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I won't tell if you don't

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Adrien and Marinette were playing a dangerous game of relationship chicken, and Adrien was probably going to lose. 

He didn’t know how one lost such a game, but when it came to playing games with Marinette he had learned one important thing. Marinette always won. It didn’t matter what the game was, be it Monopoly, table tennis, or UMS IV. Even early releases Adrien had practiced on for weeks before Marinette got her hands on them were a wash. Occasionally it would look like he had the upper hand, he might even win a round or two, but eventually, she would have him backed against a walk begging for mercy. 

Which… translated well to this particular game. 

He contemplated this, wondering how it was that he found himself half asleep and in Marinette’s college apartment wearing nothing but his boxers. He pouted as she carefully folded her laundry on the floor instead of napping with him. She, the cruel mistress that she was, simply taunted him in her sports bra and running short combo. 

“Do that later, come back here and cuddle me, I’m tired and neglected,” he whined. 

“Oh hush, I need to finish this so I can unpack the rest of my stuff and actually be able to find everything.” 

"I swear it didn’t take me this long to unpack my stuff."

“Well not all of us rich little cat boys who had everything moved in for them.” 

"Hey, I moved stuff."

"You moved your clothes. Everything else came pre-furnished." She had him there. 

Her back was facing him, and she leaned over from her position on the floor to grab the next item from her basket. Adrien grinned devilishly and snuck over from the bed. Being Chat Noir made him stealthy, and even Ladybug couldn’t hear him most of the time, so Marinette was easy prey. Once he was close enough, she turned slightly, suspicious of the quiet, only the be tackled to the ground with a squeal. He kissed her before she could complain about being distracted. He maneuvered himself until he was rested between her thighs and her hands were pinned over her head, their fingers interlocked. He slipped his tongue into her mouth, and she sighed softly, her warm breath brushing against his cheek. He soon broke awash from her lips and began a trail of hot wet kisses down her neck and chest. 

He released her hands to hold her a little closer, and she began lightly scratching his neck and shoulders. “What did she do this time to get you so worked up?”

“Who says she had to do something? Can’t I just want to spend time with you?” He said while still pressing kisses to her bare skin. 

“You can definitely want to spend time with me, but I know there was an Akuma attack earlier, and you usually get… I don’t want to say needier, but maybe a little more forward, than usual when she did something. So what did she do?”

Adrien sighed and buried his face into her neck. He mumbled something into her hair. 

“What was that?” She pulled lightly on his hair so his voice wasn’t so muffled. 

“She didn’t do anything,” he let out an exasperated groan and repositioned himself so his head was pressed to Marinette's chest, “she just told me I did a good job.”

“What? Really, that’s it?”

“Ugh, you know how I get when I get approval from authority figures.”

She chuckled lightly looking at his embarrassed face with fondness. “You consider Ladybug an authority figure?”

“Yeah, she comes up with the plans, she’s in charge, I care deeply about her opinion. All the classic elements one needs to be an authority," he said, waving his hand flippantly. 

“Yeah, but you guys are partners, which makes her your peer. Like me, or Alya and Nino.” She began playing with his hair as he sank further into his embarrassment. 

“First, I never said it was logical, daddy issues are a real SOB. Second, it was the way she said it. She looked me right in the eyes-“

“Eye contact is what does it for you huh?”

He glared at her, “Shut up, I’m not going to tell you now.”

She laughed at him, making his head bounce slightly against her breast. “Sorry, I’ll stop. Please continue.”

“It’s just that she hadn’t come up with a way to use her Lucky Charm yet, and I had an idea. Which never happens! Not even that one time I was Mister Bug. So when she did it, and it worked, she gave me this look that just made me feel like she was so proud of me. Then she said, ‘Chat, that was amazing. You did a really good job today, thank you.’ Her voice was so nice, and everything combined made me feel so good, I nearly collapsed right there.” He heaved a shuddering sigh. 

“And third, I would definitely not put you, and Nino and Alya in the same category.” Then, to prove his point he began caressing her thighs slowly and deliberately. 
She hummed thoughtfully, “So what you’re telling me, is if I were to say, oh I don’t know-“ her voice turned sweet, and she pulled his face close to hers, “you’re the kindest, most thoughtful person in my life, and I am so lucky to have you here with me - you’d be putty in my hands?”

Adrien was shaking. Hearing something like that, especially from Marinette who was the girl that everyone seemed to admire, made him want to implode. The only answer he could vocalize was a high-pitched whine as he buried his face into her cleavage. She laughed. And dug her fingers further in his hair, sending waves of pure pleasure down his spine. 

“Or if I say, you’ve done an amazing job keeping Paris safe and working nearly full time as well as being a student. I sometimes look at your sweet sleeping face and think that you are the strongest, smartest, and most resourceful person in Paris.” If she kept this up he was going to have to need to kiss her senseless, and then some. “And you're pretty good in bed, too.” 

That was it. He couldn’t handle it anymore. Adrien could either cry, or make her stop, and he was not going to cry.  He jumped up and kissed her passionately, his tongue pushing her lips open. He could feel her nails running trails up and down his sides. 

“If you don’t stop, you’re going to make me fall in love with you.” He said between searing kisses. His hands began to wander to the band of her sports bra. He hovered above her face, noses touching, lips nearly brushing. 

“We wouldn’t want that now, would we?” She brought one hand up and lightly traced his lips with her finger. He looked into her eyes, looking for something. What he wasn’t sure. All he saw was mirth, mixed with desire. His hand crept further under her bra. 

He bit back the reply that too easily sprung to the tip of his tongue. Would it really be so bad? This was part of the game they played. They weren’t dating. It was just physical. And emotional. And Adrien probably loved her. And the days she was busy were lonely. But they weren’t dating. 

Because how could you date your best friend, when you were still in love with your other best friend? The one you had to see on a regular basis to save the city. The one who could reduce you to a boneless mess with a kind word and a smile. So they weren’t dating, and he had a game to lose as valiantly as he could. 

“No, definitely not. You can’t have me getting too attached. A mangy cat hanging around is bad for your image.” He smiled ruefully. This was part of the game they played. 
She pursed her lips together into something close to a smile and swept the long hair falling into his face aside to place kisses along his jaw and down his neck. 

“So you agree you need a haircut.” She breathed against his collar bone. 
He gasped in mock offense, but his reply was cut off by a knock on her bedroom door. 

Adrien jumped off of Marinette so fast he knocked several cheap trinkets from her bedside table with a crash. 
Marinette laughed at his startled expression. 

“Relax. It’s probably just my roommate. You don’t have to be as sneaky here.” She whispered to him as she righted herself and walked to answer the door. 
She was right. Her roommate stood in the hallway in front of Marinette's door. She angled her body so Adrien was out of sight, and smiled. “Hey, what’s up, Margot?”

“Hey! So the rest of us are going to the orientation party on campus tonight and wanted to see if you could come with us. We know you’ve been busy, but we’d all like to hang out and get to know each other!”

“Oh, is that tonight? Uh, I actually have a friend over, but let me see if they want to come.” she turned to where Adrien was pulling on his shoes. “Did you want to go? I was thinking of going, but if you wanted to stay in and hang out that would be fine.”

Adrien smiled widely, “Yeah, I did actually. I totally forgot it was tonight with how busy work and stuff was today. I’m cool if you wanted to stay in though.”

Marinette rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “It looks like we're coming, when are you guys leaving?”

“Like 20 minutes? It starts in a half-hour, but we have to walk.”

“Great! That sounds perfect. I just need to change! And maybe do my hair. But I’ll be quick!” She began shutting the door.

“She’ll be ready in half an hour! Be prepared to be late!” Adrien called from where he was lounging on her bed, now fully dressed and ready to go. 

“Rude!” She pounced on Adrien and smashed his face into the bed. She could hear Margot laughing from behind the door.

“I’ll keep that in mind!” Margot called back. 

“Ignore him!” Marinette shouted back over Adrien’s muffled laughing. “Why do you gotta make me look bad in front of my new roommates!”

“They have a right to know!”

“Ugh, whatever. I’m going to change.” She got up and moved to her closet and began pulling out different pieces and laying them down on her desk.

“Ooh. I can help!” He jumped up and pulled her close by the waistband of her shorts.”I do know fashion after all.”

She reached behind her and pushed his face away. “Your version of helping is more likely to make me later than anything else.” 

He grinned, “But it’s the most fun.” He reached out and tickled her waist. She jumped and wiggled out of his grasp.

“That’s it! You’re waiting in the living room! Out!” She grabbed his beanie hat and glasses, shoved them into his hand as she pushed him out the door. 
He put on his hat and glasses, both more for anti-paparazzi than any aesthetic purpose, and pouted at the door. “Come on, Mari. Don’t be like that!” He tried the door only to find she locked it. “Seriously, you're locking me-owt, princess?”

“Yes, You’re being distracting! Now go wait on the couch like a good Kitten!”

“Kitten, huh?”

Adrien whirled around to find a tall thin woman in a dark band t-shirt and dark jeans leaning against the only other door in this part of the apartment. 

“Uh, hi,” he responded awkwardly.

“You know, I wouldn’t peg you as a cat boy by looking at ‘cha, but you do you.”

“It’s… and inside joke. I’m not a “cat boy” as you called it,” he said, nervously. Because, he is a cat boy, the most famous cat boy in France, but she didn’t need to know that. “Are you one of Marinette's new roommates?”

“I’m Bette. I’m studying Chemical Engineering. What about you? You go to the University too, Kitten?”

“Yeah, Physics and Business double major.”

“Oof, Double major? And one of them is physics? You some sort  of masochist?”

“It’s the result of a Parental Negotiation and Compromise. He pays for everything, I major in at least one of the things he wants me to do.”

“I hear that. I’m guessing you’re coming to the party.”

“Yup.”

“Well, I’m sick of standing after the 10-hour shift I just pulled, so let's go sit down while the others finish getting ready.”

She lead him to the couch where they sat in silence for about 10 minutes. A tall Blonde with sharp features joined them. 

“Hey, Yvonne. You ready?” Bette asked.

“Yup! Who’s this?” She smiled at him coyly. Adrien was used to looks like the one she gave him. He was a Model after all, but it never failed to make him want to retreat into himself. He also realized he now had a problem. He didn’t know how much Mari had told her roommates about him, or even if they’d recognize his name. The hat and large thick-rimmed glasses tended to make him look just different enough that most people didn’t realize who he was, but once he said his first name people often put two and two together. He’d been brainstorming how to introduce himself to people on campus but hadn’t found a good way yet. 

Thankfully, Bette had her own idea.

“This is Kitten, Marinette’s little pet. I found him scratching at her door because she kicked him out like the bad cat he is.” She grabbed his chin and shook it a little. He pushed her off and glared at her. Adrien wasn’t sure if he really liked Bette, or if she really annoyed him, but he knew he didn’t want to give her any more ammunition.

“I have a name you know.” He shouldn’t have said it, but his mouth wasn't always his best friend. 

“I don’t care. You’re Kitten now. No one is allowed to call you anything else.”

Yvonne laughed and sat down in the chair closest to his part of the couch. “Well, It’s nice to meet you, Kitten. I’m Yvonne. Will we be seeing a lot of you around the apartment? Cause we could make you our official house cat.”

Adrien forced an uncomfortable laugh. “Mari’s an old friend, so I’m sure you’ll see me around, but I'm not sure how much we’ll be hanging here.”

“Oh, but think of how much fun we’d all have together.” She simpered, leaning forward to give him a good view down her low-cut shirt.

“Down girl. Find your own pet.” Bette said leaning over and pushing Yvonne back against the armchair.

“Bette! Don’t be rude! I’m just letting him know we’re a fun place to be. He can make his own decisions.”

“Von, we talked about this. You gotta learn to tone down the flirting when they look uncomfortable.”

Yvonne perked up and looked at him with wide eyes, “I wasn’t making you uncomfortable, was I?” 

He stammered for a bit, not sure what the polite way to respond was.

“I was, wasn’t I? Damn it, and here I was thinking I was getting good at noticing. Sorry, I’m not always good at certain expressions. I’m kind of face blind, and my default is to flirt. You just gotta tell me if I bother you.”

“Oh, um. It’s okay. I’m kind of used to it. I work with a lot of models and they’re kind of like that too.”

“Oh, are you in the Fashion Course like Marinette and Margot? I always wanted to try designing, but I can’t sew or draw to save my life.”

“No, but I work on a lot of photoshoots, but I’m not going into it. I’m more into STEM.”

“Ooh, smart and hot! Marinette's pet is quite the catch!”

“Don’t I know it!” Mari said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and squeezing.

“Hey, you made it out with time to spare! It’s a miracle!” he said, trying to turn around to see her.

“Yeah, because  I didn’t have a huge nerd distracting me!” She said, rubbing the top of his head with aggressive affection. “Are we just missing Margot?” She said, looking at her other two roommates. 

“Yeah, just killing time with Kitten over here while you two fashionistas get ready,” said Bette.

“Kitten?” She asked.

“She heard you call me Kitten, and now refuses to even learn my real name.” He grumbled. 

Mari laughed a full belly laugh, “Serves you right for being a pest while I’m trying to get ready. Besides, I like it. You are my little Cat Boy after all.”

“Ah-ha!” Bette Exclaimed. “I knew it! You are a cat boy!”

“No, I’m not! It’s an inside joke.”

“Yeah, it’s an inside joke because you’re a cat boy!” Bette's devilish grin was practically splitting her face in half.

“Mari, help me out here!”

“Nope, you know how I feel about lying.” She said with a matching grin on her face. 

“Maaaaarrrrrriiiiii!”

“Fine. He’s not a cat boy.”

“Thank y-”

“He’s a cat MAN.”

“Ugh, why do I even hang out with you?” He whined, burning his face in his hands.

“Because I’m your nicest friend, and you like getting your butt handed to you in Ultimate Mecha Strike V. for some unknown reason.”

“Well, maybe it’s time I get new friends.”

“That’s fine. That is why we’re going to this party tonight.” She hugged his shoulders tighter and rested her chin on his head. “You won’t be stuck with just me on campus, since Alya and Nino are clear across town. Maybe you’ll find someone who’s actually nice to you.”

“Whatever,” He murmured. 

“Do we know what part of Campus the party is?” Marinette said.

“It’s by the Library!” Margot said walking into the living room from her bedroom. “Is everyone ready?”

“Definitely! Come on Kitten, you’re coming with me and you're going to explain science to me,” Yvonne tried to pull him up by his hand. Mari was still holding his shoulders, so he resisted. 

“He’s going to explain science to you? What kind of science?” Bette responded standing up and taking her hand off of Adrien’s wrist. 

“Any kind of science. Just science in general.”

“Well, Yvonne, I’m sure Marinette and her boyfriend want to walk together. Maybe we can have him explain all of science to you later.” Margot said kindly as she grabbed her purse and keys from the hook by the door. 

“We’re Not Dating(TM).” Marientte and Adrien said in unison. 

“Oh,” Margot looked a little confused, “I guess I just assumed because of the hugging and - You know what never mind it’s not my business.”

Marinette finally stood and walked to the door to grab her keys as well. “It’s okay. We get it a lot. We were both third wheels for most of school since our best friends are dating. We ended up spending a lot of time together, so we’re just really close.”

There was a quiet moment where everyone looked a little uncomfortable, and then Yvonne piped up, “Well that means you can explain science to me after all Kitten! Let's go.” She dragged him from the couch, past a laughing Marinette who cruelly ignored his pleading eyes and all the way to the orientation party.  

Chapter Text

Marinette was good at secrets. She hated lying and liars, and it killed her, but she was good at secrets. It had become increasingly apparent she had to get better at it after her first year as a superhero. Especially after becoming Guardian. Several of her friends and boyfriends had been Akumatized just to learn the secret she hid so poorly. They always wanted to know why she would run out during movies, or sleepovers, or class, or any number of activities that were interrupted by Akumas. It was because they loved her, and wanted to help, but they couldn't help. No one could. So she practiced excuses in the mirror, had proof of places she’d been saved to a secret file on her phone. Her reputation for being late, taking too long to get ready and sleeping in was a built-in saving grace, something she relied on heavily. Even when it stopped being true. Tikki had quickly become an accomplice in distraction, pulling alarms, knocking things off counters, making weird noises in other rooms, anything to prevent someone from poking holes in her stories. 

The most important skill she had learned was the one that killed her the most. The art of letting people think they knew her, that they were close to her, but keeping them at enough of a distance that they couldn’t get hurt. She did all of this for them because she loved them, but she was so tired.

She was playing with fire when it came to Adrien. She loved him so much. Not in the obsessive school girl way she now pitied her younger self for. It was a robust, adult love, and knowing he was Chat only made it worse. He was her best friend. Every dumb joke he made was now a plea to be allowed a moment of silliness in an otherwise serious life. Every time he jumped in front of a hit meant for her was a brave boy with nothing to lose but her. 

It killed her not to tell him. He deserved to know, especially since she knew about him. Yet, every time she tried to get the words out of her mouth something would get in the way. An akuma Alert, or her parents walking in, or even Tikki deploying her carefully devised distractions. Then she would remember when Luka became Truth, or the time her second boyfriend, was cornered by an akuma whose power was to force people to find things for her, and she had sent him to look for Ladybug, or any other countless times where her life would be in danger  if even one person knew who she was.

Most importantly, she would remember Chat Blanc.

To be fair, Chat had still been a teen when everything had happened. The exact events leading to it were going to be different, but she couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t happen again.

So she lied and kept him at bay. She didn’t tell him how much she adored him. They weren’t dating, they weren’t in love with each other, so they couldn’t fall apart. She lived off what affection she could get from him - which admittedly was becoming more and more common- and they didn't tell anyone about the nights Adrien snuck into her bedroom to spend the night. In a strictly platonic way. Sort of. 

Her chest ached with the love she felt as she laughed with her roommates as they all walked towards campus. Yvonne was interrogating Adrien about random science questions that often he had no clue the answer to. 

“Okay, Kitten. Why is it that when I eat a lot of ice cream my brain hurts, but if I eat a lot of hot soup it doesn’t? They’re both a lot of… temperature, so shouldn’t my brain want to tell me to stop for both?” She said walking backward with Margot kindly leading her by the elbow. 

“Uh, I guess because you have a system in place to protect you from eating food that’s too hot?”

“It does?” Margot pulled her away from a lamp post seconds before she knocked into it.

Adrien had his arm over her shoulders, very platonically, and his fingers lightly brushed the skin not covered by her blouse, sending little sparkes through her whole system. 

He laughed, “Yeah, it’s called burning your tongue.”

They all laughed and Marinette pulled herself closer to him. It was a warm day, so she didn’t think to bring a jacket, but occasionally a breeze would hit her just right and send a chill through her. 

“Okay, Next question. Why does hair get darker when it’s wet when water is clear?”

“Well..” His response was cut short by Bette’s enthusiastic cry.

“Oh, thank the lord. We’re here. No more science questions! You could have googled every single one of those.”

“Yeah, but he was having fun. At least, I think so. Were you having fun?” She asked him with a pleading look in her eye.

“Sure, I was having fun.” He chuckled as Yvonne flipped Bette off. 

“Told ya!”

“Uh-huh. There’s no way he was just being nice.” Bette said.

“You are a rude person, Bette Lemarie.”

“And yet you continue to choose to be friends with me.”

Yvonne huffed as she scanned the accumulating crowd. “Let’s get a drink. I’m thirsty from all that learning I just participated in.”

She pulled Bette and Margot towards the place the crowd seemed the thickest, which seemed to be a wide variety of beverages. 

“Don’t tell me this is how you’re going to be after all your classes because you’ll spend all of University drunk off your ass,” Bette grumbled as she was swallowed by the masses. 

“Are you thirsty?” Adrien asked her as he led her through the crowd following the others. 

She smiled at him, “Just a soda or some juice is fine. No alcohol.” She made a face to show disgust. She didn't hate the taste so much as she never wanted to get caught drunk during an akuma attack. Tikki told her it would be fine, but she didn't want to risk it. 

“That’s fine by me. I have a feeling we might need to watch out for Yvonne though. We might be reprising our starring role of Drunk People wranglers by the end of the night.”

She sighed and took the can of soda Adrien grabbed for her as she tried to see past the masses. It was a large party. The University hosted one every year according to her admissions counselor. There were booths for different organizations on campus, a place to meet people in the same program, and several games and activities as well as snacks and drinks at almost every station.She checked her phone for the time.

“Do you want to start by checking out the booths for our majors and then do some of the games?” She had to almost shout in his ear because it was getting loud. He nodded and looked over the crowd, trying to find the right direction. Thankfully, Adrien was tall enough to see over most people's heads and had them going in the right direction after only a moment. He deposited her by the Fashion major booth, and let her know he’d be just a few booths down at the Physics one. She doubted they’d make a stop by the Business Majors. 

There were a few well dressed people next to several poster boards and displays showing pictures from previous years, and a few sample pieces of clothing. Marinette immediately started looking at one of the sample dresses, a lovely iridescent ball gown with embroidery and beading along the waistline, inspecting the stitching and construction of the bodice.

“That’s my favorite one.” She jumped at the voice behind her. One of the upperclassmen manning the booth was looking over her shoulder. He was a tall lean man about her age with dark brown hair and sharp features. He smiled and nodded back at the dress. “It got the highest score in last year’s final showcase.”

“I can see why, it’s lovely.” she said almost reverently, “Although, something seems off in this part of the embroidery. I think it’s missing a couple stitches.”

The man looked at her, obviously stunned. “It took Madame Allard 20 minutes to find that! How? I barely noticed and I spent 200 hours on it.”

“What are you fussing about?” Another upperclassman, an even taller brunette woman, called over from where she was fixing fliers that had gotten shuffled by the wind.

“She caught my missing stitches in like 2 seconds,” he said, grabbing Marinette’s shoulder to indicate the ‘she’ he was referring to. Marinette turned further to look at the woman and shrugged just enough that his hand fell away. 

“Sorry, I didn’t realize it was yours, I shouldn’t have said anything.” She was feeling rather self-conscious about his overzealous reaction. 

“Pfft, He deserves to be knocked down a peg or two. He’s been insufferable about that dress since last April.” The taller woman walked over and looked Marinette up and down. “Okay, forget about his shoddy workmanship-”

“Hey!”

“Where did you get the Corset top? Talk about embroidery! I absolutely need one!” She grabbed Marinette's shoulders and turned her slightly to look at the details sown into the thin panels of her top. She had layered it over a sheer lavender Peasant blouse, and now with both sets of eyes looking at her appraisingly, she felt a little exposed. 

“Uh, I actually made it myself.” She said awkwardly. 

The other woman looked at her with manic excitement. 

“Okay, Sooo many thoughts, the most important of which are, can I get you to make me one, also teach me your ways, because I have tried to make a corset and the boning is a real bitch. AND!” She shook Marinette’s shoulders for emphasis. “Puh-lease tell me you're in the fashion course.”

Mari smiled and laughed, “Okay, so I can make you one, but it probably wouldn’t be for a while, but I can give you my number and we’ll see about those first two things. But yeah. I am in the Fashion course.”

Cue an enthusiastic hug. “Okay this is awesome. I’m totally going to geek out with you later, You said you’d help me and now you’re stuck being my friend, so deal with it. Honestly, no  wonder you caught his mistake, you are a crazy good seamstress.”

“Yeah, I actually worked in the sewing room at Gabriel up until about a week ago.” She turned to the man, who was watching his counterpart with amusement, “That’s the only reason I even noticed the missed stitches. I got absolutely reamed by several people for a couple missed stitches on a final sample piece my first few weeks there and got good at catching them so it would never happen again.”

He smiled at her, “I’m honestly more impressed than anything else. The only reason they’re still there is because I ran out of time before the showcase. I’m Ollivier, by the way. The over-enthusiastic puppy is Iris.”

“Hi!” Iris said as she adjusted her grip to squeeze Marinette in a side hug. 

“I’m Marinette. It’s nice to meet you both. Are you both seniors?”

“I am, but Ollie here is just a widdle junior.” Iris finally detached herself from Marinette and pinched Olivier’s checks. 

He batted her away. “Yeah, well this ‘Widdle Junior” kicked your’s and every other upperclassmen’s butt in the end of year Showcase,” He looked to Marinette and wiggled his eyebrows, “Which makes me the first-ever second-year student to win. I mean, it’s not a huge deal, but they did put me in the newspaper.”

He was obviously super proud, but Marinette had to really fight down the smirk that was trying it’s best to surface. She really couldn’t say that she was in the newspaper on a daily basis, or that she had several blogs dedicated to her and her partner, but imagining his reaction was really quite funny.

“Wow, that’s super cool!” 

“Thanks, I thought so too.” He stepped closer to her, getting a little in her space. “But enough about me, let's hear about my new competition. Tell us about Marinette. What is she looking to get from a prestigious Fashion Design degree? Obviously, you have some knowledge of the industry if you worked at Gabriel .”

They continued chatting for several minutes about the gap year Marinette had taken ‘to work at Gabriel .’ The job had really been a bit of a front for her real reason for putting University off, but saying you were trying to catch Hawk Moth would sound a bit odd. Soon Iris was extolling all the virtues of some professors, and letting her know the professors to watch out for. She even suggested talking to Mme. Allard about being put in the Advanced Contruction course. Olivier had excellent tips for resources to use for tight deadlines and stress relief. By the time Iris split from the conversation to say hi to a few more design students Marinette felt prepared and excited for class on Monday. 

She turned to take one last look at some of the displays and say her goodbyes when Olivier lightly grabbed her elbow.

“Hey, so the course booths are going to be closing down in like an hour, I'm free after if you want some company?” He gave her a wide smile, bordering on charming and nonchalant.

“Um, well I’m here with some friends, but you can totally join us later if you like. My roommate Margot is also in the program, I’m sure she’d love to pick your brain.”

“Oh, yeah, that sounds great!” His smile faltered for just a second, but then he whipped his phone out of his pocket. “Let me get your number and I can text you when I’m done. Plus, my roommates and I were going to have a little fashion program together next Saturday.  It’s kind of a tradition we started to celebrate making it through the first week of classes. I can send you the details. I’d love it if you came, I have a feeling I need to keep my eye on you if I want to keep my title of best in the program." He wiggled his eyebrows.

“Oh, I would love a chance to get to meet more people in the program. I should be free then, but I’ll let you know if I can make it.” She took his phone and created a contact for herself. As she was typing in her number she felt a familiar arm drape around her shoulders. 

“Hey, you done talking to all the other nerds?” She said without looking up as she drafted a text to herself.

“Oh, not even close, but I saw some fun games that I really want to try and I smell food. Are you almost done here?”

“Yup!” She handed Ollivier his phone back. “Ollivier was just telling me about a get-together for a bunch of the fashion course people next. I was thinking of going.”

“I thought Saturday was Alya’s ‘Mandatory’ Clubbing night.”

“Um, maybe. I’m pretty sure that’s Friday night. We can check tomorrow when we meet them for lunch.”

“Well, even if you can only make it for a little bit it’s going to be fun.” Ollivier smiled magnanimously and turned to Adrien. “If you want, you can come too-” 

He paused with a hand extended for a handshake, clearly asking for a name.

“Adi. Call me Adi.” 

Marinette gave Adrien a puzzled look as the two men shook hands. 

“It’s nice to meet you, Adi. You seem familiar. Have we met before?”

Adrien shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, maybe? I’ve met a lot of people through my job, and I don’t always remember everyone. Sorry.”

“Oh, what’s your job?” 

“I- uh,” Ollivier still hadn’t let go of Adrien’s hand, and Adrien seemed to be getting flustered at the prolonged awkward contact. “Um. I work on a lot of stuff for fashion shoots or shows, and some- sometimes movies- ca- sorry. What was your name again?”

“Olivier.” He finally released the handshake, and Adrien quickly reached up and began pulling at the edges of his beanie. 

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Ollivier. I’m sure I’ll see you around, but right now I’m super hungry and I think I smell some crepes. Mari, are you hungry yet, or do you want to hang here for a bit?”

She noticed his eyes widen just slightly, pleading for her to help him get out of an uncomfortable social situation. She put her arm around his waist and smiled at him. 

“Yeah, I’m actually starving.” She sent one final smile to Olivier, “I’ll catch up with you later! Thanks for all the great tips! Text me the details for Saturday.”

She waved slightly as Adrien began to pull her away. After they were out of earshot she smirked at adrien and said, “So, Adi, huh?”

Chapter Text

The university had provided a wide variety of food, mostly carbs, for the party. Adrien grabbed pretty much everything and ate it happily, occasionally slipping something cheesy into Marinette's large purse where Plagg liked to hang out when he could. His nutritionist would balk at the sheer amount Adrien packed into his stomach as they wandered around, but that was future Adrien's problem. He listened happily as Marinette told him everything she had talked to the other fashion students about, gesturing wildly, and dancing around as she remembered something exciting.

This was his favorite part about becoming Marinette’s friend. He loved watching the way her face told more of the story than her words, and how her hair brushed her bare shoulders when she moved her head. She was funny and passionate, and incredibly theatrical for someone who had been so self-conscious when he met her.

Sometimes he was jealous of the people who got to see her like this right away. They didn’t have to power through several painfully awkward interactions to get the occasional genuinely comfortable friendship. Like that Ollivier guy. He had spied them talking as he was heading over. Marinette looked stunning in the beautiful handmade outfit that fit her perfectly. Adrien knew Ollivier saw it. Who wouldn’t? So when he grabbed her arm and gave her his cell phone, Adrien’s heart dropped just a little. He quickly squashed his jealousy, it had never served him well in the past, but it still lingered like a bitter taste at the back of his tongue.

He was distracting himself from those thoughts by watching the way Marinette’s top lifted and fell with the movements in her arms, exposing a thin strip of her toned stomach, when he heard a familiar and shrill voice pierce through the crowds.

“Adrikins!”

He hadn’t seen Chloe very often since they graduated college, she had insisted on going to a fancy private lycee, while he wanted to stay in public school with Nino. Chloe's Behavior had changed a bit since then. She now only fawned over him at public events or when certain people were watching. When she saw him in private she would often either ignore him or treat him with mild indifference. But they were in public, and so far he had been able to keep anyone from noticing him.

That’s why he’d told several people to call him Adi. He was only getting more recognizable as time went by. The agent His father had hired was starting to get him actual acting jobs instead of just voice work, and with him reaching adulthood more people felt it was now okay to objectify him, even if they were three times older than he was. So the opportunity to be somewhat anonymous among his new classmates? It was a necessity.

Marinette met his eyes and both silently agreed to make a break for it, hiding among the crowds going in the opposite direction from where they’d heard Chloe’s voice.

“Ugh, I forgot that he attends this university,” Marinette said as they ducked around a corner.

“Just be glad she’s not in your program. I’m afraid I’ll end up having a class with her.”

“Which would completely end your chances of pretending to be a normal student.”

“Exactly, and here I thought the whole glasses and a hat thing was going to work.” The crowds were thinning out and Adrien began looking for anything to hide behind in case Chloe had followed them.

“It’s been working so far, right? Maybe she just saw me, and then realized it was probably you. She knows we’re all going to this university since I saw her vague posting about the school just letting anyone in now, and I know it was about me. She tagged me in the comments.”

“How is that vague?” They were mostly surrounded by booths for smaller programs, and a few clubs, so they stopped at the magic club display to pretend they were interested. No one was currently manning the booth so they continued to chat.

“It’s vague for Chloe. Normally she would have tagged me in the original post.”

He laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” They hung around just long enough to determine that Chloe was not in fact going to follow them. They decided to stroll the rest of the way down the row of booths. Most of them were packing up, but a few stragglers were still chatting. Adrien noticed Marinette shivering as they neared the end of the row.

“Are you cold?”

“Just a little. I forgot that it’s getting cold at night now, and didn’t bring a jacket. It’s okay though. I think I saw some sweaters you could win at one of the games. I’ll be fine until then.” She said, rubbing her arms slightly. He rolled his eyes and shrugged off the denim shirt he was wearing. She tried to protest when he dropped it over her shoulders and tucked her into his side, but her resistance melted when she realized how warm she felt. They were about to turn around and head towards some of the games when they both recognized a familiar face.

“Hey! Max!” Marinette called to one of the men packing up the final booth on the row. He turned around looking confused until he spotted them. The years had treated Max well. He was still as gangly as ever but had grown into his body. He’d grown his hair out and pulled the braids into a bun on top of his head, probably inspired by his short stints as Pegasus. He waved enthusiastically and jogged over to them.

“Marinette, I have been meaning to speak to you! The program we were working on is almost done, I just need a few things from you. Do you think Alya could get a hold of Ladybug and Chat Noir? I need someone to place a few prototypes to test the algorithm. Also, are you finished building the protective cases? I want to make sure the hardware fits with the mechanics you were designing. I need to make sure it has at least a 90-degree range of movement in all directions.”

“Hi, Max, it’s good to see you, too,” Adrien said teasingly.

“Yes, sorry hi.” He gazed briefly at Adrien and opened his mouth to say something more to Marinette, then stopped and did a double-take. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

“I know we haven’t seen each other in a while but I didn’t think you’d forget me this fast!” He joked, “And here I was thinking the whole glasses thing wasn’t working.”

“I told you, Chloe just made a lucky guess,” Marinette said, poking him in the side.

“Adrien? I feel so embarrassed. I can’t believe I didn't recognize you.”

“That’s alright, that’s kind of the point. I’m just glad it actually works.” Adrien looked around. “Hey, where’s Markov? I have a great riddle for him, there’s a 50% chance he won’t know the answer.”

The game they all called Stumpkov started when Kim spent three days straight trying to ask Max’s AI robot a question he didn’t know the answer to. Very few of them had managed to actually accomplish it, Adrien not being one of them. He still liked to occasionally try his hand whenever he ran into Max and Markov.

“Markov actually stayed back in my apartment tonight. He’s actually working on the program for Marinette.”

“What program?”

“I thought if we had an early Akuma detection network set up we could maybe narrow down where they’re coming from and give the hero’s a better place to work. I haven’t really told anyone because I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up in case it didn’t work.” She looked at him with a soft rueful expression. The meaning was clear. I didn’t want to get Your hopes up. Because it was true. Now that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, a type of progress he could physically point to, his hopes were up. He would get to go through his day without slipping out to fight akumas, he wouldn’t have to be afraid of doing something to set off a photographer or designer, or heaven forbid a fan. He would get to know who his lady was. This last thought brought him so much joy, maybe she would finally let him in. Their relationship as superhero partners had only gotten better over the years. Sometimes he would catch her looking at him so softly, like earlier today with the Akuma, that he was sure he would have a chance if it weren’t for Hawkmoth.

Then he remembered that it was Marinette that was doing this for him, and he felt a slight twist in his gut. What would happen to their...friendship, after this was all done for? If it turned out he was right and Ladybug actually could love him back, how on earth could he face Marinette? Their current arrangement was born out of mutual sexual frustration and several bad decisions in a row. They both knew this was temporary. She had said before that she didn’t mind that he was in love with someone else, and even seemed to enjoy it when he gushed about Ladybug. But something sat wrong in his gut. He wished, not for the first time, that he could somehow have both.

He sighed slightly and realized Max and Marinette had been talking for several minutes while he stewed in his inner turmoil. He tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear Max ask Marinette if she could talk to the superheroes sometime soon. She smiled a secret little smile and pinched his side lightly to let him in on the joke.  “I bet I can talk to them one way or another. I’ll send them your way if I see them.”

They chatted for several more minutes about the computer science and robotics course Max was enrolled in. The conversation was cut short by one of the other guys at Max’s booth calling over for him to help take down the table. They said their goodbyes and Adrien and Marinette began to stroll back to the main thoroughfare.

Adrien Asked Marinette several questions about her villain catching scheme and was surprised to learn that it had been in the works for over a year now. Marinette had spent several months compiling every piece of footage she could find of the now-iconic purple butterflies. She had worked with businesses to scour their security footage and had even petitioned the mayor to no avail. Her best resource had of course been the Ladyblog, citizens would often send in footage of attacks and any Akuma sightings. Max was now using the footage to teach an AI how to recognize an Akuma and send a notification to an app to help triangular patterns and perhaps narrow down where Hawkmoth was hiding if he was staying in one place at all. She told him all this in a low tone, in a secluded corner near a few of the noisier spots. She asked him to talk to Ladybug the next time he saw her. He readily agreed. They talked some more about placement and what to look for. His head was spinning, whether it was from the sheer amount of work Marinette had been putting into this project or the fact that he might actually get everything he’s ever wanted, he wasn’t sure.

There was one thing Adrien couldn’t get out of his head though. “Why?” He asked as they left their hiding spot to mingle with the crowds again. 

“Why, what?” She grabbed his wrist as she was jostled by a passing group. It was getting later, and more people were either splitting off to party elsewhere or congregating near a speaker they’d set up by the library.

“Why are you doing this?”

She looked at him oddly. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s just that most people just expect the superheroes to take care of it. This is the first time I've heard of anyone putting together a program like this. Why are you taking up so much of your time doing this? You could be working on your designs or catching up on sleep, or one of the million other things you do for people”

“I don’t know. I guess I just realized that Shadowmoth has the advantage. Ladybug and Chat Noir go out regularly and are at greater risk of exposure. He can sit back in his lair and have some poor citizen do his dirty work for him. This is my way of helping take back that advantage.”

He looked at her in amazement. “You’re amazing Marinette. Paris is lucky to have you.”

She turned back to him with a glint in her eye. “I could say the same for you.”

 

 

They spent the next few hours playing games, dancing, and talking to half-drunk strangers. They caught up with Marinette’s roommates after a while and were introduced to a slew of people whose names they forgot immediately. Bette continued to insist that everyone call him KItten, but he still managed to get a few of them to call him by his new secret identity“normal human man” Adi. They even ran into Olivier at one point, but Margot quickly latched on to him to ask him several questions about the program.

They also won themselves a pair of university jackets. The first was for Marinette so he could get his shirt back, to which she staunchly refused, simply shrugging the jacket over the top of the shirt -she claimed that she would have to warm up the jacket and would be too cold until then. Adrien suspected this wasn't entirely true. He would have been annoyed if it weren't for the fact that Marinette looked really good in his clothes. So he went ahead and played several games at a dart-throwing booth for the second, and when he couldn’t manage to get it, Marinette swooped in and won it in one go.

At about Midnight Adrien was exhausted, and he noticed Marinette was trying to hide several yawns behind the over large sleeves of her jacket. He fought a responding yawn.

“You look pretty tired, are you ready to go?” He asked her, rubbing his hands up and down her arms.

“No, I’m wide awake. We should stay,” she said, forcing her eyes open wider and a too-wide smile.

“Hmm, that’s too bad,” he said thoughtfully.

“What, why?”

He pulled her closer with a hand on her waist to whisper in her ear. “I was just thinking how you should come over tonight.”

He could see the goosebumps forming on the back of her neck as she turned to see if anyone was looking. They were all too busy with their own conversations to notice how close the pair were standing. “In case you forgot, I still have unpacking to do,” she whispered back.

“Do it tomorrow.” He began to play with the hem of her blouse, his fingers occasionally brushing her warm skin, a total accident off course. She suppressed a shiver. He suppressed a grin.

“We have lunch with Alya and Nino, and you wanted me to help you pick out actual decorations for your new apartment. I’m going to be busy tomorrow,” she pouted at him.

“What better way to prep for our shopping spree than to get a good feel for the apartment.” She pursed her lips, he could tell she was considering it. Time to deal the final blow.

“Plus, it would give you a chance to try out the giant jacuzzi tub I was telling you about that you’re so jealous of. I think I even have some bath bombs you could use.” Her eyes lit up with a devilish gleam, and he realized he might have been played for a fool.

“Oh, well, I supposed I could take some time for a bath. If you insist.” He chuckled.

“Let’s say our goodbyes because I insist.”

Marinette walked over to where Margot and Bette were watching Yvonne playing a very intense drinking game. She spoke quietly in Margot’s ear, who nodded and turned to wave goodbye. He waved back, and soon they were walking the three blocks to his apartment. He dropped his arm around her waist and watched out for any paparazzi lurking in corners as they walked.

He lived in a newer building close to campus, and it was one of the few concessions his father had made the nearly year-long negotiation on when and how Adrien would be able to attend University. He like Marinette had taken a year off after lycee to work full time at Gabriel. In exchange for working on the business side of the fashion house, representing his father at meetings, and taking whatever modeling or acting job his father deemed beneficial to the brand, Adrien got to study Physics and live away from the mansion. He’d only lived in his apartment for about a week and a half and had barely spent any time in it because he was busy trying to wrap up loose ends and finish shooting the romantic comedy he’d been filming all summer. It was bigger than he needed, a two-bedroom two-bathroom penthouse, and was decorated in the same grandiose and soulless style as his room had been in the mansion, but he was already finding himself enjoying the freedom. Especially as he walked Marinette through the front door. Knowing he could have someone over without his father breathing down their neck was a relief, he could almost pretend he was a normal university student.


 

 

They had been silent for most of the walk, but it was a comfortable silence. Marinette leaned heavily into his side as they entered the elevator. Once the door closed she pulled him down into a searing kiss. His back was pressed into the wall of the elevator as he pulled her as close as he could. Her hands wandered from his torso to his neck. She pulled his hat from his head and began raking her fingers through his hair. He whined slightly when she got caught in a tangle. He could feel her smile against his lips as she lightly pulled at the hair on the back of his neck. He grunted in annoyance and bit her bottom lip, pulling with his teeth. She gasped, which sent a shock down his spine. He flipped their positions and pressed her against the wall lining his whole body against hers. Both of their breathing was ragged, and he pulled away to breathe for a second as Marinette began pressing kisses to his neck. The elevator came to a stop on his floor and they jumped apart. They looked at one another sheepishly and laughed.

His apartment was at the end of the hall. The short walk seemed a lot longer with Marinette pressed against his side, her hands under his shirt tracing circles against his stomach. He fumbled for his key nearly dropping it when her hands hooked onto the waste and of his jeans.

“Marinette, you're making this very difficult.” He hissed. He finally managed to unlock the deadbolt and moved to the main lock. He paused when Marinette let out a scandalized gasp. He looked to see her wide eyes and a shocked smile. “What?”

“You missed a pun!”

“What? No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you diiiid!” She sang. “Am I making it difficult or am I making it-“

“Oh, my g- just, ugh. It’s because you're being very distracting.” He told her indignantly. He managed to finally slide the key into the lock.

“Sorry,” she was definitely not sorry, “I’m just really excited for that bath.” She said the last part softly, her warm breath brushing softly against his neck. To accentuate her point she undid the bottom of his pants in one smooth motion. He quickly pushed open the door.

“Dear lord. Just get in the apartment before I go insane.” He pulled her in, and quickly shut the door, and pushed her against it. He kissed her deeply, running his tongue along her lower lip. She pushed his jacket off his shoulders and began pulling his shirt over his head.

“Excuse me, but can you please not do this in the front room?” A nasal voice said from over his shoulder, "Some of us would like to eat our snacks in here. Unless you WANT me to eat Camembert on your pillow.”

“Sorry, Plagg.” Marinette said sweetly against his mouth.

“Go away, Plagg.” Adrien said at the same time, still pressing kisses to Marinette's lips.

“Hey, I live here too! I heard what Nino said about respecting common areas! This is a common area!”

Adrien growled, but before he could respond Marinette was pushing him backward.

“Come on. Bedroom, now.”

They stumbled their way to his bedroom, only crashing into furniture once, both still securely attached, only pausing to lose her jacket, and both their pants. He was struggling with the hooks of her top when she finally pulled away. She reached around and finished unhooking the clasps for him. He slowly pulled it away and helped her pull the blouse she wore underneath over her head. He ran his hand over the red lines where the corset had been digging into her sides. He took a moment to look at her, the way the moonlight streaming through these windows made her eyes sparkle against her flushed skin. The soft curve of her waist.

She was beautiful, he couldn’t deny it, and with the way she was gazing at him, he was powerless to stop whatever it was they were. He leaned in slowly, his nose brushing against the skin of her cheek. He could feel her panting breath against his face. He wrapped both hands around her trim waist and tossed her squealing onto the bed. He pounced after her, pinning her to the mattress. He kissed his way from her shoulder, up her neck and back to get mouth. She smiled and tried to squirm out from underneath him.

“Okay, I’m ready for my bath now. Thanks for helping me get undressed.” She managed to wiggle her way closer to the edge of the bed before he pulled her back giggling the whole way.

“Oh, no you don’t. I have something else in mind first. “ He kissed the spot just below her ear, sucking slightly. She sighed happily, pulling him closer.

“Why don’t you show me then?” She hummed against his ear.

“Gladly”


 

 

 

Adrien woke to the feeling of fingers softly running across his jawline. He cracked his eyes open to a mostly dark room and Marinette's face hovering over his with a blank expression. His head was on a pillow cradled in her lap, and he watched as her eyes followed her fingers along his cheekbones and around his lips. Her touch was so gentle he almost couldn’t feel it. When after a moment she noticed that his eyes were open and her blank expression changed to one of mild embarrassment.

“Hi.” He said, voice cracking with sleep.

“Hi.”

“Whatcha doing?” He said this teasingly, grinning slightly at her chagrin.

“Um, I was meditating. It helps to have something to focus on, and you were right there, and you were sleeping so soundly you didn’t even move when I moved your head, so I thought you wouldn’t notice or mind. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I was almost done I promise. I won’t do it again.” She moved to take his head out of his lap, her face the same signature red he remembered from their early friendship. He grabbed her hand and brought it back to cup his cheek.

“Hey, it’s okay.” He smiled at her and turned to kiss the palm of her hand. “I didn’t know you meditate.”

She stopped trying to move, but still averted her eyes from his. “Yeah, I started a few years ago after the attacks started getting worse. I’m not great at it. I have a hard time focusing most of the time on all the projects I’m always working on, but I try to do it for like 20 minutes every day before bed. I don't really talk about it.”

“Why not?” “I guess I’m just worried people are going to think that if they meditate then they won’t get akumatized, or that their life will get easier or better if they do it, and then have them get mad at me when it doesn’t work."

“That makes sense. It’s not true, but it makes sense.” He traced comforting circles into the back of her hand with his thumb. “Feel free to use my face anytime you need to.”

She laughed softly and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Good to know.” She paused and in a quiet voice, she murmured “Thank you. I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“You’re more than welcome, Princess. Besides, if anything it’s a good thing. I need to wash my face, or my dermatologist is going to have a heart attack. Can’t have this perfect face breaking out.” He stretched and took a peek at the windows. It still seemed like night, but it had to be quite late. “What time is it?”

“A little after 3.” He looked up at her in mild shock. “I thought you were exhausted. How are you still awake?”

“Who says I didn’t fall asleep in the bath?” She gave him a shrewd smile, and he took notice of the loose wet hairs around the back of her neck and framing her face. “Those jets lulled me right to sleep. I think I might just be in love. If you ever move I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Good to know. I’m glad it was everything you dreamt of.” It was at this point that he realized that she was wearing his clothes, a t-shirt, and a pair of boxers he never wore. He sat up to give her a pointed look. “I see you also had fun raiding my closet.”

Her smile widened. “Well, what did you expect me to do?” She batted her eyes innocently, “Sleep in my birthday suit when there was a whole drawer of perfectly good shirts right there begging me to wear them?”

“No, no. You’re right.” He leaned in until they were nose to nose, fighting a smile. “Although, I wouldn’t have minded the birthday suit.” He darted forward to press a quick kiss to her lips before jumping away. She scoffed indignantly and threw the pillow at him, which he easily dodged on his way to the bathroom.

“That’s right, go do your 20 step skincare routine like the coward you are, monsieur Model! I’m going to sleep.” She called after him. He chuckled and quickly went through his annoyingly extensive skincare routine, brushed his teeth, and put on a pair of pajama pants.

True to her word Marinette was well on her way to dreamland when he finished. She grumbled as he crawled in beside her, but flipped onto her other side to press her face into his collarbone. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, breathing in the soft floral smell of the bath bomb she’d used. He signed and relaxed into the mattress.

He was definitely going to lose.

Chapter Text

Every good game starts long before anyone makes a single move. The dance of a rivalry, an invitation, the setup, all important to the tone of a match between two opposing forces. There are stakes there, there is tension because they have years of built-up interactions to account for.

 

Love stories, and specifically a relationship akin to our two lovers, is no different. The best romantic tales are rich with interactions, history, and missteps on both sides. Romeo and Juliet, the most well-known love story in western culture, is fraught with history and hardship, and background built long before the first move is made. All Love stories begin with the smallest choices. They begin with turning left when one would normally go forward, or arriving at a party one might have stayed home for. Perhaps they began long before that. If one person had not said this or that to another, then perhaps they would never have found themselves on that crossroad. They say history spins on small hinges, and every good love story has to begin somewhere.

 

Perhaps Marinette and Adrien’s love story truly began the moment Gabriel chose to become Hawkmoth, or perhaps even further back when he met and married Adrien’s mother. That moment led to the unfortunate circumstances with Emilie’s coma and thus becoming Hawkmoth. However, that’s beside the point is it not? Because the true moment the love between Adrien and Marinette began much later. On a balcony in the evening where two lovesick teens bore their hearts to one another and came to understand the other in a better way. This moment was merely the earliest stages, the dance leading to an invitation. The invitation begins thusly.

 

It’s a hot day in Paris, certainly too hot to wear a black leather catsuit, and Chat Noir is wilting. The sun should be setting soon, but for now, the sun is beating into him, and the Akuma just won’t go down. Adrien was supposed to be studying for his final exams. Instead, he watches as Ladybug stares in confusion at a shiny polka-dotted key chain. He can see her fatigue is making her sluggish. He knows she needs time, but the Akuma is coming at them with the full force of their radiating ‘heatwave.’ The Akuma was too hot to engage with in close combat, so distraction was Chat Noir’s best tool. He jumped from his lady’s side towards a nearby fire hydrant, destroying it with a quick call of his cataclysm. The red metal gave way to black dust and water began to gush from the ground. The Akuma flinched away from the urban geyser keeping his eye on the water inching closer to them. Chat Noir saw Ladybug sit up straighter, and he swore her eyes began to sparkle like the magical anime girl he knew she was.

 

She dashed over to a nearby shop and grabbed several bottles of beer. He grinned and began using the baton to try to splash the Akuma from a distance. They began to back away from the water.

 

“Well, Helios don't you know the best way to beat the heat is a nice swim? Come on, the water feels great!” He yelled. “No! No more swimming! I need a break.” Helios yelled, a new and disgruntled lifeguard.

 

“Yeah, Chat everyone knows you just need to open a cold one with the boys!” Ladybug yelled as she opened one of the bottles with her lucky charm keychain and used the bottom of the other bottle to tap the opening. The beer began to shoot out, and Ladybug used her thumb to spray the Akuma in the face as they turned around at the sound of her voice. Startled Helios began stumbling backward, and Chat took the opportunity to slide through the water and kick the Akuma's legs out from under them. Ladybug snatched the lifeguard float that the Akuma dropped and began tearing at the vinyl plastic cover. A small black butterfly began to flutter away, but Ladybug quickly caught it, purified it, and tossed her lucky charm in the air to fix the damage done by the Akuma.

 

Ladybug and Chatquickly settled the poor victim down. Chat insisted that he be the one to take them home. Neither Superheroes had beeping timers after both reaching 18 this last year, so they often took turns helping victims after they got de-akumatized. A small part of Chat Noir taking a long cold bath, and several sugar-free popsicles. He set the person up at their front door and began the long journey home, stopping occasionally in a cool shadow. The cool rush of water from the fight had managed to cool him down slightly, but that had all gone back to the pipes once the miraculous cure was completed.

 

During one of these breaks, he heard a voice calling his name. He looked around to find an exhausted and sweaty Marinette waving to him from her balcony. He smiled widely. He hadn’t seen his friend in months. He and Alya had ended up in the same lycee, but Marinette and Nino hadn’t. Nino’s parents had found a better apartment further from the city center, and Marinette was on the other side of the boundary separating her from the same Lycee. After Alya moved, she and Nino had broken up.

 

He never fully understood the exact reasons behind it. Nino had said something about ‘long distance’, it was a ‘40 minute train ride one way', and needing to be ‘young and single’, all of which seemed like a petty excuse to him. After that, it became harder to hang out with Marinette, even when he did have the time. He didn’t realize how much he had relied on Alya and Nino's relationship to spend time with one of his favorite people until it became too awkward to try forging their own bond separate from their friends. He now only rarely saw her, and often it was during an Akuma attack as Chat Noir.

 

However, here was a perfect time to just spend a few minutes resting in the shade of her canopy catching up with a friend. And by the looks of it, she had a jug of cool water tempting him further. He vaulted over and landed on her railing in a crouch.

 

“Well, Princess! It’s been absolute ages! What can I do for you on this blisteringly hot day?” He said, crawling off the railing and posing theatrically against it. She smiled and rolled her eyes.

 

“I noticed you looked hot-”

 

“As usual,” He quipped quickly, kissing his biceps and smirking before she could continue. She scowled but chose to ignore him,

 

“and I thought you might like something to cool you down.” She pointed towards the jug of water, and he noticed a small cooler under the table she had set up as well.

 

“Well, if you don’t mind the company…” he said slowly, eyeing the condensation on the outside of the pitcher.

 

“Of course! Sit down. Have a glass.”

 

“Thank you,” he said appreciatively as he sat under the shade and picked up the pitcher. He could hear ice swirling around in there. He poured a glass and quickly drank it, the cold water biting his tongue. He quickly poured another, as Marinette offered him a popsicle from the little cooler. “Why are you out here with all this stuff? Wouldn’t it be cooler inside where there isn’t any sun?”

 

“Maybe in a normal house, but during the day when the ovens are all on in the bakery, it’s a sauna. Papa bought a little window cooler for the living room but we don’t turn it on until the ovens are off for the day. It’s a waste of energy otherwise. So I sit out here with ice water and popsicles to work on homework on hot days.” she shrugged and flipped the page of a textbook she wasn’t really looking at.

“What about you?” She asked, taking her eyes off her book for just a second to look him up and down, then quickly looking back at the text. “Why are you still out? I thought the Akuma ended like 15 minutes ago.”

 

“It did. But the gentleman who was akumatized lives pretty far away, and I didn’t want him to have to walk all that way, so I took him. I stopped to sit in the shade on my way back. It’s hot walking around in all black. It’s a magical suit, but somehow it doesn’t come with air conditioning.” He said this last bit sarcastically. He had talked to Plagg about it a few years ago, and the suit was quite breathable for how thick and sturdy it was. The problem wasn’t his suit really, it was the boy in the suit overheating and there was little Plagg could do about it.

 

She scowled, not taking her eyes off the page. “Why didn't you ask Ladybug to do it? You should have gone home and cooled down.”

 

“I know.” He traced patterns into the condensation on his cup. He could see her dark hair through the glass. He watched the way the slight breeze blew through her bangs. “I just like being out of my house.” He hadn’t meant to say it. It probably sounded pathetic. Marinette didn’t seem to pay any mind to it though. She merely hummed in acknowledgment and scribbled something down in a notebook.
“Well, feel free to be out of your house here. I’m just studying for my history exam.”

“When’s your exam?”

“Next week, it’s my last one, and the one I've studied for the least.”

“Are you excited to graduate?”

“Yes, and no.” She reached into the little cooler and pulled out a popsicle, offering it to him silently.

“Nervous about university?” He asked as he unwrapped the popsicle. He wasn’t looking at her so he couldn't see the sadness in her face, but he did hear her sigh defeatedly. He looked at her curiously as he took a bite of his treat.

“Not exactly.” She said, rubbing her arm nervously. “I’m not going.”

He nearly choked on his popsicle, “What? Why not?”

“I have things I need to do. I’m taking a year or two off. Once I'm finished I’ll go.”

“What are these all-important ‘things’?” She shifted nervously and flipped another page. He wasn’t sure she was actually reading anything with the way her eyes darted around the page. “Just some projects I wanted to get finished, saving money, stuff like that.”

She seemed to not want to talk about it, but he wanted to stay and talk to his friend but wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Thankfully, she asked him a question from her textbook, and they spent several minutes chatting amiably as he helped her study {with only slight distractions}. His heart felt extraordinarily light as she hugged him goodbye. Marinette quickly let go, face red, and began apologizing.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hug you. It’s just a habit for me to hug my friend goodbye when she leaves, and I must have just gone based on habit. That was weird, I’m so sorry.-”

"It’s fine,” He said, cutting her off. He smiled. “Thanks for helping this Chat keep his cool.”

She rolled her eyes as he stepped onto the railing of her balcony to dash away. “If you stop by enough you might actually become a cool Chat.”

He gasped dramatically, “Princess, such cutting remarks, they hurt! I think I’m feeling faint!” He brought the back of his hand to his forehead and dropped backward off her balcony. He expected her to gasp or call his name, but when he flipped and launched himself away with his baton he looked to see a very unimpressed Marinette shaking her head as he leapt away.

He ran quickly back to his house, and slipped through the window, and quickly transformed. The quiet of his room was quickly filled with the loud grumbling of his very annoyed Kwami.

“I can’t believe you made me stay transformed in that heat just to talk to your girlfriend.” He grumbled loudly from inside his cheese cabinet. “She’s not my girlfriend!” Adrien shouted back indignantly.

“I haven’t seen her in ages and we’re friends! I’m allowed to say hi to my friends.”

“Why couldn’t you say hi to her as Adrien? Trying to impress her with your superhero persona? News flash, she’s not that impressed.”

“She was the one who waved me down.”

“And you’re the one who stayed for over an hour when you should have been studying.” Adrien knew Plagg was partially right. He should have been studying, and he’d stayed longer than he should have, but he forgot how nice it was to talk to Marinette. She was funny and kind, had excellent taste in tv, books, music, you name it.

Adrien rubbed his face and sighed. He was still too hot. There was no way he would get any real studying done until he stayed in a very cool bath for twenty minutes. He checked the time and realized he’d have to study later that night because his languages tutor would be there in 30 minutes. Adrien stripped and started filling the bath. He resolved to figure out a way to talk to Marinette as Adrien sometime soon.


The rest of his week was long and packed with schoolwork, extra lessons, photoshoots, and the ever-present Akuma attacks. Saturday morning and afternoon were filled with the normal activities, but he had somehow managed to convince his father to let him have the evening off for a sleepover at Nino’s house. He was quickly grabbing a few necessities and putting them into his bag while trying to keep Plagg from packing his whole stash of stinky cheese when he heard a knock on his door. Plagg hid, and Adrien cautiously opened his door, disappointment sitting heavily in his chest. It had to be his father changing his mind about letting him go. Adrien sighed when he saw that it was indeed his father on the other side of the door looking as nonplussed as ever.

“Yes, Father?” He asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

“Adrien, I wanted to speak to you about university.” Gabriel stepped into Adrien’s room, forcing his son to take several steps back.

“University?” He asked, suddenly confused. “What about it? I applied to all the ones you asked me to and got into the best one in Paris. What else do we need to talk about?”

“Plenty.” Gabriel pulled a packet from behind his back, handing it to Adrien. He continued into the room, only sparing a quick glance at the half-packed bag on the bed, and settling himself on the couch.

Adrien looked at the packet, noticing it was a welcome booklet for the university, as well as what looked like a movie script and several different spreadsheets and contracts. Adrien joined his father on the couch and began flipping through the university booklet. He noticed a second smaller booklet wedged in its pages. It was for the physics program. His heart dropped.

“I thought we agreed that you would be studying business so you could work for Gabriel once you graduate. I did not consent to send you to the top university in Paris to study Physics.” He spat the last word out like a swear word.

Adrien’s hands were trembling. “I never said I wanted-”

“This isn’t about what you want. It’s about what's best for you.” Gabriel was very obviously restraining himself and failing.

“Being a physicist is a good career, Father. It’s something that pays well, and I enjoy it.”

Gabriel scoffed and stood abruptly causing Adrien to jump slightly. Adrien was not afraid of his father hurting him (though he definitely should be), but after years fighting for his life, sudden movements triggered his superhero fight or flight instincts. He had to physically restrain himself from putting space between him and his pacing father. “What do you know about a good career? You have one laid at your feet, one that will not only pays you well but keep you amongst the highest circle of society! Instead, you want to debase yourself with a career where you spend your free time locked in a lab begging for the funding you need to complete useless experiments.” Gabriel took a deep breath, visibly clenching his hands and jaw. “You will be studying business. I already have several important projects you are to work on during the year, and I’ve spoken to the business professors who are willing to let you attend remotely so you can take part in them.”

“Father, please!” He sounded like a child with his voice threatening to crack, not an adult who should be allowed to make his own decisions. “I want to study physics. I know it’s not what you imagined I would do with my life, but I’m an adult. Shouldn’t I have some say in my own future?”

“Your brain hasn’t even finished forming, you're barely an adult. You’ve never lived on your own, you don’t have any real-world skills. I suggest you don’t test me on this. You wouldn’t last long on your own.”

Adrien felt anger pooling in his chest. “Are you saying that if I don’t study Business and work for your company you’d kick me out?”

Gabriel didn’t say anything but gave him an emotionless look that said it all. Adrien suddenly couldn’t take it anymore. He stormed over to his half-packed bag and shoved the remaining things he’d packed into it. He then pushed several more things from his desk and closet into the top.

“What are you doing?” His father said in a warning tone.

“Exactly what you want me to do.” He said bitterly. “Leaving.”

He slammed the door behind him as he angrily pushed past a weakly protesting Natalie. He saw Gorilla on his way out the door, but his bodyguard made no move to stop him. He half walked, half jogged about a block and a half before he realized he’d gone the wrong direction. He refused to turn around and risk his father seeing him walking past the house. He ducked into an alleyway and checked the inner pocket of his shirt for Plagg.

“Kid, I understand you’re upset. I’m about a second away from doing something Tikki will yell at me for, but you need to think this through. Where are you going to live? What are you going to do for money, how-”

“I don’t know and right now I don’t care.” he interrupted. Plagg opened his mouth to ask more questions Adrien really didn’t want to talk about, so he quickly called his transformation, and began bounding across rooftops. He made it to Nino’s apartment building in less than half the time he would have if he had been driven by his bodyguard, so he spent several minutes pacing a few buildings over working on the grounding exercises he’d looked up on the internet. Once he was calm enough to thoroughly suppress any negative emotion he was feeling, Adrien jumped down into an alley and called off his transformation, and began running before Plagg could start talking again.

“AAADRIEEEN! Get back here!” he heard his kwami call after him.
“No!!” He pushed the buzzer several times, hoping that Nino was close by. He was buzzed in almost immediately and was once again on the move, skipping the elevator and running up the stairs.

“Adrien, I’m just as fast as you! I can fly. The counselor lady at school would be very upset that you’re avoiding your problem instead of talking it out.”

Adrien was slightly out of breath but was almost there. “I don’t have to outrun you. I just have to get to Nino’s. Also, I doubt I’ll be seeing her for a while after today, so she can’t be upset with me.”

He burst into the hallway and sprinted the last few feet to Nino’s door. Thankfully it was unlocked, and Plagg was no longer able to try to make Adrien think about the fight he’d just had with his father. In all honesty, Plagg was right. Adrien knew it, and it was especially concerning that Plagg actually wanted to talk about it. Plagg wasn’t exactly a big fan of talking through Adrien’s problems, so when he made the effort to do so it was always a really big deal.

Which was exactly why Adrien did not want to talk about it.

Adrien was glad to be back in Nino’s small apartment. It was small, cramped, filled with clutter, but clean and warm. He saw Chris and Nino Playing a game of Mario Kart on the couch, but was much more interested in Mrs. Lahiffe taking her signature Moroccan Chicken pie out of the oven.

“Hey, dude! You’re here early! I thought for sure the old dungeon master would keep you home for a lot longer.”

Adrien grimaced slightly at the mention of his father, but quickly schooled his features to a morse pleasant expression. “Who says I didn’t just sneak out? You know you can’t keep me pinned for very long!”

“Well, we’re very glad you could come, dear.” Mrs. Lahiffe said as Nino hooted at the game from the living room. “Would you mind helping me set the table? You know my crazy boys won’t help until their race finishes.”

“Of course!”

She handed him plates, and silverware, and brought the cups over to the small table that had been shoehorned into the small space between the living room and kitchen. He set four places on the table as Mrs. Lahiffe began bringing over dishes overflowing with food. This was his favorite part of staying at Nino’s. Hearing Nino and Chris bickering in the background while their mother lovingly set out dinner, humming a song he had only heard her sing. He felt like a part of their family, like he was wanted, rather than a guest actor acting on a stage too large to feel like home. He had to fight the moisture in his eyes, trying very hard not to think about the spectacle he’d left his house in.

He felt a soft hand on his elbow and saw the woman he considered a second mother looking at him with a soft warmth that made his heart constrict. He smiled tightly at her, and she pulled him in for a tight hug. He had to bend slightly to hug her back. He hadn’t had to do that the first time he met her, but he’d grown so much in the last year that he was taller than all of the women in his life. He wondered what it would be like to hug his own mother now that he was this tall. Would it feel foreign, like hugging a stranger? Or would he be able to sink into her arms and feel like the naive and unburdened child he’d been?

Adrien quickly pushed that thought away and hugged Mrs. Lahiffe tighter.

“Hey, quit trying to steal my mom away, dude!” Chris pushed lightly on Adrien’s hip. Adrien let go and wiggled his eyebrows at the boy to hide his internal distress.

“Too late! She’s my mom now! Maybe if you’d appreciated her more it wouldn’t have been so easy.” He joked, picking Chris up and slinging him over his shoulder. Chris squealed, squirming to get out of Adrien’s grasp.

“Oh, no Chris! You’ve done it now!” Nino laughed as he sat at the table. “Adrien’s going to put you outside in the dumpster and steal your room!”

“No!”

“Mrs. Lahiffe, I’m just going to take the trash out to the chute. I’ll be right back!” Adrien joked, adjusting his grip on the very squirmy 10-year-old as he walked toward the front door.

“That’s fine, dear. Just make sure you wash your hands after!” She called after him.

“NOOO!!!” Chris cried. It was getting harder to keep him in place because Adrien was laughing too hard. He made it to the door before Chris managed to slip out of his grasp. When Adrien took one of his hands off the back of Chris’ knees to turn the knob, Chris bucked and crashed to the floor and landed on his butt. He quickly scrambled up before Adrien could grab him again, and hid behind his mother. He was glaring at Adrien from behind his mother as he rubbed his sore bottom.

“Adrien, that’s disgraceful! You dropped the garbage all over the floor.” Nino said, fighting a smile as he dished food onto his plate.

“Darn it! I guess I’ll have to do it after dinner then.” He replied, sitting down at the table. He reached for the spoon for the vegetables when Mrs. Lahiffe slapped his and Nino’s hands away.

“Wash your hands! I know for a fact that Chris’ clothes are not clean, and those controllers are filthy!” All three boys quickly jumped to wash their hands. After all hands had been washed, everyone tucked into dinner. They all chatted happily about school and work. Adrien ate way too much and laughed hard enough to make his sides hurt, but he found himself a little sad as they cleaned up dinner. Mrs. Lahiffe asked Nino what the boys were planning on doing for the rest of the evening.

“Well, I was talking to Clara this morning, and she said that Alexandre was having an end-of-year party at his house tonight. Would it be alright if we went?”

“What kind of party?” She asked as she handed him a clean plate to dry. “Just a small one at his house to celebrate graduation. She said only a handful of people are going to be there.”

“Why didn’t I hear about this party?” Adrien asked as he put the leftovers into dishes. “Because it’s small and everyone knew if your old man caught wind of it he wouldn’t let you leave the house at all this weekend.”

Adrien scowled but nodded in understanding, Turing away so they couldn’t see his face.

“How late and how drunk are you planning to come home tonight?” Mrs. Lahiffe said sternly.

“That depends, how late are you planning on staying up to wait for us?” Nino said, walking a fine line between cheeky and cautious.

His mother put the dishes she was washing back in the sink and pointed a long soapy finger at Nino. Nino attempted a smile but it came out too wide and forced to be comforting like he probably wanted. “I am your mother. I will stay up the whole night if I have to to make sure my boys are safe. So how late and how drunk are you planning on coming home.”

“Before two and not very?” Nino said nervously.

“If it helps, ma’am, I don’t drink at parties so I’ll make sure he comes back safe,” Adrien interjected.

Mrs. Lahiffe's expression softened, and she stepped forward and placed a still wet hand on his cheek.

“You are a good boy, Adrien. You deserve to have fun.” She sighed and returned to washing dishes. “I suppose you are both adults now, and I can’t really stop you.”

Nino cheered.

“But you must listen to Adrien! If he tells you to leave or to stop, you do it!”

“You’re making him my babysitter?”

“Yes! Because you are a baby! My baby! And he is too responsible for his age. So make sure he has fun! But not too much fun. He is my baby too.”

Oh, great. Here comes the waterworks. He thought as he tried to discreetly wipe the excess moisture from his eyes.

Nino let out a loud whoop and began running to his room to gather his things. His mother quickly called him back to help finish cleaning up dinner.


The party was in full swing by the time they got there. Adrien stuck close to Nino’s side as he walked from one group to another. He had plenty of friends at the party but always felt more comfortable with his best friend by his side. It was not a “small” party. There were several dozen people Adrien had never met hanging around the house and small shared courtyard. He knew most of them were looking at him and most likely recognized him, how could they not when his face was plastered all over Paris. He wished he’d brought a disguise, though nothing short of actual magic would probably help him. Plenty of very lovely girls and a few boys tried to come to talk to him if they thought he wasn’t engaged in the conversion of whatever group he was in.

The conversation went one of two ways every time. They would come up, and say, “Hey, sorry! Do I know you?” or “Hey, pretty boy. Do you want to ditch this party and talk somewhere else?”

He would always respond with a polite, “No, I don’t think so.”

Then they would likely try to introduce themselves, and the more forward would say something wholly inappropriate, and the more sly ones would slip a little innuendo into the conversation. He would get wildly uncomfortable and would find an excuse to tap Nino into the conversation. Nino was a godsend in these conversations. With his years of DJing, he had learned the art of smooth-talking. He still used the word dude too often, but it usually worked in his favor.

The only problem with passing fawning girls off on Nino is that occasionally he would really hit it off with one of them. They would laugh and talk about things that Adrien had never been able to get them to talk about. It made him a little sad to see them be so open and interesting with someone else. They were often too busy trying to make a good impression on someone famous to be a real person.

It happened after about an hour this time, pretty quick for a party of this size, but Nino was a little drunker and a lot more smooth than usual. He left to go get a drink with his new friend Daliah and Adrien was left standing against a wall chatting with a couple people from one of his science classes. They were talking about the programs they’d been accepted into, some getting coveted spots in the best schools in Europe. As they all talked more about their plans for life after graduation his gut twisted more and more. It got to the point where he felt like he might throw up, so he excused himself. He wandered around the slightly too dark living room looking for Nino amongst the chatting groups, and the few couples making out in corners. He was about to move to the Kitchen when a loud commotion from the front door drew his eye.

“NETTIE! You made it!” Adrien saw the host, Alexandre pulling a dark hair girl in for a tight hug. He smiled wistfully. He then noticed the brunette standing behind the first girl and felt like shouting himself.

“ALYA!” he began pushing toward her as she began looking around for the source of her name. Her face lit up when she spotted him.

“Marinette! Look, it's our second favorite blonde!” She grabbed the shoulder of the girl currently being crushed by Alexandre, prying her away to reveal Marinette. Adrien quickly scooped both girls into a hug.

“I can’t believe you’re both here! It's been forever!”

“I know! I’ve missed everyone!” Alya said excitedly as they untangled themselves from their group hug. “It’s been ages since I’ve been able to make it over here for anything other than an Akuma attack, and that’s even pretty rare these days.”

Marinette rolled her eyes at Alya’s pout and shoved her face playfully. “Yeah, and it’s been ages since I’ve had a panic attack about you getting hurt in the process.”

“Adrien! Tell Marinette that I do important work for Paris by reporting on the action and that I’m always fine!”

“Well….” He thought back to all the times Alya got in the way, or purposefully put herself in danger (without the fox miraculous, of course), “Seeing as I'm only your SECOND favorite blonde, I’m going to have to side with Marinette on this one.”

“Haha! Suck it, Alya.” Marinette stuck her tongue out, and pulled Adrien in for another side hug, “It’s two against one, you have to stay safe and out of the way, that’s the rule.” Adrien laughed at the pure betrayal on Alya’s face. He squeezed her closer to his side briefly before she let him go.

“Wait, Nettie. You know Adrien?” Alexandre chimed in. Adrien was so happy to see his old friends he honestly forgot Alexandre was there, and now he’d butted into the conversation. Adrien kind of wanted to just push him away. Was it so wrong that he wanted to talk to two of his best friends for a few minutes without interruptions?

“Yeah, I do. We’ve been friends for a while now. We actually worked on that movie project I was telling you about the other day when you came to the bakery.” Marinette quickly explained. “But I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“Yeah. He abandoned us to the wolves, and now we only get to see his face on billboards.” Alya had her arm wrapped around his waist and was hugging him affectionately. He returned the gesture and laid his cheek against Alya’s head. He missed how affectionate Alya could be and was happy to bask in it.

“Uh, if I recall correctly you’re the one who moved, so if anyone was abandoned it was ME.” He said.

“NOPE. I was abandoned. You should have used your influence to get my parents not to move across town. Or snuck me into your giant house to be your live-in maid so I could stay.” She responded.

“Apologies. I can’t believe I was so selfish.”

“Oh, no. How will she ever forgive you?” Marinette said dramatically, their head back and resting the back of her hand on her forehead. Alexandre took the opportunity of Marinette stepping away from Adrien to wrap his arm around the small of Marinette's back. This move was annoying, a little possessive, and Adrien was bothered by it for some reason. Probably just because it was a weird thing to do in a group setting.

“I don’t think I can,” Alya replied, mimicking Marinette’s impression of a swooning old-fashioned Hollywood actress, and taking it a step further by pretending to fall into Marinette’s arms. “I’m too weak from this betrayal for forgiveness.”

“If the lady is weak, then perhaps the fine snacks and drinks provided for party goers will give her strength to consider it? You must be famished from your long train ride.” Alya pretended to think about it for a moment, then jumped up from Marinette’s arms.

“Apology accepted, on the condition, there are some good snacks and decent drinks.”

Adrien laughed and turned to Marinette. “Do you want me to bring you back anything? Or would you also like an escort to the snacks?”

“I can grab her something. Don’t worry about it.” Alexandre interjected before Marinette had a chance to respond.

“No, it’s okay Alexandre. I’ll go with them. I thought I saw Kai going into the kitchen and I needed to talk to her about something for my maman anyway. Besides, it looks like you guys were about to leave.” Marinette smiled kindly at him as she stepped away. She looked pointedly at the small group of boys waiting by the door, looking at him expectantly. He looked slightly put out by this development but tried to play it cool.

“Oh, that’s cool. We were just going to get some ice cream from the store and maybe get a movie to watch later when the party dies down before the stores close for the night.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “That sounds wonderful!” Marinette said happily.

“Oh, pick a good one! Nothing too sappy!” Alya said as she began pulling at Marinette and Adrien's arm. Alexandre waved pitifully as they backed away. Adrien almost found the compassion to feel a little sorry for the dude. He’d seen it plenty of times with other classmates. Marinette was an easy girl to like, with her big blue eyes, and dark black hair that contrasted beautifully against her porcelain skin. If Ladybug hadn’t come crashing into his life, Adrien would probably have been one of the dozen smitten teens vying for her attention in College. He shook those thoughts from his head and focused on his two friends as they chatted on their way to the kitchen and Alya immediately dived into the snacks and poured herself a drink.

“Do you want anything, Marinette?” Adrien asked.

“Hmm. I’m a little thirsty, do they have some juice?”

“They have cranberry juice. I could make you a vodka Cranberry. I'm very good at those.” Alya said, coyly.

“It’s literally the easiest cocktail, of course, you can make it. But no. I don’t want to drink tonight. Not with Alexandre here.” The last part of her sentence caught his attention and made his gut twist with sudden anxiety. “Why not with Alexandre here? Do you think he’d try something?” Alya asked. Adrien edged closer and kept an eye out. He knew Alexandre wasn’t there anymore, but he suddenly;y felt extremely wary.

“No, nothing like that. He’s always been a perfect gentleman. He just likes to talk a lot, and there are a lot of things I would rather he not talk to me about right now, and I don’t know if being drunk will help with that.”

“It might. You don’t know until you try! Come on! I've never seen Drunk Mari, and I just know she would be so much fun!”

“I'm sure she would be, not tonight though.”

“I think I saw some lemon soda in the fridge earlier. Let me get some for you.” Adrien said, stepping between the two girls.

“Thank you, Adrien. What a good friend, listening to what I want.” Marinette said pointedly.

Alya grumbled something into her drink that Adrien couldn’t quite catch. After all three of them had gotten a drink and Alya had grabbed a plastic bowl and filled it with several types of snacks they made their way to the back yard and sat on a few free lawn chairs in the back. They all chatted happily about school and exams. Alya was in the middle of telling a very interesting story about someone getting locked in the janitor's closet while trying to play a prank on the principal when Nino finally made a reappearance. He was walking arm in arm with the girl he had saved Adrien from earlier. They were walking towards a dark corner, and she was being very handsy. The sight made Alya stop her story mid-word.

Marinette quickly jumped up and tried to pull Alya up from her chair. “Hey, how about we go inside for a bit? Maybe I’ll let you make me that Vodka Cranberry after all.”

Alya tried to wave her away, “It’s fine. I’m happy for him. He was the one who didn’t want to break up in the first place, I'm glad he found someone.” She turned to Adrien, “How long have they been dating? She seems lovely, I hope she’s nice because he's a great dude and he deserves someone nice, and- yeah.”

“Well… I don't really know, I’m sure she's nice, but they aren't dating. They met like two hours ago.”

“Oh,” was all Alya managed to say to that. She was staring intently at her drink and biting her lip. She took several deep breaths. “I'm going to go refill my drink. Do you guys want anything?”

“Alya, we can all go inside. We don't have to sit out here anymore if you are upset. I can even take you back to the bakery if you want.” “Seriously Marinette. I’m fine. I just need a minute to breathe. I'll be back in just a few minutes.” Marinette backed away, still looking skeptical as Alya went back into the house.

She huffed and sat back in her chair, a crease forming between her eyebrows.

“Sick of the whole break-up drama, too?” He asked “Ugh, yes! She’s being weird about it, and won’t tell me what happened.”

“Nino’s the exact same way! I know he misses her like crazy, not that you’d notice after that display. He gives me some lame excuse why they broke up, looks into the distance like a dramatic soap opera character, and then changes the subject.”

“Right? She is seriously being weird about it. ‘It’s just too far, We’re too different, It’s what we both wanted, I don’t need to date the same dude my whole life, I need to branch out.’ Blah, blah blah blah. It’s all a bunch of bull if you ask me.”

They both sighed and sunk deeper into their chairs. Adrien kept sending mildly concerned glances to where he could see Nino and the girl standing very close together, and back toward the door hoping Alya wouldn’t come back quickly.

“She still loves him, you know,” Marinette said pensively.

“He definitely feels the same.”

“Ugh, I just wish they would get over whatever their problem is and get back together, they would be so much happier. I would be so much happier not having to hear about every little thing Nino used to do when they were dating.”

“Cheers to that.” He extended his cup and Marinette lightly bumped the cups against his. He sighed heavily. “They just need a little push. It doesn’t help that they never run into each other in settings where they have to interact. Then maybe they’ll get talking and realize that they were perfect for each other.”

Marinette froze and looked at him with a hint of mania sparkling in her big blue eyes. “Well, maybe a little push can be arranged.” Her smile was wide, devious, and a little frightening.

“What do you mean?”

She leaned forward practically buzzing with excitement. “I’m her best friend, and you're his best friend, so we have a lot of influence on where they go and when. Alya is always at the bakery, and she’s going to be over at my house basically the whole summer. My parents have even made up the spare room for her because she has an internship at Nadia Chamack’s news station and needs to be nearby for work. Nino will probably be so excited that you are able to hang out with him. He'd got just about anywhere. We can orchestrate a run-in whenever we need to.” She grabbed his arm and shook him excitedly. “THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES!!!”

He laughed at her manic excitement. “Okay! Okay. We can try, I would certainly love to get them back together,” He stopped. The argument he’d just had with his father rang painfully through his ears, causing him to slump. “But who says I’ll be available?”

“Pfft. We’ll work around any crazy schedule you have.” She waved him off. “Plus, you’re an adult. You have money, you can get a job. You don’t have to do everything your father wants you to. He just thinks he has leverage on you because he always has. We can figure something out.”

“Yeah, but he’s my father and despite his faults, I do love him. I don’t want to drive a wedge between us more than there already is. Although, That ship might have already sailed anyway.”

There was a moment of tense silence where Adrien was very pointedly NOT looking at Marinette and regretting saying too much about the very thing he did not want to talk about right now. He could feel Marinette’s intense gaze on him, and he wondered when she got so bold around him. It felt like she could see right through him. All she had to do was poke and the facade he had built out of balsa wood, denial, and bits of chewed-up ego would crumble, revealing the sad 13-year-old who missed his mama underneath. He honestly wasn’t sure if he could handle Marinette seeing him like that, so he reinforced the walls with pure avoidance.

Unfortunately for him, Marinette could tell he was hiding something. She lifted up her chair and placed it so she was facing him, and gently took one of his hands from their death grip around his cup.

“Did you two have a fight? Did he do something?”

Adrien’s throat was tight, easily blocking his automatic denial from slipping between his lips.

“Adrien, look. You don’t have to tell me.I know I haven’t been around all that often, so I don’t know what’s been going on, but it might help to talk about it with someone else.”

He could feel Plagg patting him encouragingly through the pocket of his shirt. He swallowed, and took a couple deep breaths, focusing on Marinette’s hand massaging his palm while she waited.

“Ye-” his voice was dry and cracked. He hated how broken that one syllable sounded to his ears. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. We fought before I left for Nino’s.”

“About?” She continued to rub his palm and the repetitive motion soothed his aching heart.

“School. He wants me to go for business and work for the company the whole time, and I-” He suddenly felt silly, but the burning in his eyes made it very hard for him to see anything. He quickly rubbed his eyes.

“And you don’t.” Marinette finished for him. He simply nodded. “What do you want to do? I know you always really like science, maybe chemistry or physics. Something like that?”

The surprise at her remembering what kind of classes he liked shocked the building tears back just enough for him to see her clear blue eyes piercing into him. She looked so concerned and so open and kind it sent a stab through his heart.

“Yeah, Physics. Apparently, that’s not good enough for an Agrest though. I’m going to spend the rest of my life ‘begging for funding’ from people who are actually ‘successful’ like a vagabond, according to my father.”

“That’s bullshit.”

He laughed at her blunt phrasing.

“No seriously, Adrien, that’s a bunch of shit, and he knows it. First of all, plenty of people make lots of money with physics degrees, and they don’t necessarily have to work at universities. Second, you probably have enough money to still be in upper society no matter what you do for work, and having an advanced degree in something other than a business makes you seem fancier, like with that American actress with a Ph.D. in Neurobiology. And third!” She punctuated her sentence by shoving her first three fingers into his face, finally breaking him fully from his gloom. “You could probably do both. You’re smart enough, and,” She leaned in conspiratorially, “Business degrees aren’t that hard. My dad went back to school part-time when I was a kid to help learn how to run the bakery better, and he said he already knew most of the things they taught.”

He found himself smiling at the mischievous twinkle in her eye. “You seem to have thought about this a lot, how about you go talk to my father for me?”

“Don’t ask me like you think I won’t. Who was the one who got him to let you go to New York? That’s right, me, so tread lightly my friend.”

“That was really cool. It’s too bad Hawkmoth ruined it,” he sighed.

“Yeah, screw him. And screw your father.” Hearing her say that sent an uncomfortable prickling sensation across his skin. He tried not to let it show, but his face must have given him away. She looked away guiltily. “Sorry, that was rude. True, but rude, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, It’s okay. It probably looks really bad to other people, but I know he’s just trying to do what’s best for me.”’

“Yeah, but what he thinks is best for you might not be right. You should be happy. You deserve to be happy. Also, you deserve to have enough time to help me manipulate our friends into getting back together for our own sanity. It’s for the greater good.”

“Hmm, I don’t know if he’ll consider helping Nino and Alya get their act together a part of the greater good. I could be doing fragrance commercials instead, and that is invaluable.” He joked.

“He will understand, he has to!!! This is a matter of life or death!” She draped herself dramatically across his lap, almost knocking his drink out of his hand.

“I doubt anyone will die if we can’t get our friends back together.” He said sarcastically, trying fruitlessly not to giggle at her theatrics.

“Oh, someone will die for sure.” She looked up at him from his lap with an intense gaze filled with more weight than he felt the situation called for. “If I have to hear how good of a kisser Nino was in that same sad defeated tone one more time, either Alya will die at my hand, or I will.”

Adrien let out a startled snort of laughter, which made Marinette start laughing.

“Oh my God, Nino is the exact same! ‘Adrien, dude. She was the perfect girl, and her butt was out of this world.’” He said, using his best Nino impression.

Marinette let out the loudest and least dignified snort he’d ever heard, which only added fuel to Adrien’s giggles. They kept exchanging mocking impressions of their best friends until they were both laughing so hard Marinette toppled off her chair, pulling Adrien with her onto the cool grass. Every time one of them started to catch their breath the other would look at them and their laughter would start all over again.

It got so bad that Nino and his new ‘friend’ came over to see what was the matter with them. Which of course made it that much worse.

“Are you guys okay over here?” he asked in concern. Adrien just pointed at Nino and wheezed, tears leaking from the corner of his eyes. “Seriously, what happened?”

Marinette let out a pained giggle and grabbed Adrien’s arm, and just whispered, “Oh, his- but his lips!”

Adrien choked on his own laughter and grabbed the shoulders of Marinette’s shirt and shook her in punishment for making it worse.

“N- No! No m- No more! I- I can’t” He managed to sputter out through laughs.

“It hurts!” Marinette cried back.

Nino looked so confused, and the girl he’d been talking with looked absolutely baffled, and a little disappointed at the crack in the perfect Adrien Agreste facade. There were others there, several curious party-goers had gathered wondering what the commotion was. Adrien was definitely starting to feel self-conscious but was trapped in a cage of his own giggles. It really wasn’t that funny, but the combination of being tired, tense, and weirdly free for a few minutes was like lighter fluid on a campfire. He couldn’t stop even as he hid his face into Marinette’s shoulder to prevent anyone filming him having a giggle fit at some random party. The sensible part of his brain reminded him it wouldn’t be good to get caught at the party, even if he had threatened to move out just a few hours earlier.

“Alya?” Nino exclaimed from somewhere over his head.

He managed to compose himself just enough to start filling his lungs. He might even be able to speak a complete sentence if he could just forget about Marinette’s face for one sec- and he was back to square one after Marinette made the most ridiculous strangled cackle he’d ever heard.

“Okay, everyone move on. You standing here is not helping,” Alya snapped at the gathered crowd, her militant tone effectively pushing them back. “And you! Delete that! I doubt your five followers will be interested in two weirdoes having a laugh. Back off!”

He soon felt Alya’s firm hand pulling him away from Marinette and rolling him to his other side. She pushed their heads apart and sat between them so they couldn’t look at one another and waited for them to calm down. Adrien forced himself to take long deep breaths. His body was starting to relax. This was probably the hardest he’d laughed since the time Ladybug had tripped off a building while they were on patrol and somehow ended up tangled in her yoyo above a large group of tourists.

“Care to share the joke?” Alya asked when Marinette and Adrien were calm enough to speak.

“Nope,” Marinette said.

“You probably wouldn’t find it funny anyway,” Adrien added.

“I don’t know, I think we would all like to hear it.” Nino cut in, his new friend had left and it was just the four of them- Adrien, Marinette, and Alya all on the ground and Nino towering over them with a stern look on his face. Adrien chuckled at his best friend as he pulled him unceremoniously to the ground.

“Hey!” He protested, but sat cross-legged in a position that looked like he was facing Adrien, but would give him a peripheral view of Alya.

“To be fair, it wasn’t all that funny. I’m just super tired so everything is funny.” Marinette assured their two best friends.

“Ah, the famous late-night Dupain-Cheng Giggles. That explains you, but what about Agreste over here. He’s usually so composed. What did you do to him? Spike his drink perhaps?” Alya accused Marinette jokingly.

Adrien noticed Nino’s eyes flicking towards Alya occasionally as they spoke, like he wanted to see her but didn’t want to get caught staring. “I’m just as tired as she is apparently. I’ve been going non-stop all week. I’m too weak to fight the influence of the late-night Dupain-Cheng Giggles.”

“We should probably get going if you’re so tired.” Nino attempted to stand but was quickly pulled back down by three sets of forceful but friendly hands.

“No!” Adrien shouted. “I’m having a good time, and I haven’t seen Alya or Marinette in ages. We’re going to hang out like old times.” He then leveled Nino with a pointed stare, daring him to say something. “Unless you have a problem with that?”

“No, no, no! That’s fine.” He said quickly. “I just don’t want you to be dead tomorrow.”

“Uh-huh,” Adrien said, unconvinced.

They ended up talking for several hours, with only a few awkward pauses between Alya and Nino, but Marinette more than made up for it. She had grown into her confidence over the last year, that was for sure. She had always been a little weird at times In college, but now she was vibrant and funny. She was still occasionally weird, but they seemed more purposeful now like she was settling into herself as a person. He grinned the whole night, even as he herded a sort of sober Nino home. As they waited for the final train of the night Adrien heard Nino sigh. Nino’s face was illuminated by the light of his phone as he stared at a picture Alya insisted they all take.

Adrien rolled his eyes and sent Marinette a single text message that simply read:

“Project DJWifi is a go.”