Continuing Tales

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

Part 27 of 37

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The woman screamed, racing through the street as fast as her heels would allow. She glanced back behind her, eyes wide and fearful as the gang of men pursued her, jeering and taunting her, just waiting for her to make a wrong move—take a wrong turn, trip and fall, for one of her heels to snap from the strain—

The woman ran past a dark alleyway, passing briefly under the light of a single streetlight nearby, but before the men could chase her any further, something was abruptly in their path, seemingly manifesting from the shadows of the alleyway beside them. They watched, transfixed, as a dark form took shape: it was huge and monstrous, pitch black with jagged teeth and glowing white eyes. As the men stared, it spoke to them in a growling, terrifying voice:

If you don’t want to see what a bigger monster like me will do to smaller monsters like you, I would run. Now.

Their faces white, the men scattered in a hurry. The monstrous figure began to dissolve, and then reformed into another figure—that of a woman with long hair. There was nothing else distinctive about her, for her form was too dark to make out any other defining characteristics, as if she was made from nothing but darkness itself.

No, wait, scratch that—there was still her eyes, which glowed white, bright, and eerie. She seemed to pause a moment, watching the men she just frightened away scatter…and then she turned, looking directly at Marinette.

She sat back from her computer screen, startled. The person holding the camera must have felt similar shock, for they gasped, and the video abruptly cut off there. Marinette stared at the black screen of the video, breathing slowly as she tried to reason her heart back into its normal rhythm. Well, that had been unexpectedly terrifying…

“Shit,” Nino swore softly beside her; she turned to find him rubbing his stubbly chin, golden eyes narrowed behind his glasses as he frowned at the computer screen. “She’s no joke.”


Marinette took another breath, tapping her mouse to close out of the full screen mode the video was in. She stared blankly at the YouTube page, at the single video they were able to find after scouring the internet for the rumored videos of Shade that Erika mentioned. She wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that they could only find one, and the fact that it was so disconcertingly short; there were videos of her heroics as Ladybug everywhere on the Internet. Not that she went actively looking for them—having the moderator of the Ladyblog for a best friend just naturally brought such things to her attention.

“What did she say in the middle there? Something about ‘monsters’? My English is rusty…”

“She said ‘if you don’t want to see what a bigger monster like me will do to smaller monsters like you, I would run,’” Marinette translated. Nino shivered, his eyes widening.

“Holy shit.”

Marinette nodded, frowning at her computer screen.

“I’d run too, honestly.”

They sat in meditative silence for a time, before Nino spoke up again.

“And this is someone that might be helping the Butterfly for whatever reason?”

Marinette tilted her head with a frown.

“Maybe,” she settled on. Honestly, they were still no closer to this answer than they had been when Erika had first revealed the existence of Shade to Marinette. And considering the akumas wouldn’t stop coming anytime soon—armed with faux possessed items that tripped them up and threatened to turn an already difficult situation more deadly with every battle—this was something that needed to be confirmed or denied as soon as possible, so they could…well, Marinette didn’t know what they’d do about it yet, but she would worry about that rickety bridge when it came time to cross it.

“I don’t get it,” said Nino, drawing Marinette out of her own thoughts to focus on his frown. He waved a hand towards the computer screen and continued, “She saved that girl from those men that were chasing her. Why would she come to France and help the Butterfly dude with whatever vendetta he has against us? Her powers are creepy, sure, but she’s supposed to be a hero, right?”

Marinette’s own frown deepened…and then she glanced down at her computer table, where the kwamis were sitting.


Tikki glanced up from the muted conversation she was having with Wayzz over snacks, their voices too quiet for human ears.


“Have you ever met the kwami of the Snake Miraculous?”

Tikki frowned over her cookie.

“…I don’t think so,” she denied, also tilting her head to the side as she thought; Marinette was no longer sure of whether or not this was a gesture she had picked up from Tikki, or vice-versa. “While there have been many Ladybugs throughout history, many of them have never interacted with any Miraculous wielders so intimately, other than the Black Cat Miraculous wielder.”

“Right, the whole ‘fated partners’ thing,” Nino drawled, sending Marinette a side-long glance that she pretended not to see, her face growing rather warm. “How ‘bout you, Wayzz?”

Wayzz shook his head.

“The one who wields the Turtle Miraculous is destined to be the Guardian of just the seven Miraculous that are currently here in Paris. Though I know that there are other Miraculous in the world, they are of little concern to the seven that I help guard.”

“Hmm,” Nino hummed, sitting back in his chair as he stared up at Marinette’s ceiling, hands folded behind his head. “That makes me wonder: do other Miraculous exist in sets like ours? Or all they all just randomly passed out like candy on Halloween?”

“Speaking of the Miraculous here in Paris,” Marinette spoke up, steering the conversation into a more relevant direction, “Have you given any thought to who our fourth Miraculous wielder should be?”

Nino suddenly sat up, blinking wide eyes before he glanced away from Marinette, rubbing the back of his head.

“Oh, uh…I didn’t, uh, know we were in such a hurry to do that…”

Marinette frowned at him. What was he suddenly acting all shifty for?

“Well, we’re not…” she said slowly, watching him carefully, “but since Chat gave his okay, I figured you’d start looking soon…”

“Oh…right…” Nino cleared his throat, still refusing to meet Marinette’s gaze as he turned around, grabbing the T.V. remote and switching it on. “Well, I’m, uh, still, uh, narrowing down some potential people, I guess…”



“You already have someone in mind, don’t you?”

Nino cringed. Bullseye.

“Who is it?” Marinette asked, his reaction making her curious. Why was he looking so guilty over something Marinette had asked him to do? She had already made it clear that she trusted him to make this decision, didn’t she? So why the shiftiness, as if he had done (or was planning on doing) something he knew she wouldn’t like?

Before Nino could answer—or evade the question, if the look on his face was being read correctly—a familiar tune began to issue from Marinette’s television, signaling a breaking news report. She tore her gaze from Nino and focused on the T.V. screen, where Nadja Chamack was grimly reporting something from in front of some footage that looked like it came from downtown…

“Good afternoon, Paris. Today marks the fourth day that the group known as Akumatized Victims Anonymous—otherwise known as AVA—made themselves known to the public, and effectively declared war on the Anti-Akuma Taskforce. This bitter rivalry, while it seemed to appear overnight, has been raging nonstop, as citizens both for and against the akumatized victims have taken to the streets, brawls breaking out frequently and without warning. The perceived leader of AVA, identified as Timebreaker—”

“This is getting serious,” Marinette grumbled, glaring at the footage of citizens fighting each other with reckless abandon. “If we don’t do something about it, someone’s going to seriously get hurt.”

“It’s not like we haven’t been trying, ‘Nette,” Nino reminded her, though his expression matched hers. “They won’t listen.”

Marinette huffed, rubbing the bridge of her nose in irritation. It was indeed difficult to get AVA to listen to anything they said, when Team Miraculous showed up to dispel one of their rallies—and there were a lot of them. Though Marinette had initially believed that AVA had only recently organized, they must have been planning to make their move out into the open for a long time, if the constant recruiting speeches and graffiti tags that kept appearing all over the city were any indication. And it seemed like their cause was only growing stronger: in just the four days that they had been publicly active, Marinette swore that their group had swelled to twice its original size, made up of citizens either previously akumatized or of citizens who witnessed the suffering of said akumatized victims firsthand. It was madness, madness the police and even Team Miraculous was struggling to keep up with. Though Marinette highly disapproved of their activities, she would say this—AVA was certainly inspiring enough.

“I know,” she grumbled reluctantly, completely put out with the whole situation. “It doesn’t help that the police are losing their sway with them, either.”

“I guess they’re not afraid to be arrested since they know they’re the victims in this case.”

“That still doesn’t mean they should be doing this!”

“I know, ‘Nette,” Nino assured her, raising and lowering his hands in a ‘take it easy’ gesture. Before Marinette could retort, the news report intruded once again:

“Mayor Fantoche and Deputy Mayor Reine are entreating the heroes of Paris to meet with them as soon as possible, to see if a solution to this war can be reached through government means.”

Marinette huffed again, cursing to herself as she frowned at the footage of Mayor Fantoche making some sort of impassioned speech, Deputy Mayor Reine at his side, looking troubled.

“And that’s another thing to add to our to-do list. Great.”

She turned to find Nino frowning as well, rubbing his stubbly chin again.

“What do the Mayor and Deputy Mayor think they can do about this? Don’t they realize that we’ve been trying to do something about this?”

“And yet AVA remains stubborn,” Marinette confirmed grimly, falling onto the chaise longue next to Nino. “Alix is doing her job a little too well, if you ask me.”

Nino went quiet, still frowning into space as Marinette slouched against him in exhaustion. A second later, he spoke, slowly, as if an idea was just forming in his mind:

“…You know, we do know a few of them personally…maybe we could get them all together and talk? Like, stage an intervention or something?”

Marinette’s brow furrowed as she pondered over this plan.

“I don’t know…they won’t listen to Ladybug and Emerald Shell…why would they listen to us?”

“Because LB and Shell are masked strangers, but Nino and ‘Nette are concerned friends?”

Hmm. Nino had a fair point—it was easier to disregard the words of strangers than it was the heartfelt words of concern from friends. AVA might be dedicated to their cause, sure, but they were also getting grievously injured in their fights with the AAT. Better that Team Miraculous should take such blows for them; they were the ones with magical armor, after all.

“And I’m pretty sure part of the reason they don’t listen to Shell and Ladybug is because they’re allies with Chat Noir,” Nino said grimly. “They haven’t exactly been subtle about how they feel about him.”

Marinette closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath to keep the rage from surfacing. A few months ago, when they had still been enemies, she might not have batted an eyelash at the disrespect shown towards Chat Noir whenever they showed up to dispel an AVA rally—the jeers and boos and hisses whenever they saw him. Now, however, it was absolutely unacceptable. There were even a few graffiti portraits of something violent happening to him at the hands of a member of AVA all around the city, the art style easily recognizable to Marinette, which thoroughly irked her. Sure, a few months ago, when he was still being difficult, Marinette might not have protested the abuse AVA was showing towards him as much…but now that he was at her side again, now that she suspected what she suspected…

A hand squeezed her shoulder.

“‘Nette? You okay?”

No. But she couldn’t really get into it without bringing up the true reason she was so upset about AVA’s treatment of Chat Noir, treatment he was taking stoically enough, though Ladybug noticed the way his fists tightened, the way his back stiffened, the way his jaw locked when he thought no one was looking…

“I’m fine,” she replied belatedly to Nino after another tense moment. She sat up with a sigh, patting Nino’s hand before he dropped his arm from her. “Just thinking about this whole mess, and how it’s the last thing I need right now.”

“Ah.” Nino glanced over, to where her spring line hung around the sewing studio portion of her room. “The contest ends Wednesday, right?”

“Yeah,” Marinette sighed, rubbing the side of her temple. “It’s finally ending, thank god.”

“At least you’re finished…” Nino trailed off, and Marinette caught the glance he shot to her sewing dummy, where red fabric was pinned to it, half-formed. “…You are done, aren’t you?”

“Yes…” Marinette let her sentence hang as well, frowning at her sewing dummy, and the half-formed idea that continued to haunt her even now. “At least, I think so.”

“You think so?”

“I don’t know,” Marinette huffed with a roll of her eyes, still scowling at the sewing dummy, as if this whole situation was its fault, somehow. “I mean, I’m happy with my design for the Ladybug outfit—it’s simple and casual, just like all the other outfits…but it still doesn’t…I don’t know, feelright.”

She knew that probably made no sense, but when she looked back at Nino, it was to find him nodding thoughtfully.

“I get it,” he assured her, smiling at the surprise in her expression, no doubt. “Same with my music—it’s more than just sound to me. It’s emotion, too. And if it doesn’t feel right, then it doesn’t feel right.” His brow creased again, eyes crinkling in worry. “…But you’re not planning on making a whole new outfit, are you? Do you even have time?”

Marinette bit her lip. Time, no, not really. It was Monday afternoon—if she wanted to finish a whole new outfit, it would mean no sleep at all tonight, or possibly even Tuesday night. Any sane person would realize that she just did not have the time to create a whole new outfit for her spring line. She knew that.

…And yet…

As she looked at the sewing dummy, the same teasing image from her subconscious surfaced again…the image of a red cheongsam…and a parasol, one not quite as nondescript as the plain, black umbrella that a boy with a shy smile had offered her a long time ago…but with that image in mind—

She’s my other gun, should I go to war.

Holdin’ me down, that’s what she’s there for.

She’s my other gun~

Marinette turned, smiling as Nino’s expression lit up when he pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“All right, I’ve hogged you enough for one day,” she decided, shooing him off the chaise longue with a wave of her hands. “Go spend time with your fiancée.”

“Thanks, ‘Nette. I’ll see you later. C’mon, Wayzz!”

Nino answered his phone as he descended Marinette’s stairs, the green kwami zooming after him after he thanked Marinette for her hospitality. Marinette followed them to the door, locking up after they left. She marshaled her thoughts into order as she ascended the stairs to her bedroom/studio once again, frowning to herself.

Their search hadn’t provided anything useful—just a small scope of the entity called Shade’s powers. They still had no idea who she was, what her motives were in helping the Butterfly, or even how powerful she was. Shade remained shrouded in mystery, and Marinette was discouraged by that. How else were they supposed to discover anything about her?

And then there was that whole thing with the Anti-Akuma Taskforce vs. Akumatized Victims Anonymous, a separate headache that was rapidly spiraling out of control. Marinette happened to agree with Nino—she wasn’t sure what the mayor and deputy mayor expected to accomplish by calling on the heroes to have a conference with them. But, as the heroes of Paris, they couldn’t just ignore the summons, either. That would have to be addressed as well, and soon.

And the cherry on top of Marinette’s disaster of a schedule?

The fashion competition on Wednesday.

Two. Days. Away.

As much as she was relieved that it was all drawing to a close, it also felt like her stomach had twisted itself into iron knots, knots that refused to come undone until Wednesday, when the future of her fashion career was either boosted to the stars…or sent right back to the back of the line again.

Marinette made herself take a deep breath, turning to stare at her creations. She was proud of them, each and every single one of them, for she had carefully thought out every design choice, every pattern, hell, even every stitch. There was nothing she would change about any of them…except…

She frowned, reaching up to graze her fingertips against the gauze overlaying the Ladybug dress, which was a bit more summery than spring-like, she supposed. It hung beside the Chat Noir outfit, a direct contrast to the edgy look of it with its free-flowing design. It was beautiful, sure, and it was casual, just as she meant for it to be. But still…

Marinette turned back to her sewing dummy, the image of a red cheongsam refusing to leave her. It would be nice to put a bit of her Chinese culture into at least one of her designs, even if it wasn’t exactly an outfit that screamed ‘casual wear’. And she had been trying to be good about not showing favoritism towards any of the outfits, trying to make it clear that she had no special preference towards the Ladybug outfit—

As she glanced at the Chat Noir-inspired outfit once again, Marinette bit her lip. It was all his fault, a childish part of her wanted to claim. Ever since Valentine’s Day, her already confusing feelings for him had increased two-fold, especially because she still couldn’t decide what to do if who she thought was under that mask of his really was under it. She had already caught herself, once or twice, trying to imagine the Chat Noir-inspired outfit on Adrien, wondering how he’d look in it, with his hair mussed, a wild grin on his face…and she could see it. Good lord, she could see it, he would look so good in it—

But even as she tried to shake off such thoughts…she had realized in the process that the Ladybug summer dress wasn’t really her. It didn’t scream “Ladybug” to her, even with the spots all over it, and the more she looked at it, the more she realized she was dissatisfied with it. Where she had created an outfit that suited Chat Noir perfectly…this dress she had created seemed more like a placeholder, rather than anything she could see Ladybug—herself—wearing.

This realization had her agonizing, chewing off her nails as she resisted the urge to slash the dress to scraps with her scissors, wondering what she should do. After all, she was officially finished: all she had to do now was wait until Wednesday, and she was already plenty stressed about that. If she actually dared to change a design, a mere two days before the competition—if she dared to take such a big risk—

Her phone chimed, and Marinette turned away from her designs with a relieved sigh; her head was beginning to pound.

It was a reminder from her alarm clock—she had set it the night before, reminding herself that she needed to go grocery shopping today.

Marinette sighed. Grocery shopping…such a mundane task that would take her at least an hour to complete, forcing her to focus on simple things, like what kind of fruits and vegetables she needed to buy, and whether or not a trip to the butcher was needed. Simple, hardly important little decisions she would have to make for a whole hour.

Thank god.

“Let’s go shop for groceries, Tikki,” she beckoned the kwami, gathering her winter things and putting them on. “I think your cookie supply is running a bit low.”

“Oh no!” Tikki cried, zooming into Marinette’s muffler once it was in place around her neck. “We’ll have to change that!”

Marinette giggled. It would be sweet, sweet relief to focus on the little things, if only for just a little while.



“Oh! Mari-doll!”

Marinette startled, nearly dropping the cup of yogurt she was inspecting. She hadn’t been expecting to hear that voice here of all places…but then again, she supposed fashion professors had to eat, too.

“Hi, Desiree,” Marinette greeted, smiling as said beloved fashion professor approached, looking stunning as always, even in a sweater and jeans. “Long time no see.”

“Oh, it’s been hours,” Desiree whined exaggeratedly, an attractive pout crossing her face. She set down her chariot and stepped forward, embracing Marinette. “I’ve missed you, sweetheart.”

Marinette giggled, blushing a little as she patted Desiree’s back in return.

“Nice to see you, too. Is this one of those dreaded 'grocery days' you complain about so much?"

“I’m afraid so,” Desiree said with a sigh as she released Marinette, picking up her chariot again. “At first I was worried when these trips started becoming more and more frequent—well, more frequent than they had already become, since I moved to France. I was starting to think I’d been eating too much lately.” Desiree’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “But then I remembered that I make Mandy dinner almost every night, so that explained it.”

Marinette laughed, falling into step beside Desiree as they rounded the last dairy aisle and headed into the next one over.

“You and Amanda are so cute together,” she commented, and then paused. Oh, was that an inappropriate comment to make about her fashion professor’s love life? Granted, they weren’t on campus right now, but…

When Desiree laughed, Marinette breathed a sigh of relief. She was in the clear.

“I do adore her, it’s true,” Desiree allowed, grinning a grin that turned sly within seconds. “But I think our title of ‘cutest couple ever’ is currently being challenged, isn’t it, Mari-doll?”

Marinette’s face caught fire. Oh no. Was it that obvious? Or was Desiree just assuming…?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marinette tried to say calmly and demurely…but the high-pitched squeaks that left her might as well have been a confession. Desiree threw her head back and laughed.

“Oh come on, Marinette! Don’t you think I’ve noticed your mood lately? You’ve been floating on air ever since Valentine’s Day, which could only mean one thing: someone has a loooverrr~”

The sing-song lilt in Desiree’s voice did nothing to alleviate Marinette’s embarrassment, and so she coped by pretending to be interested in a box of pasta next to them.

Desiree wasn’t letting up, though.

“Sooo, I bet I can guess who it is, too,” she teased, nudging Marinette playfully and giving her a wink. “A certain blonde ex-model we both know gets this dreamy look in his eye whenever we discuss a certain talented, raven-haired seamstress we both know—”

“All right, all right!” Marinette gave up, laughing at the exaggerated winking Desiree threw at her. “Yes, okay? I’m seeing Adrien. But don’t worry—we’re not letting it affect our professional lives.”

“I wouldn’t expect that of you, Mari-doll,” Desiree said sagely, with a pat to Marinette’s shoulder and a smile. “You’re a good girl.” She paused, suddenly frowning, and Marinette was brought to a stop next to her, concerned by the furrow of her friend’s brow.

“What is it?”

“Oh…it’s nothing, really,” Desiree assured her, tilting her head to the side as she inspected Marinette, that frown still in place. After a moment, she gave Marinette’s shoulder a squeeze. “You know I love you, right?”

Marinette blushed.

“You might’ve mentioned something to that effect before,” she answered, her tone wry. Desiree grinned swiftly at that.

“Ahaha, I know, I’m not exactly reserved with my affection,” she teased with another wink before her expression faded back to solemn. “But I do mean that, Marinette—I care about you, very much. And…well…”

“What?” Marinette prompted, her brow beginning to furrow to match Desiree’s. An elderly lady standing behind Desiree cleared her throat; they were sort of blocking the aisle, and she clearly wanted to get through. Desiree stepped out of the way with murmured apologies, moving closer to Marinette, and the lady went on her way with inaudible grumbles about “kids these days”. Desiree raised her eyebrows at Marinette, looking pleased.

“Hear that? I’m a ‘kid’ again.”

Marinette laughed.

“You’ve always been a young spirit, Desiree…but you were saying?”

“Oh, right,” Desiree recalled, a frown marring her pretty features once again. “Well…I just wanted to ask…I mean, I’m sure I know the answer to this question, but still…Marinette…you do know what you’re doing, don’t you?”

Marinette blinked. This…was not a question she was expecting from Desiree. And the fact that she was concerned enough to ask did not bode well for Marinette.

“Um…what do you mean?” She asked, hoping clarification on the issue would dissolve the knot that had suddenly taken residence in the pit of her stomach…

Desiree pursed her lips, looking troubled.

“Well…I know he’s been, um…better, lately…but for a while, when he came back to Paris…wasn’t Adrien just a little, er…well, cold?”

Ah. Those days. Marinette did not miss those days at all.

“Yes,” she admitted readily with a nod, “but he’s changed, Desiree.”

“…Has he?” Desiree asked, the lightest of inflections in her tone. “Are you…quite sure, Marinette? Does he…share himself with you? His entire self?”

…Okay, that tone wasn’t helping that knot in the pit of Marinette’s stomach.

“You’re talking like you know something I don’t,” Marinette said, raising a brow at Desiree, who pursed her lips once again, as if there was a secret she was aching to spill, but something was holding her back. Although Marinette sincerely doubted that Desiree knew something that she didn’t about Adrien…again, the fact that she was bothering to ask, with her expression twisted, as if she had something terrible to share…

“…Do you know something I don’t?” Marinette prompted, her heart rate beginning to increase the longer Desiree continued to look at her like that, her insides squirming uncomfortably, her mind suddenly inventing wild possibilities—had Desiree seen Adrien doing something problematic? Was he seeing other women behind her back? Was he still getting into bar fights and just paying off the media to not report it? Was he secretly following in his father’s villain footsteps? Oh god, could Marinette have been wrong all along? Was Adrien just playing her?

Or worse: was he not who she suspected he was after all…?

Desiree’s red lips finally parted, and Marinette held her breath, waiting for the bad news that would shatter her world as she knew it—

Something suddenly inserted itself between the two women—an arm, reaching for a box of noodles on the shelf next to them. Marinette and Desiree jumped apart, and Marinette startled when she discovered that the rude arm belonged to—

“You!” She exclaimed, glaring openly at Felix. And he, as always, raised an unimpressed eyebrow at her.

“Me,” he replied, withdrawing his arm and turning his back to Marinette, so that he faced Desiree. “Do you mind? I want to make spaghetti tonight, but you’re blocking the pasta aisle.”

Marinette couldn’t see Desiree’s expression—stupid Felix was in the way—but what she could see of her made a weird jerking movement, as if she couldn’t stand to be near Felix. (Marinette sympathized.) There was silence for a moment, and then Desiree spoke.

“Oh…yes. Of course. I apologize,” she said, her tone smooth and formal. “Well…I should be going. Marinette, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Wait, Desiree!” Marinette protested, but when she tried to go around Felix, he stepped in her way again. Irritated, Marinette stomped her foot to relieve some of the tension roiling within her.

“What the hell’s your problem?!” She demanded of Felix when he finally turned to face her, madder at him than she had ever been. “We were in the middle of an important conversation, and then you interrupted!!”

Felix looked like he didn’t give a single fuck about whatever conversation Marinette and Desiree might or might not have been having. He took a step forward, and the unexpected move made Marinette take a step back, flinching. She cursed herself inwardly for the display of fear as Felix paused, merely staring at her, still holding that box of uncooked spaghetti noodles. Marinette glared at him, annoyed at his presence. Was he actually, truly stalking her? Why? Was he still trying to get her to come back to Tres Bien boutique? Or perhaps…had he somehow learned that she was dating Adrien now?

No, that was impossible—he and Adrien didn’t speak, so how could he know? But then, he knew they were close: she had been Adrien’s date to the Sainte de-Coquille Winter Ball, and he had seen her with Adrien when Erika had dragged him over to say hello a few weeks ago. He already knew that she and his cousin were close, no matter what their relationship was, so it couldn’t be the reason he was still following her around. And he and Adrien barely spoke anyway, so something like Marinette being close to his cousin shouldn’t bother him…but then what was it? What could she have possibly done to deserve all this harassment?

Before she could tell him where he could stick his spaghetti noodles, Felix beat her to the punch and spoke first:

“You shouldn’t trust that woman.”

Marinette stared at him. He kept her gaze, expression smooth, eyes serious.

He was completely serious.

What the fuck?

“…Okay, I don’t know what kind of game you’re trying to play here, but I don’t have the time,” Marinette told him with a huff and a shake of her head. She tried to step around him once again, but yet again, he side-stepped and blocked her. Marinette stared at him, incensed. Seriously, what the hell was his fucking problem?!

“Marinette,” he addressed her curtly, “in the time that you’ve known me…when have I ever played games with you?”

That drew Marinette up short. It was true—Felix had little to no sense of humor at all. He was usually all-business, and it was rare to even see him crack a smile. He wasn’t the type to play games…unless his strange behavior at her parents’ bakery the last time they spoke one-on-one counted…

…But then, again, what was it?

What could his purpose possibly be in telling her that she shouldn’t trust her favorite fashion professor, someone she had known for years?

What in the world would Felix have to gain for saying something like that?

Felix seemed to tire of her gawking at him incredulously; he turned back to the shelf and replaced the box of spaghetti noodles upon it. Marinette blinked at last, frowning at him.

“I thought you were making spaghetti?” She asked, distracted by this minor detail, no matter how insignificant it was. Felix paused and quirked his brow at Marinette once again.

“…Marinette, I grew up in Italy,” he reminded her, his tone drier than any desert in existence. “Don’t you think I’ve had enough of the stuff by now?”

Marinette didn’t mean to do it, she really didn’t. But Felix’s tone was just so flat that she couldn’t help it—a snort escaped her. She hastily slapped a hand over her mouth, horrified at herself. Felix was not funny. She should not find him funny! He was a jerk! A creepy jerk that was probably stalking her! Nothing about this situation, not even his dry comment about too much spaghetti, was funny.

But much to her humiliation, Felix hadn’t missed her snort of amusement. She could have sworn she saw his lips twitch briefly, almost as if he wanted to smile…

But he didn’t. And honestly, if he had, Marinette was convinced that his face would break in the process.

Fixing the lapel of his jacket, Felix swept by Marinette, apparently done pestering her for the day. Well, almost.

“Remember what I said,” he muttered as he passed. His reminder of his ridiculous warning brought Marinette’s irritation back full force; she had to struggle a moment with her anger before she could whirl around to hurl a retort at him—

But he was already gone. Damn him and his long legs.

Huffing, Marinette picked her chariot back up and stomped off, determined to get the rest of her shopping done as soon as possible, despite her mood being ruined for the day. Stupid, meddling Felix…and Desiree had been on the verge of telling her something important, too…or, at least, it seemed vital…

Marinette frowned to herself, slowing her strut through the supermarket.

…Huh. Now that she was away from Desiree…her assertion that she and her fashion professor had been interrupted at a crucial moment was beginning to fade.

As a matter of fact, now that she was thinking about it on her own, it seemed very far-fetched for Desiree to know something about Adrien that Marinette didn’t. And this wasn’t arrogance on Marinette’s part—she knew there were things she didn’t know about Adrien, and probably never would. Erika was proof of that. But even so, Marinette felt it was safe to say that she knew Adrien a hell of a lot better than Desiree did, even if the two of them kept in regular contact with each other, thanks to Desiree’s competition.

But Desiree wouldn’t say anything unless she had an actual reason to be worried,’ Marinette reasoned, resuming her pace. Desiree was a rather carefree person in her spare time, Marinette had learned, never one to worry about problems that could be put off until tomorrow (fashion project deadlines excluded). So if she said something was wrong, it usually meant that something was wrong…

“Does he…share himself with you? His entire self?”

Marinette froze so abruptly that a mother and her five children had to swerve around her to avoid running her over, the mother sending her a dirty look as she went. Marinette barely noticed; she was too busy having a revelation that was more disturbing than any look a mother of five could ever throw at her:

Was it somehow possible that Marinette hadn’t been the only one to discover Adrien’s catty little secret…?

That’s ridiculous,’ Marinette reasoned fiercely, huffing at herself. She didn’t even know if her suspicions were correct, for god’s sake. And besides, even if she was right (‘Whoa, no time to obsess over that for the billionth time, focus.’), the fact that it had taken her this long to figure it out surely meant no one else knew any better…right?

“Excuse me,” said a nasally voice behind Marinette, “but you’re blocking the way to the cheese.”

Marinette sighed and stepped out of the way, urging herself to move forward and finish her shopping already. She had no time to worry about this—if what Desiree knew held any weight, than Marinette would just have to talk to her at a later time. Right now, she had groceries to buy, and when she got home…

Adjusting her chariot to hang from the crook of her elbow, Marinette slipped a hand into her pocket to fish out her phone. A couple taps and swipes of her screen later, her phone was ringing, and a familiar voice answered:

Boulangerie Patisserie, how can we brighten your day today?”

“Mama, it’s me.”

“Oh, Marinette, hi!” There was a muttered word from her mother, followed by an answering rumble she recognized as her father’s voice. “Your father says hello and that he misses you. We both do. When are you and Adrien stopping by for dinner again?”

Marinette rolled her eyes. They acted like they never saw her. Did she not work at the bakery in the afternoons? Hmm, maybe it was just that they never wanted to see just her anymore—it was either her and Adrien together, or not at all. Well, that wasn’t true, but still, sometimes it felt like it.

“Soon, Mama. But listen, are you busy today? I’m out right now, but I want to stop by. There’s...something I want to do. But I can’t do it without your help.”

Sabine paused. Marinette wondered if she had surprised her mother; she had always been fairly self-sufficient, and even more so when she moved out. Admittedly, it was rare to hear her ask for help, but…

“I will never be too busy for you, Marinette,” Sabine promised, and Marinette let out a sigh of relief. She was truly blessed to have such caring parents. “Feel free to drop by. What is it you need help with?”

“Well…you know those really pretty cheongsams you wear…?”

Yes, she had decided: she was going to make this new dress. And yes, it was madness to do this to herself just two days before the competition, she knew. Utter madness.

But she was going to do it anyway.

Marinette knew, better than anyone, that Ladybug deserved the best design Marinette could possibly give her.



Wednesday, February twenty-second. The deadline for Desiree’s spring fashion line competition for her graduating class.

The day had finally arrived.

And Adrien could not be more relieved.

“You look happy,” Desiree teased with a smirk as Adrien hovered beside her, watching her students set up their designs in one of IFA’s studios. “Were those constant meetings with my students putting you out?”

“Not at all,” Adrien replied politely, while inwardly reflecting about how this was one task he could shove permanently off his bulging work plate now. Now all he had to worry about was making sure Agreste Fashion was ready for their workload to increase by about two-hundred percent… “It’s just nice to see all the hard work your students have put in come together.”

“…Ah. Meaning that you’re pleased your girlfriend will stop tearing her hair out now?” Desiree concluded with a sly look. Adrien hastily glanced away from where Marinette was setting up, clearing his throat.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Uh-huh, sure.”

Adrien let out a breath. Was he really being that obvious? He had been doing his best not to openly stare at his girlfriend—heh heh, his girlfriend—but it was difficult since she automatically claimed his attention whenever they were in the same room together…especially because of more recent developments…

Stop it,’ Adrien chastised himself with a mental pinch. He had been catching himself comparing Marinette to Ladybug far too often lately, and it needed to stop. Marinette was his girlfriend, and that was that. Any similarities she shared with Ladybug—coincidental or…otherwise—were not important until further notice.

Adrien checked his watch. Five minutes to half-past eight. It was almost time for the judging to begin…but…

“We’re missing someone,” he noted, turning his attention back to Desiree…who had already been watching him, it appeared. That surprised Adrien a bit, but he let it pass. “Where’s your friend from AMI?”

“Hmm…” Desiree hummed, pulling out her cell phone and tapping at the screen, her brow furrowed in concentration. “He should’ve been here by now—”

“Are you looking for me?”

Adrien turned to find a tall man suddenly standing just behind him and Desiree, clad in a gray designer suit that complimented his dark skin. His hair was shaved close to his head with an undercut, and his goatee was trimmed and perfect. He lifted a travel cup and sipped from it, dark eyes looking expectantly in between Desiree and Adrien. Adrien smiled politely, but from the corner of his eye, he noticed Desiree frown.

“You’re not Alexandre Mattiussi,” she said, disappointment evident in her tone. The man raised a single eyebrow as he sipped from his travel cup.

“Damn, guess my cover’s blown,” he quipped, and Adrien raised his eyebrows as well, suppressing amusement. “Alex was a little too busy running his company to come, so he sent me instead.”

“And you are…?”

“Noah Dumont,” the man introduced himself, extending a hand. As Adrien shook it, Noah added, “I’m a business associate of Alex’s, so I’m representing his interests today.”

“I see,” Desiree replied, still looking less than happy. Adrien didn’t know what for—they had both agreed to bring an impartial judge on board for reasons both stated and unsaid, but mutually understood. It didn’t matter who it was specifically, so long as they knew fashion and could form their own opinions, right? Noah raised his eyebrow again, and his lips pursed, as if he was about to ask if there was a problem, but Desiree abruptly turned her back on him, calling through the room in a booming voice.

“All right, my brilliant young minds: it’s show time! You know the rules, so let’s get started!”

The nervous chattered died down, and the students hurriedly assembled themselves next to their respective creations, many faces tense, drawn, and tired. One student looked like he might be violently ill at any moment…and Adrien supposed that explained the empty trash can off to the side, on standby. But Desiree proceeded immediately, her heels clicking against the floor. Adrien waved Noah forward after her with a smile, and Noah nodded in return.

And thus, the competition began: Desiree introduced her students when it was their turn to be judged, and they explained their spring line and the ideas that inspired them. Adrien, having met with these students several times before today, had gotten to know them and their individual styles a little bit better, and he was personally impressed with how far each of them had come.

Noah, however, was a lot harder to please.

“A suit? This is a ‘suit’ by you? Please—just add a tacky polyester cape and it’s a terrible Halloween costume for Count Dracula.”

“This stitching is all wrong—one cycle through your washing machine, and the whole thing would fall apart. What, were you sewing in the dark?”

“Are you serious? You’re really going to make me say this? Fine, I’ll say it: ‘Florals? In spring? Groundbreaking.’ Honestly, you didn’t even try, did you?”

Damn. He’s tough,’ Adrien thought, grimacing at the fourth student Noah had reduced to tears, all with a few short, clipped sentences in between sips of coffee…or perhaps the liquid in the travel cup was actually the tears of fashion hopefuls whose dreams he’d shattered previously. The uncomfortable thing, though, was that his criticisms, however sharp-sounding, held weight. So, it wasn’t as if he could just be brushed off as an asshole…though the students muttering mutinously behind his back probably disagreed.

But this was making Adrien more and more nervous the closer they got to Marinette, who was holding herself stoically enough, despite how pale her face was. Though he knew he was biased in more ways than one, he still thought her spring line was brilliant, and Desiree made it no secret that she believed in Marinette’s talent as a seamstress. Whether she liked it or not, she already had two of the judges on her side. But this was not a majority vote—though it would be with Adrien’s company that the chosen designer would display their spring line during Paris’ Fashion Week, it was up to all three of them to make the decision on who that designer should be. So, even if Adrien and Desiree were already sold on Marinette’s spring line, if Noah did not agree…

A few biting words, a couple meltdowns, and a hastily avoided case of projectile vomit later, it was time. Desiree, with her lips pinched in displeasure, walked stiffly to Marinette; Adrien suspected she had wanted to save the best for last, but considering how the morning was going, she probably wanted to get things over with as quickly as possible now. Marinette stood in front of her spring line, her six outfits lined up in a V-shape, with the Ladybug and Chat Noir outfits situated a bit ahead of the other four outfits. She was dressed sensibly, in a pink silk blouse and a black pencil skirt, her hair swept up into its work bun. Adrien smiled as they approached, trying not to make his adoration too obvious…but judging from Marinette’s slight flush as they made eye contact, he hadn’t quite succeeded. Oh well.

Mon. Dumont, I present to you, Mme. Marinette Dupain-Cheng. She’s one of my best students,” Desiree stressed, her tone suggesting she was just daring Noah to say anything snide about Marinette. Adrien sympathized, but he kept his poker face firmly in place, for no good would come of making his preferences obvious.

Marinette smiled, the confident move lighting up her whole face. Adrien felt his heart thud, and he had to actively remind himself that it was not a good idea to kiss his girlfriend silly in front of everyone right now.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” she greeted respectably, extending her hand. Noah eyed it for one moment before he ignored it, taking another sip from his travel cup.

“No one likes a kiss up, sweetheart,” he said, and Adrien felt a distinct stab of annoyance. Since when was being polite considered ‘kissing up’? And what did he mean, ‘sweetheart’?! Was he talking down to Marinette just because she was a woman? Rude. “Why don’t you just show me what you’ve got here?”

Adrien saw a spark of something light in Marinette’s eyes: challenge.

He had to stifle a grin. Noah had done it now.

“Certainly,” Marinette replied calmly, her chin lifted ever so slightly as she turned, moving to the left. “If you’ll walk this way, I’d like to start on this side first.”

Noah, Desiree and Adrien followed her, though Adrien had to do a double-take as he went: the Ladybug outfit, standing off to the left with the Chat Noir outfit situated on its right, was different than the one he had approved as the final product—radically different. Just what had inspired such a sudden and drastic change at the last minute…?

“Adrien? Join us, please,” Desiree called to him. With a jolt, Adrien realized he had been left behind, and he hurried forward with murmured apologies as he joined everyone else in front of the first outfit Marinette wanted to introduce: the Fox outfit.

“As you can see, I took a large part of my inspiration from the superheroes of Paris,” Marinette began, waving a hand towards the rest of her line briefly. “Of course, some of the pieces featured here aren’t actually superheroes that exist, but they are what I imagine they might be if they did. The other half of this line was inspired by the Carnivale di Venezia, the Carnival of Venice, in which elaborate costumes and masks are featured. I adapted that idea to fit the heroes of Paris, who already wear masks, and tweaked it from difficult and cumbersome to wear costumes to casual clothes anyone would wear, and from masks that merely hide the civilian identities of our heroes—” Adrien noticed when Marinette’s gaze flickered to him and away, so quick he might have missed it if he wasn’t already watching her, “—to masks that celebrate the superheroes themselves. And I’d like to start here with this one: the Fox outfit.”

Immediately, Noah was on the offensive:

“A jumpsuit?”

Marinette raised a dark eyebrow at him.

“Something wrong?”

Noah gave a shrug, eyeing the jumpsuit up and down with his critical gaze.

“Seems unlikely that any woman in Paris would actually be caught dead in a jumpsuit,” he said. Adrien admired the way Marinette smiled here…especially because he knew those teeth could turn sharp in an instant when it came to her craft.

“Well, that’s good, because this is actually a jumpsuit for men,” she said, gesturing towards the mannequin. “You’ll notice it’s a little broader in the shoulders and back if you take the time to look.”

Adrien watched as Noah blinked and indeed took a closer look. He frowned.

“I thought this was a line inspired by the superheroes of Paris?”

“It is.”

“Then why is this a jumpsuit for men? Shouldn’t it be for women, since Volpina was a woman? I know her superhero career was very brief, but—”

“Volpina wasn’t a hero, she was an akumatized victim,” Marinette corrected with a note of steel in her voice. Adrien stared at her, and she seemed to notice, for she cleared her throat and fixed her expression into one that was more aloof…but Adrien still saw the fire raging in her gaze, the fire of an injustice that still burned to this day… “But even so…she was based on an actual hero. And so I decided to create a new outfit in honor of the idea of that hero.”

“Walk us through the creation process please, Marinette,” Desiree requested, as if she sensed things were about to get off track.

“Of course.” Clearing her throat again, Marinette turned towards her creation. “The jumpsuit itself is made from white cotton broadcloth, dyed a red ombre vertically here and here,” she gestured with her hands to the rust red color running down the jumpsuit, which started out light in the front and turned darker as she turned the mannequin so they could view the back, gesturing next to the fox design on the back.

“The fox design is a reversed ombre to make it stand out against its background,” she said, a fingertip not quite touching the fox design as she traced it back around to the front, where it blended into a large leather belt, the end of it tucked around and hanging free on the left side, ending in a white tip, like a fox’s tail.

“My signature is here in the collar to keep it out of the way of the design, but it’s still present. And as you can see, fur lines the stand collar, the arm holes, and the boots of the outfit.”

“Why just those places?” Noah deigned to ask, and Marinette gave an easy shrug.

“Because it’s a spring outfit meant for casual wear. Any more fur and anyone who wore it in spring would probably die of heat stroke,” She pointed out. Noah said nothing else, and merely sipped at his apparently bottomless travel cup. Marinette paused, as if she expected him to raise further objections, but when he did not, she moved on.

“There are pintucks stitched into the outfit, starting here, under the ribs, and going all the way down to the pants, which are shaped like jodhpurs, so that they’re looser at the hip, but are snug around the calves.”

“Right, I forgot about those child-bearing hips men have, which require that kind of space,” Noah said, his tone so casual that it was infuriating. Adrien closed his eyes, trying desperately to remember what came after six so he could count to ten through his anger…

He heard Marinette snort, and opened his eyes to see her looking…amused.

Mon. Dumont,” she began sweetly, moving around her mannequin to pinch the outfit in the back, so that the waist suddenly looked snugger. “Would you really want to wear a jumpsuit that leaves little to the imagination about your pelvic area?”

“Pfft!” Adrien slapped a hand over his mouth and hastily turned, excusing himself through muffled laughter. He caught Desiree’s eye, and she openly grinned at him. Their girl was something else.

Noah appeared to have nothing to add to that—he merely sipped at his travel cup, his eyes tight. And so Marinette went on.

“Like any sensible outfit should have, there are pockets, and it’s an easy jumpsuit to get in and out of, thanks to the buttons here under the V neck. Underneath, there’s a white, form-fitting t-shirt, but of course, a red t-shirt would work as well, as long as it’s the same color as the rest of the jumpsuit…but then again, too much red might overpower the outfit, so…it would be a judgment call of whoever’s wearing it, I suppose,” Marinette hastily finished, seeming to realize she was rambling. She cleared her throat, and Adrien grinned at the blush filling her face. She was so cute.

“Ahem…so, the mask!”

“Oh, yes, the mask!” Desiree enthused as Marinette reached up and carefully removed the mask from the mannequin’s head. “It came out so well!”

“Thanks,” Marinette replied with a smile. “I went through a lot of paint when it came to the masks, but I think they were worth it. And as you can see, the mask is designed to be fox-like.” She gestured to the broad brush strokes of black that bisected the mask, like eyebrows, down to the black nose, which ended in a dramatic point under the nose of the wearer, at the points of the mask that appeared like ruffled fur, white around the eye holes of the mask and rust red at the top and down a slim column to the nose, above the black strokes of the mask, tall red ears situated at the top. Marinette turned the mask around so they could see the mesh within the mask.

“I added this to a lot of the masks just because they have points that would poke and prod otherwise,” she explained, grimacing a little. “I don’t see any reason to possibly damage a model’s face just for the sake of creativity…do you, Mon. Dumont?”

Noah blinked, as if he was surprised to have his opinion solicited. He went to sip from his travel cup again, only to rattle it, the tiny sound of sloshing tell-tale: his drink was not so bottomless after all. Adrien didn’t know why he found that so satisfying. It just was.

“…Seems reasonable,” Noah replied after a moment, finally lowering his empty travel cup. That might’ve been the closest thing to a compliment Adrien had heard him utter all morning.

“Well! Where to next, Marinette?” Desiree inquired, and Marinette grinned, all poise with just a pinch of sass.

“The Bee outfit on the other end. If you’ll follow me?”

Adrien loved watching Marinette talk about her work: there was something undeniably…powerful about her when she was asked to explain her design choices. She was firmly rooted in confidence and completely in love with her craft, her calling. And Adrien couldn’t be more smitten with her if he tried.

The Bee outfit was lovely: a maxi-length sundress, made from sunshine, Adrien believed…though Marinette said it was actually a light cotton gauze fabric. But it looked like sunshine to Adrien: the dress was a blend of pale yellows and warm golds, with an empire waist, spaghetti straps and a crossover front, all trimmed with black cotton bias tape; the style of the dress suggested that any model that was lucky enough to wear it would give off the appearance of throwing around sun rays wherever she walked. There was an invisible zipper in the back of the dress to help put it on and take it off, and there was a bee-shaped pin nestled just under the left side of the bust, with long tails of black bias tape trailing from the bottom of the pin to the hem of the dress, and the fabric of the dress was gathered up to a point under the bee, hundreds of small rosettes made of fuzzy yellow gauze radiating out from said point and creeping their way up onto the bodice. Just under the rosettes under the center of the bust of the dress, Adrien could spot Marinette’s signature, tucked away someplace safe, barely noticeable, unless one was looking for it. Adrien grinned as Marinette explained her choices for the shoes: sky-high yellow platform sandals with narrow black stiletto heels, which she modified herself to emulate a bee’s stinger. This outfit was very glamorous, with the topaz drop pendant on a gold chain around the mannequin’s neck and gold bangles on the wrists, one of them being wide and faceted in hexagonal shapes to match the mask. This was possibly Adrien’s favorite part of the bee outfit—Marinette had confessed to struggling with the idea for this mask for a while, because creating a mask that resembled the eyes of a bee freaked her out. And so she had improvised: using a volunteer’s face as a model, Marinette had created an asymmetrical mask that was longer on the left side and textured with hexagonal shapes, the edges carefully cut and styled to give the mask the appearance of a honeycomb. The really amazing part was the topaz-colored beads she had added to dangle from the mask, as if they were drops of honey dripping from the mask itself. As she pointed this out, Adrien saw Noah’s eyebrows raise, but it seemed like he was unable to say anything if it was nothing negative—the exact opposite of the Golden Rule Adrien was taught from a young age. A shame.

Next was the Turtle outfit, and Adrien took special interest in this one, amusing himself with thoughts of what Emerald Shell, whoever he was, would say if he knew a seamstress out there somewhere thought him cool enough to base a whole outfit on him. The olive green sleeveless hoodie was made from sweatshirt fleece, soft and fuzzy on the inside, but a smooth knit on the outside. Marinette carefully pulled back the skunk hood from the mannequin’s head so they could better see the parallel stitching that ran from the front of the hood all the way down to the back. There was a zipper in front with a standard hoodie pocket, but that was where the hoodie stopped being ordinary and became extraordinary: on top of the shoulders and the hood were little brown amorphous shapes—appliques—that imitated the mottling pattern on a turtle’s shell and skin. They looked amazing, but Adrien knew they had taken Marinette a long time to do—she kept cursing herself for making more work for herself for the sake of creativity whenever it was brought up. Still, Adrien rather felt her hard work had paid off nicely, especially when she turned the mannequin so they could see the the large applique on the back: a batik cotton fabric in rich shades of green and splotches of yellow, creating the design of Emerald Shell’s shield. (It was actually nearly identical to Shell’s shield…almost as if Marinette had gotten the opportunity to study the shield up close…hmm…) Here Adrien spotted Marinette’s signature as well, right on the edge of the center of the shell design. She drew their attention next to the hands of the mannequin, where she had fitted the gloves for the Turtle outfit, olive green to match the hoodie with wide cuffs and splotches of brown applique as well, right across the knuckles. She gently tugged the bottom of the hoodie up so they could see the pants of the outfit—made of medium brown khaki, with a loose fit that made it hang low on the hips of the mannequin. Adrien knew the pants had given Marinette a bit of trouble as well: she pieced them together at double right angles, which Adrien had learned was a very hard thing to do, because it was very hard to get the intersections of sideways stitching to match up exactly against the long side seam of the pants…but once she managed it, she had told him the rest had been a piece of cake afterwards, like the splotches of olive green on the back pockets of the pants and the brown, outdoor leather sandals, which she just had to buy without doing anything special to them. The mask must have taken her some more work, however: the base was brown to match the pants and the splotches on the hoodie, rounded at the top to cover the forehead but ending just below the hood, and wrapping around to cover the cheekbones and the nose. It was accented with thin leather tiles of matte olive green, patterned around the face to imitate the appearance of a sea turtle’s face. Overall, it was a very cool design, and Adrien might be a little jealous if he hadn’t known for a fact that the Chat Noir outfit that sat to the left of the Turtle outfit was the inspiration that kick-started the whole line in the first place.

The Peacock outfit pushed at the borders of what was defined as “casual”, in Adrien’s opinion. It was a dress, like the Bee outfit, but this was a high-low dress created with royal blue jersey knit fabric, sleeveless, and with a proud high collar. The upper bodice gathered in slightly to the neck, where the collar had thin, gold, overlapping feathers detailed onto the fabric, with a metallic foil Marinette assured them was washable. Again, Adrien saw Noah’s eyebrows raise, but again, he said nothing. And, once again, Adrien was willing to take this as a good sign.

“Where’s your signature on this one, Marinette?” He bothered to ask, though he already knew; he couldn’t help but want to help her show off a little, especially for a tough critic like Noah Dumont.

Smiling, Marinette pointed to a spot on the collar of the dress, and Adrien saw her name hidden amongst the feathers. Once again, out of the way and easy to miss, if one wasn’t looking for it…but once found, it was undeniable. Adrien grinned at her, and Marinette flushed, cleared her throat, and continued onto the dark blue sash around the waist of the dress, which was made of broadcloth, that tied closed around the base of the zipper in the back, which was invisible like the one on the Bee outfit. Marinette had taken the time to detail a small peacock’s head into the knot of the bow, an accent to match the long, pleated fan of fabric that created the illusion of a peacock’s tail and made the bottom of the bow, with red and gold circles at the bottom, centered on each pleat. The high-low skirt swooped from mid-thigh in the front down to the ankles in the back, flared and lined with gold-colored tulle, which gave it its shape as it hung gracefully around the mannequin, the gold of the dress nicely paired with the warm golden brown suede ankle boots that Marinette had chosen to pair with it. And the mask was fantastic: a royal blue base to match the dress, the nose of it ended in a sharp point, like a beak, with gold markings around the eyes. Feathers crowned the top of the mask, and three plumage feathers taller than the rest sprang from a diamond-shaped faux gem in the center of the forehead of the mask.

“It’s not very casual,” Noah said; it seemed he just remembered how words worked.

Marinette gave an easy shrug.

“It’s a little dressier than the others, sure. But I’d venture to call it ‘business casual’, at the very most—anyone who knows what they’re doing wouldn’t dare to wear jersey knit to a fancy affair, don’t you think?”

“Hmm,” Noah hummed, lifting his cup to his lips before he seemed to remember that it was empty. Adrien and Desiree exchanged amused looks as Marinette led them over to the Chat Noir outfit next.

“Now, this was your first outfit, Marinette, correct?” Desiree asked. Adrien did not miss the fond look that crossed Marinette’s features as she smoothed her hands over the Chat Noir jacket, brushing imaginary dust from it.

“The very first. I’ve modified it a little since, then, though: the chartreuse green satin came later, when I was looking at it and decided it needed more green. The jacket is lined with satin, and the seams on the sides—front and back—have satin piping. And if you turn up the cuffs here,” she paused to do so, “you can see the lining here, too. But this is a style choice—anyone who doesn’t like the lining showing doesn’t have to have it showing. They can just keep the jacket zipped and the collar up. But for those who like the lining, the collar can be turned down when the jacket is unzipped or even partially unzipped, and so can the lapels. It all depends on the person wearing it, really.”

“I like the green,” Adrien said idly. Smiling, Marinette turned down the collar and the lapels for him, so that more of the green lining was displayed. It looked awfully comfy…but Adrien would restrain himself. Asking to try it on would just cause all kinds of problems there…

There were other little changes Marinette had added: a belt, for example, that threaded itself through two belt loops in the back of the jacket, buckled in the back with a silver buckle, the end of it capped in silver and left to dangle, like the belt tail on Chat Noir’s superhero outfit. The shirt underneath the jacket was made of black plain jersey, save for a line of little green paw prints that marched diagonally upwards from near the center of the bottom of the shirt. Around the paws, the black of the shirt gave way to shades of gray as well, looking as if the paws were leaving a trail of destruction in their wake…

“What’s with the gray?”

Adrien looked up at Noah’s question, focusing on Marinette, at the way her cheeks warmed as she cleared her throat and answered,

“This is to, well…imitate the look of Cataclysm.”

“Chat Noir’s power?”

“Yes,” Marinette answered firmly, although the blush was beginning to reach her ears as she turned her back to them, hands hovering over the detail of the undershirt, as if it was sacred. “I’ve seen this seen this power used, um, on video, and I wanted to try and imitate it on fabric. I’m pretty happy with the result…and it gave me a place to put my signature, since I didn’t want to ruin the satin with it.”

She pointed to her name hidden in the gray, just above the two middle paws in their marching line. Adrien felt his stomach plunge, and he swallowed, feeling silly. He was being ridiculous—there was absolutely nothing concerning about having Marinette’s name tucked into the space that was meant to represent Chat Noir’s powers of destruction, as if she, too, might get caught in the blast and destroyed…nothing at all…

“I like the boots!” Desiree enthused, breaking Adrien free from his own mind.

“Oh, yes. These were a challenge,” Marinette admitted with a slight sigh as she crouched down next to the leather boots, which were half-zipped and folded down, giving them the appearance of shin guards, just like the ones on Chat Noir’s super suit. “I went through a lot of leather glue just to get these to look how I wanted, and I had to bug Adri—ah, Mr. Agreste about a million times for the foot sizes of the models chosen for the show so they would be the correct size…if my designs are chosen, I mean.”

Ah, Adrien remembered that. At the time, he hadn’t finalized any of the models for the show yet, so he had just given her his foot size…oh boy. He hoped someone else would be able to fit those boots as well, because if he was the only one, then he would have to model the Chat Noir outfit…and there were too many reasons to name why that was a bad idea.

“This mask looks too sharp to wear,” Noah said, and Adrien suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. Sure, he had thought the same thing too when he first saw the mask, but still...

Marinette, however, merely smiled.

“I assure you, it’s not,” she said, straightening up and carefully removing the Chat Noir mask from the mannequin. “As I already said, my number one priority in making these masks was to make sure our models’ faces would be protected. But if you don’t believe me…would you like to try it on and see for yourself?”

Noah raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t think—”

“I hardly think it’s fair to complain that the mask is too sharp if you don’t try it on and see for yourself, Mon. Dumont,” Desiree agreed with a sly smile as she gave Noah’s shoulder a squeeze. Noah’s gaze turned thoughtful…and then he gave a shrug.

“Fine. But if my face gets scratched—”

“It won’t,” Marinette cut him off, and she stepped forward, stretching onto her toes to reach Noah—he was a tall guy. As she helped him put the mask on, Adrien felt a sudden stab of resentment. He knew it was a stupid thing to be jealous over—no one here knew he was Chat Noir, after all—but he couldn’t help himself. His mask shouldn’t be worn by anyone but him, and it especially shouldn’t be his girlfriend who was putting his mask on anyone else. He felt his expression sour, but there was nothing he could do—the mask was already on, and Marinette was taking a step back to admire her handiwork.

“Well?” Desiree asked as Noah stood there, blinking his dark eyes at them from behind the mask. “Is your skin all right?”

“…Yes,” Noah said, his tone a bit stiff, as if it cost him something precious to admit that his assumption might be wrong. “It’s…actually quite comfortable.”

“It doesn’t look too bad on him either, does it, Marinette?” Desiree teased with a nudge to Marinette, who was watching Noah with her head tilted to the side, brow puckered, eyes speculative.

Just as Adrien felt his jealousy beginning to spike, his girlfriend gave a shrug.

“It’s all right. But it could never beat the real thing.”

She glanced over at Adrien as she said that, and Adrien felt himself freeze. There was something very knowing in that glance, and though she looked away quickly, Adrien felt his heart jump into his throat, and it began to pound a frantic beat against his Adam’s apple.

Oh…oh god. He didn’t…he hadn’t…this whole time, he had been trying (and failing) not to think about whether or not Marinette was Ladybug. He had been trying to be good, trying to be happy with what he already had, because what he already had was amazing, and he wouldn’t trade it for anything. All this time, he had been focused on trying not to fall back into the trap, his obsession with Ladybug. He had been working so hard to get over her, and possibly stumbling upon her true identity by accident had thrown him for a loop…

…But amidst the chaos, he had never stopped to wonder whether or not Ladybug knew who he was.

But that glance Marinette had just given him—what did it mean?

Did she…know?

And if she did know, did that mean that Adrien was right?

That Marinette, his amazing girlfriend Marinette, and Ladybug, amazing, miraculous Ladybug were…

One in the same?

“Well!” Desiree exclaimed, and once again, Adrien was jostled from his own mind and back to the moment. The Chat Noir mask had been returned to the mannequin, where it belonged for now, and Marinette, Desiree, and Noah were all off to the left, standing around the Ladybug outfit. Adrien hastened to join them as Desiree continued, “This dress here is marvelous! But…it isn’t the design you submitted for approval, Marinette! What happened?”

“Oh,” Marinette sighed, giving a tired-sounding laugh that made Adrien ponder once again over how tired she looked. “Yeah…I was hit by last-minute inspiration, actually. I was looking at my work the other day, and it hit me that not one of my pieces was influenced by my Chinese culture. And that broke my heart, because my mother wears such lovely clothes, and I almost felt like it was an insult to her to not include anything that reflects how much I love her and where I come from. So…”

She trailed off, waving a hand towards the beautiful cheongsam that hung on the mannequin. Adrien stared at it, wondering how she had produced something of such high quality at the very last minute. Had she slept at all the past couple of days?

“Well…since this is a brand new design to all of us here, why don’t you walk us through it?” Desiree requested.

“Sure,” Marinette agreed, though there was something a little nervous in her smile now, as if she was afraid they wouldn’t like it. However, other than that brief glimpse of nerves, Marinette maintained her poise as she introduced the brand new Ladybug outfit to them:

“The fabric is a red Chinese brocade, and the black circular medallions on it are a Chinese symbol, which means—”

“Luck,” Adrien said softly. He blinked, realizing that he had interrupted, and flushed red with a cringe. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Marinette answered, looking pleased and a little bit amused. “That’s exactly right—it means ‘luck’.” She pointed to the center medallion, the one closest to her heart. “My signature is a little harder to find on this one—I didn’t want to disturb the gold filigree that was already on the material, so I just stitched my name in with gold thread.”

Ah, yes, there it was, amidst the gold—the familiar loops of Marinette’s signature, threaded through the fabric with care. Adrien almost wanted to reach out and touch it…but of course, that would be incredibly rude, and so he kept his hands firmly at his sides as Marinette went on with the detailing of her work.

“It’s a typical cheongsam style, going down to mid-thigh. My mother likes to wear them with leggings, but this one can be worn with or without bottoms, depending on how modest the wearer wants to be.”

“With that slit over there on the right, I don’t think anyone who’s afraid of showing a little skin should be wearing it,” Desiree teased with a wink. Marinette gave a laugh that was slightly strained.

“I guess not.”

“The sleeves have gaps in them,” Noah remarked, stepping a bit closer to the dress, as if he wanted a better look. “That’s not typical cheongsam style, is it?”

How would you know?’ Adrien almost drawled sarcastically; for the nth time, he reminded himself to be cool. He couldn’t show his bias, he was a professional, and he had to remain so for Marinette’s sake…

Besides, she continued to prove that she could handle Noah perfectly fine on her own.

“Well no, that isn’t,” Marinette readily admitted with a nod, “but I took a couple artistic liberties, as I am allowed to do.” She gestured towards the three-fourths length of sleeve, and to the length of black satin criss-crossing the gap in it. “I chose to add Ladybug’s yo-yo string to the design. See? The beads at the bottom are like little mini Ladybug yo-yos hanging from the sleeves.”

“Oh, and they’re up there, too, with the buttons!” Desiree exclaimed in delight, pointing to the black satin cheongsam knots, their typical fastenings replaced by little red buttons spotted with black and connected with black chords. “This is adorable, Marinette!”

“Thanks,” Marinette answered, blushing, yet unable to suppress the grin that was spreading across her face. Adrien was happy to see some of the tension finally leaving her shoulders.

“This mask is odd.”

Never before had Adrien wanted to punch a fashion critic in the mouth so much…

But, if he was being objective about it (which was really, really hard to be…), he would have to admit that Noah had a point: Ladybug’s mask didn’t look anything like the other masks, in that the other masks obviously related to their outfits in some way. Even the Bee outfit, though the mask was not bee-like at all, was in the shape of a honeycomb, which tied it to the outfit. But this mask…

“It is odd,” Marinette agreed with Noah, much to Adrien’s surprise. Her face was grave as she observed the mask herself, something…off, about her expression. As if she was suppressing something…her true feelings about the mask? Was she just agreeing with Noah to appease him? But no, she wouldn’t do that…so why?

“…Can you tell us your thought process, Marinette?” Desiree prompted. Marinette nodded, slowly, still regarding the Ladybug mask with that slight frown. Adrien wondered what she was thinking…too bad he couldn’t read minds…or hers, at the very least…

“Well…I wanted the mask to tie in with the Chinese theme of the outfit…” Abruptly, Marinette turned to them with a cringe. “…But traditional Chinese masks didn’t have the, uh…look I was going for here. So I improvised: those black swirls at the top are meant to represent antennae, though of course, Ladybug doesn’t have antennae…but I thought it’d be cute.”

“…And, the right side of the mask?” Asked Desiree, her gaze focused on the mask as she gestured around the curving shape of the mask. “That’s…a Chinese symbol, isn’t it? It’s—”

“Yin,” Marinette finished for Desiree, her full attention captured by the mask again, almost as if she was entranced. “It’s usually paired with yang, and in Chinese philosophy, together, they represent harmonic balance.”

“Doesn’t yin mean ‘evil’?” Noah asked, and Adrien really did roll his eyes this time. “Why would you put the symbol for ‘evil’ onto the beloved superheroine of Paris?”

Slowly, Marinette turned to look at him, blinking herself out of what appeared to be a very deep reverie.

“It’s a common misconception to assume that the concept of yin means evil,” she said calmly, though her blue eyes were sharp as she looked at Noah. “What it actually represents is a principle in nature: where yang is positive, yin is negative. Where yang is active, yin is passive. Yang, male; yin, female. You get the idea: they’re opposites.”

“…And it’s here on Ladybug’s mask because…?”

“For the same reason Chat Noir’s outfit is the only one that sits here right next to Ladybug’s, while the others are set behind them,” Marinette explained, turning back to her creations, stepping in between the Chat Noir outfit and the Ladybug outfit, her fingertips trailing down the fabrics of both outfits. “He’s the yang to her yin.”

“I don’t see the symbol of yang on his mask,” Noah pointed out. Marinette gave a nod, her back still to them as she raised a hand, a fingertip caressing the left side of the Chat Noir mask. Adrien gave an involuntary shiver.

“I considered it…but in the end, it wouldn’t have made much sense, since Chat Noir’s outfit isn’t Chinese-based,” Marinette admitted, dropping her hand away from Chat Noir’s mask, though she still stared at it, as if she was seeing something the rest of them couldn’t. “And Chat Noir is much more than an accessory to Ladybug…”

She turned her head, peering at them from the corner of her eye, a secret, knowing little smile playing at the corner of her lips.

“Without Chat Noir…Ladybug is unbalanced.”

Oh god, the room was on fire.

No, wait.

It was just Adrien.

He hastily turned his back, sucking in a deep breath in an attempt to cool down, but holy shit, Marinette was just trying to undo him, wasn’t she?! Sure, that wasn’t the first time he’d heard her say that, but for her conviction to be so strong that she bothered to add it into something as precious as her designs

“Is it heavy? The mask, I mean,” Adrien heard Desiree ask, and he used her distracting Marinette to try and get himself back under control.

“Oh, no, it isn’t. I tried it on, and it’s just as comfortable as the other masks.”

“I want to see!”

“You want to try it on?”

“No, I want to see you in it, Mari-doll!”

The sudden silence behind him resonated within Adrien; he whirled around in time to see the naked panic in Marinette’s eyes before she fixed her expression into a polite, if strained, smile.

“Oh…well, I would, but, I, uh, I’m sure Mon. Dumont is a very busy man; we shouldn’t keep him waiting any longer than necessary—”

“Oh nonsense,” Desiree said, laying a hand on Marinette’s shoulder and giving her a smile. “He’s stuck with us so far, hasn’t he? Just for a moment, Mari-doll, please?”

Marinette bit her lip. Adrien didn’t know her reasons for not wanting to put on the mask—he suspected, but he didn’t know—but whatever they were, it was clearly making her uncomfortable. But since she didn’t have a ready reason to say no to Desiree…

And then Adrien spotted it: the folded red thing leaning against the mannequin that wore Ladybug’s outfit, a wooden handle attached to it. Another mystery that had yet to be explained.

A distraction.

“Hey, Marinette?” Adrien interjected, working to sound casual as he pointed to the folded thing. “What’s that?”

Marinette turned to see what he was pointing at; he saw her eyes light up when she saw it.

“Oh, that!” As she rushed over to grab it, Adrien caught the disappointed look on Desiree’s face. He almost felt bad…but hey, it wasn’t like it was vital for her to see Marinette in that mask.

“Is that a parasol?” Adrien asked when Marinette stepped forward again, clutching the wooden handle with one hand as her other hand slid up the handle, under the red fabric covering the end of it. Marinette smiled, apparently pleased he had caught on so fast.

“Yes. Now, this was kind of a pain to do, because I had to make the pattern itself…but I think it looks good.”

She opened the parasol, resting it on her shoulder and carefully turning so they could see the pattern for themselves. Adrien blinked and frowned. That pattern…

“That’s not the same symbol as the one on your dress,” Noah pointed out; it seemed as if he was ready to jump at every inconsistency in Marinette’s work that he could find. Marinette turned back around to face them, raising a dark eyebrow at him.

“I know,” she answered simply, blinking her blue eyes at him, as if it was pointless for him to bring up such a point. (Adrien smirked behind his hand.) Noah’s brow furrowed.

“Why is it different?” He asked after a moment. “What’s this symbol supposed to mean?”

Marinette lifted the parasol off her shoulder, lowering it so that she herself could stare at the pattern, as if she had never seen it before. When she answered, her words were slow; she was apparently choosing them with care.

“…There's no exact translation to it,” Marinette replied quietly, her eyes still fixed on the parasol. “But to me, this pattern signifies something…important…that happened to me in the past. A day that changed my life.”

She lifted her gaze to Noah’s, her blue eyes bright and strong.

“I don’t have a name for it. But it’s significant.”

Without meaning to, Adrien gasped out loud. With Marinette’s words, he abruptly remembered where he had seen that symbol—not in his Chinese studies, like the symbol for ‘luck’, but on a box.

A mysterious black box that had appeared in his room, after his botched attempt to attend public school like any other fourteen year old kid would have.

A mysterious black box that housed a silver ring, and within that silver ring, a mischievous little creature that had called itself a kwami…Plagg.

It was a symbol Adrien had never seen anywhere else before…and neither had anyone else he had known.

Until now.

Marinette caught his gaze when he gasped, and he stared at her, taking in that knowing glint in those bluebell eyes…

Bluebell eyes he had fallen in love with eight years ago.

“Adrien? Are you all right?”

He startled; he had quite forgotten that Noah and Desiree were still there. And he could feel himself turning red, damn it.

“Fine,” he mumbled, answering Desiree's question as he rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand and glanced away. “Just…it’s a cool parasol.”

“…Thank you,” Marinette said, but when he glanced back at her, she was turning away from him, closing the parasol and returning it to its original position. Her ears were red, he couldn’t help but notice.

“Well! I believe that was everyone!” Desiree said, giving Marinette a not-so-subtle wink as she turned her back and called to the room at large. “All right, kids: the judges will now deliberate! There are snacks waiting for you in my classroom, so help yourselves! Please leave your work here so that we may keep it in sight as we make our decision! Once a decision has been reached, we’ll head over and announce it, and then you can pack up your stuff and head on your way! Remember: all of you did a fantastic job, so no matter who wins the competition, you’re all basically getting full marks anyway.”

A ripple of laughter sounded through the studio, and Desiree waved the students out with grand sweeping gestures of her arms. Adrien smiled at Marinette as she passed, and she returned it, though it appeared that her nerves were beginning to get the better of her again; her teeth moved to worry her bottom lip as she looked away from him, picking up her pace to answer the summons of a couple of her classmates. Adrien watched her go, a myriad of emotions swirling through him at her retreat. It seemed like he was always watching her race away from him, one way or another…

“Adrien? If you would?”

Adrien sighed and turned to face Desiree and Noah. Right—his personal issues would have to wait. Right now, he had a job to do.

“Well,” Desiree began, clasping her hands together for a moment before she folded her arms. Adrien blinked as she did so; he thought he saw something silver glint on her hand, but now he couldn’t. Hmm…maybe he imagined it. “What do you think, Mon. Dumont?”

Noah blinked.

“Why are you asking me?”

“Well…to be perfectly honest, I think Adrien and I are already decided,” Desiree spoke candidly, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. “All that’s left to figure out is whether or not we can convince you to agree with us.”

Adrien made a face. As much as he wanted to deny these words and claim that there was room for deliberation for the other candidates…he couldn’t do it. He should’ve known he couldn’t be as objective about this as he needed to be…

Noah glanced between him and Desiree, speculation in his expression.

“…So you two are already decided on Mme. Dupain-Cheng,” he guessed. As if it wasn’t painfully obvious.

“Yes,” Desiree answered for the both of them, making shushing noises when Adrien tried to interject. “Well? Is there another line here that has impressed you more than Marinette’s? To be perfectly honest, I doubt it.”

“Do you?” Noah asked idly, as if the answer mattered little to him.

“Oh, yes,” said Desiree with a nod and a knowing smile. “You see, with all my other students, who are perfectly talented in their own right, you did not hesitate to cut them down at the knees. You seemed to pick up on whatever they were insecure about immediately, and then you went for the jugular. There was no mercy…”

Despite her vicious words, Desiree’s smile only grew wider.

“But Marinette did not give you that opportunity. Every flaw you tried to pick at, she explained without missing a beat. And she took your criticisms in stride even when she didn’t have a ready explanation. See, you were lucky—Marinette has razor-sharp teeth, but she kept them hidden, and kept her calm demeanor the whole time, despite your attempt to knock her down. She has a will of iron, nerves of steel, and a spirit made of titanium.”

Desiree stepped forward, into Noah’s space. In her heels, she was the same height as him, and he seemed to realize that, if the frown on his face was any indication. Still smiling sweetly, Desiree continued.

“Admit it, Noah—you know she has what it takes to survive in this business. My other students…they might need a little more work. But Marinette is already standing on her own. She has the talent to create her own boutique and be much more successful than you could ever hope to be—”

“All right, all right, enough with the speech,” Noah huffed, cutting Desiree off as he stepped back from her, scowling. “No need to bully me; I’m not so jaded that I don’t know talent when it’s staring me in the face.”

Desiree stepped back as well, looking satisfied, but now it was Adrien’s turn to frown.

“You really, truly think Marinette is talented?” He wanted to check, ignoring the clucking of Desiree’s tongue as he looked at Noah. “Seriously, don’t let Desiree talk you into voting for her if you don’t completely believe that she has what it takes.”

Noah raised his eyebrows, as if he was silently questioning why Adrien was protesting.

Adrien didn’t have to explain anything to him, though—he just wanted to be sure that Noah truly believed in Marinette’s talent. He knew the one thing she was worried about was being accused of cheating her victory in this competition, being doted on by one judge and dating the other. Noah’s opinion was just as valid as his and Desiree’s, and Adrien needed it to be a serious opinion, not a peace offering.

Noah met Adrien’s searching gaze for a few more seconds before he looked away, huffing.

“The girl’s headstrong,” he said bluntly. “And she’s inconsistent—the Ladybug outfit was a lot fancier than all the others, even more so than the Peacock outfit, and it just didn’t fit with the rest of her designs, Chinese inspiration or not.”

Adrien nodded, glad to hear these criticisms now, because as much as they had annoyed him earlier, the fact of the matter was that he was biased, so he needed to hear them, whether he liked it or not. Noah paused, as if he expected one of them to jump down his throat, and Adrien wondered if he was used to being shouted down when his opinion offended someone else. Desiree opened her mouth to speak, but Adrien shot her a warning look. She scowled and pursed her lips, but nevertheless remained silent. Something flashed through Noah’s eyes when he was not interrupted—surprise?—before he cleared his throat and continued.

“As someone who helps run a company that produces and sells casual styles to the world, I would say that Mme. Dupain-Cheng needs to re-work her definition of ‘casual’…

“…But with all that said…her talent truly is remarkable.”

Adrien felt his whole face light up, and he struggled to regain control of his expression.

“So, does that mean—?”

“Yes, yes, I vote for Mme. Dupain-Cheng, too,” Noah replied, with an air of a king being bothered with troublesome administrative tasks. Again, he lifted his travel cup to sip from it, and again, he realized that it was still empty. With a grunt, he tossed it off to the side, where a student’s sick bin was still sitting beside his spring line; the travel cup shot right into the can, rattling at the bottom before it became still. Adrien was impressed, considering the trash can was a considerable distance away from where they stood.

“Well, look at the time,” Noah said idly, checking his expensive watch before straightening his silk tie. “I should get going—I have a lot of paperwork I know I need to sort through. Today’s just all kinds of fun.” With a sigh and a shrug, Noah offered his hand again to Adrien, who shook it. “Tell your girlfriend I said congratulations.”

Adrien sputtered, turning red on the spot.

“Wha—who—I don’t—”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Noah, cutting through his babbling as he strode past, giving Desiree a nod. “Make sure she gets some sleep, too—she looks like she could use it.”

On that parting note, he was gone.

“…Well, that was interesting,” Desiree said, still frowning after Noah, though he had already disappeared. “He can’t be a very popular man over at AMI.”

Adrien smiled a little at that.

“Maybe not…but I bet a lot gets done with him around, too.” Brushing off Desiree’s questioning look, Adrien gestured grandly with a smile that was just a tad rueful. “Shall we break the rest of your hopeful students’ hearts?”

Desiree laughed, looking sheepish.

“Oh, I suppose we must…it won’t make it any easier on them to wait, will it?”

Surprisingly enough, however, most of Desiree’s students took the news with good grace. Only one student had burst into tears, but when questioned, she had sobbed that she was just so glad that it was finally over; the stress had been killing her.

The only person who reacted oddly was Marinette—upon hearing that she was announced the winner of Desiree’s competition, she stared blankly at her professor for a full five seconds…and then she laid her head down on her desk.

“Uh…Mari-doll?” Desiree questioned as she and Adrien edged closer, Adrien spotting that Marinette’s eyes were closed. “Are you all right?”

“…Yeah,” Marinette mumbled, her voice small. Adrien leaned over her, concerned, but she just gave a huge yawn, slumping over her desk. “I’m just so tired.

Adrien laughed, moving to stand beside Marinette, sliding her arm around his shoulders.

“Come on. Time for bed.”

“I can walk,” Marinette protested feebly around another yawn, but despite this weak assertion, her eyes did not open, and Adrien shrugged at a grinning Desiree before he excused the both of them, lifting Marinette into his arms when they were no longer in sight of her classmates.

“My clothes,” Marinette muttered sleepily, her brow puckering as she clung to Adrien. God, she was adorable.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get someone to pick them up,” Adrien said, making a mental note to call Sylvia once his hands were free. “They’ll be the feature line of Agreste Fashion now. Congratulations, Mari.”

Marinette hummed, barely conscious. Chuckling to himself, Adrien slipped her into the passenger side of his car, strapping her in. She hummed again, her eyelids fluttering, but she did not open them, bluebell eyes still concealed behind the pink, eye-shadowed skin of her eyelids. Her chest rose and fell evenly; she was already deeply asleep. It warmed something in Adrien to know that she trusted him enough to be able to sleep around him. He knew he didn’t deserve it…not after everything he had done to her…

A stray lock of hair was escaping her bun, curling its way to the front of her neck. Adrien brushed it back, tucking it behind her ear for safekeeping. His fingers lingered there as he looked at her, simply adoring the way she breathed. She so had him wrapped around her little finger, even just like this. It was really unfair.

And Adrien couldn’t bring himself to care.

“…I’m unbalanced without you too, you know,” he said softly, though he knew Marinette could not hear him. But maybe that was a good thing; he didn’t know whether or not he wanted to have this conversation with her yet. And, despite her…telling design choices…maybe she wasn’t ready to have this conversation yet, either.

But they would. And soon. Too soon, considering everything they would have to discuss…everything.

That could wait. It could wait forever, if Marinette wished it. And Adrien would be fine with that, because she was here, with him, they were together, and they were happy.

The saying was ‘ignorance is bliss’, wasn’t it?

Adrien leaned forward, pressing a tender kiss to Marinette’s forehead.

“I love you, Marinette. My Lady, Marinette.” He whispered to her skin. She did not stir. When he pulled away, it was to find a slight, vague smile tracing the curve of her mouth, as if he had spoken a spell that would enable her to have sweet dreams.

Adrien smiled.

Ignorance was bliss indeed.

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

Part 27 of 37

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