He was distinctly aware of two states of being, contrasted as easily as black against white. There was the comforting numbness that lacked all sensation, and the hot sickening wash of pain and confusion. Adrien's consciousness drifted occasionally between these two states, cringing away from the sharp intense feelings being awake would give him in favor of the dark. It didn't want to let him wake up, the darkness being easier to contain and manage, but the boy was injured and there was no dodging the pain forever. He would have to come to eventually, face what waited for him. As if to confirm this, Adrien became aware of a voice for the first time, finally straying away from the nothingness and towards his steady discomfort.
"Adrien? He's okay isn't he Plagg? It's been hours!"
In the closet the only light that was provided came from the crack under the door, only just separating the boy and the two kwamis from the darkness around them. Tikki hovered over Adrien's face, her tiny hands on his cheek as she looked towards the glowing green eyes of her companion in desperation.
"He's tough…" Plagg responded hesitantly, speaking at normal volume without fear of being overheard. It had been almost three hours since the attack and the school had long since been evacuated. The kwamis had done their part, locking the door and watching over the boy but if he needed serious medical help there was little they could do, so they waited in anxious silence. Plagg had listened diligently after the attack, his hearing superior to his counterpart's, relaying everything he had heard in a hushed voice until they were alone again.
Whatever half-baked magic Adrien had managed to pull off with Tikki had seemed to do its job, though there was no way to verify entirely.
"That's definitely Nino," Plagg had reported at one point, his ear pressed to the door. "He's far away but that's him, and he was stone wasn't he? That should mean the others are okay too right?" When he had looked over at Tikki he swallowed hard, taking in her desperate worry written on her face and saying, "Yeah absolutely! That's it, everyone was turned back. So everyone's okay, Marinette too, okay?"
When Plagg had said her name Adrien had stirred restlessly, moaning in pain before slipping back into the dark. The kwamis traded a dark and heavy look before returning to their vigilance, vowing silently to protect him together.
Now, as they approached the third hour, Adrien finally started to stir again.
"Adrien! Hey, listen look at me! Are you okay?" Plagg was immediately in his face, the boy slowly trying to sit up and wincing in pain when he put pressure on his left arm.
His head was spinning, feeling nauseous and sick from the pain but he grit his teeth against it and tried to pull together the tattered edges of his mind. He took a breath and winced again, his ribs aching in protest and forcing him to pull in short gasping breaths. He reached out with his right hand, pulling at the fabric of his shirt and revealing long red-ish blotches across his rib cage. His tired mind noted this in slight concern, knowing from experience that unless he had been in that closet for a day there shouldn't be bruising yet. If he had been hit hard enough to have blood discoloration already than he had to move carefully, and when the bruises really did set in it wasn't going to look good.
He stiffened when he heard two quiet gasps at the visible damage to his chest, and carefully he lifted his head to look at the small floating red creature, slowly recalling that her name was Tikki.
Cute name… holy crap…
He breathed out heavily, his face contorting in pain a little as he tried to find his voice. He closed his eyes, fighting the sickness he felt.
"Are you okay?" Plagg asked again, his concern showing an uncharacteristic age to him. Adrien almost preferred he be joking and playing around, providing at least something familiar.
"I can't believe it…" Adrien spoke for the first time, betraying what was actually on his mind. Tikki and Plagg traded another look, jolting a little in the air when Adrien started to laugh.
He cut the laugh off when it became too uncomfortable to continue, but he still shook his head. "That's a lie," he qualified, chuckling again wryly, "I can absolutely believe it. It makes complete sense. Who else could it have been? Who else-" he stopped again, pulling up his right hand to lay his face in it.
"God… I'm such an idiot. How did I not- I should have known. I…." he smiled into his hand, his emotions confused and overwhelming. "I fell for her twice Plagg I- I can't believe it."
Tikki smiled, her heart bursting with joy when he said it so easily. She looked over when Plagg snickered, some of his jokester traits finally resurfacing as Adrien seemed to be mostly alright.
"It's about time you had a stroke of good luck, you've earned it even if you are a dunce. They look exactly the same."
Adrien picked up his head, glaring at his kwami light heartedly, still processing this new information.
"Oh and I suppose you knew?"
Plagg grinned happily. "Of course I knew."
There was silence for a moment before Adrien balked, hissing, "Wait you actually knew!? Plagg wha-what the hell!"
Plagg collapsed into delighted giggling, flipping in the air and holding himself as he endured Adrien's outraged betrayal with a light heart. Tikki observed the dynamic with a small smile before moving in, trying to placate the boy.
"Plagg thought it would be better if you two found out for yourselves, and I agreed."
Adrien met her gaze, his eyes seeming to tighten with yet more confused emotions.
"So she doesn't know? That I'm Cat Noir, I mean." He watched as Tikki shook her head and couldn't place how that made him feel. He couldn't place how anything made him feel.
What would she say?
For the first time he considered something that made his heart sink in his chest, feeling cold and small.
What if she hated him? What if she didn't- she had never loved Cat Noir… why would- would she turn him away? Would she hate knowing who he really was? He was so overwhelmed… so confused… but he had felt what Plagg had said was true, that maybe this was his first real stroke of good luck. No more conflict, no more choosing or pushing away. They were the same… his lady and his princess, they were the same. He could have them both… but could he really? He had been so caught up in the realization that the girl he loved and the girl he was slowly coming to care for were one in the same, he had even dared to think that maybe things might be simple now, that he didn't think about what she would say.
He wanted to believe that she might have loved Cat Noir, he wanted that with everything he had but he had no guarantee, was it really just a stupid wish? A desperate move to try and salvage any feeling that he still had a chance. Hadn't Marinette… hadn't she blushed? He had started to think that maybe she was… interested, that she might like him if he had the time to prove himself, and he wasn't even sure when that thought process had come about. When had he started to wonder what he might need to do to prove himself to this lovely, bright, wonderful girl, to prove that he was a good man? Maybe she liked him, maybe she could like him one day, but if she knew that it was really her partner would that fade? Would she…
The kwamis watched as Adrien's head sagged and was placed against his knees as he seemed to fold in on himself, wondering what they could do to help his sudden despair.
Would he not be enough anymore?
He curled in on himself, fighting the sudden tears that threatened to fall from his eyes and stubbornly ignoring the pain in his body.
Was Cat Noir really going to be the thing that would undo him? He had spent so long feeling like Cat was the part of him that would hold the most desire from his lady, thinking Cat was the best part of himself he could offer, that he had never dreamed that his Lady might prefer Adrien. Why- why did she not…
Stop a quiet voice spoke to him, a part of himself not lost in the sea of emotion that could still see clearly. You're wrong and you know it.
He gritted his teeth, angry at how tormented he felt. Why was this so confusing?
It's not that hard. How can you seriously say that she doesn't care about Cat Noir? How can you say that Ladybug doesn't care? You know she does, she has proven it a thousand times, and even when she wasn't in costume, even when she didn't know it was Adrien she was protecting, she dove in front of Cat Noir. She saved Cat, she risked dying back there for her partner, for her friend, she did it to keep you safe. How can you seriously think she wouldn't want to know who you really are? She gave you that purse knowing it would reveal her. There's no way she couldn't have known, she must have considered that you would need the cure spell and need Tikki's help, but she still gave it to you. She gave you her identity, the one thing she said she never would, to protect you. She's… amazing, you know that much. She wouldn't hate you, she wouldn't turn you away, that's not something Ladybug would ever do. Not something Marinette would ever do. Think of everything you know about them, about her. That list is a whole lot longer now isn't it?
Adrien swallowed, working at the lump in his throat and wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, trying to focus on that little voice. The doubts were so loud and big that they were trying to make him forget everything he was absolutely certain of, trying to make him forget all the things he knew for sure.
One thing he knew would never change, ever, identities or not, was that Ladybug was his partner. Marinette was his partner, the girl who had saved his life more times than he could count and teased him while she had done it. That wasn't going to change… so he should be brave. Like she would be.
"Adrien? We should get going. You seem really hurt, we should get to a doctor." Plagg spoke up, not wanting to interrupt but still wanting to make sure there was no substantial damage to his boy.
Adrien was quiet for a moment, before slowly nodding his head, struggling to stand up while holding his side.
"You're right," he said aloud, nodding his head again, "I need to go to her."
Plagg blinked slowly. "Th-that isn't what I said. We need to go to a doctor."
Adrien wasn't listening, focusing on keeping his breathing steady as he gently gathered up an equally concerned Tikki, putting her in the clutch and unlocking the door.
He opened it, sticking out his head to check if the coast was clear as Plagg said, "Adrien. Hospital."
Adrien looked behind him at the black kwami, smiling in what he hoped was a reassuring way as he caught him out of the air and put him in his jacket.
"I'm fine buddy, we need to get Tikki back. Plus how would I even explain it? I'm supposed to be at home."
"That's a terrible excuse to not seek medical attention but whatever, it's your funeral," Plagg scoffed, trying to pretend that he wasn't extremely concerned, instead taking solace in that at the very least Marinette would insist a lot more convincingly than he could.
Both Tikki and Plagg tensed in worry when they heard Adrien gasp in pain, the initial sensation of walking almost making him fall over, but he kept moving. He had to find Marinette, he had to know that she was okay, and he wasn't going to stop until he did.
Despite his injuries he forced himself into a jog, clearing the school and moving out into the ruthless pounding rain on the street without seeing anyone. No one to question why he was limping or nursing his arm, and no one to slow him down. He kept his pace, moving into a sheltered alleyway and using the time to look at his phone, finding it filled with messages from Nino but no one else. No one had even spotted he wasn't in his room yet? He shook his head, wondering sadly why he had even wasted any of his time actually stuck in the house. He couldn't ignore the churn of unease at the lack of contact from Marinette though, and despite wanting to speak to her in person he called her, not caring that his phone was getting soaked as he moved back into the downpour.
He started to move faster when she didn't answer, panic seeping into him until Tikki reported that the phone was in the clutch with her, and that it didn't mean Marinette was hurt. There was still that doubt though, the memory of her body hitting the ground screaming at him. How she put all her faith in him, how she had turned to stone in his arms, how she had stopped breathing entirely and the life had faded from her. How she had only been hurt because he wasn't fast enough, because he hadn't saved himself.
He was running, ignoring the searing pain in his legs and pushing himself forward, and after a while, as he drew closer, he understood that he was shouting her name. The image of her as two separate people was starting to fade, blur away into one person, and all of his fears with Ladybug became his fears with Marinette as well. How many times had she been slammed into a wall by an Akuma, gasping for breath as the wind was knocked out of her? How much pain had he failed to protect her from? Had he failed her this time too?
He sprinted through another alleyway, the rain falling all around him and drowning the world in roaring white noise but he was still yelling her name, unable to stop himself from adding to the song of the storm. He couldn't help it, he needed to know he hadn't lost her.
"Marinette!" he screamed out again, turning the final corner and seeing the bakery in sight, his heart leaping at the light in her window, at the movement inside behind the curtain of rain. He didn't stop, his adrenaline dulling the pain as he threw open the door to the bakery, his luck turning good once again and revealing no parents to stand in his way as he barreled up the stairs, turning down the hallways he had memorized in such a short time.
He met her at her door, the girl only just starting to respond to the chime of the bell but was instead greeted by Adrien Agreste, panting heavily and drenched in the rain, saying her name over and over as he leapt at her, pulling her into his arms.
"You're okay," he gasped out, not yet caring that he was soaking her through, "you're okay!"
"Adrien!?" she finally managed, taking a step back but letting him keep his arms around her, somehow sensing that he needed her there but needing space to look at his face, to try and read the impossible flurry of emotions in his eyes. "Wh- what are you doing here, I'm okay! Of course I'm okay what's happened are you alright!?"
She was in shock, trying to understand what was happening and still her pounding heart long enough for her to hear herself talk. He had appeared out of nowhere, shattering her methodical worry with his presence. She had been waiting in fear, waiting for Cat Noir to show up in the way she knew he would, to talk to her and return her bag, to prove that he was alive and okay, to say her name and know who she was. But in his place was suddenly Adrien, clinging to her and checking her over, and a spark of something forgotten flared in her mind, being shoved to the wayside as she tried to calm him down.
It was when she reached out to grip his arms that she saw him wince, pulling back his left to cradling it protectively against him.
"A- Adrien are you hurt!?"
"I'm fine," he breathed out, still staring at her, taking in that she was there, talking and breathing and alive. "Don't worry about it."
"I am worried about it what the hell happened!?"
He didn't understand how it had taken him so long… staring at her now he saw his lady in every single aspect of her, every movement and word. The way she scolded him, worried and demanded to know if he was okay… god how had it taken him so long.
He didn't know what to say, flinching when she said his name again and he saw the building panic in her eyes. What… w-what was he supposed to do now? How- Did he just say it? How could he possibly explain?
"Adrien ple-" she started for the third time, but stopped when she was distracted by movement by his hip, gently demanding her attention.
Adrien watched as she froze, his heart stopping as her eyes fixed on her clutch at his side. His stomach dropped as she let go of him and took a step back, her deep blue eyes wide and unmoving as they watched the bag.
"Why do you have that?" she asked, her voice impossibly quiet, her body impossibly still. When he didn't answer, his fear forcing him into silence, her eyes slowly trailed up to his face, examining it for every contour and detail she knew she would find.
"Where did you get this?" she spoke again, her tone so steady and quiet it was almost drowned out by the raging storm outside, even for him.
He didn't realize he was shaking at first, but he should have expected as much. Then again, knowing what to feel or how he felt or anything at all… he didn't know. He was frozen, staring at her and only able to feel hope, and pleading desperation.
'Please don't hate me,' his thoughts pedaled a hundred times over in the span of a second, 'Please don't say you hate me now.'
He swallowed, and felt like he was taking a long firm step off a cliff face, hoping for anything to meet his foot when it came down.
"You gave it to me."
He watched it happen, her suspicion seal itself in fact. He saw it happen in her eyes, the switch in the way she suddenly looked at him like it wasn't just him anymore. Part of him wondered if that was what he had looked like, as he pulled it all together. Did he look like he was taking everything he knew about two different people and splicing them together into one person who you felt like you had never met before, but known all your life?
Did he look so afraid?
She took another step away from him, her hands slowly reaching to her face to cover her mouth as she said it for the first time, looking at his eyes and knowing she was right.
Despite his turmoil he smiled a little at how hesitantly she said it, her eyes wide in disbelief and a hundred other emotions he had no name for. He prayed none of them were disappointment.
"Hello my lady…" he said it slowly, but met her gaze, not letting himself look at the floor, trying to smile in his Cat Noir way. "Guess the cats out of the bag."
With a single sentence everything was out in the open… almost everything. The big things.
There was silence, heavy and tense, but there was a sudden softness to her expression that soothed his desperate worry just enough for him to slowly reach in his jacket, pulling Plagg out into the open, almost as if it to prove it.
Marinette stared at the strange little black cat, so overwhelmed that she could only manage a small wave, something that made Adrien chuckle. His heart soared when she actually glared at him a little.
Maybe everything wasn't so lost…
"I'm Plagg," the kwami stated simply, giving his own wave but keeping things short, knowing this conversation wasn't meant for him. "You already know my boy. Don't be too hard on him, he's been through a lot today." He said it with a cattish grin, flying down to open the clutch and pull out Tikki as Marinette tried to speak again.
"Hard on him?" she said in confusion, still too shell shocked to process much more than she already was.
It was him. Her Adrien, her Cat Noir. It had always been him, every step of the way. How had she not seen it, when he had started to get more comfortable hadn't he reminded her of Cat a dozen times? Hadn't his jokes been just as cringe worthy, his laugh been the same? The boy she loved so much… and the boy she had kept herself from loving.
"Why would I be hard on him?" she spoke again, looking back at Cat- at Adrien and seeing a guarded tension in his face.
"What is it?" she asked slowly, peering up at his suddenly unreadable green eyes.
"Are- are you…" he looked at the ground, trying to steel himself for any answer he might receive. "Are you… upset? Knowing it's me that… that I'm Cat Noir."
She blinked, slowly, trying to take in what he was saying, trying to read why he would even ask. He was closed off, turned away from her, looking like he was ready to run at any moment, full of more doubt than she had ever know the tomcat to have. Then again… he was Adrien too.
She couldn't let him linger, waiting for the answer with a heart so heavy you'd have thought she had just dismissed him all together. She remembered another time, in the same place with the same boy, where her heart had been just as heavy. He had used that time to make her feel important, to feel like she was worth his time and the time of others. To feel like she wasn't a disappointment. Here he was… afraid that she would somehow find fault with him.
"Why would I be upset knowing that you're my Cat Noir?"
The way she said it… so genuinely. My Cat Noir. Was that really how she viewed him? As hers?
He had never wanted so much for something to be true.
He looked up, his mouth open just slightly, looking at the smile on her face. He couldn't help it. He had to say it out loud.
"Your Cat Noir…" There was another stretch of silence but her smile did not waver. His heart skipped when she nodded, slowly and gently, looking up at him. "I- I like the way that sounds… p-princess."
Her smile became a grin, the line between Cat and Adrien finally blurring so completely that it vanished entirely, and the idea of this new complete person slowly settled into her heart.
He was nervous and unsure, and she felt the need to let him know it was all okay. It was huge… and overwhelming and impossible to understand but it was good. Even if it did take a while to get used to.
He looked down, slowly smiling as she extended her fist outwards in their usual sign of a mission drawing towards a close, that same line of distinction blurring out of existence as the phrase "My lady" came to mean the bubbly designer just as much as the spotted heroine.
He reached out as well, completing the contact, but he didn't want to let her go, not like that. He didn't want this mission to end quite that way, and though the Adrien part of him withered in fear, the Cat Noir part strode forward confidently.
Their fists connected in a fist bump for a moment in time, but gently, and slowly, in a distinctly Cat Noir yet Adrien way, he unwound her hand to intertwine with his. She cooperated, her face flushing but her heart pounding too quickly to resist as he took her hand, using this new connection to pull her closer to him.
Maybe Ladybug never could have been with Cat Noir, and Marinette never could have been with Adrien, because it wasn't really complete. There were essential pieces missing, separating them in a way that would have kept it from ever truly working. They wouldn't have known each other, not really. They would have been left with a hole the other couldn't fill, not as they were. It was where the lines finally faded and the whole truth of their lives came together that they could touch, all at once knowing that no matter in what way the future shall label them they were essentially still two halves of a whole. However the two halves weren't Ladybug and Marinette, or Cat Noir and Adrien, it was each other. It was her and him, good luck and bad. It might seem cheesy, and a little bit lame, but that was them as well if they were being honest with themselves.
There wasn't a word for it yet, it wasn't just friends, and it wasn't quite love, not yet. He could feel it though, as he found the bravery to pull her to him. There was no one else it could have ever been, no one else who could have been his Ladybug. And there was no one else who could be his Marinette, his Marinette. He would never lose her, he would never leave her alone. He would never watch her life fade away again, he would tear down anyone who tried.
He leaned down and she stood on her toes, her hands pressed against his chest as she rose to meet him, trembling slightly as his hand cupped her face and he whispered her name. He loved it, he loved to say it, knowing who she really was.
Knowing that she was a hero of Paris. Knowing that she didn't like too much honey in her tea.
He kissed her, every confused and tattered emotion refocusing and drawing him towards her, restating this new girl as his absolute truth. If he had spoken again his voice would have shook, his hands trembling even as he bravely did as he had always dreamed of doing.
It was tender, loving, and charged with everything they didn't know how to say, sharing something new with each other. Her lips were sweet and soft, her hesitation ripped away and showing again the confidence of a woman who could save the world. His movements were strong and passionate, but gentle and emotional, showing the boy who loved with everything he had.
He held her, kissing her and marveling in something that was unbelievably true.
He felt light, and happy and complete, finally meeting up with someone who had always been just out of reach. One feeling dominated everything else though, and he fought the tears that sprang to his eyes.
He felt warm.
((And with that, the story draws to a close. The support and love for this story has been overwhelming, and I can't thank you all enough. A few of the superfans, on tumblr or on fanfiction, such as Panda, thewhitelotus, kawaguardian, John Smith, minirowan, art-of-bluesapphire97, tsu-za, ginkuma, laradfanfiction, cress-in-a-dress and many many others have been a tremendous source of encouragement and help. There will be more ML fanfiction from yours truly, and if I continue to see enough desire for it, a sequel following the events of the reveal. Thank you all again, reading your encouragement and thoughts has been unbelievable! Please continue to reach out to me with prompts and your thoughts and such, I love to hear it! Seeing your art and such has been awesome, I have a photo album of it on my phone lol. Until next time!))