Continuing Tales

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A Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir Story
by DarkReyna16

Part 15 of 37

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“Adrien Agreste and Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” Adrien announced as soon as they arrived at the chateau, the front door guarded by a burly man checking off names. Marinette looked around her, taking in the cool air with a soft sigh. It would be gorgeous up here, if only it weren’t so damn cold.

“You may drop off your coats and other winter garments in the foyer. Enjoy the party,” said the man, opening the doors and allowing them entrance. Taking her hand once again, Adrien led her into the most gorgeous foyer Marinette had ever seen, done up in gold furnishings and white marble. Two staircases dominated both sides of the room, and Marinette, by the light of the chandelier, could make out a large painting: a fair, portly man with dark brown hair and eyes, and a kind smile that was a tad uncertain, stood short next to a tall and thin and gorgeous dark-skinned woman, her hair dark brown and curly, puffing out from her head and trailing to her shoulders, her eyes light brown, her face carved and regal-looking. She smiled more with her eyes rather than her lips, and her left hand was perched on the man’s shoulder, showing off the biggest diamond wedding ring Marinette had ever seen.

“Wow,” she breathed, hardly noticing when Adrien helped her out of her coat. He chuckled, following her gaze.

“That’s a portrait of Jacques Sainte de-Coquille, and his lovely wife Amara. She’s—”

“A super-famous supermodel, I know,” Marinette said, wide eyes still staring at the portrait, even as Adrien tucked her arm into his and led her forward through the foyer. “I just didn’t know she was married to Jacques Sainte de-Coquille!”

“Oh yes, they were married just last year; he financed most of her career. He chased her for years, at first—apparently she was a very hard woman to woo, too focused on her career for love. So he used his influence to gain her opportunities so she could make a name for herself. It wasn’t until she became the star of an international fashion show that she finally agreed to marry him.”

“But that happened a couple years ago.” Marinette remembered, because she had watched every video she could of the show obsessively for a week, having missed the actual event because Symone needed her fabrics sorted…but Marinette was over it. Mostly. “I thought Jacques had children our age!”

“He does, from his first marriage. When Amara continually rebuffed his advances, he tried to find love elsewhere, marrying a woman his parents chose for him. But she hadn’t really loved him, and so the marriage ended unhappily. He was divorced for five years before he decided to try and pursue Amara again. They’ve known each other for a long time…it’s a beautiful love story.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow as Adrien led her through the chateau, following the softly glowing candles that lit the way on the walls.

“I didn’t know you were such a sap, Mr. Agreste,” she teased with a smile. He glanced down at her with a smirk.

“Who doesn’t love a good love story?” He asked. “But they’re lovely people. Amara was the one who personally invited me, so I’ll be able to introduce you.” He winked. “Maybe you’ll inspire Mr. Sainte de-Coquille to invest in you, next.”

Marinette smiled.

“Well, not if he’s going to pursue me in exchange. I wouldn’t want to break up a perfectly good marriage.”

Adrien laughed at that as they rounded the corner, coming up on two large, oak doors that were thrown open, sounds of music and laughter floating through the hall to them.

“Amara was a special case, I think. Jacques told me the reason he fell in love with her in the first place was her passion for her work. He wanted to do whatever it took to see her dream become a reality, so he did whatever he had to do to help her make it.”

“That’s sweet, how dedicated he was to her, despite having his heart broken by her so many times.”

Adrien was staring ahead of them, and Marinette was looking up at him, so she noticed immediately when his gaze grew distant.

“Love is stubborn that way,” he remarked quietly. Marinette watched his face, her teeth moving to worry her lip. Where had his mind gone…?

“Speaking from experience?” She blurted out stupidly. As she cursed herself within her mind for speaking so thoughtlessly, Adrien’s gaze turned to her. A slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth…but his eyes were sad.

He looked so much like a kicked puppy that Marinette felt her heart threatening to tear clean in two.

She knew it—he was thinking about Ladybug. Ladybug made him look like that.

She made him look like that.

Did this mean he wasn’t over her after all…?

“Mr. Agreste!” Called a sudden voice, and Marinette jumped. She hadn’t realized they’d entered the ballroom already, but there they were, in a high-ceilinged room with glass creating most of the west and east walls of the room. A band was playing on the large stage at the north of the room, and a fantastic chandelier sparkled above, casting a bright glow that made everything shimmer—the dance floor, the decorations, the people in the room. It really was like Marinette had entered a fairytale world, the glamor almost too much for her to process all at once. She blinked, brought back to the moment when a camera was abruptly shoved in her face.

Madame Sainte de-Coquille has asked all her guests to pose for a picture,” said the man behind the camera, lifting it for emphasis. “Could I get one of you and your date?”

Marinette opened her mouth automatically to deny that there was any such thing as a date happening here, but Adrien interrupted.

“Sure,” he agreed, and Marinette blinked in surprise when he drew her close to his side, sliding an arm around her waist. “Anything for Amara.” He glanced down, smiling a little. “Smile, Mari.”

So distracted was she by him that the photographer had to call her to get her attention, and she flushed, straightening and forcing herself to smile as naturally as she could. He took a couple shots, thanked them, and stepped back to let them pass. As they descended the staircase down into the ballroom, Marinette groaned under her breath.

“I was making a stupid face, I know it,” she grumbled. Adrien chuckled softly.

“No face you make is stupid, Mari,” he assured her with a wink. Marinette smiled weakly, unable to tease him, now that she knew he was still in love with Ladybug. She had managed to push the issue to the side for so long, but here it was, a couple months later…and Adrien was still stuck on her. The wrong her.

And she had to spend the whole evening in his company, painfully aware of that fact.

Some concern must have shown up on her face, for Adrien’s amusement faded, and now he matched her concern with a look of his own.

“Mari? You okay?”

Huh…how was she supposed to answer that question without outright lying through her teeth?

Marinette stared up at him, taking him in. As much as he had complimented her tonight, Adrien more than cleaned up well: in his fitted, three-piece suit, and gelled and combed hair, his side-swept bangs a little more subdued than usual, he looked like a bona-fide movie star arriving on the red carpet for the premiere of his next of many blockbuster films. He was really too handsome to be allowed, and Marinette wished she had someone to complain to about it…but since neither of his parents were here to take responsibility…

“Oh, dear Adrien! You made it!”

Distracted, Adrien looked away from Marinette, grinning as a stunning, dark-skinned model made her way over in a sweeping white gown, her dark, curly hair piled high onto her head in a long ponytail, which she swept back from her shoulder as she leaned forward—she was a little taller than Adrien, holy crap—and kissed Adrien on both cheeks.

“Amara,” Adrien greeted, taking the model’s hands and squeezing them. “Always a pleasure.”

“You flatter me,” she replied, smiling warmly. “There are so many people I must have you meet. If you’ll come with me—”

“Ah…” Adrien’s gaze went to Marinette, which brought her to Amara’s attention. Under her scrutinizing gaze, Marinette abruptly felt inadequate. She hated it. “Amara, this is Marinette Dupain-Cheng, a friend of mine. She’s a fashion designer.”

“Nice to meet you,” Marinette mumbled, once again unable to smile naturally, so intimidated was she by Amara’s very presence.

Amara appraised her for a moment.

“A fashion designer, you say?”

“Budding fashion designer,” Marinette hastily corrected. “I, um, don’t have anything out yet…”

“Ah.” Nodding, Amara turned to her, resting a hand on her cheek and making Marinette blush. “I know it’s hard, dear. I struggled for years before I got anywhere. But don’t lose hope. As long as you keep working at it, someday you’ll be brilliant.”

“She’s already brilliant,” Adrien claimed, the pride in his voice causing Marinette to flush further. “She just needs her first big start…maybe you can convince your husband to take a look at some of her stuff?”

“I could certainly do that,” Amara mused, statuesque even while she was thoughtful. “Do you have anything for me to show him?”

Marinette gaped at her. What…just like that??

Adrien winked at her from behind Amara, and Marinette gave him a tremulous smile in return. Perhaps his influence with Amara was just strong enough to convince her to give a no-name like Marinette a chance…?

Fumbling for a moment with her purse, Marinette withdrew a business card, carefully avoiding the pocket Tikki was stowed away in. Her hand shook slightly as she handed the card over to Amara.

“Th-there’s a website on there with some of the pieces I’ve done, um, if you could…I mean, if you want to take a look…”

Amara glanced over the business card, reading the information before she glanced back up at Marinette, smiling with her eyes rather than her lips.

“Thank you. I’ll make sure Jacques gets it. For now, I’m afraid I have to steal your date away. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Oh…no,” Marinette replied, unsure of whether or not her refusal would go over well here, in Amara’s domain. “Go ahead. I’ll, um…just be around.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t hog him all night,” Amara assured her, her lips curving into a small smile now. “Please, enjoy the party. I will return him shortly.”

Adrien gave Marinette an apologetic smile as he was whisked away by Amara. Marinette returned it, waving a little until he disappeared into the crowd of glamor. The crowd in which she had no place. Sighing, Marinette scanned the room, wondering where the snack table was, since Adrien had assured her that heavy hors d’oeuvres would be served. She only took a couple steps around the edge of the dance floor before a familiar face distracted her—a red head in a green chiffon dress, looking about as nervous and out of place as Marinette felt.

“Hello,” she greeted, smiling as the woman blinked rapidly, taking her in with wide eyes. “It’s Amanda, isn’t it?”

“Oh…yes…” Amanda cleared her throat, not quite meeting Marinette’s gaze. “You’re Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

“That’s me,” Marinette confirmed, and Amanda blushed as red as her hair.

“Uh…Marinette…that whole thing with me being Bari-Star…I’m, uh—”

“No harm done,” Marinette assured her with a kind smile. She waited until Amanda hesitantly returned it before moving on. “So, what’re you doing here?”

“Oh, uh…I-I came with—”

“There you are, sweetie!” Called a familiar voice, and Marinette and Amanda turned as Desiree strutted forward, looking drop-dead gorgeous in a red taffeta dress that had a high slit up the right side of the skirt. She paused, her smile turning into an absolute grin of delight once she spotted Marinette.

“Oh! Mari-doll, you’re here, too! That’s fantastic!” She came forward, embracing Marinette before she stepped back to look at her. “I haven’t seen you since winter break started! What are you doing here?”

“I’m Adrien Agreste’s plus one,” Marinette informed her professor. Her eyes widened.

“Oooh. Nice catch, Marinette,” she teased with a grin, causing Marinette to flush.

“N-no, it’s not like that,” she rushed to correct, “we’re just friends, honestly, he just needed someone to go with so I…yeah.”

Desiree arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow, casually sliding an arm around Amanda’s waist, who flushed at the contact.

“I see.” Her tone implied she saw a lot more than there was to the situation, but before Marinette could try and convince her, she continued, “And where is your ‘friend’?”

“Uh, Madame Sainte de-Coquille borrowed him for some stuff,” Marinette replied with a shrug and a “what-can-you-do” grin. The grin left, however, when Desiree’s eyes widened again.

“Oh…really?” She raised her free hand to her cheek, looking concerned. “Oh dear, you may not see him for the rest of the night, then, Mari-doll.”

Marinette blinked in surprise at this.

“What do you mean?”

“Well…I shouldn’t gossip, actually,” Desiree muttered, looking troubled. “Forget I said anything—”

“You think the rumors are true that she’s cheating on her husband, then?” Amanda asked in a low whisper. Desiree and Marinette both stared at her, and she flushed under the attention. “I-I mean…that’s what you meant, isn’t it, Desiree? It’s not exactly a secret, right? Apparently, at every party the Sainte de-Coquilles have thrown lately, she’s been picking the most handsome and influential man and disappearing with him for hours at a time—”

“Mandy, please,” Desiree hushed her with a finger to her lips. “It’s not polite to spread such rumors. I’m sure Madame Sainte de-Coquille is perfectly happy with her husband, even if some jealous people swear up and down that she only married him for his money—”

Marinette paled now.


“Oh, I’m sorry, Marinette,” Desiree apologized, cringing. “They really are just rumors, I wouldn’t worry about them, honestly. I’m sorry I even brought it up.”

But now that she had…Marinette was beginning to wonder. According to Adrien, Amara had only agreed to marry her husband after she became internationally famous…was it because she had finally achieved her dream? Or was it because she realized that she could use her husband’s money and influence to be even bigger than she already was?

Was Amara secretly like Jacques’ first wife, marrying him only because it was convenient?

No.’ Her mind rejected the notion, remembering the kindness that Amara had just shown her, the encouragement she had given her…

But had that kindness actually been patronizing? Had that encouragement actually been mocking? Was Amara at all what she had appeared to be on the surface…?

Her face must have been very telling, for Desiree’s beautiful face crumpled.

“Please, Mari-doll, don’t look like that. They’re only rumors,” she assured her, her free hand touching Marinette’s cheek, in much the same way Amara had. “Come on. Let’s get you a drink.”

Unable to come up with any reason not to, Marinette allowed herself to be steered in the direction of the food table, where at the end sat flute glasses full of what looked like wine. As Desiree and Amanda chatted and flirted beside her, Marinette let her mind wander, her eyes on her feet…so when she ran straight into someone, she had no one to blame but herself, and cursed herself for her distraction.

“I’m sorr—”

Marinette’s tongue halted, nearly choking on the apology. She took hasty steps back, staring up at the assistant to the owner of Tres Bien Boutique, his pale hair slicked back, dressed in a dark blue tailored suit, an eyebrow raised. Felix.

Marinette swallowed. She hadn’t seen him up close in quite some time: just in the background sometimes, when she was paying attention. What the hell was he doing here?

“I am here representing Symone,” Felix replied, and Marinette suddenly realized that she had accidentally voiced the question. “She is hoping to gain new financial backers, since you seem to have stolen the one she was counting on the most.”

Marinette glared.

“I did not steal Adrien,” she growled, and Felix’s eyebrow climbed higher. “He just didn’t want to lower his standards to back someone who would steal someone else’s designs.”

“Hmm. You’re his plus one, aren’t you?”

Marinette’s eyes narrowed.

“How do you know that?” She demanded to know. Felix lifted and dropped a shoulder.

“You’re on the guest list,” he explained, but Marinette didn’t stop glaring at him, certain that there was no way he should know that. And to think, once upon a time, she admired him and his cool composure, composure that refused to shatter even under Symone’s worst tantrums.

Now, all she saw was a shifty character, skulking around in shadows, convinced he could not be seen…but Marinette was onto him. She still didn’t have any proof that he was anything more than what he was presenting himself to be, but when that day came—

“…Well,” he spoke when Marinette refused to say anything more, “this has been sufficiently awkward. As much fun as it is to have you glaring at me for no good reason, I’m afraid I have to return to work. Good night, Marinette.”

“Felix,” she returned tersely, still scowling as he turned on his heel, disappearing into the glamor crowd just as suddenly as he appeared. The tension did not leave her shoulders, however, and she turned to apologize to Desiree and Amanda for the distraction…only to find them nowhere in sight. She blinked, turning around fully and searching for them. Where had they disappeared to?

“Boo,” breathed a voice in her ear. Because she was already on high alert, she reacted automatically, whirling and grabbing the hand that touched her shoulder, twisting it and bringing her perceived assailant to his knees.

“Ow! Mercy, Mari!” Cried the assailant, and Marinette jolted when she realized it was Adrien.

“Shit,” she swore, letting go immediately and raising her hands, grimacing as Adrien pushed himself back to his feet, wincing as he massaged his wrist. “I’m so sorry, Adrien. I thought you were, uh, someone else.”

Adrien quirked a brow at her, still rubbing at his wrist.

“Who the hell put you on edge while I was gone?” His expression of concern warped into one of foreboding. “Do I need to kick someone’s ass? Do I need to call Alya to kick someone’s ass?”

Despite herself, Marinette giggled.

“No, don’t call Alya,” she warned Adrien, grinning. “She’ll shut this whole party down. And I doubt Amara would like that very much.” And speaking of Amara… “But that was quick…whatever she wanted you for didn’t take very long, huh?”

“Ah, nope.” Adrien slipped his hands into his pockets, a strange kind of tension beginning to roll off him, making Marinette raise her eyebrows. “She just had some, uh, news to tell me.”

“…Which was?” Marinette prompted when Adrien said nothing more, her curiosity getting the better of her. What could Amara have possibly told Adrien to make him look like that…?

Before Adrien could reply, however, the band on stage abruptly stopped playing, and the crowd began to applaud as a portly man made his way on stage. He smiled in a nervous sort of way, lowering the microphone stand down so that he could speak.

“Welcome, friends, to the annual Sainte de-Coquille Winter Ball,” he greeted warmly, and another round of applause was given. “Thank you so, so much for coming. My wife and I are very glad you could share Christmas Eve with us, and I know I speak for both of us when I say that we’re pleased with the turn-out this year.” Jacques glanced around, as if looking for someone, before he cleared his throat and continued. “So, please enjoy the party! The hors d’oeuvres table is fully stocked—I recommend the wine, since the grapes that made it were grown here!—and the band will be playing until midnight. And careful where you step—mistletoe is hanging from the ceiling, so if you happen to wander underneath one, you know the rules! Let’s enjoy the last hours of Christmas Eve together, everyone!”

The crowd applauded once more, and Jacques left the stage, allowing the band to resume their playing. Adrien smiled down at Marinette, offering his hand to her.

“May I have this dance, your Highness?” He teased with a wink.

Marinette gave him a look that was half-amused, half-pained.

“Well, I would…” she cringed, “but I’m afraid my feet aren’t really made for dancing.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I’m clumsy,” Marinette reminded him with a sigh. “It’s only thanks to a miracle that I haven’t tripped over this dress and fallen flat on my face yet.”

Adrien covered his mouth with the back of his hand, but Marinette could still see him smirking, and she scowled at him.

“It’s not funny,” she told him.

“Of course not,” Adrien agreed, abruptly sobering. “It’s absolutely tragic that you think being clumsy means you can’t dance.” He offered his hand to her again, smiling a heart-melting smile. “Do you really think I’d let you fall?”

Marinette pursed her lips. She could feel her resistance beginning to crumble…and it was all because of that stupid smile he was currently wearing. Damn it.

“You’ll be forced to amputate your toes because of me,” she warned him…but her hand was already moving, sliding into his grasp. Despite the gloves she wore, she could still feel the warmth of his hand. He closed his fingers around hers and grinned.

“I’ll take my chances,” he assured her. Helpless and hating it, Marinette allowed him to lead her onto the dance floor, flushing a little as he slid an arm around her waist, hand resting on the small of her back as he guided her hand to his shoulder before he gripped her free hand once again within his. “You know how to waltz, right?”

“Did you not just hear me say that I’m clumsy?”

Adrien laughed.

“It’s all right, I’ll teach you. Let’s start simple, with the closed change. I’ll lead, so first, I’ll step forward with my left foot…” He did so, and Marinette, reacting automatically because she didn’t want her toes stepped on, moved her right foot back. Adrien grinned. “Look at that, you’re already getting it.”

“I didn’t want my toes smashed,” Marinette explained, feeling like he was giving her too much credit.

“Don’t worry: I’ll avoid your toes if you avoid mine,” Adrien joked. “Okay, now, next, we step to the side. Or you do, anyway—I move in close like this to step to the side…”

As he moved into her space, Marinette couldn’t help but note how good he smelled. Whatever cologne he was wearing, it was a very good choice…

“Mari? Still with me?”

“Yes!” She yelped, flushing dark red. Adrien gave her a curious look, but when she avoided his gaze, he shrugged.

“All right…I need to you to step over to me, Mari.”

“Oh, right…” She stepped to the side, so she was directly in front of Adrien again, and he smiled.

“Good. Now I step back, and you, forward.” He stepped back, and Marinette followed. “And then you cross this time, to my front…” He stepped to the side, and Marinette carefully slid her foot forward so that she was standing in front of him once again. “And that’s the waltz. Only with more turning. Easy enough, right?”

“Seems like it.” Marinette pursed her lips, dubious. Yeah, it seemed easy enough…until she tried to do it a bit faster, which would no doubt result in her tripping on the hem of her skirt, pitching forward, taking Adrien down with her, causing them to bump into another couple, who would go sprawling into the hors d’oeuvres table, sending food and wine everywhere and thereby effectively ruining the night—

Adrien gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, and Marinette’s thoughts ceased their spiral into madness for a moment. When she looked up, he was smiling gently once again, and Marinette stubbornly ignored the uneven thumping of her heart in her chest.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured her. “We can start slow, and we’ll pick up the pace only when you’re ready. Okay?”

Marinette swallowed a little, but her desire to not fail at anything won out, and she nodded her agreement.

“Okay.” She tightened her grip on his shoulder, determination flooding her. “Let’s do this.”

Adrien laughed as he slowly started forward, waiting until Marinette matched his movement before he moved on to the next step.

“It’s just a dance, Mari. It’s not like we’re going to war.”

“Says the graceful model man,” Marinette grumbled, focusing on their feet as they moved. She heard Adrien snort, but was too busy making sure she didn’t stomp on his toes to look up and scowl at him as she wanted to.

“I’m only graceful when I’m still,” he assured her, slowly turning them as Marinette repeated the steps over and over, counting in her head. One, two, three, four…one, two, three, four… “When I’m moving, not so much.”

Marinette lost count as she snorted and rolled her eyes.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen you on a catwalk. You’re a hot mess, Adrien Agreste,” she quipped sarcastically, looking up to deadpan him a look. Adrien, in response, grinned toothily at her.

“You think I’m hot?” He teased, and Marinette shook her head.

“Don’t start that again.”

“Aw come on, let me have the ego boosts when I can get them.”

“As if you need them, with the whole world clamoring for your autographs on pictures they have of you hung up in their room—”

“Speaking from experience?” Adrien asked lightly. Marinette, feeling her face and the back of her neck flush hot, did not answer him, choosing instead to count until she calmed down. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four…

“You picked it up fast,” Adrien complimented her after a minute, smiling…or, at least, Marinette assumed he was smiling. Her eyes were closed, so she couldn’t really tell.

“It’s easier if I don’t think about it and just move,” she told him, keeping her eyes closed, even when Adrien chuckled.

“Think you’re ready for a little more?”

Marinette frowned, her eyes still firmly shut.

“I don’t know…”

“Okay. Just let me know.”

He left it at that, which gave Marinette the room to be a bit surer in her steps before she opened her eyes again, looking up at him. It embarrassed her to note that he had probably been watching her this whole time while her eyes were closed, and so she strove to distract him.

“Okay, what’s next?”

At this, Adrien smiled.

“Just follow me. Try not to think too hard about it…but if I’m going too fast, let me know, okay?”

Marinette raised a brow, deciding to tease him.

“What, you think I can’t keep up with you? This is cake now.”

Adrien smile evolved into a grin.

“Oh yeah?” He challenged. “Big talk from the woman who had to close her eyes and memorize the closed change first. Are you sure you don’t need a few more minutes?”

Marinette’s eyes narrowed.

“Try me,” she shot at him.

Adrien’s grin grew wicked.

“You asked for it,” he cautioned her. And then, before Marinette was ready, he turned them at a swifter pace, the steps a half beat faster. But Marinette, who was competitive beyond belief when she wanted to be, would not be bested, so for every step he made, she strove to match it, and found that it was actually much easier if she was focusing on keeping up with Adrien. Rather than letting him lead, she was dancing with him, like they were partners. So when Adrien spun her out, she obliged, twirling in his grasp before he brought her back in, turning her so that her back was pressed to him now, the dance still continuing, though now only his hands guided her. Marinette bit her lip and concentrated on not accidentally stepping on her dress, and soon enough, Adrien brought her back around to ground she was more familiar with, facing him again and giving him a superior look that made him snicker. The next moment, the world was suddenly bending backwards, and Marinette yelped as one of her feet left the ground, certain she had slipped and fallen after all…but Adrien had her by the waist, and was leaning with her…he was dipping her.

Marinette pouted at the smug look on his face.

“Warn me next time,” she growled at him as they straightened up. “I thought I was falling.”

“Oh, you were,” Adrien teased with a wink. “Falling for me, that is.”

Marinette stared at him.

That…was the cheesiest pick-up line it was ever her misfortune to hear. It would have made Chat Noir proud…in fact, it was definitely a line that would’ve gained the rogue cat’s approval, had he been around to hear it…

“Mari?” Adrien asked when Marinette didn’t say anything; his grin dropped, and a flush spread through his face. “I was kidding…I mean, I didn’t mean—”

“Pardon, but may I cut in?”

Amara was suddenly there, smiling with her eyes at the pair of them. Adrien’s hands slowly slid away from Marinette as Amara snaked an arm around Adrien’s.

“Adrien, dear, while your dancing skills are commendable, I’ve promised our friends an exclusive display of your piano skills. Won’t you oblige me?”

“Oh…sure, Amara,” Adrien agreed, causing Marinette to frown. Was he just incapable of saying ‘no’ to this woman? “Just one song, right?”

“Of course.” To Marinette’s surprise, Amara slipped an arm through hers as well, smiling down at her. “You’d like a front row seat, I’m sure, Marinette.”

“Uh, sure?” She replied, immediately checking her aggravation with Adrien; she wasn’t able to say ‘no’ to Amara any more than Adrien was able, it seemed.

Amara moved purposefully through the crowd, never having to excuse herself or ask people to move—the crowd parted automatically, and she was able to move through easily. Marinette was impressed by this woman whose presence was so strong that people just moved out of the way when they sensed her coming. It was a little intimidating…but mostly it was awe-inspiring.

“Come on up,” Amara invited, leading them to the stairs that would take them onto the stage. She went up first, and Marinette and Adrien followed, Adrien once again offering his hand in assistance as Marinette gathered a fistful of her skirt as she climbed the stairs that could become oh so treacherous the minute she stopped paying attention…

“Friends,” Amara spoke into the microphone, once she had silenced the band with a raised hand, “it is my very great pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Adrien Agreste, fashion supermodel and CEO of Agreste Fashion.” She led the applause for Adrien, who stepped to the center of the stage with Amara, smiling his model smile as he waved to the crowd. Marinette stood awkwardly near the curtain, unsure of what to do with herself. Amara hadn’t bothered to introduce her, and she wasn’t sure how to feel about that—while she’d rather not be introduced as the no-name fashion designer, it seemed a bit strange to just ignore her presence altogether too…

“Adrien has agreed to grace us with a song,” Amara announced to the crowd, and there was a ripple of excited mumbling at this. “He is gifted at the piano, though, of course, not without the proper muse…” And now Amara turned to Marinette. “Miss Dupain-Cheng, if you would?”

Marinette could feel her face grow hot. It was one thing to not introduce her at all, but to introduce her as Adrien’s muse?! Now she really couldn’t tell if Amara was being genuine…or just mocking her.

Until she figured it out, she did as Amara was gesturing to do, seating herself at the piano first, averting her eyes until Adrien sat down beside her, shielding her from the eyes of the crowd.

“Any requests?” Adrien asked, positioning his hands properly on the piano keys, giving her a smile. Marinette briefly got lost in it, pulling herself out with a small shake after a moment.

“I didn’t even know you played,” she admitted, to which Adrien shrugged.

“I don’t often. Just when I have the time…which is never…” Clearing his throat, Adrien smiled again. “Should I surprise you?”

“Sure,” Marinette encouraged. Still smiling, Adrien turned his attention to the keys, his hands tensing, poised for something to happen…

And then, faster than Marinette could blink, Adrien began to play.

It was like nothing Marinette had ever seen before—his hands flew over the keys, knowing when and where to strike, as if this was their true domain, where they thrived: creating music. Adrien played with vigor and without sheet music, playing a song Marinette had never heard before, the melody playful and wild, reminding her of sunshine, a breeze playing across wild grass, the smell of dew in the morning…it reminded her of freedom.

And the way Adrien grinned while he played—like the sun was in his smile—made Marinette realize that he loved this, that he loved playing the piano, that it broke his heart to leave one untouched for so long, just because of his demanding work schedule. He seemed so very happy to be given the chance to play again that Marinette couldn’t tear her eyes away from him, even if she tried, even if she wanted to. It was a moment before she realized that the song had drawn to a close, that he was finished, and that the crowd was applauding—she was still reeling from the shock, her mouth open in awe.

Was it really fair for him to be beautiful and talented all at the same time? Why was Fate so cruel?

“Isn’t he wonderful?” Amara asked the crowd, smiling as she moved to the piano, gesturing for Adrien to take a bow, which he did. “Thank you, dear, that was beautiful. I’m so happy you agreed to play for us.”

Amara gave a snap, and the band resumed its playing, and she descended the stairs with Adrien in tow, leaving Marinette to bring up the rear, carefully avoiding the bottom of her dress again. At the bottom of the stairs, Adrien was being mobbed by admirers, so rather than fight through them, Marinette decided to go around them. It was suddenly too stuffy in this room for her…she could do with some fresh air.

A door was slightly ajar on the east side of the room, and so Marinette made her way over, stepping out onto a grand balcony that overlooked dozens of buildings below, the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur right next door, the stars glittering in the velvety night sky. It would have been a stunning view…had Marinette not been immediately distracted by the short figure slumped on the bench in front of her, looking utterly defeated.

Marinette blinked in surprise, moving forward cautiously.

Monsieur Sainte de-Coquille?”

Jacques lifted his head, his sad eyes focusing on Marinette.

“Oh…good evening, mademoiselle,” he greeted her, trying for a smile that looked strained. He eyed her as she carefully sat beside him, wishing for her coat. “You’re clearly cold. What brings you out here?”

“I needed some air,” she said honestly, glancing over at the sad man beside her. “…And what about you, monsieur? This is your party, isn’t it?”

Jacques sighed.

“To tell you the truth, it is more my wife’s party than it is mine.” He shuffled his feet, twisting his wedding ring. “You saw her in there. She’s the best at networking, making the right connections and everything. I’m just…in the way.”

Marinette’s heart gave a painful squeeze. Clearly, this man was very much in love with his wife…but she had spent a good amount of the party schmoozing Adrien. That couldn’t be fun to watch; Marinette herself wasn’t exactly crazy about it, but it was different—while she and Adrien were just friends, that was someone’s wife who was dangling on his arm, introducing him to the other influential giants of the fashion industry…and who knew what else…

“I’m sure that’s not true,” she kindly disagreed with Jacques, carefully laying a hand on his shoulder. He glanced at her with a slight smile.

“You are kind,” he noted, “but I know what is true. My wife is one of the most beautiful, sought-after supermodels of the world…and I…I am just a man whose only attractive quality is the riches he was born into.”

Monsieur,” Marinette protested, but Jacques got to his feet, turning to her with a heartbreakingly sad smile.

“It is fine. I know what I am…and I suppose I should have known that this would happen eventually. Serves me right for chasing dreams, I suppose.” He gave another sigh, turning his gaze skyward. “I think…I will go for a walk. Please, enjoy the rest of the party, mademoiselle.

Marinette frantically searched her brain for something, anything that would make Jacques stay so she could cheer him up…but there was nothing she could say. After all, she didn’t know him very well, and she knew Amara even less—there was nothing she could tell him that would sound convincing, considering she lacked the knowledge necessary to be convincing. She had no idea what their normal relationship was supposed to look like, so how could Marinette vouch for Amara when she herself was having doubts about the woman’s character and motives in marrying her husband? What could she do but watch Jacques trudge away, dragging his feet, looking like the shell of the man he had been in the portrait done of him and Amara in happier days?

Sighing herself, Marinette got up from the bench, folding her arms around herself as she stared out at the view, not taking in any of it. After all, what was all this without someone to share it with? That was all Jacques wanted, wasn’t it? Someone who he could share all this with, who loved him as fiercely as he seemed to love? Was that too much to ask?

Marinette distinctly heard the door behind her creak open again. She turned, finding Adrien approaching cautiously, as if he was afraid she’d bite him. When he met her eyes, he seemed to relax, closing the space between them effortlessly now.

“I wanted you to hear me coming so you wouldn’t attack me again,” he told her, smiling in a wry fashion. Marinette flushed.

“Sorry,” she apologized again, turning her gaze from him. Something weighty suddenly settled over her bare shoulders, warming them. She glanced down in surprise at the jacket that now hung around her, her gaze switching to Adrien, finding him just in his vest and a white dress shirt, his tie tucked into the black vest. He gave a little smile when she met his eyes.

“I know you hate to be cold,” he explained with a slight shrug. Warming at his kindness, Marinette drew the jacket closer around her, smiling when she realized it smelled like him.


Silence fell between them, each lost in their own thoughts for a while.

It was Marinette who spoke first.

“You really like to play the piano, huh?”

Adrien smiled at this, something about the gesture bittersweet.

“Yeah…it was something my mom and I liked to do together.”

His mother…

Marinette glanced over at him, worry creasing her brow. She didn’t want to bring him down tonight with thoughts of his mother…but she was just so very curious…

“…What happened to her?”

Adrien shrugged.

“Well, that’s the million euro question. No one knows. One day she just…disappeared. And she never came back.” Adrien took a deep breath, appearing to steady himself. “After that, my father hired some stuffy old lady who wasn’t any fun to continue teaching me piano. But it wasn’t the same. Nothing was ever the same…after she left…”

Adrien’s gaze was focused out into the distance, his expression suggesting that there were horrors out there, horrors that Marinette couldn’t even begin to fathom.

“…After learning that my father was…who he was…I started wondering…what if my mother didn’t just disappear…? What if he…did something to her…? What if—”

“You’ll drive yourself crazy with thoughts like that,” Marinette said softly, laying a hand on his forearm. Adrien gave a snort, giving her a wry look.

“Didn’t you hear? I’m already crazy—I have to see a therapist once a week for these exact issues.”

“Really? And how’s that working out for you?”

Adrien’s smile became genuine.

“Best decision I was ever strongly suggested into. Did I say thank you yet?”

“Not in so many words…but the cat pin was a clue.”

Still smiling, Adrien threw an arm around Marinette’s shoulders, giving her a squeeze.

“You do understand me, huh?” He sighed, letting his arm slide away from Marinette, leaning forward on the balcony railing on crossed arms. “Really, Mari: thank you. You’ve done so much for me already…and to think, I wouldn’t be where I am today if you hadn’t decided to give me another chance.” He glanced over at her, his expression quite serious now. “I’m grateful. Really. Thank you, Marinette.”

Marinette smiled, feeling herself warm.

“Don’t mention it,” she said, patting his back. “And thank you for inviting me here. It must be nice, to be able to party and network all in the same place.”

Adrien shrugged, his gaze distant again.

“Eh…I could live without the networking, honestly. But it seems like, when you’re in the fashion industry, you’re never not working. No party is ever just a party, no one hangs out just to hang out. There’s always an ulterior motive: this fashion designer wants me to wear his clothes for promotional reasons, this model wants to star in a shoot with me, this photographer wants me on the cover of this magazine. It’s exhausting, not being able to relax, always having to be on guard, to wonder who around you is actually here for you, and not what you can do for them.”

As Adrien sighed again, Marinette was struck with yet another revelation about him…this one more surprising than the last:

“You hate modeling,” she marveled out loud, staring at him with wide eyes. Adrien blinked, turning to give her a stunned look.

“Well…‘hate’ is a strong word…”

“You absolutely hate it,” Marinette insisted, now disgusted with herself. Of course he hated it—they kept him on a strict diet all the time, he had to pose for hours and hours, and it was his model persona that caused people to misunderstand him and believe that he was someone he was not all the time. How had she missed something so obvious until now??

Adrien frowned, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Well…I’m not crazy about it, I guess…and I could do without all the fashion shoots and stuff—”

“Then why do you do it?”

Adrien stared at her.

“…What?” He asked, looking startled. Marinette frowned, taking in his expression. What did he mean, ‘what’?

“Why do you do it?” she repeated herself, carefully watching his face. “It’s not like you need the money, right? And it’s not like your dad is forcing you to model for him anymore—there’s literally nothing stopping you from quitting since you hate it so much. So why don’t you?”


Marinette stared up at Adrien, refusing to drop his gaze, watching his expression as emotions shifted rapidly through it: shock, confusion, aggravation, shock again, confusion again. Finally, he fixed her with a look that was…empty.

As if everything that made Adrien Agreste had suddenly drained away, leaving only his shell behind.

“…It’s all I know,” he admitted after a moment. And Marinette, because she had pushed him to this conclusion, had to watch as his expression crumpled…and shattered. “I’ve always been a model—it’s part of who I am now. There’s…nothing I’m passionate about, not really. Modeling’s all I have…without it…”

His gaze lowered to the balcony, his shoulders hunched, as if he carried the weight of the world on them.

“…Without it…I don’t know who I am.”

The silence that fell after that was deafening…and it was shattered by words that were even more cutting:

“That’s stupid.”

Adrien’s gaze lifted, staring at Marinette. As she watched, he began to frown.

“What do you mean, it’s stupid?”

“I mean that being a model isn’t who you are, Adrien,” Marinette clarified her rude words with a scowl of her own. “It’s a job. A job you hate. Even if you quit, it wouldn’t change who you are. And who you are is a dork. A funny, sweet, caring dork.” As Adrien blinked at her, Marinette smiled. “Despite how you’re introduced to crowds, your job title changing doesn’t diminish you as a person. At the end of the day, whether it’s ‘supermodel’ or ‘comedian’…you’re still Adrien Agreste. And no job can change that.”

Slowly, a small smile graced Adrien’s features.

“How did you get so wise?” He teased her softly, taking her hands in his. Marinette smiled up at him.

“I’m an old soul,” she answered cheekily. “I’ve been around a lot longer than you’d think.”

“I believe it,” Adrien joked with a wink. “You’re totally the Mom Friend of the group.”

“Ha ha, don’t say that in front of Alya: she claimed that title years ago.”

“Shit. Don’t tell her I said that, then.”

“Well, I mean, it could so very easily slip out the next time I talk to her—”

“Come on, Mari, don’t be mean. I thought you liked me?”

“When did I say that?”

Adrien gave another exaggerated pout, and Marinette laughed. He was so cute…in a strictly platonic, friendly way…

“Seriously, though,” she said, wishing to return to the original point, “you shouldn’t force yourself to do something that makes you unhappy. You’ll only die a lot younger that way.” She squeezed his hands, giving him a gentle smile. “And I do kind of like having you around.”

Adrien’s cheeks warmed, and he matched her smile.

“But if I quit, you won’t be able to call me Mr. Model anymore,” he teased, causing Marinette to raise an eyebrow. Did he really like such a silly nickname that much?

“I can still call you Mr. Model,” she reasoned with a slight shrug. “You quitting modeling doesn’t stop you from being gorgeous.”

She realized her mistake immediately when a slow grin spread across Adrien’s face.

“…You think I’m gorgeous?” He teased softly, his eyes alight with something warm…something familiar…

And though Marinette wanted with all her might to roll her eyes—he was just being a little shit at this point—she didn’t. Instead, she let herself smile.

“I do,” she confirmed, her face warming at the admission.

It was nothing compared to the blush that filled Adrien’s face, though…

There was an explosion of sudden sound, screams ripping through the peace of the night. Marinette and Adrien jumped, unconsciously moving closer to each other, looking around for the source of the trouble…when an evil-sounding cackle sounded from somewhere within.

Marinette’s heart sank.

Really? Now?

Exchanging nervous glances, she and Adrien rushed back inside…to find that an uninvited guest seemed to decide to crash the party: chaos. Everywhere Marinette looked, people were fleeing, screaming, from rapid-fire gold bullets whizzing by, pelting guests. Marinette was horrified until Adrien yanked her out of the way of one, and it ricocheted off the glass door, shattering it before it lost its momentum and fell to the floor. Marinette crouched down, her eyes widening in surprise. Was that…a gold coin?

“HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Enjoying the party?! Too bad! ‘Cause Mr. Moneybags is here now, and this room isn’t extravagant enough!! So I’m gonna fill it up with so much gold that no one will be able to escape! An eternal party—fitting for all you ungrateful guests!!”

Marinette’s head snapped up, finding the source of the problem on top of the extravagant chandelier—a squat man in a white, glittering suit accented with gold, wearing the euro symbol as cufflinks, a ring, a tie clip, stunner shades, and a buckle on his white top hat. As her mouth gaped open in horror, he raised what appeared to be a high-tech machine gun loaded up with gold coins, and began to rapid fire said coins at the doors leading to the only exit from the ballroom…if no one wanted to jump from the balconies outside. The akumatized victim only laughed louder at the terrified screeching, wheeling around on the chandelier to get a perfect shot at all the guests that fled in every direction.

“No one leaves! Especially not you, Mr. Young-And-Handsome-CEO-Slash-Supermodel!” Mr. Moneybags commanded, aiming his gun right at Adrien next. Without pausing to think about it, Marinette tackled Adrien out of the way, and they landed behind the hors d’oeuvres table, the food items and glasses of wine on top of it promptly destroyed by the rapid fire from Mr. Moneybag’s money machine gun.

“Stay here,” Marinette ordered Adrien, gathering her skirt into her hands as she crouched, prepared to run. “I’m going for help.”

“Mari, no!” Adrien protested, but just as he tried to grab for her, she slipped through his fingers, grabbing a silver food tray that was now empty and holding it over her head as she ran, an impromptu shield from Mr. Moneybag’s bullets. She gritted her teeth as she felt the coins pelting the shield, but she didn’t stop running until she reached the side hallway where she knew the bathrooms to be and darted into the ladies’ room. Several women were cowering in the powder room, but Marinette sped past them, still using the shield to hide her face, into the actual bathroom. It was deserted in here, and so she quickly released Tikki from her purse.

“We have to help,” she told the kwami, who nodded gravely and obeyed the summons as Marinette called for her to transform her. The women outside would no doubt be surprised when Ladybug suddenly rushed past them, but hopefully none of them had gotten a good look at her.

And, if any of them had…hopefully they’d be too grateful to Ladybug for saving their lives to say anything more on the subject.



Of all the nights to leave Plagg at home!

Adrien was forcefully kicking himself as he hid under the food table, peeking out from under the tablecloth to assess the situation. Realistically, he was the only one who could help—this was an incredibly exclusive party, which meant that anyone that wasn’t a guest would have a very difficult time getting in. And even if Ladybug managed to get here, it might take her a while…

Adrien swore. Like it or not…he had to do something. It was irresponsible of him to just let the akumatized victim rampage, hero hiatus or not. As long as he had the power to do something—

Abruptly, his cover was flung out of the way. Adrien froze, his gaze on the chandelier…the chandelier that was now empty.

While he was having his moral dilemma, Mr. Moneybags had gotten the drop on him.

“There you are!”

Adrien tried to scrabble away, but his ankle was seized, and he was flung onto his back. He grunted in protest, wincing as he stared up at the angry akumatized victim, who grinned widely at him, gold teeth glinting at him.

“Now, hold still,” he ordered, pinning Adrien down with a foot to his abdomen, steadying his machine gun as he aimed right at Adrien’s face. “A few gold coins should disfigure that pretty little face of yours beyond recognition. And then we’ll see if Amara bothers to look twice at you!”


Jacques?” Adrien yelped, only to have the white heel of Mr. Moneybag’s boot dig into his stomach, making him cringe.

“That’s Mr. Moneybags to you,” growled the akumatized victim, fixing the scope on his machine gun as he aimed at Adrien. “Now, grin nice and wide for me, Pretty Boy, so I can get a decent shot at those teeth!”

As his finger inched towards the trigger, Adrien cringed away, gritting his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut in anticipation of the pain...

There was a squawk, and a familiar sound…like rope tying around something…or…

Adrien chanced a peek.

Mr. Moneybags’ machine gun was aimed away, at something behind Adrien, and it looked like Mr. Moneybags was struggling to keep hold of it, for some reason.

And then Adrien saw the wire. He followed it, pressing the back of his head into the floor as he searched for the source, hardly daring to believe it—

But there she was, clad in her red suit with black spots, her dark hair tied back into two pigtails, a red and black mask across her face, her bluebell eyes blazing.


“Let…go!” Mr. Moneybags was growling, yanking on his machine gun, where Adrien could now see her yo-yo hooked around it. But Ladybug refused to give, her grip tight on the end of her yo-yo wire as she jerked her head at Adrien.

“Run!” She mouthed to him.

Adrien looked down just in time to find Mr. Moneybags reaching for his trigger once again. Reacting quickly, he rolled out from under his foot, kicking the akuma in the chest with both his feet. Mr. Moneybags wheezed, stumbling back and tripping over the upturned hors d’oeuvres table as Adrien stumbled away, racing to Ladybug. She drew her yo-yo back in, turning to inspect him.

“You okay?” She asked him, her anxious gaze roaming his face.

And Adrien…could say nothing. Even after all this time, even after her rejection of him…Ladybug still managed to take his breath away. Especially tonight…was she wearing make-up…?

“Adrien?” She said urgently, and Adrien blinked himself out of his stupor, flushing red.

“Oh…I’m fine,” he finally answered her, to which Ladybug nodded, looking satisfied.

“Good.” As Mr. Moneybags groaned and growled as he pushed himself to his feet, Ladybug began to swing her yo-yo around at a rapid pace. “Hide,” she instructed Adrien, her eyes focused on the akuma.

Adrien felt a sudden moment of panic: Ladybug would be forced to take this akuma on by herself, wouldn’t she? Not that she wasn’t capable of doing so—she was Ladybug, after all—but now that Adrien was going to be forced to see it happen up close—

“Ladybug—” he began anxiously, searching for a way to express how truly sorry he was that she had to put up with such a mess on her own without sounding crazy, when she turned those eyes on him again, frowning anxiously.

“Adrien, hide,” she insisted again, shoving him back when Mr. Moneybag finally seemed to gather his bearings, his machine gun righted once again.

“You’d better get out of my way, Ladybug, or you’ll have to face the consequences!”

“Oh yeah?” Ladybug taunted, giving him a cocky smile. “Catch me if you can, then, Mr. Moneybags!”

And she took off, racing the gold coin bullets as she ducked and dodged and whirled around the room, the fine decorations pelted with gold in her wake as the akuma tried to shoot at her, gradually growing more and more frustrated when he continued to miss. And Adrien…Adrien could only stand there in awe, his nerves alive with tension, his heart beating faster with every gold coin that whizzed by Ladybug far too closely for his comfort—

It was when she attached herself to the chandelier, hanging upside-down from her yo-yo, that Mr. Moneybags seemed to have her cornered. He grinned his gold grin, aiming up at her as Adrien stood frozen, panicked, taking in the exhaustion and sweat that dripped from Ladybug from dodging for so long, without any resolution, for it appeared as if Mr. Moneybags’ ammo was endless.

“Nowhere to run now, Ladybug,” he cackled as Adrien made himself unfreeze and started forward, needing to do something, anything, to protect her—

“Jacques!” A new voice cried throughout the room. “What are you doing? Stop this madness!”

Mr. Moneybags was distracted, and so was Adrien, glancing towards the stage. He groaned under his breath when he saw Amara there, standing tall and proud at the very forefront of the stage, her wide eyes fixed on her akumatized husband. What was she doing?

“You stay out of this, Amara!” Mr. Moneybags shouted back at her, throwing her a betrayed look. “I don’t know why you complain—I’m only giving you what you want! Money and power!” He hoisted his machine gun higher, aiming right at Ladybug’s face. “And once I rid Paris of its so-called hero, there will be nothing else in my way! And that’s what you want, right? To be married to a rich and powerful man? Is that why you go off gallivanting with men half my age behind my back? Men like him?!” He jerked his head at Adrien, who had frozen again, eyes darting in between Ladybug and Amara. He didn’t want anything to happen to her…but Amara was a civilian…and considering her current condition…

Amara placed her hand to her chest, looking shocked and hurt, her wedding ring glittering in the light of the chandelier.

“Jacques—” She began, but Mr. Moneybags didn’t let her finish, raising his own hand, where his wedding ring glinted as well, though it was mostly obscured by the euro symbol attached to it, like some gaudy piece of jewelry.

“As soon as I’m done here, I’m taking this off!” He told her, and Adrien was surprised to find tears stinging the akuma’s eyes now. “I won’t wear it if it only means something to one of us!”

While he was distracted, Ladybug had righted her position, and was swinging back and forth, clearly planning something. When she swung back far enough to reach Adrien, he gave her a push, which seemed to startle her, if her brief glance in his direction was any indication. But with his help, she had picked up more speed, and it was on that swing that she straightened her legs and rammed them into Mr. Moneybags, throwing him back a distance before he fell to the floor, grunting in pain, yet still stubbornly clutching at his machine gun.

“Jacques!” Amara called, rushing across the stage, clearly wanting to go to him.

“Stay there, Amara!” Adrien called to her as Ladybug detached herself from the chandelier, “it’s not safe for you right now!”

“Neither is it for you!” Ladybug huffed at him, turning to scowl at him with her hands on her hips. “Didn’t I say to go hide?!”

“But I can help,” Adrien insisted, trying not to feel too hurt that she was trying to bench him yet again. After all, she didn’t know he was Chat Noir…and it wouldn’t help him even if she did.

Ladybug’s eyes blazed, not happy with him at all. But what else was new?

“Help by getting out of the way!” She insisted, turning her back on him to toss her yo-yo into the air. “Lucky Charm!”

A tiny spotted thing popped out, falling into Ladybug’s outstretched hand. Adrien watched as Ladybug stared blankly at it for a second.

Gum?” She questioned, huffing in annoyance. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this…?”

“Maybe blow a bubble big enough to gum up his gun?” Adrien suggested casually. Ladybug growled in frustration, whirling on him.

“Chat—!” She began, her tone heated…and then she froze, blinking at Adrien. He stood completely still, alarm bells going off in his head as he stared back at her. Holy shit…had that comment been too much? Had she figured it out?!

After a moment, Ladybug shook her head.

“I mean, Adrien,” she corrected herself, sighing as she ripped her gaze from him, looking disheartened, “I told you to go already. Let me handle this.”

Adrien could only watch, stumbling back as she pushed him back once more before she unwrapped the gum and popped it into her mouth, chewing quickly. So…was his identity safe after all? Did she simply…mistake him for Chat Noir? Because of the pun? Or…because she was wishing it was Chat Noir beside her instead of him…?

Don’t be stupid. She can’t stand me anymore, remember? I betrayed her. We betrayed her,’ whispered Chat Noir’s voice in his mind as the game of chase began again between Ladybug and Mr. Moneybags’ machine gun, Adrien ducking down beside the stage for cover, as well as to keep an eye on Amara, who still stood unwisely in plain view, watching the battle tensely. ‘There’s no way she misses me.

…But if she didn’t miss him…then why would she call for him like that…?

“Jacques, no!” Amara cried, and Adrien pulled himself out of his own head…only for his heart to nearly stop.

Somehow, some way…Mr. Moneybags had Ladybug pinned underneath him, knees pressed against her arms, her legs flailing under her, still chewing rapidly as she stared down the barrel of his machine gun.

She had been cornered.

As Adrien frantically searched for something to help her—anything—his eyes fell upon a food tray near him. Remembering how Marinette had used it as a shield when she fled—Marinette…he hoped she was okay—Adrien snatched up the tray, swallowing as he jumped up, aiming carefully, his heart pounding a violent tattoo against his Adam’s Apple. If he didn’t get this timing just right…if he was even a second off—

Please,’ Adrien found himself praying, and he clutched at the bracelet he wore underneath the cuff of his dress shirt, made of the lucky charm given to him a long time ago by a sweet baker’s daughter… ‘I know my luck usually sucks…but if I could just borrow some from you, Mari, even just a little…

“Say goodbye, Ladybug,” snarled Mr. Moneybags, cackling once again, pulling the trigger just as Adrien flung the silver tray their way, his heart blocking his throat, making it impossible to breathe—

It swung in between the machine gun and Ladybug just as the first gold coin came rocketing out of the gun. It ricocheted, zooming into Mr. Moneybags’ nose instead. As he howled and rubbed at the abused bridge of his nose, Ladybug managed to get an arm free, wrenching the silver tray out of the way as she blew a huge bubble that popped when it made contact with Mr. Moneybags’ machine gun. As he aimed at her and pulled the trigger once again, gold coins shot out…into the mess of gum that now covered the barrel of the machine gun, thereby rendering it ineffective.

“What the—?!” Mr. Moneybags growled, but Ladybug didn’t give him the chance to figure it out; she seized his left wrist, yanking off the euro ring before she shoved him off her and climbed to her feet, tossing the ring to the ground, where it cracked in two.

“You’ve caused enough trouble, akuma,” she accused the creature as it escaped from the broken object, opening her compact to reveal the healing chamber. Swinging her yo-yo around, Ladybug cried,

“I free you from evil!”

And, like it was nothing, she snatched the akuma out of the air, purifying it before approaching the shattered balcony doors and letting it fly free.

“Bye bye, pretty butterfly,” she called after it. Adrien watched, in awe once again, as she returned inside, snatching the gum wrapper from where she dropped it on the floor and tossing it into the air.

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

The magical ladybugs did their magic, healing the damage caused by the akumatized victim: the ballroom was soon spotless once again, the decorations pristine, the food returned to its original state, wine glasses un-shattered and refilled. It was like the incident never occurred…save for the fact that Jacques Sainte de-Coquille now kneeled upon the floor, shaking. Adrien watched as Ladybug carefully approached him, picking up his wedding ring.

“Pardon me, monsieur,” she said softly, resting a hand on his shoulder. “I believe this belongs to you.”

Jacques took one look at the ring…and promptly burst into tears.


Amara rushed forward now, and Ladybug hastily moved out of the way, dropping the ring beside Jacques as Amara dropped down beside her husband, her hands going to his shoulders. “Mon cheri, are you all right?!”

“Please, Amara,” he whimpered, refusing to look at her, still weeping. “D-don’t pretend you’re worried…I know you’ve grown tired of me…why do you still put on appearances…?”

“Appearances? Jacques, I love you,” Amara protested, her hands going to his face and lifting it so he was forced to look at her. “I don’t understand…what have I done to make you misunderstand me?”

“Y-you’re always sick at the sight of me, lately,” Jacques wept, his shaking frame tugging at Adrien’s heart, and he unconsciously moved closer, next to Ladybug, who watched the display with sad eyes. “A-and all the parties…you spend on the arm of another man…Amara, what else could I think…? I mean, look at me. Other than my riches, what else could I possibly offer someone like you…?”

Amara sighed softly, her thumbs brushing against Jacques’ cheeks to wipe his tears away.

Mon cheri, that’s just not true. While I will be forever grateful for you helping me to achieve my dream, your money wasn’t what made me finally agree to marry you. It was your heart, mon cheri, that made me love you. The way you stood beside me, through all my failures and my triumphs…the way you were always here for me, that you never gave up on me…that was what made me realize that I wanted to marry you.”

Unable to help himself, Adrien glanced over at Ladybug. She wasn’t looking at him, but her hands were pressed over her heart, her eyes misting over. She must find this pretty romantic…the dedication Amara showed to her husband…

Jacques, though he flushed red, still looked doubtful.

“But all the parties…the other men…”

Mon cheri, I am so sorry. But it isn’t what you think. I’ve only been so busy with other men at these parties because I’ve been working to end my modeling contracts. I’m retiring, Jacques.”

“It’s true,” Adrien chimed in, smiling a little when eyes swung to him. “She told me earlier tonight—we were supposed to be doing a car advertisement next month, but she cancelled it. That’s why she dragged me away: to tell me in private, so word wouldn’t get out so quickly.”

This news appeared to be most surprising to Jacques, who hiccupped in shock.

“R-retiring? But Amara…you love to model! It’s your dream!”

Amara smiled, her carved features softening at the gesture.

“I have a new dream,” she told him softly, a hand moving to her abdomen. “Mon cheri…we’re going to have a baby.”

Ladybug gave a tiny “oh!” in surprise, and Adrien was forced to suppress a grin he could feel spreading across his face. She was just too cute.

“A…a baby…” Jacques blinked, his heartbroken expression rapidly transforming into one of wonder. “Amara, you’re pregnant?!”

“Yes, Jacques. The reason I’ve been ill lately isn’t because of you, never. It was just morning sickness.”

“How—how long have you known?!”

“For two weeks.” Her smile became chagrined, but even with such a sad expression, she was still lovely. “Forgive me for hiding it, mon cheri. I just wanted to surprise you tonight. The news was meant to be your first Christmas gift…” She glanced over at the delicate watch hanging from her wrist and laughed. “Well, it’s a couple minutes early, but oh well. Merry Christmas, mon cheri.

“Oh, Amara…my dear, sweet Amara,” Jacques crooned, and as the two shared a passionate kiss, Adrien found himself reaching for Ladybug’s hand, his fingertips brushing hers. She started, eyes flashing to his red face. Quietly, she drew her hand away, and Adrien held in his sigh. Right. She had already rejected him, hadn’t she? It was over, wasn’t it…?

He was therefore very surprised when she jerked her head to the balcony, carefully sidestepping the happy couple kneeling on the floor and traipsing out into the winter night. Curious, and just a little bit anxious, Adrien followed her.

“I figured we should give them some privacy,” Ladybug told him as he joined her on the bench she sat upon, tilting her head at him. “By the way…that was a nice throw, with that tray.”

Adrien smiled, unbuttoning the cuff of his shirt to touch the bracelet he wore.

“I was just lucky,” he said, glancing up to look at Ladybug…to find her staring at his bracelet. For some reason, her cheeks were heating, causing Adrien to frown curiously. What was that look for…?

Soon enough, she seemed to realize she was staring, and tore her gaze hastily away from him, staring up into the night sky instead.

“…Adrien,” she addressed him, the uncomfortable edge to her tone putting him on high alert. “…I’m sorry. For running from you last time.”

“Oh.” Adrien gave a shrug, trying for a smile. “It’s okay, I understand. If I was in your position, confessed to by a stranger, I’d run, too. I’d run screaming, in fact, so, props to you for not doing the screaming bit.”

Ladybug laughed a little, but soon the amusement was gone from her expression, and she lowered her head.

“I just…panicked.” She gave a sigh. “And I guess I panicked because I just didn’t understand…” She glanced over at him, tilting her head once again. “How could you love me? You don’t even know who I am.”

Adrien opened his mouth to deny that…but then shut it again. It was true, after all—as Adrien, he didn’t know her. As Chat Noir…well, things had become hopelessly complicated on that front, but…

“Do I have to know who you are to think you’re amazing?” He countered, searching Ladybug’s expression, and catching the blush she wore before she glanced away from him. She was wearing make-up, wasn’t she? Her lashes were thicker than normal, her lips too pink…had she been at another affair before duty called her here?

…Had she been at this very party, hidden in plain sight…?

Her Miraculous gave a beep, and she sighed, getting to her feet.

“I should go,” she mumbled, turning her back on him again.

And, just like before, because he just couldn’t let her go when he was supposed to, Adrien grabbed her hand, despite knowing that he couldn’t keep her if she really was so determined to go. In fact, the only reason that she stayed was because she consented to pause, stilling under his touch. He let his hand slip away in case he was making her uncomfortable, scooting closer to her while he was still seated on the bench.

“Ladybug…I know this is asking a lot…but could I have an actual answer?” He beseeched her, wishing she would turn around and look at him, wishing that she would pierce him with those blazing blue eyes of hers, like the very first day he had met her… “I know it’s awkward…but I need the closure. So…please…?”

Ladybug’s shoulders rose and fell as she sighed…and finally, she turned to face him again. The usual fire in her eyes was dull, watching him cautiously.

“…Are you sure this is what you want?” She questioned him. Adrien swallowed. He already knew he wouldn’t like her answer. It was inevitable.

…But if he wanted to move on…

Adrien sighed himself, before squaring his shoulders.

“Yes. Please,” he requested once more. Ladybug searched his face for another minute, as if she was looking for misgivings…but when she didn’t find any, she merely nodded.

“All right.” Clearing her throat and folding her hands in front of her, Ladybug smiled softly, the gesture sending Adrien’s heart ricocheting around inside his ribcage, which was completely unfair. “Then I’m very sorry, Adrien…but I can’t return your feelings. You’re a wonderful man…but I just don’t see you that way. And I’m sorry.”

She really was—her expression was all contriteness, her eyes sad, her teeth nibbling her bottom lip in regret. Adrien took all this in…took her all in…and nodded with a sigh.

“I understand.” His gaze went briefly to the balcony floor before he glanced up again, his curiosity flaring. “Is there…someone else?” And then, before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Is it Chat Noir?”

He hadn’t been expecting Ladybug’s reaction: instead of snorting and saying something derogatory about Chat Noir that would hurt him in his heart of hearts, her eyes merely widened, her face flooding red to match her suit. Her Miraculous beeped again, but she seemed not to notice, merely staring at Adrien, who stared at her in return, shocked. What was that look for?

“…Is it Chat Noir?” He questioned, gaping at her. Ladybug’s pigtails whipped her face with how fiercely she shook her head.

“No!” She protested, though her face grew redder. “I haven’t even seen Chat Noir lately! Why on earth would you think—where the hell did that question come from?!”

“Well, you called me his name,” Adrien reminded her…and then wished he hadn’t, because he should not be reminding her that she had mistaken him for Chat Noir! How stupid could he get?!

But Ladybug’s face only grew redder, and she grimaced.

“That was a mistake,” she mumbled, looking away from him again. “I’m used to him blurting out stupid suggestions in the middle of a fight.”

“Stupid?” Adrien quoted, frowning. “But it worked.

“I know. It was a good plan, the pun just caught me off-guard, and ugh…” Ladybug trailed off, rubbing her forehead as Adrien stared at her. Rare were the times he had ever seen her flustered, as both Adrien and Chat Noir. It was…interesting… “Just forget about it, okay?”

“Okay…” Adrien tilted his head now, inspecting Ladybug’s face as she turned to the side, as if to hide her embarrassment from him. “…So, you don’t miss him? At all…?”

Ladybug’s profile expression crumpled, her eyes tightening. After a moment, she glanced over at Adrien, and his heart gave a painful lurch at the anguish in her eyes.

“…Of course I miss him,” she admitted quietly, sighing before she turned to face forward again, folding her arms across her chest. “He might’ve been a ridiculous flirt and his puns might’ve gotten too silly on occasion…but he was still my partner.” She unraveled her arms, unhooking her yo-yo from her hip to stare down at it, as if it held all of the world’s answers. “Just because I can do this on my own doesn’t mean that I want to. Doesn’t mean that I should.

“You have that new superhero now to help you. The turtle one,” Adrien reminded her gently, and Ladybug smiled a little.

“While Shelly is cool…he’s no Chat Noir.”

Adrien felt blood rush to his face, and he was struck speechless.

Even after everything he’d already put her through…how could she possibly still want him back…?

A loud chime reverberated throughout the air, startling him. He glanced down at his watch, finding both hands at the twelve position.

“It’s midnight.”

“Yes,” Ladybug agreed, and as her Miraculous chirped once more in warning, she sighed. “I have to go.” She glanced over at him, frowning in concern. “Are you…okay?”

Adrien stood, able to smile more naturally at her now. It wasn’t the answer he wanted…but at least he knew for sure now, didn’t he?

“I’m fine.” He promised. Ladybug inspected him, giving a slow smile as she reached out and patted his shoulder. He hated the thrill that shot through him at her touch; hopefully that would fade with time.

“Be happy, Adrien,” she wished him, “you deserve it.”

But you make me happy.

He swallowed the words; they were unfair. Ladybug had been more than nice about this whole thing, and expecting anything more from her would just be selfish. It was time to let go now…time to say goodbye.

As Ladybug cast out her yo-yo, he called to her over the chiming of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, and she paused once more for him. Mustering all his strength through his breaking heart, Adrien smiled.

“Merry Christmas, Ladybug.” He wished her.

Ladybug blinked at that, momentarily surprised…but then she smiled.

“Merry Christmas, Adrien,” she replied, and then she was off, swinging through the air and out of sight.

Adrien watched her go…and then he heaved a heavy sigh, turning and resting his forearms on the balcony railing.

He supposed it was fine for Jacques to wait as long as he had for Amara, for those two were made for each other, no matter what anyone else had to say about their relationship. It was his dedication to her that made Amara fall for him in the end…but Adrien supposed he just wasn’t meant to have that fate. He had already wasted eight years of his life waiting for Ladybug…and she had already rejected him twice now as Adrien, countless more times as Chat Noir. Choosing to pursue someone that wasn’t meant to be his in the first place was just bordering on masochism, and Adrien was trying to opt for sanity nowadays, so he’d have to push Ladybug from his mind from now on. A part of him would probably still always love her, of course…but he wouldn’t let it consume him anymore. It was time to move on.

Unconsciously, his hand went to the bracelet under his cuff, as if it would give him strength. Marinette had already helped him so much, so it seemed too much to ask her charm bracelet to absorb his unhappiness as well, but even so…



Where was Marinette?!

Adrien’s eyes widened, and he whirled, heading back for the ballroom. Oh shit…was she okay?! He had no idea!! How could he have forgotten about her for so long?! He knew that Alya would kill him if anything happened to her, but Adrien couldn’t focus on the Cesaire threat; he had to find Mari!

And find her he did—he had only taken one step into the ballroom before she was bumping into him, yelping in surprise as she wobbled on her heels. Sucking in a breath, Adrien’s arms immediately went around her, holding her close until she could steady herself, wide eyes focused on the top of her head.

“Mari! Are you okay?!”

Marinette glanced up, appearing surprised by his tone. She looked fine—not even a hair was out of place, her make-up still perfect…she didn’t look ruffled at all. Whew.

“I’m fine,” she assured him, her hands patting his shoulders as they rested there. “I managed to hole myself up in the bathroom with a bunch of other women.” Abruptly, she cringed. “Sorry—I wasn’t trying to ditch you, I really was trying to go for help—”

“Don’t worry,” Adrien assured her with a smile, laughing with relief. Mari was here, and she was fine. Thank goodness. “Ladybug saved the day.”

“Did she?” Her eyes widened. “Oh…let’s not tell Alya, okay? She’ll be really upset that she missed it.”

Adrien laughed at that.

“My lips are sealed,” he assured Marinette. They glanced around as the band began to suddenly play again; it appeared as if the party had resumed while Adrien was outside sulking. In the center of the dance floor, Amara was wrapped around Jacques, both looking blissfully happy as they revolved slowly to the music, Jacques' wedding ring glinting on his finger, where it belonged. Adrien smiled, glad that everything had worked out, before he glanced back down at Marinette.

“Hey, it’s past midnight. Merry Christmas, Mari.”

Marinette smiled, looking radiant.

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” she returned.

“Mistletoe,” sang a sudden voice near them. Both Marinette and Adrien jumped, turning to find Desiree dancing by, a flushing Amanda in her grasp. She removed a hand from her girlfriend briefly to point up, above Marinette and Adrien’s heads. “You’re standing right under it, kids. Did you really not notice?”

Adrien looked up. Sure enough, there was a cluster of green leaves and red berries hanging above his and Marinette’s heads. Adrien flushed—he had learned the implications of such a festive plant a long time ago, sadly at the hands of Chloe, who had dragged him under one any chance she got. But this year, it was Marinette standing here with him…

He glanced down, finding her already staring at him, her face as red as his felt. Desiree was merciless, laughing at the pair of them.

“You’ve gotta kiss,” she reminded them with a wink. “Go on, we’re all waiting.”

“Desiree,” Marinette groaned, and Desiree laughed again with a slight shrug.

“Sorry, Mari-doll, I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.” She gave a seductive smile. “Why do you think Amanda and I have been gone for a good part of the party? We happened to stumble under one while we were with you, and, well, one thing led to another…”

“Desiree!” Amanda protested now, her face a lovely red to offset the green of her dress. Desiree laughed again, pressing a kiss to her embarrassed girlfriend’s cheek.

“I’m teasing, sweetie,” she purred, and Amanda buried her face in Desiree’s shoulder. Grinning, Desiree winked at Adrien and Marinette again before she whisked Amanda away, further onto the dance floor.

Which left Adrien and Marinette in a rather awkward position.

Marinette cleared her throat, and Adrien glanced down at her, but she refused to look up at him, though he could still see that her cheeks were flaming.

“We…don’t have to kiss,” she assured him, glancing briefly up at him, and then away again. “It’s not like it’s an official rule or anything…”

She was so cute. The way she was so embarrassed over a simple kiss made Adrien want to tease her.

“But what if I want to kiss?” He asked her innocently, her head snapping up to stare at him, her jaw gaping open. He grinned at her. “It doesn’t have to be a kiss on the lips, after all, does it?”

“Oh…” Marinette relaxed, her shoulders slumping with relief. “I guess not.”

“Then let’s just do this.” Finally letting his hands slide away from her, Adrien gave a bow, taking one of Marinette’s hands and pressing a kiss to the back of her gloved hand. Marinette giggled as he straightened.

“Ever the gentleman,” she teased him with a grin. “All right, now that that’s out of the way—”

“Hold on,” he protested, a hand moving to her shoulder as she made to step away, letting himself pout. “What about me?”

Marinette blinked up at him, uncomprehending.


“Well, it’s not fair that you get a kiss and I don’t,” he explained. Marinette deadpanned him a look.

“Are you serious?”

“Come on, it’s Christmas,” he fussed, lifting his hand, waving his fingers in Marinette’s face. “Fair is fair, right?”

Though he could tell that she was trying hard to be annoyed with him, a smile slipped through her exasperated expression.

“You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”

“Not until I get a kiss.”

With an exaggerated sigh, Marinette took his hand.

“Fine, you big baby.”

“Yaaaaay!” Posing dramatically, Adrien grinned down at Marinette. “I’m waiting, my handsome prince.”

Marinette quirked a brow.

“Handsome prince, huh…?”

Adrien just barely caught the mischief that crossed her features before she stepped forward, an arm slipping around his waist. He blinked down at her, wondering what she was doing—and then his whole balance was thrown off when she suddenly dipped him. Adrien’s eyes widened, and he nearly flailed, but Marinette didn’t drop him, her grip around him unyielding. Damn, she was strong…

“Wha—” he began to protest…only for words to suddenly flee him as Marinette leaned in. Her lips were soft as they pressed to his cheek for one brief, heart-stopping moment…

When she pulled back, she was grinning at him.

“Well? Good enough, my sweet princess?” She teased him.

Adrien couldn’t speak. He was too busy blushing from the roots of his hair all the way down to his neck, terribly hot in his suit once again, even though Marinette still wore his jacket. He could only stare blankly at her, his mind broken, like a crashed computer system…but this didn’t seem to perturb Marinette, who laughed openly at his expression, leaning back and letting him stand on his own again.

“Come on. We’d better get going if we don’t wanna get back too late. Alya’s expecting me to text her before morning, and if I don’t, it’ll just be bad news for you.” Marinette got a few steps away before she seemed to realize that Adrien was not following her, his feet still rooted to the floor. She turned around, giving him a questioning look.

“…Adrien? You okay?”

“Yeah,” he replied at last, forcing the word from his mouth. He cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’m fine…”

Smiling, a hint of smugness to it, Marinette held out a hand for him.

“Then let’s go,” she said.

“Okay,” Adrien replied automatically, powerless to do anything else but take her hand, and let her lead him across the room before she suddenly paused.

“Ah…do you mind if I stop by the bathroom real quick? It’s a long drive,” she said sheepishly. Adrien bobbed his head stupidly.

“Okay,” he said again. The whole time, he could do nothing but stare at her back as she headed for the side hallway, feeling like a child compared to her sure steps, her confident strut.

She was dangerous, that Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

He just couldn’t believe he didn’t realize it until just now.



Marinette overheard a conversation she wasn’t supposed to hear while on the way to the bathroom. She had only been focused on relieving her bladder, but the sound of a familiar voice had snatched her attention, and she stilled in the hall, listening intently…

“…don’t know what kind of stunt you were trying to pull tonight,” snapped a crisp, clear tone that was unmistakable. “Are you trying to piss me off?”

Marinette’s eyes went to the double doors on her left, tensing automatically.

Who was Felix arguing with so heatedly…?

Marinette could just make out the cadences of another voice…but it was too muffled for her to distinguish words or tone. Frowning, because she knew she shouldn’t, but also knew that she was going to anyway, she stepped closer to the doors, careful about making noise with her heels.

“Don’t play dumb,” Felix replied, sounding closer to the door than Marinette would have liked, and she took a step back, biting her lip. If he suddenly left and caught her out here… “I know what kind of threat you pose. So let me make myself quite plain, because I’m only going to say this once: if you continue to get in my way, you will not like the consequences. Let that be a warning the next time you think about…intervening. Good night.”

Rapid steps began to approach in her direction, and Marinette yelped, hurrying to the bathroom across the hall for cover. She just managed to close the door behind her when she heard the doors opposite open, sharp steps fading away into the distance. Marinette waited, holding her breath, before she dared to peek out again.

The room opposite was a drawing room of some kind. Marinette cautiously stepped forward, scanning the dark room. Though there was a desk, furniture, and bookcases that someone could easily hide behind…she didn’t see any movement at all after a minute or two.

Then did whoever Felix was arguing with leave already?

And what had that argument been about? What did he mean about stunts and threats and consequences and interventions? What the hell had that been about…?

As much as Marinette wanted to stand there and puzzle over this…her bladder was not going to wait, and so, with one last scan of the room, she returned to the bathroom. She didn’t have time for this, Adrien was waiting for her.

She would ponder such a mystery when she actually had the time for it: later.



“Are you sure you’re good to drive back home? It’s pretty late.”

Adrien smiled. Marinette was too sweet.

“I’m fine,” he promised. “I’m more of a nocturnal person, anyway.”

Marinette frowned at that.

“You can’t be both a nocturnal person and a morning person,” she protested as they stood on the stairs of her townhouse apartment. “That makes no sense. It defies all laws of sleep patterns.”

Adrien snorted.

“Just because you have to sleep ten hours a day to be well-rested doesn’t mean the rest of us do,” he teased with a grin, and Marinette pouted at him.

“Oh just go home already,” she said, swatting him so that he moved down a stair or two.

“Okay, okay, I’m going, jeez,” he chuckled, shoving his hands into his pockets. “What time should I show up for dinner tomorrow? Or later tonight, I should say.”

Marinette pursed her lips thoughtfully as she retrieved her key from her purse.

“Hmm…I think six is okay. I’ll ask my mom and text you if it’s actually later,” she assured him. “You’re sure you’re okay to drive?”

“I’m fine, Mari,” he said once again, grinning at her. “Just go inside and get some sleep, okay?”

“All right.” Smiling a little, Marinette added, “Good night, Adrien.”

“Good night, Mari.”

Adrien reached the bottom step before he abruptly recalled something important.

“Wait!” He called up to Marinette, who jumped and froze in her movement of closing her door, blinking wide eyes at him as he climbed the stairs two at a time. “You almost forgot my Christmas present!”

“Oh…” Marinette glanced away from him. “Uh…wouldn’t you rather wait until tomorrow evening…?”

“After you kept me waiting all night? I don’t think so,” Adrien joked, but his smile left at the awkward look on Marinette’s face. “…You okay, Mari?”

“Oh…yeah. Okay, um…come inside where it’s warm while you wait, then.”

Adrien stepped inside Marinette’s apartment, curious eyes going everywhere immediately as Marinette closed the door behind him.

“Wait here,” she asked of him, kicking off her heels and gathering them and her skirt up into her hands as she marched up the stairs to the door that must lead to the open space that was her huge bedroom/seamstress studio.

As he waited, Adrien distracted himself with looking at Marinette’s apartment. He had never been inside before—well, yes he had, but only as Chat Noir. But he had never been downstairs before, and so he took in the living room, with its mismatched furniture, large T.V. and gaming console, both items looking like they were gathering dust, and he got a glance into the kitchen, spying only a small table sitting off to the side with two chairs, two sliding doors at the back probably leading to a small yard behind the townhouse or something. He had half a mind to move forward into the kitchen to check it out more fully when the door upstairs opened, and Marinette was returning, a box in her hands.

“Okay, here it is,” she said, lifting the box before she carefully slid it into Adrien’s grasp. “Do you want to open it now, or—”

She trailed off in a snort as Adrien eagerly tore through the cheerful-looking wrapping paper, feeling only marginally bad about ruining such a nice wrapping job, too eager to get to his present. Once he finally reached the top of the box, he made himself pause, savoring the anticipation for just a moment longer…and then he flipped the top off the box unceremoniously.

Inside…was something black. And red. Black and red.

Curious, Adrien seized the thing, Marinette helping him by holding the bottom of the box as he pulled the thing out—

It was a jacket. The body was made out of what felt like wool, the sleeves leather. The body was completely red, save for the black spots that dotted it here and there, and the sleeves were completely black, aside from the cuffs, which were wool again, and red with black sporadic dots here, too. Turning it to the back, he received another surprise: in black cursive letters, the words “Ladybug Man” dominated the back of the jacket.

His mouth was open, he knew. He just didn’t care. All he could do for several minutes was gape anyway.

After a while, Marinette sighed.

“You know, your silence is kind of scary,” she noted softly. That jolted Adrien out of his head, and he hastily lowered the jacket so he could see her face…which was resigned, for some odd reason…

“Sorry,” he apologized, grinning an awkward grin. “I don’t mean anything by being quiet. It’s seriously awesome, Mari, thank you.”

Marinette peered up at him, her expression unchanging.

“But?” She prompted. And Adrien sobered, because he knew it would be useless to lie to Marinette—she knew him too well at this point.

Sighing, he stared down at the back of the jacket, blushing a little at the words “Ladybug Man”.

“It’s really nothing about the jacket. I love it.” He glanced up shyly. “Uh…the timing’s just a little bad.”

Marinette blinked at him.

“What do you mean?”

Oh, did he really want to get into all this right now? It was very late…

But Marinette was looking up at him with such concern in her expression that Adrien knew it wouldn’t be right to brush her off, and so he sighed again, smiling a little.

“Well…I’ve never told anyone this before, so please don’t laugh, okay?”

“I won’t,” Marinette assured him, her expression solemn. Adrien took courage from that, his smile widening by a margin.

“Okay…so, for a long time, I’ve been in love with this girl. This girl that was way out of my league from day one, but still a girl I couldn’t help but fall for.” Adrien’s grin grew lopsided as he lifted the jacket for emphasis. “Three guesses for who I’m talking about.”

Marinette’s eyes widened, her lips parting slightly in surprise.

“Oh,” was all she said, and left it at that. Adrien didn’t know if her lack of comment was good or bad…but he just pushed on, wanting to get it all out now that the ball was rolling.

“Yeah. So, while I knew there was no chance with her, I couldn’t help but hope…but she rejected me, once a couple months ago, and again tonight, when the akuma attacked.” Adrien shook his head with a tight grin. “Should’ve seen it coming…but it still hurt.”

Marinette bit her lip, and Adrien hated to see her looking so worried for him over something so silly. Really, he hated it when she was anything but smiling, because it hurt him to see her hurting…it hurt him a lot, actually…

“Don’t worry,” he rushed to assure her, widening his smile. “I’ll be okay. I’m…not, right now, I guess. But I will be. Promise.”

“Well…okay…” Marinette reached up, squeezing his shoulder. “But don’t rush the recovery, okay? You’re allowed to be sad about something like this. A broken heart isn’t an easy thing to fix, so you should take all the time you need to heal.”

Adrien’s smile grew more genuine now. What had he done to deserve a friend like Marinette? Absolutely nothing—she was a literal angel, and he could not be happier that she chose to let someone like him back into her life. Honestly, he was so lucky to have her…

Moving forward, he slipped his arms around her, hugging her tight for a brief moment. It appeared to startle her; she stiffened in his arms for a second…but then she thawed, letting her arms circle him as well. Nothing needed to be said—all the communication was in the hug, and when Adrien finally pulled away, Marinette was smiling, which made him smile bigger in return.

“It’s an awesome jacket,” he enthused again, smiling down at his very own Marinette Dupain-Cheng creation. “I’m gonna wear it all the time.”

“You don’t have to,” Marinette protested, looking startled as Adrien shed his trench coat, right then and there in favor of the Ladybug jacket. “If you don’t want to wear it—”

“Wow, look how great it fits!” Adrien enthused, turning on the spot to pose, glancing back at Marinette. “How does it look?”

Marinette couldn’t help but smile, gathering the wrapping paper and discarded box from the floor, crushing the trash together in her arms.

“You look great,” she complimented him, giggling when he grinned at her.

“And I see it fits me exactly. Where’d you get my measurements from, Miss Dupain-Cheng?”

“You’re a supermodel, Mr. Agreste—your measurements are public knowledge in this industry.”

“Oh, right.” Adrien frowned briefly at that, turning around to face Marinette. “Well…maybe that’ll change soon.”

Marinette’s answering smile was dazzling.

“Do whatever makes you happy,” she encouraged him. She stepped forward, pushing the trash into his arms. “Now do me a favor and toss that out on the way back to your car.”

“Trying to get rid of me already?”

“It is very late.”

“That it is.”

Adrien obligingly stepped back outside, pleased to find that his Ladybug jacket was warmer than his trench coat. Clearly, Marinette had designed it with winter in mind. Useful.

“Well, good night, Mari,” he bade her, turning to give her a parting wave and a smile. “I’ll see you in the evening.”

“Don’t forget to bring your appetite,” she reminded him, a challenge glinting in her eyes. “You definitely won’t be able to eat more than me at dinner.”

Adrien snorted. It was a strange thing to be competitive about…but it was fun, so he wouldn’t complain.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” he replied with a wink. “Night.”

“Good night, Adrien.”

As he reached the bottom of the stairs, Adrien tossed the discarded box and wrapping paper in Marinette’s trash can as she asked, feeling domestic as he did so, like a husband taking out the trash for his wife. Snorting at himself, Adrien moved to his car, tossing his trench coat unceremoniously into the passenger seat. He paused before getting in, however, wanting to admire his jacket in his side-view mirror. He turned, grinning at the words etched into the back. He had said he was a Ladybug man, hadn’t he…?

Despite the bittersweetness of the night, he couldn’t get over how awesome the jacket was, patting it down, admiring the hand stitching and care that came with having a Marinette Dupain-Cheng original…

Adrien blinked, his fingers brushing against a tag near the collar of his jacket. Drawing it back, he spotted words sewn into the tag. He leaned over, squinting, moving further into the beam of a streetlight to read the tag:

A Marinette Dupain-Cheng Original, made exclusively for Adrien Agreste.

Adrien felt himself warm, idle fingers touching the corner of the tag.

She…had bothered to sew his name into the jacket.

Made exclusively for him…meaning that she would never make another jacket like this again.

It was one of a kind, and it was Adrien’s, and Adrien’s alone.

Blood rushed to Adrien’s face. He glanced up at Marinette’s balcony, able to see light filtering through the curtains to her room. She must have hurried to make this, because he had mentioned just Monday that he was a Ladybug fan…did she push herself to finish it in time for Christmas for him? Why would she put herself through so much trouble just for him…?

“Because we’re friends, you dork.”

Adrien dropped his gaze, ruffling his hair, mussing it in his distraction. He stumbled off the sidewalk, blinking rapidly as he made his way into his car. And then he could only sit there and stare at the steering wheel for a moment, a revelation dawning on him so quickly that he was not prepared, only able to register shock—

Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.

He couldn’t be sure, exactly...but the wild racing of his heart, the blush filling his face, the way his chest was constricting, as if it would burst from happiness—

Fuck,” Adrien muttered emphatically, slamming his forehead into the top of his steering wheel and letting out a low groan.

He couldn’t be exactly sure…but he was about ninety-five percent certain that he was in serious trouble now.

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A Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir Story
by DarkReyna16

Part 15 of 37

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