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Until I lose count

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The first time Adrien kissed Marinette Dupain-Cheng was a few days before Christmas.

The entire class had been in giggles all day over Rose and Juleka’s ridiculous project. With the holiday break beginning that weekend, Miss Bustier had decided that trying to hold any meaningful classes on the final day of school was a waste. Instead, she had decided to devote the day to presenting group projects on Christmas and New Year’s traditions from around the world, followed by a general class party to celebrate a successful end of term.

Most of the projects had been pretty straight forward- with pictures, decorations, and quite a bit of cultural food and snacks that the class was taking great delight in consuming. However, when Rose and Juleka had gotten up to do their presentation on English traditions, the ever romantic Rose had pulled out a giant sprig of Mistletoe.

Having traveled for years with his father for work functions and parties, especially during the holidays, Adrien was used to the silly custom. Many of his classmates though found the novelty of having to kiss someone whenever you could catch them under the pungent plant enthralling. Rose had managed to convince their teacher to let them hang it up in the doorway ‘in the spirit of cultural appreciation’. When Ivan and Mylene had accidently ended up beneath it while getting up for lunch, the students had gone into an uproar of laughter and cheers, and had guaranteed that the rest of the afternoon period would be spent trying to trap as many hapless teens as possible.

When Adrien had returned from his own lunch to find both Chloe and Lila barricading the door waiting for his arrival, he had genuinely considered the possibility of doubling back, transforming into Chat Noir, and climbing in through the window.

Thankfully, Alya had intervened, dragging Nino forward with her and causing the two girls to scatter. Adrien had snuck in behind them while she placed a playful kiss on her boyfriend. He made a point of staying glued to his seat as he watched several of his other classmates fall victim to the treacherous plant.

When the day drew to a close, Adrien was so focused on being ready to dash out the door before any of his overenthusiastic admirers that he completely missed the fact that Marinette had not yet returned from her errand of running some papers to Mr. Damocles. Which is how he found himself at the end of class literally crashing into the girl in the doorway.

His desperation must have been plain on his face, because Marinette’s turned positively scarlet as she began stuttering out apologies.

‘Really Adrien I shouldn’t have even been here. You don’t have to kiss me, you don’t have to kiss anyone! I mean unless you want to, but why would you want to? Kiss me, I mean, not anyone. I am sure you want to kiss anyone... I mean someone! I mean… oh god, just kill me now.’

Her mortification had been so charmingly endearing, as well as so opposite to the brash familiarity of the other girls, that without really thinking about the reasoning behind it he leaned down and placed a soft kiss on the side of her cheek.

“Have a good holiday Marinette.” He smiled at her and rushed off to meet his bodyguard.

He didn’t stick around and see what sort of reaction followed, but as he rounded the corner of the hall he was pretty sure he could hear Chloe howling in the distance.

The Second time Adrien kissed Marinette it was New Year’s Eve.

Although, to be fair, she didn’t know that it was Adrien. As far as Marinette knew he was Chat Noir, superhero extraordinaire, savior of Paris, and world class flirt. The last title being one that she herself had bestowed upon him not ten minutes before.

Adrien should have been home that night, locked away in his empty dungeon of a house. His father and Natalie were at a work event that his father had deemed ‘too adult’ to warrant his presence. It had been a relief not to be expected to go to yet another mind numbing high society event, but Gabriel hadn’t approved of Adrien going anywhere else that evening either.

The majority of his classmates were attending a large gala at the Grand Paris Hotel. As awful as Chloe was, it promised to be a spectacular affair- complete with fireworks, gourmet food, and even a performance by Jagged Stone.

Adrien had contemplated sneaking out and attending anyways, but he knew Chloe. The entire event would be heavily photographed, and even the prospect of a fun evening with his friends was not enough to quell the fear of his father’s retaliation.

His next thought had been attending as Chat Noir. There was some merit to the idea, and it would certainly allow him access to the party. However, as Adrien trekked over the rooftops of Paris in his transformed state, he found himself veering in the wrong direction and away from the grandly decorated building. He wasn’t sure he was in a mood to be fawned over by the adults who were sure to be in attendance, or worse be treated as a stranger, albeit a celebrity one, by his friends. Alya would surely spend the evening at his heels pestering him for an interview and Nino wouldn’t be far behind, fanboying over his favorite local superhero. As much as their adoration of his alter ego usually amused him, today it just left him feeling lonely.

So instead he found himself wandering in the direction of the school, thinking that he could maybe take advantage of the empty gymnasium to burn off some energy without having to be out in the cold. He had just landed on the roof when a small crash and a murmured curse caught his attention. His catlike senses latched on to the noise and he spun around peering out into the night for the source.

Across the street on a well-lit balcony, a small pajama clad figure wrapped in an enormous blanket was struggling to right a small table.

Marinette.

She had been sick for the past 2 days. Adrien hadn’t realized that this would almost assuredly keep her from attending the event with the rest of their friends.

With a guilty twinge Adrien also realized that he really hadn’t thought much about Marinette or her circumstances at all, aside from general condolences. While he had always counted her as one of his few close friends, they didn’t really talk much and he knew so little about her.

He tried to catalog everything he knew about the girl- she was a great designer and almost unstoppable at Ultimate Mecha Strike 3. She sometimes worked as a babysitter. She could make her own clothes and toys- although Adrien wasn’t very fond of her small collection of puppet dolls. She liked Jagged Stone and couldn’t speak Chinese to save her own life. Adrien’s mental list faltered. He couldn’t say what sort of things she did with her free time other than probably sew. He was at a loss as to what her favorite color or movie or food was. These felt like things he should be able to answer if he was really going to consider her his friend.

Changing his plans, he launched himself off of the school and silently scurried over to her cozy little balcony, landing easily on the metal railing and taking in his surroundings. He had been up here a few times due to akuma attacks, but had never really taken the time to observe her space.

The word that came to mind was charming.

There were various lights and lanterns draped across the back wall, several pots for plants, a portable electric heater seated next to a pink striped lawn chair, and the table that she had finished restoring to its proper position. A cast iron tea set and several boxes of what he guessed were snacks were scattered onto the ground, and must have fallen when the table did.

“Good evening princess.”

Marinette let out a shriek, flinging herself back around and knocking the table over again.

Adrien couldn’t suppress a laugh as her expression morphed from fear to shock to relief to irritation all in a matter of seconds. Her face was flushed, probably with fever, and her nose was swollen and puffy. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, messy and slightly limp, and with the scowl she was currently directing at him she looked a bit like a disgruntled kitten after having been caught in the rain. She was adorable.

Adrien knew that Marinette was attractive. Pretty classmates are one of those things that you can’t help but register when you are a teenage boy after all. But seeing her like this, in all of her disheveled misery, somehow took that awareness to a new and somewhat alarming level. Even at her worst she was still really, really, cute.

“What are you doing here Chat Noir?”

She tried to pull herself up into an imposing figure, but between her over sized cat patterned pajamas and the giant pink comforter draped over her like a cape she looked about as threatening as a mouse.

“Am I not allowed to stop by and say hello to a pretty girl during my travels?” He flashed her a charming grin, hoping to see if he could make her flush darker than her fevered skin already was.

Instead her eyebrows quirked, and her mouth twisted into a challenging smirk.

“Seeing as how I am sick and know I am hardly ‘pretty’ right now, either you have an ulterior motive or you are looking for easy prey and taking advantage of my weakened state.”

Her eyes gleamed with a playfulness that delighted him.

Chat hopped down off the railing and landed dramatically on his knee in front of her.

“Oh but Princess, just because you are not at your best doesn’t make you any less lovely,” he purred out, keeping his eyes locked onto hers. “In fact, one could say that your beauty sets a fever in my blood.”

He lifted her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles.

Marinette laughed and waved off his hand.

“I don’t know what’s worse, your incorrigible flirting or your puns.”

Rolling her eyes she clutched her blanket tighter around her and dropped down into her chair.

She coughed a little and reached down next to her to draw up a large mug of steaming liquid to her lips. She peered at him from over her drink, her original question plainly written across her face. What was he doing here?

Adrien busied himself by righting the table and gathering up her scattered belongings, half out of an ingrained sense of politeness and half to buy time to think of an appropriate answer.

He wanted to know this girl. He wanted to be able to say that they were friends. He wanted to banish that small, lingering doubt that tugged at the back of his mind whenever she ran away from him or refused to meet his gaze, that questioned if she still just saw him as a spoiled, unpleasant Chloe minion. But he couldn’t say any of that to her, not without revealing a lot of things that he wasn’t ready to share.

“I didn’t want to be alone,” he said at last, opting for a different truth.

Her expression softened, and she opened her mouth as if to say something before closing it again, considering.

After a brief hesitation, she ask, “Don’t you have family or friends you could be with right now?”

“It’s not like us superheroes spend a lot of time socializing between attacks you know,” he teased, avoiding the question.

“I mean your regular self. There is a normal person under all that leather and swagger,” she huffed, and he was intrigued by her lack of fascination. Clearly, Marinette was not as awe-struck of the idea of Chat Noir as she had acted during some of their brief encounters. Somehow, this made him like her more.

He grinned, and wiggled his eyebrows at her as if to contradict her assumption.

“Chat I am serious,” she pouted, “Do you really have no where better to be?”

Adrien had always been good at masking his feelings when he chose to, and he didn’t let his smile drop. But he could feel the tension creeping into his shoulders, and he knew that his cat ears and tail were betraying his calm exterior with a slight involuntary drooping.

“It’s complicated,” he finally stated, praying that she wouldn’t push the issue.

She continued to study him with a knowing gaze, but she shrugged softly in acceptance, clearly willing to let him have his secrets.

“I suppose it worked out then, I didn’t really want to be alone either.”

He felt the tension ebb away and sidled over to sit at the foot of her chair.

“Where are your parents?” He asked curiously. He had met them several times, both as Adrien and as Chat, and didn’t see them as the time to abandon their daughter when she was sick.

“They are part of the catering team for that big event at the hotel, so they won’t be back until late.”

“Oh.”

That made sense he supposed.

“It’s not that I mind being left here alone, I just wish I wasn’t sick. I had been looking forward to going out with my friends.”

She let out a sigh and he could see the small wisps of her breath against the cold night air.

“I don’t get the chance to wear anything fancy that often,” she continued, “and it would have been fun to see Ad-“ she coughed again, but he had a nagging suspicion that it wasn’t because she was sick.

She swallowed, and dropped her eyes to the ground before continuing, “I mean… it would have been nice to see everyone all dressed up.”

Adrien narrowed his eyes slightly, searching her face for any clues as to what she had really been going to say. Unfortunately mind reading was not a talent that came with his transformation.

He twisted his body so that he was facing her and propped his elbows across her lap. Resting his chin against his crossed forearms, he gazed up at her with what he hoped was an innocent expression.

“Well Princess at least you got a wonderful consolation prize.”

He batted his eyes at her and she laughed, reaching down to pet at his hair.

Adrien felt himself melt into the touch, his eyes drifting closed and his entire being snuggling into the girl. He resisted the urge to purr. She let out another surprised laugh as her fingers burrowed deeper into the blond locks, scratching and rubbing in the most delightful way. Ladybug had occasionally petted at him and ruffled at his hair before, but it was nothing like this. This was positively magnificent. Adrien heard a low blissful hum and was mortified to realize that it was coming from him.

“So are you just going to sit here all night keeping me company kitty?” Marinette asked, quietly.

“If you keep doing this, then yes,” he murmured, still not opening his eyes. He could almost sense her smiling as her fingers continued to dance across his scalp. “In fact, I think I might just stay here for the rest of the year.”

It took a few seconds for her to register his words, but he couldn’t repress a small chuckle when her fingers suddenly stopped in comprehension of his joke.

“Really Chat?”

He opened his eyes then and looked up at her unabashed. Her brow was furrowed, and her lips were pursed into an endearing little pout.

“Oh come on.” He said, “You have to admit that was pretty clever.”

“Absolutely not. You are not to be encouraged. You are a pun addict and it needs to stop.”

She glowed at him, but he could see the ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“You think I am great. Admit it,” he cajoled.

“I think I should kick you off my roof, that’s what I think.”

She was fighting to keep her scowl in place.

“You wouldn’t. After all I am the best looking guy you know,” he winked at her.

“Ha!”

The smile she had been suppressing burst forth as she laughed triumphantly. “Not even close Chaton!”

Chat frowned, his feelings conflicted between his giddiness at achieving her smile, and the sting of jealousy at her reply. He shook his head, clearing out the confusing emotions and grinned back at her, deciding to focus on the pleasant comradery of her presence instead of trying to catalogue a mental list of their mutual attractive acquaintances.

“Tell you what princess,” he said, leaning back onto his haunches and pulling his face into a look of complete seriousness. “Since you are sick I will make you a deal. I will promise to refrain from all puns and similarly humored jokes for the rest of the month. In return you will tell me every trivial detail about yourself that you can think of to keep me entertained.”

“I feel like this is a fairly one sided agreement seeing as how the rest of the month is only about another three hours.”

“It’s a limited time offer take it or leave it.”

Adrien raised his chin and schooled his features into an exaggerated version of the look of implacable disdain that he so often observed on his father. She looked at him in surprise before dissolving into a fit of giggles.

“Okay, I accept,” she stammered out between laughter.

                                       ...

They had been talking for hours. And Adrien soaked up every detail that he could about the brilliant girl before him.

Her favorite color was pink. Her favorite food was strawberry crepes with a chocolate sauce. Her favorite movie was ‘les choristes’ and her and her parents watch it at least once a year together. Her dream job was to become a top designer at Agreste fashion- Adrien had almost choked at that one- and eventually split off and have her own line. The only break had been when she went inside briefly to get more tea, and when she returned she had handed him a steaming glass as well.

They cuddled up together, side by side under her giant comforter, backs pressed against the back wall, enjoying the warm drinks and loudly debating things like the best flavor for Crème Brulee- Marinette staunchly defending the traditional vanilla while Chat fought for a Raspberry infused chocolate.

True to his word, he had refrained from making a single pun or cracking a single terrible joke. However, since he also had to be fairly guarded with personal information for fear of revealing his identity, he had largely fallen back on his second favorite Chat-ism. Flirting.

He had watched in delight as throughout the evening she had swung back and forth between brushing off his flirtations with a cutting remark of her own, and flushing prettily while stammering out replies.

His favorite trick had been cycling through various nicknames and seeing her reactions to them.

She had particularly resented being called a ‘petite ange’ grumbling about how an irritating child that she sometimes babysat for was referred to that way. Having a sneaking suspicion that he knew the child in question, he hadn’t used it again. Calling her his little mouse had fared no better.

Aside from his classic fallback of Princess, one of his better ones thus far had been Choupinette.

She had stuck out her tongue, saying that she had no intention of responding to being called a cream puff. When he tried to argue that it seemed fitting given how she actually lived in a bakery, she had restricted his access to the array of sweets and pastries she had pulled out to snack on until he agreed to let it go. He had held out for a good half hour of teasing grins and halfhearted glares before his hunger got the better of him and he relinquished the pet name.

Yet of all of the nicknames he had run through over the course of the evening, one in particular stood out as his favorite.

“Once again, I will bow to your superior wisdom ma-minette” His teeth flashed as he grinned, watching as her face darkened at the endearment. My kitten. When he slurred the words together it could almost be mistaken for her name and the irony made it even more appealing.

“You, are a world class flirt!” Marinette sputtered, poking him in the nose in an oddly familiar gesture.

“Only with you ma minette,” he smiled, dropping his head against her shoulder and swatting her hand away.

“Oh I know that’s a lie,” she huffed. “You flirt with Ladybug all the time.”

“Do I now? And how would you know?”

“You mean aside from every new video, photo and blog post?”

He laughed. “Touche. I suppose that is true. But in my defense I don’t flirt with all that many people, so the ones I do give my attention to are clearly the most amazing and the most beautiful.”

She didn’t respond or shove him back, but she turned her head away from him, and he was positive he had managed to make her blush again.

“The fireworks should be starting soon,” she muttered softly, pushing herself up from their blanket cocoon and making her way across to the far side of the balcony to peer out in the direction of the hotel.

“Do you think we can see them from here?” he asked curiously, following after her and draping the blanket back across her shoulders. She smiled up at him gratefully as though surprised by his thoughtfulness.

“I don’t know. I hope so. It’s pretty much the reason I have been up here all night.”

“Oh, and I thought you were here for my charming company,” he pouted.

“I’ll admit that may have been an unexpected bonus.”

She smiled softly up at him, her eyes sparkling in the soft glow of her lanterns, and reached hesitantly to brush a lock of hair away from his eyes. In spite of all the flirting and teasing, he only now realized just how close her face was to his.

Adrien felt his heart pound, and he stumbled away from her, grabbing one of the cookies off the table as though that had been the reason he suddenly felt the need to bolt from her side.

Flirting was a lot less scary when they didn’t flirt back. After over a year of constant rejections from his Lady, the idea that someone would look at him like they might actually appreciate the attention… it caught him off guard to say the least. The feeling was terrifying, gut wrenching… empowering. He felt like he was falling and flying at the same time.

He had never thought about Marinette in any sort of romantic capacity before. He hadn’t really thought about anyone other than Ladybug that way to be honest. He was in love with his Lady after all, so what did anyone else matter? She didn’t feel the same for him of course, but it didn’t change his undying adoration. He had simply accepted that he would spend his life pining for her, contenting himself with her friendship while she remained the perfect, untouchable ideal.

For the first time, on this small quiet balcony, with this particularly lovely girl, he found himself questioning if he had been missing out on something better.

He shoved the thoughts into the back of his mind to be examined on another day.

This was just flirting. People did it all the time and it didn’t really mean anything. Hell, Juleka had flirted with him in his civilian form on occasion, and he knew that he was definitely not her type.

Thinking of his classmate reminded Adrien of their last research project of holiday traditions, and he decided to latch onto the random topic as a way to focus his reeling thoughts.

“So, did you know that some royalty used to throw Masquerades in celebration of the New Year?” he blurted out, mentally cursing his own awkwardness.

“What?” Marinette looked at him like he had grown a second head. Well, in for a penny…

“In order to assure a new beginning you would stay masked until after the old year had passed and you had found someone to kiss you.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively and swept her up into a mock dance. His heart surged at her laugh as he swung her around the small balcony, her feet tripping over the blanket still draped across her back.

“Of course you would know all about a tradition that involves kissing,” she giggled.

“It’s a very important tradition!” he cried, scooping her up around her waist to twirl her after she tripped for the third time. She squealed in delight wrapping her arms around his neck as he spun around in tight circles.

“Once you’ve gotten your kiss, you unmask and see how good your luck was. The better you chose the luckier you would be for the rest of the year.”

He stopped spinning, but didn’t lower her to the ground. She was clutching onto his shoulders and it was playing havoc with his brain.

He should put her down. He should leave and go home and drown his malfunctioning brain in a long cold shower.

“Well that doesn’t seem fair,” Marinette said, “I don’t seem to have a lot of choices here you know.”

She pouted playfully and he swallowed, hard, finally lowering her to the ground.

“Ah,” he said, his voice sounding hoarse to his own ears, “but tradition says that we shouldn’t test fate, or else we are certain to be doomed with even worse misfortune.”

He mentally kicked himself. Where the hell had that come from?

“So does that mean you are planning on taking off your mask at Midnight?” she grinned at him.

“Nice try. But, if you ask nicely maybe I would still be willing to kiss you. Couldn’t let you be cursed to a year of bad luck after all.”

What on earth was he saying? He had clearly gone insane.

“I don’t know Chaton. Perhaps kissing you is the bad luck.”

Her words were teasing, but Adrien could swear that she was leaning in closer.

“Only one way to find out I suppose.”

It was involuntary, he closed the distance between them hovering a hair’s breadth away from her lips. His hand reached up, fingers brushing under her chin. He stopped just shy of the kiss and waited.

He could feel the hot surge of her breath against his mouth and hear the thump of her heartbeat pounding in his ears. He was frozen in this moment, unsure and surprisingly timid. Her face was so close that he could no longer clearly see her features but he could feel her. Oh god he could feel her.

In the distance, he heard the sound of the fireworks erupting. Colors flashed against his peripheral, but he couldn’t look away. He waited for her to move, to swat his nose or duck her head in a blush. Maybe just turn and watch the fireworks and act like this moment had never happened. That’s what his Lady would do. Move away and move on, letting the tension dissolve back into the comforting familiarity of friendship.

But Marinette was not his Lady, and she didn’t pull away. Instead she let out one soft whispered sound into the night.

“Chat…”

He leaned forward and kissed her. He couldn’t have done anything else if he tried. Not with her so close and so lovely and so willing. Not with the sound of his name crossing her lips like it was somehow precious to her.

The kiss was soft and hard all at the same time, and he drank in the feel and the taste of her. He didn’t deepen the kiss, but he didn’t pull away either, his hand unconsciously slipping back to delve into her loose hair. He was lost in the sensation of her lips pressed against his own- the warmth of her mouth, the flavors of tea and cookies and something indescribable clinging to her skin, the soft exhale of breath as she relaxed into his touch.

The kiss dragged on for seconds that stretched into an eternity as the winter wind dance around them, and the sounds of fireworks and celebration range out into the dark Paris sky.

He ended the kiss, but did not pull away, his mouth suspended above hers, fingers still delicately entwined in her hair. He was too close to see her face properly, but he could feel her smile radiating against his skin. He knew that his expression matched her own.

He took in a deep breath and his mind settled into one pounding though- he had never dreamed that it could be like this.

“Bonne Annee, Ma Minette”

With his last shred of resolve, he turned and fled into the darkness without waiting for her to respond.

The third time he kissed her was to prove a point.

It had been over a week since the New Year, and Adrien had been going steadily more insane for the majority of it.

Due to the massive amount of photoshoots that his father had scheduled before term resumed, Chat Noir had been conspicuously absent from his usual Paris nightlife. Luckily, there had been a lull in akuma activity as well, so he wasn’t overly concerned that his absence would have been noted by anyone other than perhaps Ladybug.

The first day back to school should have been a relief. He arrived halfway through the morning period after a particularly annoying shoot. Yet, when Adrien entered the room looking forward to a return to the pleasure and normalcy of school life, he knew immediately that something was wrong.

The entire class had turned to stare at him, which wasn’t overly surprising seeing as he was a good two hours late. But this time their gazes lingered just a little too long.

Several of the girls were smiling and giggling, turning to each other and whispering while flashing him amused glances. Even the guys were acting strangely. Kim gave him a knowing nod and a thumbs up, and Nathanael seemed to turn even redder than his hair as he turned to look resolutely out the window.

He slid into his seat besides Nino as the teacher resumed the lesson, raising an eyebrow at his best friend and silently asking for an explanation for the strange behavior.

To Adrien’s relief, Nino seemed to be unaffected and was looking at him with his usual expression of chill amusement.

With the practiced nonchalance of someone who often ignored his lessons in favor of gossip, Nino pulled open a writing program on his table at quickly penned out ‘hey dude, did you see that new magazine article about you they released today?’.

Adrien rolled his eyes, comprehension dawning. Sometimes it was easy to forget that his classmates still saw him as Celebrity Model Adrien Agreste, and not just normal Adrien. So that’s why everyone had been acting so strangely.

He had forgotten all about the stupid article. A new one would get published about every 4 months for some publicity campaign or other, and he had stopped bothering to follow them back when he was thirteen.

They had received an advanced copy back at the house two weeks ago, and when his father had read through it and had no complaints Adrien had simply ignored it as usual.

He wasn’t shocked that so many of his classmates would want to check it out however. The article was for a teen entertainment magazine and had been all about his new life as a “regular student.”

A photographer had come to the school and done an official shoot as well as followed him around for the better part of an afternoon for some candid shots, and they had done several quick interviews with some of his classmates to go along with the in-depth interview that would be printed alongside the photo spread. Of course they would want to see who had gotten quoted and what was said.

He pulled out his own tablet and replied, ‘of course not, you know I don’t ever read these stupid things. Why, should I be worried?’

Adrien had barely had time to finish penning his response when Nino plucked the tablet from his hands and swung around to shove it under Alya’s nose with a knowing smirk.

‘I told you so’, he saw Nino mouthing to the irritated girl. Alya stuck her tongue out at Nino before casting a smile at Marinette and patting her one the shoulder comfortingly. Adrien found himself following her gaze.

Marinette was looking at the tablet in front of Alya her shoulders sagging in what looked like relief, an adorable blush staining her cheeks. When she notice him watching her, she let out a small squeak, hunching over and pretending to be engrossed in her own notes.

Adrien raised an eyebrow. That was an odd reaction. Then again Marinette had always been odd around him, and he still couldn’t understand why. She certainly didn’t act like that when he was Chat.

Thinking of Marinette and his alter ego brought a matching pink flush to his own face. He had tried desperately not to think too much about his last encounter with his classmate since the holiday, with little success. The easy banter, playful teasing, and especially that single heart stopping kiss, had been clawing at his brain through every boring photoshoot and every lonely night. But the euphoria of the experience was mingled with the overwhelming guilt that he felt.

Adrien had no business lusting after his classmate. His affections had long been engaged elsewhere, and Marinette had never show any sort of romantic interest in either of his identities. He had taken advantage of her, and he was ashamed of his own weakness.

Nino elbowed Adrien in the ribs and he realized that he had been staring at Marinette in the middle of class. He spun around, planning to return to his own notes before realizing that his tablet was still sitting on Alya’s desk.

He pointedly ignored the snickers he heard from his classmates as her turned back once more to retrieve his neglected notes. God, he was pathetic. No wonder Marinette hated him.

No she didn’t hate him. She had never been anything but a warm and supportive friend, despite her often bizarre behavior towards him.

Still, he should probably go and apologize to her as Chat now that he had some free time. He owed her that much after his appallingly stupid behavior on New Years.

“Dude, you ok? You wanna talk about anything?” Nino whispered, looking at Adrien with a concerned, yet somewhat amused, expression.

Adrien didn’t answer, and instead concentrated on the lesson. He already knew it all of it from his studies with Nathalie, but it was a convenient enough excuse. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Nino passing notes back and forth with Alya, but he pretended not to notice.

The rest of the class passed uneventfully, and he was feeling much more composed when Nino suggested that Adrien join him and the girls for lunch at a small café that Alya wanted to try.

Adrien turned to look back at the girls with a smile that he hoped came across as friendly and not desperate.

“Yeah that sounds great.” Adrien said, watching as Alya beamed. Marinette half-smiled as well, her face flushing prettily when she finally met his eyes, her sketchbook that she had been holding tumbling unceremoniously to the floor with a loud thud.

A shrill high-pitched laugh filled the air and Adrien saw Marinette’s face pale.

He turned in the direction of the sound, and saw that Chloe had wandered over to the side of his desk, Sabrina glued to her side like an obedient puppy.

“Oh Marinette, look at you dropping trash all over the floor like the worthless garbage you are.”

“Chloe!” Adrien gaped. He was used to Chloe’s unpleasant behavior, especially towards her least favorite classmate, but this seemed unprecedented even for her. She continued to glare at Marinette like she hadn’t even heard him.

“What?” she simpered, “Can your poor brain not handle even basic tasks when a boy acknowledges your presence? After all it’s not like everyone doesn’t already know that you can’t hold a conversation when you try to flirt. Or maybe you think that pathetic and incompetent is an attractive look.” She looked pointedly at Adrien, though he for the life of him couldn’t figure out why she was singling him while simultaneously ignoring him.

Chloe took the sketchbook that Sabrina had retrieve from the floor and flung it down in front of Marinette, who looked angry, but also terrified. It was not an expression that Adrien was used to seeing on her when faced with Chloe’s wrath, and he wondered what was going on to warrant such a reaction.

“Chloe that’s enough, what is wrong with you?” Adrien tried again, reaching out to put a hand on Chloe’s arm, but she shrugged him off, her eyes never leaving Marinette’s face as she pressed on.

“Really Marinette it’s incredible that no one else had noticed what a helpless little klutz you are, with your stammering and tripping and unwanted attention. And here I thought you were supposed to be so…” Chloe’s lips curled into a malicious smile “extraordinary.”

Marinette’s eyes locked onto Adrien's and he felt at a complete loss. She looked like she was on the verge of tears, and he had no clue what was even happening.

He could hear Alya and Nino sputtering indignantly in the background, but for some reason they seemed just as unsure as to how to respond to Chloe’s outburst.

“What nothing to add? Maybe hoping to put off the inevitable let down a little longer? Poor Marinette. Don’t worry, I am sure someday you will find a sucker who might actually like you.” And with that Chloe turned and flounced away.

Sabrina laughed cruelly, waving the magazine she was holding at Marinette’s face as she trotted off after her friend.

The room was silent for a few moments, the majority of the class frozen, staring in the wake of the small drama.

Marinette still hadn’t taken her eyes off of Adrien.

He swallowed, and blinked.

The loss of connection seemed to send a jolt through Marinette. She shuddered, gasping for air, as she shoved her way out of her seat and ran out of the classroom, Alya hot on her heels.

Nino cast Adrien an apologetic grimace before gathering up both girl’s belongings, as well as his own bag, and hurried out in search of his girlfriend. The rest of the class slowly shuffled out of the room leaving Adrien behind, lost in his own confusion.

...

Marinette didn’t return after the lunch break.

Based on Nino and Alya’s downcast looks when they rushed in as the bell was ringing, their attempts to cheer her up had been unsuccessful.

Adrien was worried. He had seen many of their classmates Akumatized over similar situations and he didn’t know if he could handle watching some corrupted form of Marinette terrorizing the streets of Paris.

The rest of the school day passed in a blur. He had failed spectacularly in defending her as Adrien, but perhaps she would be willing to be comforted by a superhero.

He raced out the door as soon as class ended, not bothering to wait for his other friends and ignoring Chloe’s cry for him to wait- as if he wanted to so much as look at her at the moment. He fidgeted the entire ride home, and for once wasn’t bothered by the lack of company as he hurried to his room to drop of his supplies. Even Plagg offered little resistance when Adrien told his Kwami that he needed to transform, and in a few minutes he had raced his way across the Paris skyline towards a now familiar Bakery.

He saw Nino and Alya hovering outside the entrance, leaving from another unsuccessful attempt to talk to their distressed classmate.

Adrien’s anxiety grew. Marinette didn’t seem the type to turn away her friends, and perhaps an unexpected visit from him would be just as unwelcome. He could only hope that the friendship that she seemed to feel for Chat hadn’t been destroyed by his forwardness at their last meeting.

He landed softly on her roof and realized that he had no idea what to do next.

He could hear her, stomping around in her room below him, the muffled shouting letting him know that she seemed to have graduated from tears to anger. He hoped that that was a good thing, although he couldn’t really be sure.

He hesitated over the trap door to her room. He had enough sense of propriety to know that it would be beyond invasive to simply slip inside. Should he knock? Then what? How could he even approach this? Chat Noir hadn’t been present for anything that had transpired as far as she was aware, and Marinette was sure to suspect something if he starting banging against her door asking if she was alright.

Adrien cursed himself for not thinking anything through before he rushed all the way over here. Yet, in spite of everything he also knew that he needed to see for himself that she would be ok. He was clever, he would think of something.

Adrien’s gaze fell on the row of potted plant holders sitting on a small ledge. Ignorring the voice in his head that screamed that this was a terrible idea, he stepped over to the nearest pot and purposeful shoved it off the side of the ledge. It shattered with a satisfying crash.

The sounds from the room below halted and then he could hear her scurrying up to check on the source of commotion he had caused.

Well he had successfully gotten her attention. On to phase 2.

Adrien dropped to his haunches next to the broken pottery and schooled his expression into an apologetic pout, the perfect picture of a contrite kitten.

Marinette popped up out the trap door, a crumpled magazine clutched in her hands, and looked around, her mouth opening in surprise at the sight of her uninvited guest.

She had changed into a pair of comfortable looking leggings and a large oversized sweater, but her face was streaked with dried tears and her hair in disarray. It took all of his considerable self-control not to rush over and bundle her into his arms.

“Chat, what are you doing here?” She breathed out, her eyes wide.

“I am truly sorry Princess, I have been paw-sitively kneed-ing to see you but alas my schedule has kept from your side. In my haste to bask in your magnificence I seem to have murdered one of your plants."

He gazed up at her with the same sad sheepish grin that had always gotten him extra snacks from the catering girls at his father’s company.

He knew he was laying it on a bit thick, but he was rewarded for his nonsensical behavior with a small laugh and a pleased smile.

“It’s ok.” She said quietly, climbing the rest of the way out onto the balcony and perching on the spot where the plant used to sit. “I was thinking about trying to grow something new this spring anyways.”

Adrien stood and leaned against the wall next to her, flashing her his most engaging grin.

“I am awed by your generous understanding.” He bowed slightly and he felt himself let out a sigh of relief when she rolled her eyes at his antics. At least Chat seemed to make her happy.

“So tell me Ma Minette, do my eyes deceive me or has something happened to upset my dearest friend?” He tried to keep his tone playful but his voice softened in concern.

“Oh so I am your dearest friend now?” She retorted, avoiding the question.

“Well… don’t tell Ladybug.” He said with a wink. “My Lady, for all of her amazing qualities can be a bit on the jealous side. Although, alas, she rarely bestows such favor on me.” He elbowed her lightly in the arm still smiling, hoping to charm her with his teasing.

She blushed, a soft secretive smile on her face. “I don’t think you need to worry about me talking to Ladybug.” She looked up at him, biting her lower lip distractedly. The happy glint was back in her eye, despite her earlier distress.

Chat felt himself relax, knowing that she was in no real danger from Papillon’s akumas today.

Still, he had been successful thus far in cheering her, and buoyed by his success, decided to press his luck.

He turned to face her, brushing the back of his hand across her cheek.

“Please tell me what’s wrong.”

The words are soft, barely more than a breath, but he knew she could hear him as her breath hitches. She didn’t pull away and neither did he.

Instead he waited, his eyes fixated on her downcast expression, his hand slipping back to brush a strand of loose hair behind her ear.

Shakily, she handed him the mangled magazine she was holding. He took it absently, still waiting for her to speak.

“There is…” She started but cuts off, instead stares down at her hands as she took in slow, shaking breaths.

“Are you familiar with Adrien Agreste?” she asked, softly.

Adrien had never been quite as thankful for his years of modeling as he was in this moment. His expression didn’t waiver in spite of his surprise.

“I may know who he is,” he said evenly.

“He goes to my school. Is in my class actually. I… well… an article came out about him today and I was, sort of, mentioned in it. Well Chloe, you remember Chloe, she… she didn’t like it very much…” Marinette trailed off her eyes watering again.

“Ah yes, Chloe does seem to have a tendency to stir up trouble.” He placed a hand softly on top of hers and said, “What did she get upset about this time?”

She looked up at him and opened her mouth but then just shook her head staring down at the magazine he had forgotten he was holding.

“May I?” Adrien asked hesitantly. She nodded, not meeting his gaze.

He opened the magazine and flipped through until he found the Article in question. It was an impressive 8 page spread and Adrien found himself marveling, not for the first time, that anyone would care that much about his variously activities.

Most of the article was photos of him looking ‘casual’. If perfect lighting, subtle makeup and top line exclusive designer clothes could really be considered casual. There were a few shots of him with his classmates peppered in as well, along with the standard forgettable interview questions that he had answered with the same practiced responses he always gave. He skimmed through the pages quickly, looking for whatever it was that could have ignited Chloe’s ire and on the last page found what he was looking for.

The page header was titled ‘Paris’ Hearthrob off the Market? Who is Adrien’s secret love?’

Adrien felt a knot form in his stomach. Oh no. Oh no no no.

He quickly read through the piece. It was clearly meant to be filler, with snippets from the interviews that they had gotten from his classmates. A few compliments, a sweet quote from Rose saying that the class seemed “complete” now that Adrien had joined their ranks. About halfway down however, the tone changed as the author focused in the interview they had had with Nino.

“Adrien is great, he’s the best friend I’ve had and of course everyone love him. Especially the ladies. Although he only has eyes for one girl, ya know?” When asked for further details, this loyal friend refused to give us any helpful hints. (“I can’t man it’s the bro code!”) However we are hopeful that this mysterious new sweetheart may not be too far away! In our observations of Mr. Agreste, he was seen often in the company of the lovely Marinette Dupain-Cheng. An aspiring fashion designer herself, Miss Dupain-Cheng is no stranger to celebrities having been hailed for her work on Rock Star Jagged Stone’s most recent album cover. She also was the winner in a design contest for none other than Gabriel Agreste! Perhaps this was the beginning of a more personal relationship between these two classmates. Adrien mentioned Miss Dupain-Cheng as one of his closest friends but declined comment on any romantic entanglements. Perhaps Paris’ golden boy has finally met someone who has captured his attention? Only time will tell dear readers, but for now we will have to simply keep an eye on our favorite fashion star and his extraordinary friend.

Underneath the article was a large candid photo of Adrien and Marinette, with a caption ‘has Adrien found true love?’

It was a casual shot, taken from a distance and zoomed in from the look of it. On a professional level Adrien had to admit it was a great choice.

They had been outdoors so the lighting was soft and natural. He was turned towards her with a smile, and she was looking up him questioningly, a becoming pink blush across her cheeks. It was the kind of innocently romantic shot that was popular with teen formal wear and jewelry ads. He had done enough of both to know.

Nothing about the conversation they had been having at the time was the least bit romantic. If he remember correctly, he had been telling her that they should start sitting on the same side of the table when they all went out to lunch to avoid any more uncomfortable mishaps if Alya and Nino attempted to play footsie. But as was often the case with photography, reality wasn’t a requirement to get a good shot of whatever you needed to sell.

Well, no wonder Chloe was so pissed.

Adrien closed the magazine and tossed it over his shoulder in disgust. He had always hated these stupid gossip articles for this exact reason. He turned his attention back to Marinette who was gazing at him expectantly.

He was about to apologize when he remembered that he wasn’t talking to her as Adrien, he was talking to her as Chat. Chat, who had no involvement in this particular crisis, and who still shouldn’t know anything about what Chloe had said in the classroom earlier that day.

“So…” he cleared his throat awkwardly. “I take it that Chloe doesn’t agree with the newest celebrity gossip?”

Marinette laughed, but it was an empty hollow sound.

“No she doesn’t. It was awful. It was hard enough with the rest of the class teasing me, especially because…” she choked on her words casting him a nervous glace that he didn’t entirely understand.

“Because what?”

“Nothing. It’s not important. The point is, that it all might have been ok except for Chloe. She was terrible, and she…” Marinette trailed off again her voice dissolving into a whimper. “Adrien was just sitting there staring at me. He must know… he must think I am so pathetic.”

A few tears spilled down, and this time Adrien didn’t resist the urge to pull her to him.

“Oh Marinette, please don’t cry. It’s not that bad.”

Adrien knew he was out of his depth as he clumsily patted her back. His only experience with crying girls was Chloe’s manufactured sobs, which were always instantly silenced with a compliment or gift. But this was no practiced display. The girl was genuinely upset over her perceived humiliation at being the center of such unwanted attention.

It was all his fault and there was nothing he could do about it.

Adrien silently cursed his career, his father, and his own lack of ability to control his own life. He should have at least taken the time to read the damn article so that he could have warned her.

He continued to hold her as she cried, hands rubbing circles along her shoulder blades or gingerly patting at her head muttering platitudes stolen from movies and television shows. It seemed like the type of thing Alya would do, and it wasn’t like Adrien had any better ideas.

“I’m never going to be able to look at him again!”

Marinette’s muffled voice reverberated against his chest and he pulled back slightly to look at her, hands still lightly clasping her arms. Was she was worried about what he, Adrien, was going to think of her? She should be the one hating him, not the other way around.

“Marinette,” he stuttered, “Do… do you think… do you think Adrien is going to blame you?” He felt a little guilty talking about himself like this, but he pressed on anyways. “I mean, did he do something to make you think that? Upset you somehow?”

“No, of course not! He wouldn’t…” she stammered her tears finally slowing down and her breathing falling into a steady rhythm. “He’s not like that. He might be famous but he’s actually really nice.”

Adrien let out a breath that he didn’t realize he had been holding.

“So if he isn’t going to be mad what are you so upset about? After all it’s just a stupid magazine article, half of what they write is lies, and everyone knows that.”

“You wouldn’t understand Chat.”

“Try me.”

He wanted to understand. He NEEDED to understand.

Her words were so soft and mumbled that if he hadn’t had his cat ears he wouldn’t have been able to hear them.

“Chloe is right, I’m not the kind of girl that boys like him want to be lumped in with.”

“WHAT?” Chat staggered backwards, stunned. What kind of stupid logic was that? Was she even being serious?

“I’m not exactly special Chat. I’m not famous, or pretty, or… or noticable! I’m clumsy, and forgetful, and half the time I can’t manage to hold a normal conversation with a boy I claim to be in love with! Even the guys who do get crushes on me tend to get over it as soon as a better option comes along.” Her voice was pained but there was a small trace of defiance in her eyes, like she was daring him to disagree with her own irrational self loathing.

“That’s… I mean…you’re crazy!” Adrien finally blurted out.

“Oh really?” she glowered, fueled by her misery.

“Yes! Trust me, there is nothing wrong with you.”

He knew that his face was probably turning bright red behind his mask but he didn’t care. Didn’t this girl have any idea the effect she had on people?

“You’re just saying that because we’re friends and you’re feeling sorry for me.” Her voice was still angry and bitter but he could hear the layers of hurt buried underneath the spiteful words.

“No, I’m saying it because it’s true!” He matched her tone, his own frustrated feelings rising to the surface at her unfounded self-doubt.

“Says the boy who couldn’t run away fast enough after he kissed me!”

Her eyes widened and she slammed her hands over her mouth. Her expression was one of absolute horror, as if she had accidently revealed the secrets of the universe and was waiting for judgement to rain down on her from the heavens.

All of his irritation left him as he saw the raw insecurity written across her crimson face.

She thought he didn’t want her.

Adrien stood rooted to the spot, his mouth hanging open like a fish. She thought that he ran off because he didn’t like her. She genuinely believed that their encounter was just some game, or worse, that he had found her unappealing.

He would have laughed at the irony if he didn’t feel so mortified. He was an idiot, an unforgivable leech who deserved to be dropped off the top of the Eiffel Tower.

No wonder Chloe’s words had affected her so badly. She had felt abandoned and unwanted. It was a feeling he was all too familiar with.

“Chat it’s alright.” Her voice was resigned and frail, and his heart broke at the sound. “I didn’t mean to make you feel… I know that we aren’t like that… I mean, we’re are just friends, and it was just stupid…I mean, I know I’m not-“

He surged forward cutting off her apologies with a bruising kiss.

This was nothing like their last encounter. He ruthlessly squashed his doubts and conflicted emotions and poured himself into the embrace with only one goal, to prove to this girl that she was desired.

The kiss was harsh and greedy, and he ravaged her mouth, pulling on her lower lip with his teeth. His arms crushed her body to him pulling her chest flush against his, her legs straddled on either side of his waist. His hands roamed across her back learning the feel and the curve of her shape as he continued the onslaught. He ran his tongue across her lips he moaned when she parted hers, allowing him to deepen the kiss.

Adrien didn’t hold back. He offered every repressed desire, indulged every rationalized fantasy, laying bare his raw, undeniable attraction for this girl who deserved so much better than anything he could offer. His heart might be conflicted, but his body had no such misgivings.

When they finally broke apart they were both gasping. His hands were still wrapped around her body and he could feel her trembling. He lifted a hand to cup her cheek and held her starry eyed gaze.

“No matter what else you might think, never doubt that I want you.” He didn’t look away, and he knew that she could read the hungry fire in his eyes. Her own blue eyes widened, flashing with hope and pride, and a matching heat that made him itch to dive back in and kiss her until she was as dizzy as he felt.

Marinette’s hand lifted to his face, her fingers lightly tracing his lips.

The feather soft touch shattered his boldness and Adrien buried his face in her neck. All of the emotions he had stifled flooded his mind, and he knew that he had crossed a line that could never be redrawn.

What had he done? This wasn’t something that he could write off as a friendly gesture or an exuberant holiday tradition gone overboard. He was lusting over his friend in the most primal way, and he was overwhelmed by his own confusion and lack of experience.

Marinette’s fingers threaded through his hair in gentle strokes, and for a few minutes they simply held each other in silence.

“Chat?” She asked at last, not breaking the steady rhythm of her fingers, “Did you really mean that?”

“Yes.”

“Is… is that a problem for you?” Her voice was soft and steady, curious as opposed to judging.

“Yes.”

He kept his head tucked into the crook of her neck.

“Why?”

“Because, I’m in love with someone else.”

He didn’t bother to lie. Maybe she was the worst possible person to be telling these things, but he didn’t really have many other options. “I wasn’t lying to you when I said I didn’t flirt with many people.”

He took a deep breath and let it out in a single long shudder. His arms were around her waist and he held her tighter, praying that she would understand. “I have no idea what I am doing, and I don’t think I will ever forgive myself if I hurt you. It’s bad enough that I’ve already betrayed My Lady.”

“I didn’t know that you and Ladybug were involved like that,” she said, her words carefully measured.

“We aren’t.”

He knew that he sounded bitter but he couldn’t really bring himself to care. “I said I betrayed her, not that she would care.”

Her gentle ministrations stilled at his words.

“Chat, I’m sure that she cares.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, ma minette, but most people don’t court bad luck and My Lady is no exception,” he sighed and muttered, “Besides, she already likes someone else.”

Marinette’s fingers returned to their gentle stroking as she pondered his words.

“You know, its ok to like more than one person.”

He looked up at her, surprised by her words.

“If the person you like doesn’t like you back, I think it’s ok to like someone else too. Maybe… maybe the feelings are still there, but that doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong. After all, you can’t help having feelings, and it’s not like anyone is breaking any promises, right?”

Somehow he got the feeling that she was talking about more than just his problems.

“I suppose I didn’t really think of it that way,” he said with a soft smile.

The fourth time he kissed Marinette, she was the one who kissed him.