headphones and pretended to listen to music, even closing his eyes and tapping an imaginary beat.  First step in Operation Stop Lila: Assess the Damage. Adrien was listening to their conversations, straining his ears for any talk of sugar daddies, Lila, or Marinette. To his classmates’ credit, they seemed to be more concerned with their own lives than spreading gossip.

Adrien leaned back against his seat. Still, who knows how long they stayed in the courtyard after Lila pulled off Marinette’s scarf.  Or what they texted each other later that night.

At 5 minutes till, Nino and Alya walked into class. And then,.. Marinette.  Dear Sweet Marinette.  Rather than a scarf, Marinette wore a high collared Mandarin blouse.  The shinny fabric was a teal blue that practically matched her eyes.  She looks really pretty.  Marinette should wear blue more often

“Good morning, Marinette!” Adrien called out excitedly, far louder than he meant too.

“Morning, Adrien,” she said with a polite smile before sitting down and taking out her phone.

Crap. He was so excited to see her, he forgot to work on anything to say. 

“Good morning to you too, Dude.”  Greeted Nino as he sat down.  “Too much coffee this morning?”

“Something like that,” Adrien slouched in his seat. Stupid Stupid.

“Hey, girl. You got your phone back! You ungrounded then?” He heard Alya ask Marinette behind him. Adrien began pretend tapping his fingers in rhythm.  He really wanted to hear this conversation.  Adrien’s leg twitched nervously.

“Yeah, Mom gave it too me last night.” Even with his back to them, Adrien could tell by her voice that she was smiling.

“Sooooo,” Alya scooted in closer. “who is your mystery man?” She teased.

“No one.” Marinette replied flatly.

“Come on!” Alya complained. “It can’t be any worse than what people are saying around the school!”

Adrien cringed. Maybe he gave his classmates too much credit.  Or Lila could have already talked to other classes.

“People are…?” Marinette groaned, then took a deep breath. “Its private.”

“Really Marinette! After all the listening I did with” Alya lowered her voice, “you know who, and all the sudden your holding out on me.”

“I’m not holding out!” Marinette defended. “Its just really complicated.” Her voice sounded strained.

“Really, girl?!

Adrien, couldn’t see them, but he could feel Alya’s glare. Even when it wasn’t on him.

“Ugh. Fine! Be that way.”  Alya reached forward and tapped Adrien’s shoulder.  He jumped, startled. “Adrien, would you mind letting me partner with Nino today? I want to sit next to someone who talks to me.”

Ouch.

“Sure, Alya.” Adrien grabbed his bag and headed toward Alya’s seat.  Maybe this was a blessing in disguise?  He would have all class to talk to Marinette.

“Hey.” Adrien greeted.

“Hey.” She didn’t look up.  Marinette just stared at the desk in front of her.

You can do it Agreste. “I see you got your phone back.”  Adrien gave her his brightest smile, but she didn’t look at him.

“Yeah,…” She stated softly.  Were those tears in her eyes?  Having Alya leave like that must have really bothered her.

“I hate to see you and Alya fight, I’m sure she’ll come around.” Adrien offered, voice full of hope.

“She has ever other time...” Marinette slumped forward, resting her chin on her forearms, “but I think she’s wearing down.” 

“I’d help anyway I could.” Adrien offered. 

“Um,.. Sure.” She said, still gazing ahead.

“You look very pretty today. Blue is a good color on you.” 

He wasn’t sure she heard him, after several awkward moments Marinette uttered a quiet “thank you,” almost automatically.

Adrien wiped his sweaty palms on his pant leg.  Okay, here goes,...

“Marinette? I... um, never got a chance to apologize. For Lila.”

Marinette stiffened, sitting up.

“I didn’t think she’d… I never thought she’d,..."

“Don’t.” Marinette quickly replied.  She took a shaky breathe and gazed up to the ceiling. “Adrien. I can’t do this now.”

“But, If you let me...”

“Please,..” Marinette interrupted. She turned towards him, eyes wet and red, “I can’t,” she whispered before looking away.

“It’s just,... You’re a kind person, Marinette. I hate to see bad things happen to you.”

Marinette inhaled deeply, then seemed to stop breathing entirely.

“So, umm. If you ever need to talk. About anything. I’m,... I’m a good listener.”  Damn! He was losing her.

“Or we could do lunch sometime?” Adrien knew he was reaching here.  “Or play some Mecha Strike Three? Max just told me that he thinks the final version of,..”

“Look,” Marinette stated firmly, wiping her eyes before any tears fell.  “I appreciate what you are trying to do.” 

Really? Because at this point, I have no idea what I’m trying to do.

“You don’t need to feel bad for yesterday, okay?” She sniffled and wiped her nose on her forearm.  “I walked into Lila trap, she got me good. End of story.”

Marinette took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.

“It’s nobody’s fault but Lila’s “

“I,... I just want to help.” Adrien knew he sounded pathetic.

She paused for another moment before she spoke again. “Thank you, Adrien, you are very sweet.” Marinette’s eyes met his for the briefest of moments, “...but I don’t think you can help.”

A wave of icy shock descended on Adrien. It never occurred to him that she might reject his offer of help. She thinks you’re useless, remember? Coward!  Adrien found himself staring up at the lights, desperately willing himself not to cry.

“And,...” Marinette fumbled with her hands, “You probably shouldn’t be seen talking with me right now.”

——-

Fencing practice ran late and it was already dark when Adrien arrived home. He felt empty.  Dejected. After their initial conversation, he didn’t speak to Marinette anymore.  Then again, she barely spoke today,... to anybody.  And people seem to be avoiding her too.  Although people stared and whispered, no one approached Marinette.  

It tore at his very soul and made him feel sick to see his friend so isolated and lonely.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this!  He was supposed to be there for her. Today was going to be the start of a brand new Adrien. 

Adrien cringed at the memory of his earlier enthusiasm. With his head hung low, he walked through the entrance and into the foyer of the mansion. 

Natalie met him at the bottom of the stairs.  When he approached, she held out a folder. “Adrien, here is your revised training schedule, as well as a detailed fluid restriction protocol for Sunday mornings’s photoshoot.” 

Adrien growled, this again? “Is he home?” He asked, not caring if sounded annoyed.

Nathalie nodded. Adrien grabbed the folder and headed into his fathers study.  He swung open the doors without knocking. 

“Father! I can’t go on water restriction! I have a fencing tournament Saturday, the team is counting on me.”  Adrien yelled across the room at his father. Gabriel was standing at his tablet, fingers moving across the screen.  He briefly glanced at Adrien before speaking.

“Since the point of the protocol is reducing fluid in the skin to reveal muscle tone, I see no problem. It may enhance the desired effect.”  Gabriel responded drying, not looking up from his screen.

“I get weak and dizzy. I’ll barely be able to hold my saber.” Adrien complained, glaring at his father.

“I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“Why do I have to go on protocol anyways?” Adrien demanded. “It’s November, we should have months before we start swimwear.”

“The esthetic Vincent is going for is sensual in concept. You won’t be shirtless but several shots will require an unbuttoned shirt. Your abdominals will be heavily featured.”

“When you say ‘sensual’?” Adrien filled with dread. “The shoot isn’t with Lila, is it?”

“Miss Rossi will be there, yes, as she is becoming the female face of our brand.  It that a problem?”

“Yes!” Adrien answered forcefully. Okay, this was it! It was time his father knew.  If Lila wasn’t keeping her end of the bargain, then he was done being her friend. He’d make her regret going after Marinette again. Adrien took a deep breath. 

“Father, Lila lies, manipulates, and hurts people.” He told his father.

“And?” Gabriel asked, disinterested.

“She’s a terrible person!” Adrien yelled. Finally, he was able to say it.

Gabriel finally looked up from his design tablet, and frown at his son. “Adrien, you are idealistic, just like your mother.  But unlike Emilee, you are also naive.” Gabriel turned back to the glowing screen in front of him. “Ms. Rossi has a certain intelligence that will benefit her greatly in life.  Her talents will help her succeed in her goals, whatever they may be.”

“Father, if you only knew what she is...” Adrien pleaded.

“She is a driven, self-motivated and very resourceful.  She will no doubt go far.”

“She hurts my friends!”

“That is not my problem. Nor is it yours. Perhaps you need stronger friends.” Gabriel paused for a moment to draw something on his tablet. “The weak-willed always suffer from the ambitions of the strong.”  

Adrien stared at his father in disbelief.  Marinette was not weak-willed! She was one of strongest girls he knew, next to this lady. And she was suffering, silently, for something that was Adrien’s fault.

“I hope this won’t be a problem on Sunday.” Gabriel added.

Suddenly, Adrien couldn’t breathe. He watched his father tap away at the screen. Pure, red-hot anger courses through his veins. He balled his hands in fists.

“I don’t want her to touch me.” Adrien growled though clenched teeth.

“Speak up if you want me to hear you.” Gabriel chided. 

“I said, I don’t want Lila to touch me!” Adrien felt himself tremble as he glared at his father.

Gabriel looked up to meet his eyes. “You don’t have a choice. Its your job.”

After a few seconds of eye contact, Gabriel looked back to his tablet.  “Now, if you’re finished with this tantrum, I believe you have piano to practice.”

Adrien spent the next few hours pounding his fingers against the piano.  He bitterly thanked Chopin for composing the glorious clusterfuck that is Revolutionary Etude. Adrien played until the pads of his fingers hurt.  The tendons in his hands ached and protested as he pounded the song’s greedy octaves, scales, and crescendos.  His back and forearms were binding up, but Adrien welcomed the pain.  No, not welcomed, he craved it.  He needed it.  He desperately needed to feel something other than overwhelming guilt, disgust and despair that consumed him. 

The tears had stopped an hour ago, but Adrien suspected that was due to dehydration more than anything.  Just getting started on that protocol early, Dad.

Plagg watched him with sympathetic eyes from the top of the piano.  Normally, the little god watched TV or browsed the internet while Adrien practiced.  But now, he wasn’t leaving his side.  They hadn’t talked since Adrien confronted his father, and for that, Adrien was grateful.

Adrien would look up occasionally, half expecting to see a little black butterfly.  But one never came.  It surprised him actually, given the intensity of misery he was feeling at the moment.  No, he sighed. Hawkmoth could probably tell I’d be useless.  He wasn’t even worth akumatizing. Adrien wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved by the thought.

“Adrien?" He looked up to see his kwami offering a glass of water.  “If you feel up for it, its time for patrol.”

——-

Several minutes later, Chat landed on the roof of the night’s meetup location.  The Arc de Triomphe was a good central location, they used it often.  Tonight, Ladybug had arrived first. Chat saw her nervously pacing and twisting her hands.  Once she saw him, Ladybug waved and smiled brightly. When he walked closer her face fell immediately, “Chat, what’s wrong?”

What isn’t.

Ladybug moved to look at him closely. “Hey, Are you okay?” She asked, her voice full of concern.

“Not really” he responded dryly.

“Wanna talk about?”

“We can’t know anything about each other, right?” Chat practically spat.  

Ladybug stepped backwards at the unexpected venom in his voice. “Chat, I’m worried. You’re obviously upset. I just want to help.”  Ladybug walked over and sat on the edge of the roof, overlooking the city.  She patted the empty spot beside her. Chat reluctantly headed over and took a seat.

“Don’t use names or specifics.”  Ladybug explained. Chat remained silent, staring off into the night sky.  “You know,…” Ladybug nudged him,“people say cats are good listeners, but have they ever tried talking to a ladybug?” She teased playfully, trying to lighten the mood.

What could he say? It’s not like many teenagers had to deal with his types of problems. My father says I have to let a beautiful girl touch me, even when it revolts me to my core. I’m only allowed a half liter of water 48 hours before a freezing cold photoshoot.  Oh, and my friend is hurting, it’s my fault, and she doesn’t want my help. 

Chat sighed. Talking about Lila and the photoshoot were right out.  He couldn’t bare the thought his lady knowing about Lila’s touches anyway.  He didn’t want her to be disappointed in him, the way Marinette was.  The thought sickened him.  And how to explain the situation that night at Marinette’s?  What would his lady think of him compromising his identity like that?  But still, Ladybug could tell he was upset, he had to tell her something.

“Give me a moment,”  Chat took a deep breath. He was carefully choosing his words, trying to be as vague as possible. Here goes nothing…

“I’m not the friend I thought I was.” He admitted sadly.  “I’ve made poor choices and my actions have hurt” Chat thought for a moment. “are still hurting someone. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make it right”

“Oh,” Ladybug responded, thoughtfully. Chat watched her purse her lips together.  He could tell she was thinking carefully about what to say next.

“And your friend, does she...?” Ladybug finally spoke.

“She?” Chat interrupted.  “I never said.” 

“I kind assumed.” Ladybug gave him a wink and playfully bumped his shoulder.  Great. She thinks I need love advice.

“It’s not like that! We’re just friends, good friends, kinda, I dunno. It’s complicated.” Chat sighed. “She loved me once. She’s so sweet, and honest, and good.  And she’s clever and resourceful.”

Chat half smiled. “She reminds me a bit if you in fact.” That seemed to make Ladybug uncomfortable.

He cleared his throat. “But, she needed me to be there for her, and I wasn’t. And, now I can’t,... I can’t fix it!” How could he explain?

Chat held up his right hand and gazed at his ring. “I don’t need a super power, I destroy everything I touch anyway.”

“Hey,” Ladybug tried to get him to look at her. “I’m sure it’s not so bad. Have you talked to your friend?” She asked.

“She doesn’t want to talk to me.” Chat muttered.

“How do you know?”

“I do.”

“Come on, Chat.” Ladybug urged sweetly.  “You need to stop torturing yourself, you’re a good person. I’m sure whatever happened, your friend had a part in it too.”

“What?” Chat starred back at her wide-eyed.

“You said you made some poor choices, but your friend probably made some as well. Complex situations are seldom one-sided.” Ladybug explained. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Chat could just stare at her dumbly, mouth open. 

“You are good, and brave, and kind.” Ladybug continued.  “Whatever you think you did, it can’t be that bad.  Maybe your friend should have behaved differently? You shouldn’t bare all the blame, here. It probably wasn’t even your fault.”

“Are you saying it’s her fault?”

“Um, well, Maybe?”

“No!” Suddenly, He was on his feet.  Ladybug was beside him a moment later. Chat stared at her horrified. How dare she try to blame Marinette, she was the victim in this! What? Marinette should have acted differently? Maybe she shouldn’t have been so weak-willed? Adrien’s father’s words burned in his mind.

“Hey, Kitty, look at me. Please?” Ladybug hands were reaching for him, as if she was approaching a feral animal. “I know you, and you would never...”

Chat swatted her hands away. “You don’t know me!” He shouted, disgusted. Chat backed away from her slowly, staring at her as if he never seen her before.

“...and you don’t know her.” Chat’s voiced cracked.

Ladybug stood motionless, mouth agape, with a face of pure shock.  She watched silently as Chat walked backwards to the edge of the roof.

“I don’t feel up for patrolling tonight.” Chat stepped off the edge, and took off into the night.  

——-

Adrien dropped his transformation and stood motionless in the middle of his cavernous bedroom. A strange calmness flowed through him. He wasn’t mad anymore. Even though, he knew he should be.  The love of his life just implied Marinette deserved what has been happening to her.  He should be angry. Furious. But he was just.... nothing.

“Adrien, Adrien? Are you okay? Adrien? You’re worrying me here.”  Plagg was flying around, panicky. 

Adrien stared at his friend with emotionless eyes.

“I’m fine.” He stated calmly.

“Wait right here,” Plagg instructed, “let me go talk to Tikki, there’s an easy way to fix this, if we just...”

“Nothing needs fixed, Plagg,” Adrien interrupted. “it’s okay.”

“Okay?” The tiny god threw up his hands in disbelief.  “The black cat and ladybug miraculous need to be able to work together! If you can’t...”

“I can work with her.”

“Huh?”

“I’m not mad.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not anything anymore, just… just tired.”  Adrien saw the confusion in Plagg’s eye, so he continued.

“Yes, after she said those thing about Marinette, I was angry. But now, I feel... nothing.”

Adrien looked around his dark room. The ambient light of the Paris sky was enough to illuminate it features.  The rock wall, the basketball hoop, the foosball table.  There were a lot of memories in that room. From playing the piano with his mother, to watching movies with Plagg, to the amazing, but ill-fated party his friends threw him.  Every surface held a memory, held an emotion. 

Or, they used to. But now, they held nothing.  They were things. Just dead emotionless things.

Adrien walked over to his computer. He tapped the keyboard to wake it up.  His three monitors displayed three identical images of his mother. He gazed into her still unmoving, frozen-in-time-forever, empty eyes. There was no sadness, no warmth, just... nothing.

Adrien sat down in his chair and began clicking through menus.

“Adrien?” Plagg asked, concerned. “it says all data will be lost. This action cannot be undone.”

“Yeah,” responded Adrien blandly.

Reaching into his pocket, Adrien pulled out his phone. He thumbed through the settings until he found what he was looking for.  With one click of his finger, everything was restored to factory default.  He tossed his phone on his desk.

Adrien walked to his closet as Plagg followed silently.  He found a duffle bag that he used for fencing gear, and threw it on the ground.  Adrien looked for anything and everything that wasn’t Gabriel brand.  A few shirts, some jeans, a hoodie.  Unfortunately, all of his socks and underwear bore his father’s designer logo, there was no way around that.

Adrien paused as he grabbed a handful of handkerchiefs from his drawer.  There, under the neatly stacked handkerchiefs, lay two matching lucky charms.  Well, not really matching, not anymore.  Adrien had pieced together the bracelet Marinette had broken that night.  Sadly, the cracked and scuffed charms he couldn’t fix.  And even with a new string, the charm looked tattered. Broken.

Adrien grabbed them both and inspected them in his palm.  He should feel something. Anything. These were important to him.  But Adrien could only stare at them, unfeeling. Tonight, they were just stupid glass and ceramic beads.

Still, it was a piece of Marinette, he thought as he shoved them into his pocket. Adrien took a deep breath.  Even if he couldn’t help her, he could at least not be around to hurt her anymore.

“Plagg?” He asked, zipping up the duffle bag. “Up for breaking into a safe?

“Oh!!” Plagg was suddenly in front of him “Diamonds, jewels, gold bars, stacks of cash!?” He responded excitedly.

“Just my passport and birth certificate,” Adrien stated coldly. “I don’t want his money.”

“Passport? Are we going somewhere?” Plagg asked grinning.

“Anywhere but here.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Marinette shivered under her blanket. Well, not just one blanket, three blankets.  Three blankets, and scarf, her winter coat, earmuffs, two pairs of socks and a hot water bottle.  Her back ached from sitting hour after hour on her rooftop balcony. It had been eight hours since she spoke with Chat.  Eight hours to think, and analyze, and ponder what the hell happened.  And as as the cloudy night sky started to lighten, she was no closer to figuring out what went wrong.

Marinette was good with puzzles.  She was Ladybug for crying out loud.  She could defeat villains with a fork, or nail polish, or a snorkel.  Analyzing situations came naturally for her.  It was her strength.  So, why was she so lost now?

Marinette rubbed her dry tired eyes. It had to have been her Chat was talking about. Right?  Chat was upset because he had left Marinette to face her mom alone. Right?  Chat didn’t go to her school, she knew that.  So he couldn’t have know about Lila’s trap to humiliated her.  Or did he?  Could Chat have been watching?  Maybe he sent Plagg to check up on her?  Tikki admitted the kwamis hung out together sometimes.  But why would Plagg care about her now, when he had been such a brat the other night. No, nothing about it made sense.  

Marinette was only sure of one thing.  Her partner was hurting, and somehow she made it worse.

Dear Sweet Chat. Marinette sighed through chattering teeth. For all his smirks and puns, Marinette knew Chat was sensitive.  He even cries when other people cry. Marinette remembered his tear streaked face two nights ago.  She would have done anything to help him feel better then.  Marinette cringed, but she had only hurt him more.

Arg! That night, what had she done?  She thought they were just two lonely souls sharing soft kisses.  Yeah, it sucks that they were caught, but that was just normal teenage stuff. He didn’t know she was used to battling super villains.  She was stronger than he knew. And she didn’t blame him for what happened.  Chat needed to know that.

Marinette looked over at a candle beside her, the flame dying in a pool of melted wax.  On the floor beside her, sat a full thermos of tea, and 2 empty mugs.  She needed to fix this, to talk to him as Marinette. She shifted her shoulders, trying to ease her cramping muscles.  But she had no way to contact him.  

Ladybug had left several apology messages on Chat’s baton, for all the good it did. All went unanswered.  

And so, Marinette had waited. All night. Desperately hoping that maybe Chat might see her candle and stop by.  Despite his earlier insistence that he wasn’t up for patrolling, he had been running around all night long. But he never came close enough for her to call to him. Ladybug couldn’t help him, but maybe Marinette could assure him.  Help take away his pain.

The sky continued lightening, but there would be no colorful sunrise this morning.  Gradually, the muted colors of night started to saturate again. Marinette eye’s fell to a wisp of red on the floor of her balcony.  She stared at it curiously.  Scraps of fabric were everywhere in her room, but they never made it up to her balcony.  An icy cold realization swept over her.

No! Marinette shot up out of her blankets, her muscles stiff and slow with the sudden exertion. Within seconds, she was kneeling beside the tiny frayed cord.  Tenderly, she picked it up and held it in her cold hands.  Adrien’s gift.  The tiny charm bracelet, whose textures and beads she knew by touch alone.

The sense of loss was excruciating.  

Marinette hadn’t really meant it.  Well, maybe she meant it at the time.  But, she was just so angry and confused.  And, it had been so long since she allowed herself to be angry.  So many months of bottled up emotions found their way to the surface, and she exploded.  Marinette had acted in anger, she sighed, and no amount of regret would change that now.  She cradled the tiny cord in her hands, wishing she could undo that moment she threw her gift away.

Maybe she could still fix this? Her eyes darted around the balcony for the scattered beads.  “Tikki!” she shouted.  In a moment, the tiny kwami phased through the floor and was floating in front of her.

“Yes Marinette?”

“The beads, from my bracelet,  The one I broke that night with Chat.  Do you gather them?”

“Um, no.” Tikki replied as she looked around.  “The crows could have taken them.  They really love shinny things.”

Marinette shoulders slumped as she rested on her heels.  She brought her hands to her chest and bowed her head, holding the precious cord tightly. What had she’d done?

“Marinette, You’re shivering! There’s two hours until school starts and you have been up all night.  You should really try to get some sleep.”

“No, Tikki,” She answered, determined, “there’s something else I need to do.”

____

Marinette arrived to Ms. Bustier’s Classroom 10 minutes early.  She couldn’t remember the last time she was this early.  Usually, it was a struggle for her to get there on time.  But today, she was on a mission.

Marinette looked down to the tiny box sitting on the desk beside of her.  Inside were 4 freshly made passionfruit macaroons. Adrien’s favorite. Even with 2 hours to work, she barely was able to finish in time.  Do people really know how long these take to make?  From shifting the almond flour multiple times, to beating the egg whites, to letting the batter sit once it had been pipped, macaroons were the most time-intensive item in their bakery.  

Marinette stretched her neck.  She didn’t mind though. Sure, sleep would have been nice, but after a night of feeling powerless to help Chat, this was at least something she could do.

She had been cold to Adrien yesterday.  Marinette knew it.  But it took everything she had just to get though the day.  She couldn’t trust herself to talk about Lila or Alya without bursting into tears.  And that wasn’t really an option for her, for Ladybug. Marinette sighed.  Adrien was only trying to help, she knew that. But, couldn’t he see that her friendship with Alya was dying before her very eyes?  And the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about Lila.

Marinette smiled and waved as Alya and Nino entered the classroom.  Alya gave her a half smile and a wave before she sat down next to Nino.  I guess she’s still mad.

“Soooo you still up for helping me take my sisters to the amusement park?” Marinette saw Alya smile brightly at Nino.

“You know it, Babe!” He responded, grinning broadly.

“I have the best boyfriend ever,” Alya scooted over closer to him.  She grabbed his arm and spoke softly into his ear. “After we get them down for the night, let’s play that super penguino level you been wanting to try.”

Are Nino’s ears actually turning red? Ugh, no one actually thinks you are talking about a video game!

Marinette set the macaroon box on the seat beside her. It appeared like Adrien would sit next to her today.  She knew he would forgive her.  Adrien was really sweet like that.  She smiled as a familiar warmth filled her chest.  Here he was a boy that had so much, and yet friendships were so precious to him.

“Agreste, Adrien?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“…”

“Nino,” Miss Bustier asked, “did Adrien text you he was sick?”

“No, Ma’am” Nino replied, helpfully.

“Lila,” Miss Bustier called to the back of the room, “does Adrien have a photo shoot that you know of?”

“He might be working with a trainer all day today.” Lila offered sweetly. “We have a super sexy photo shoot Sunday morning.”

Marinate suddenly became nauseous.

“Sorry, Babe,” Nino suddenly whispered to Alya, as Miss Bustier continued her roll call.  “I’m going to have to bail on Sunday.”

“What, why?” Ayla sounded annoyed.

“My bro needs me,” Nino explained.  “Online gaming.”

“Seriously?! I need you.” Ayla was whispering loudly.  "The twins are difficult even with two people.”

“Not like this,” Nino spoke hushed.  “I’ll make it up to you later, okay?  You know what they say, ‘bros before… girlfriends?’”

"That is not what they say!” Ayla slapped her hands on her desk.

“Miss Césaire! If sitting next to Nino is too distracting, please take your old seat.”

“Yes, Miss Bustier.”  Alya stood up sheepishly. She then glared at Nino before sliding next to Marinette.

“Chloe, Sabina,” Miss Bustier called as she finished roll.  “If your ready for your presentation, please start setting up now.”

“Peace offering?” Alya quietly asked her when she saw the macaroon box on her seat.

“Something like that,” Marinette admitted, blushing. “I made them for Adrien.”

"This again?" Alya asked, concerned.

“No, its not like before,” Marinette defended.  “He was kind to me yesterday, I just wanted to say thank you.”

They watched while Sabrina struggled to setup a giant poster board.  ‘The Societal and Cultural Impact of Victor Hugo’ was almost impossible to read through the gaudy mess of glitter.  Chloe wasn’t helping, but she was ordering instructions to Sabrina nonetheless.

“So,…um any upcoming articles for the Ladyblog?” Marinette asked, changing the topic.

“Kinda. I have a detailed analysis of the strength of akumas now verses three years ago.  Hawkmoth isn’t akumatizing people as often, but when he does, they are more powerful and deadly than before.”

Tell me about it, Marinette thought sarcastically.

“…in the article, I discuss the pros and cons.  I mean.  It sucks for our heroes that the villains are worse.  But, we miss less school this way.  And we never deal with akumatized babies anymore.

Awhh… Marinette mused, Baby August was so cute too!  Well, toddler August now.  Did he start preschool yet?

“Alya?”  Marinette asked nervously, playing with her hands. “If Nino can’t make it, I can go with you Sunday. You know, to help with your sisters?”

Alya closed her eyes and exhaled.  “No, Marinette, but thank you for the offer.”

“Oh, Okay.” Marinette slouched, starting down at her hands.

“You are my friend, Marinette.  And I will be here for you.”  Alya touched her shoulder lightly. “As soon as you remember I am your friend too.”

____

After class ended, Marinette and Alya exited the classroom. Nino stopped Alya in the breezeway. He held up his hands defensively. “Listen, Babe, give me a chance to explain.” Marinette continued walking, then stopped and pretended to look at her phone.  She watched her friends out of the corner of her eye.

“Okay?” Alya crossed her arms cross her chest.  “Let’s her it.”

Nino took a deep breath. “Adrien needs me.” He explained, enunciating every word.

When he didn’t say more, Alya looked around confused. “Um.. yeah, you said that.”

“These photoshoots...” it looked like he was searching for words, “they take a lot out of him.”

“What’s so hard about being pretty and smiling?”

“It’s more than just that.” Nino explained. “It’s embarrassing, its always super cold, and sometimes, they give him this stupid water protocol.  The dude can only drink a half liter of water the day before, and nothing the day of.”

“How is that legal?”

“Hell, if I know.” Nino threw up his hands. “But it makes him weak, and dizzy, and it gives him crazy bad headaches.”

“Oh,” Alya said surprised, “Why does he do it, then?”

“It’s like, industry standard, I guess.” Nino offered.  “That shit’s messed up!”

“Okay, I get it.  Adrien has to go through hell to model.”  She paused and looked at Nino.  “What does that have to do with you? You guys just online game, with a video chat through your phone.  I’ve seen it.  You game for hours without even talking to each other.”

“Yes, I know. But I’m there for him.”

Alya looked at him, still confused.  “He’s able to eat and drink normally after a shoot, right?  The headaches, the dizziness, that goes away after the shoot.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” Nino shrugged, “but he still gets really shaky, and sometimes he leaves gaming to go throw up.  He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”

Alya looked thoughtfully at the ground, as if she was trying to process all the new information. “That’s… that’s actually really terrible. I had no idea.”

“I can’t explain it,” Nino said while taking her hand.  “Just being able to see my face,… helps him somehow.” Nino gazed at her, his eyes searching for understanding.

“It’s okay, Nino,” Alya said as she pulled him into a hug.  “I’m not mad.  You’re a good friend to him.”

“Thanks, Babe.” Nino kissed the top of her head.  “I can come over Saturday, we can do your favorite level of Super Penguino.”

Alya smiled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. “Maybe we can do both.”

Marinette watched as her friends headed toward their next class, hand in hand.  She felt awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin.  Marinette remembered all of Adrien’s photos that used to decorate her walls.  She used to spend hours staring at his dreamy eyes, his pouty mouth, his smooth skin.  Was she really staring at an embarrassed, cold, and dehydrated teenage boy?  The thought made her skin crawl.  She felt dirty.

“Hey Nino?” Marinette called as she ran up to her friend. “I couldn’t help overhear your conversation just now.” 

“Oh…” Nino turned to face her, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”

“Has it always been like this?” Marinette asked. “The modeling”

“I mean, it varies. He doesn’t always have to do the water thing, and sometimes he’s outside where its warm.”  Nino, took a deep breath and exhaled.  “But, I don’t think Adrien has ever liked modeling. You know him.  The dude is good-looking but he’s also kinda shy. He’s just too much of a people-pleaser to say anything.” Nino paused for a moment before he continued. “Though, it has gotten worse this past year. Much worse.”

“Since he started modeling with Lila?” Marinette asked.  Alya raised an eyebrow at her.

“Yea, I guess the really bad shoots started happening around that time.” Nino shrugged, “maybe its extra pressure modeling with a girl. I dunno. My dude never says.”

——

Marinette spend the rest of the day on auto-pilot.  She could always tell Adrien didn’t like the photoshoots with Lila, but having Nino confirm it made it worse. She just didn’t get it!  Why did he do it, any of it?  Why wouldn’t he just tell his father?  If Gabriel knew, there is no way he’d make his son suffer like that.  No parent would.  Gabriel might be strict, but he’s not a monster.

Her exhaustion was getting the upper hand when she arrived home from school.   Thank goodness it was Friday.  Marinette groaned as she climbed the stairs to the apartment. She still needed to talk to Chat, but waiting up all night again wasn’t an option.  Maybe she could have Ladybug bring him a letter from Marinette?  Hmm,... a letter.  That could work. But their next patrol wasn’t until Thursday.  Maybe she could leave a letter on her balcony?  Chat was often seen running around Paris on his non-patrol nights. 

Or, she thought with a smile. Maybe Tikki could have Plagg suggest Chat stop by for macaroons?  She knew he liked them.  Marinette glance at the tiny box she carried in her hands.  Even if she dropped these by Adrien’s mansion, he would never be allowed to eat them so close to a photoshoot.  Hmm... I wonder if Chat has ever tried passionfruit?

Once Marinette arrived to her room, she headed straight to her desk.  She grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Okay, girl. Think!  What would Marinette say to Chat?

Her weary brain failed her as she stared at the blank page. She had a hundred things to say, and yet she couldn’t think of a single thing to write.  In the end, she kept her words brief. 

 

My Dearest C,

Your identity is safe. I’m not in trouble with my parents. Please don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault. I’m worried about you.

Love, Marinette.

 

When Marinette awoke the next morning, she checked her balcony first thing.  The candle had extinguished itself during the night.  The letter and the box of macaroons were in the same spot she left them. Untouched.

 

Chapter Text

Adrien shivered as he stood overlooking the Seine, his arms resting against the railing.  He rubbed his dry eyes. There would be a sunrise this morning.  The past three mornings, the clouds gradually lightened until night turned into day, but there were no colors in the sunrise.  But today, only high clouds speckled the starry night sky.  Yes, today there would be a sunrise.

Though, he sighed thoughtfully, the cloudy nights were much warmer than the clear ones.  This last night was rough.  Adrien gently petted the sleeping kwami in his pocket.  The temperature had fallen to just above freezing, and Plagg had been able to hold his transformation almost the whole night. When the transformation faded, Adrien picked up his tired kwami, climbed down off the roof, and started walking.  He wasn’t so chilled if he was walking.

When Adrien was Chat Noir, he didn’t feel cold.  A fact he was grateful for.  When the nights got cold, Plagg insisted he transform to get some sleep.  And for once, Adrien listened.  He found a new rooftop every night, finding little cubbies or niches to crawl into.  Last night, he slept above a pool, curled up beside some piece of machinery that hummed all night.  Adrien found it soothing.

After they left Adrien’s father’s house, Plagg was giddy with ideas.  They were going to live it up.  The little god quickly reminded him that locks were inconsequential to beings that could phase through matter.  Empty apartments, hotel rooms, you name it, Adrien could take his pick.  He could phase through bank machines to grab cash.  The city could be theirs.

Plagg didn’t understand when Adrien politely declined the offer.  No, he ran away so he could be the the person he wanted to be.  And that person wasn’t a criminal.  Plagg insisted that the people of Paris would gladly help their hero in his time of need.  But Adrien refused take anything that wasn’t offered willingly.  He wouldn’t steal.

Plagg pouted for hours in response to Adrien’s stubbornness, even claimed he’d refuse to transform.  But in the end, the tiny god couldn’t let his chosen freeze to death on a roof.  He begged Adrien to transform, to get some sleep.

The suit provided protection from the elements, but it didn’t make a hard roof any more comfortable.  Adrien slept when he was exhausted, but woke up when he had slept enough for the discomfort to win out.

It was a constant battle between discomfort and exhaustion. But Adrien was always tired.

Pale pinks started warming up the clouds.  Today was Monday, Adrien mused, it would be the second day Adrien missed school.

He should miss his friends, he supposed, but the relief was greater. Without him there, Nino wouldn’t have to worry and dote. Without him there, Marinette wouldn’t be disappointed.  Out here, he didn’t feel like a failed friend. Or a failed son.

Adrien buried his nose in his bright yellow jacket.  The jacket was way too big, and often drafty, but it was a precious gift.  An Algerian tourist gave it to him. The man explained he was flying home and had no use for such a big downy jacket. But Adrien suspected that was just an excuse. The man was just trying to be kind.

Then later that day, an elderly woman handed him a knitted hat she had made for the homeless. Adrien was struck speechless by her generosity and barely remembered to say thank you.

Adrien had left home four nights ago.  He left without a plan, hell, he even forgot to take his jacket. Though, a tailored designer jacket would not doubt attract attention.  Adrien knew he had to stay in Paris in case of akuma attacks, he also knew his father would be looking for him. So, he had to say as hidden as possible.

It was easier to do than he first thought.  Without a generous amount of product and styling, his hair fell into his eyes.  It gave him a feral, unkept look.  It also served to hide his green eyes, one of his more distinguishing features.  Adrien also kept to the less desirable parts of Paris.  While nowhere in Paris could really be considered poor, there were areas that homeless and refugees gathered.  And that’s where Adrien chose to spend his days.

Bright oranges began to glow in the sky as the horizon changed from the dark blue of night, to the pale blue of day.

People had been kind to him.  He wasn’t expecting that.  Adrien had absolutely nothing to give in return, and yet people were kind.  He had found a coffee shop with an old piano.  The barista smiled at him and told him he could play, even without buying anything.  The shop was warm and smelled like coffee and pastries.  Adrien played songs he knew well.  His mother’s favorites.  Clair de Lune, Moonlight Sonata, Swan Lake.

When a little girl sat next to him wearing a ballet leotard, Adrien played Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  The little girl danced and squealed with excitement.  Her mom bought him a coffee and muffin.

Yeah, people could be kind.  Adrien wished his father knew that. For so many years, he watched his father fear the world, fear other people.  His father’s paranoia had kept Adrien isolated almost all his life.  You were wrong, father.

But to be fair, not everyone was nice.  A well dressed couple bought him dinner and offered to let him use their flat to shower.  Adrien was eager to accept their offer, but Plagg bit his hand in warning.  The little god was convinced their generosity had ulterior motives.  Later, Adrien asked Plagg to elaborate, “you don’t wanna know,” was all he said.

The sky was awash with colors now.  It was truly beautiful.  Something out of a painting.  A woman, who was out walking a dog, stopped to take a picture with her phone.

There would be a mass starting soon.  Adrien wasn’t religious, but the church would be warm.  The daily masses were shorter than the Sunday ones. Still, it would be an hour he could spend inside.

Then, Adrien would walk to a laundromat. He could easily spend 2 hours inside there without arousing suspicion.  Adrien had no idea how to do laundry, and he was beginning to think it was a very individualized process.  As he watched the people around him, he noticed some used liquid soaps while others used powders. Some people put all their laundry in a once, while others seem to do loads by color.  Adrien knew his clothes were starting to smell, so this was something he really needed to learn.

Then, around lunchtime, Adrien would walk by open air restaurants.  There, he would watch and wait.  When people finished dining, there was window of time that their uneaten food was left unattended. He could easily run by and snag a half eaten sandwich, an unfinished baguette, or chips. It wasn’t stealing, not really.

Adrien also found that he liked public libraries. He’d never been to one before. To his surprise, libraries were so much more than just books.  There were computers, story times, children’s puzzles and games.  Adrien used one of the public computers to check the Ladyblog.  Without his phone, he didn’t get the alerts of akuma attacks. Thankfully, there hadn’t been one.  He was relived to see that he hadn’t left his lady to fight on her own.

However, Adrien was surprised that his disappearance wasn’t in the news. Not even in the entertainment webpages. Sure, there were millions of people living in Paris. A runaway 16-year-old wasn’t that important in the long run. But it still seemed odd.  Before, he would often find his name in the gossip pages, even when the story was a complete fiction. Why nothing now?

Perhaps an exposé on why a fashion heir would choose to become a homeless youth would be bad for the brand? Adrien thought bitterly.

——

Marinette clung tightly to the macaroon box as she ran to school Monday morning.  All weekend long, her thoughts drifted from Chat to Adrien.  Chat never returned to her balcony, so she would have to wait until patrol to see in again.  And Adrien…?Was he okay? Was he thirsty? Did Nino and him play their game?  She wished she had known the location of the photoshoot.  Because, you know,… maybe Ladybug needed to interrupt. And grab Adrien out of there for a top secret akuma-related mission.

In the end, Marinette just kept herself busy all weekend long. She worked on her assignments, sketches, and commissions. She tried to distract herself from the unease she felt in the pit of her stomach. The guilt she felt from knowing that Adrien could be hurting, and there was nothing she could do. And from the fact that she never got to apologize for her behavior on Thursday.

As she ran up the steps of Françoise Dupont High School, she found Nino pacing back and forth.

“Isn’t class suppose to start in like two minutes?” Marinette asked as she ended her sprint.

“Yeah,…” Nino kept looking to the street, watching the cars go by.  “I’m waiting for Adrien. Haven’t heard from the dude all weekend.”

“Oh,” Marinette looked at the box of freshly made macaroons in her hand.  “You never got to play your game?”

“No. I’m worried about him.” Nino admitted, staring at the street.

Yeah,… me too.

Marinette looked at the steady line of cars passing in front of the school.  Adrien was never late.  Sometimes he missed school for work, but he was always on time the days he was present.

“Let’s go, Nino,” Marinette gently touched his arm. “Adrien wouldn’t want us to be late because of him.” She tried to smile reassuringly, but Nino only gave her a sad look back.

At roll call, Miss Bustier asked Nino and Lila if they knew where Adrien was.  Lila relayed that she had done her super sexy photoshoot solo. While part of Marinette was relieved that Adrien didn’t have to pose with Lila, she felt more and more bothered by Adrien’s absence in the seat in front of her.

Not that the seat was empty.  Alya sat next to Nino.  Sometimes holding his hand, sometimes stroking his arm.  Her actions were warm and comforting, but they lacked the flirty nature she normally showed.

After class, Marinette headed to the locker room.  She was lost in her own thoughts when she sat down on the bench in front of the lockers. What’s going on, Adrien? Marinette stared at the floor. Was he grounded? And his father just took it to the extreme? And I thought losing my phone was bad.

Suddenly, a familiar pair of red boots stood in front of her. Ugh! Not her. The last time she spoke to Lila, she barely resisted punching her smug little face.

“Adrien missed our photo shoot Sunday.”  Lila stated, staring coldly at Marinette.

“Yeah, I heard in class,” Marinette replied disinterested.  Engaging in small talk with Lila was the last thing she needed right now.  Marinette stood up to leave, but Lila blocked her way.

  “According to Gabriel, he was…”

“Oh, so your on first name terms with Mr. Agreste? How nice.” Marinette retorted with false sweetness as she walked around Lila. “What close pals you’re becoming.”

  “According to Gabriel,” Lila repeated, “he was having some sort of tantrum.”

“A tantrum sounds soooo like Adrien.” Marinette’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey! Listen to…"

“Are you even trying this time?” Marinette cut her off as she turned around. “At least the sugar daddy thing was original.”  She made no attempt to hide the mockery in her voice.

Lila grabbed her wrist, but Marinette quickly swatted her away.

“If Adrien backs out of our deal, I’m going to stop being nice.”  Lila warned.

“Since when were you ever nice?” Marinette taunted.

“Oh, Marinette,” Lila smiled wickedly “you don’t wanna see...”

“Shut it, Lila!” Marinette snapped. “There is no way I’m believing anything that comes out of your mouth.”

Lila’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“So, whatever your plotting, I’m not letting you set me up again.” She crossed her arms, “I’m not taking the bait this time.”

Lila glared back, her hands in fists.

Marinette smirked before turning to leave. “I’m done being played by you” she yelled as she pushed open the locker room door.

—-

Dawn was still a few hours away on the cold Thursday morning. It had been six days and seven nights since Adrien left his father’s home.  It was December now, and the nights were very cold and very long. 

Adrien huddled next to the large mechanical box on the roof of the pool.  He wasn’t even sure what is was for.  But it had a pleasing hum, and it was warm.  All night long, he alternated which side he leaned against it. He could sleep a little bit, here and there.  But, he never knew for how long.  Adrien didn’t have a watch, so he had to patiently wait for morning. 

Long before sunrise, the car noises would start.  Traffic in Paris was terrible, and the sound of cars and trucks was ever present.  Except for in the dead of night. Hours before sunrise, the street noises would slowly come back to life.

Adrien curled and relaxed his toes, trying to get the blood flowing.  He didn’t wear his socks; he had no way to dry them after yesterday’s downpour.  Instead he wrapped his feet in paper napkins.  They provided a meager barrier between his feet and his damp canvas shoes.  The napkins were fragile, however, and Adrien could no longer walk endlessly to keep warm.  Not that his feet could handle it, anyway.  They were covered with blisters and sores. It was probably a good thing the cold numbed his feet.

Plagg stirred in Adrien’s pocket. Adrien petted him gently, grateful for the heat of his little buddy. At least one of his hands was warm.

The constant transformations were wearing the tiny god down.  Surprisingly, Plagg never complained.  During the day, Adrien was always sure to wonder near markets and cheese shops.  Plagg would phase through the wall and eat his fill before returning to Adrien.

It was harder for Adrien to get food now.  With each day, he was looking grimier, more haggard. It had been over a week since he had shaved. While a full beard might have helped keep his face warm, Adrien’s teenage scruff just made him look dingy.  The open air restaurants were now aware of his grab’n’go tactics. Two days ago, he was caught by a busboy and brought to the manager.  Adrien was giving the option of washing dishes or talking to the police.  He chose dishes.

Adrien tried his best, he really did. But he had never washed dishes before, and the water was scalding on his sensitive hands.  Also, there was a large metal sanitizer box that he didn’t understand.  Why did you steam the dishes after you washed them?  He burnt his fingers when he tried to take out the pots and silverware too soon.

To reward his efforts, the manager bought him a large dinner.  Adrien ate it greedily, with bandages on his hands. The sympathetic man offered to let Adrien try again.  He just needed his social security card to officially put him on the books.  Adrien politely declined.  He didn’t even know if he had a card.  He didn’t see it in the safe that night. Besides, his father could probably use it to find him.

Adrien twisted around so his other side was against the warm metal. He gingerly picked up his sleeping kwami and put him in his other pocket.

Plagg wanted him to go to Marinette. Just explain the whole Lila thing! She’ll understand. Plagg assured. 

She might, Adrien mused, then what? Marinette literally lived right across the street from the school. If his father found him, his wrath would be extreme. It could kill the young designer’s career before it even started.

No, Adrien couldn’t risk doing that to her. Not after everything else. He wouldn’t her hurt again.

The exhaustion was winning again, and Adrien felt his eyelids get heavy.  Only a few more hours until dawn.  A few more hours until the churches, laundromats and libraries would open.  He could make it until then.

—-

Thursday morning, the unexpected happened.  Sure, the day started out like another other. By now the students in Miss Bustier’s class were getting used to Adrien’s absence. But that didn’t make it any easier.  Marinette sighed as she sat alone while Alya and Nino sat in the front seat.

“Bourgeois, Chloe?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“Uh… Don’t you mean, ‘Agreste, Adrien?’” Chloe responded, rolling her eyes.

Miss Bustier exhaled sadly, “Adrien’s no longer on my class list,” she explained.

Everyone started talking at once. Well, almost everyone. Marinette just sat, slack jawed. She felt like she was falling.  Adrien, gone from school? Forever?

Marinette bitterly remembered the other time Adrien was pulled out of school.  It was a punishment for loosing his father’s precious book.  Did something happen to make Mr. Agreste so angry again?

She looked down at the tiny macaroon box on the seat beside her. How was she going to see Adrien again if he was locked inside his house? He hadn’t been responding to texts or calls, from anybody.

A loud WHAMP startled Marinette from her thoughts.  Nino had slammed his fists down, hard, on his desk.  The classroom, that was so noisy moments ago, became quiet and still. No one moved.

After a moment, Alya reached out to touch him. But Nino shrugged off her touch, grabbed his bag and marched out of the room, slamming the door.

After that, no one spoke much during class.  The shock of it was so raw.  Marinette heard Chloe’s soft cries and sniffles, but she herself was stoic and dry-eyed. It doesn’t make sense. Marinette was beginning to wonder if she ever understood anything anymore.

—-

“Hey Marinette?” Alya called to her after class had ended. “I umm,.. I know you and I are not doing so hot right now,” She was fidgeting with the strap of her book bag, “but I need to ask you about Adrien.”

“Adrien?” Marinette asked, surprised. She loaded her books into her bag.  “I haven’t spoken to him since he was last at school. We’re not close." She said sadly, “you know that.”

Alya narrowed her eyes. “I thought I knew a lot of things about you.”

“C’mon Alya, if you’re still mad about,…"

“No. I’m sorry, I’m not,” she interrupted.  Alya’s gaze softened then she continued. “It’s just… Nino is really scared, so I’m following up any leads I can.”

“Leads? About Adrien?” Marinette asked, voice full of concern. “Do you have any?”

“Um,.. not yet.” Alya looked around nervously. “Can we go somewhere more private?"

Alya walked toward the classroom doors and beckoned for Marinette to follow.  Silently, they walked to the girl's restroom.  Once inside, Alya checked every stall to make sure that they were empty.

“Why all the secrecy?” Marinette looked at her friend curiously, as Alya finished inspecting the row of stalls?

“I just don’t want to make things any worse for you right now.”

“Oh.” Marinette stared back at her friend, confused.  "I thought this was about Adrien.”

“It is.” Alya took a deep breath, “okay, two days before he disappeared, Adrien was really worried about you.” Alya explained, “He started asking me a bunch of questions?”

“A bunch of questions, about me?”

“It was right after you were grounded. I was upset, and extremely worried about you.”

Marinette looked down at her hands.

“I, umm…” Alya winced, “I told him why you were grounded”

"But you didn’t know?!” Marinette protested. “The rumors Lila has been spreading about me are…"

“Arg! Lila again.  No, Your mom told me!"

“My mom? But why would she...” A cold realization swept over her. She steadied her breath. “And you told Adrien?”

“Not at first,” Alya admitted reluctantly, “but he kept on digging for information.”

“Alya!” Marinette whined. “What exactly did you tell him?”

“That your parents saw a boy leave your room in the middle of the night.” Alya grimaced.

Marinette groaned and covered her face with her hands.

“He wanted to know if your parents knew who it was, but I told him they only saw his back. And, it couldn’t be Luka  because it was someone with blond hair.”

A fresh wave of embarrassment hit. Whispers amongst students were one thing, but Alya and Adrien actually knowing was another.

She was just so ready for this to be over.

“What does this have to do with Adrien leaving school?”

“I think he told your parents it was him.”

“What?!” Marinette shrieked

“Right after I told him, he stormed out of here. Then, Nino saw Adrien head to your parents bakery. You were grounded, so it couldn’t have been to see you.  And it’s not like the boy eats carbs.  The next day, you were back at school, ungrounded, like nothing happened.”

Marinette’s mind struggled with the new information.  It didn’t make sense.  Was he there when Lila pulled off her scarf? Did he see the mark on her neck? Why would he claim it was him?

But, if he did…  if Adrien confessed to leaving her room that night.  It might explain her mother’s strange behavior.  She went from grounding Marinette for life, to saying she’d support her and her friends. It didn’t make sense at the time, but Marinette wasn’t about to complain.  If Adrien told Sabine it was him, that would explain her mother’s attitude shift. Her parents liked Adrien.  If they believed Marinette was lying to protect him…

But still,...Why would he do that for her? If something like that ever got back to his father…?

Marinette gasped and covered her mouth.  She could feel her eyes start to water.

Alya grabbed her shoulders and looked into her eyes

“Now, don’t freak out, Marinette. It’s just a lead, we’re grasping at straws here.”  Alya assured.

“It’s hard not to freak out. If I somehow got Adrien in trouble...”

“We’re not there yet, girl!” Ayla tried to assure her friend.  “Did your mom or dad say anything?  Could they have contacted Adrien’s father?”

Marinette shook her head. “They wouldn’t do that.” She was confident in that. “They’ve never been comfortable with how his father treats him.”

The tears in her eyes were rolling down her cheeks now.

“Hey Marinette? Marinette?” Alya tried to get Marinette to look at her. “There’s no need to cry, this is a good thing.”

“A good thing?” She choked.

“We’re one step closer to figuring out what happened to Adrien.” Alya half smiled. “And this is one theory we can scratch off the list.”

“He lied to defend me!  It wasn’t his fault,.. and he,...” A sob excepted her throat. He's a coward. Her words burned in her mind. Oh god! she was wrong,… she was so so wrong.

“Alya!” Marinette realized in horror, “The last time we spoke, he said he wanted to help me.”

Marinette hugged her arms and tried to calm her breathing. Hot tears now fell in her forearms.

“He helped me! He helped me when he didn’t have to.” Her throat was tiny and tight. “It could have cost him so much! Why would he do that, Alya!?”

Marinette desperately tried to swallow another sob, she couldn’t give into panic. No, no, no… not here.  Inhale.. She tried to breathe, but her shaky lungs wouldn’t cooperate.  She dug her fingernails into the fabric of her blazer, trying to focus on the pain.  Come on, Marinette! Calm down, calm down.  She looked up at the high windows of the bathroom.  Marinette needed to be able to run if a butterfly found her.

She felt warm arms surround her as Alya pulled her into hug.  Marinette froze at the unexpected touch, then she tightly squeezed her back, burying her face in Ayla’s shoulder.

“Shhhh…” Alya soothed, stroking her hair.  “He did it because he loves and cares about you.  We all do.”  She cradled her friend against her, as Marinette held on for dear life.

“I’m so sorry, Alya.” Marinette's tears were falling in her hair. “There’s so many things I wish I could tell you.”

“I know, girl.” Alya assured rubbing her back, “I’m sorry too, for the way I’ve been acting.  Just remember, I’ll be here. If you feel like you can talk, or not, I’ll be here. Or,” Alya forced a chuckle, ‘we could even play video games?”

Marinette hugged her friend tighter. “We have to find him, Alya,” she whispered. “I have to see him again.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Ladybug had been on sitting on a roof for hours, staring blankly at the building across from her.  Besides the foyer lights, the building was dark.  It made sense. It was after midnight, people should be sleeping.

It was Saturday now. No, Sunday morning to be exact.  Over the course of two days, Ladybug’s surveillance had discovered a sobering truth.  Adrien wasn’t grounded, or under house arrest.  He was gone.

Every morning at seven, a team of large, burly men would gather in the courtyard of the Agreste mansion. Ladybug guessed they were private security, maybe ex-military. Nathalie would hand them folders, talk briefly, then they would disperse.

Ladybug followed, curious to where they went. One man stood outside the high school all day long, sometimes on his phone, sometimes reading a newspaper, but always watching. Another was in front of Nino’s apartment, and another was in front of Le Gran Paris. In separate cars, the other men drove around Pais all day long.

They were looking for Adrien.

It was obvious they were watching his friends, but Ladybug knew Adrien wasn’t with any of them. Chloe had been a weeping basket case since he left.  Kagami was just as bewildered as the rest of them, and Nino…? Ladybug sighed sadly.  Every morning, Nino still waited on the steps of the school.  Even after Adrien was removed from the class list, he arrived early to watch the traffic, waiting for his friend.

Still, it didn’t make sense! Why all the secrecy? Why didn’t the school know?  Why pull Adrien off the roster? Was it to cover up a kidnapping? If Adrien was kidnapped, wouldn’t they want all the help they could get?  Why didn’t Gabriel pay the ransom?  Maybe there was no ransom. A sickening thought occurred to her. Could it have been a crazed fan? Was Adrien locked in a basement, made to play out the fantasies of a deranged lunatic?

She slapped her checks, wanting to clear her mind of that imagery.

If it was a kidnapping, why not tell Adrien’s friends, his teachers, or reach out to the community?  Adrien was well liked by everyone.  All of his friends would eagerly launch a search party. At least that would give them something to do. Something to distract from the unease of not knowing.

Ladybug slumped. Guilt gnawed at her. The last time she saw Adrien, he wanted to help her.  He had helped her. And now that he needed help, there was nothing she could do. How she wished she could use her lucky charm and miraculous cure.  Then Adrien might reappear back in his room.  He’d join them for school tomorrow. Nino would give him the biggest hug ever and cry happy tears. No, not just Nino, everyone would take turns embracing their friend. Telling him over and over how much they missed him.  Adrien would give them all his beautiful honest smile, and tell them how important they are to him.

Ladybug smiled sadly.  She would give him a box of his favorite passionfruit macaroons, and kiss his cheek. She’d thank him for being a good friend. And she would let him know…

Ladybug took a deep breath.

That she would be there for him. She would support him, encourage him anyway she could. She could even help him with Kagami.

She hugged her knees to her chest. She could be the friend he needed all along.

“Strange perch for a patrol.” Ladybug jumped at the familiar voice.

“Chat Noir!” She shouted as she leapt to her feet and ran over to her partner. “Did you get my messages, you never responded.  I’m so so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He responded blandly, “God knows I’ve given my share of bad advice.”

Ladybug sighed with relief.  He wasn’t mad, thank god.  Something was still off, though.  She stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. “When you didn’t show up for patrol, I was so worried.” Ladybug admitted, squeezing him tighter.

Chat’s arms remained at his side. After an awkward moment, Ladybug released him and stepped backward to look at him.  Something wasn’t right.  He looked the same as ever, but then again, the transformations always took care of that.  No matter what hairstyle Marinette wore that day, Ladybug always had her signature pig tails.

“Umm…” she began, looking around “it’s late. What are you doing here?”

“I came to check out the view. I needed to see what’s so special that my lady’s been here for hours.” He held up his baton screen, her location icon on its map. He looked over to the darkened house. “Not to impressive, if I say so myself.”

“That house,..” Ladybug pointed over at the dark building, “that house belongs to Gabriel Agreste.”

“I remember.” Chat said cooly, “the Collector.  One of our more difficult Akumas.”

“That’s not why I’m here.” Ladybug rubbed her arms. It was out of habit, she wasn’t cold. “His son, Adrien, hasn’t been seen in a awhile.”

“If you miss him, there are plenty of billboards with his purr-ty boy face.” Chat offered bitterly. "Never pegged you as a fan though.”

The hostility surprised her.

“It’s not that,” She continued, ignoring his tone. “His friends are worried.  They haven’t been able to reach him. He was pulled from the school’s roster without any explanation.”

This information seem to surprise Chat. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again.

“Look, I’ve met Adrien before.” Ladybug explained. “He’s a good person. A good friend.”

“His friends would be better off without him.”  Chat crossed his arms. “From what I hear, he’s quite the coward.”

Oh shit! That stung. Ladybug replayed her balcony conversation with Chat in her head. Back then, she was bitter, she was angry. Did she say Adrien’s name back then? It probably wouldn’t have been hard to figure out.  Chat was clever. Oh no, she realized, did she turn Chat against Adrien?

“Adrien has a complicated home life, but he’s amazing, kind, and selfless. He always sees the best in people.”

“Sounds like a pussy.” Chat muttered.

“Hey! Stop that right now!”  Ladybug glared. “You don’t know him!”

“If he’s so great,” Chat replied bitterly, with cold smirk on his face. “Why didn’t you give him the snake miraculous? Don’t tell me you never found him.”

Damn. That’s right. Back in the sewers, Chat helped her look for him.

Chat crossed his arms triumphantly, “I fought with Viperion and he sure as hell wasn’t Adrien Agreste.”

How could she explain it? The poor boy tried his best. For months!  It was always her fault, never his. They should have waited for Chat. But she wanted so desperately to fight alongside Adrien, the boy she loved. Ladybug winced at the memory.

“Please stop!” She pleaded, her voice strained and high. “You have no idea what he went through. He didn’t fail me, I failed him. And I’m worried about him now!”

Chat stood in front of her, silent.

“Please, help me, Chat.” Ladybug walked forward and took his hand. He only stared at her coldly. “Together, we can look for him.  You have night vision, a better sense of smell, and with two people, we could cover a lot more ground.

She squeezed his hand tenderly.

“He needs our help. We can find him.” Ladybug’s eyes pleaded with his. “We can bring him home.”

Chat tore his hand out of hers, as he backed away. “Has it occurred to you that maybe pretty boy doesn’t want to be found?”

What?

“What is wrong with you?” Ladybug demanded. “This isn’t like you. A civilian needs our help.”

“Millions of people in the city, Ladybug.” Chat opened his arms wide, gesturing to the skyline. “We can’t help them all.”

Ladybug could only stare at him. How could she explain it? She couldn’t reveal that Adrien was her friend outside of the mask.  She couldn’t explain to Chat what Adrien had done for her.

After a few moments of silence, Chat spoke first. “Don’t worry about him, Ladybug. He doesn’t deserve it.”

Using his baton, Chat launched himself into the night, leaving Ladybug alone on an empty roof.

——

Chat ran around in a big loop away from Ladybug. When he realized she wasn’t following him, he headed back to his usual spot. He dropped his transformation as soon a his feet hit the roof of the pool.  Without Plagg’s power aiding his strength, he felt weak and dizzy.  Adrien struggled to keep his balance.  Plagg flew out in front of him.

“What was that!” He threw his arms up.“When you said you were going to talk to Ladybug, I thought it was to ask for help, not pick a fight.”

“I need her to stop looking for Adrien.” He shrugged and walked over to his bag.  He sat down on a flatten stack of cardboard boxes and rested his head against the mechanical box.

“By attacking and insulting yourself?” Plagg crossed his arms. “She’s more likely to think Chat Noir found Adrien and threw him in the Seine.”

Adrien tried to laugh, but only a hacking cough came out. Once the coughing faded, he looked over to his kwami. “Not a bad idea.” He grinned bitterly.  “Dear Ladybug, after much consideration and after a talking with Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I have decided to throw Adrien Agreste into the Seine. Please stop looking for him.”

Plagg buried his face in his arms, muttering some obscenities in a language Adrien didn’t understand. After a few moments, he floated in front of Adrien’s eyes.

“She wants to help you.” The tiny god said gently. “Help you desperately need.”

“I don’t need help,” Adrien responded, curling up next to his bag. “I can manage.”

“No, you can’t!”

Adrien closed his eyes and turned away from Plagg.

“You didn’t even bother looking for food yesterday. And you didn’t touch the cheese I brought back for you.”

“You stole it.” Adrien meekly accused.

“They were going to throw it away, I saved it”

Adrien was too tired to argue with his kwami. He was pretty sure Plagg was lying anyway.

Plagg settled himself in the crook of Adrien’s neck.

“Adrien, please,” he spoke softly, “You can’t keep going on like this.  You’re cold, you’re sick.”

Adrien pretended not to hear him, focusing on keeping his breaths even and shallow. It was easier not to cough that way.

“Just one night, Adrien,” Plagg begged, “Let me find you somewhere warm for just tonight.”

He felt Plagg nuzzle into his neck. Adrien realized his kwami could have easily detransformed during his roof side talk with Ladybug. He was grateful he hadn’t.  From the sounds of it, she would have brought him straight to his father.

Adrien shifted, pulling a piece of cardboard over himself. If Ladybug was looking for him, she might search the rooftops. He couldn’t let her find him. 

Not now.

Chapter Text

A sharp pain jolted Adrien out of his sleep.  He glared down and the offending finger to see Plagg’s jaws clamped tightly around it.

“What the hell, Plagg?”

“You weren’t waking up when I tried nicely.”

“Take a hint,” Adrien grunted. “Let me sleep.”

“No!” His kwami argued. “It’s already past the warmest part of the day. You need to get up and find food.”

“I’m sick.” Adrien shrugged “I’ll find food when I feel better.”

“You won’t feel better until you eat!” Plagg was darting back and forth in front of Adrien’s face. “Or at least eat some of the food I brought you. I’ve been chasing pigeons away all afternoon.”

Adrien looked over at Plagg’s stash. It had grown since he saw it last.  In addition to cheese, there were bags of nuts, protein bars, a banana, salami, chocolates, juice boxes, and a packaged sandwich.  All stolen from a market down the block, Adrien was sure.

“I’m not hungry right now.” Adrien repositioned himself, trying to get the sunlight out of his eyes. “Don’t bite me again.”

“Don’t go back to sleep, Adrien!” Plagg cried out, concerned. “I’m scared you won’t wake up.”

Adrien looked at his kwami through narrowed eyes.  He wasn’t mad, but his eyes were dry and the bright sunlight hurt them.  Poor Plagg, he was starting to look really scared.

“Hey, Plagg?” Adrien said gently, closing his eyes again. “If something were to happen to me, you could take my ring back to Ladybug, right?”

“I don’t like where this conversation is going.”

“Please,” Adrien’s voice was calm and thoughtful. “Please promise me you’ll take it back to her.”

“No!”

Adrien opened his eyes again, just to squint at the tiny cat god. Plagg was floating in front of his face again, baring his tiny teeth and glaring.

“I will NOT take your ring off your dead body.” Adrien wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Plagg so angry.  “When the police find your corpse, I’m sure they’ll return it to your father. I guess good ol’ Gabriel will have your ring then.  And there’s a man who should NEVER have a miraculous!”

Adrien briefly pictured his father in a leather-clad black cat outfit.  It was ridiculous really. He would have chuckled, but all that came out was a hacking cough.

That damn cough. All of the muscles in his abdomen ached in protest.  His bruised ribs protested as his lungs revolted against the cold air.

“Please, Adrien.” Plagg changed his tone, speaking softly now. “Don’t give up.” He pleaded, “You’re not thinking clearly. You’re sick, you’re feverish,.”

“Ha.” Adrien said dryly, “I’m too cold to have a fever.”

Plagg floated next to his cheek and gently touched him. “Please, Adrien. Don’t do this,” Plagg pleaded “You’re worth saving.”

Adrien sighed. He knew Plagg cared for him, and would miss him if her were gone.  Adrien hated disappointing his good friend.  In the past three three years, Plagg had done so much for him.  He was a constant companion in his father’s cold lonely house.  Because of Plagg, he was able to escape the confines of his father’s constant expectations.  He could be Chat Noir!  As Chat Noir, he could go where he liked, and make terrible puns, and not worry about being the perfect son.  He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he was just… so… tired.

“Do this for me, Plagg,” Adrien continued, ignoring his earlier protests. “I can’t leave Ladybug on her own.”

Plagg didn’t look at him.

“Please?” He begged.

“Alright” Plagg sighed sadly. “I promise I’ll do it.” He paused for a moment. “On one condition, though. Take me to the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie. I want to have their cheese danish.”

“You’re trying to get me to go to Marinette’s,” Adrien complained weakly. “That’s on the other side of the city.

“Nah… I’m just thinking with my stomach.” Plagg rubbed his stomach to demonstrate. “ Those cheese danishes are the best in Paris.”

Adrien huddled in his jacket tighter.  He had a feeling this was Plagg’s last ditch effort to get Adrien to go for help. Wouldn’t make a difference though. He didn’t want Marinette’s help.  Still, Adrien needed to know his ring would make it back to his lady, just in case he didn’t get better.

Adrien groaned. It’s not like he wanted to die, but the idea just didn’t bother him anymore. He was just so tired, and so cold.  His body was sore from the constant coughing and shivering. He didn’t want to leave Plagg. He didn’t want to leave his lady.  But he didn’t want to be in pain anymore either.

“If you want to me to promise to take Ladybug your miraculous,” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms, “that is my condition.”

Adrien sighed.

“Okay, Plagg, we’ll go.” He said as he closed his eyes again. “Tonight, after they’re all asleep.  Wake me up when it’s time to go.”

___

Late Sunday night, Marinette was in a dreamless sleep.  The days and nights of reconnaissance had finally caught up with her. She barely was able to climb the ladder to her loft bed before exhaustion pulled her into sleep.  Her body was slow to register Tikki shaking her shoulder.

“Marinette! Wake up! It’s Adrien.”

“What.. huh? What happened?” Marinette murmured into her pillow, “what time is it?”

“He’s outside!”

Marinette eyes flew open. She threw off her covers, jumped up, and opened her hatch.  She pulled herself up through the opening and ran to the balcony railing.  Peering over the side, she saw a figure in a dirty yellow jacket, leaning against the outside wall of the bakery.

It’s him! Oh my God, He’s here!

“Adrien!” Marinette yelled down to him.

The figured jumped. He then banged his hand on the wall and said something she couldn’t quite hear.

“Adrien!” Marinette called again, “stay right there, I’ll be down in a minute!”

Adrien looked up briefly, then he turned and began sprinting down the street.

No! He can’t leave.

“Tikki, Spots…”

“No!” Tiki cut her off. “He’s scared of Ladybug right now. You need to go to him as Marinette.”

“Huh?” Marinette’s groggy brain was confused. “Why would he be scared of…?”

“No time to explain, just go!”

Marinette jumped down from her loft bed. Then, without grabbing her shoes or jacket, raced down the ladder of her bedroom and down the flights of stairs.

She ran into the street, barefoot and frantic.

“Tikki! Tikki! Where did he go?” Marinette was panicking now.

“I don’t know Marinette. Maybe down by the river?”

“Tikki! I can’t lose him,”  Marinette pleaded. “I need to transform"

“Okay, but you need to be very…”

“Tikki! Spots on!”

Marinette felt the familiar rush of magic overtake her body.  She grabbed her yo-yo and leapt to a nearby roof.  She would be able to see him better there.  A dirty yellow jacket should be easy to spot, even in the darkness.

Ladybug jumped from rooftop to rooftop.  She used her yo-yo to swing down deep to search into alleys.  She made good time checking all the streets nearby, it was clear he was no longer running.  He must have found a hiding spot.  She jumped down to the street to check behind trashcans and in doorways. After she was sure the streets were clear, Ladybug headed to the park.

The park was dimly lit this time of night. Yes, she thought, this would make a good hiding spot. She heard a muffled coughing from behind a bush. If she hadn’t heard the noise, she never would have noticed the shapeless yellow jacket hiding under the branches.

She walked over to Adrien cautiously, trying to make her steps as silent as possible. He was lying on his side, feet curled up to his chest, arm over his face. She could tell from the jerky movement of his back he was trying to keep from coughing.  He had a dirty cap covering his blond hair, his clothes were soiled and torn, and he had a battered duffle bag on his back.  How was this the same bright smiling boy she saw just two weeks ago?  A tightness started in her chest as she fought tears from forming in her eyes.

What happened to you, Adrien?

She knelt down beside him, and gently touched his shoulder.  He jerked at the touch, pulling his arm away from his face.  Ladybug barely recognized him.  His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, his lips were chapped and scabbed, wisps of dirty facial hair dotted his chin and upper lip.  He stared at her, blinking in the meager light. His green eyes locked with her blue ones.

Ladybug swallowed hard, and held out her hand. “Come, Adrien,” She coaxed softly, “let’s get you home.”

A hand came out of nowhere to shove her off balance. Ladybug fell backwards and hit the ground with her bottom. It surprised her, but it didn’t hurt. Adrien quickly shot up to his feet, grabbed his bag, and started staggering away.

“Hey!” Ladybug called out, “What’s wrong with you!?”

Adrien didn’t answer. He just kept on walking, no longer trying to hide the coughs that shook his body.

Ladybug jumped up and ran over in front of him.  She stood in his way and grabbed his arm.  “Adrien, talk to me.”

He pulled his arm back and swatted her hand away. “I’m not going back.” Adrien stated drying between coughs. He adjusted his bag then walked around her.

“Adrien, please! Your friends are worried!”

“I am nobody’s friend! Friends can be there for each other, they help each other.” He turned and gestured toward his chest. “I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.” Adrien continued walking ahead, turning down toward the street by the river.  His steps were uneven and strained, coughs escaped his chest.

“You need help!” Ladybug called after him. “You’re dirty and sick. You… you smell like garbage!”

“I am garbage!” He spat at her. “And I rather stay garbage than go back...” Adrien growled.

“I don’t understand,” Ladybug asked confused. “Why don’t you want to go back?”

“None of your business,” He responded dryly. “You don’t know me.’’

“Please, if you don’t want to go home, let me take you to a hospital,” she pleaded. “It’s cold, you’re sick. Please, Adrien, you could die out here!”

“He’d find me there!” Adrien responded, “I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.” Adrien threw open his hands to the sky, twirling in a delirious dance.

Adrien spun a few moments more,  then sank to his knees in a fit of coughs.

"Please, let’s just get you some where safe,” Ladybug begged. “We can worry about your father later.”

Ladybug knelt beside him, she put an arm across his shoulders, and hooked her other arm under his knees.  She stood up slowly, cradling him to her body.”

Abruptly, his elbow slammed against her sternum as he twisted out of her hold.  Adrien fell to the ground on all fours, then tumbled into a run.

Ladybug threw up her hands, “What are you? A cat?”

“Leave me alone.” He yelled back, his voice hoarse.

Ladybug took after him. She was just about to grab him again, when he launched his bag towards her. It hit her square in the chest, hard.  The bag didn’t hurt her, but it’s momentum threw her off balanced.

He was several seconds ahead of her now, running straight for the railing separating the street from the river.

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage. His words echoed in her mind

NO!

Ladybug was too far away to reach him in time. If he hit the water, she could never find him again. If she had Chat’s night vision, maybe she would have a chance, but there was no way she could search the dark waters if Adrien jumped.

Ladybug grabbed her yo-yo and launched it towards his feet. The weapon found its target, and wrapped itself tightly around his ankles. Adrien fell forward, hard, collapsing in a spasm of coughs.

“Oh no, Adrien!” Ladybug ran over to him. “I’m so so sorry!” Adrien was curled up in a fetal position struggling to regain control of his breathing. Awkwardly, Ladybug knelt down and rubbed his back until his breath steadied again.

Once the spasm passed, Adrien rolled over onto his back and glared at her. Then, without warning, Adrien brought his knees to his chest, and kicked her with all his strength. Ladybug was launched backwards. She fell on to her back but quickly rolled on to her feet again.

When she looked up, Adrien was staggering toward the railing again.

No, no, no, no, no,…

Ladybug ran to Adrien. Grabbing him roughly, she pulled him tightly against her. Then, she hurled herself high above the Seine.  She launched her yo-yo toward the furthest building in range.  Once it found its target, Ladybug pulled the cord back harder than she ever dared before.  Even with her enhanced stamina, Ladybug struggled against the G forces caused by the rapid acceleration.  The boy in her grasp never stood a chance. 

She felt Adrien’s body go limp in her arms.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ladybug opened her hatch and gently lowered Adrien down by his arms. His feet folded under him and he slumped into a pile on top of Marinette’s bed. Ladybug jumped down and started untangling his limbs.

“This is my friend Marinette’s place, she can take care of you.” Ladybug gently cradled Adrien’s head and set it on her pillow.

“I’ll umm… go find her.” Ladybug pointed to her room.

Adrien lay motionless

“Adrien?” Ladybug patted his cheek, trying to rouse him.  “Hey, if you can hear me, please say something.”  Panic started rising within her. Ladybug grabbed his collar and shook him firmly.

“Adrien, wake up!” She demanded.

She stopped to see if there was any reaction, but there wasn’t.  Adrien lay still, too still.

“Tikki spots off!” Her suit dissolved and her tiny kwami floated in front of her.   Marinette placed her hand on Adrien’s neck, checking for a pulse. His skin was cold and clammy. She moved her hand around frantically, not even sure where she was supposed to push.

“He’s alive, Marinette,” Tikki assured, “I can tell.”

“Oh god! Tikki! He’s so cold,” she patted his cheek again, “why won’t he wake up?”

“He’s exhausted, and you forced him to pass out.” Tikki responded. “You weren’t supposed to scare him.”

“He was trying to jump in the river!” Marinette lifted Adrien’s eyelid. His pupil drifted to the corner of his eye. Was that supposed to mean something?

“Marinette, calm down. Adrien needs our help now.”

“He needs a hospital!”

“Do you think that is what he wants?”

“I don’t know Tikki,” both of Marinette’s hands were on his chest now, shaking him back and forth. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let’s get him warm first.”

Marinette looked at the unconscious boy on her bed. His clothes were damp and filthy. The smell was becoming overwhelming in the small space. His shoes were soaked.

“You need to get him into some dry clothes.”

Marinette grimaced. Tikki couldn’t be suggesting she take off his clothes.  Sure they were dirty and damp. Maybe she should get her father to help. Would that make him an accessory to kidnapping? Obviously, Adrien needed to get warm and dry,… but could she…?

“Marinette, please focus.”

“Okay.” She slapped her cheeks, she could do this. Shoes first.

She crawled down to the foot of her bed and untied his shoes, when she pulled them off, tiny bits of paper flew every where.  The stench was overwhelming.  Marinette covered her nose with her elbow.  Even in the pale light, she could see the patches of dried blood on his feet. Oh, Adrien… Marinette blinked tears out of her eyes. She could cry later, right now, Adrien needed her.

Marinette turned her attention to his jacket. His body swam in it, and the long sleeves covered his hands. The oversized jacket made him look like a child. A boy playing in his father’s clothes.  Marinette sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her forearm. You can do this, girl.

She carefully unzipped the yellow jacket and the hoodie underneath.  She placed her hand on his sternum and felt the steady rise and fall of his chest.  Tikki had told her that he was alive, but this was the first proof she saw.  The relief was fleeting, though. He’s cold, too cold…

Marinette rolled him from side to side, removing his arms from his jackets. She grabbed Adrien’s arms and hoisted him into a sitting position. His limp body leaned against her as she pealed off his damp t-shirt.

She laid him back down as tenderly as she could.  His stocking cap was pulled off with his shirt. His hair didn’t even seem blond anymore. It was plastered to his head in a greasy dirty tangled mess. Marinette stared at his naked chest. Adrien was always lean, but not like this.  In the meager light, his skin looked paper thin, revealing the muscles and ribs underneath.  Marinette heart broke as she watched his ribs moving under his skin as he inhaled and exhaled.

Marinette! Focus!” Tikki instructed, floating in front of her.

Marinette’s eyes drifted downward to Adrien’s pants.  “Tikki,” she looked up at her kwami horrified, “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can!” Tikki grabbed the corner of her blanket. “Just keep him covered.”

Marinette bit her lip as she threw the blanket over Adrien’s middle. She closed her eyes and turned her head as she reached under the blanket. Her fingertips inching toward Adrien’s waistband. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is so so wrong! Marinette pulled his waistband away from his stomach. She bit her lip harder and winced as she unbuttoned and unzipped his fly. Please forgive me, Adrien, Marinette silently begged.

She moved her hands over to Adrien’s sides.  She gently hooked her fingers into the both the waistband of his pants and boxers. Okay,.. okay… she thought. trying to calm herself.

“Tikki…?” Marinette whined, losing her nerve.

“You’re doing great, Marinette!”

Marinette closed her eyes tighter as she took a deep breath. One side at a time she gingerly coaxed Adrien’s remaining clothes off his body.  The clamminess of his skin and the dampness of his clothes made it a slow arduous process. When she finally cleared his ankles, she quickly threw the garments on the floor and buried her face in her hands.

Oh god! Adrien’s naked in my bed! I knocked him out and striped him naked! Oh god! Oh god! Marinette didn’t want to imagine how many laws she broke tonight.

“Marinette?”

She peaked though her fingers to see Tikki holding up a pair of cupcake-patterned pajama bottoms.  They were an older pair, and the elastic of the waistband was worn and stretched. But they were clean, and they were warm.

Marinette grabbed the bottoms from her kwami, and shut her eyes again. Using the same process in reverse, she inched the garment up Adrien’s legs side by side. When she got to the top of his legs, Marinette reached under his back to lift his hips. She quickly slid the pajamas into place. Then, she finally opened her eyes.

She looked at Adrien.  He looked better now without his tattered clothes.  He had a peaceful expression on his face as he slept.  Such a welcome contrast to the glares and snarls his face wore earlier.  Marinette shook her head, trying to clear the memory of their fight.

Marinette gathered all her blankets and tucked them around his body. She hoped he’d wake up soon. Marinette gently stroked his cheek with the back of his fingers. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be too curious how he got here. Or, wonder why Ladybug showed up after Marinette saw him on the street.

Marinette crawled down from her loft and gathered up Adrien’s clothes. Dear god! They reeked! They smelled like mildew and body odor and… pool? Where were you Adrien? she wondered sadly.

“Tikki? Can you watch Adrien for a few minutes?” Marinette asked. “I need to go downstairs.”

Tikki nodded and flew back up to the loft bed.

Marinette headed straight downstairs and to the washing machine in their kitchen. She dumped Adrien’s clothes inside with more than enough detergent, and set it to wash on hot. Even then, she wasn’t sure that would take care of the smell.

Okay. Food. Marinette wasn’t sure if Adrien had eaten in a while. It didn’t look like it. What would be easy on his stomach?  She opened up a box of broth, dumped it into a pot and set it to warm up on the stove.

Next, Marinette grabbed a tray and opened the refrigerator. Hmm… What could she give him without arousing suspicion from her parents?  She smiled when she saw her mother’s salmon quiche. Adrien liked that before, didn’t he?  She grabbed that, two hardboiled eggs, some cheese, some leftover stir fry and some grapes.  Marinette knew Adrien also liked her family’s pastries, but all of that was down in the bakery.  She could always grab some later.

Marinette patiently waited for the broth to heat up on the stove. Once it was warm enough to drink, she poured it into a thermos, and then quickly washed and dried the pot.  When she was finished, she picked up the tray and headed back upstairs to her room.

After setting the tray on her desk, Marinette climbed the ladder to her loft bed. Tikki was sitting on Adrien’s chest, watching him closely. Marinette crawled over and put her hand on his forehead.  He didn’t react to the touch.

“Tikki?” Marinette looked over to the tiny god, alarmed. “Why is he still so cold?”

“He’s really weak.” Tikki explained. “He might not be able to warm up on his own.”

Marinette gulped. Adrien need a hospital. He need so much more than just…than just… her. A horrifying image flashed though her mind. She remember Adrien sprinting straight toward the Seine. The memory terrified her. It chilled her to her core. No, she couldn’t take him to the hospital, not now.  Adrien would rather die than be found.

It frustrated her. Marinette didn’t understand, she just didn’t understand! Marinette took deep breath, and sighed. But maybe she didn’t need to. She could still be there for her friend.  And there was something more she could do.

Marinette pulled the covers back and slid in beside Adrien.  She rolled him onto his side, and pulled his back to her.  Marinette’s body revolted at the coldness of his skin. She snaked her arm under his neck and wrapped the other around his waist.  She held him tightly against her and winced at the cold.  Marinette rested her cheek against his back. His skin smelled like mildew, but she ignored it.

“Adrien? You need to warm up, okay?” Marinette knew he couldn’t hear her, but she continued to talk anyway.

“Your friends love you.” She told him. “They’ve missed you so much.”

Marinette gathered his icy cold fingers in her hands. She massaged them gently, trying to get the blood flowing. “I’m so sorry, Adrien. I never knew things  were so bad.”

Marinette felt her teeth start to chatter, but she continued to push her body into his.  “You don’t have to bare this on your own, anymore.”

“Please wake up.”

 

——

 

Adrien was dead. 

It didn’t really surprise him, not really.  He knew the way things were going, death was going to find him one way or the other.  He thought it would have been illness or exposure.  He never imaged it would be Ladybug that killed him.

He hoped Plagg brought his ring back to her.  His kwami got his cheese danishes after all.  Even took his sweet time and refused to come out of the bakery when Marinette discovered him.  If he’d been able to transform, Chat Noir could have easily gotten away from Ladybug.

It was strange that people feared death.  Death was nice. It was warm, and the air didn’t hurt his lungs.  Adrien snuggled deeper into fluffy comfort. Yes, this was very nice.

Adrien felt his shoulders being lifted and his head cradled against something soft.  Something was placed at his mouth. It wasn’t until the wetness touched his lips that he realized how thirsty he was.  The liquid was rich, full bodied and slightly salty. Adrien drank slowly at first, then it felt like he couldn’t get enough. He tipped his head forward trying to drink faster. Annoyingly, the vessel was taken from his lips. Adrien felt himself being lowered back down.

Adrien licked his lips, then rubbed them together. There was something on them. Lip balm, perhaps? It was cherry or something. It had a familiar taste.

Adrien sighed and turned his head into the softness.  He hoped his lady would be okay.  He also hoped she wouldn’t blame herself for his death.  Adrien didn’t blame her.  He knew Ladybug was only trying to do what was right.  Returning a lost boy to his home. She had no idea what he was running from.

Though, with him gone, she’d have to find another black cat. Adrien frowned. Now that thought made him a bit sad.  He felt they were good together.  They were Paris’s superhero team.  They had level of understanding that few ever shared. He didn’t want to leave her alone, but he didn’t want to be replaced either.

Adrien felt something cool wipe is forehead.  It felt nice.  It was warm here, in death.  Almost too warm. The cloth felt refreshing. 

Someone was here with him. Adrien smiled.  Sure it wasn’t the pearly gates or choruses of angels, but it still was nice to know he wasn’t alone.

Fingers gently stroked the hair off his brow. Adrien felt tears form under his closed eyes.  He remembered this! It had been years, but he could never forget her touch. Of course she would be here too. Adrien’s throat tightened in a sob.

“Mom?” he whispered.

“Shhhhh…” her voice called out. “Just rest.” It had been so long since Adrien heard his mother’s voice. It sounded foreign to his ears.

“Mom!” He cried out louder.  Adrien arms reached for her. She was right there, lying beside him. He pulled her to him, burying his face in her neck, sobs ripping out of his throat.

He had found her again! She felt small in his arms. Almost too tiny. No, he thought as he squeezed tears from his eyes, I’ve grown. Adrien was 13 when he saw her last. He had grown since had seen her.  Three years. So much had happened in those three years. His mom never got a chance see him go to school, or to meet his friends. What would she think of Chat Noir?

His mother’s arms wrapped around him, gently rubbing his back.  “Shhh…” she coaxed.

“I’ve missed you so much.” Adrien rested his forehead against her shoulder.  “I’ve learned to play Claire de Lune from memory.” Adrien was trying to think of all the things he had wanted to tell his mother over the past years. “I’ve won fencing tournaments. My Chinese tutor says I’m his most advanced student.”

His mother was stroking his face now. Gently wiping away his tears.

“For years, I hated waking up.” Adrien whispered softly. “Because then, I would remember all over again. That you’re gone.” He inhaled against her, trying to remember her smell. “It was like a part of me being torn away every morning. But now..? now?” Adrien paused for a new round of sobs to pass. “Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse! Mom, I’m so sorry!”

His mother was crying now. He could feel her soft sniffles and sobs against his body. No… he didn’t want to make her sad.

Adrien took a deep shaky breath, trying to brace himself. “Why did you leave?” He choked out the words, scared of the answer. He was terrified, but he needed to know. “Was it because of me?”

The hand on his face stopped moving.

“I’ve tried so hard to be good.” Adrien gripped his mother harder now.  “But father,… but father…” The tightness in his throat made his voice strained and tight. “He changed after you left. I’m so sorry,.. I couldn’t stay anymore.”

His mother was quiet. Why didn’t she say anything?

“Did I do something wrong?” Adrien asked again, his tiny voice pleading for an answer.

“Tell me.” He begged, “...please?”

Adrien felt his mother kiss his forehead. “..I never wanted to leave you, Adrien.” The voice spoke quietly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He melted into her as years of tension released from his body.  His mother was holding him against her chest now, rocking him slowly.  She cradled him as well her smaller body could. She stroked his hair and kissed his face as Adrien wept.

When the tears no longer came, Adrien sighed into her arms.  “I’m glad I found you,” he whispered. Sleep was starting to take hold again.

“I’m glad I died.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Adrien shifted his body, trying to find a more comfortable position.  Something wasn’t right.  He tried to snuggle into the fluffy softness of death, but something still felt off.  There was smell of bread, fresh bread. Adrien found that very distracting.  It was a good smell, but why was it here?

He flopped onto his back. Nope. This was worse. Adrien turned to his side again, wincing. It was supposed to be comfortable here. He was dead. He wasn’t suppose to feel stupid bodily discomforts. Adrien groaned. It didn’t make since. Why couldn’t he get comfortable? Why did it smell like bread? And dammit, why the hell did he have to pee?

Adrien eyes flew open.  He blinked and stared straight ahead at the back of two pig tails.

“Ladybu…?” he began before a fit of coughs escaped from his chest.

A towel was immediately brought to his mouth to muffle the sound. “No,” a voice whispered, “It’s Marinette.”

Oh, no. Why her? Adrien wondered how the hell Plagg had pulled this off. Last he remembered, Ladybug was trying to capture him. Did Plagg tell her to bring him here? That must have been an awkward conversation. Wonder how Ladybug felt about finding out it was Chat Noir sick and pathetic on the streets? He squeezed his fingers together, checking to make sure his ring was still there. At least she wasn’t that disappointed.

When his breathing steadied, he looked over to Marinette. Even in the moonlight, she looked worried. Her big eyes full of concern. He shouldn’t be here. He had to find Plagg and leave.  He had to find out what happened to his stuff,… He had to… He had to…

“I have to pee,” Adrien blurted out, realizing all his other problems could wait.

“Oh, yes, of… of course.” She stammered. Even in the darkness, it seemed like she was blushing. “Follow me. My parents should be already in the bakery.”

Marinette slid out from the covers and turned toward the ladder of her loft bed.  Adrien’s eyes fell to the curves of her bottom as she crawled away. It was a nice view. He was overcome with an feeling of déjà vu.

Adrien moved to climb down after her. Oh god! He wasn’t sure if her ever had to pee so bad in his life. Once he reached the floor, he had to pause. The room started spinning around him. Adrien closed his eyes and grabbed onto the ladder for support.

He felt Marinette grab his arm. “Hey, Adrien,” she spoke gently, “take it easy.” She slung his arm over her shoulder, and wrapped the other around his waist. “We can go slow.”

They slowly made their way toward the hatch of her room.  Adrien felt Marinette’s soft skin on his back before he realized his was shirtless. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind. 

Carefully, they climbed down the stairs, the wood planks groaned loudly with each step. The downstairs apartment was dark, but the memory of Sabine turning on the light was fresh in his mind. He tried to walk to the bathroom as fast as he could.

Once inside the bathroom, Marinette let go of his waist and arm.  She closed the door gently, before resting her forehead against it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered softly. “I’ll give you as much privacy as I can. But I can’t have my parents find you here.”

Privacy was the last thing on Adrien’s mind as he made his was over to the toilet.  Dear god! Sweet, sweet bliss.  He couldn’t control the audible groan of relief as he emptied his bladder.  It wasn’t until he finished that he noticed the cupcake pajama bottoms he was wearing.

“Um,..” he began awkwardly. “What happen to my clothes.”

Marinette didn’t turn around. If anything, it was if she was trying to make herself even smaller. “They were wet and smelly. Ladybug helped me change you.” She admitted shyly. “You were under a blanket, we didn’t see anything.”

“Oh…” Adrien was grateful for that. He wasn’t modest. God know he was used to people seeing his body in all manner of undressed. But, being cold and wet, he knew he couldn’t have been a very impressive sight. He was glad his lady didn’t see.

"You umm... you could take a shower?” Marinette suggested.  “I’ll make sure no one comes in.”

Suddenly, Adrien was painfully aware of his body odor. He grimaced in embarrassment. “Yes, umm, thank you.” he responded politely.

Adrien turned on the faucet and kicked off his bottoms.  Once he stepped into the warm running water, he couldn’t help but sigh with pleasure. It felt amazing!  Adrien washed every part of his body twice. The soap stung the sores of his skin, but he didn’t care.  Adrien lathered and rinsed his hair several times to get the griminess out. He even rubbed in some conditioner to help with the tangles.

He wished he could stay in the shower longer. Long shower were a pleasure of his. His luxurious shower stall was his sanctuary at his father’s. Still, even in this tiny bathroom, he was pretty sure this was the best shower of his life. He didn’t want it to end, but he didn’t want Marinette’s parents to get suspicious either.

“I’m getting out now,” Adrien called to her softly. He didn’t want her parents to hear in case they were in the apartment.

He stepped out of the shower and looked over to his friend. She was still over at the door. Her forehead firmly pushed against it. She hadn’t moved in 20 minutes. The entire time Adrien had been in the shower.  He appreciated that she wanted to protect his modesty, but it seemed a bit overkill.

Adrien grabbed a towel and wiped off his face and chest before wrapping it around his waist. “I’m decent now,” he told her, “you can turn around.”

Marinette turned around, but didn’t look at him. She simply stared at the floor silently.

Well, this just got awkward.

Adrien scratched at his face, trying to think of something to say.  Even clean, his face was itchy.  His nails scratched at the patches of facial hair. It had been a while since Adrien had seen himself in a mirror, but he doubted the whiskers were a good addition.

“Do you have a razor I could use?” He finally broke the silence.

That seemed to snap Marinette out of whatever daze she was in. “Um,.. sure, I have mine.” She walked over to the shower and reached behind the curtain.  Once she found what she was looking for, she walked back over to Adrien. Never looking at him directly.

She handed him the tiny pink razor. “I think my dad has some shaving cream in the medicine cabinet.” Marinette offered, not meeting his eyes.

“Thank you,” Adrien whispered softly as he took the razor.  He wished she would look at him. That would make things less weird.

“I,.. um,.. I should shower too.” With that, Marinette turned around, pulled back the shower curtain, climbed into the shower fully clothed, then closed the curtain behind her.

Adrien’s heart started to beat faster as he heard the telltale sounds of Marinette removing her pajamas.  The shower curtain was opaque, Adrien couldn’t see anything. But it was unsettling knowing his friend was naked, less than a meter away. .  No,.. Adrien slapped his cheeks, unsettling wasn’t the right word. He wasn’t going to think of the right word right now. Nope.

He heard the water turn on. Marinette gave a tiny gasp as it hit her skin.  I guess the water was cold when it came out. Great, now his friend was naked, wet, less than a meter away, and making sexy gasping sounds.

Adrien groaned to himself. He knew he was still sick and weak, he shouldn’t be thinking of Marinette like that. God knows what she thought of him at this point.

Adrien wiped the condensation off the mirror, and looked at his reflection. It was the first time he’d seen himself in awhile. He blinked at the image starting back at him.  His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were cracked and split. He rubbed them together. Hmm,.. they didn’t hurt. There was something on them. Could Marinetee have put lip balm on them while he slept? How out of it was he?

Come to think of it... he didn’t remember passing out. Did he faint in the middle of his fight with Ladybug? Adrien grimaced with embarrassment.  If she learned his identity, he might never hear the end of it.

Adrien stepped backward to see more of himself.  He could tell he’d lost weight. The muscles of his shoulders and chest were highly defined and sinewy. He raised his arms and flexed his abdomen. The muscles rippled under his skin. Ha Father! More ripped than ever and no photoshoot, he thought bitterly.

He heard the water cascade of Marinette in waves. She must be washing her hair now, Adrien mused. He could picture the soapy water slowly traveling from her head down to her shoulders, down to her...

Stop it, please! Adrien begged his imagination.

Okay, just concentrate on shaving. Adrien easily found the shaving cream and lathered his face and neck. He grabbed the tiny pink razor and stared at it. I wonder what parts of Marinette’s body you’ve touched?

Damn it, Brain! Adrien whined silently, as he began scraping the hair off his upper lip.  It’s not like he’d never been around naked women before.  There was no modesty in the modeling world, and even a teenage boy could become indifferent to it.  Why should being in the same room as his naked friend bother him now?

Maybe it’s because you know what her tongue tastes like?

Adrien blushed at the memory.  No, he sighed, that was Chat Noir.  Marinette doesn’t feel the same about Adrien. Chat Noir is brave, remember?

Although, Adrien thought as he rinsed his razor, she’s helping me now. She must still like Adrien a little bit. He smiled at the thought. He leaned closer to the mirror and began shaving under his jaw.

Adrien heard the faucet turn off. Through the reflection of the mirror, he saw a naked arm reach for a towel. A minute later, Marinette emerged with a towel wrapped around her middle. Her shoulders and collarbones bare. Tiny droplets of water still stuck to her skin.  She looked really pretty, wet.

He knew he was staring.  But hey, his brain was still a bit boiled right now.  Marinette’s hair was wet and slicked back away from her face. Adrien had never seen her forehead before. He smiled as he realized he had a thing for seeing a girl’s whole face. Especially the hidden bits.

Marinette fidgeted under his gaze until Adrien finally turned away. He finished rinsing his face and dried it with a hand towel.  Marinette picked up their clothes and they returned to her room. Adrien was only a little dizzy now, and didn’t need Marinette’s help anymore.

Once Marinette closed her bedroom door, she instructed Adrien to sit on her chaise while she changed. A minute later, Marinette emerged from behind her screen wearing a fresh pair of pink pajamas. Is everything this girls owns pink?

Marinette walked back over to Adrien. She had a small white box in her hand.  Adrien watched her, perplexed, as she knelt in front of him, and put her towel across her lap. It wasn’t until she grabbed his ankle that he realized what she was doing.

“Hey, I don’t need…” Adrien began to protest.

“Please, Adrien?” Marinette was looking at him now, the first time in awhile.  Her pretty blue eyes pleading with his.  She still held onto his ankle, her hands soft and warm. God she was beautiful, her face full of concern. Adrien sighed, realizing there was no way he could ever refuse anything this girl asked. He closed his eyes and nodded.

Marinette placed Adrien’s foot on her lap. She opened the box and took out cotton balls, disinfectant and bandages.  With delicate care, she cleaned and dressed Adrien’s torn skin. After she finished one foot, she did the other.

When both feet were finished, she turned her attention to Adrien’s skinned knee. I don’t remember that, thought Adrien curiously. But then again, his memory of the past few days was a bit fuzzy.

“For what its worth,” Marinette spoke softly as she dabbed the broken skin. “Ladybug said she was sorry she used her yo-yo on you.”

Ah! That made sense. He fell hard when she tripped him.  Adrien frowned, he hoped she didn’t see this. He really didn’t want her to feel bad.

Adrien opened his eyes and watched her gently blow air on the wound, trying to dry the disinfectant. “Why are you doing this?” He asked before he realized what he was saying.

“So the bandage doesn’t stick.”

“No,… I mean,” Adrien spoke gently, “All of it. Why help me?”

“You’re my friend, Adrien.” Marinette pealed the paper off the back of the bandage. “Friends help each other.”

After she placed the bandage on Adrien’s knee, she sighed and looked at the floor. “And… I know what you did…” Marinette admitted shyly.

Adrien stared back at her. She knew what he did? When? On the balcony? Oh god, did she know he was Chat Noir? Did Ladybug tell her? Is that how she got Marinette to help him?

When he didn’t respond, Marinette continued. “You told my parents it was you. That night in my room.” She still didn’t look at him.

Oh yeah! Adrien half smiled. Wow, that seemed like such a long time ago. “I wanted to help.”

”It did,” she admitted softly, “Thank you.”

Adrien’s heart swelled. He didn’t mean for her to find out, but that tiny thank you felt really really good to hear.

“Did it…?” Marinette was playing with the hem of her shirt. “Did it get you in trouble with your father?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“No,… no, he never found out.” Adrien could see the tension release from her shoulders.  Poor thing, was she worried he ran away because of that?

“What happened?” Marinette started putting the first aid supplies back in their box. “You seemed fine one day, and then you were gone the next.”

Adrien took a deep breath and sighed. “Lots of things really.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Marinette offered as she began picking up the pile of discarded wrappers.  “But I can be a good listener, if you want me to be.” She looked up at him again, a soft expression on her face.

Adrien stared at her. He could tell she wanted to help.  He should tell her something. It wasn’t like she could think any less of him now.

Adrien took a deep breath before he spoke. “I wasn’t liking the person my father was turning me into.” Adrien admitted.  “I, umm…” Damn, why was this so hard to say? “I tried to talk to him about the photoshoots, about Lila.”

He saw Marinette stiffen at the sound of Lila’s name, but she didn’t say anything.

“But Father, he…he didn’t care…” Shit! Why was his throat so tight?

“He told me it was my job.” Adrien shook his head. “If it was a job, I would have quit a long time ago.” He squeezed his eyes shut. Not wanting to see the disgust on Marinette’s face. He was a coward, right? Not able to stand up to his father.

He felt her grab his hand and squeeze it. Adrien opened his eyes to see Marinette’s face full of worry. Without a trace of disgust.

“Adrien, you know that was very wrong of him, don’t you?” She asked gently.  Adrien shrugged, and turned away.

“Hey, look at me.” She coaxed. “That was a terrible, disgusting thing your father said to you.” She paused for a moment. “It was very wrong.”

Adrien didn’t respond. The air got awkward and heavy. After a minute, Marinette stood up and walked over to a large chest against the wall. He heard her rummage for a moment before returning with a triumphant look on her face.

With a big smile, Marinette held up the most garish pair of boxer shorts Adrien had ever seen in his life. The material was shiny and bright, with every single color one could think of.  Metallic disco balls repeated every few inches against the blotchy rainbows behind them. It made Adrien wince to look at.

Marinette giggled at his reaction. "Alya found the material and convinced me Nino really needed these to be made.  They’re disco balls, see? They are going to be a bit big for you, but I can take in the waistband if you need it.” She handed them to Adrien then returned to her giant chest.

He rubbed the material between his forefinger and his thumb.  It was some cheap novelty rayon fabric. But it was soft and silky.  Adrien smiled as he imagined his friend’s reaction. It was a lot of effort for Marinette to go through for a laugh. She was amazing like that.

Adrien stood up, and quickly slipped them on. He removed his towel and lightly bounced up and down.  They hung low on his hips, but didn’t fall. Sweet! Adrien was grateful Marinette wouldn’t have to make any adjustments.

He turned to her and held up his arms, excited to show her that they fit.  Marinette froze at the sight of him, mouth open.  Shit! Adrien grimace, she’s not used to your lack of modesty!  He quickly sat back on the chaise and rubbed the back of his neck. Adrien hoped he didn’t embarrass her too much.

Marinette recovered fast, and within a minute, she was standing in front of him again, smiling brightly.  “Here!” She held out her arms, clutching some black pajama tops and pants. “These should be a much better fit.”

Adrien took the garments from her and swallowed hard. The pajamas were a shiny black fabric, with an electric green piping around the collar and cuffs.  Adrien’s face softened.  He knew who these were meant for.  Adrien brought them to his face an inhaled. They even smell like her. With a closer inspection, Adrien noticed some of the inside seams were reinforced with ladybug print bias tape.  There was no reason to reinforce the seams on pajamas, it was purely decorative.

“Who did you make these for?” He asked softly, Adrien knew the answer, but he wanted her to say it anyway.

“A friend I haven’t seen in a while.” Marinette sighed softly. There was no bitterness to her voice.

"He must be a Ladybug fan.” Adrien pointed to the hidden detail and smirked.

Marinette smiled proudly. “Her number one fan, in fact.” She leaned forward and whispered. “But don’t tell Alya.”

Marinette walked over to her desk as Adrien put on the pajamas.  When she returned, she had another brilliant smile on her face. Her hands were holding a tray of food. Adrien’s face lit up at the sight.

“I wasn’t sure, what you liked, so I grabbed a bit of everything.” She said as she sat the tray down on the chaise.

“I can have all this?” Adrien asked, suddenly starving.

“It’s all for you.” Marinette beamed. “Don’t eat too fast though. I need to go down and talk with my parents.”

Adrien froze at the mention of Tom and Sabine.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell them you’re here.” Marinette assured. “But, I need to let them know I won’t be going to school today.” She paused for another moment, watching Adrien devourer the quiche.  “Would you like me to bring up anything from the bakery?”

“A dozen chocolate croissants?” Adrien responded eagerly, his mouth full of food.

“A dozen might be a bit suspicious.” Marinette smiled at her friend’s full cheeks. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Before you go?” Adrien called out, “umm… is my bag here? I have some important documents in there.” Not to mention a grumpy kwami.

“I think Ladybug left it on the roof.” Marinette winced, “It kinda smelled.”

After Marinette left, Adrien waited an extra minute until she was no longer in earshot.

“Plagg?” He called out.

Instantly, the little kwami phased though the floor and hugged his cheek.

“Adrien!” Plagg cried, “We were so worried!”

Suddenly, the little god flew in front of his face, hands on his hips.  “What the hell was that! Were you seriously going to jump into the river?” Oh man, Plagg was angry again.

“We could have transformed underwater, Ladybug would never have found us.” Adrien winked.

“Were you seriously going to let Ladybug think she killed Adrien Agreste?” Plagg glared back.

Adrien slumped, he didn’t think of that. “I guess it wasn’t a good idea. I was just trying to get away.”

He brought his hands together and Plagg floated over to rest on them.

“How did you get me here?” Adrien asked curiously.  “Does Ladybug know who I am?”

“Nah… Ladybug brought you here on her own. I guess she knew Marinette lived nearby.”

“Hmm…” Adrien mused. “Well, it makes sense. It’s not like Ladybug could bring me to her home, is it?”

Plagg groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“Plagg?”

The kwami only grunted in response.

“You knew Marinette would help me, didn’t you? That’s why you wanted to come back here.”

“Not at all.” Plagg looked up and grinned. “I was only thinking about those cheese danishes.

“Plagg?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Marinette hated lying to parents. As a superhero, she knew it came with the territory.  She lied to keep them safe, at least that’s what she told herself. And that is exactly what she’ll be doing now, Marinette thought as she made her way down the flights of stairs to the bakery.

Something wasn’t right about Mr. Agreste. He wasn’t acting the way a parent of a lost child should. And he was oddly dismissive of Adrien’s distress about Lila. Why hired a private security instead of going to the police? Until Marinette learned more, she needed to keep Adrien hidden. And unfortunately, hidden from her parents as well.

Marinette sighed as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Her Mom and Dad would probably help Adrien if given the chance. That made lying so hard.

She also knew, they would be the ones to face legal repercussions for hiding a runaway teen.  Marinette couldn’t risk that. She was doing this for them. So, why did she feel so guilty?

Marinette took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the bakery.  Tom and Sabine looked up with surprise.  The smiles on their faces fell when they got a look at their daughter.

“Everything alright dear?” Sabine walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. Marinette looked up at her mom, she hated this.

“I’ve been up all night with cough,” True, but it wasn’t her cough. “I thought taking a shower would help.”  Also true. If her parents needed to use restroom, they wouldn’t question the wet towels or shower curtain.

“Oh honey, you look good exhausted.” Her mother looked at her with concern in her eyes. Marinette knew her mom was probably right. Between not sleeping and the unease she felt in her belly.

“I am, but I’m feeling better, I think I can make it to school.” She wasn’t really sick enough to miss school, but she hoped her mother would take the bait.

“Absolutely not!” Sabine scolded, “go back to sleep. I’ll call the school when it opens.”

“Thank you, Mom!” Marinette gave her mom a big hug. Sabine wrapped her arms around her and patted her back gently.

“Once the market opens, I’ll make that chicken ginger soup you love so much.”  She kissed the top of Marinette’s head, still holding her daughter.

Marinette melted into her touch, she loved having her mother dote on her. “It’s okay, Mom.” She assured, “I’m feeling better. I’ll probably just sleep all day today.”

“Nonsense.” Sabine playfully chided. “You’re so gown up now. It’s not everyday I get a chance to baby you.” She gave Marinette one last squeeze before she let go. Marinette warmly smiled at her mom.

“Hey Dad, May I take a croissant or two?”

_____

Marinette headed back up the stairs with two fresh chocolate croissants in her hands. She felt guilty. Her mother was going to go through all the effort of making her favorite soup, and she wasn’t even sick.  Still, she smiled to herself, Adrien would probably like it. Did his mother ever made him soup when he was sick?

Marinette’s steps started to fell heavy as she climbed. A heavy emptiness started eating at her insides. It’s been over three years since Adrien saw his mother. Would he even remember what her soup tasted like?

She sat down on the cold steps and leaned her head against the wall. Could she even imagine…? Never having her mother’s soup again? Never feeling her mother’s arms? Or her hands on her cheek? Never having her mother worry or dote on her again? Not remembering what her mother smell like…?

Adrien’s words tore at her memory…

It was like a part of me being torn away…

Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse!

Mom, I’m so sorry!

“…Tikki?” Marinette could barely choke out the words as she gazed at the ceiling. Her eyes burly with tears.  After a moment, the tiny kwami had phased through the floor.

“Yes, Marinette?” The tiny god looked up at her with big worried eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom,…” Marinette tried to explain. “My mom is going to make Adrien soup.” She squeezed her fists to her forehead, clamping her eyes shut.

“Umm…” Tikki began, obviously confused, “Isn’t that a good thing?”

Marinette hugged her stomach and gently rocked herself. “I just… I just…” She wasn’t making sense, she knew it. “I just tried to imagine never having my mom soup again.” She looked up at Tikki, hoping her friend understood.

“Oh god! Tikki, it hurts so much!” She pressed her nails into her bare arms, hoping the pain would help. “Adrien lives with it everyday!”

Tikki floated next to her face and touched her reassuringly.

“He’s in so much pain,” Marinette whispered, “but he never says anything.” Tikki settled on her shoulder and nuzzled her neck. 

“I wasn’t suppose to hear. I’m not supposed to know.” Marinette shook her head.

I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.

“He doesn’t want his friends to know. He doesn’t want to be a burden.” She wiped away the tears from her eyes. Marinette hugged her knees and buried her face in her arms. “I don’t know how to help him,” she whispered.

Tikki patted her shoulder. “You saved his life tonight,” she reminded. “He was damp, sick, and freezing on the streets. You’ve already helped him so much.”

When Marinette didn’t respond, Tikki continued. “You’re not alone in this. Other people want to help Adrien too. Also,…” Tikki smiled at her, “you’re Ladybug! You can find crazy solutions to anything. I believe in you.”

Marinette looked up and smiled briefly at her friend. She dropped her gaze, staring at her hands again. “He’s so broken, Tikki. And he still tries so hard to help others.

“For years, I thought I knew him because I had his schedule memorized. I knew all of his 5 names, and his favorite macaroon flavor.  I knew what magazines he was in, and the location of all his photoshoots.  I knew his measurements, his hat size, his shoe size… I thought,.. thought I was in love with him.

“But I didn’t know him at all, Tikki, did I?” Marinette looked at her friend, sadly.

Tikki looked back to her, reassuringly. “You have a chance to know him now?  You can help him. You can let him know how much you care…”

“I love him!” Marinette blurted out. “Oh god! Tikki. It’s not like before, it isn’t… It’s something else. But I just want.. no, I need him to live! I want him to know how amazing he is! I want him to be loved. I don’t care if its in the arms of Kagami, or Chloe, or… or Wayham, or any other crazy fangirl. Please, Tikki,” her eyes pleaded with her friends. “I need him to survive his.”

Her memory once again flashed with images. Adrien’s too cold, too still body lying on her bed. Adrien’s determined face as he sprinted towards the river. His word’s echoed in her ears.

And I rather stay garbage than go back...

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.

I’m glad I died.

She tried to shake the words from her mind.I can’t hide him forever, Tikki. Then what will I do?”

“Let’s get him healthy first, you’ll think of something."

Marinette wiped her eyes and her nose, she didn’t want to look as if she’d been crying.  She stood up and bounced up and down. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. Don’t let Adrien see you sad. 

She made her way back to her bedroom. Once inside, she triumphantly held up the fresh croissants. “I was able to grab you two, still warm.” She smiled brightly. Yes! Girl, distract him with food.

Adrien was lying on the chaise. His pajama top was pushed up to reveal a slightly distended stomach.  His fingers were rubbing the exposed skin gently.  The empty tray of food lay on the floor.

“I think I’ve must have died.” He slowly turned to her and smirked. “I should have known heaven would be full of pastries and pretty girls.”

Marinette knew it was a joke. A meaningless tease to lighten the mood. She tried to keep her emotions in check. But her stupid eyes refused to listen and started watering.

“Marinette?”

Next her traitorous throat seized up. It was hard to breathe, she could barely swallow. Adrien was sitting up now. His teasing expression fell to one of horrified shock.

Marinette quickly handed him the croissants before burying her face in her hands.

Now her chest gave the ultimate betrayal as a ragged sob shook her body. Damn, Damn! Marinette peaked through her fingers at Adrien.  He was staring back at her, his face full of terror and confusion. She needed to explain herself…

“Don’t say that! You could have died. I was so scared, you were so cold.” Oh god, was she shaking now? “And you wouldn’t wake up. I wanted to call an ambulance but Ladybug said…"

A warm hand tapped her shoulder. She knew it was meant to be assuring, but it was stiff and awkward.

“I’m so sorry, Marinette.” Adrien apologized, his voice high. “I shouldn’t have said that. Shit, this isn’t fair.  She shouldn’t have brought me here.  This is too big of an imposition.”

“You’re not an imposition!” Marinette’s angry red eyes flared back at him.  “She was right to bring you here! To a place you’d be safe. Where people care about you.”

Adrien was obviously stunned by outburst.  And extremely confused. In less than a minute, Marinette had gone from happy, to weepy, and now furious.

Adriens arm fell from her shoulder as he dejectedly stared at his feet.

“Hey…” Marinette spoke softer now, desperately trying not to sound like crazy person.  “I’m glad you’re here.  That you’re alive and safe. Just no more jokes, okay? Especially about dying?”

He nodded.

“I’m not very good with jokes anyway.” He shrugged apologetically. “You know that.”

Marinette couldn’t help but dryly laugh. She heard that line before.  It was in the car after the most embarrassing afternoon of her life. Adrien had pretended to be a statue, and Marinette confessed her love.

“Yeah,…” Marinette winced at the memory, “I remember. But, hey, at least I didn’t try to kiss you this time.”

Adrien’s face dropped into a bizarrely unreadable expression. Great job, Marinette, way to remind him of the most awkward moment ever!

“Come on.” Marinette stretched and changed the subject. “Let’s get some sleep.” She beckoned him toward her loft.

“I umm, I can sleep on chaise.”

“And have my parents see?” Marinette yawned. “You’ve been sleeping outside, who knows where. Even with a bedmate, my loft in infinitely more comfortable.”

She could see his hesitation. Marinette closed her eyes and groaned to herself.  Stupid, stupid. She remember the photos with Lila touching him, his eyes screaming.  He doesn’t know you that well, girl!  He doesn’t remember holding you for hours. Just because he had a fever, doesn’t mean you guys are on touching terms now.

“Look, if you’re at all uncomfortable, I can take the chaise. I sometimes sleep there when I’m sick.”

“No, I mean, you would be uncomfortable.”

"I’m not, but if you are, you can let me know, it’s okay.”

"But, I’m a guy?"

“That shouldn’t matter.”

Adrien opened his mouth the speak, then closed it agin.

“When Alya stays over, she sleeps up there with me.  There’s more than enough room. I wiggle a bit, but I don’t snore.  Although, I do sometimes say weird things my sleep.”

Adrien just stared at her, his cheeks were pink. It was obvious he was still embarrassed by the conversation.

“I’m going to change sheets. You have a few minutes to decide.” Marinette walked over to her trunk and pulled out some fresh linens. “Really, Adrien. It’s okay if you would rather I sleep on the chaise. I’m so tired at this point I could sleep on the floor.”

Marinette left Adrien to consider his options. Then she quickly climbed up onto her loft bed.  She loved her bed, really she did, but she wished it wasn’t so hard to make.  With practiced movements she crawled back and forth, striping the sheets and throwing them on the floor. When she finished putting the new sheets into place, she noticed Adrien’s head at the end of the bed. Watching her.

“I umm…” he scratched the back of his neck nervously, “I don’t want to kick you out of your bed.” Oh man, was he blushing? “It’s okay that we share.”

Marinette smiled as she crawled under the sheets. She held the covers up, and motioned for Adrien to crawl in beside her.  He moved slowly, and cautiously laid down beside her. Leaving a generous space between their shoulders. He took a deep breath.

“Okay,” Adrien asked, very determined. “What are the rules?”

“Rules?”

“I’ve never slept with anyone before. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

Dear god! He’s too pure! Marinette turned and buried her face into her pillow. She didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or die of embarrassment. Luckily, she didn’t need to decide, her sleepy brain chose giggles. Marinette tried to muffle her laughs into her pillow, but she knew Adrien would be able to see her shaking back anyways.

“Oh, man… oh no!” Adrien stammered. “I didn’t mean.”

Marinette turned over to face him.  He looked so adorably lost.  The giggles still riddled her body as she tried to speak. She knew she shouldn’t tease. She really shouldn’t. It was so inappropriate.

“Well, we obviously need to chose a safe word.”

The look of absolute shock only lasted a few moments, then Adrien’s face twisted into an adorable little pout. Marinette clasped her hands over her mouth when the giggles became full on belly laughs. It wasn’t long before long, Adrien broke into a wide smile. Then into a giggles himself.

Oh man! It was wonderful to hear him laugh. Sure, it was probably the tired giddiness of not enough sleep. But it was music to Marinette’s ears. She felt happy tears at the corner of her eyes. As she watched Adrien smile and giggle back at her, she felt some of the tension release from her body.

“You know what I meant.” Adrien countered as soon as he was able to talk. “And I thought you said no more jokes.”

“That’s only for you.” Marinette playfully booped his nose. “My jokes are funny.”

She snuggled into the blankets and smiled at him. Adrien gave her a sleepy smile in return.  She missed that. Adrien’s smile. Marinette flipped over to her back and took a deep breath.

“Okay, etiquette for proper co-sleeping.”

“Hey, don’t tease…”

“No, I’m not. Well, not anymore.” She paused for a moment. “I’ve never had to think of rules before.  Hmm… don’t hog the blanket, stick to your own pillow, try to stay to your side of the bed. But, if an arm or leg comes over to the other side, that’s okay too.

“Alya can get pretty cuddly, so she usually pushes the ‘stay to your own side’ rule. I don’t mind though, she’s wonderfully squishy.”

Adrien propped  himself up on his elbow, and stared at her curiously. “You cuddle with Alya?”

Marinette turned to face him. “It’s more like she cuddles with me.” She mused with a big smile on her face. “I can’t be the big spoon without getting a face full of hair.  Alya’s sisters climb into bed with her when they have nightmares. So, she’s super used to it at this point. She’ll cuddle with anyone.”

Adrien laid back down with a sleepy grin on his face. “So friends can cuddle?”

“Yes, friends can cuddle.” Marinette smiled back. She watched Adrien yawn and rub his eyes. “We should really get some sleep. It will be light soon, and my bedroom starts to get really warm in the day. The disadvantage of living above a bunch of bakery ovens.”

Marinette turned to lay on her back. She wasn’t touching Adrien’s side but she could feel his body heat.  She stared at the night sky though her skylight, a fuzzy contentment in her chest.

“Goodnight, Marinette,” Adrien whispered softly. “…and thank you.”

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

It wasn’t long before Adrien’s breathing was slow and deep.  Marinette rolled over on her side to face him. He looked so different than the unconscious boy she brought back to her room last night.  His face was clean and smooth, and his lips barely had any cracks anymore. His hair was a bit of a mess, but at least it was clean.

When Marinette was positive Adrien was in deep sleep, she brought her hand to his chest. She bit her lip as she slowly lowered it down, careful not to wake him.  She lay her palm flat on his chest. Marinette could feel his heartbeat, slow and calm. She smiled to herself and exhaustion started to take hold.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to help him. But for right now, Adrien was safe and warm. And with someone who loved him.

…and for now, that was enough.

Chapter Text

Something warm and soft lay on Adrien’s chest. He smiled with eyes closed. It wasn’t just on his chest, he could feel the weight of Marinette’s leg resting on his thighs too. And the warmth of her body as she lay pushed against his side.  Her forehead was lightly pressing into his shoulder, and her arm was draped over his body.

Adrien slowly brought his free hand up to touch the arm on his chest.  He didn’t want to wake her.  His fingers gently touched the soft skin of her forearm, caressing it tenderly. Adrien wished he could touch her more, but Marinette was pinning his other arm to his side.

He inhaled slowly and mindfully, trying to commit the smells to memory.  The smell of bread, the smell of clean sheets, the smell Marinette’s shampoo.  Adrien still didn’t open his eyes.  But he began to mentally catalog all the sensations on his skin.  Marinette’s soft breath on his shoulder, the weight of her body, the warmth of her body. The softness of her hair laying against him.

Yes, he had to memorize every detail. Because it couldn’t last. Adrien knew he had to leave. And when he did, it would feel too soon.

Marinette stirred. Please don’t wake up yet! Adrien silently begged. He didn’t know what time it was, but he was guessing close to noon. Rays of sun beamed down from the skylight, making a sunny square on the bed. It also made the bed really warm.

No, hot, it was so hot! Marinette wasn’t kidding about the heat from the ovens. The blankets had long since been kicked to the bottom of the bed. Even then, Adrien still sweated in his pajamas. He dared not move, though, not even to take of his top.  If he moved, Marinette might wake up.  Adrien wasn’t really for that.

Because when she woke up, this would all end. 

He didn’t want to think about it, but he knew he had to go. He sighed. Plagg was right, he wasn’t managing well on his own.  Adrien’s strict adherence to not breaking any laws, wasn't working.  Would anyone really be hurt if he stayed in an abandoned apartment? He could probably find someone to pay him under the table as a dishwasher, or day laborer. Maybe he could find tourists who needed a guide around the city. He spoke multiple languages, and he spoke them well.

Hmmm… Adrien mused, working would make him more visible though. It was easy to hide amongst the homeless. No one ever looked at them. But his father might find him if he started being seen in high traffic areas. Especially in people’s travel photos.

Maybe he should dye his hair or shave his head? Marinette could probably do it for him. Without his distinguishing blond locks, he doubted anyone would recognize him. It worked when he was Aspik, didn’t it?

Cautiously, Adrien slid his fingers under Marinette’s hand. Her fingers curled around his on reflex. This was okay, right? Friends can cuddle. And they were friends.  Whatever heartbreak she suffered from his photoshoots with Lila, that was in the past. She wouldn’t be helping now if she was still upset, right?

Adrien listened to her breathing, deep and slow.  He liked this. He really liked this. Slowly, Adrien took in a deep breath.  He wished he could come back, but that might get Marinette in trouble. And he wouldn’t endanger Marinette and her family like that.

Hmmm…. maybe Chat Noir could come back and cuddle with his friend?

Adrien frowned. That’s not what the super suit is for! He could already imagine his kwami’s reaction.  Though, platonic cuddles were very different from what Marinette and him did that night. He felt himself grow even hotter with the memory. Tiny beads of sweat started to form on his brown. He really shouldn’t be thinking about that night, not right now. Nope.

Adrien finally opened his eyes and turned to look at the girl lying beside him. He couldn’t see much, mainly the top of her head and the bridge of her nose. She never tied her hair back after her shower last night. It was splayed over the pillow. Her lips were moving slightly. She must be talking in a dream, thought Adrien. It was really cute.

“Marinette!” Blue eyes flashed open as Sabine opened the hatch to her room. “Your friends are here!”

Adrien’s eyes locked with hers for a split second.

“Hide!” Marinette whispered as loud as she dared. With uncanny speed, she grabbed the covers from the end of the bed. Then threw them over Adrien’s body.

“Down in a moment!” Marinette called to her friends.

Adrien’s face was covered by the blanket, so he couldn’t see. But he felt Marinette crawl off the bed and down the ladder.  Adrien’s heart was pounding in his ears. This is bad! This is really really bad!

Adrien heard the chorus of hellos amongst the girls in his class. Well, not quite every girl. Chloe and Sabina were absent. But she was here.  Lila. Adrien clenched his jaw and balled his hands into fists. How dare she be here in Marinette’s room!

“Would your friends like anything from the bakery?” Sabine asked brightly, “I think you’re father just finished up some eclairs.”

The happy squeals hurt Adrien’s ears.

“Come, Marinette, I’ll box you up some treats for you girls.”

“I should probably stay…” Marinette started to protest.

“You look like you’re felling better,” Sabine playfully scolded, “And I need to get back to your father.”

Adrien heard the stairs creak as they left.

This is so much worse! What if they decided to go up to the balcony? The air was muggy and hot under the blanket. Every pore of Adrien’s body was sweating. What if they tried to stay the entire lunch break?

“Well, she looks like she feels okay, now.” Alex said.

“Maybe it was a sickness that was only in the morning?” Lila mused sweetly.

Adrien heard Rose gasp. “You don’t think she could be…?”

“Absolutely not, Marinette’s not like that. I know my friend would never get herself pregnant.”

Dear god! Does this girl ever stop?

“Then why bring it up?”

Way to go, Alya! Start seeing Lila for what she is!

“I didn’t, silly. Rose did.” Lila explained. “There are lots of illness that only affect people in the morning. Maybe not so much here in France, but I have traveled so much. It’s hard for me to keep track.”

The girls seemed to buy Lila’s obvious deflection.

“But Marinette has been really secretive with her love life lately.” Mylene sounded worried. “It’s not really like her.”

“Did we ever find out about her mystery man?” Alex asked bluntly.

“Hey guys?” Alya was using a warning tone. “Marinette will tell when she’s ready. Okay. Gossiping about it now isn’t going to help her”

Yes, yes! Adrien wanted to pound his fist in the air, you tell her Alya!

“I’m just sooo worried.” Lila continued, ignoring Alya. “I guess she went off the deep end after Adrien rejected her. Oh! I’m so sorry. I promised him I wouldn’t tell.”

“What now?”

“Oh, no…”

“Poor Marinette!”

“Oh,” exclaimed Alya, surprised, “I didn’t know.”

Liquid rage pulsed through Adrien’s veins. He was having to listen to Lila hurt Marinette again! All the moments he wished he could have gone back in time to prevent Lila’s plotting. And now, he was stuck having let it happen all over again! No, he wouldn’t let it happen. Not when he was right here!

Suddenly, Plagg was at his cheek, whispering in his ear. “Adrien, I know what your thinking, but think about what Marinette would want? She went to great trouble to hide you.”

“I don’t care! She’s lying about me, about Marinette.” Adrien said through clenched teeth.

“Having Adrien jump out of her bed will only make more rumors, plus your father will know where you are. That will make things much worse for Marinette.”

“We could transform? Cataclysm the lies out of her!”

“That’s not how it works!”

“Where is Adrien anyway?” Alex asked. Once again, Adrien started paying attention to the conversation below him.

“Gabriel hasn’t said.” Since when was Lila on first name terms with his father? Ha, who knows if that’s even true. “But, I haven’t seen him recently. His assistant says he’s working hard on his new line. I still have photoshoots scheduled. I’ll can give Adrien messages for you guys if I see him?”

What? Do his friends not even know he ran away? Was his father even looking for him? He was always so protective before. Did that totally vanish once Adrien dared to defy him? Adrien wanted to throw up. It was one thing to keep his disappearance out of the press, but to hid it from his friends too? He poked his face out from beneath the blanket, hoping the fresh air would settle his stomach.

Did his father only love him as long as he was useful? It wasn’t the first time the thought crossed Adrien’s mind, but hearing it confirmed was like a knife in the belly.

Ladybug did say his friends were looking for him. She probably meant Nino. Adrien could totally see his buddy flagging down a superhero for help.  Nino was such a good friend. But… but… it still sickened him. Adrien tried so hard to stay hidden, and his father wasn’t even looking.

“I’m baaaaaack!” Marinette called, out of breath. Adrien knew she ran up all the flights of stairs.

The girls gave delighted squeals at her arrival. The talking ceased while they ate the eclairs. Then, the girls talked about assignments and projects coming up. Adrien couldn’t help feel sorry that he would never get to join them at school again. His heartbeat had slowed down to a normal level, but the sweat continued to pour out of his skin.

Please let them leave! Soon!

“Actually guys,” Marinette suddenly interrupted the chatter. “I’m starting to not feel so well. It might be better if you go.”

“Awh…” There were a bunch of disappointed sighs.

“Marinette, you should totally try ginger tablets?” Lila offered sweetly. “They worked so well for my cousin in her early months.”

“I, um… thank you?” Adrien could hear the confusion in her voice, but she responded politely just the same. “Come on, I’ll walk you guys out.”

Adrien listened to their footsteps as they left. As soon as he heard the door shut, he threw the covers off his body.  His pajamas were drenched with sweat.  He couldn’t peal them off fast enough.

Wearing nothing but his disco ball boxers, he made his way down from Marinette’s bed. Adrien walked over to the sink and splashed cold water on his face and neck.  Plagg was by his side the whole time.

“She did it again Plagg!”

“Keep it down Adrien.” his kwami warned. “You were right to stay hidden.”

“I feel so useless!” Adrien started pacing back and forth in the room. Trying to burn off excess adrenaline.

“Marinette can take care of herself, she’s stronger than you think. Besides, it’s only words. In a few weeks, people will forget what Lila said.”

When pacing wasn’t enough, Adrien dropped to the floor and started doing pushups. Every time he lifted himself up, he imagined punching Lila’s smug little face.  Adrien began to pant with the exertion, but it still felt really good. New beads of sweat started to trickle down his chest and arms. Hmm… he should really get the deodorant out of his bag, toothbrush too.

He jumped to his feet when he heard Marinette make her way back up the stairs.

“Sorry about that…” she began to apologize. Marinette’s face turned bright red when she saw him.

Oh... Crap!

“I, um…” she was staring at his naked chest. Almost on cue, Adrien felt a bead of sweat run between his pectorals and down his abdomen.  Marinette blinked, following the trickle with her eyes. “umm…what was I saying?”

“Sorry,” Adrien attempted to wipe off the sweat with his palms. “I got really sweaty.”

“Yes, of course, you’re really hot!” She paused to winced at the words, clamping her eyes shut.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but the pajamas got too wet to wear.”

“Yeah,.. umm wet.” Marinette bit her lip and turned away.

“One of the downsides to being a model, I forget most people are not used to... to,” Adrien gestured to his chest.

“It’s okay, I’m fine, you’re fine,... Ha! Obviously, I mean, as long as your comfortable. I’m comfortable.”

Marinette walked over to her sink whispering “I’m fine,” over and over. She grabbed Adrien a towel and handed it to him.  “Alya’s coming by after school with today’s homework.  Maybe we can find you a better hiding place.”

He took the towel from her and started to wipe off his chest.

Marinette jumped when her phone suddenly rang in her pocket. Adrien was grateful for the distraction.

“Penny! You got my text.” She winked at Adrien. “Thank you for calling me back so fast. Yes, it is an emergency.

“What? Now?” Marinette’s eyebrow cocked in confusion.  “Um sure,… okay, let me put him on speaker phone.” She beckoned Adrien closer.

“Now, keep in mind,” Jagged's distinctive voice was coming through the tiny speaker. “It’s still a bit raw, but it’s for my acoustic album. It’s got the soul of rock’n’roll, but the heart of romance.” 

A piano melody started playing through the phone.  Adrien couldn’t help be feel giddy at private concert, the earlier awkwardness already forgotten. He closed his eyes as his fingers tapped against his thighs.  Jagged’s piano melody blended together elements of two of his well-loved songs, but in a delightfully new and strangely complex way.  Did Jagged let Marinette preview his songs often? So cool!

The song ended too soon for Adrien’s liking.

“So, Marinette?” Jagged asked enthusiastically, “what do you think?”

Adrien cupped his hand against Marinette’s ear and whispered.  He pulled away and smiled at her.

“Umm… Jagged?” Marinette began unsure of herself. “Could I hear refrain again? With a…?”

“F minor sixth” Adrien mouthed slowly.

“F minor sixth in the third measure.” Marinette shrugged, her bewildered eyes locked with Adrien’s.

“Oh yeah,… of course.” The melody started playing again.  The changed chord created a beautiful tension, that then resolved into a shiver-inducing consonant.

Jagged stopped before he got through with the line.

“Marinette! You are a freaking genius!” He exclaimed excitedly.

Marinette giggled at Adrien. “It wasn’t me. It was my friend.” Her beautiful eyes still locked with Adrien’s.

“Well, tell your friend, she’s a genius!”

“You’re a genius.” Marinette whispered, smiling brightly.

"I’m thinking it will be track three on new album.” Jagged continued.  “All the best songs are on track three. I wanted you to be first to hear it, so you could starting creating ideas in that amazing mind of yours. You know, for the cover.”

Marinette finally broke Adrien's gaze and slyly looked away.

“Thank you Jagged. It’s really beautiful, but I need to talk to Penny again.” Marinette bid Jagged a polite goodbye, then turned off the speaker phone. She put her phone to her ear once again.

“Hi Penny, yes, about why I contacted you.” Marinette folded one arm under her chest, obviously nervous “I need to find an attorney. I have a friend. She’s a… a signer, and she really needs out of her living situation. She has worked for years, I’m sure she has her own money, but because she’s a minor, she can’t access it. Do you know of any attorneys that have ever helped with… um, what’s it called...?” Her eyes locked with Adrien’s again, “emancipation?”

A bubbly excitement filled Adrien’s chest. Brilliant! It took everything he had not to start jumping up and down on the stop.

“Yes.  He’s,… she’s 16.”

Adrien wished she still was on speaker phone.

“Mmhmm. Yes.” Marinette was nodding. That’s a good sign, right? “Yes, as soon as possible.

“Thank you so much, Penny!”

Marinette hung up the phone. “She’s going to make some calls.”

Every fiber in Adrien’s body wanted to hug her, but he doubted she’d like a sweaty, half naked boy pressed against her. So he resisted. He gave her his brightest smile instead, “you’re amazing, Marinette!”

“Thank Penny, she’s doing all the work.” Marinette shrugged shyly. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better.” Physically, he felt fine. He still had a tiny tickle in his lungs, but that was the only trace of sickness left.  But the earlier conversation he overheard made him feel uneasy.  Adrien’s face dropped with the memory.  Marinette looked at him again with concern in her eyes.

“You sure?”

“Lila was at it again.” Adrien blurted out. “Earlier. Saying things about you.”

Marinette scoffed, but otherwise seemed indifferent.

“Lila also said that father was still working hard on spring line. I don’t understand, Marinette. Does nobody know I left?”

Marinette hesitated, chewing on her lip. She finally took a deep breath.  “No one knew you ran away.  Lila said some things, so who knew if they were true. One day you were on the class list, the next day you weren’t. Your father never contacted any of your friends, but I’m pretty sure he’s watching the school.”

So his father was looking for him, just not very hard.  Adrien frowned. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt the brand, right?

Marinette must have sensed his hurt. She reached out and squeezed his hand.  “Your friends all miss you very much.”

Adrien took a deep breath, he didn’t want Marinette to see him cry. “I just don’t understand why father didn’t say anything.” He squeezed her hand back, wishing his own wasn’t so sweaty.

“I wish I knew, Adrien.” She sighed, “but I know if he wasn’t so rich and powerful, there’s be no way he could treat you the way he does.”

Adrien squirmed. He felt he should say something.  It was always awkward when people criticized his father. For years he had defended his father’s actions.  He’s strict, or overprotective, or he’s been through a lot. But now…? Adrien just didn’t have the energy anymore.

“Um,..” Marinette let go of his hand, once again looking at his chest. “If you open the hatch, my room should cool down pretty quickly.”

Adrien climbed back into the loft, and cracked the skylight.  The cool fresh air felt amazing on his skin.  He laid back down on the bed, trying to gather his thoughts.

Hmm… emancipation? Could he really pull that off?  He never thought about that before. But it was a good idea.  Marinette was clever like that.  Adrien was pretty sure he had his own money somewhere.  But Nathalie alway took care of those things.  Adrien really should have paid better attention.

He sighed.  Though, Adrien had no reason to pay attention.  Up until the night he left, it never occurred to him to run away.  He wasn’t much of a planner, he never needed to be.  His previous life was meticulously structured by his father.  Even if he had tried to make plans, there was no way he’d be allowed to follow through.

Adrien lay on the bed lost in his own thoughts.  Marinette brought his laundered clothes to the balcony to dry.  The afternoon was sunny, but it still wasn’t very warm.  She wasn’t sure if they’d be dry by dark.  Marinette offered to find him something else to wear, but he didn’t want to trouble her.  Ayla would stop by after school, and once again Adrien would need to hide under the blanket.  That would be sweaty enough without additional clothing.

He didn’t really see the need to hide from Alya.  Adrien trusted her. But Marinette insisted that the best kept secrets were the one’s you didn’t share.  It was really a shame Ladybug wouldn’t use Multimouse again, Adrien mused. Marinette had all the features of a great miraculous wielder.

Adrien stayed up in the loft bed all afternoon. He only came down to use the bathroom, and to have some soup.  Marinette worked on her studies, while Adrien tried to catch up on anime using her phone. But before long, he ended up falling asleep.

Adrien awoke to Marinette shaking his foot.

“Alya’s on her way over.  She’s bringing Nino too.”  Marinette paused for a moment, “will you be okay?”

Adrien smiled.  Even if he had to hide, he was excited to be close to his buddy again.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll stay hidden.”  He assured her.

They didn't have to wait for long.  Within minutes Marinette spotted them from her window.  “They’re on their way!”

Adrien covered himself with the blanket, happy with the thought of being in the same room as his friend.  It wasn’t long before he heard them at the front door.

“Hi Alya, hi… oh my god!” Marinette exclaimed. “Nino, What’s wrong?”

They were talking down in the apartment.  With Marinette’s door open, Adrien could hear.

“It’s alright,” Alya said assuringly, “You can tell her.”

“They um…” Nino was struggling with the words. “The police rejected my missing person report.”

Adrien frowned. Nino tried to file a missing person report? For me?

“Can they do that?” Marinette asked, sounding shocked.

“If Adrien’s not enrolled in school, he’s not considered truant.” Alya explained.  “But it gets worse.”

They stopped talking for a moment, Adrien really wished he could see.

“According to Officer Raincomprix,” Nino spoke again. “There was never a missing person report on Emilee Agreste.”

What!? Icy shock washed over Adrien. That can’t be right?

“But she’s been missing for over three years. Are you telling me it was never investigated?”

“Apparently,…” It was Alya talking now, “Mr. Agreste told the police he would use private investigators.  Save the tax payers money.  And his guys would do a better job anyway.”

Well, that part sounded like father.

“But the police never followed up!” Nino sounded angry now.  “They just let it go!  They let her disappear. And now…” His voice was high and desperate.  “…they are going to let Adrien disappear too? Just like his mom. Fuck! What if he killed them? What if he..”

“Nino, no!” Marinette interrupted, “Mr. Agreste is many things, but you can’t think he could be a murderer?”

“It’s not a stretch.”  Nino sniffed, “he’s a sociopath. But let’s all just turn a fucking blind eye because he makes pretty clothes!”

Nino’s sniffles were muted now.  Adrien guessed Alya was holding him.  He hated this.  He hated seeing his friend hurting.  When Nino spoke again, it was high and strained.

“Emilee’s corpse could be rotting in his basement. Adrien could be there too, and we’d… we'd never know.  I’m sorry, I’m just so scared I’ve never see my friend again.”

Adrien held his breath, not trusting himself to breathe.  If he drew a breath, he might sob.  Then they would hear him for sure.

“Hey, Nino,” Marinette spoke gently. “Maybe he’s somewhere nice. With people who care about him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well... maybe Aubrey flew him to New York?  He could be partying on top of skyscrapers?  Or maybe Kagami smuggled him to Japan, and he’s living out the ultimately weeb fantasy.  Surrounded by video games, manga, and anime.”

Adrien heard Nino half chuckle with the thought.

“Or he could be in a big fluffy bed with a belly full of carbs.”

“Thank you, Marinette,” He said softly.

“Here, girl.” Alya spoke again, “I got your notes and assignments from today.  Did you think you’ll be back at school tomorrow?”

Marinette hesitated, “I’ll see how I feel in the morning.”

“Oh,... okay” Alya replied.

Adrien winced. He didn’t like Marinette missing school because of him.

“Hey girl? Just remember, you can talk with me about anything, okay?” Ayla assured gently. “I won’t judge, I only want to help.”

“Umm… okay, thank you?”

They said their goodbyes and Adrien heard them leave.  He knew Nino would miss him when he left.  But he never though he’d take it so hard.  Adrien frowned and buried his face in his hands.  He really needed a way to tell Nino that he was okay.

And what was the deal with his father stopping the missing person reports?  Were private investigators looking for his mother, and Adrien never knew?  It still made him feel uneasy.  Was that even legal?  Maybe he could ask and attorney if they ever found one.

A short while later, Penny called back.  Marinette was still down in the apartment, so Adrien couldn’t hear much of the conversation.  But, it didn’t sound like there was any piano solos this time.

When the call was over, Marinette raced back upstairs with a big smile on her face.

"Penny found an attorney! She’s agreed to see us. She doesn’t have any openings on schedule. But she deals with a lot of temperamental artists who regularly cancel. So we can go to her office, and wait in the lobby.” Marinette bounced excitedly.

“Adrien, we can see her tomorrow morning!”

 

——

After talking with Penny, Marinette dove back into her studies.  Ladybug’s surveillance had taken away from her schoolwork and she really needed to catch up.  Though, she missed Tikki’s help. And it was distracting having a mostly naked model in her room.

Marinette could probably ask Adrien for help.  But she really needed to wait until his clothes were on.  To her, the room wasn’t overly warm, but compared to living outside, it probably felt downright balmy. She was glad Adrien was comfortable with his body, I mean, who wouldn’t be? But it made it very hard for her to concentrate.

They were friends, right? Friends shouldn’t be having sexy thoughts about each other.  Marinette cringed.  Years of fantasies came pouring back into her brain.  It wasn’t fair.  She was better than this now.  But, it still felt like a dirty secret.  Should she be honest?  Should she let him know about her old crush?  Maybe he would cover up more?

No. She thought. I wouldn’t want to burden his with that nonsense. It’s in the past. I’m here to help my friend, nothing more.

Marinette worked until her eyes were dry and blurry. Adrien had climbed into the loft bed hours ago. She was sure he was already asleep, but she couldn’t help stalling the inevitable.

Unlike the previous night, Adrien wasn’t suffering from hypothermia. And even though Marinette was tired, it was still a far cry from the exhaustion of last night. 

Plus, she winced, friends can cuddle.

Not that she didn’t want to cuddle with Adrien. Oh god, she did! But she shouldn’t. Wait. What if he wanted to cuddle? Last night, she told him it was okay, but she didn’t want him to feel bad about sharing her bed.  And what she said about Alya was true. Friends can cuddle.  It shouldn’t be weird sharing a bed now.

Maybe she should sleep on the chaise?  But she didn’t want Adrien to think he made her uncomfortable.  It wasn’t his fault she used to have a crush on him. Used to. Used to. Marinette repeated to herself.

She looked up and groaned.  She had no idea what to call the emotion she felt now.  Marinette loved him, but she desperately wanted to protect him.  She wanted to see him happy, and away from that terrible excuse for a father.  She wanted him back at school with his friends.  She wanted him to smile and laugh.

Marinette didn’t want him for herself anymore. So why were there these frustrating thoughts? Why was there a lusty desire she felt deep in her belly? Why did her heart beat so fast when she looked up to her loft?  Why did she blush at the thought of lying beside him again?

One night. Just one more night, girl, you can do it!

After Adrien gets an attorney, who knows where he’ll be.  Gabriel must be breaking a dozen of laws with the way he treats him. There’s no way Adrien will have to go back.  Maybe he’ll go stay with Chloe or Kagami? He’ll have his own bed, his own room.  After tonight, Adrien wouldn’t need her to hide him.

But, right now, Adrien was in her bed. Most likely just wearing his boxers.  And it was twisting Marinette’s insides in knots.

Sometime after midnight, Marinette finally headed up to her loft.  Sure enough, Adrien’s eyes were closed.  Marinette smiled and felt herself relax.  Hours of worrying over nothing.  She crawled over and gazed at him.  Adrien was laying on his side, with his arm slung over her pillow.  His handsome face was peaceful in the moonlight.

Marinette lay beside him and propped herself up on her elbow.  She gently touched his shoulder. “Adrien,” she whispered, “can you move your arm?”

Slowly and deliberately Adrien lifted the arm that was at his side.  He gently draped it over Marinette’s waist, keeping the other on her pillow.  His eyes were open, watching her, the corner of his mouth upturned in a smirk.  Marinette started to doubt he was asleep to begin with.

“I was thinking the other one.” Marinette hoped he couldn’t see her flush.  “I thought you were asleep.”

“I thought friends could cuddle.” His expression was teasing, but there was something else too. Hope? Marinette gulped.  Stay cool, girl!

“Of coarse they can!” She said louder than she probably should.  Marinette twisted around until she faced away.  She laid down on her pillow, with Adrien’s arm against her neck.  His other arm still draped over her waist.  “Goodnight.”

Oh man, this was awkward!

Other than his arms, Adrien wasn’t touching her.  There were at least two handwidths between them.  Marinette lay silently, not daring to move.  Think of Alya. She’s hot too! Just pretend he’s Alya!

Marinette winced. But it was different. Alya was a friend, and Marinette knew she wasn’t treating Adrien as a friend at the moment. She wasn’t treating him like Alya.  She was letting her old fantasies get the better of her.  It didn’t have to be weird, but her old crush was making so.

Marinette bit her lip. She was determined to prove that her old infatuation had no power over her.  She grabbed the arm that was at her waist and wrapped it around her body.  At the same time, she scooted herself back until she was flush with his chest.  If it was Alya, it wouldn’t be weird, right?

She heard Adrien voicelessly chuckle as he molded his body to hers. Oh god, she could feel his breath on the back of her neck.  She hoped he couldn’t feel her heartbeat.  Though, at this point, he might be able to hear it.

Adrien’s arms softly pulled Marinette against him.  She couldn’t help but gasp at the sensation.  It felt so good! He was so warm, and he smelled so so…!  Marinette winced. She shouldn’t be thinking these things.  She was over her crush, she was determined to prove that… that…

Adrien sighed against her neck and shivers cascaded down her body.  Her belly twisted in knots.  No, it wasn’t really her belly. It was somewhere much lower, but she wasn’t going to admit that.  Marinette squeezed her knees together, and bit her lip.  Calm down, girl!

Hormones started to overtake the rational part of Marinette’s brain.  Why was she fighting this exactly?  Adrien was holding her, because he wanted to, and it felt wonderful. Tomorrow, he would be gone.  Was it so wrong to enjoy this now?

Marinette found herself relaxing in his arms. She couldn’t help smile.  As tired as she was, she didn’t want to fall asleep yet.  She let go of his wrist and snuggled under his arms.  She’d never been held by a boy before, not like this.  Chat Noir had held her in his arms on her balcony, but she couldn’t feel his skin.  She couldn’t feel his heat.

Don’t be thinking about that night! Please!

Marinette's brain ignored her request. Were Adrien’s lips as soft as Chat’s?  Would he moan if she ran her fingers through his hair?  Would he hold her waist if she sat on his lap?

A whine escaped Marinette’s throat.

Adrien stiffened and pulled his arm away. “I’m sorry. I thought this was okay.”

“It is, you’re fine!” Marinette lied. “I’m just a little nervous about tomorrow.  I’ve never talked with an attorney before, and I really hope it goes okay.” Man, I’m such a liar.

“Oh, right…”  Marinette felt Adrien relax again.  He repositioned his arm and squeezed her hand. “I’m worried too.  I’ve been thinking, and… um, what if someone recognizes me in the lobby?”

“Don’t worry about that.  I’m sure no one will. Not after I’m done with you.”  Marinette giggled to herself.  “So Adrien, how do you feel about a secret identity?”

Chapter Text

Adrien never claimed to have a normal life. He spent his evenings leaping across the roofs of Paris for god's sake. In a leather catsuit with fake ears and a belt for a tail!  He should be used to ridiculous by now.

“Your skirt’s riding up.” Marinette whispered, “Try to sit with your knees closer together.”

Adrien was man-spreading. He couldn’t help it. The pretty floral skirt and leggings he wore created a literal sauna for his balls.

Sweat dripped from under the shoulder-length blond wig he wore.  Topped with a wool beret. Bright cherry red beret, to match his glistening bright red lips.

As plans go, it was ridiculous. Ridiculous and brilliant. Marinette was clever. Her creativity and resourcefulness might even match his lady.  Adrien grimaced and wiggled in his seat. But neither would ever have to deal with the ball soup he was enduring right now.

The receptionist, Eva something, got up to take some papers somewhere. He didn’t care, as long as she stayed gone a while. Adrien spread his legs and wafted his skirt to try to cool down.

Marinette gave him an apologetic smile. “Don’t get too cozy.  She’ll be back soon."

They had been waiting for hours, Adrien leaned his head back against the wall.  “What if she can’t see us today? I don’t know if I can do this again tomorrow.”

“You could shave your legs.” Marinette teased. “Then you wouldn’t need leggings.”

“Give me a razor? I’ll shave them now.”

“There’s some candles over here.” Marinette glanced over to some decorative candles, “they say waxing last longer.”

“Oh ha ha,” he said dryly. “Cute outfit aside, if I sweat much more, you won’t be able to hide the man funk.”

“Man funk?” Marinette smiled. “Don’t you mean: Adrien. The Fragrance ?” She imitated the advertisement.

Adrien glared at her, but she just giggled back

“It’s just a little musky.” Marinette leaned over and sniffed him playfully. “Maybe with a hint of sandalwood and spice.”

She rested her head on his shoulder, inhaling deeply. “You smell fine.”  She squeezed his hand.

Adrien’s hand was sweaty, but if she noticed, she didn’t show it.

The receptionist came back, and Adrien crossed his ankles demurely. After she took her seat, she winked over at her cute clients.

Adiren blushed and looked down at Marinette’s hand. She had been holding his hand all day.

When they first stepped out to the streets of Paris, Adrien thought he was doomed. He spent so long trying to avoid being noticed. And now, they drew attention from everyone they walked past.

Marinette had done her job too well.  Adrien was stunning.

His makeup had been done exquisitely.  His naturally high cheekbones and large eyes were contoured and highlighted beautifully.  For his outfit, Marinette chose a dark denim bolero jacket to minimize his shoulders and showcase his tiny waist.  Adrien wore a tiered ruffled skirt that fell mid thigh. The ruffles gave the illusion of hips.

As he walked down the streets of Paris, he felt eyes gaze up and down his body. Adrien should have been used to it, people looked at him all the time. But today, it made him uneasy.

When they passed by a coffee shop, an older man tried to invite Adrien to coffee. Sensing his discomfort, Marinette possessively slipped her arm around his waist.

“She’s taken.” Marinette winked and smiled.

Adrien wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Then, he leaned over and kissed her cheek, delightfully playing along.  His bright red lipstick left a mark, but he didn’t say anything.

Marinette’s arm was around his waist the rest of the way to the law office.  People smiled and whistled when they walked by. Adrien knew they thought Marinette and him were a couple.  It was really fun, pretending with her.

Adrien might have played it up a little more than necessary.  He didn’t have to caress her shoulder, or play with her pig tail as they walked.  But Adrien was learning how much he enjoyed touching his friend. And the more he touched Marinette, the more comfortable she seemed with him.

She let him hold her all night long.  Of all the things Adrien learned since he stopped being homeschooled, ‘friends can cuddle’ was the best.  He smiled at the memory.

He had spent the previous afternoon napping, so he wasn’t really tired when it was time to sleep.  Adrien had patiently waited for Marinette to join him in the loft. He had hoped for more cuddles, but he would have been happy lying beside her.

Adrien just about exploded when she backed herself into him.  He wondered if Marinette had ever cuddled with a guy before. Because, when she pressed her tight little bottom in his lap, it made it very hard… to keep his thoughts strictly platonic.

There was something different about Marinette.  She seemed more relaxed, and more comfortable with him.  She joked with him, she teased. She seemed much more confident with herself.  Adrien really liked this new Marinette. -Not that he disliked the old Marinette, seeing her flustered was adorable.

“Ms. Bisset will see you now.” Eva announced. Finally.

“Oh thank god” Adrien said under his breath as he stood up.

“Let me do the talking,” Marinette reminded him.  “Just answer yes or no questions. Speak as softly as you can.”

They followed the receptionist through a doorway into Ms. Bisset’s office. At some point, her office might have been considered luxurious, or stylish. But every flat surface  was covered with folders and loose papers.

“Please sit.”  A middle aged woman walked out in front of the desk, and leaned against it.  She grabbed a legal pad and flipped through it until she found an empty page.

“I don’t have long, so we’ll jump right in.  As I understand it, you are a singer Miss...?

“Adrien.” He reached up and took off his wig and beret. “My name is Adrien Agreste.”

Ms. Bisset blinked, “Oh!”

Marinette glared at him. “Adrien, we had a plan!”

“I know, I know and it was a good one too.  I’m sorry, can I…?” Adrien stood up, kicked off his ballet flats and peeled off leggings. He sat back down and spread his knees wide.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Marinette hide her face in her hands.

“So Mr. Agreste… Adrien,” Bisset continued “I understand you want to be emancipated.  How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Are you employed?"

“No, but I have money.”

“I’m not here to help a trust fund child have early access to play money.”

Marinette whined through her fingers. “We had a plan.”

“I’ve worked for it! Well, some of it was my mother’s, but I know the money from my modeling gigs has been put away."

“Do you know how much?”

“No.”

Bisset scribbled something on her notepad. “You say you have worked in the past, but you are not currently employed?”

“No, but I can get a job. I’m a highly sought after model in the industry.”

“I see. You say 'in the industry,' but have you ever modeled for someone other than your father?"

Her words stung.

“No.” Adrien slunk back into his chair. “But, I’ve done voice work. I was the main voice talent in the Ladybug movie.”

“Do you have any other voice engagements?”

“Not currently, but I know the director…" God, he sounded pathetic.

“Do you have an agent?”

“My father’s assistant takes care of that.”

Ms Basset pursed her lips together, and jotted something down again.

“Listen.  I’ll work. I’ll pick up trash, I’ll teach piano, I’ll wait tables. Please. I just need a chance.”

Bisset scribbled again.

“I know what it sounds like!” Marinette’s face came out of hiding, “but he’s not just a trust fund baby wanting to go in a spending spree. Up until three nights ago, he was sleeping on the streets.”

Bisset stopped writing and looked up.

“Adrien left home ten days ago, and his father never notified the police, or bothered contacting his friends.

"He forces Adrien to work, probably more than child labor codes allow. He forces him on a restrictive diet that probably violates Geneva conventions.  Nothing less than absolute obedience is tolerated, if Adrien steps out of line his father threatens to pull him from school.”

Bisset’s gaze softened.

“As an attorney, there is only so much I can do. If it’s a matter of abuse, that’s a matter to be brought to a prosecutor or for child protective services.

Adrien squirmed in his seat. He hated that word. Abuse. It’s not like his father ever hit him.

“And as far as emancipation goes.  Adrien is not a good candidate. He is not in a position to support himself.”

“If he finds a job…?” Marinette protested.

“That’s not the only issue here.”

Bisset turned to Adrien. “Have you ever managed any money before, created a budget, paid bills?”

Adrien shook his head.

“I can help him with that!” Marinette raised her hand excitedly. “I’ve been doing my family’s books for two years. I signed them up with an accounting software that does budgeting, purchasing, inventory, taxes…"

“And that would be quite helpful if you were the one seeking emancipation.” Bisset replied sharply, Marinette crossed her arms and glared at her.

“Adrien, you say you have assets, but have you ever seen the accounts themselves?”

He shook his head again.

"Can you care for yourself? Cook, buy groceries, do laundry, clean…?”

“I can teach him!"

“Miss Cheng, again. This isn’t about you.”

God. I was so stupid to get my hopes up. Adrien thought bitterly. She’s calling me a child. It’s a good thing that I wore a pretty skirt.

“I can get you in touch with child protective services, they can provide you with counseling, perhaps mediation.  But you need to manage your expectations. Children are removed from custodial parents as a last resort.”

“That’s not good enough!”  Marinette was standing now, fists clench, face red. “He abuses Adrien!”

Adrien winced. That word again.

“Do you have any proof? Photos of bruises, doctors or hospital notes?

“It’s not like that! He has to do stupid dehydration protocols where he doesn’t get water the days before photoshoots.”

“Adrien, do you have a copy of this protocol given to you?"

“It shouldn’t matter!"

“You’re right, it shouldn’t, but legally, it does, it’s evidence I can take to a judge and get an order to have Adrien removed from his father’s guardianship.”

“He… he…” were there tears in her eyes now? “He’s made to do photoshoots that make him extremely uncomfortable. He doesn’t get a say in who touches him or not.”

“I agree, it’s terrible. Adrien, have you spoken with anyone about this? Any teachers, friends? Is there any able to corroborate that this has been an ongoing…?”

“What? So if he didn’t say anything, it never happened?

“Miss. Dupain-Cheng, I am on your side! But I need to know what I have to work with.  I don’t ask these questions to be mean. This… this isn’t even my area of law!” She gestured to the piles of papers strewn all around. “I work in contracts, making sure artists get paid fairly.

“Adrien, are there any texts with your father or his assistant, where you expressed how uncomfortable the modeling is for you? Or any discussing the water restriction at all.  Or the threats to remove you from school?”

He stared down at his feet, not bothering to shake his head.

“Emancipation is exceptionally rare.” Ms. Bisset explained gently. “It’s usually reserved for wards of the state who are already acting as adults. They are employed persons who have shown that they can care for themselves.  I know it took a lot to come find me today. And I will help you any way I can. I know some people at child protection services that will do everything in their power to advocate for you.”

“Please,” Marinette begged, “he can’t go back. I might never see him again. He’ll be locked in his house forever. His father has already withdrawn him from school, rather than admit he ran away. When his mom disappeared, there was never any formal investigation. If Gabriel wasn’t so rich, there is no way that would have happened.”

Tears were running down her face now. No, Marinette shouldn’t be crying over him.

“When my friend tried to file a missing persons report, he was turned away. Can child services really take on Gabriel Agreste?”

A heavy silence hung in the air.

“Please,” Marinette whispered, her voice desperate. “There has to be something you can do.”

Bisset sighed, ”Miss Dupain-Cheng, how old are you?” She asked gently.

“Sixteen”

“What do your parents think of Adrien?”

“Um,.. they like him?” Marinette was obviously confused by the change of topic. “They worry about him. I’m sure they’d help him if they could.”

"And you? It seems you care for him very much. Would you help him any way you could?”

“Yes, gladly.” Marinette wiped her face with the back of her hand.

Bisset put down her legal pad. “Emancipation is granted under three circumstances. The first, if a minor can prove they’re already acting as an adult. Second, is when one has a child.  I’m assuming Adrien hasn’t fathered any children.”

Adrien scoffed.

“The third way, is marriage with parental consent or consent of a public authority figure.”  Ms. Bisset took a deep breath and exhaled. “And if Gabriel Agreste is everything you say he is, that might be our best option here.”

Huh?

“What?” Marinette asked, confused. “You… you want Adrien to get married?!”

“No,” Ms. Bisset corrected, “You want Adrien to get married. To you.”

——

 

She felt like she’d been doused with ice water?

“Married?! Us? But we’re not..”

“Old enough?” Bisset cut her off. "Yes, Miss Dupain-Cheng. Under normal circumstances. So you’ll need to talk it over with your parents. They will both need to consent.  It will be difficult enough to get a judge to allow Adrien to marry. So it is crucial your parents are on board.”

“Ms. Bisset,” Adrien spoke for the first time in a while. “I think what Marinette was trying to say was that she and I are not…”

“Shhttt, ttt, ttt, my time is valuable, and I think you should let me speak.” Ms. Bisset’s voice was commanding. “As an attorney and officer of the court I would never advocate my clients misrepresent themselves." Her voice turned gentle again. “That being said, Marinette cares for you. I would advise you both to consider all the options available to you.  Even ones you were not previously aware of.”

Marinette numbly watched Bisset walk around to the backside of her desk and opened a drawer.  She grabbed a stack of business cards and began shuffling through them.

"Here’s a card for child protective services.” She held out the card to Adrien, but he simply stared at it.  Marinette reached over and took it.

“I sympathize with your situation, I really do. If you want to contact them, I’ve worked with Lucas before. They might not have the resources to go up against Gabriel Agreste, but they will try their best to advocate for you.”

A loud knock came from the other side of the door “Ma’am, your 11 o’clock is here.”

Bisset looked at her watch. “Only 75 minutes late.” She glanced at the wig in Adrien’s hand. “I’ll give you two a minute.”

Marinette stood up to leave, but Adrien remained motionless in his chair.  His eyes locked forward. She grabbed the wig from his hand and fished out the nylon wig cap.  He didn’t respond when she started smoothing his hair back.

Nothing had gone according to plan. Marinette felt ill, like someone punched her in the gut.  She focused on the work at hand, getting Adrien’s sweaty locks back under the cap. She didn’t want him to see how upset she was.

She really wanted to be angry at Ms. Bisset.  She was supposed to save Adrien! Not give Gabriel Agreste court mandated counseling sessions.  And to think, she even suggested that Adrien and her get ma… get ma...

Marinette winced.  Even her brain couldn’t say the word.  Karma was a bitch, wasn’t it? Or did the gods just have an ironic sense of humor?  All the years she dreamed about marrying Adrien back when she barely knew him. She cringed, thinking back to her former fangirl self.  She knew him better now, and he was even more amazing… but, but there had to be another way.

She positioned the wig on Adrien’s head. Then the beret.  It was a cheap wig, but the hat made it less obvious.

But… it would only be her name on a piece of paper, right?  Marinette ran her fingers through the blond nylon strands. She knew Adrien wouldn’t go to child services.  Not if the best he could hope for was counseling. No, he would go back to wherever he was living before. 

Marinette shuttered at the memory of Adrien, cold, sick and filthy. It was stupid luck that Tikki heard him that night.  If Adrien disappeared now, she might never find him again.

She picked up the discarded leggings.  Adrien could probably use a bit of touch up on his lipstick, but she wasn’t going to worry about that now.

“Adrien?” She called gently. He looked her way, but didn’t meet her eyes.  Marinette grabbed his hand and smiled the best she could. "Come, I could use a walk.”

 



 

Chapter Text

After they left Bisset’s office, they walked in silence. The wind was cold on Adrien’s bare legs, but he didn’t care. Not even the cold could distract from the crushing disappointment he felt in his chest.

He didn’t hold Marinette’s hand anymore, nor did he look over at his friend.  Poor Marinette; she had tried so hard.  The disguise, the attorney, they were all really good ideas. It wasn’t her fault everything had gone to shit.

They walked without a destination.  They walked by restaurants and cafés where people were happily going about their life. After about 45 minutes of silently walking, they arrived at the Trocadéro.  Businesses were setting up booths for the upcoming Christmas village.

They found a place to sit on the steps.  Adrien sat with his legs spread wide. He didn’t care who saw his disco balls.

He knew they should talk, but what could he say? Emancipation was a great idea, but too bad I’m such a freaking child. Adrien didn’t want Marinette to blame herself. She did an amazing job. And it wasn’t fair of Ms. Bisset to suggest she marry him. She had no right to humiliate his friend like that.

"I haven’t been a very good friend to you,” Marinette began, breaking the silence.

Huh? “No, Marinette. You’ve been…"

“Please,” she stopped him. “Please Adrien, just let me talk for a bit,” Marinette continued more gently. “I’ve misjudged you… so many times.

“I didn’t see you . When we met, I thought you were just a male version of Chloé.  A spoiled brat from a privileged life,” Marinette admitted. “But you were kind to me. Even after I treated you poorly.”

The wind started to pick up. A few leaves blew past, startling some pigeons.

“I, um… I kinda fell in love with you,” she whispered. “Or at least, I loved the person I thought you were.”

Adrien watched her. He didn’t know if he should act surprised.  Marinette had told Chat Noir that much, but this was supposed to be news to Adrien.

“You saw the best in people. You went out of your way to make me your friend, even though I was a stuttering mess.”

Marinette paused for a minute to gather her thoughts.

“But when… when Lila, you know….” She took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds. “I didn’t understand why you acted the way you did. I didn’t understand why you didn’t fight her.” She closed her eyes and winced. “I thought you were a coward. I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know how hard you were already fighting. I couldn’t see you were suffering. I couldn’t see how alone you were.

“Adrien,” Marinette turned to him, her beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. “You’re the bravest person I know.”

Adrien broke her gaze to stare at his feet.  She shouldn’t be saying that. “I’m really not. Not like you. You stand up to people. Chloé, Lila... even Ms. Mendeleiev and Mr. Damocles. You stood up to Ms. Bisset after knowing her for all of two minutes.”

“It’s easy to stand up to people when there’s someone to catch you if you fall. I’ve... I’ve always had that. You haven’t.”

Adrien shrugged.

“People always talk about how brave Ladybug is. But the only reason she has survived is because Chat Noir is there to catch her,” Marinette explained thoughtfully. Adrien couldn’t help smiling for a moment. “She couldn’t do any of it without him. Even when he’s not there, his encouragement and faith keeps her going.

“I have two wonderful parents who love and support me. They are kind and sweet, but if someone tries to hurt me, or make me uncomfortable… man,…” Marinette chuckled. “Watch out.”

"They are both bakers. They would love nothing more than for me to learn the trade and take over the business. Yet they encourage me to design because they know I love it.”

“Your parents are pretty awesome.” 

“Yeah…” Marinette agreed. “But, when I imagine what it would be like if my mother wasn’t there,… even silly things, like never having her soup again.” She winced and closed her eyes. “I can’t breathe, it just hurts so much.”

Marinette played with the cuff of her jacket. “You live with that everyday, but you never show your pain. You don’t want to burden your friends like that.”

Adrien wasn’t sure what to say.  He never talked about his mother, it made people uncomfortable. Even with his father, or people like Félix, who had also lost a parent.

“And your father…” Marinette said hesitantly.

Adrien stiffened. It was no secret how Marinette felt about Gabriel Agreste, especially after their meeting with Ms. Bisset.

“I idolized him for years. I was inspired by his designs and I desperately wanted to believe he was a good person.” She played with a stray thread on her jacket. “I saw that he treated you poorly, but I pushed those thoughts away.  I wanted to believe the lie. You seemed happy, so I let myself think everything was okay.”

She didn’t speak again for a while. The pigeons started to come back, scraping and pecking at the ground.

“You’ve always been a good friend to me, Marinette.” Adrien spoke softly. “You don’t owe me anything.” He remembered all her actions over the past day and a half.

“And… I owe you so much.”

“You’re right.” Marinette sat up straight and crossed her arms. “You do owe me.”

Adrien looked over at her curiously, shocked by her change in tone.

“I’ve missed school, lost sleep, lied to my parents and friends.”

Adrien bit his lip, feeling guilty.

“The way I see it, I deserve something really special for all my efforts.”

Adrien was lost, he had no idea where she was going with this.

“A week ago,” Marinette continued, “if you had asked me what I wanted most... I would have said ‘to see Hawkmoth defeated’ or ‘to become a famous designer’.”

Adrien waited as Marinette took a deep breath.

“But now,... I just don’t wanna be afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid my wonderful friend will die on the streets, rather than accept any help.”

Adrien was silent.

“I would take a hundred more years of Hawkmoth, as long as I knew you would be okay.”

He swallowed hard, “You can’t really be considering…”

“Why not? If I, or Nino, or Kagami, were dying of a fever, and you could save me by signing your name to a stupid piece of paper..."

She met his eyes.

“Would you?”

“Of course. But this is different!"

“How?!”

Adrien looked down at his feet.

“I umm,… I know there are girls you are closer to, like Kagami or Chloé, but their parents are too close to your father.”

Marinette paused thoughtfully.

“The girl you're in love with. Could she help you?”

Adrien scoffed and shook his head. Kinda hard to marry someone when you don’t know their name.

It was silent for a few moments. Finally, Marinette crawled over and knelt in front of him.  He refused to meet her eyes.

“Please, Adrien.” Her voice cracked. "Please help me save my friend. I can’t do it alone. I need you.”

She reached over and grabbed his arm.

“Once, you called me your everyday Ladybug. Now, I need you to be my everyday Chat Noir.  My friend is in a dark place right now. He doesn’t see how amazing he is. More than anything, I want my dear, sweet, brave friend to survive. I need him to grow… and thrive. And I need him to know he is deserving of so much love.

“Please,” she begged as a sob escaped her throat, “Adrien, please help me.”

He couldn’t look at her. Marinette cupped his face and leaned forward, trying to force herself into his field of vision.  Adrien furrowed his brow and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see her tears.

Her soft arms pulled him into an embrace, but he didn’t return it. She buried her face in his neck, and sobbed. God, he hated to see her cry. Adrien fought the desire to take her in his arms, to comfort her, to tell her it would be okay.

After a few minutes, Marinette’s breathing settled. She moved back to her spot beside Adrien. She leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder.

They sat in silence, watching a group of tourists go by.

Adrien couldn’t do this to her; it was too much to ask. If they did what Bisset suggested, the fallout would be too great.  His father was not a forgiving man.

No, Adrien sighed. He could be okay without her; just Plagg and him. He could learn to take better care of himself, find a better place to sleep at night. Maybe find work during the day. He could find a way to carry on, without hurting her.

He hated that he made her cry again. Marinette was such an amazing person. Adrien truly treasured the days he spent with her, sharing her life. He enjoyed how funny she was, how confident, how sweet. Adrien had always liked his friend, but getting to know her better, he couldn’t help feeling protective. Like he would do anything for her.

Adrien gulped. Anything?

He wouldn’t… he couldn’t ask her to do this, not for himself.

His heart was beating wildly in his chest.

But maybe, just maybe… he could help this sweet, beautiful girl save her friend. She needed his help after all.

Adrien took in a shaky breath and rested his cheek on her hair. “Marinette?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you marry me?"

Chapter Text

 

Adrien and Marinette sat on the steps of the Trocadéro as a light mist began to fall.  Adrien couldn’t help feeling a nervous giddiness in his chest. Did he really just get engaged? Marinette still leaned against him, with her head on his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of her body pressing against his side.

He didn’t want to get up. Things would change once they stood up, and Adrien wanted this moment to last a little bit longer. Still, his legs were quite cold by this point, and he wasn’t sure how warm Marinette was either. He suspected she was probably cold too, but, like him, was also drawing the moment out.

They stayed seated, watching pigeons and tourists, until the mist turned into light rain. When they stood up, they left a dry spot on the pavement.

Marinette didn’t say anything as they walked home. She hadn’t said anything in a while. That was okay though. Adrien smiled. She didn’t even say yes to his question, but nodded her head instead. But every now and again, she would look over and smile shyly.

She walked with her hands in her pockets. He wished he had pockets too, but the silly bolero jacket he wore just had useless decorative slits. Adrien’s arms swung at his side awkwardly. He thought about taking her hand, but would that be awkward now? She wasn’t really just a friend anymore?

Was Marinette his fiancée? 

Adrien blushed as his mind said the word. His feelings toward Marinette were complicated enough. Now things had become so much more so. 

Adrien’s eye caught his reflection as they passed by a store window. Wow, I really look like Mom, he mused.

Adrien gave a heavy sigh. What would Mom say if she knew he was getting married? Well, not really married. But what would his mom say about the lengths he would go to in order to get away from his father? He frowned at the thought.

Even at a quick pace, it took them a while to get back to Marinette’s. School had already ended for the day and the bakery would be closing soon. Adrien fell back as he saw Marinette head for the bakery’s main entrance instead of the side door.

When she saw him lag behind, she held out her hand, encouraging him forward. He took her hand hesitantly, her fingers were as icy as his. They walked through the entry door together.

Tom and Sabine both looked up as the bell above the door jingled. They smiled over at their daughter. Marinette squeezed Adrien’s hand and took a deep breath.

 “Mom, Dad,” Marinette spoke seriously, “we need to talk to you.” 

“We?” Tom greeted happily. “Who’s your friend?”

“It’s Adrien.”

“Adrien?” Tom looked confused for a moment as he eyed him up and down. Then he smiled sincerely. “Well, don’t you look lovely today?” 

Adrien winced.

“What do you need to talk to us about?” Sabine asked as she wiped down the counter.

“Umm..” Marinette glanced over to Adrien, then back at her mother.  “It’s kinda important.”

Sabine seemed to notice her daughter’s nervous behavior. “We can finish up faster with more hands. Then we can talk upstairs.”

Marinette walked over to the cleaning supplies. She grabbed a broom for herself, then handed Adrien a rag and spray bottle. 

“For the glass,” she whispered. Adrien walked over the display case and started to spray.

“So?” Sabine asked as she removed pastries from the display. “How was school today?”

“Oh… today was quite interesting,” Marinette idly replied, concentrating very hard on her sweeping. Adrien admired the clever deflection.

“Were you able to make up for your absence yesterday…? Oh! Adrien, sweetie, that’s enough.”

Adrien stopped spraying, the front of the glass case was dripping wet. 

“I’m so sorry!” He cringed. “I’ve never done this before.” 

“Nothing to be ashamed about. You tried something new.” Sabine touched his shoulder reassuringly. “A few extra towels and everything will be fine.”

Tom grabbed some clean towels and handed them back to Adrien. “And how was your first day back at school with your new...? .... identity?  What shall we call you now?”

“Adrien, please just Adrien.” He said it a bit deeper than necessary. Great. The two nicest parents I know think I am coming out as a woman.

After the bakery had been cleaned and the till counted, the four climbed the stairs to the apartment. With each step, Adrien’s anxiety grew. What were they going to say? Did Marinette have a plan? Adrien looked over to his friend, she was staring at the stairs in front of her and chewing on her lip. She probably did, Marinette always had a plan. Adrien just needed to trust her.

Once they reached the apartment, the two pairs sat on the L shaped sofa. Tom and Sabine on one side, Adrien and Marinette on the other. Sabine spoke first.

“Now what did you need to tell us?”

 “It's, umm… more like ‘ask’ you.” Marinette's eyes met his for the briefest of moments. She was nervous, maybe even scared. There was an obvious tension in the air. Adrien squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“Mom, Dad, I wanna help Adrien become emancipated,” Marinette announced, “but I need your help, too.”

Tom leaned forward with concern on his face. “Is your father not supportive of your new lifestyle?”

Adrien took off his wig. “It’s a disguise. I’m still a guy.”  He took a breath and continued softly, “I umm… couldn’t risk my father finding me.”

“You know how Gabriel treats him. It’s worse than an employee. All of his time is scheduled, he’s told what to eat, what to wear. Even when he can drink. Sometimes, he’s not allowed any water for 24 hours, all for stupid photoshoots.  Photoshoots where he doesn’t get a say in who touches him or not. Even if it makes him uncomfortable.” Adrien frowned, he hated how weak he sounded. 

“Anytime he steps out of line, his father threatens to pull him out of school and isolate him from his friends,” Marinette continued.

Tom and Sabine were staring at him now, their eyes full of worry.

“He barely sees his father, yet he’s expected to be alone in that giant, cold house all the time.”

“Adrien?” Tom asked gently. “Does your father not know where you are?”

“I ran away ten days ago,” Adrien admitted.

Sabine gasped. “Where have you been staying?”

“I have a few favorite rooftops,” Adrien shrugged. “At least when it’s not raining.”

“Two nights ago, Ladybug brought him here. He was unconscious.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Marinette.

“He was so cold, Mom, ...and sick, and smelled like a dumpster.”

“You should have called an ambulance!” Sabine replied sharply.

“She made me promise not to!”

Adrien clenched his teeth. It was really unfair of Ladybug to do that.

“So Adrien’s been here, in your room, for days?” Sabine was staring at Marinette now, a disapproving look in her eyes.

Marinette nodded. “We met with an attorney today.”

“When? You were in school…” Sabine crossed her arms and frowned. “Go on.”

“I thought,” Marinette explained, “that since Adrien’s worked since thirteen, and he has money, maybe he could be emancipated and not have to go back.”

“What did he say?” Tom asked.

She said that without steady employment and proof he could care for himself, emancipation that way wasn’t really an option.”

Marinette took a deep breath.

“...But he could petition to get married.”

Adrien heard Sabine inhale sharply. “Oh my!”

Tom looked on bewildered. “I see. But other than making the most delicious wedding cake in Paris, how can we help?”

“They want to get married, Tom.”

“Married? To each other?”

“Yes, Tom.”

“But Marinette is too young.” His chin started to quiver. “She has her life ahead of her.”

Marinette knelt before him and grabbed his hand. “Dad, it wouldn’t be a real marriage. Just my name on a paper. But it would emancipate Adrien. He wouldn’t have to go back to his father.”

Tom brought he’s free hand to his forehead and sniffled.  “No, cupcake, no. I know you want to help, but we can try to find another way.” His voice cracked. 

“Adrien’s out of options. Please, Dad. I… I want this.”

Tom looked lovingly at his daughter. His calloused fingers stroked her delicate hair.  Adrien could see his eyes were full of tears. Tom leaned over and kissed Marinette on the forehead. The large man sighed deeply and fought back a sob. 

“Please excuse me for a few minutes.” Tom stood up and walked past, his face in his hands. Marinette watched her father walk away, still kneeling in front of the couch.

Adien heard the bedroom door shut. He was in a daze.  Adrien has witnessed more genuine affection in the last few minutes than he had ever seen from his father.

“I’d better go check on him.” Sabine got up and left to join her husband in the bedroom. Even from the living room, Adrien could hear the hushed discussion and an occasional sob from Tom. 

“My dad's such a softy. People never suspect it, because he’s so big.”

“He thinks he’s losing a daughter,” Adrien whispered.

“He always overthinks things.” She climbed back onto the sofa, pulling her legs to her chest. “He got akumatized once, after I was dumped.”

Adrien could feel himself beginning to sweat. “Who’d be crazy enough to dump you?”

“I wasn’t really dumped,” Marinette replied as she folded her arms across her knees. She rested her head on top of them. “He never liked me in the first place.” 

Adrien couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. 

The rain was picking up now.  It drummed against the windows.  Outside, the sky was darkening, but Marinette made no attempt to turn on the lights.

They sat in the dark, in silence. The sound of the rain made it difficult to hear the discussion in the other room, but Adrien could tell they were still talking.

“It’s just my name on a piece of paper,” Marinette muttered, breaking the stillness.

“Not to them.” Adrien spoke softly. “You were in love with me for years. And also…” He paused to look over at the front door. “I was the boy sneaking out of your room that night.”

“Oh, yeah.” She gave a half smile. “I forgot.”

Please see it! He silently begged. Marinette had been so painfully honest with him. It tore at his soul that he couldn’t be honest with her now.

“That must have been an awkward conversation.”

“Wasn’t so bad.” He chuckled weakly.

“Huh?”

“She hugged me.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Ask her.”

They sat in silence again. Adrien wasn’t sure how much time had passed. The sky was completely dark now, Marinette was silhouetted against the ambient light coming from the street. He couldn’t see her features.

The other room was quiet now. Adrien wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. He could only hear the street noise and the pounding rain.

“I’m sorry I never knew,” Adrien chose his words carefully, “how you used to feel about me.”

“I’m not,” Marinette admitted bluntly. “I’m kinda nauseated by it, now.”

Adrien choked on his own saliva.

“No no no…” Marinette stammered, realizing what she said. “Not that you make me nauseous. I make me nauseous. Not ‘now’ me, the ‘old’ me. Ugh!” She buried her face in her hands.

Adrien smiled, he always thought flustered Marinette was cute.

He didn’t know how much longer they sat in the living room, but both of them jumped when the bedroom door finally opened. Sabine flicked on the lights as they walked down the hall. It seemed that the tiny woman was supporting Tom as he walked. Adrien noticed both of their eyes were red.

Tom and Sabine walked over to where the teens were sitting on the sofa. Adrien followed them with his eyes, but his body sat frozen. His heart pounded in his ears.

Sabine looked over to her husband, and Tom closed his eyes. She took a deep breath.

“We consent.”

With blinding speed, Marinette leaped into her father's arms. The big man lifted her off the ground and held her tightly, gently rocking her back and forth.

Sabine reached out to Adrien, helping him rise from the sofa. “You, too. Come here.” The tiny woman embraced him firmly around the waist. “You’re family, now.” 

Adrien found himself smiling as he hugged her back. Suddenly, he felt a large arm embrace both of them. And Adrien found himself in the middle of a group hug with the whole Dupain-Cheng family. His eyes were wet, but he knew everyone else’s were, too.

After a minute, Sabine pulled away and Tom dropped his arms. “Marinette, I have something for you. It was my mother’s.” Sabine showed her a small ring with a polished red stone.

“Oh, Mom!” Marinette gasped and brought her hands to her mouth.

“It’s a ruby,” Sabine told her. “Most are faceted these days. So, it might be a little old fashioned. But I thought you could wear it until you got something else.”

“It’s beautiful.” Marinette began to slide it on her right hand. She stopped herself midway, before putting it on the left. She held it up for Adrien to see and smiled shyly. It did look really beautiful on her.

“Thank you, Mom,” She said looking at her hand. “And... thank you, Dad. For everything.”

“I always knew you’d make a beautiful bride,” Tom spoke, his voice barely a whisper. Tears were peeking past the corner of his eyes. “I just... I just thought I’d have more time.” 

Adrien saw her chin quiver. “Oh, Dad,” she cried as she threw her arms around him, squeezing her eyes closed tightly.

“So…” Sabine cleared her throat and took a deep breath, “who do we need to talk to about this?”

Chapter Text

Marinette promptly called Bisset and spoke to her for a few minutes. Now, they were waiting for the receptionist, Eva, to bring some documents to sign. A notary would be meeting them at Marinette’s house, as well.

In the meantime, they had a small dinner of Sabine’s chicken soup. Tom and Sabine did their best to engage Adrien and Marinette in conversation, but the teens were lost in their own thoughts.

Eva and the notary arrived shortly after the dishes were finished. Tom and Sabine provided their identifications and signed the document that would legally allow Marinette to marry. The notary stamped his official seal and left with a polite goodbye. Adrien also signed some forms giving Bisset the power to legally represent him, as well as permission to track down any bank accounts in his name.

After Eva finally left, Marinette handed Adrien his cleaned black pajamas and some makeup remover. He headed to the bathroom for a much-needed shower.

Adrien shut the door. It was the first time he had been alone in a while. He gazed at the door and smiled.  He remembered Marinette awkwardly pressing herself up against it, trying to give him privacy.

Plagg phased through the ceiling. “If you don’t wanna shower alone, you could probably ask your fiancée to join you,” he teased.

“Don’t joke, Plagg,” Adrien groaned. “Things are complicated enough.”

“Sooo… are you going to tell Ladybug about your upcoming nuptials? Getting away for patrol might be harder, now.” Why did Plagg seem so damn delighted?

“We can’t know anything about each other, remember?” Adrien replied automatically. “Nothing that could compromise our identity. She knows we are about the same age. And getting married at sixteen is pretty uncommon.”

“Might be more common than you think,” Plagg practically sang.

“You’re in a good mood.” Adrien poured makeup remover into a tissue and began wiping his face.

“I like it here.” With that, Plagg phased back through the ceiling, leaving a confused-looking Adrien behind.

After Adrien was done with his shower, he put on his pajamas and walked into the living room. Tom sat on the couch with Marinette and Sabine on either side. He had his large arms wrapped around their shoulders, and they leaned against him. Adrien couldn’t tell what they were talking about, but it seemed like a lighthearted conversation. They all stood up when they saw Adrien.

“Umm… sorry.” He must have interrupted something.

“Nonsense. We were just waiting to say goodnight.” Sabine walked over and kissed him on the cheek. Next, Tom pulled him into a giant hug and kissed the top of his head. Adrien blinked back at them wide-eyed and speechless. They bid him goodnight and headed toward their room.

“Are you coming?” Marinette asked halfway up the steps to her room.

“Um… should I sleep on the couch?”

“If you want. I can understand if it makes you uncomfortable, now, because of the way….” She swallowed hard. “Because of the way I used to feel about you.”

Adrien’s stomach dropped. Used to? Why was that so hard to hear?

“Oh, that?” He scratched the back of his neck nervously. “I kinda already knew.”

“Oh.” She winced and looked away. “I’m umm,... sorry, if I ever made you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t, but I was confused at times,” Adrien admitted. “But it doesn’t make me uncomfortable,” he spoke quieter now, “knowing how you used to feel.”

And just like that… it was awkward again.

“My parents get up really early, but I can bring down blankets…”

“I mean… are you okay? With me sleeping beside you, after everything? With all we are going to try to do…?”

“I am.” Her eyes met his for the briefest of moments. Then she bit her lip and looked away.  “Alya texted my assignments, I think I’ll work on them for a bit.”

They made their way up to Marinette’s room and brushed their teeth. Adrien headed to bed while Marinette sat down in front of her computer. Adrien crawled under the covers and stared through the skylight. The rain had stopped and a few stars peeked through the patchy clouds. He heard Marinette typing away at her computer, probably writing a report or something

Even with the awkwardness, Adrien couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement in his chest. If they succeeded… if they managed to pull this off, he could come out of hiding. He could rejoin school and see Nino and his friends again. He could be free to have the social life he always wanted. And it would all be thanks to Marinette.

Marinette. His fiancée.

No. Adrien covered his face with his hands. No, not his fiancée, his friend . His friend agreed to marry him to free him from his father’s control. She didn’t have romantic feelings for him. Not anymore.

Things had become awkward between them again. Adrien sighed. He supposed it was expected, but he wanted to get back to the relaxed Marinette. The confident one that joked and played with him. He smiled; maybe he just needed to think of a good joke to get her to loosen up. Though, she did tell him no more jokes… but this was an emergency.

After about twenty more minutes of working at her computer, Marinette climbed up the ladder to her bed. Adrien held up the covers for her as she crawled under. He thought he saw her cheeks redden, but he didn’t say anything.

Marinette lay on her back beside him, her shoulder a respectable distance from his. They lay in silence staring through the skylight at the stars. 

Yup. Awkward.

Adrien winced. How in the hell were they going to pull this off? Bisset wanted them to meet with a judge tomorrow. Tomorrow! How were they going to convince a judge to help him? Why would she give permission for Adrien to get married, when he could barely speak to his bride-to-be?

Adrien needed to do something. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

He moved his leg until their feet were touching. Marinette jumped at the unexpected contact.

“Oh, I’m just checking,” Adrien said with a smile.

“Checking?”

“To see if you were getting cold feet.”

Marinette groaned at the bad joke. She turned onto her side and buried her head in the pillow. When her face finally peeked out, she was playfully glaring at him.

It worked! Adrien felt proud of his clever plan. 

“Though,” she teased back, “they are pretty icy.” Marinette brought her legs up, then pushed the bottoms of her feet against the side of Adrien’s stomach. He couldn’t help but squirm at the sudden coldness.

He grabbed the closest foot and brought it to his chest. He proceeded to press his palms on either side of the icy toes, trying to warm them up. Marinette closed her eyes and gave a contented moan.

Adrien realized he really liked that sound.

He rubbed her foot until he was satisfied that it was no longer cold. Then he grabbed the other one for its turn, hoping Marinette would make that sound again. 

She did.

After a few minutes, Adrien begrudgingly let go of Marinette’s foot, and she rolled onto her back. They stared at the sky once again. Adrien felt he should say something. So many things happened today. So much had changed in such a little amount of time.

“I don’t know how…” Adrien spoke softly, “I don’t know how I can ever repay you for this.”

“You don’t have to. I meant what I said earlier.” She turned on her side to face him. “I want to see you make it through this. That’s enough.”

“Still,” he turned his head to look at her. “If you ever need a model, I’m your guy.” He gave her his flashiest smile.

Marinette's face fell and she was quiet for a moment. “I never want you to model for me,” she said decisively.

“What? Why?” Adrien asked, confused. He would admit, he was more than a little hurt. “I’m good at it. It could get your designs more exposure… get people in the industry to notice you.”

“Maybe…” Marinette frowned. “But it was something forced on you. Something ugly. I don’t ever want to be a part of that.” She met his eyes. “I’ll support you if you want to model again.” She paused to shake her head. “But it will never be for me.”

Adrien dumbly stared at her, at a loss for words. Suddenly, his chest felt heavy. He turned his head away from her and shut his eyes. Then his stupid throat tightened up. What the hell, body? He twisted his whole body to face the wall, away from Marinette.

He brought a fist to his mouth as a sob threatened to escape. Why this? Why now? He didn’t want to cry in front of her. He didn’t even know why his body felt like crying. His chest heaved, but he refused to give in to the sobs. This was so stupid! He wasn’t even sad.

“Adrien, are you okay?” Marinette asked, her voice full of worry.

Adrien nodded, afraid to speak. Of all the things to happen, today. The attorney calling him a child, asking Marinette to marry him, the Dupain-Chengs welcoming into their family; why the hell was he crying now?

He felt Marinette’s arm at his side as she reached over to grab his hand. He squeezed it tighter than he should have, but he was grateful to have something else to focus on.

Adrien buried his head into his pillow as his body shook. He felt Marinette press herself against his back and rest her cheek against him. This is so stupid! Adrien couldn’t help but feel embarrassed; he shouldn’t be crying over this.

The sobs came whether Adrien wanted them to or not. He suddenly lost the will to fight them. Marinette already saw, anyway. He could try to explain later, maybe when he figured it out.

She continued to hold him as Adrien wept into his pillow. He tried to keep his sobbing as muffled as possible, but he knew she could feel it.

When his breathing calmed down, Marinette let go of his hand. She pulled herself away from his back and shook his shoulder. Adrien roller over to see her kneeling beside him. She had an almost manic smile on her face.

“Hey Adrien, I have an idea,” she giggled excitedly.

He looked at her curiously. This was not the reaction he expected after he cried so shamelessly in front of her.

“I have an embarrassingly large amount of Gabriel ads tucked away in a drawer.” She grinned with an evil glint in her eye.

”Let’s go burn them.”

____

Adrien sat alone on Marinette’s balcony. Although the rain had stopped, everything was still wet and shiny. He rested on top of a towel that he had placed on the damp tiles. Another dry towel lay across from him, for Marinette.

It was the first time he had been to the balcony as Adrien, though as Chat Noir he visited more than a few times. Adrien smiled as he snuggled into the blanket wrapped around his body. Those were good memories.

Beside Adrien sat a very large pile of magazines, posters, and images printed from the internet. It was Marinette’s old collection. Adrien couldn’t help but feel amazed that she was sharing this with him. It was an embarrassing part of her past, and she trusted him enough to let him see.

Maybe one day he could tell her about Ladybug? He used to have a similar collection.

Before long, Marinette climbed out from the skylight. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and a large mixing bowl in her hand. She knelt on the towel in front of Adrien, then took a strange looking device out of the mixing bowl. It was a metal cylinder with something like a gun attached to the end.

“Here,” she said, handing the strange object to Adrien.

He took it and stared at it. I have no idea what this is.

Marinette leaned forward and pointed to a small switch on the device. “You just need to disengage the safety, and pull the trigger.”

Adrien followed her instructions and a small compact jet of blue flame appeared almost instantly. He couldn’t help feeling giddy at the instant fire in his hand.

“It’s a butane torch. We use it for Crème Brûlée,” she explained enthusiastically. “But I thought it would be more satisfying than matches.”

Marinette set the large metal mixing bowl between them. Then, she reached over to the pile beside Adrien. She grabbed the first item, a magazine cover, and handed it to Adrien.

Adrien held the page in one hand, and the butane torch in the other. When he brought the flame to the edge of the paper, it immediately started to disintegrate. Once he was sure it was properly burning, he threw it into the bowl and reached for another one.

It should have felt weird, burning his own picture like this. The flame would blacken and distort the image of his face and body before they turned the paper to ash. It should have been disturbing, but Adrien found it mesmerizing.

Marinette didn’t say anything, she just watched him. The yellow light of the fire made her skin glow beautifully and her eyes twinkle. The night was cold and Adrien could see her breath as she exhaled. She looked really pretty in the firelight.

The bowl was overflowing with burning paper. Adrien released the trigger of the butane torch and set it down on the tile. The fire was quite tall now, and Adrien was sure they were probably breaking a few laws. Not that anyone could really see them. Not unless Ladybug happened to be patrolling.

Adrien smiled. He wouldn’t mind seeing her again. Maybe he could apologize for kicking her that night, and he could thank her for bringing him to Marinette’s.

He gazed over to his friend. She was watching the fire now, a soft expression on her face.

“What?” she asked suddenly.

Adrien realized that he was staring. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about you and Ladybug.”

Her face fell instantly. “Oh really? Ha! You know we’re nothing alike.” Marinette seemed strangely defensive.

“Well, I don’t think that’s true at all.” Adrien smiled at his friend. “In fact, I think you would make a good superhero.”

Marinette snuggled into her blanket, but Adrien could tell she was blushing.

“Hmmm….” He continued, “I think if it were up to me, I would give you a hamster Miraculous.”

“There’s no hamster Miraculous,” Marinette corrected.

“And how would you know?” Adrien asked playfully.

Marinette bit her lip and stared at the fire. After a few moments, she spoke, “Well, if it were up to me, I would give you a Miraculous, too.”

Marinette looked over to him, thoughtfully. “Hmmm… Maybe a puppy dog.”

“A dog!” Adrien tried his best not to sound offended. “Not a tiger? Or a panther?”

She wrinkled her nose. “No, I can’t really see you as a big cat.”

“Hey, I think I’d make a good Chat Noir.” He pulled his hair in front of his eyes, then brought his fingers up to a salute.

See me!

“Nooooo!” She smiled and playfully covered her eyes. “Now I'll never be able to unsee it.”

Adrien couldn’t help feel a disappointment in his chest. He crossed his arms defiantly. “Hey, I think Chat Noir is pretty cool!”

“I think you mean, purrrrty cool,” Marinette giggled at her own cat pun. Adrien thought the pun was minimal at best, but at least she was proud of herself. Her smile faded as she changed to a more thoughtful expression. “Yeah, he is. You’d make a good Chat Noir.”

He wasn’t sure why, but his heart swelled to hear her say that.

Adrien held a few more pages to the fire. He dropped them into the pile when the flames started to take hold.

“It was him, you know,” Marinette admitted shyly. “Leaving my room, and… um, my neck. It was him.”

“Oh,” Adrien said, trying to act surprised. Crap! How was he supposed to react to this information? Of course Chat Noir was bound to come up in conversation. He should have prepared for this, he should have had a plan.

 “Do you love him?” The words slipped out of Adrien’s mouth before he knew it.

“Well… he’s very lovable.” She grinned for a moment before her face fell. “Though, he loves Ladybug, not Marinette.”

I wouldn’t be too sure...

“Probably because he knows Ladybug,” Adrien said softly. “If he knew Marinette… he’d love her, too.”

Adrien handed her some photos from the pile. She took them graciously, then slowly added them to the fire.

“Um… Do you have any photos of a certain classmate?” Adrien’s eyes locked with hers. He saw a devious smirk form on her face.

“I think I might be able to find something.” Marinette shrugged off her blanket and made her way down to her room. She returned a minute later with a tattered looking magazine.

She sat down on her towel and wrapped the blanket around her again. She flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for. A small half page ad had been neatly covered by a piece of construction paper. Marinette carefully removed the tape, revealing Lila and Adrien’s perfume ad.

“You could burn the whole magazine if you want,” Marinette offered, handing it to Adrien. “I was meaning to buy a new one, anyway.”

He took it from her and reignited the butane torch. Adrien stared at Lila’s smiling face and at her fingers resting on his chest. His stomach felt sick as he remembered how she smelt that day. Adrien brought the compact flame to her eyes first. The picture blackened and burned almost immediately. He traced the torch along the lines of her body. Adrien didn’t really need the torch anymore, the magazine was already on fire. But there was just something so satisfying about making that bitch burn.

When there was nothing left of Lila’s image, Adrien threw it into the smoldering pile. Marinette was watching him intensely.

“I’m sorry,” he said, remembering the time they had discussed Lila at school, the time when he told Marinette not to confront her. “It must have been very confusing for you when the advertisements came out, with Lila and me.”

“It was a little.” Marinette took a deep breath and shrugged. “I just didn’t understand.”

“I made a deal with her.” Adrien watched her closely, waiting for a reaction. “For her to stop hurting someone. Someone I care about very much.”

Marinette's face fell, she suddenly looked very sad. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know…” She hugged her knees and turned her attention to the fire. “I thought she was only targeting me.”

Can anyone seriously be this dense?

Adrien reached for the next set of photos on top of the pile. It was the set he and Marinette had taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, as well as the ones with him and Juleka. Adrien’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“Why are these in there?”

“Oh, those…” Marinette stared at her hands. “It wasn’t fair of Alya to have you model; we asked you to be a technical director.”

“I didn’t mind. I had fun that day.” He thumbed through the photos in his hand. “Can I keep these?”

Marinette smiled and nodded.

____

After they ran out of pictures to burn and the embers had died, Marinette left to return the torch and the bowl to the bakery.  Without the blanket on her shoulders, the air was chilly on her skin when she opened the entry door.

Marinette stepped out into the stairwell and closed the door.  She pressed her back against it and looked up to the ceiling. She felt a lightness in her chest, like a huge weight had been lifted. 

Her hoard of Adrien photos was gone. All that remained were ashes.

“I’m so proud of you, Marinette!” Tikki exclaimed, suddenly in front of her. “You are being such a good friend to Adrien.”

“He knows, Tikki.” Marinette smiled. “He knows how I used to feel about him. It was my darkest secret, and he doesn’t mind.”

“Your darkest secret?”

“Well, maybe not my biggest secret.” She winked at her Kwami. “But it was the one I was ashamed of.”

“Are you going to tell him your other secret?”

“That I’m Ladybug? No! I can’t do that to him. Especially now.”

“Not that, silly,” Tikki explained. “Are you going to tell him that you're still in love with him?”

“I told you, I’m done with that.” Marinette began walking down the stairs. “I feel something else now. It’s different.”

“You still love him, though! And it’s obvious you think he’s attractive. I think Adrien’s starting to catch on to that, too.”

Marinette groaned. “It’s his fault for not putting on clothes.”

“And who taught him thatfriends can cuddle’? You two can barely keep your hands to yourselves when you're in bed, together.”

Marinette could feel her face turn bright red. “Tikki! Don’t say things like that. You know it’s different.”

“You love him, Marinette. You know that by marrying Adrien you will be making an enemy of his father; you’ll be giving up a career in fashion. You make Adrien laugh, you hold him when he cries, you nursed him back to health at great risk to yourself. Yes, it’s not the same as your crush. It’s not the same because it’s real love, not infatuation.”

Marinette stopped walking and stared at the tiny floating god.

“I can’t be in love with him, Tikki, not now.” She stared down at the bowl of ashes in her hands. “He needs me as a friend. That’s more important than anything else.”

Tikki floated over and rested on her shoulder. She gently patted Marinette’s cheek. “You love him so much, Marinette. Can you really get married and pretend that you’re just a friend?”

She looked at Tikki sadly. “I have to.”

“It will break your heart, Marinette.”

“I know,” she whispered back.

Marinette pushed open the outside door and threw the ashes into the dumpster. Then she returned the butane torch to the bakery and washed out the mixing bowl. By the time she headed back to the apartment, she was shivering uncontrollably. I should have grabbed my robe, she thought as her teeth chattered.

When she made it back to her bed, Adrien held up the covers for her. She crawled in beside him and curled up into a ball, grateful that the bed was already warm.

“You’re cold,” Adrien stated.

“Just a little.” Marinette’s teeth rattled together as she spoke.

“Here.” Adrien opened his arms wide, reaching for her. “Let me hold you.”

Marinette nodded as she uncurled herself. She scooted over and pressed her body against his, resting her head on the crook of his shoulder. An audible sigh escaped her lips as his warm arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly. She hooked a leg around one of his, further pressing herself into him.

Dear god, he was warm!

She felt her insides turn to goo as she melted into him. Okay, maybe this went beyond ‘friends can cuddle’ but Adrien didn’t know that. She lifted her face toward his neck, inhaling deeply. God, he smelled good!

Marinette’s cold skin was warming up fast. It wasn’t long before her shivers stopped completely, but she made no attempt to untangle herself from Adrien. Neither of them spoke, but it wasn’t like the heavy awkward silence, earlier. There was a cozy contentment to the stillness, and Marinette couldn’t help but feel deliriously happy as she snuggled against Adrien.

Her fiancé.

She knew things were complicated, and there was no way this would end without her getting hurt. But for right now, she wasn’t going to think about that. She was going to enjoy this moment for the gift it was. She was going to fall asleep in the arms of a boy she loved so much. And that was enough.

Marinette smiled as she felt Adrien kiss the top of her head.

“Goodnight, Marinette,” he whispered.

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

Chapter Text

Marinette twisted the ring on her finger nervously. She wasn’t used to wearing it; she wasn’t sure she should be wearing it. What if people saw it? Would they think she was really engaged? Or would they just assume she was just a little girl pretending, lost in her own fantasies…

Adrien sat beside her at a large conference table, his leg shaking anxiously. He wore his own clothes today: a torn pair of jeans and a black hoodie. His golden hair was once again tucked under his black knitted cap. Marinette gave him some glasses without lenses to wear. It wasn’t as good of a disguise as the previous day, but they wanted to make a good impression on the judge.

Bisset sat on the other side of Adrien, busily typing on her laptop. They were in an empty conference room at city hall, waiting for Judge Inés Travers to meet them during her lunch break. Bisset had worked with her before, and she believed Judge Travers might be a sympathetic ally.

Adrien stretched his arms overhead. Marinette’s eyes spied a familiar bracelet on his wrist.

“You still have that?” She smiled as she pointed to the luck charm she had given him years ago.

“Of course,” Adrien said with a soft smile. “I thought we could use a little extra luck today.”

Marinette’s face fell. “I wish I had mine,” she said softly as she shoved her hand in her pocket. In truth, she did have the charm Adrien gave her, or what was left of it anyway. She had pinned the tattered red cord to the inside of her pocket.

“I can make you another one, if you’ve lost it,” Adrien offered kindly.

Marinette smiled back then took a deep breath, trying to settle her nerves. If the judge didn’t allow Adrien to marry her, would she call his father? They were taking a great risk just having Adrien exposed in public.

Before long, a small woman joined them in the conference room. She introduced herself as Judge Travers and sat down at the table with them. Adrien pulled off his hat and glasses and began fixing his hair with his fingers. 

Travers grabbed a small container from her bag and began eating her lunch.

“Make it quick, Margot, I only have twenty minutes.” Travers spoke between mouthfuls of food. “What’s so important that you summoned me during my lunch?”

“I want you to bring criminal charges against Gabriel Agreste.”

Huh… wait! WHAT?! Marinette must have heard her wrong. She looked over to Adrien. He sat there with his mouth open, obviously as lost as she was.

Travers just raised an eyebrow at her.

Bisset continued, “I have witnesses who can testify that Gabriel Agreste is guilty of child endangerment, neglect and extortion. I want charges brought against him.”

No! No! This wasn’t the plan! Marinette could feel herself start to panic.

“That’s quite ambitious, considering you are not a prosecutor and I am not a judge with criminal courts.” 

“They are overworked and underfunded.” Bisset smiled. “I want you to handle it.”

“That’s not how it works and you know it. Why are we here?”

“It has come to my attention that there has been repeated neglect and abuse at the hands of Gabriel Agreste.” Bisset opened her folder and held out a stack of paper to Travers. “As a woman of conscience, I must report it to the courts.”

“But why to me?” Judge Travers took the documents and promptly set them on the table. She didn’t even look at them. “I will gladly hand these off to an attorney from Child Protective Services.”

“Do you think they have the resources to take on Gabriel? He’ll drown them in injunctions! That would take away precious hours that could be spent helping countless other children.”

“Again. Why are we here?” Travers was beginning to seem annoyed.

Bisset tapped her finger on her jaw. “There might be a way to avoid a messy and expensive legal confrontation.”

“Are you going somewhere with this?” Travers glared as she took another bite of her salad. 

“Adrien Agreste wants to marry his fiancée, Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Her parents have already consented. I have their notarized consent form here.” Bisset handed Judge Travers another piece of paper. She actually looked at it this time.

Oh, thought Marinette, that was part of the plan.

“We just need a signature, and this whole messy thing goes away. Also, Adrien has almost 2 million Euros in assets.” Bisset handed her a printout.

“And let me guess…” Travers looked up from the document. “His father doesn’t consent?”

“Without both parents, his consent would not be enough. His mother, Emilie Agrests hasn’t been seen in over three years. And that’s where you…”

“But his father doesn’t approve,” Travers interrupted.

“To my knowledge, he does not oppose the marriage.” She flipped through her folder, grabbed a magazine clipping, and handed it to Travers. “In fact, Gabriel has publicly praised Marinette Dupain-Cheng's design talents.”

Marinette was beginning to believe Bisset had spent all night gathering information on them. It made her squirm to think about.

“Adrien and Marinette have had a long and publicly documented relationship,” Bisset continued, pulling out printouts of various instagram posts. “Including a photo where Miss Dupain-Cheng was in a state of undress.”

Marinette peeked at the photo in question. It was taken years ago, right after Adrien’s fragrance ad debuted. They had tried to hide in a fountain.

“Marinette?”

She froze at the sound of a familiar voice. Her face fell as she turned to see Mayor Bourgeois in the open doorway. 

No, no, no!

“Marinette? What are you doing here? Is everything all right? Are you in trouble?”

Why is he here? Marinette grimaced. Oh yeah , she remembered they were at the city hall, there was always a chance they might run into him. But why did he have to to walk by this room, at this moment? She cursed her luck.

“Do you know this girl?”

No, no, NO! He’ll see Adrien!

“Why yes, she is in the same school as my daughter. Oh my goodness! Adrien, is that you? Chloé has been beside herself with worry.”

It’s over. We’re dead!

“You know both of them?”

“I’ve known him since he was a toddler. My wife and his mother were the very best of friends, why I remember…”

“They want to get married.” Travers stated bluntly.

“Ah, young love!” Mayor Bourgeois clasped his hands together.

“Do you have any reason to doubt their intentions?”

“Why, no…”

“There you go, Margot.” Travers took another bite of her lunch.

“Mayor.” Bisset stood up and walked over to where the Mayor was standing, obviously changing targets. “Would you be willing to give consent, as a public authority figure, to allow dear Adrien to marry his sweet young bride?”

Marinette stared open-mouthed. Not only had Bisset changed targets, but her whole demeanor shifted too. It was probably some type of strategy. 

Mayor Bourgeois took out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. “So romantic. Reminds me of my dear…”

“Would that be a yes?”

“Of course! I’d be delighted.”

All the air left Marinette’s body. Was that it? Did he just…? She blinked in confusion. Did they do it?

“...and about the waiting period,” Bisset pouted sweetly, “ten days is such a long time when you’re young and in love. I don’t suppose you, as mayor, could hurry things along?”

The Mayor smiled proudly. “I might know a clerk who could backdate a few documents.”

“Why, Mayor Bourgeois!” Bisset brought her hand to her chest. “I had no idea you were such a romantic.”

”Just to be clear,” Travers said sternly. “I didn’t hear any of that, just now.”

Marinette was beginning to think what Bisset was asking wasn’t entirely legal.

“And when exactly were these two lovebirds thinking of having the ceremony?” Mayor Bourgeois asked.

“Well, Judge Travers has about ten more minutes before she heads back to court.” She looked over to where Travers was sitting, eating her salad. “What do you say, Inés? When was the last time you got to be a witness?”

“Do you have a certificate?”

“Oh, I can send it over later for you to sign.”

Travers stood up with her salad and fork in hand and walked over to stand beside Bisset. Mayor Bourgeois walked forward and took his place in the center of the room. Marinette watched dumbly, unable to comprehend what was happening.

“Get up you two!” Bisset said with a wink. “Go stand in front of the Mayor.”

Uh? What? WHAT?!

Adrien rose and offered her his hand. Marinette took it as he helped her to her feet. Together they walked forward and stood in front of the Mayor. Adrien dropped her hand and stood across from her.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mayor Bourgeois began, “let me welcome…”

“Just jump to the civil code, André,” Travers cut him off. “I don’t have much time.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

Marinette could barely comprehend the words that Mayor Bourgeois was saying as he recited the required text of the marriage civil code. This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!

She gulped and looked up to Adrien. His face was pale and his eyes were wide. I hope I don’t look that frightened , Marinette thought. She took a deep breath and gave Adrien a nervous smile.

It was too soon. She needed more time. Marinette looked over Adrien’s shoulder at Judge Travers noisily eating her salad. This just felt wrong. She wasn’t ready! Marinette wanted her parents here. Calm down, girl! It’s not about you. It’s about emancipating Adrien.

“Adrien Agreste, do you agree to take Marinette Dupain-Cheng as your wife?”

Are we to this part already? Marinette's heart pounded in her ears. She looked up to Adrien, desperately hoping he didn’t look as terrified as she felt. He met her eyes. There was an intensity to his gaze that Marinette couldn’t describe. She saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

“I do.”

Marinette felt like all the blood had left her body, her feet could no longer feel the ground. Control yourself, girl! This was part of the plan. It’s not real, it’s not real.

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng, do you agree to take Adrien Agreste as your husband?”

Marinette blinked. Oh god! It was her turn now. She still held his gaze. She swallowed hard but her mouth still felt dry.

“I do.”

She saw Adrien’s shoulders relax.

“My dear, is there a church service planned?”

Marinette turned away from Adrien to look at Mayor Bourgeois. “Umm... no…?”

“Splendid! I do love when I get to do the ring exchange.”

“Oh, we can’t-” Marinette responded quickly, “Adrien doesn’t have a…” She looked down to see a plain silver ring on Adrien’s right hand. Marinette blinked in confusion. How had she never noticed that before?

She looked up to Adrien. His eyes held a moment of panic before they changed to determination. He pulled off his ring and handed it to her. The ring felt heavy in her hand, heavier than it looked. Maybe it was platinum? Marinette took off hers and held it out to Adrien. He took it shyly.

Adrien’s palms were sweaty as he slipped this ring onto her finger. Mayor Bourgeois was talking again, but Marinette could only focus on the tiny ring on her hand. She had worn it all morning, but it somehow felt different now that Adrien had put it there.

Marinette’s fingers shook as she reached for Adrien’s hand. Breathe girl, breathe! The cool metal ring effortlessly slid on his finger. Adrien grabbed her hands and squeezed them tightly. Marinette looked up and met his eyes. His handsome green eyes were wide with shock, as if he couldn’t believe what was happening, either.

“By the power vested in me, I declare Mr. Adrien Agreste and Miss Dupain-Cheng united by marriage. You may kiss your bride.”

Seconds passed and Adrien was frozen in place. Marinette was acutely aware that they were being watched by three other people in the room. She needed to act. Now.

Marinette stepped forward and reached for Adrien. She rolled up on her toes and cupped his face in her hands. She met his eyes for the briefest of moments, before her gaze fell to his lips, then back to his eyes. Marinette searched his eyes for forgiveness for what she was about to do. Adrien seemed to understand. His focus dropped to her mouth as he lowered his eyelids.

Marinette tipped her chin up as Adrien leaned down. She could feel his breath on her face. You can do this! Marinette’s heart raced as she closed her eyes and pressed herself against his soft lips.

Then, for the first time in her life, Marinette kissed Adrien Agreste.

She felt his lips lightly push back into hers. Marinette sighed into the warm softness. She felt a light pressure at her sides as Adrien’s hands gently wrapped around her waist.

Marinette jumped when she heard Bisset clap suddenly. “Congratulations, you two!”

Marinette stepped backward shyly. It was done. Oh god! I just married Adrien! She looked down at her hands. She couldn’t look at him again, not now.

“Now, Inés,” Bisset was using an all business tone, “...about young Adrien’s assets?”

“What about them?” Travers answered flatly.

“They are... in trusts.” Bisset smiled. “A court order would be a wonderful wedding present to our newlyweds.”

“Dammit, Margot!” Travers glared at Bisset before holding out her hand. “Let me see.” Bisset pulled another page out of the binder. “Who were the contributors?”

“For one, the €250,000, Adrien is the sole contributor. The other was set up by his mother.”

Marinette knew she should be paying attention, this was important. But she just married Adrien! Oh god, oh god! Did that really just happen?

“I won’t touch the one set up by his mother, but Adrien can have access to his own money. I will not dissolve the trust, but I will change the terms. Funds will be made available in installments. Equal parts, over the next 60 months.”

“Five years?” Bisset asked, obviously disappointed. “But it will be months before he can cover my retainer.”

“Then he can get a job,” Travers handed the page back to Bisset, “...like the rest of us. Type it up, have it to me by three, I’ll see it filed along with the marriage certificate by the end of the day.”

Traves left for court with a quick goodbye. Adrien once again donned his cap and put on his lensless glasses. Marinette numbly followed the mayor and Bisset out of the conference room. Her mind still hadn’t caught up with the event that had happened in the last fifteen minutes. She glanced over to Adrien. He was holding his left hand to his chest, staring at his ring.

They headed down to the clerk’s office where Mayor Bourgeois talked his way into getting the necessary paperwork. Bisset had the Mayor sign the document that would authorize Adrien to marry. After that, they all signed the marriage certificate.

Bisset took the certificate, then she left to go create the court order that would allow Adrien access to his funds. She promised to have Travers sign both before the end of the day. Once the marriage was on record, it would effectively emancipate Adrien. They would just have to wait until five o’clock.

After Bisset left, Adrien and Marinette were left alone in the lobby with Mayor Bourgeois. He smiled excitedly at them as he wrapped an arm over Adrien’s shoulder.

“So… when is the reception? Will there be dinner?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Umm…” Marinette’s eyes met Adrien’s for a moment. His expression was of total bewilderment. Luckily, Mayor Bourgeois didn’t notice. “We have nothing planned,” Marinette explained weakly.

The mayor leaned over and spoke into Adrien’s ear. “Saving your energy for the honeymoon, eh?”

Adrien choked and began coughing.

Marinette nervously scratched the back of her neck. “Nothing planned there either.”

“Nonsense. Young love must be celebrated!” the mayor playfully chided. “My hotel’s honeymoon suite is always empty, midweek. You must come stay. It can be my wedding gift to you.”

“Oh… thank you for the offer, but... we can’t,” Marinette awkwardly smiled. “We haven’t anything packed.”

“Our suite is stocked with all the essentials a young couple could need. I’m headed there myself, I could give you a ride.”

Marinette looked over to Adrien. She wanted him to say something, but he still had a lost puppy look on his face. Mayor Bourgeois wrapped his arms around her shoulder and squeezed both the teens.

“I insist. Come, my driver should be out front.”

Marinette shrugged and followed the mayor outside. True to his word, his town car was waiting. Mayor Bourgeois was boisterously reminiscing about his honeymoon with Audrey. Marinette was doing her best to tune it out. God! The man loves the sound of his own voice.

The Mayor got into the front seat with the driver, while Marinette and Adrien climbed into the back.  She held out her fist shyly. Adrien seemed confused for a moment, before he bumped it with his own. Marinette took a deep breath and leaned back into the seat. They did it! By five o’clock, Adrien would be emancipated.

She didn’t say anything on the ride to the hotel, nor did Adrien. Luckily, Mayor Bourgeois didn’t mind, he just seemed happy to have a captive audience.

As they sat in traffic, Marinette stared out the window. She was married. Like, really married! Marinette was a wife, and Adrien was her husband. She felt heat rush to her face. It’s not real, it’s not real. Marinette told herself that over and over again.

Her mind went back to the moment she kissed Adrien’s soft lips. He never flinched, he kissed her back! Marinette felt her heart racing at the memory. Oh god! And now they were going to spend the night in a hotel!

Marinette squeezed her knees together. She had spent the last few nights sleeping next to Adrien, the fact that they were going to a hotel shouldn’t make it weird. It’s not like Adrien saw her like that, anyways.

But that was before I knew what his kiss felt like. Marinette bit her lip. Okay, maybe this was bad. She looked over to Adrien. He was staring out the window, idly twisting the ring on his finger. He had a relaxed expression on his face. Almost… happy?

He’s happy because he’s been emancipated! Calm down!

That’s right, Marinette smiled. Adrien will never have to return to his father. He will never have to do another photoshoot, again. He can eat and drink whenever he wants. And no one will touch him again unless he wants it.

Suddenly, Marinette felt ashamed of her lustful thoughts.

He doesn’t see you like that, Marinette reminded herself. She leaned her head against the window. He married you because you asked him to do so, because you wanted to save him. Nothing more.

She closed her eyes and remembered the feel of Adrien’s kiss. She needed to commit it to memory. It was probably the last time she would feel it.

When they arrived at Le Gran Paris, they used the side door to get inside. Marinette wasn’t sure if it was still being watched by Gabriel’s men, and it was still several hours until the paperwork would be officially filed.

Mayor Bourgeois was still recounting the early days of his marriage as he walked Adrien and Marinette to the honeymoon suite. She looked over to Adrien, wishing she could tell what he was thinking. 

“Well, my dears,” Mayor Bourgeois said as he opened the suite door. “The rooms are empty to either side, so you don’t have to worry about any noise.

Marinette winced. Please stop! You are going to embarrass Adrien.

“Enjoy ravishing your bride!”

Chapter Text

 

“Enjoy ravishing your bride!” Mayor Bourgeois nudged him before he shut the door to the suite, leaving Adrien alone with Marinette.

The two stood in silence.

As soon as Adrien was sure Mayor Bourgeois was no longer in earshot, he jumped back and held up his hands. “Don’t worry Marinette, I’m not going to ravish you!”

Marinette groaned and hid her face in her hands. “Exactly what every bride wants to hear on her wedding right,” she mumbled, her words dripping with sarcasm.

“What?” Adrien sputtered.

“Oh god!” Marinette exclaimed. “Did I say that out loud?”

“Do… Do you…?” He was stammering, now.

“Um… it was a joke, forget I said it!” Marinette gave the worst impression of laughing that he had ever heard.

“Okay, I’ll forget it,” Adrien lied. 

“Wow, look at this place!” She stiffly walked over to inspect a picture on the wall.

Adrien looked around the room. He had never been in a honeymoon suite before, but he couldn’t imagine they were supposed to look like this. Gaudy reds, golds, and pinks decorated the large hotel room. Heart-shaped pillows adorned the bed. It was tacky. He wondered if Chloé helped with the design.

“Oh,” Marinette said suddenly. “I should call my mom, tell her where we are.”

“We don’t have to stay,” Adrien offered.

“Do you want to explain to Mayor Bourgeois why we would be leaving?” She put her hands on her hips. “You could have said something, earlier.”

He shrugged.

Marinette walked over to the window and pulled out her phone.

“Hi, Mom…”

Adrien watched her fidget nervously.

“Um… it went very well.” She took a deep breath. “We’re married.”

There was a long pause.

“Hello, Mom? Are you there?”

Adrien wished she was closer so he could hear.

“It’s sooner than I thought, too. We ran into Mayor Bourgeois. He was able to pull some strings, so we wouldn’t have to wait. Pretty lucky, huh?”

“I know.” Her voice grew quiet. “I wanted you there, too.”

He felt guilty; of course she wanted her parents there.

“Um… about that. The mayor gave us a night in his hotel as a wedding present.”

There was some silence on Marinette’s end for a few moments.

“I know,... I know… Do you want me to talk to Dad?”

“Okay. We’ll see you in the morning. Love you, too. Goodbye.”

Adrien stood silently, watching her.

All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. When Adrien answered, a hotel employee rolled a room service cart inside.  The man proceeded to unwrap a bottle of champagne and twist off the cork. Adrien watched as he poured two champagne flutes and set them on the cart. He lifted a metal cover to reveal a plate of chocolate and strawberries. “Compliments of Mayor Bourgeois,” the man said formally before he left with a curt bow.

Adrien stared at the bubbly liquid in the glasses, then shrugged. He grabbed them and walked over to Marinette. He lifted the champagne flute toward her, gesturing to her to take it. Once she did, he lifted his own up to hers.

“To my everyday Ladybug,” he said softly to her.

She grinned as she clinked her glass against his. “To my everyday Chat Noir.” 

Adrien took a sip of the champagne. Huh, it was really sweet. Probably best not to have too much right now, he hadn’t eaten any lunch.

Marinette walked over and grabbed a few strawberries with her free hand and went back to inspecting the décor. He heard her exclaim loudly when she turned down a hallway leading to the bathroom. “There’s a huge tub in here! Oh, wow. They even have bubbles!”

Adrien chuckled. He doubted it was any bigger than the tub he had at his father’s.

“You should take a bath, then,” he called to her. “I won’t look.” There wasn’t a door, but the tub and sink were out of view of the main room.

Marinette giggled. “I think I will,” she called back.

Adrien heard the faucet turn on and the tub start to fill. He popped a strawberry in his mouth and took another sip of champagne. He smiled. They did it!

“I’ve never been used as a wedding ring before.” Plagg flew out of his pocket.

“Shhh… Plagg,” Adrien warned. “She’ll see you.”

“Nahhh… She’s busy talking to herself. I can hear.” Plagg flew over to the tray of food. “What, no cheese plate?”

Adrien set down his glass and flopped back onto the bed, stretching his limbs wide. In just a few hours the paperwork would be filed, and he would be legally emancipated, legally married.

They had somehow pulled it off. Adrien thought they were screwed when Mayor Bourgeois appeared in the doorway, but he ended up being a much better ally than the judge. Still, he didn’t think they could push things through this fast. Adrien looked at the ring on his left hand. He sure as hell wasn’t expecting to get married today.

“Just so you know,” Plagg warned, “I’ll be in the next room over if things get mushy.”

After a few minutes, the sound of the running faucet suddenly stopped. He heard the water gently splash. Marinette must be getting into the tub, now. Adrien’s mouth suddenly felt dry.

He took a sip of champagne and tried very hard not to think about his wet and naked bride. Okay, maybe he wasn’t really trying that hard. Marinette had really been amazing, today, especially when he froze. Adrien flushed when he remembered how she kissed him. It was so gentle, so sweet.

He really liked her kisses. Adrien nestled into the pillow, replaying the feel of her lips over and over again.

He went to take another sip of champagne, but his glass was empty. Adrien frowned as he rolled off the bed and onto his feet. He walked over the bottle, feeling quite relaxed. He refilled his glass and took a bite of one of the chocolates.

He heard the sound of water moving again. “Awww… I’m out of champagne,” Marinette pouted.

“I could bring you more?” Adrien offered slyly.

Plagg rolled his eyes and phased through the wall.

“Sure,” she replied enthusiastically. “The bubbles cover everything, anyways.”

Adrien grabbed the Champagne bottle and a few strawberries and headed toward Marinette. He grinned. A very naked Marinette.

When Adrien saw her, she had her hair piled high on her head, and her wet collar bones stuck out above the bubbles. Her cheeks were pink and she looked extremely relaxed. Adrien thought it might be better to kneel beside her than to stand.

He poured the champagne into her empty glass. “You’re looking quite comfortable.”

Marinette just giggled in response. 

“I also brought you some strawberries. I was worried I would eat them all.” He held out his hand to her.

Marinette brought her hands out of the water to reach for them, but the bubbles stuck to her fingers. She stared at her hands for a moment before her eyes locked with Adrien’s. Then she opened her mouth.

Adrien gulped. He realized he was very, very warm. Without breaking eye contact, he gently placed a strawberry into Marinette’s open mouth. She closed her eyes and moaned with delight as she ate her strawberry. Adrien really liked hearing her moan. One by one, he fed her the remaining strawberries the exact same way.

But all too soon, Adrien ran out of strawberries. He frowned at his empty palm. Marinette smiled and took another sip of champagne, then dipped deeper into the tub, hiding her collarbones.

Adrien was sweating when he returned to the main room. When the hell did it get so hot in here? Adrien pulled off his hoodie and shirt. He undid his fly and kicked off his pants. This was okay, right? It was nothing Marinette hadn’t seen before.

He looked down to his waistband. Okay, maybe that was something Marinette hadn’t seen before. It would probably be best if he stayed seated for a while.

The afternoon sun was starting to shine through the windows. Adrien pulled the blackout curtains closed, before returning to the bed. Tiny beams of light peaked past the corners of the curtain. It made the room darker, but there was still plenty of light to see.

He propped up the pillows before leaning against them.

After a while, Marinette emerged from the bathroom. She was wearing a short silky robe that perfectly matched the décor of the gaudy suite. Her hair was wet and unbound. She had combed it back away from her face. Adrien smiled as she walked toward him.

“You look really pretty, wet.”

Shit! Did I really just say that? Adrien cringed at his choice of words. Perhaps the champagne was affecting him more than he thought.

Her face fell for a moment, before she smirked. “I prefer you in your other boxers, Nino’s balls look good on you.”

Adrien grinned. Marinette was joking again, that was always a good sign.

She walked over to the room service cart and gazed down to the plate. “Awhhh… only one lonely strawberry left.” Marinette looked over and smiled. “Do you want to share?”

“I do,” Adrien responded playfully, “but there is no way I am standing up, right now.”

Marinette picked up the strawberry and walked toward the bed. “Has the champagne gone to your head?” she asked with mock concern. Marinette sat in front of him on the bed. Then she bit the strawberry in half before offering it to him.

“Not at all.” Adrien leaned forward and took the strawberry from her with his mouth, his lips brushing her fingertips.

Adrien watched her as they savored their strawberry together. Her cheeks were pink and there were droplets of water still stuck to her neck. He felt an overwhelming desire to lick them off.

Look away! He scolded himself. His eyes dropped to her hands, resting in her lap.

Adrien reached forward and grabbed her left hand, the one that had the little ruby ring on it. He gently raised it to get a better view of the ring; the ring he had put there, the ring that made her his wife.

He brought her hand to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles. Was this going to be too much? Adrien heard her sigh into his touch. He turned her hand over and slowly kissed the inside of her wrist, daring her to pull away, but secretly hoping she wouldn’t. When he looked up, her eyes were watching him intently. She made no attempt to pull her hand back.

Adrien wanted to touch her more, but he didn’t want to scare her. Slowly, he slipped his arms around Marinette’s waist, pulling her into an embrace. His heart was pounding as he felt her arms wrap around his shoulders.

He buried his face deep in her neck, inhaling the scent of her. As his hands were gently caressing the silky fabric of her robe, Adrien wished he could lock this moment in time. He gave a contented sigh into her neck.

Marinette burst out laughing and wiggled out of his arms. Her hand flew up to her neck at the spot where Adrien’s face was touching.

Adrien felt an evil grin rise on his face. “Marinette?” he asked lightheartedly. “Are you ticklish?”

“No, no, not at all.” Her response was unconvincing. “Why? Are you?”

“Nope!” In truth, Adrien had no idea. It had been a long time since someone tickled him.

She bit her lip as her eyes traveled down to his stomach. Adrien reacted a split second too late as Marinette hands flew forward to tickle his ribs. 

A hearty laugh escaped his mouth as he tried to twist away from her fingers. Adrien rolled over to the other side of the bed and stared back at her, planning his next move.

She was eying him as well, with an amused expression on her face. Adrien realized he was at a disadvantage. His ribs were an easy target, but he dared not try to tickle Marinette there. It would be too easy for his hand to slip inside her robe. Oh man, if he wasn’t blushing before, he definitely was, now.

Adrien pushed himself into a kneel and held his arms out wide, daring Marinette to try again. Almost instantly, Marinette pounced. Once again, Adrien felt her fingers on his ribs, but this time, he was prepared. With both hands, he attacked her neck. She squealed with laughter as she tried to turn away, her own tickle assault forgotten.

Marinette flopped to the other side of the bed in a temporary cease-fire. Adrien could see her eyes darting around, trying to find an advantage. He needed to act quickly, he could never beat her in a long game. She was too good at strategizing.

He lunged forward and grabbed her foot, pulling her toward him. Her robe may have revealed a bit more flesh than modesty would allow, but Adrien kept his focus on her eyes. He was a gentleman, afterall.

He brought his hand to her captive foot and tickled. Marinette giggled and squirmed out of his grip. Then, with a loud thunk, she fell off the bed and onto the floor.

“Marinette! I’m so sorry!” Adrien was by her side in an instant. He held out a hand, offering to help her up.

Smiling, she took his hand then rose to her feet. Then, with incredible speed, she flew behind Adrien, twisting his wrist to his back. He found himself effectively pinned to the bed, blinking as to how he got there so fast.

“I got you, now!” Marinette playfully boasted.

Adrien grinned. “I should have chosen that safe word.”

The taunt had its desired effect, and Marinette’s grip loosened for just an instant, but that was all Adrien needed. He rolled out of her grip and ducked behind her. As he stood up, he hooked his arm under her knees and grabbed her shoulders. He lifted Marinette high before he threw her on the bed.

Marinette recovered fast, within moments she was kneeling on the bed, again. Her arms were raised for battle and she had a teasing smile on her face. “Give up, Agreste!”

“Haven’t you heard? I’m Mr. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, now!” Marinette’s mouth dropped in shock. Adrien took advantage of the moment to pounce, once again aiming for her neck.

He didn’t get very far. Adrien soon found himself landing face first on the bed, his wrist once again pressed to his back.

“Where did you learn to fight like this?” Adrien was honestly impressed.

“Growing up in a bakery, you learn to be tough.” Marinette explained gleefully. “Bread thieves.”

“Bread thieves?”

“Always been a huge problem. There’s a famous book about one.”

Adrien tucked his legs under him before launching himself forward, breaking her grip. He rolled off the bed and onto the floor. Adrien quickly rose to his feet and crouched with his arms wide.

Marinette was a good fighter, he’d give her that. Perhaps it was time to change strategies. Perhaps even time to play a little dirty.

She was kneeling on the bed again. Her eyes were darting around, but her stance was ready to attack. Adrien crept back toward her, staying just out of her reach. He stared at her, begging her eyes to meet his. Once they did, he started his plan. Alright, here goes!

He forced his face into a frown as he shifted his eyes to the door. “Chloé? What are you doing here?” Adrien called out.

Marinette froze. Her eyes filled with panic. She turned very slowly toward the door.

YES!

Adrien jumped. His arm wrapped around her waist as he threw her down to the bed. He grabbed her wrists and held them high above her head. Her legs attempted to kick him, but she was too late. He knelt on her thighs, restricting her movement! Marinette wiggled underneath him, but she couldn’t get free. He had her completely pinned.

“I have you now!” he boasted. “I win.”

“Wrong!” Marinette denied, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “I have you exactly where I want you.”

Adrien leaned forward until their foreheads almost touched. “So you’re admitting you want me, then?” 

Marinette’s face fell as she realized the implication of her words. She stared into Adrien’s eyes for a moment before a tiny smirk appeared on her face. Her gaze traveled down to his waistband before meeting his eyes, again.

“Looks like the feeling is mutual.”

Adrien felt a huge wave of heat wash over his face. He swallowed but his mouth still felt dry. He stared back at her dumbly before his brain was able to find any words. “I didn’t think you noticed.”

“Kinda a big thing to not notice.” She lightly moved her wrist against his hands, wearing a satisfied smile on her face. Even pinned, she had him on the defensive.

Adrien leaned forward until his mouth was right outside her ear. “Well, the word is…” he whispered, “my bride wants to be ravished on her wedding night.”

He heard Marinette gasp voicelessly.

Adrien said it as a joke, as a continuation of their playful banter, but the mood had changed, instantly. He backed away from her ear until he could see her eyes. Adrien released her wrists and climbed off her legs, but he still held himself above her.

Her eyes were locked with his. Marinette's chest was rising and falling fast. Adrien realized he was panting, too, though he wasn’t sure if it was because of their tickle fight or something else.

Marinette licked her lips. Adrien’s heart was pounding as he followed her gaze to his mouth. “Well, what does my groom want?”

Adrien couldn’t breathe. Marinette was looking at his eyes, again. Her expression was a mixture of curiosity, fear... and desire? She wasn’t pinned anymore, but she still held her hands above her head. It was the sexiest sight Adrien ever saw.

He knew he should answer, but he was terrified of breaking this moment. And Adrien really liked the way she was looking at him, right now. But he knew Marinette was expecting a response. Adrien wasn’t ready for this to end, but he wasn’t sure how Marinette would respond if he pushed forward.

He summoned all his courage and smiled back at her.

“I want to please my Princess.”

SHIT! A cold shiver washed over Adrien as he realized he called her the wrong word. Princess was Chat Noir’s name for Marinette, not Adrien’s. Marinette’s eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, seemingly wondering if she heard correctly.

Distract! Distract!

Adrien lowered his head until his lips were just above hers. “May I?” He asked, his lips creating feather lights touches against hers.

Marinette sighed as she pushed her lips into his. Oh god! She’s kissing me back! Her warm mouth melded to his as he kissed her over and over again. He felt Marinette arch her back and she pressed her fingers into his hair.

He coaxed her mouth open and instantly her wet tongue met his. Marinette whimpered into his mouth as jolts of electricity shot through Adrien’s body. His arms felt weak and Adrien worried they would give out any minute. He lowered himself onto Marinette's body, sighing into her soft warmth.

Marinette’s arms reached around to his back to embrace him, further pressing him into her. Adrien moved the kisses from her mouth, to her jawline, to the soft skin of her neck. The sexiest noises were coming from her now, and Adrien couldn’t get enough. He raked his teeth along her skin, wishing he could grab the soft tissue into his mouth. But he didn’t want to leave a mark.

Adrien pulled himself away from her neck and looked at her once again. Marinette smiled back with a relaxed contentment on her face. Adrien brought his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. 

“We should stop,” he sighed.

“We really should.” Marinette agreed, but there was no conviction in her voice. “But I don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to, either,” Adrien admitted, his voice almost a whine.

“Then don’t,” she whispered against his lips.

Once again Adrien’s mouth was on hers, kissing her deeply.

Marinette raised her leg and hooked it around his back, and he felt the soft skin of her thigh gliding along his side. He brought his hand up to hold her leg, then he slipped it upward until he grasped the curve of her bottom. Adrien pushed himself against her, feeling the moist heat of her most intimate area. Only the thin fabric of his boxers separated them.

Adrien knew he should stop. They had both had a very emotional day. Plus, there was more than a little champagne in their blood, and their brains were fuzzy. But... Adrien groaned. He had never wanted anything more in his life, than he wanted the girl wrapped around him.

He knew this was not a time to be making choices they could not take back.

Adrien lowered his kisses to the exposed part of her chest.

He knew this was not going to end well.

He reached down to loosen the knot of her robe.

But that was a problem for future Adrien.