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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.

Chapter Text

The eighth time he kissed her should have been a warning.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and for once Adrien found that his schedule had not been filled to the brim with business obligations or extracurriculars.

He and Nino had made plans to meet for dinner, but his friend was attending some museum exhibition with Alya beforehand so Adrien found had a few hours to kill.

He smiled to himself, as he had a sudden realization. If Alya was on a date, it meant that Marinette was probably at home. Perhaps she, like him, could use some company.

He had only seen Marinette once since their spectacular make-out session on the first day of term and he was impatient to see her again.

Actually, that was a bold faced lie.

He had seen Marinette every day at school in his civilian form. He had even managed to have an entire conversation (no stuttering!) with her on Wednesday, which had left him feeling victorious and giddy. At least until the akuma arrived.

Well, he had the time now.

He dug into his bag to wake his sleeping kwami. He had somewhere to be.

“I am starting to think this is becoming a habit, Chaton.”

Her voice was teasing but he could tell from the smile plastered across her face that she was happy to see him.

“Well I was in the neighborhood.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes. Your house was only 20 or so blocks out of my way so I figured why not stop in and see my dearest friend.”

She laughed a little and climbed up onto the balcony. “You know, you could just knock, instead of murdering my plants,” she said as she eyed the fresh pile of dirt and shattered ceramic.

“It was an accident!”

She raised an eyebrow unconvinced.

“I’ll buy you new ones,” he muttered. He could feel his cheeks flushing and he toed at the ground with his boot.

She leaned against the wall next to him, close enough that their arms were touching.

“So, are we going to talk about Wednesday?” she asked, shifting slightly so that her head lolled against his shoulder.

“Wednesday? It’s a perfectly acceptable day of the week. Not as impressive as Saturday, but not as boring as Monday either.”

She reached up and smacked him lightly on the head.

“You know exactly what I am meant you mangy Alley cat!”

“I am not mangy,” Adrien countered indignantly. “In fact some people say that I shower to an excessive degree.”

That was true. Nino teased him about it frequently and it didn’t help that showers had somehow become a convenient go to excuse for his random disappearances or extended silences in text conversations.

“Chat...”

Her voice was stern and he knew that she wasn’t in the mood to dance around the subject.

“Alright, Wednesday it is. You still owe me a thank you by the way.”

He knew what she really wanted him to bring up. It certainly wasn’t the short conversation she had with Adrien before class about their Literature assignment. It wasn’t even the akuma attack at the school. After all, at this point the students at Collège Françoise Dupont had come to find the act of fleeing from the monster of the week almost routine, given the frequency with which they were targeted.

Adrien had been out in the hall already when it started- some teacher from another year ranting about pay raises. He had quickly ducked into a hall closet and transformed.

The akuma had been a particularly destructive one, creating cracks and fissures in the floors and sending the furniture flying.

In the midst of the chaos he had seen his classmates, led by Marinette, desperately trying to evacuate the building as chunks of the ceiling began to crumble around them.

He hadn’t hesitated as he rushed over, his first priority getting them out. He could deal with the akuma when his friends were out of harm’s way.

The stairways leading to the exit had already been completely demolished. Smashing out one of the second story windows, Chat began shepherding the students down his baton like a fireman’s pole to the relative safety of the streets below.

The entire process had been surprisingly difficult. Ivan had needed to piggyback Mylène down due to her fear of heights. Chloè had flatly refused to go until he hinted that if she stayed the debris and plaster dust would ruin her hair. Worst of all, Chat had been forced to keep Marinette’s wrist in a vice like grip throughout the entire process, as she relentlessly tried to run off to look for any other stranded students. As much as he admired her bravery, he would be damned if he let her get crushed for her heroics.

When the last of their classmates had been safely lowered down, Adrien scooped up the protesting Marinette and leapt from the window, landing easily in the midst of their peers.

“Chat put me down right now!” she had all but howled in protest, “I have to go help, there might still be people in there.”

He put her down, but didn’t let her go completely, instead cradling her face with both hands, the sudden intimacy silencing her momentarily.

“Marinette, I will take care of this, I promise, but you have to stay here.”

His voice was steady and clear and he glared at her with a fierce determination that would brook no argument. “You have my word that everything will be alright, but I can’t do this if I don’t know you are safe, so please, please, just let me do my job.”

Her mouth opened like she was going to argue but her eyes filled with a look of tender affection. After a moment she simply stepped back and nodded silently.

He could see the curious stares of their classmates as they watched the exchange. Alya had her cellphone camera trained on the scene and looked like she was about to explode from excitement. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Chloè, looking like she was about to explode for a whole other reason.

Seeing Chloè’s seething gave him a terrible, delightful idea.

Without giving her any warning, in case she wouldn’t play along, he wrapped his arm around Marinette’s waist pulled her to him and placed a deliberate, deep kiss directly on her lips.

“My Darling Marinette,” he crooned dramatically, breaking the kiss and stepping away from her, but still grasping one hand in his own, “you must never doubt that this poor sucker adores you.”

He shot a quick malevolent glare in Chloè’s direction before returning his attention to Marinette, making a show of bowing over the hand he was still holding.

When he looked up into her surprised face he felt his entire body go warm at the grateful amusement that filled her sparkling blue eyes. He shot her a conspiratorial wink before dashing off after the akuma.

That made seven.

“Do you have any idea what the last two days have been like for me at school after that little display Chaton?” Her voice was sullen, but he couldn’t detect any real malice in her tone.

Adrien had a very good idea what the last two days had been like. Honestly it was some of the best fun he’d had in ages, fighting to hold in the cat like grin that was constantly trying to break out across his face whenever their classmates pestered her about her new ‘suitor’. Both Alya and Nino were over the moon about the whole affair, begging Marinette for details about how the whole thing had come about, as well as drilling her as to the nature of her relationship with her leather clad admirer.

Adrien had unashamedly turned in his seat for that particular conversation, watching Marinette stuttering out protestations that she and Chat were ‘just friends’ and that he was ‘just trying to make me look good in front of Chloè.’

Adrien knew that his own cheeks flushed when Alya asked if that was the first time that she had ever kissed Chat Noir. Marinette hadn’t even needed to respond, her bright red complexion speaking volumes, and Adrien had to suppress a triumphant whoop of laughter at Alya’s squeels of delight. He had reveled in smug contentment at the antics of his friends, and purposefully ignored the small twinge of pain he experienced when Marinette had staunchly denied having a crush on Chat Noir.

Marinette smacked Chat lightly on the back of the head again, bringing him back to the present and out of his pleasant reminiscing.

“Have I offended you Princess?” he teased, “Has this poor knight become unworthy of your attention for causing you such distress?”

He gave her his most pitiful expression.

“Stop being ridiculous Chat,” she said as she rolled her eyes.

“No. My life is over. My Princess hates me. I will jump off the balcony and hopefully die to free myself from perpetual torment!”

He dramatically ambled over to the railing, smiling at her irritation. She was just so cute when she was all riled up.

“Get back here you worthless cat!” She all but growled, looping her arms around his waist and hauling him backwards when he began to hoist himself onto the rail. For such a petite little thing she was surprisingly strong, and he found himself twisting and stumbling back into her.

They were so close. She didn’t remove her grip from around his waist and he found himself wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He rested his head atop hers as his fingers absently batted at the ends of her hair. It was a comfortable, comforting embrace, and he couldn’t say how long they stood there just holding each other.

“I suppose I do owe you a thank you,” she eventually murmured, not breaking her hold.

“Oh ma minette, you know I will always, always save you. No thank you needed.”

Her grip on him tightened and she clung to him like she never wanted to let go.

“That just makes it more important to tell you. You really mean it, don’t you? You always save me, no matter what happens to you, you would always save me.” She breathed, her voice full of emotions he wasn’t sure he could name.

“Of course Marinette.”

He was touched by her gratitude. This hadn’t been the first time he had ever rescued Marinette. Given the frequency that akumas showed up around him he doubted it would be the last either. But he was surprised by the intensity of her statement, her unwavering faith that he would always come for her. It made him feel proud.

Someone believed in him. Adrien hadn’t realized how badly he needed to know that.

“Although,” her voice was now laced with amusement “that wasn’t what I was actually trying to say thank you for.”

He pulled back slightly, not breaking away entirely, but enough that he could look down at her. Her face was glowing and she had a playful smile tugging at her lips. Adrien felt his heart pound, and he knew that he was going to have to do some serious thinking in the very near future.

“What did you want to thank me for then?” he asked, hoping that she didn’t hear the breathless tremor that seemed to be coloring his tone.

Her smile widened, filling her face and making her blue eyes shine. “For proving Chloè wrong.”

He laughed. “Oh the pleasure was all mine princess! Besides, the look on her face was priceless.”

“I know! I don’t think she has spoken a single word in the last two days! She just looks at me and growls.”

Her matching laughter filled the air, and in that moment Adrien knew that a part of him would forever belong to this beautiful, happy girl.

He didn’t know what it meant for his future. He didn’t even truely know what he wanted it to mean. But somehow, he found that he didn’t care as much about his guilt, or his confusion, or the unbelievably long list of reasons why he shouldn’t drag Marinette into his crazy crisscrossed world. All he knew was that he needed her. He needed her warmth, and her joy and her faith in him. He could figure the rest out later.

There were no excuses this time. No reason for him to bend down and brush his lips across hers other than his own selfish need.

He did it anyways.

The kiss was soft and sweet, only lasting a few seconds. He wondered idly if he should have asked for permission first. That seemed like the appropriate thing to do. But she didn’t object so he hoped that his actions weren’t completely unwelcome.

When he pulled back the smile on her face banished any traces of reserve.

“Exactly how many times are you planning on kissing me?”

It was probably meant to be teasing, but the soft breathlessness of her voice just made her sound giddy.

“Until you ask me to stop.”

“I see. And what happens then?”

He leaned in closer, his lips pressed against her ear and whispered “Do you really want to find out?”

He could feel her tense, and couldn’t stop the self-satisfied grin that stretched across his face. SHE wanted this. She wanted HIM.

Quick as a flash turned his head and planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek. That was nine.

“Chat! Ew!”

“Gotta run Princess!” He vaulted off the balcony, smiling at the irritated wrinkle of her nose as she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.

“I will ask you to stop if that’s the best you can do!” She called after him.

The sound of his laughter echoed across the evening sky.

...

The thirteenth time he kissed her was desperate.

It wasn’t his day to visit Marinette. He had already seen her yesterday, sneaking out after another grueling day of photoshoots and solitary meals. They had hung out for a few hours on her balcony, watching the sunset and talking. She had pulled out her sketchbook, and had been pleasantly surprised when he had tentatively offered suggestions on a few of her designs.

It had been a good evening.

Perhaps that’s why today had seemed to be such a disaster.

It was nothing that should have bothered him, really.

His father was going out of town, again. Nathalie informed him of the trip over breakfast when she handed him his daily schedule. He had been surprised to see that the photoshoot he thought he was supposed to have that evening had been postponed, and even more confused to note that the schedule covered not just the day, but the entire weekend as well.

“You father is needed for a consult. A show in Milan requires his immediate attention. As I will be accompanying him, I have made some rearrangements to your schedule. Your bodyguard will accompany you to your regular activities and will make sure that you arrive home safely. That will be all.”

Adrien had thanked her and watched as she exited the dining room with the same mixed feelings he usually had whenever these unscheduled trips occurred. On the one hand, his schedule was more relaxed. That meant that he would have a little more freedom with his time, especially with the trip lasting through the weekend. Gorilla was by far the most lenient of his professional guardians and could even be persuaded to let him go out for something other than work or lessons, (Although whether this was out of genuine compassion or a resigned attempt to detour his constant sneaking off was anyone’s guess).

On the other hand it was another indication of how insignificant Adrien’s existence in the household really was. Aside from his expected accomplishments and his professional career, his opinions and daily pursuits were of no interested to his father, and had no impact on his own busy agenda.

No matter how many times this happened, somehow Adrien still couldn’t stop the crushing disappointment that always arose from his father’s continued neglect.

His day hadn’t gotten better when he had gotten to school.

Keeping with his constant bad luck, it seemed that the more successful he was at befriending Marinette as Chat, the worse his relationship with her as Adrien became. While they had finally reached a point where she was consistently speaking to him in complete sentences, which was honestly a victory in itself, but he couldn’t shake the bizarre feeling that she was starting to avoid him. If Nino and Alya were around it would be alright, but the minute he tried to begin any sort of personal conversation with her she would pull away, sometimes literally. He wasn’t sure that he would ever entirely understand this girl, no matter how hard he tried.

The thing that ultimately set him off however, didn’t happen until the class was getting ready to leave at the end of the day. Adrien was packing up his books, sulking slightly from yet another failed attempt to coax a smile out of Marinette, when he caught the tail end of the conversation between Nino and Kim.

“… you’re going down this week!” Kim boasted, whacking Nino on the arm.

“Unless you’re telling me you finally learned how to juggle, which I doubt, then no, no I'm not” Nino replied with a grin.

Max who was standing next to them nodded along in agreement, and even the usually stoic Ivan seemed to be listening attentively to their banter.

“I mean it,” Kim huffed, “I may not be as good at Max, but I know I can take down your scrawny ass.”

"Yeah, you said that last time. And the time before that. It would be adorable if it wasn't so sad."

"I’m serious, tonight I'm gonna make you cry!"

Nino Laughed, rolling his eyes with a confident smirk, “Wanna bet? Loser buys Pizza tonight.”

“You’re on.”

The boys began gathering up their things and heading towards the door, and Adrien took a moment to tap Nino on the shoulder.

“Hey man, what’s that all about?” he asked.

“Oh Adrien! Sorry, guess you wouldn’t know, It’s just game night. Kim keeps thinking that he’s gonna beat me at UMS3, so looks like I'm getting free pizza.”

“Game night?”

“Yeah, it’s just a thing we started doing on Friday's a few months back. Anyways I better get going before Kim try to find some way to cheat. Catch you later man, have fun at your photoshoot ok?”

And with that, Nino chased out after the other boys.

Adrien stared after them.

He knew that he probably could have gone after Nino. He had the afternoon off, and he didn’t think that any of his classmates would have a problem with him wanting to tag along. It wasn’t like he was disliked by anyone, but somehow he couldn’t’ bring himself to move.

A few months, and he hadn’t even known.

Maybe it was because everyone just assumed that with his schedule, or his father’s restrictions, that the likelihood of him being able to participate in a routine activity was so slim, that it wasn’t worth the effort to include him. Or maybe it was because, despite his having been in school for over a year now, he was still forgotten simply due to his newness.

But whatever the reason, Adrien couldn’t help the sharp sting of rejection that came from knowing that this was yet another thing that was somehow beyond him.

He wasn’t being fair. He knew that he shouldn’t be angry with his friends. No one was trying to hurt him, it was just a stupid Friday afternoon hangout session. It wasn’t anything important or meaningful. Yet somehow that almost made it worse.

Adrien couldn’t drown out the frantic churning of his mind, questioning over and over if this was yet another sign that he would never escape the unending loneliness that his life had become. He would always be an outsider, always different, always lacking, always unable to meet the expectations placed upon him by those around him. He couldn’t be perfect for his father. He couldn’t be dedicated enough for his career. He failed at being impressive enough for Ladybug, and he was unable to be normal enough for his friends.

Adrien desperately tried to squash his rambling thoughts.

It was stupid. This entire day was stupid. In a lifetime full of legitimately terrible days, this was hardly a blip on the radar. Yet, somehow, Adrien felt like he was drowning. All he could see was a constant cycle of repeated days in which nothing changed, in which he continued to exist on the peripheral of everyone’s view. A vacant pretty-boy with no real accomplishments, and no one who understood.

His mood continued to darken, as he drove home in silence. He trudged his way through the empty mansion and managed to hold himself in check for about two hours of solitude before he finally gave up, throwing himself onto his bed, slamming his fist into his pillows in a small petulant act of defiance against his own self-loathing.

Plagg had been remarkably quiet throughout Adrien’s obvious distress, as if he could somehow sense that this wasn’t the time for teasing or sarcasm. He watched Adrien silently from the corner of the desk, nibbling on a fresh wheel of camembert with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“Hey Plagg,” Adrien said quietly, his face still buried in his pillow. “Would you miss me if I was gone?”

“What a stupid question.”

“Just… can you indulge me for once?”

“Of course I’d miss you. For a human you have surprisingly good taste in cheese,” Plagg said smugly.

Adrien let out a humorless laugh. “Well I guess it’s nice to know I’m good for something,” he conceded, flipping onto his back and staring up at the ceiling.

“You’re good for plenty of things. After all, watching your ridiculous human antics give me something to entertain myself with,” Plagg said, taking another giant slice of cheese and shoving it into his mouth.

“You know Plagg, you really suck at cheering a person up.”

“I never claimed it was one of my strong suits. Besides, I figured if it gets too bad you’ll just go to that pretty classmate of yours you keep stalking. She seems to make you happy enough.” He threw the last of the cheese into his mouth and let out a haggard sigh. “Common, let’s get you out of here before I regret not just curling up and taking a nap.”

Adrien smiled at his Kwami. For all of Plagg’s faults, he really was a great partner.

Within minutes Adrien was racing across the rooftops of Paris. It was still amazing to him how just the simple act of dawning the mask of Chat Noir helped separate him away from the problems of his regular life. He ran until he was exhausted. Taking more risks than he knew was necessary, but not enough that he could get into any serious harm. But still, he couldn’t quite shake the overwhelming sense of loneliness that had been clinging to him all day. Eventually he caved, making his way to the now familiar bakery.

He could see Marinette before he landed. She was already up on the balcony, examining the collection of new plants that he had brought a few days before with an indulgent smile.

He landed softly on the roof, and didn’t even bother with a greeting before clambering behind her and wrapping her up in his arms.

Marinette let out a soft ‘oh’ of surprise, half turning to look at him.

“Chat? I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

He buried his head into her hair, refusing to look at her, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to hide his emotions in his current state.

“What can I say? I missed you, so I came to see you.”

His voice was light, and teasing but he could feel her shoulders tense and he knew that she hadn’t missed the slight tremor of his voice.

“Chat,” she said softly. “You know, more than anything, you’re my friend. And if you need to talk I promise I’ll listen to anything you need to say.”

He squeezed her tighter but didn’t respond. He didn’t even move.

“Is it something I did?” she asked nervously.

He shook his head, still not looking up.

“It’s nothing anyone did. It’s me. It’s my life. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.”

“Used to what?”

“Being me. Being alone. Knowing that no matter what I do, no matter what I try, that nothing will ever change.”

He knew that he shouldn’t be saying this to her. She didn’t need to know his problems. She probably wouldn’t even understand half of what he was saying, without some sort of explanation. But he was tired, so tired of holding it all in, that he couldn’t bring himself to stop.

Marinette didn’t say anything, she just turned gently in his arms, weaving her hands around his neck and into his hair. The silence stretched, but still she waited, stroking his hair with nimble fingers, as she let him cling to her, his face buried into the side of her neck.

He broke first.

“I can’t do it anymore, I can’t… please Mari don’t make me go back. I don’t want to go back.” The words poured out, fast and thick. “I feel like I can’t breathe anymore. It’s like I am trapped and I will never be able to get out.” Adrien could feel the tears pooling around his eyes and knew that his voice was trembling. He sucked in a breath and gritted his teeth, embarrassed by his outburst but too weak to do anything but clutch desperately at the girl before him.

“It’s ok.” She murmured, her hands never ceasing their gentle strokes, “you’re ok. You aren’t trapped anywhere. You’re here aren’t you?” Her tone was light and comforting but he could hear the worry behind her words.

“Chat is here,” Adrien growled out before cursing his own unthinking stupidity. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud. It was stupid on every possible level. Besides, he WAS Chat. He had never really thought of his alter ego as being anything separate before now, but suddenly he found himself feeling irrationally jealous of his own superhero persona.

“You are Chat,” Marinette stated flatly, echoing his own thoughts, her tone darkening in displeasure. “Whoever you are under the mask isn’t a different person, just you going by a different name. Everything that you do, all the times you save Paris, save ME, every person you help and every victim you comfort when you think no one is watching you, that is all YOU.”

Her voice was strong and implacable, as if she was daring him to disagree with her statement.

He finally pulled away enough to look at her. The blazing determination in her eyes blinded him. Her lips were set in a fierce line, and her expression was full of such strength and affection that it could almost have put his Lady to shame.

When she caught him staring at her she tensed, arms locking stiffly into place around him. Flushing and looking away, she mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘hypocrite’.

He blinked in surprise, confused by her withdrawal but desperate not to lose this connection he had with her. He dropped his head back to her shoulder and slumped down, exhausted from his own emotional turmoil and the mounting fear that any second she would shoo him away, telling him to go home to sleep it off and leave her in peace.

Marinette hadn’t been expecting his additional weight and they both tumbled clumsily to the ground, still wrapped around each other, backs braced against the small side wall that supported the half dozen new plants that Chat had surprised her with on his last visit.

“You can talk to me you know.” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper. “You don’t have to tell me everything, but… maybe talking about it would help?”

She sounded nervous.

“I’m fine Marinette.”

“No! You aren’t,” she shot back, clutching him even more tightly, almost as if she was afraid he was the one who would leave. “Please, Chat, talk to me.”

His resistance crumbled. He knew that this was a dangerous game- that anything he could possibly say on this subject was like a trail of breadcrumbs to his identity. He didn’t care. He was too cold, too desperate, too tired of the constant lack of affection from any other part of his life.

“What do you want to know?” He posed the question to her, one final chance for her to pull away from secrets that could never be unspoken.

“Why don’t we start with what happened today?” she asked gently.

“Nothing worse than what happens on any other day. That’s what’s so pathetic. No one died, there was no terrible tragedy.”

“OK, so what is it that hasn’t changed that bothers you so much?” Her voice was still soft but he could tell that she wasn’t going to let up until she knew what was troubling him.

He took a deep shuddering breath and closed his eyes.

“I hate what my life has turned into. I’m not… the regular, non Chat version of me, is… different. Everyone expects things from me all the time and I don’t really have a lot of friends. Even the ones I do have don't know about half of what goes on in my life.”

He felt her nod encouragingly, her fingers returning to his hair and petting softly, like a reward for his confession. He felt himself relax into the touch.

“Ever since I lost my mom things have been different. My father treats me more like an employee than a son, and no matter what I do to try and prove myself to him it’s like it only pushes him farther away. The more I excel, the worse the expectations get. I have no real life, no freedom, and yet I am so ignored that I can spend half my time running around Paris as a superhero and no one even knows I left the house.”

“Have you told him that you are unhappy?” Marinette asked.

“You don’t understand,” Adrien shook his head lightly so as not to jostle her off. “You don’t just talk to my father. At least not without an appointment and an army of lawyers.”

“But you’re his son!”

Her voice was incredulous as if the idea that a parent would be that inaccessible was impossible. He wasn’t surprised. He had met her parents. In her world such a concept was unthinkable.

“Doesn’t matter.” His voice was bitter. “If anything that just makes it worse, because it means that he already knows what’s best for me. And if I fight him too hard, he will just come up with some new way to control me.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“Aside from move out the minute I turn 18? Not really.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Yes… No… I don’t know. I don’t want to abandon him but I don’t think I can keep going like this either. He doesn’t even see me, not really. He sees this version of me that he wants me to be, and does everything possible to keep me there. He acts like I am some sort of prize to be locked up and occasionally put on display for public events. And the worst thing is no matter how much I hate it, no matter how much I want to scream and claw and run away and not look back, I can’t bear the thought of disappointing him. So I just let it happen. I go through the motions and I smile and I perform like some animal in a zoo, and I hate myself. I hate myself because in spite of everything I can’t hate him. Because I keep thinking that maybe one day he will go back to the person he was before, that I will wake up and everything will be better, that he won’t be distant or disapproving or halfway around the world, that he will smile and make terrible puns that no one but mom ever found funny. That maybe he could try to love me even half as much as he loved her, and maybe I could finally be enough for him. But it’s never enough. Nothing is ever enough. It doesn’t matter what I do, what I sacrifice, I am always just trailing behind everyone else.”

Adrien could feel himself shaking, feel the wet tracks along the side of his face as he poured out his soul to this small quiet girl. A girl who had so much to offer- who was so loving and so loved, who was the opposite of everything he could ever hope to be.

“I don’t even know why I keep trying,” he gasped out, his voice raspy and broken, “it isn’t like I really do anyone any good.”

“Don’t say that!” Marinette chided, her voice unsteady and pained. “You have people who care about you, and who believe in you. What would Paris do without Chat Noir?”

“I’m not the only Chat Noir you know. There have been hundreds of Chat’s before me and there will probably be hundreds more after. If I did disappear or if something happened to me, the power would just get passed on to someone else. No one would even know the difference.”

“I would know!” she cried out, grabbing his face in her palms she forced him to look at her. Her eyes were wide and trembling, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I would know, and I couldn’t bear it. You are MY Chat, and no one will ever, EVER replace you! Don’t you dare leave me kitty, I couldn’t… I can’t…” she broke of choking on her own tears. Her hands were like a vice against his skin and she showed no signs of letting go.

“I wouldn’t be here without you,” she sobbed, “so please, don’t ever think that you don’t matter, because you do. I need you Chat. I will always need you.”

He kissed her. Ironic that kiss number thirteen would happen as they both clung desperately to each other, eyes wet and swollen with fear and insecurity. It wasn’t a pretty kiss, it wasn’t soft or romantic. It was pleading- teeth clashing against teeth, hands grasping and bruising. It was a question, a cry- please don’t let me go.

Marinette moaned against his lips, pulling back just long enough to gasp for air before smashing her mouth to his. She pulled him to her with enough force to pull them both sprawling onto the ground, her hands frantically wandering down his neck, fingers clawing into his back. Every desperate mew and pant was an answer, a promise- never. I will never leave.

The kiss burned, heating him body and soul. It seemed to drag on for hours, a desperate dance of tongues and teeth and lips, of wanton whimpers and breathless gasps.

Eventually passionate kisses gave way to gentle caresses and soft words. They stayed curled together, talking and consoling until the first hints of light began to creep along the horizon.

When Adrien kissed her goodbye, he was already balanced over the railing of her balcony. Her eyes were heavy with exhaustion, her skin was mottled and splotchy from tears and her lips were bruised and swollen from their caresses.

In his mind she had never looked more beautiful. As he pulled away from that 21st kiss he knew that he would gladly die for this girl.

“I’ll see you tomorrow ma minette.”

He ran home to his empty house and passed out, a soft smile pulling on the corners of his lips.

 

Chapter Text

The twenty fifth time he kissed Marinette was an accident. It was also when he realized that he might have a bit of a problem.

By this point his own personal running joke of keeping track of the number of kisses he had shared with her had become habitual to him. Some people collected stamps, he saw how many times he could convince his pretty classmate to kiss him. After all, everyone needed hobbies.

It had been 3 days since he had seen her last as Chat, and he was pretty sure he was going through withdrawal.

Despite what had become his daily visits over the past two weeks, there had been very little kissing. Mostly they had just spent time together, hanging out on her balcony and talking. He had even started helping her with her homework.

She was by no means stupid, but Marinette had confessed that with her unfortunate habit of missing classes, she was getting a bit overwhelmed with some of her harder subjects.

Adrien could relate to her poor attendance, but he had the benefit of years of private tutoring. For him, almost everything they covered in school was more like a review. Keeping up with his grades had never been much of an issue even with his photoshoot schedule and more heroic commitments.

This had also provided the first means of making progress in his attempts to connect with her at school. When he had proposed that they, along with Alya and Nino begin setting aside two lunch hours a week for a study group, Marinette had been thrilled with the idea of being able to get more work done during the day. Nino had been equally ecstatic at the opportunity to ‘copy Adrien’s answers while he was distracted by pretty girls’. Adrien had punched his friend in the shoulder but hadn’t been able to completely repress the blush that he could feel creeping along his ears and neck.

Marinette’s interactions with him in his civilian state were hesitant at best. While they had graduated to full conversations, and she was less prone to running off or dropping things when he was around, he could never seem to manage to get her alone. And, despite her attempts at discretion, he hadn’t missed the fact that she would always avoid sitting directly beside him. It was maddening.

He tried acting more subtly Chat like, cracking jokes and dropping the occasional pun, hoping that maybe she would be more relaxed that way. He even went so far as to teasingly flirt during one of their study groups. But instead of the eye roll or comeback he was expecting, her smile had morphed into a wide eyed look of horror and a dropped jaw. She had hidden behind her textbook for the rest of the hour and spoken only 2 sentences, dashing away with Alya in toe the minute they finished the assignment.

The frustration of having her so close and yet so completely inaccessible wore on his nerves, and made his desire to spend time with her as Chat even more desperate.

He didn’t even care what they did half the time as long as he could just be with her. It was a heady, relaxing experience, to feel completely accepted with no agenda.

Even his time with Ladybug paled in comparison to some extent. Because while nothing could or would dampen his admiration of the spotted heroine, and he while found nothing but support and encouragement in their friendly partnership, it was a lot harder to connect with someone on a personal level while battling against supervillains.

Adrien could feel his heart racing in anticipation as he dashed across town in his transformed state.

It was later than he would have usually gone out for a visit, but after 3 days of meetings and fittings and what might have been the most unpleasant runway show he had ever been loaned out to, he felt that he deserved a reward. Besides, he knew that his father and Nathalie would be out at the main office well past 2am, drawing up plans for the newly scheduled Gabriel runway show that his father had announced that morning. (Apparently Adrien wasn’t the only person who believed that yesterday’s affair had been an affront to fashion, if his father’s passive aggressive display was anything to go by).

By the time he arrived at Marinette’s balcony, the sky had already begun to darken with threatening clouds. He hadn’t been expecting her to be out and about waiting on him. More often than not he would have to knock and wait for her to come out and join him when he visited.

On this particular day though, he wished that he had better luck. A distant roll of thunder warned him that this was going to turn into a short visit, and the polite part of his mind scolded that he should just leave her in peace and head back home before it began to rain in earnest.

He paced on the small balcony arguing with himself. On the one hand, it wasn’t like they could hang around outside in the rain, and it seemed silly to drag her up to come see him just to turn around and leave. On the other hand it had been three days. Three horrible, miserable, lonely days.

His choice was made for him when the trap door opened, revealing a casually clad Marinette.

“I thought I heard someone stomping around up here,” she teased, climbing up onto the roof to join him.

“Well I’ve been neglectful these past few days, so I thought I owed my beautiful princess some attention,” he said with a sweeping bow. Another roll of thunder punctuated his words. “Although I am afraid my timing might be a little lacking.”

As if to prove his point, small droplets of rain began showering on down them. A brief warning of what was imminently approaching.

“Why don’t you come inside?” Marinette asked shyly, opening the trapped door and gesturing for him to enter.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude,” he stammered.

“Just get in before we both end up getting soaked, you stupid cat,” she drawled affectionately.

Adrien nodded and hurried down the skylight. He jumped off of her loft bed landing quietly in the middle of her small bedroom, Marinette following behind at a more leisurely pace.

He surveyed the space, taking in all of the details that he had never really had a chance to absorb on his previous few visits.

It was a nice, pleasant space, warm and inviting if a little heavy on the pink for his taste. But still, it was her room and it suited her. He stalked around the room, taking in everything.

“Are you redecorating?” he asked curiously.

“What???” Her voice was shrill and panicked.

Odd.

“I just meant…” he began, “I mean… you have a lot of scuff marks and tac holes on the walls, and… I don’t know… I feel like it looks different from the last time I was here?”

“Last time?” Her eyes were wide and self-conscious as she glanced almost accusingly at the stark walls.

“Crazy puppet girl? Ladybug and I had to come and get your toy dolls… I’m sorry I thought you would remember. God I probably sound like a total stalker now.” He felt his face flame. “I’m sorry I didn’t even think about how messed up that sounded. I was just curious, you seem like the type who would have your sketches and, I donnow… pictures of hamsters and unicorns taped on your wall or something.” He gestured awkwardly at her barren walls.

“So you think I am a five year old?” she chided, but her face had relaxed back into a teasing grin.

“Sorry, I wasn’t try to be rude,” he muttered again. Sometimes his lack of social interaction came back to bite him in the most bizarre ways.

“No its ok, I was just really surprised. I had forgotten that you had been in here is all. You’re right too, I am kind of redecorating,” she said, her gaze trained shyly on the floor.

“Ah. Any particular reason or do you just like variety?”

“I think I just realized that it was time for a change,” she said, with that secretive smile that never failed to make his head spin. “I think It will suit me better.”

“Okay,” Adrien said stupidly, trying to shake of his insecurity at his own awkwardness. “So, if you are redecorating what’s the new plan?”

“I don’t really have a plan, I will just start over with new pictures and designs and what not. I finally have some good shots of all my friends so I might try to do some sort of photo collage.”

“I would love to see that,” he smiled. “Who knows, maybe you’ll even hang some pictures of me up on your wall if I play my cards right.”

She flushed a deep red and threw a pillow at him.

He caught it, laughing, glad that they seemed to be falling back into a more comfortable banter.

“Marinette!” a warm feminine voice called up from the living room below, “Dinner’s ready.”

Adrien’s heart sank, and he knew his cat ears were drooping. “I am sorry Princess, I should go.”

“No!” Marinette jumped up and put a hand on his shoulder. “I mean… yes I have to go have dinner, but you don’t have to go. If you don’t want to I mean, you can stay here and I’ll be back soon, I promise. And then we can just hang out and talk or…” She trailed off looking like she wanted to say more. Instead she darted forward and wrapped him into a tight hug.

He was surprised for a moment but quickly relaxed, wrapping his arms around her and resting his head atop of hers.

“I missed you,” she murmured, breathing deeply as if she was trying to memorize his scent. He chuckled softly.

“I missed you too. You should probably go down to dinner.”

“Will you be here when I get back?”

“Of course. I wasn’t really looking forward to running home in this nasty rain anyways. It’s much nicer in here where it’s dry.”

“It’s only a light shower,” she laughed.

“That doesn’t make it any less unpleasant,” he hissed, glaring out at the windows, and carefully repressing his smile as she giggled at his dramatic displeasure.

“You are such a cat.”

He raised his eyebrows incredulously at her comment and she swatted him playfully on the nose.

“I’ll be back soon kitty.”

And with that she turned and headed down the trapped door to enjoy a family dinner with her parents.

Adrien felt a small pang of jealousy. It must be nice.

Throwing off his melancholy thoughts about his own home troubles, Adrien searched around the room for something to do while he waited for her to return.

20 minutes of exploring, and one almost certainly ruined work in progress scarf, later Adrien had sequestered himself onto her chaise lounge with a copy of their history textbook, determined not to cause any more damage. As it was he had already broken 2 coffee mugs and three of her potted plants (one of which had actually been an accident) on previous visits.

Besides, there was going to be an exam coming up on Thursday, and it never hurt to review.

Less than an hour later she returned upstairs, grinning. He nervously eyed the pile of ruined knitting but she simply smiled indulgently.

“You really do have terrible luck don’t you kitty?” She ruffled his hair affectionately. “So what did you want to do tonight?”

“Well” Adrien smirked, he had been thinking about it for the past 20 minutes, “I seem to remember hearing that my princess is a champion gamer, and I figure as long as we are trapped indoors…”

“Ha! I Won! I WON!” He tossed down his controller and jumped out of his seat victoriously.

“This one round! I won the last five,” she grumbled, staring at the ‘player 2 wins’ flashing across the screen.

“It doesn’t matter, I won this one and that’s what counts. You are not going to take this away from me.” He began humming an off key, upbeat tune while he danced around in victory.

“This is such a shame really. What is Paris going to do when they find out that one of their favorite superheroes is a giant dork?”

“Don’t worry ma minette, it can be our secret.” He smiled happily, leaning in to give her an affectionate peck on the lips.

He pulled back startled. He hadn’t meant to kiss her, it was more of a reflex. When did that happen?

She ruffled his hair and began rummaging around for her art supplies, clearly oblivious to his sudden distress.

Adrien walked back over to her chaise lounge and plopped down to think.

He studied Marinette as she busied herself, bringing her sketchbook and a few pencils over to where he had situated himself, stealing one of the pillows from behind him and settling down comfortably on the floor with her back against the chair near his feet. She hummed softly as she worked, grinning when she was particularly happy with how something was going and frowning endearingly when she was unhappy with her designs. Every few minutes she would glace appreciatively over at him to see if he had any thoughts or comments on her work.

It was a routine they had settled into quite a few times on his previous visits, but for the first time, Adrien was struck by how domestic the interaction was.

It reminded him of how his parents used to be back when he was young. When his mother would sit practicing on the piano or sometimes instructing Adrien in his own early attempts, while his father sat on the nearby couch working on his latest collection, occasionally pausing in his work to gaze affectionately at his family.

It was the sort of behavior that was common for a happy couple.

Is that what they were?

He hadn’t ever really stopped to put a name to what his relationship with Marinette had become. He was pretty sure that they had left ‘just friends’ behind a good 15 kisses or so ago.

He knew that he adored her. She was fun and pretty, and easily one of his closest confidants. He also know that whatever it was that they had definitely had the potential to become something more. Maybe he wasn’t sure where the relationship was going just yet, but he certainly wasn’t ready to give up on the idea.

But what about Ladybug? After all he knew that he loved her. But somehow the desire to be with her romantically seemed less potent. He still loved her, unquestioningly so, but somehow he had become reconciled to her as an unattainable ideal. She was his partner, and his best friend, but the idea of them never being more than that no longer left an aching pain in his chest. He could be happy with what they had.

What about Marinette? The idea of not being with her like this made his blood suddenly run cold.

He wanted to visit with her. He wanted to play games with her and talk with her and just enjoy being with someone who enjoyed being with him. He wanted to kiss her and watch the way her eyes would sparkle with pride whenever he was left breathless. He wanted… her.

He wanted a real relationship with her, with kisses and compliments and gifts and…

Wait…  

Was he already in a relationship with her? When did that happen?

“Are we… are we dating?” Adrien stammered, looking over at her shyly. The soft scratching of her pencil stilled.

“You tell me,” she replied archly, a small smile on her lips.

“I… I don’t know. I’ve never actually dated anyone before,” he stated, knowing that his cheeks were flaming under his mask.

“Oh… oh. I didn’t realize… I mean you flirt so much I just kind of assumed… and it’s not like you aren’t good looking or anything, so I figured you had plenty of options…” She was rambling now, trying to keep up the coy expression, but her gaze kept flicking off to the side as a matching red tinge colored her own cheeks.

Adrien beamed.

“You think I’m good looking?”

“You run around in a skin tight leather suit, you know damn well that you are attractive you stupid cat!” she huffed, pointedly fixing her attention back on her sketchbook, her telltale blush creeping all the way up to the tips of her ears.

“Ah but it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you think,” he teased, nudging her shoulder with the tip of his boot. She mumbled something unintelligible, shrinking down even further.

“I didn’t quite catch that ma minette, could you say it again?” he singsonged, knowing full well that he was being obnoxious.

“Yes I find you attractive you useless alleycat,” she spat out.

Adrien laughed happily, flipping around on the chaise so that his face was next to hers.

“So if we are dating does that mean I get to kiss you whenever I want?” he grinned placing a soft peck on her temple. 26.

“You pretty much do that already, you know.” she said, refusing to look up at him, her nose scrunching up in an adorable look of exasperation.

“Yes but then I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about it.”

She let out an irritated sigh and rolled her eyes, still not looking up from her drawings.

He scooted down further on the chair, arching his back off of the cushions so that his head was knocking into her sketchbook.

“It’s decided,” he proclaimed, “We are dating. I am dating you.”

Adrien couldn’t stop the manic grin that broke out over his face. He leaned in to kiss her again but she shoved him playfully away.

“Maybe I don’t want to date you ,” she said, holding her arms up defensively to bat at him while he twisted around looking for a clear path of attack.

“Nope you said that I should tell you, so I am telling you. We are dating.”

He leaned in again, but she shuffled out of the way, delighting in his soft growl of frustration as he toppled off of the chair.

“Well maybe I want you to ask me!” she grinned, then let out a small yelp as he snaked his arms around her waist and pulled her down so that she was sprawled on top of him.

“Date me,” he grinned wiggling his eyebrows at her suggestively.

“Really that’s the best you’ve got?”

“Maybe.”

“Then no. OHMYGOD CHAT!!!!!” She screeched and struggled to pull away as he began to mercilessly tickle her.

Marinette attempted to retaliate in kind but Adrien knew that she was at a clear disadvantage. His suit may be skin tight, but it was also a thick armored material, whereas her flimsy tee shirt and sleep pants provided no barrier to his assault.

He was laughing unabashedly when he finally managed to roll them both over. He was straddled on top of her, pinning her arms securely over her head.

“It’s not fair, you’re in magical super armor,” she pouted.

She was so adorable. Fierce and playful and loving, all wrapped up in a beautiful blue eyed package.

He leaned down and kissed her, flipping them over again so that she was lying on top of him and he could wrap his arms around her lithe form.

She melted, meeting his ardor with her own, a soft mewl of of pleasure escaping her and he coaxed open her lips and deepened the kiss. It was slow and languid. He nibbled and explored and lost himself in the heat and the taste of her.

When they finally pulled away for air he cradled her to him, refusing to open his eyes for risk of spoiling the feeling of sheer and utter bliss.

“Please say you’ll have me Princess” he whispered into her ear. “I don’t think I could bear to leave you.”

“Good, because my answer is yes.”

Adrien could feel himself smiling as his girlfriend pulled him back in for their 28 th kiss.

The forty second time he kissed her was when he realized he loved her.

The last few weeks had been the happiest of his life.

His relationship with Marinette was everything he could have hoped for. Being with her was fun, easy, and utterly delightful. Putting a label on their relationship hadn’t changed much in terms of how they interacted with each other, which was a huge relief to Adrien.

Between his restrictions as a masked superhero and his lack of experience he had been terrified that his first attempt at being a boyfriend would end in disaster. However, for some reason Marinette had been surprisingly accepting of their strange dynamic and had been quite content with their extremely low key dating routine. He would come over whenever his schedule allowed and they would hang out together, playing games or watching movies, or even just talking or doing homework.

It was incredible.

Of course there had been a few differences. If anything she had gotten more affectionate. It was common place now for them to cuddle up together on her lounger or bed when he would help her with assignments, and movies were almost always accompanied by hours of delectable head scratches. She was more comfortable with his attentions as well, and it was rare that he would not be touching her in some way when they were together, a steady physical reminder that she was really there and that this wasn’t some illusion he had created to keep his loneliness at bay. And of course there had been more kissing.

However, his favorite relationship activity had become spoiling his new girlfriend. Even on the days when he wasn’t able to spend time with her, which had been distressingly frequent due to his busy schedule as they dove into prep for the launching of the spring line, he could still manage to drop by her place to clandestinely leave her small gifts or pun filled letters.

Most of the gifts were fairly inconsequential, a new pair of fabric scissors, a box of chocolates, a hilariously over dramatic Chat Noir art poster that he had left with a note ‘to help with your redecorating’. He knew that his overcompensation with gifts due to his insecurities about being an absentee boyfriend was tiptoeing dangerously close to the like father like son cliché, but her unrepressed joy at the attention made him unwilling to scale back.

The one gift he had splurged on had been for Valentine’s day. He had already warned her the day before that he was unlikely to have a chance to visit until late, if at all. Marinette had been undaunted by the inconvenience, telling him that she was secure enough in his affections to not be upset over a silly holiday.

Once again he had been blown away by how amazingly low maintenance his girlfriend was turning out to be. To be fair, most of his experience with female expectations were based on his interactions with Chloe, so maybe this was more normal that he knew, but regardless he was grateful.

Still, romantic that he was, Adrien was not about to let Marinette feel underappreciated or alone on a day that he knew his entire class would be making a fuss over, even if their relationship was, out of necessity, a secret.

It had been easy enough to sneak quietly into bakery that morning and leave the small box and a few dozen flowers on the counter while her parents were distracted. It had also been simple to arrange to ask to meet Nino nearby on the pretense of grabbing a snack from said bakery, so that he could maybe get a hint as to her reaction to his gift.

What he hadn’t counted on was that the fact that Alya must have gone over to his girlfriend’s place for a sleepover after he had left the previous afternoon. Her explosive shriek carried out to the boys through the glass doors of the bakery, and had Nino- dragging a slightly sheepish Adrien- hurrying inside to observe the drama.

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng you had better get down here and explain this right now!” Alya was screaming up towards the family living area, her fingers pointing accusingly at the romantic display in front of her.

“Oh how lovely!” Marinette’s mother cooed, the first of the family to arrive on the scene in response to Alya’s yells.

“Marinette dear,” Sabine called in a much more reasonable tone than the shell shocked Alya, “It looks like you have a gift for Valentine’s day!”

Tom descended the stairs next, coming to stand by his wife and eyeing the gifts with a similarly amused expression. “Looks like I have been out done!” he laughed giving his wife a kiss on the cheek.

“I have no complaints,” Sabine replied good naturedly, returning the gesture before her husband went into the back kitchen to do more prep for the day.

Adrien waited nervously off to the side while Nino cautiously edged closer to the still fuming Alya.

He had not meant for this to be such a production. What if Marinette was embarrassed, or worse angry? They had only been officially dating for a week, and already he was screwing things up.

He heard Marinette before he saw her, and began questioning his terrible life decisions as he eyed the pile of flowers surrounding the elegantly wrapped little box, and the small black card with To my dearest Marinette spelled out in perfect gold calligraphy.

Why had he thought this was a good plan? Why, why, why?

Marinette came hurrying into the room, still fussing to pull her hair into their signature pigtails.

“Alya what on earth are you yelling abo…” She trailed off mid sentence as she looked around, taking in her friends and smiling mother, and finally settling her gaze on the elaborate display that had been the cause of all the fuss.

“Is that… is that for me?” she gasped, hurrying forward to rummage through her spoils, ignoring the crowd of onlookers as she grinned in delight at the gift. She snatched up the card and let out a soft happy sigh as she read it.

Adrien felt his entire body sag slightly in relief. She wasn’t upset. In fact her reaction was everything he could have possibly hoped for, but he quickly schooled his expression into a mask of polite curiosity. Unless he wanted to have a lot of uncomfortable conversations, now was not the time to be drawing attention to himself.

“Who exactly is leaving you Valentine’s day gifts, and why is this the first I am learning about it?” Alya glowered accusingly at Marinette.

“I don’t know,” she lied, turning a charming shade of pink, “the card isn’t signed.”

Alya, clearly suspicious of Marinette’s statement, snatched the card away hoping to discover the truth on her own.

Adrien wasn’t worried, the card wasn’t signed. And the short message- ‘to remind you that I cherish every memory of you’- was hardly incriminating.

“I want answers right now. Who is this secret boyfriend you have been hiding from me!” Alya said, hands on her hips glaring at her friend.

“Now Alya dear, I am sure that it is nothing quite so dramatic as all that,” Sabine said soothingly. “Personally I think it’s lovely that Marinette seems to have acquired a secret admirer.” Marinette flashed her mother a grateful smile, clearly happy to latch on to this much simpler explanation.

“Never mind about who it’s from,” Nino interrupted, “I want to know what’s in the box!”

The entire party, save Adrien who continued to idle unobtrusively by the cakes display, crowded in as Marinette carefully pulled at the bright green ribbon encasing the small black box.

The girls, and Nino if he was being honest, all let out a collective gasp as Marinette pulled out a delicate silver charm bracelet with three expertly crafted, and tastefully bejeweled, charms.

Adrien had to admit he was rather proud of the gift. Each charm had been selected to represent a different memory from their relationship, the first- a small artist pallet with tiny gemstones creating the look of a rainbow of paints- was meant to symbolize their first adventure together, when they had faced off against the Evilillistrator. The second- a starburst firework studded with tiny topaz and and diamond stones- in commemoration of their first (technically second, but she didn’t know that) kiss. And the final charm- an elegant silver cat with tiny emerald eyes- well, that one was fairly self explanatory.

Sitting in a small case on his desk back home were several other charms to be added on at later occasions, such as anniversaries, birthdays, or whenever he was in need of a good apology bribe. He even had one especially set aside for the inevitable day that he could finally revealed his identity to her. After all he did want to eventually take her on real dates. But until he had made more progress with Marinette’s opinion of him in their day to day life, he figured he would hold onto his anonymity.

“Alright, as fun as this has been you kids need to get headed off to school. Girls grab your bags,” Sabine chided gently, gathering up the flower to put them in water.

Marinette, Alya, and Nino disappeared up the stairs- the former to gather her things the latter two to continue to interrogate her as to the identity of her admirer.

Adrien finally allowed his face to break into a smile at their absence. The look on her face as she had gazed at the bracelet was burned into his memory.

“It’s so nice to see her looking so happy isn’t it?”

Adrien jumped at Sabine’s presence right beside him. When had she managed to sneak up that close?

“Yeah,” He chuckled nervously. “Great.”

Sabine continued to stare him down, a sly and eerily familiar smile on her face.

“I know I am biased being her mother and all, but Marinette really is such an amazing girl. I am glad to see that she’s found someone who thinks so highly of her.”

Adrien couldn’t help the way his eyes flicker over to where Marinette had left, or the soft blush that colored his cheeks. “She deserves it,” he replied softly.

Sabine’s calculating grin warmed into a smile of pure motherly affection as she patted him on the shoulder and pushed a medium sized pastry box into his hands.

“You really are such a nice boy. Now take these I insist! You are far too skinny for your age.” And with a final affectionate pat on the cheek, Sabine turned and walked away into the kitchen to help her husband.

Adrien’s spinning thoughts were interrupted when Marinette came storming back into the bakery, an expression of undisguised annoyance on her face. She didn’t even seem to notice Adrien as she marched out the front door, a gleeful Alya hot on her tail.

Adrien shot Nino a puzzled look, but the DJ just shook his head and motioned for them to hurry up after the retreating girls.

“Admit it! IT’s the only thing that makes sense!” Adrien heard Alya crow triumphantly when they finally caught up to the two girls at the steps to the school.

“I am done talking about this with you,” Marinette said, her face a charming shade of red.

“I knew it, I KNEW it! I can’t believe you hid this from me. I expect every detail from the beginning, and I will not stop until I am sure that I know everything,” Alya trilled. Marinette sent her best friend a withering glare that would make many a lesser man cower in fear.

“Ok, what did I miss?” Adrien hissed at Nino, as Alya began a childish chorus of ‘tell me, tell me, tell me’ that Marinette seemed determined to ignore.

“Well, Alya is convinced that Marinette’s involved in some sort of illicit love affair with Chat Noir, because of the whole kiss thing back a few weeks ago,” Nino said with a grin as they slid into their seats.

Adrien tried not to choke.

“Illicit Love Affair? Seriously?”

Nino laughed, and playfully ruffed Adrien’s head. “What’s the matter Dude? Worried that a superhero might be moving in on your crush?”

“WHAT???” Adrien shouted, causing both of the girls behind them, as well as several of their other classmates to turn in his direction.

He couldn’t help but meet Marinette’s startled gaze and found himself breaking into a soft smile as he noticed that she was already wearing the bracelet. For one blissful second her eyes soften at his expression. She held his gaze, a matching smile pulling at the corner of her lips and a gentle pink tinge warming her face, but just as suddenly her eyes widened and then slammed shut. She shook her head violently and then turned her attention deliberately away from him, clutching the bracelet to her chest like a lifeline.

He slouched down in his seat, confused.

Why did he seem to constantly fail in his attempts to connect with Marinette like this? Did he intimidate her? Did she still secretly hate him because of his connection with Chloe?

How on earth was he ever going to be able to reveal himself if she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him? Maybe it was selfish but Adrien had been hoping that he could manage to get them to the point of comfortable friendship before confessing his secret identity to her. At the rate he was going however, he was fairly certain admitting that he was Chat Noir would end his relationship faster than Plagg could down a wheel of Camembert.

Nino patted Adrien on the back in a friendly show of Bro solidarity.

“Wow man,” his friend laughed softly, “you really have it bad don’t you?”

Adrien didn’t bother to deny it, too frustrated by his own failure to hide his feelings from his friend.

“Although next time,” Nino continued, “try not to make the rest of us look so bad. I mean I get that you are new to this, but did you have to spring for the three dozen flowers and the jewelry Mr. Secret Admirer?”

Adrien opened his mouth to argue, but Nino just raised an eyebrow as if daring him to contradict the statement.

“How did you know?” Adrien asked at last.

“Aw, come on dude. You haven’t exactly been subtle lately. You are just lucky Alya’s been too caught up in her secret Chat Noir Boyfriend theories to be paying any attention, and that I am too nice a Bro to tell on you.”

“I see,” Adrien hesitated. “I didn’t know Alya would be so invested in the idea of Chat Noir dating.”

“Seriously? Of course she would be!” Nino said looking at Adrien with a pitying expression. “First off, even you, captain oblivious, must have picked up on the fact that Alya is a little over invested in all things Marinette.”

“I am not obli-“  A hand clamped over his mouth.

“Dude, don’t even try to say that you aren’t. It is not a conversation I am awake enough to have with you today,” Nino said wearily.

The Chat Noir side of him considered licking his friends hand in annoyance, but Adrien knew that it was probably in his best interest to allow his friend to continue rather than to exact petty vengeance.

“Second,” Nino continued on, “If Marinette becomes secretly involved with Chat Noir, Alya figured that brings her one step closer to a direct link to her favorite superhero, and not so secret celebrity crush, Ladybug. So of course Alya is all for it.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense. After all who wouldn’t rather be with a superhero?”

“Don’t worry Dude, I am totally team Adrien,” Nino grinned.

Adrien felt his heart swell with loyalty and gratitude towards his friend. Nino really was incredible.

“Thanks man. It really means a lot that you would pick me over Chat Noir,” Adrien replied smiling at his friend.

“Well,” Nino said with a smirk “I’d pick you for Marinette. If it were me I would totally choose Chat.”

Adrien punched him good naturedly in the shoulder.

Two weeks after Valentine’s Day, Adrien was once again happily cuddled up with his girlfriend on her small rooftop terrace.  

It had been a particular rough day for Adrien.

A 5:00 am photoshoot had left him tired and groggy, and while he had managed to perform admirably well, his father had been in a foul mood with the rest of the staff. Photoshoots with Gabriel on site were stressful enough for everyone involved, but his unwavering look of disapproval had made the already tense shoot a nightmare.

Adrien hated having his father present for his shoots for a completely separate reason. There was something so off putting about having his father treat him as an employee and not as his son. It didn’t used to bother him as much back when his mother was around. He understood the desire to keep business and personal life separate, even if it was something he had never really been good at himself. However there was no longer any comfort to be found in the idea that once the work was over his father would revert back into a loving parent in the privacy of their own home. After all, it’s hard to feel loved by someone you see for ten minutes a week at best.

Ironically, the conversation he had with his father at the shoot about possibly restyling his hair to better showcase his hardening jawline (thanks puberty) was probably the longest they’d had in over a month. It was also the proudest Adrien had heard his father sound in about as long, but he really didn’t want to poke at that emotional hornet’s nest.

By the time Gabriel had declared the shoot ‘ as adequate as you are all capable of managing it seems ’, half a dozen employees including two other models and the photographer had already fled the studio in tears, and Adrien was more than three hours late for class.

None of his teachers gave him any sort of grief. They were used to his regular absences, and since his grades were still perfect there was no need to make a fuss. Besides, Adrien doubted any of them was anxious to call in Gabriel Agreste for a parent teacher conference unless they absolutely had to. But still, Adrien hated the awkward feeling that came from trying to discreetly slip into class part way through a lesson.

Determined to turn the day around, Adrien had thrown himself back into his most important, if most frustrating, project- getting Marinette to pay attention to him.

He was starting to get emotional whiplash from the complications brought on by his double life.

His time with Marinette as Chat was perfect- comfortable, happy, and always leaving him wanting more.

This was, however, making it progressively harder not to allow his feelings and experiences to bleed over into his interactions with her as Adrien.

Nino, best bro in the history of friendship, had gone above and beyond in his efforts to support what he called ‘project hopeless lovebirds.’

With the help of his friend it was proving significantly easier to find himself close to Marinette- sitting next to her during group projects, conveniently running into her and Alya at café’s during the lunch break, they even all went to the movies together in what could have been an almost double date.

If only Marinette had seemed as happy with this development as Adrien.

It was as if the more attention he gave her, the more terrified she became. Any time he paid her a compliment her face would go through a roller coaster of emotions ranging from joy to anger. Whenever he would unthinkingly lean against her shoulder or tuck her hair away from her face, (casual touches were probably the hardest habit to restrain himself from), she would pull away as if he had burned her.

The worst part was that sometimes, he would catch her looking at him with the same contented expression that he saw so often on the privacy of her balcony. A wistful smile when she thought he wasn’t looking, a delicate pink blush as he laughed happily at one of Nino’s terrible jokes, a shared spark of triumph when they would finish their assignments in study group before their groaning friends. But as quickly as these looks would appear he would see her flush and shake herself, fiddling with the charm bracelet that had become a permanent part of her ensemble and mumbling incoherently under her breath.

While Adrien adored his girlfriend and wouldn’t change her for the world, part of him wondered if she was just a little bit insane.

Unfortunately, today’s attempt had gone even worse than usual.

A fight with Chloe at the end of class about the circulating rumors of Marinette’s secret relationship had left her upset and frustrated.

Adrien had tried, really tried to make a good impression.

“Leave her alone Chloé .”

“But Adrikins-“

“I said back off, now.” Adrien all but hissed, placing his arm protectively around Marinette’s shoulder. His uncharacteristic rage brought on several startled looks from their classmates, as well as an undisguised snicker from Nino.

“Adrien, you don’t mean that! I was just, I mean she is…” Chloé began desperately, but trailed off as Adrien took a small step forward, putting himself self in front of Marinette his arm still lightly draped around her.

“She is what Chloé?” Adrien said quietly, daring her to finish her statement.

Apparently his expression was threatening enough that she decided not to attempt to challenge him, and instead hurried out of the classroom, a worried Sabrina trailing after her.

“Are you okay?” Adrien asked gently turning toward Marinette, his arm still resting on her shoulder, “I know that Chloé can be awful, but don’t let her get to you.”

Marinette said nothing as she gazed up at him in shock, her eyes sparking with bewildered gratitude at his overprotective display.

“Yes. I’m alright. Thank you,” She breathed out at last, her expression so warm and awed that it took his breath away. He was dimly aware of Nino shepherding his other classmates out of the room with a hasty ‘ok, shows over folks, everyone out!’

“You really didn’t have to do that you know,” Marinette said softly, her eyes mirroring his own hypnotized expression.

“Yes I did,” Adrien whispered, his other hand coming up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He gathered his courage. “Marinette I need to tell you… I think you should know that I…”

It was like a spell had been broken, Marinette’s entire visage changed instantly from something bordering on adoration to a steely look of resolve.

“NO!” She practically screamed, shoving Adrien from her with enough force that he fell backwards onto the floor. “No, no, no, no! Stupid … AHHH!!!”

“Marinette?” Adrien splutted from his uncomfortable position on the floor.

“I’m sorry, I am sorry, really but just… I can’t… just… stay! I have to go.” And she ran out of the room before Adrien could say another word.

He still hadn’t gotten up off the floor, mouth hanging open in complete confusion, when Alya and Nino poked their eavesdropping heads in from around the doorframe.

“What the Hell was that?” Nino gaped.

Honestly? Adrien had no idea.

As soon as he had gotten home from his Chinese lessons he had barricaded himself into his room and clambered out the window, cat ears twitching in anticipation of finally getting some positive attention from the girl who had taken over his thoughts.

Marinette had been thrilled at his arrival and it was a relief to finally be comfortable with her, wrapped up in her embrace tucked under a blanket as they sat together on her terrace in the crisp late winter air.

After about an hour of talking and cuddling, and suggestive looks that he was desperately hoping would evolve into another one of their intoxicating make out sessions, he could feel Marinette shivering next to him.

“Why don’t we go inside princess?” he ask as she burrowed herself further into his side clutching the blanket tightly against her back.

“No! No it’s good up here,” she said, a little too loudly, casting a wary look at the trap door to her bedroom.

“It’s not like I haven’t been in your room before, and you’re freezing.”

“I’m fine! Really!” Marinette laughed nervously. “Besides I know for a fact that you are pretty good at warming me up kitty,” she shot flirtatiously, nuzzling her nose against his neck and letting her lips hover against his jawline.

“As devastatingly tempting as you are ma minette, I can ravish you just as well from the comfort of your nice cozy room,” he said, grinning delightedly at the deep scarlet flush that spread across her cheeks at the word ‘ravish’.

They still hadn’t gone past kissing. The most daring Adrien had managed up to this point was leaving a trail of kisses down the side of her neck. But it was nice to know that she seemed rather affected by the thought of them moving forward from their normal pattern.

“This is fine Chat.” she pushed back, a slight hint of irritation in her voice as she continued to ghost her lips along the side of his face suggestively.

“No, it’s not. You’re freezing. Let’s just go inside.”

“I said I’m fine, and I am trying to get you to kiss me,” she growled.

“I have no intention of making out with a Popsicle.”

“Chat, I said…”

“Why are you being so stubborn?” he cut her off, eyeing her pouting glare and chattering teeth. “You are clearly cold, and we are literally 3 feet away from a nice, indoor--“

“Because I really want to seduce my boyfriend and it’s hard to do that when I am terrified that my overly intrusive parents will poke their heads in at any time!” Marinette shouted out in frustration, glaring at his obliviousness.

“Oh!” Oh. Adrien knew that even his mask couldn’t hide his flaming face. Apparently she was way ahead of him in the ravishing department.

“I mean… I don’t mean that we are going to… I mean not yet… I just meant… That sounded way worse than I meant it to!” Marinette’s face was a similarly matching shade of red as she stumbled through her thoughts. “I just mean… I like you, and I like kissing you, and eventually I assumed we would probably move past just kissing…” She trailed off in embarrassment.

The mood was most definitely ruined by their mutual mortification.

For the first time, he was struck with just how limiting their current relationship was when it came to privacy options. Even if he did confess his identity right this second, his choices as Adrien weren’t much better. The likelihood of anyone walking in on over enthusiastic necking may be slimmer at the Agreste Mansion but he doubted that either he or Marinette would be able to even look at each other if they were ever caught by his father, and it wasn’t like he was allowed out often enough for them to find any real privacy elsewhere.

“I could always whisk you away to the top of the Eiffel tower,” he joked, hoping to lighten the mood.

“That wouldn’t exactly help with the cold,” she retorted, smiling a little.

Adrien warmed with affection for her. He pulled them both up to their feet, wrapping the blanket around her snugly before pulling her back into his arms, cocooning her in as much warmth as he could manage.

He needed to tell her.

He wanted to be able to take her on dates, and introduce her at events as his girlfriend. He wanted to spend time with her that wasn’t smuggled between photoshoots and rescue missions. He wanted to not be worried about her parents finding out about her secret boyfriend. He wanted to tell his father that he had found the most perfect, amazing girl, and he didn’t even care if Gabriel approved or not because nothing could take this away from him.

He definitely needed to tell her. After all letting her know his identity couldn’t end that badly, could it?

He could do this.

Soon.

The very male part of him also desperately wanted to know exactly what Marinette had meant but ‘more than just kissing’, and how much easier that would be to accomplish without the complications of a magical black leather suit.

He really needed to tell her soon.

“I really should just get my own place,” he muttered.

Her soft giggle brought a fresh flush to his cheeks. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

She leaned her head against his chest and smiled, squeezing him a little tighter around the waist.

“Well you did say you were thinking about moving out at 18, I suppose. Maybe you can just accelerate the process. Although I can’t really imagine you working a minimum wage job trying to pay our rent between akuma attacks!”

“I will have you know that I would be extremely capable of providing for your every whim Princess,” he laughed.

“Oh so you are a rich kitty then?”

She was teasing he knew, but he could also detect a hint of genuine curiosity in her tone.

“You could say that.”

She had no idea. Between his personal trust fund, as well as the separate account that held all of the funds from his countless modeling gigs from the past half dozen years, both of which he had thus far never needed to touch and would gain full control of when he came of age, Adrien could chose to never work another day in his life and live in relative luxury, even if his father chose to disinherit him from the main Agreste fortune.

“I don’t know Chat, we artistic types can be very expensive you know,” she pouted, running a finger down the bridge of his nose.

“I am sure I can manage,” he leaned in and captured her lips with his.

He could still feel the slight vibrations of her laughter through the kiss, the corners of her lips pulled into a smile even as they soften against the pressure of his own.

He memorized the shape and the feel of her, nibbling softly on her lower lip and tracing his tongue along the contours of her mouth. He could taste the lingering traces of the hot chocolate she had been drinking. Her scent- sweet and spicy and something uniquely her- was overwhelming and soothing all at once. He greedily swallowed her soft sigh of pleasure, his armed tightening their hold around her as if to strengthen his claim on her.

She was everything he could ever possibly want. She was joy, and warmth, and home. He lived for her happiness, and he would go to hell and back to keep her safe. It was as if his entire life had been leading up to this moment, to the one undeniable truth that he was hers, completely and forever.

Adrien knew that he would spend the rest of his life loving this girl.

Every thought, every emotion became suddenly and instantly clear in his mind.

He loved her.

Maybe he had always been in love with her, and was just too blinded by his infatuation with Ladybug to see.

He loved her laugh, he loved her smile, he loved the exasperated wrinkling that crossed her brow when she was unhappy with a design and he loved the way she would spin about like a lunatic whenever she was stressed.  

“Forty two,” he breathed breaking the kiss to stare down at her in wonder.

“Huh?”

“I’ve kissed you forty two times,” he stated, too euphoric over his revelation to be embarrassed by the odd habit.

“Oh, I see. Exactly how many times are you planning on kissing me, Minou?” She smiled impishly, repeating the words that she had said what now felt like a lifetime ago.

Had there really been a time before he loved her? He pulled her close again kissing her hard and fast and never, ever wanting to let go. Forty three.

“I will kiss you every day.” Forty four. “As many times as possible.” Forty Five.

“Until I lose count.”

Chapter Text

The forty seventh time it went a little past kissing.

In his defense, she had started it.

It had been almost exactly 24 hours since his revelation.

It had also been almost exactly 24 hour since an untimely akuma attack and dragged him away from the arms of his incomparable girlfriend, whom he loved .

He loved her, and he hadn’t been able to tell her yet because some idiot couldn’t control their emotions, over a parking ticket no less.

Adrien couldn’t remember a time when he was more motivated to destroy an akuma as quickly as possible. But of course luck was not on his side.

It had been easy enough to find the akuma, following the screams of panic that had dragged him away from Marinette’s balcony in the first place. Ladybug must have also been in the area, as she arrived on the scene less than a minute later.

It should have been a quick easy fight that resulted in him having more than enough time to sneak back to the bakery and pick up where he had left off.

Unfortunately, it was as though Papillion had some sort of personal interest in destroying Adrien’s love life, because 5 hours later he and Ladybug were still chasing after the speed enhanced villain.

“Oh come on!” He shouted in disgust as they rounded a chimney to once again lose sight of their prey. “This is the third time! Come back and fight us you coward!”

Ladybug plopped herself down on the rooftop, having already decided to take a break until their foe resurfaced. She let out a soft chuckle as her partner paced anxiously across the rooftop.

“Stupid akuma. The least he could do is stick around to try to take the Miraculous, but no! He just runs off into the sunset if you so much as sneeze at him,” Adrien muttered, feeling his mood darken at the thought of yet another bout of waiting. “You really picked a winner this time Papillion!” he shouted out into the night sky, knowing that the chances of his complaint being heard by their arch enemy was next to nothing, but taking a small savage victory in the act anyways.

“Calm down Chat. We’ll get him, we always do,” Ladybug said soothingly, patting the ground next to her in an obvious attempted to convince him to stop fidgeting and join her.

He pretended not to notice and bounced on his toes, gazing out across the horizon for any hopeful sign of the elusive villain.

“You are awfully tense tonight minou, should I be concerned?” Ladybug asked curiously. She had been infuriatingly nonchalant about this entire ordeal, seeming to have no issue with the fact that they had spent the better part of the late afternoon and evening running around together in this fruitless chase.

“Let’s just say I have things I would rather be doing right now,” Adrien stated, eyes narrowed and ears alert still looking for some sign of direction the speedster had gone.

“Does this have something to do with your mystery girlfriend that you refuse to talk to me about?” Ladybug asked with a wide grin.

“Maybe,” he muttered.

He still didn’t feel entirely comfortable talking to Ladybug about his relationship with Marinette. Just because he was madly in love with his girlfriend didn’t make it any less awkward to talk about it with his extremely attractive former crush, even if she was his best friend.

Ladybug, to her credit, had been nothing but supportive of Chat’s newfound relationship, commenting that he seemed happier and teasing that while she was impressed with his loyalty, she had started to miss his flirtations. That comment that had given him an uncomfortable thrill that he had desperately squashed down to the darkest recesses of his brain. She had tried a few times over the course of the last few weeks to get him to open up to her about his ‘mystery girlfriend’ and Chat had no doubt based on some of her comments that she was well aware of exactly who said girlfriend was. However, he had actively avoided the topic, not trusting his ability to handle a conversation about his love life with any sort of tact. It was much easier to fall back on neutral topics and bad puns than to test the new boundaries of their partnership.

Chat sighed as he accepted the reality that Le démon rapide had in fact gotten away from them. He slumped over the where Ladybug was perched and dropped onto the ground next to her to wait for an alert. The villain would surface sooner or later, and when he did the news reports and cell phone videos would lead them right to him.

“It’s alright Minou, I am sure we will hear something soon.”

“Yeah.”

“Is everything ok Chat?” she asked cautiously. She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder before pulling back at the last second.

Adrien sighed and mentally kicked himself. He really was being a bear to his partner, and none of this was her fault.

“Sorry,” he said trying for a lighter tone, “I just… I figured something out today, and I haven’t been able to do anything about it because I am too busy running around after this stupid akuma, and we aren’t even fighting him we are just sitting around waiting for him to show back up! I mean I should be…nevermind.” He stared out across the Paris skyline.

“You know Chat, since we have a minute, I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while… that is… I think that you should know that…” she trailed off her dangling legs twitching nervously as she focused her attention anywhere but on him.

“Tell me what?” Chat asked curiously looking over at his partner. She seemed nervous, which was a surprise.

“I… I’m… you know never mind!” She said in a rush, turning away from him and muttering under her breath.

Adrien felt a tug on his heart as he watched the normally poised and confident Ladybug fidget beside him. He knew that as close as they were, things had been a little thrown off by his own self-imposed distance as he had struggled to balance out his changing feelings over the last few months. It wasn’t fair to her. She had never sought his affections and now that he was moving on, here he was still making things uncomfortable for her.

“You know,” he started gently, “you can still talk to me. I’m sorry that I’ve been kind of strange lately. I’m not really used to having friendships, let alone relationships, and it’s been a lot to deal with. But just because I am in love with someone else doesn’t mean I am not always here for you My Lady,” he said, the truth of his statement clear in his tone.

“Say that again?” Ladybug was staring at him now with a wide eyed shocked expression.

“I said, I will always be here for you My Lady.”

“No, I know that, I meant the part that… you’re in love with…” She hesitated “with someone?”

He felt his face go flush as she continued to stare at him with wide blue eyes. “Yeah. I was with Ma- my girlfriend, and I realized that this isn’t just some crush you know? I’m in love with her.”

“Really?” Ladybug ask, her voice soft and breathless. “But… how do you know? I mean, isn’t she just a normal girl?”

“No!” Adrien snapped, instantly going on the defensive. “She isn’t normal, she is incredible. She is talented, and smart, and kind, and just because she doesn’t have superpowers doesn’t mean she isn’t extraordinary.” He went ashen as he realized how insulting that had probably sounded to his friend. “I am so sorry My Lady” He spluttered, “I didn’t mean to imply that you-“

“It’s ok!” She cut him off hurriedly “It’s better than ok, it’s great! You’re great!” She flung her arms around him and pulled him in for a tight hug. “Your girlfriend is the luckiest woman in the world.”

Adrien was frozen in shock as Ladybug laughed happily still holding onto him, her head resting on his shoulder.

A loud beeping from her Yoyo-communicator had Ladybug instantly on her feet.

“It looks like he turned up again over by le Avenue des Champs-Élysées, come on kitty gotta go!” And without a backwards glance she was swinging off across the rooftops.

It took another 20 seconds for Adrien to snap himself out of his confused stupor to chase after her. One thought rattling through his mind as he sped along on his partner’s heels.

‘I will never understand women.’

"Bien joué!”

The hard earned victory cry echoed between them 30 minutes and one finally vanquished akuma later.

“Well My Lady, as much as I would love to stay and Chat , I should still have just enough time to go see-“

“NO!” Ladybug shouted, looking panicked then instantly clamping her hands over her mouth at her outburst. “I mean, it’s getting late and we should probably both go home! After all no one wants to be tired and stressed and not wearing any makeup in the middle of a big romantic moment right? I mean… girls like flowers, you should bring those! Tomorrow though, not today, definitely tomorrow! That way I… I mean she… I mean… you look tired you should definitely go get some sleep. At home,” Ladybug rambled, her expression twisted into an awkward cross between a grimace and a smile that was equal parts confusing and endearing. It was also oddly familiar.

“I suppose you’re probably right,” Adrien sighed. It was getting late, and he had never gone over the Marinette’s twice in one day before so it wasn’t like she would be expecting to see him until tomorrow at earliest.

Besides, there was the small possibility that someone at the mansion might notice his absence if he didn’t put in an order for dinner with the staff. Given his constantly changing schedule, and that he ate practically all of his meals alone anyways, no one questioned his lack of routine. However, Adrien had never failed to call in to let everyone know he would be gone on the rare occasions he had eaten out with friends or coworkers, so questions might get ask if he didn’t put in some form of order between the hours of 5pm and midnight.

“Well, I should get going,” he said at last, giving his partner a tired smile. “I’ll see you later bugaboo.”

Instead of the expected look of irritation, she grinned at nickname and he again felt a twinge of guilt. Had he really been so distant to her that she was grateful even to be on the receiving end of his childish teasing? He was a terrible friend. He really should be making more of an effort for her.

“Hey um… Ladybug?”

“Yeah Chat?”

“What was it that you had wanted to talk about earlier? I mean… I can stick around if you want to talk about it?” After all if he wasn’t going back to Marinette’s he could afford the extra time.

“Oh, that. Well…” She trailed off with a small smile and he could swear that she was blushing behind her mask. “Actually I was hoping that I could talk to you about that later. Soon, I promise, just… not just yet.” She looked up at him with a shy expression.

“Uh, sure I guess. I mean if that’s what you want.” He ran his hand through his hair and tried to give her an understanding smile.

Yep. He would never understand women. Not in a million years.

“Ok. Well I should go, I will see you later Chat.” She flashed him a final dazzling grin before disappearing off into the night.

The next day was a blur for Adrien. All he could think about was getting the chance to talk to Marinette, to tell her that he loved her and, if he was lucky, pick up where their very promising 46 th kiss had left off the day before.

Unfortunately, Nathalie had informed him that morning that he had photoshoot that had been rescheduled to this afternoon immediately after his fencing lessons, which had thrown a bit of a wrench into his plans for visiting.

He knew that the reasonable course of action would be to go through his scheduled day and simply head over after he had finished all of his obligations. However, with every passing hour he could feel himself getting more and more irritated with the thought of waiting.

Fencing alone was scheduled for 2 hours, and as the shoot was a collaborative piece it could, in theory, run well into the night. There was no guarantee that if he waited till after his shoot that she would even still be awake by the time he was able to get over to her place.

Over the lunch break he had been so distracted that Nino had literally pulled him by the collar to avoid crashing into a light post.

The rest school day he hadn’t fared much better, alternating between unsuccessfully trying to follow the instructors, and attempting to surreptitiously steal glances at his oblivious girlfriend.

Adrien discovered that it is surprisingly difficult to covertly stare at someone who sits behind you. Alya had begun shooting him amused smiles while Nino began jotting down a running commentary of notes teasing him over his ‘lack of chill’.

Marinette herself may have been the only person in the room who was unaware of his attentions as she happily scribbled in her various notebooks, a dreamy smile never leaving her face and her eyes never once straying in his direction.

When the final bell rang Marinette had dashed out of the room faster than Adrien would have thought possible without so much as sparing anyone a backwards glance.

Adrien stared after her helplessly, the room feeling less bright around him without her dazzling presence.

“What’s with her today?” Nino asked turning to look at an equally stunned Alya.

“I have no idea,” the young reported sighed. “She isn’t telling me anything.” Her look of surprise melted into a sly grin as she met her boyfriend’s eyes. “Maybe she has a hot date. After all, if she has a secret superhero boyfriend it would explain why she isn’t telling me anything.”

“Nope. Sorry Babe, I told you before I am not signed up for your crackpot theories,” Nino countered, clamping his hand on Adrien’s shoulder. “There is no way that our little Mari is running around behind our backs with some leather clad catboy.”

Adrien tried not to slouch in guilt. Marinette was most definitely running around behind their backs  with said catboy, but he couldn’t exactly say that to Nino without opening up a whole slew of questions that he wasn’t in a position to answer.

“I donnow Nino, I mean it’s not like I can blame the girl. I’ve been following Ladybug and Chat long enough to say I wouldn’t say no if that cat showed up in my bed.”

Adrien was thankful that his choked cough was drown out by Nino’s own indignant sputtering.

“What?” Alya continued merrily. “That suit leaves nothing to the imagination and that boy is fit. Not to mention flexible. I’m not the only person who is jealous of Mari’s conquest.”

“Wow, I am just feeling the love in this relationship,” Nino sulked, although the pout he sent in his girlfriend’s direction was mostly for show.

“Hey you knew that Ladybug and Chat are both on my freebee five,” Alya grinned, poking Nino in the shoulder. “And I didn’t say I wanted a relationship with the guy, just that I would totally hit that if given the chance.”

Adrien banged his head against the desk. He really wished he was anywhere but here.

“If leather and cat ears does it for you babe you could have just asked,” Nino teased back suggestively.

Literally anywhere but here would be fine.

“I don’t know,” Alya pretended to think. “I just don’t think you can pull off that Chat Noir swagger. You know he’s gonna be into some kinky stuff.”

Oh god….

“I can’t believe it,” Nino sighed dramatically, “Here I am trying to be the greatest boyfriend of all time and how do you repay me? By fantasizing about superheroes behind my back.”  

“You’re the one who picked him for our hypothetical three way in the last game of truth or dare.”

“I SO don’t need to be here for this conversation!” Adrien practically shouted jumping out of his chair and dashing off away from his friends.

Screw fencing, he could skip it for once. Right now all he wanted was to cower in the arms of his girlfriend and forget this particularly awkward side effect of being a public figure.

Deciding to follow Ladybugs advice, he landed softly on Marinette’s balcony 40 minutes later clutching a large bouquet of flowers.

He wasn’t particularly surprised that she wasn’t on the roof waiting for him, after all it was earlier than he usually arrived, and given the rush in which she had left class there was no guarantee that she was even home. After all, Marinette did have a life outside of feeding him pastries and beating him at video games between kisses.

Something was different. Instead of immediately heading to knock on her trap door he held back.

He gazed around the small balcony taking in the familiar trappings that had become a second home to him until his eyes landed on the small table.

There was a package with a bright green bow sitting innocently atop it, a small tag marked ‘to chat’ peeking out from the tangle of ribbons.

He hurried over to examine the gift.

It turned out that it wasn’t actually a box as he initially assumed but a makeshift cover. When he lifted it up, it revealed a plate of still warm cookies, a thermos of almond flavored Milk Tea (his favorite), and a note.

He placed the flowers carefully on the table and picked up the card to read it, happily scooping up a cookie with the other hand and nibbling on the treat.

Dear Chat, I know that last night’s akuma battle was a rough one so I figured you deserved a treat. I am home all day so feel free to come on in whenever you get this.

XOXOXO Marinette

She was so cute Adrien wondered if he could burst from happiness. He could just imagine Marinette checking in on the news reports of the attack making sure that he was ok and that he wasn’t doing anything stupid. He could still remember her scathing lecture last month when he had been rather spectacularly crashed into a wall during an attack. Alya had been on hand to capture the whole thing on film and Marinette had not appreciated watching her boyfriend getting knocked unconscious.

He quickly downed the tea and cookies, plucked up the flowers, and climbed through the trap door in search of Marinette.

His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her.

She was perched on the edge of her chaise lounge expectantly. She had changed from her earlier comfortable school ensemble and was instead clad in a pretty white and red dress that showed off an intoxicating amount of skin. Her hair was down though clearly pinned back in a few strategic places and her face was tastefully made up in a natural look that had somehow managed to make her eyes even more startling.

“Wow,” Adrien breathed, blushing when he realized he had spoken allowed. “You look fantastic ma minette. What’s the occasion?”

“Oh, you know, just felt like dressing up,” she said with that sly smile that drove him crazy. She scooted back on the chaise making room for him to come and join her.

Adrien swallowed and steeled his nerves as he shuffled forward to join her. He had been completely prepared to bound in here, sweep her off her feet and proclaim his love for her. Now suddenly he wondered if he could still remember how to form words. He needed to pull it together! She was still Marinette, even if she was somehow even prettier than normal, and her hair was hanging around her shoulders just begging to be played with, and the short skirt of the dress showed off a tantalizing amount of her thighs, riding up higher as she scooted back and…

“These are for you!” He blurted shoving the flowers into her face.

Marinette stared at him with a look of confused amusement that a less generous soul may have called pity. Adrien had never been quite so ashamed of his own complete lack of suaveness as he was in this moment. Here he was, looking up at the girl of his dreams and the best he could do was attack her with a bouquet. With his luck he would probably find out in about two seconds that she was allergic.

“You actually got me flowers...”  

Adrien’s mental breakdown was interrupted by Marinette’s soft, dare he say happy, statement.

“Well yeah, a friend of mine suggested it. I sort of had something important I wanted to tell you,” he began shyly, his hand self-consciously reaching up to scratch at the back of his neck.

“And what is it that you wanted to tell me?” Marinette ask, a knowing smile breaking across her face.

Adrien gulped. He could do this. Just say it! I love you Marinette. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

“Well… you see I…” why was she so pretty? Why did she have to be looking at him like she knew every one of his darkest secrets? “I needed to tell you that I…”

Oh god, now she was touching him. The large bouquet had been placed off to the side so that Marinette could reach forward and capture his gloved hands with her own.

“I realized that I…” Get it together Agreste! Adrien mentally scolded himself, his fingers locking around hers in a vice grip.

“I love you!” Yes! He had said it, and the beatific smile that lit her face at his words was worth every second of awkward embarrassment.

“I love you so much Marinette.” Now that he had said the words it was like his soul was aching to pour out of his chest. “You are absolutely perfect to me and I don’t know what on earth I did to deserve you, but I promise I will love you for as long as you will have me.”

“Oh minou, I love you too!” Marinette cried, tugging him towards her with more force that he would have expected from his petite girlfriend.

He toppled forward knocking her back into the cushions of her lounger, his body pressed atop her and his face landing squarely in the middle of her modestly exposed cleavage.

Well that was a hell of a way to get to second base.

Adrien was sure that his entire being was as red as ladybug’s suit, as he wracked his brain for any appropriate response to his current position. At this point he would settle for the presence of mind to pull his unresponsive body off of her soft, delectable form before he did anything stupid.

“So are you going to just lay there or you finally ready to step up your game kitty?”

Adrien’s eyes went wide behind his mask at Marinette’s breathy invitation. She wanted to… she wanted HIM to…

Every coherent thought fled from his brain as he felt her shift beneath him, and one slender, extremely exposed leg slid suggestively up the side of his hip.

It was pure instinct. His hands grabbed her by the waist as his lips desperately sought out every inch of exposed skin along her décolletage. He sucked and licked along her collarbone and trailed eager kisses along the sensitive skin of her neck that were sure to leave marks the next day. His hands greedily traced along her sides, nervously slipping forward to feel the curves so lovingly showcased by the silky fabric of her dress.

He let out a low growl as she gasped at his touch, arching her back up to meet his unpracticed explorations, her own hands just as eagerly mapping out the contours of his own body wherever they could reach.

He broke away from her neck and hungrily seized her lips in a heady open mouthed kiss. One hand burying itself in her lose hair as the other slid down her back to cup the shapely derriere he had spent far to much time ogling as both of his personas. He let out a strangled moan when she mimicked the action, his arms tightening around her to press her closer still as he continued to devour her mouth, each searing kiss replacing the last as his favorite as his subconscious struggled to keep track of where one ended and the next began. 51? 52? Did it count as a new kiss if it didn’t even fully stop as you gasped for air?

With surprising efficiency Marinette clamped his hips between her legs and flipped them over, so that he was now lying on his back as she straddled atop him, eyes glowing with giddy lust, chest flushed and heaving from their amorous exertions.

Adrien’s mouth went completely dry, eyes narrowing to slits as she coyly reached forward and yanked on the zipper running down the front of his chest. It was a feature he had never really given much thought to given the magical nature of his transformations in and out of costume, but damn if it wasn’t the greatest accessory his suit possessed.

He shuddered as her hand slipped under the open collar to trace teasingly from his neck to his sternum.

“You know” She said with a sultry pout, “it’s really not fair if I am the only one getting marked up Chaton.”

It was like a bucket of ice cold water had been dumped over his head. Marks! He couldn’t be getting hickeys when he had a photoshoot in…

“Shit!”

Adrien leaped off of the chaise, Marinette still wapped up in his arms, and searched frantically for a clock.

“Chat what the hell!” Marinette gaped, wriggling free of his grasp and dropping her feet down to the floor.

“I have a ph— fo…. Uh… fo--rgotten appointment that I absolutely have to go to unless you want this cat to be skinned.”

He shot a sheeping glance at Marinette, who looked less than thrilled with new turn of events, but Adrien didn’t really have the time to worry about the possible repercussions of leaving his girlfriend hot and bothered with the very real consequences of missing one of his father’s photoshoots looming over him like one of Papillion’s akumas.

“I am so so sorry, I will make it up to you I promise.” He shouted as he bounded up the ladder towards her skylight.

At the last second he turned and jumped back down, running back and crushing her to him to give her one final heated kiss. 53, he was going with 53.

“I love you,” He said again staring down into her eyes and praying that he hadn’t managed to screw things up to badly with his awful time mismanagement. “I will come back again as soon as I can, I promise.”

The frustration and irritation melted from her expression as she reached up to rest her hand against his cheek.

“I love you too, you ridiculous cat,” she said, eyes shining with so much unbridled affection that he thought it might be less painful to gnaw off his own arm than leave her here at this moment.

They stood staring at each other for a few seconds more before he forced himself to scamper off to prep for the photoshoot.

As he rushed to the school to gather his things, Adrien prayed that the shoot would have a romantic feel to it, since he doubted that he would be able to wipe the lovestuck grin off of his face anytime soon.

Maybe if he was lucky he would be done before dark.

The fifty fourth time is when everything changed.

It was far too late for him to be sneaking over to Marinette’s. He knew this. Even if he hadn’t known, Plagg had certainly made the point perfectly clear. Adrien didn’t care.

They hadn’t even bothered to tell him that they were leaving this time.

Instead, he had come home from the photoshoot that wouldn’t end to find a note on his desk informing him that due to some complications with the London office both his father and Nathalie would be gone until Sunday evening. He was expected to still attend his Sunday morning photoshoot promptly at 8am as well as check in via phone at the appropriate predetermined intervals. A schedule had been provided.

Adrien had really tried to just make the best of it. He changed into his more comfortable clothes, pulled out some cheese for his kwami, checked for any updates on the Ladyblog, although he knew that there would be little worth noting as there had been no new akumas today, and eventually settled down with a controller to distract himself with some video games.

He made it all of ten minutes.

“Plagg we’re going out,” Adrien declared, tossing the controller down onto the couch beside him.  

“Oh not again, Adrien. It’s almost midnight,” the kwami whined.

“So? Cats are nocturnal.”

“Yes, but your little girlfriend isn’t. And don’t even try to tell me that you aren’t going to immediately run over there to continue your canoodling,” Plagg pouted, rummaging around the desk in search of any uneaten wheels of Camembert.

“Canoodling? That’s what you’re going with?” Adrien asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I am thousands of years old, forgive me for being old fashioned,” Plagg drawled, successfully locating a half full container and nibbling enthusiastically on his cheese. “Besides, I am tired of enabling you. Just tell her who you are already so that I can be spared your constant melodrama.”

“I told you already, I will tell her when the time is right,” Adrien sighed.

“As truly amusing as it has been to watch you make a complete idiot of yourself for these past few weeks, I am compelled to point out that your cunning plan to seduce your girlfriend sans cat ears is somewhat thwarted by the fact that she is already involved with someone. Namely you.”

“I am not trying to seduce Marinette!”

Plagg shot him a look of absolute disdain.

“You know what I mean! I am just trying to be friendly,” Adrien muttered abashedly.

“Oh so that’s what you kids are calling it these days.”

“Plagg.”

“I’ve told you before you are working yourself up over nothing.”

“Is it so wrong that I want her to like me before I risk losing the only person who actually gives a damn about me?” Adrien shouted, giving voice to the fear that had continued to gnaw at him through every failed attempted to get Marinette to engage with him in their day to day lives.

“Adrien…” Plagg’s voice was sympathetic and gentle, and Adrien instantly felt ashamed. Plagg only turned serious when things were particularly bad and he didn’t want to upset the little demi-god. He may have a strange way of showing affection, but the kwami was the closest thing to a real family Adrien had known in years.

“I’m sorry, Plagg that was unfair. I didn’t mean…”

“Oh stop moping, I know you didn’t mean me,” Plagg interrupted, in his usual sarcastic drawl.  “After all I am well aware that I am far more important than any silly humans.”

“Glad to see I didn’t hurt your feelings,” Adrien couldn’t help but smirk.

“Although I am sure your other friends will appreciate your lack of gratitude,” the tiny cat teased.

“Ok Plagg I get it, I was being excessive.”

“I wonder what Ladybug would say if she knew you thought so poorly of her?”

“Plagg!”

The kwami cackled delightedly at Adrien’s discomfort before floating over to nestle into his hair.

“So can we go to sleep now?” Plagg asked, his tone lightening into what could almost be called an affectionate purr.

“I told you, we are going out,” Adrien countered.

“Oh come on!” Plagg groaned burrowing deeper into Adrien’s hair as if that would somehow keep him trapped in his chair. “Can’t you just call her?”

“And say what? Hey Marinette I am alone again because my father is an emotionally unstable workaholic, so I figured I would call and tell you that I’m actually the guy you’ve been dating for the past 2 months?”

“Yes, go with that.”

“Plagg…”

“I already told you it’s too late to be running off, she probably isn’t even awake.”

“Please,” Adrien said softly, all traces of his irritation gone and replaced with an overwhelming sense of unhappiness. “I don’t want to be here.”

“I just know I am going to regret this,” Plagg sighed, hopping down onto the desk and looking up at Adrien with a sympathetic grimace. “Can you at least pack some extra cheese in your pockets before we go?”

Adrien knew that he was in for a giant chorus of ‘I told you so’ as soon as his transformation wore off.

Marinette hadn’t responded to his gentle, if repetitive, knocking at her trap door, which meant in all likelihood that she was asleep.

This left him with only 2 choices. Either cut his losses and go home, or climb down through the trapdoor while she was sleeping.

He knew what the correct answer was. After all it didn’t take a genius to figure out that coming into someone’s home uninvited was the pinnacle of bad manners. Not to mention the fact that he was a teenaged boy climbing into a girl’s BEDROOM. He should go. It was wrong. It was borderline stalking.

It was still absolutely what he was going to do.

He pushed aside the guilt he felt at sneaking into her room. She was his girlfriend. He loved her and she loved him, and it wasn’t like he was going to attack her or anything. He just needed to see her. He needed to not be alone.

He climbed carefully down onto her bed, his night vision making it easy to avoid crushing her as she lay sprawled amid the mussed blankets. She was not an elegant sleeper.

“Marinette,” he whispered, shaking her shoulder gently. “Hey, you awake?” Well that was a stupid question, he knew she wasn’t awake.

Her eyes opened and she looked around blearily in the dark. “Wha…” she yawned peering up at him confused. “Chat? Is that you?”

“Hey Princess.” He flopped down on his side next to her.

“What are you doing here? Is something wrong?” Her voice was thick and slurred with sleep but he could see her brow furrowing as she tried to gather herself together if he needed her.

He pulled her into his arms, her face pressed into his chest and stroked his hands down her back, fingers teasing at the soft fabric of her sleep shirt.

“I’m ok, it’s nothing serious I promise,” he said, laying a soft kiss on the crown of her head. “I just… after I left here for my… appointment… it was just a rough day and I needed to see you.” He nuzzled her hair and he felt her relax against him, nodding in understanding. “Is that ok? I mean… I promise I won’t make a habit of sneaking into your room, I just…”

“It’s fine,” she said softly, hugging him tighter and letting out a soft yawn. “Sorry, I am just tired.”

“Do you want me to go?” He asked.

“No, you can stay, I just might fall asleep on you,” she laughed, snuggling down into the bed, her arms still draped around him.

“That’s ok.”

“Ok,” she shuffled around until she found a comfortable spot before letting out a hum of contentment. “So warm,” she breathed.

He chuckled. “Is that a good thing?”

“Um hum,” she murmured happily pressing against him.

A few minutes later he could hear her gently snoring.  He let out a soft sigh of relief. Here with this precious, adorable girl, he knew that he was safe and wanted and loved. He closed his eyes, though he knew that sleep was a long way off for him. Instead he contented himself with memorizing the smell of her hair pressed against his nose and the gently melody of her breathing.

It was about half an hour later when she stirred again, flopping agitatedly against the pillows trying to find a comfortable position. Her hands knocked against his chest and she paused, then quickly shifted higher and latched onto him, letting out a little meul she buried her face into his shoulder.

“Hey sleeping beauty,” he joked softly, tracing his fingers down her arm. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“S’ok,” she muttered, her legs snaking around his, pulling him in tighter and pressing against him contentedly.

“I really shouldn’t have come so late, I just didn’t want to be alone.”

“Ummmm,” she groaned out an unintelligible reply, nuzzling her face deeper into his neck. She was adorable in her exhaustion. Her eyes were closed and her lips were pursed into an endearing pout.

He rolled them both over so that she was lying on her back beneath him. He brushed the hair out of her face and reveled in the happy smile that tugged at the corners of her lips at the attention.

“You are so beautiful Marinette. Do you have any idea how much I love you?” He cradled her cheek in his hand, his thumb caressing the side of her face and she let out another wordless moan.

He leaned down and kissed her. It was slow and languid. He could feel the heat of her body pressed against him as he tugged at her lips. Her movements were sluggish but needy, her instincts guiding her muscles as her brain fought to fully emerge from sleep. He deepened the kiss, running his hands along her sides and daringly stroking down her hips and thighs, the darkness giving him the confidence to explore the curves she had so willingly tempted him with earlier. He delighted in soft gasp of pleasure as he broke the kiss to nibble on her earlobe.

“Marinette,” he sighed her name into her ear before leaning back in to steal another kiss, nibbling and sucking on her lower lip as fingers crept up to tangle in her silky hair.

He broke away gasping and nuzzled his nose into her neck, as she let out a breathy shudder, heavy sleep worn limbs fumbling to wrap around his back and neck.

“Adrien,” she sighed as she snuggled down into the bed, her fingers lightly toying with the ends of his hair as she pulled him to her like an oversized teddy bear.

He was frozen. Only dimly aware of her soft caresses and exhausted mews as his brain rushed to processes that single word that had passed her lips.

“How…” he stammered. Swallowing thickly he tried again, “How long have you known it was me?”

His only response was a garbled hum.

“Marinette? How long have you know?” he pleaded again, stroking his thumb across her cheek in an attempt to regain her focus.

“Always been you. First time… laugh… love you so much Adrien.”

Her words were jumbled and confusing and Adrien dimly aware in the part of his brain that still understood logic that she wasn’t even fully awake at this point, but he didn’t care. She knew and she loved him and hearing his name on her lips was like a jolt of electricity through his system.

He didn’t have to hold back anymore. She knew. She knew and she was here and for the first time in years he could finally be loved by someone who actually saw him, all of him.

He released his transformation, desperate to finally touch her without the barrier of his suit.

He could hear Plagg letting out a soft cackle of amusement as he flew away to find somewhere to nap but Adrien had far bigger concerns than his Kwami’s bizarre sense of humor.

He leaned down to her again, kissing her with a ferocity he didn’t even realize he had been holding back. His hands roamed along every inch of skin he could find, the heat of her seeping into his hands and frying his self-control.

She matched his enthusiasm, meeting his kisses with equal intensity and roaming her hands along the soft folds of his clothes. Her hands found their way under his tee-shirt and trailed across his back and he shuddered at the touch.

When he finally gained the strength to drag himself away from kissing her he peered down at his beautifully flushed girlfriend to find her eyes finally open, if slightly glazed.

Her lips were bruised and swollen, her hair a complete mess, and her clothes disarrayed. Her brilliant blue eyes gazing up at him with a look of complete adoration. It was the sexiest thing Adrien had ever seen in his life.

“I love you.” He said again, trying desperately to infuse the words with the true depth of his feelings for this girl who had become his entire world.

The smile that lit up her face was like the sun. She reached up and brushed the hair away from his face.

“Good dream,” she murmured, as she hauled him down to kiss him again.

Adrien’s confused reply was lost against her lips, and completely forgotten as her legs wrapped around his hips.

An hour, many kisses, multiple definitely going to need makeup to cover love bites, and several discarded articles of clothing later, Adrien was forced to acknowledge that they were both too exhausted to do much more than pass out. Which meant that he really needed to remove himself from her bed and head back home.

“I need to get up now Marinette,” he teased, lightly pushing at his girlfriend who only clung harder at his attempts to dislodge her.

“Don’t go, too perfect,” she murmured sleepily, her fingers unconsciously stroking his hair as she sprawled on top of him.

“I don’t think your parents would be very happy if they found me here in the morning,” Adrien chided gently, trying to pry the mostly unconscious girl off of him.

“Not home. Conference. Not till Monday.”

Adrien felt the last of his resistance shatter. He fumbled for the blankets and began covering them both.

Marinette whined in protest as he moved around, annoyed to be jostled from her comfortable position. Her complaining died when he finally settled down next to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her against his chest.

Within minutes he could hear her soft snores, and it didn’t take long before Adrien found himself following her into a deep and peaceful slumber.

As his mind drifted off into unconsciousness he thought he heard voices arguing quietly from somewhere below.

“I don’t think she realizes that this is real!”

“Well she’ll figure it out soon enough. About time if you ask me.”

“This is going to be a disaster!”

“I know isn’t it great!”

Chapter Text

Adrien was terrified that he would never get to kiss her again.

The first thing that entered Adrien’s sleepy, half-conscious mind was a sense of blissful contentment. He could feel something stirring next to him, but he simply burrowed deeper into the soft inviting surroundings. His arms were wrapped around something warm and he clung, drawing it closer and burying his face into the comforting entity. He could smell cinnamon, and vanilla, and strawberry, and something else- something familiar and soothing, and so wonderfully perfect that he had every intention of staying curled up in this dreamy fantasy forever.

The second thing that roused him was a high, bloodcurdling scream. He sat up, eyes fuzzy, trying to clear his head, looking wildly for some sort of akuma, only to suddenly find himself shoved harshly away, toppling out of the comfortable nest he had been snuggled in and falling several feet down, hitting the floor with a loud thwack.

The air rushed out of his lungs and he could swear he saw stars.

“Oh my God, oh my GOD!!”

Someone was talking from that heavenly bubble of comfort that he had just been unceremoniously ejected from. He tried to breath.

“It’s you! This whole time… oh god oh god oh god.”

His brain began to piece together coherent thoughts as it latched onto the sound of the hysterical voice floating above him. Marinette, that was Marinette’s voice. His eyes opened and he peered up at an unfamiliar ceiling.

“Adrien!” Her voice was choked and she was looking at him like he was a ghost.

“Did you really need to throw me off the bed?” he tried to tease, but it came out as a pained rasp.

“You’re Adrien.”

“Yeah we already covered that.”

“WHAT?!?!! We absolutely did not!”

Adrien gaped up her from his position still lying on the floor. Maybe he had hit his head when he fell. He blinked his eyes a few times as he fought to steady his breathing.

“Marinette you knew, I mean you said…” he trailed off, still not fully functional. He forced himself to sit up his entire body groaning in protest, but air finally beginning to fill his lungs from the new position.

“Knew what?! How could I possibly know! I mean… this is, this is… oh my god…” she wailed, her words coming in starts. He looked up at her now that the room had finally stopped spinning and was taken aback by the stricken expression on her face. What on earth was going on?

He ran his fingers through his disheveled hair and shook his head a few times, trying to banish the last of the sleep and pain that seemed to have rendered him senseless.

“Marinette,” he asked carefully. “Can you please tell me what is wrong?”

“What’s wrong is that you’re… you!” She blurted out, peering down at him from her bed.

Adrien’s heart sank.

“You didn’t have a problem with that last night!” He knew that he sounded angry but he didn’t care. Somehow everything was falling apart around him and he didn’t understand it.

“You were Chat last night!”

“You know we are the same person right?” he grumbled. His ego plummeted at her obvious discomfort, and he desperately tried to figure out what to do. This was not at all how he expected his morning to go. “Besides, I don’t understand why this is such a big deal, I mean you already knew yesterday.”

“You keep saying that, why on earth do you think I knew anything?” she shot back.

“You said my name! Twice!”

Marinette eyes widened to an impossible degree, her pupils shrinking to small spots in a sea of white. Her skin, which before and been pale, darkened into the brightest shade of red Adrien had ever seen as her mouth fell open in horror.

“I didn’t… I wouldn’t have…” She looked absolutely devastated. “I love Chat, I do, I wouldn’t…” Adrien saw tears pooling at the corner of her eyes and he wondered if she even remember that he was in the room anymore, much less that he WAS Chat Noir.

He still couldn’t understand why she was so upset. She loved Chat, Adrien was Chat, therefore she should love Adrien. Was he somehow lacking? Did the fact that he was Adrien somehow negate the feelings she had for him as Chat? He tried to find some trace of her thoughts written across her guilt-ridden face.

Wait… guilt? Why would Marinette look guilty? His mind ran through her ramblings searching for an explanation . ‘How could I possibly know. You were Chat last night. I wouldn’t…’

Oh. OOOOOOOhhh.

Suddenly everything became startlingly clear in Adrien’s mind and he felt his face flame red. She didn’t know that Chat was Adrien, when she had moaned his name out last night in her half conscious state. Yet she had been thinking about him anyways. She had wanted Adrien. Shy, non superhero, lonely Adrien.

Maybe he should have felt upset or offended that she was fantasizing about someone who wasn’t her leather clad boyfriend, but all he could feel was an overwhelming feeling of joy.

She wanted Adrien. She liked Adrien. She loved him! Not just Chat hero of Paris, not just supermodel Adrien Agreste heir to one of the worlds biggest fashion empires, but him, all of him.

He was off the ground in an instant, scrambling up the ladder to the bed where Marinette had buried her face into the pillows.

“Marinette” he whispered, kneeling beside her and gathering her up into his arms. “Marinette please look at me.”

“Just let me die,” she muttered, burying her face in his tee shirt and he let out a quiet nervous laugh. At least she seemed to be joking.

“Sorry I have a strong no death policy,” Adrien teased, tentatively stroking at her hair. She kept her face buried but didn’t push him off the bed again so at least he seemed to be making progress.

“This is insane. It can’t be happening! Any second now I am going to wake up alone in my room and none of this will be real and I will probably never be able to look Chat in the eye again but that’s ok because all of this will just be a horrible nightmare.”

He chuckled at her melodrama, and gentle cupped her cheek tilting her face up to look at him. Her eyes were wide her expression self-conscious, but as he stared into the brilliant blue orbs he could see the faint flicking of hope and longing hidden underneath her embarrassment.

Adrien’s heart swelled as dozens memories flickered across his mind with new and exhilarating meaning. Months of blushing and tripping, small gifts and awkward smiles followed by a desperate flight from his presence, her complete devastation when Chloe mocker her about that stupid magazine article, her active avoidance of Adrien as she entered into a relationship with Chat. She had been in love with him far, far longer than he had ever guessed.

Yet ultimately she had chosen to be with the version of him that she truly knew. The one who teased and pestered and had a bad habit of destroying her property. She loved the reality of who he was, not just the dream of who she thought he could be.

“I love you so much ma minette.” Adrien said softly, leaning forward to kiss her. Before he was able to make contact however, she let out a high pitched squeak and face planted into the mattress, burying her face into the pillow.

Despite the awkwardness of the situation and her clear distress, Adrien couldn’t quite resist drinking in the sight of his girlfriend, scantily clad in nothing more than a camisole and boy shorts, bent over the bed in front of him. He would be lying if he said that this wasn’t eerily reminiscent to the beginning of some of his more entertaining fantasies.

Fortunately he was smart enough to keep such thoughts to himself.

Instead he remained where he was, waiting patiently for her to cease the muffled shrieking that was currently drifting up from the bedding. After about a minute of incoherent wails she finally seemed to calm down, and Adrien gingerly reached out to pat her on the back.

“I can’t believe I called you Adrien,” she moaned, wriggling herself further into the pile of fluff and cotton in front of her.

“I rather liked it, seeing as how it is my name and all,” he smirked. He couldn’t help it, her embarrassment was just too cute.

“I am so pathetic. Why do I have to be so pathetic?” Her entire head was now buried underneath the pillow as if somehow the fluffy cushion could hide her from her compete mortification.

“Well to be fair I probably shouldn’t have been sneaking around after midnight kissing my sleeping girlfriend,” he added, trying to shoulder some of the blame for her current state.

“You aren’t helping,” she spat.

“Come on Mari, it’s not that bad you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I basically cheated on you, you should not be this calm.”

“I thought we covered the whole I am the same person,” Adrien stated flatly.

“That’s a technicality!”

“You thought you were dreaming! And everyone knows you don’t have control over what you dream about,” he gently tried to pull at the pillow. She didn’t budge, instead pulling the pillow down tighter in her vice like grip.

“Still not helping,” she growled out.

“I’ve had dreams about Ladybug, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t choose you every time,” he teased.

“Uuuhhhhhgggg. I am the world’s worst girlfriend.”

“Mari-“

“Chat… Adri… Adrien. Just… uuugh,” she whined. He dropped down on all fours and hovered over her a sly smile on his lips.

“I’ve even had dreams about you AND Ladybug if you--“

He broke into a laugh as the pillow smacked him in the face. He latched onto the fluffy projectile before she had a chance to pull it back away.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how much that will never happen,” she huffed.

Adrien grinned in victory as he dropped his cleverly earned pillow off the side of the bed and onto the ground. Marinette’s eyes followed its journey to the floor and he could see in the slight twitch she gave that she realized that he had deliberately robbed her of her cloth barrier.

“Opps,” he said without the slightest remorse. He flashed her a wide toothy grin that he desperately hoped covered his nervousness. She still hadn’t told him how she felt about this new development after all, and there was still a very real chance that she could push him away.

She stared at him, taking in every feature as if she was searching for something important. She reached out shyly and brushed his bangs away from his eyes.

“It really is you,” she said softly, looking at him with an intensity that made his skin tingle.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She needed to gather her own thoughts and emotions and all he could do was pray that she still wanted to be with him at the end of them.

“And you’re Adrien.”

Her fingertips lightly traced down the side of his face no longer hidden by a mask.

“Yeah.” He swallowed.

“My dorky, pun loving, precious kitty is Adrien Agreste.” Her eyes were shining now, happy tears glistening at the corners.

He gave her a sheepish glance, rubbing his fingers nervously against the nape of his neck.

“Looks like the cat’s out of the bag princess,” he said, his lips relaxing into a shy cautious smile.

She surged forward capturing him in a sloppy awkward kiss that threatened to knock him backwards. He didn’t care, she was kissing him, she wasn’t leaving him.

“I love you!” she cried peppering kisses across his face and neck, “I love you and you’re perfect. Of course it was you.”

“I love you too Ma Minette.” He wrapped her up in his arms pulling them both down to the bed as he indulged in a long languid kiss.

For the first time in far longer than he could clearly remember everything was perfect. He was loved, he was happy, he had the entire day free and there was nowhere else he would rather be than wrapped up in his girlfriend’s embrace. Nothing could spoil this moment.

“Alright Loverboy, I’ve been more than patient, I need cheese.”

“Plagg!”

...

Epilogue: 1 week later

“Good afternoon Mrs. Cheng.” Adrien called as he entered the bakery to pick up Marinette for their first ‘official’ date.

Not that he hadn’t seen her every day since his reveal. And her subsequent reveal to him the next day. But still this was there first time going out on an actual date as opposed to their standing arrangement of lounging around in her bedroom.

“Oh Adrien dear! It’s so nice to see you. Marinette should be down in a minute,” Sabine said with a smile as she continued to rearrange the pastries in the display case.

“Looks like we have a visitor,” Tom said jovially stepping out from the back bakery and coming over to clap Adrien on the shoulder. “So you two are going out on a real date at last then?”

“Yeah, I am taking Marinette to the new exhibit at the Louvre this afternoon,” Adrien said, cheeks flushing. He still wasn’t entirely used to everyone’s overly enthusiastic reaction to his and Marinette new status as a couple. Between the cheers, congratulations, and in the case of many of his classmates the absurd amount of money that exchanged hands, he had reached new levels of embarrassment over his obliviousness regarding her feeling towards him over the past two years.

“Excellent. Now I must ask what are you doing tomorrow evening?” Tom said in a conspiratorial tone.

“Uh… I have a photoshoot in the afternoon but I don’t think I have anything else going on after,” Adrien said, somewhat confused as to why he would ask.

“Perfect. Why don’t you come join us for dinner say 7:00 and stay until at least 9:15,” he grinned. Sabine began chuckling in the background.

“Sure?” Adrien replied, although he had the uneasy feeling that he was walking into some kind of trap.

“And while you are there feel free to be as distracting as possible,” Tom continued.

“Papa! Are you seriously trying to use my boyfriend to help you beat me at a video game!” Adrien turned to see that Marinette had come downstairs and joined them and was now glaring accusingly at her father.

“There is no cheating, only victory. All is fair in Ultimate Mecha Strike III,” Tom retorted, reaching over and tickling his daughter.

“Hey no fair!” Marinette whined, ducking away from her father’s attack. “Just because you can’t win against me doesn’t mean you get to torture me.”

“I am your father, torturing you is my job.”

Adrien discreetly backed away until he was pressed against the display case as father and daughter fought and chased each other around the small shop.

“It’s nice to see her so happy,” Sabine said coming up beside him. “I worry about her so much with things being the way they are.”

Adrien nodded, not really sure how to respond to this suddenly serious conversation.

“I know that Marinette can handle herself, but it’s hard not to worry about your children with literal monsters running around the city,” She continued. “I do worry though that she has had to grow up too fast. It’s nice to see that she is sometimes still my little girl.”

“I would never let anything happen to her,” Adrien promised softly, flushing again at the knowing look currently turned on him by Sabine that was so similar to her daughter’s.

“I am glad that you two have each other,” she smiled up at him.

“Yeah, me too,” Adrien replied gently.

Sabine gave him an affectionate hug as Marinette continued to battle against her father.

“And you know, you are welcome to come in through the door anytime you decided to visit,” she gave him a knowing wink before nudging him off in the direction of his girlfriend.

Well… he would worry about the implications of that statement later.

“Adrien! Help!” Marinette whined from her current position slung over her father’s shoulder.

“Bwahahaha no one can save you now!” Tom chortled dramatically as his daughter squirmed in irritation.

“Adrien!!”

“Coming my Lady,” He replied, hurrying behind the counter and catching Marinette as she finally wrestled off from her father’s back.

“Well it looks like I am no match for the two of you,” Tom grinned as Adrien helped a pouting Marinette to her feet. “But then again that isn’t all that surprising,” he stated before walking over to join his wife.

Marinette sighed and rolled her eyes affectionately, muttering something under her breath about overly intrusive parents. Adrien just smiled at their antics. It was nice to see a healthy family for a change.

“Oh! I almost forgot, this is for you,” Marinette smiled up at him and held out a fluffy chocolate cream filled concoction that he was pretty sure contained more sugar than he normal had in an entire meal at home. He bit into it excitedly and almost moaned in delight.

“Oh god… Mari this is amazing. Why did you not tell me that you were in possession of the holy grail of baked goods?”

Marinette parents chuckled from behind the counter as they watched him scarf down the rest of the pastry in two massive bites.

“You know all of our pastries are free for family,” Sabine teased, earning an embarrassed ‘Mama!!!’ from a blushing Marinette.

“That settles it, Marinette we need to get married as soon as possible.” Adrien said, stepping up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist possessively.

“Adrien I don’t even turn 17 for another few months,” she drawled, but she snuggled deeper into his embrace.

“Don’t care. We can have a long engagement. You were already perfect and now I find out that as an added bonus you come with free pastries. I am never letting you out of my sight.”

“Why? Why do I put up with you?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dupain-Cheng I humbly ask that you accept my suite for your daughter’s hand in marriage. I promise that I can amply provide for her and will treat her with all the love and respect she deserves. In return as dowry I merely ask for 2 boxes of assorted pastries to be available for pick up once a week for the duration of our marriage.”

“Adrien!”

“Humm…” Tom stroked his mustache thoughtfully, winking at Adrien. “I think those seem like reasonable terms, I shall have our solicitor draw up a contract.”

“Papa! Don’t encourage him!”

“Perfect then it’s settled.” Adrien grinned, dropping down and scooping Marinette into his arms bridal style.

“ADRIEN! Put me down this minute you lunatic!” Marinette glowed, casting a betrayed look over to her snickering parents.

“Come on now, you know you love me.”

“You are insane.”

“And you know that I love you more than anything in the world.”

“You aren’t going to let this go are you?”

“Say that you will marry me ma minette.”

It was the first time he asked her.

The End.