Adrien is leaning halfway out the window to meet her as she drops from her yo-yo upside down, clinging to the string, grinning at him. He grins back, admiring the silly way her twin tails droop toward the ground, how her bangs reveal her forehead entirely.

"Couldn't wait, huh?" he asks, propping his cheek on one hand, elbow resting on the window pane. His words come across cheeky and she giggles quietly, eyes sparkling behind the spotted mask.

"I'll turn around and go home right now if you want. I'm still grounded you know." She says it all with an expression that tells him she has no intention of leaving. At least, not right away.

He makes a show of checking the clock on his bedroom wall. "There's still an hour before -"

"I couldn't wait," she admits, cutting him off as she swivels herself around. He backs up from the window and she swings until she's sitting on the window pane. She almost looks sheepish, and with the mask on it's a strange sight. Beautiful, surreal, but strange. He didn't know Ladybug could be bashful like that.

He lays his chest over her knees, winding his arms around her back. Adrien feels his smile stretch into a cheeky grin as he tilts his head back to look at her. The streetlamps make her glow warmly and he admires it as she reaches forward and runs a hand through his already disheveled hair.

"I'm glad you came." He saw her at school just hours before, he'd texted her incessantly since, but still. Their familiarity with each other is something they are forced to tone down when in public. Marinette is still nursing a wounded paw after her break up with Chat Noir, after all.

"Are you now?" she asks archly, her teeth gleaming white in the darkness. It's almost as if she's smug about the whole thing and it gives him a thrill. Watching her revel in the power she has over him will always make his skin hot.

"Yep!" He hoists her up off the window sill and stumbles back, easily keeping his balance as her knees cinch around his torso, arms around his neck. Ladybug gasps, but Adrien's hands are there under her thighs for support and he walks them over to the couch, chuckling at her momentary desperation. "I'm not going to drop you."

She snorts as he plops down with her on his lap. "I know."

His grin softens, hands wandering from her thighs up to her waist, wrapping around her to pull her flush against him. "Take off the mask," he murmurs.

Ladybug props one elbow on his shoulder and cups her chin, staring down at him. He thinks that he could always get lost in her eyes. So blue and clear and true. Even in the dark, they shine and he wonders again how he couldn't figure her out before. How it took two years to realize that she was always right there behind him in class.

"Why would I do that?"

He takes on a wounded face. "Plagg is so lonely, you know. He could use Tikki's company."

She brings up a red gloved hand to boop him on the nose, cooing with the same exaggeration. "Oh, Plagg is lonely, is he?" He watches her cast a glance at the kwami who is sleeping curled up on his pillow.

"So very lonely," Adrien nods solemnly.

Her hand caresses his cheek softly, eyes conflicted. "What if Natalie finds me here? Or...or your dad?"

Adrien shakes his head. "My father is out of town."

There is a beat of silence and then she makes a sound of disgust, almost ripping out of his embrace. "He left you here alone on your birthday?" Her body becomes hot with anger under his hands as he keeps her close, burying his face in her shoulder.

"It's fine, Marinette," he says softly, voice muffled by the suit. "It happens all the time."

Her struggling pauses and she sighs, heftily, wrapping her arms around his head and pressing her cheek to his crown. She runs her fingers through the downy ends of his hair at the nape of his neck as if calming herself down and comforting him at the same time. "It's not fine," she tells him, voice hard. "You need to stop telling yourself that it's okay. You deserve better."

He smiles, tightening his hold around her, softening ever more under her gentle touch. "I have you." Adrien knows those words disarm her. Every time they have a conversation like this, he matter of factly offers up the truth - that everything else is shit. His childhood and his family life is in ruins, and yes, Marinette, of course he deserves better.

She is his better.

In the space of a breath, a sparkling light ripples from her toes to the very top of her head and then there is warm skin at his neck, not red spandex. His hands bunch a soft, cotton T at her waist instead of slipping against the slick, armored suit. He decides that he can stay like this forever with a happy sigh, listening to Marinette whisper something softly to Tikki before her arms pull away and she touches the side of his face tenderly, coaxing his gaze back up at her.

"You're wonderful, Adrien," she murmurs, studying his face.

His heart swells at her attention, at her reverence. "Takes one to know one," he replies giddily.

She shakes her head, smiling. "You are much kinder than I am," she insists. "I admire you for that."

He flushes pleasantly. "Oooh, you admire me. What else do you admire about me, Marinette?" An audacious grin splits across his face because he can't help it.

She squishes his cheeks. "Everything, of course."

"Especially my face, I would guess," he replies, thinking about all the posters of himself he'd found in her room.

Marinette must be thinking the same thing because suddenly she's ladybug-red."I-I suppose that's one of your stronger points," she quips, "considering your sense of humor is lacking."

He laughs and hugs her tighter around the middle. "Ouch!" It's funny how he can tangibly feel all his edges soften. "I'm glad you like my face." A pause, and then an elaboration. "I'm glad you like me."

She sighs and then leans in until their noses brush. A rush of warmth floods through him at her gentle proximity. He will never take for granted how steadfast and warm and real she is and he's a bit frustrated with himself. If it weren't for his clumsiness as Chat Noir, they wouldn't have to sneak around after dark like this.

He wants more than anything to take her out on a date. A real date. If he asked, would she say yes? His heart trembles. Would she deny him? Not because she wouldn't want to, but because she thinks it would be safer that way? How long then, he wonders, would he have to wait for it to be okay? Another week? A month? Staring up at her expression now - and she's looking at him with a tenderness that tugs at all his heartstrings - he doesn't think he can wait a month. He's not even sure he can wait a day.

She smooths the hair away from his face, eyes glancing sneakily at the clock on his wall, and runs her fingers across the back of his head in a soothing, repetitive motion. "What do you want for your birthday, Adrien?"

"I want to take you on a date," he says seamlessly, almost before she can finish speaking. He hadn't meant to say it, really - he had meant to be more tactful and romantic. A blush sears its way across his face as her expression goes pink, eyes blank with shock at his forwardness. "I-I mean! That is, if you want to go! I don't really need anything for my birthday since my father likes to compensate his lack of love with material things. I mean look at my room, I -"

"Adrien," she says, cutting him off, amusement beginning to glimmer on her face. "I would love to go."

The panic that had closed over his heart like a fist releases itself and the purest sense of bliss blossoms in his chest. "Yeah?"

"Absolutely," she tells him as a smile brightens her expression. "100 percent yes."

"Hell yeah!" He pumps a hand into the air with a cheeky sort of victory.

She laughs. "What kind of reaction is that?"

Adrien leans forward as she braces herself against his shoulders and kisses her soundly. "I've wanted to take you on a date for two years, my lady," he murmurs with a suddenly soft voice.

She blinks at him, cheeks reddening. "I never thought I'd hear those words come out of Adrien Agreste's mouth."

"I'll say them as many times as you like.

Marinette kisses him back, pressing his shoulders into the couch. "Once is enough."

What starts out as something sweet and chaste turns warmer and deeper. Marinette seems to be drowning herself in him, hands holding his face steady as her entire body relaxes against his chest. His grip is pinned to the smallest part of her waist and he can't help himself from slipping his hands up under the hem of her shirt and resting his palms at her back. She makes a pretty noise when his fingers find the divot of her spine and a flash of heat lights up in his belly.

Immediately, he brushes against the same spot again, revelling in the same reaction as before. She separates from his mouth with a trembling sigh and then nudges his jaw line, kissing it all the way back to his ear.

"You know," she says as she kisses his ear and then experimentally nibbles on it. "When do you want to go on this date?"

He sighs appreciatively at her attention and kisses her shoulder. "Tomorrow?"

Marinette pulls back, frowning. "Tomorrow? Adrien, we just broke up like a week ago. What if people see me with you? Both of us aren't exactly under the radar, you know."

"You were never dating Chat Noir," Adrien tells her, feeling strangely jealous of his superhero persona. Which is dumb and he knows that, but there's nothing he can do to will the jealousy out of existence.

"Everyone else thinks I was."

He frowns. "If you don't want to go, we won't go." His heart sinks.

She shakes her head and struggles to find the right words to convey her emotions. "No, I want to go. It's just - you know, we - I mean- !" If he knew what she was trying to say, he'd answer her to save her the trouble, but he's at a loss in this situation. Finally, she gathers her scattered thoughts. "What time tomorrow?"

He gives her a wary look. "Are you sure?"

Marinette gives him a quick kiss. "Of course I'm sure. That was never the issue. What time, Adrien?"

Happiness begins to inflate inside him again like a balloon. "Noon? I'll pick you up?" He punctuates his answers as questions. "Are you sure sure? I don't want to do this if it's going to make you uncomfortable."

She smiles. "Kitty, I'm sure. I don't care what people think." She kisses him again, this time lingering. "Noon is perfect."

Adrien grins and flexes his hands against her back before diving back in to capture her lips.

Just to be safe, Adrien had texted her the moment he woke up in the morning. To double-check. Just to reaffirm her answer. Her reluctance to go out in public with him is something he understands entirely and a part of him believes that she's only saying yes because she doesn't want to say no to him. That's not a good enough reason.

Her response to his text, though, is in true Marinette fashion.

I'm going to date you so hard you'll never ask me that again.

A part of him wonders if she's frustrated with his incessant asks of if she's trying to be alluring.

btw, happy birthday hot stuff.

He blushes. Deciphering Marinette over text isn't his strong suit. She's so expressive that trying to get a read on her through words only makes him realize that he lives in the emotions she wears.

Natalie warily grants him the freedom to go out for the day. She tries to insist that he take the Gorilla with him at least, but Adrien knows he'll only draw attention if that guy is lumbering around behind him all day. He's only allowed to fly solo after he reminds her that it's his birthday and that he promises to uphold the Agreste family name.

Not that the name itself means much to Adrien these days, but it appeases Natalie.

Plagg teases him as he stresses over what to wear, but eventually Adrien settles on a casual outfit. A pair of black denim jeans, a shirt the color of Marinette's eyes with the sleeves rolled to his forearms and his most nondescript sneakers. It's simple, but it makes him look like he's turning 18 instead of 16. At least if photos of this date leak and his father hears about it, Adrien knows that he won't be berated for his outfit.

To be entirely honest, he looks good. He wonders aloud if Marinette will still be so cheeky once she sees him. Plagg gags.

Since his stomach is full of butterflies, and his nerves have him on edge, Adrien leaves his house early and takes the long way to her family bakery. His mood sinks as he nears her home almost half an hour too soon, but his breath catches when he sees her standing outside the front door, just one street away.

He's seen her half-naked in her sleep shorts and tank. He's seen her dressed up in an outfit worthy of being on the runway. He thinks that there is no way she can be any more beautiful or surprise him anymore than she already has but he's wrong. He's so embarrassingly wrong and Adrien never wants to be right.

His heart skips a beat, reminding him that this is real.

Marinette leans up against her door as she thumbs through something on her phone, hair pulled into a high bun. She's wearing a dress the color of a peach with thin straps and a cinched waist, the bubbled hem hitting her at mid-thigh. The sweetheart neckline cuts low enough to tease, modesty only saved by the white ¾ sleeve jacket she wears. Even that is questionable, considering one side of it drapes down to expose a freckled shoulder.

He floats more than he does walk across the street and she glances up. Satisfaction unfurls in his chest at the expression that suddenly burns at her face, the red in her cheeks almost matching the rose-petal of her lips. As he nears her, he notices that she seems taller. An investigative glance reveals that she is wearing brown sandals with a wedge heel. His tongue goes clumsy and stupid and limp in his mouth.

"Adream! I-I mean! Adrien!" Her face becomes warmer as embarrassment mixes in with all the other emotions skittering over her as she fixes her jacket. "Hi!"

He can't help but laugh. "I could say the same about you," he says a bit bashfully, looking her over again. "Did you make that dress? You"

His speechlessness partially helps her to recover. She fiddles with the white strap of her purse and offers up a sheepish smile. "I did, thank you. Happy birthday?"

The desire to kiss her has never been so strong but her parents are probably watching through a window somewhere and Adrien doesn't really want to make it on the same list as Chat Noir when it comes to them. He'd prefer to earn their trust before they have to become wary of his intentions with their daughter.

"Thanks, Bugaboo," he smiles softly.

Her blush deepens unexpectedly again. "Ugh! I told myself that I wasn't going to say something stupid in front of you, either."

"Not stupid," he clarifies. "Cute. Adorable. Also, I do look like a dream, so you were only being truthful."

She laughs. "Confidence is a good color on you, kitty."

He grins and then glances at the window directly next to them. "So do your parents…?"

"They think I'm hanging out with you and Alya and Nino." She smiles triumphantly. "They weren't going to let me go since I'm still grounded, but I guilt tripped them into saying yes when I told them about your father and how it was your birthday."

Well, he thinks, its mostly the truth anyway. "Alright, do you have everything you need?"

She nods. "Yes. Let's go."

Adrien wants to hold her hand, but he's afraid that might be taking it too far, so he shoves his own hands in his pockets to quell the urge. As they walk, they talk about favorite movies and TV shows and he watches her with rapture, stunned into silence half of the time just from the weight of the sheer knowledge that Marinette is Ladybug and Ladybug is Marinette.

He's so incandescently happy that his heart could burst.

When they make it to the little cafe of his choice, he is dismayed to see that it's crowded. He almost suggest that they try somewhere else, but Marinette's eyes light up as soon as they slow near the front doors.

"Oh, I've been wanting to try this place for months now! Is it good?" She turns her summer-sky eyes on him and it turns him stupid.

"Yeah, me too, I've heard you're pretty good. I mean!" His face brightens with mortification. "I mean it's good! Pretty good!" He hides his face in his hands. "Oh my god, please pretend you didn't hear that." This is ridiculous, in his opinion. He's known Ladybug and Marinette for years. The fact that he loves her - that she loves him back - should not turn him into such a fumbling mess.

But he wants to impress her. And this new intimacy is fresh and uncharted - he's never been able to take her on a date. Never been able to be with her like this. Plus, every time they kiss she seems to grow more eager, to burn brighter in intensity, and Adrien's gentlemanly tendencies do tend to fall away from him even at the memory of her mouth.

Marinette laughs heartily at him. "I know what you meant. It's okay, Adrien. Relax." She pulls his hands away from his face. "It's just me."

It's just you, he thinks, the girl I've been in love with for over two years. No big deal. It's not as if this isn't the most important day of my entire life. Whatever.

"Let's go in and get a seat," he suggests as he reaches for and holds the front door open.

She nods and steps in first beckoning him to follow her. His eyes fixate on the loose hair curling slightly at the nape of her neck and suddenly, Adrien is 1,000% sure that no matter what happens the rest of the day, he's already thoroughly screwed.

His luck is honestly the worst.

It takes an hour before they get a table. When their order arrives at their table, Adrien is served a plate of undercooked fish still cold in the middle and Marinette's food isn't even what she asked for.

When the bill comes, Adrien reaches for it first.

"What do you think you're doing?" Marinette asks as she snatches at the booklet.

He easily plucks it away. "I'm paying."

"It's your birthday, Adrien, this is my treat," she insists, stretching out to grab it back.

"I asked you out - this is on me."

She practically stands up to whisk the bill away from him.

He stands too, reaching across the tablet. "Marinette - "

A squeal tears from her mouth as her cup of ice water is tipped over by a careless hand and splashes over her dress and drips down her knees. He's horrified and begs for forgiveness, which she grants at the cost of paying the lunch bill. Her laughter shrugs off the spill easily but his failure to keep his cool or even salvage the mess of this lunch date is getting to him.

"What next, handsome boy?" She peers up at him as they exit the restaurant with a glimmering smile, as if she's entirely unfazed by the string of incidents.

In the distance a rumble of thunder drums through the streets and when Adrien turns to look, he can see dark clouds against the backdrop of a blue, blue sky. It seems far enough off that they'd have time to walk somewhere to take cover before the storm, so he turns to her and says, "Let's walk." There was bound to be some store or coffee shop that caught their eyes on a Saturday afternoon.

"Sure!" she agrees easily and his heart skips a beat when she takes his hand without hesitation. "This is okay, right?" she asks.

Adrien squeezes her hand, thinking that maybe his streak of bad luck was over for the day. "Definitely okay."

He was wrong. The store he had in mind was closed due to a family emergency, and the wind picked up, bringing in the storm. Soon, its dark overhead and another crack of thunder rolls. The rain begins to downpour and Adrien swears as he tightens his hold on Marinette's hand and drags her in under the awning of a private business.

She's laughing, nearly soaked to the bone. Her dress hangs limply against her damp skin, hair sagging wetly in its bun, droplets of water scattered in tandem with the freckles across her nose. Adrien brings a hand up to wipe the rain from her cheeks as other people on the sidewalk scurry by in umbrellas and raincoats.

"Guess I should have checked the weather today," he says sheepishly and then laughs along with her. "This has got to be the worst date you've ever been on. I'm so sorry."

"You could have taken me to the landfill and I could have broken my leg and it still would have been the best date ever," she tells him gleefully as she wraps her arms around his waist. Outside the awning, the rain begins to come down faster, in torrents that almost seal them away from sight completely.

He raises his eyebrow at her incredulously. "The restaurant was awful and I spilled water all over you."

"If you hadn't noticed, Adrien, the fact you spilled water on me is now irrelevant." She shrugs as he wraps an arm around her shoulder. "I have the best time when I'm with you."

He blinks, heart seizing at the transparent honesty on her face. "Do you think anyone is watching us now?"

"Probably not. Why?"

"Because I'm going to kiss you."

He doesn't give her time to respond. Instead, he angles her head up and draws her in close with his other arm, descending upon her mouth with a sureness that still tastes like the ice cream they had shared. Marinette knots her fingers in the front of his wet shirt and clutches him closer to her, still angling up on her tip toes to kiss him better.

"C'mon be honest," he says between kisses. "This was pretty bad."

She giggles against his lips. "You were trying so hard to impress me I couldn't let you down."

"Hmmm," he murmurs pulling away slightly and pushing the stray wet hairs from her face. "The day isn't over quite yet. When do you need to be home?"

"Before dinner," she says, already leaning in for another kiss.

"How about you choose what we do next? Perhaps you'll have better luck."

"I always have better luck than you," she reminds him.

When she kisses him damp and eager as she is, it takes him back to their first kiss on her terrace under another awning. He remembers how he had wanted, how her desire had matched his exactly, burn for burn. He tastes the memory of that darkness on her lips, the thrill that had consumed him when he replaced Chat Noir and kissed her without his mask. The way her trust in him had felt. How her hands had caressed his chest without the armor plating.

It's much the same now as it was then, except that they are stronger for it. He has her and she has him. Identities revealed and souls bared like stars that shine so fearlessly down upon the face of the earth at night. With all the commotion of her dating Chat Noir finally falling away, they have a space to fill with themselves as they are, true and honest. No disguises, no lies, no pretending. Just Adrien and Marinette.

There are other things to worry about. Their relationship will probably tangle the lines of business and pleasure, of personal and professional. It'll be messy, but, he thinks as she draws away only to pepper a few more kisses on his chin, that's just how he likes it.

"When do we get to do this again?" he whispers, almost inaudible over the rain.

She smirks. "Keep it up and you'll find out really soon."

He laughs and pulls her back in. Perhaps my luck isn't so bad after all.

This time, Adrien is right.