This chapter was a fairly easy write, with approximately each half written over the course of two sessions. Unfortunately those sessions were a week apart. Life has a way of getting in my way, and by "life" I mean my hobbies. Also, Miraculous is off hiatus in France and I'm loving it. I can't wait for more new episodes! (Hopefully) Enjoy and review!
School had become a tricky situation for Adrien over the past few weeks. It was not due to the difficulty of the work or having to skip out on class due to akuma attacks. Not at all. Adrien's issues with attending school all stemmed from a singular source: Marinette Dupain-Cheng.
Marinette was a constant in Adrien's life that he had scarcely paid attention to beforehand. Every hour of the day she sat behind him with her friend Alya, giggling as the two whispered jokes at the teachers' expense. There had even been a few occasions where the two girls, alongside Nino, had hung out with Adrien after school. During these sessions Marinette was bizarrely quite compared to how she acted with Chat Noir. Adrien also noticed a series of suspicious looks and gestures between Nino and Alya. He had been oblivious to what was happening before, but now he had a pretty good idea of what the two were trying.
They wanted to actualize Marinette's crush on him.
It was as plain as day, Adrien couldn't believe that it took Marinette unknowingly saying it directly to his face for him to get the message. Everything made sense to Adrien now. She wasn't some sort of social nutcase who couldn't form sentences properly; she was just too shy to talk to him normally.
Adrien's awareness about her feelings caused him to pay more attention to Marinette in turn. Her pigtails seemed to signal her mood. If Marinette was excited they bounced up and down excitedly, and if sad her pigtails would droop like dying flowers. Adrien sometimes found himself honing in on the light freckles which adorned her nose. He did it on instinct and always had to remind himself to stop, lest she notice him staring at her. There were times where Adrien could swear her scent was filling his nose, that sweet scent of cookies and flowers.
The most distracting thing, however, was how much Adrien caught himself wondering about who she was. There was more to Marinette Dupain-Cheng than what she let on in class, and the aspects she revealed in class were already much greater than the ones she nervously showed him. Marinette was very thoughtful with her classmates and quite assertive when she needed to be. She was probably the only one in the class even remotely capable of standing up to Chloé. While Marinette was a tad forgetful and perpetually late for everything, she always tried her best when it came to her duties as Class President and was always lending her friends an ear. Adrien was almost disappointed in himself for associating with her so little. He was grateful for his one step removed position at the moment however; he would probably have just as much trouble talking to Marinette at this point as she did with him.
This issue was dodged using the incredible charms of Chat Noir. Donning the feline hero's costume and persona gave Adrien a chance to interact with Marinette without having to pay much thought to romantic tension. He visited her fairly frequently these days, unable to get his fill of her. When it came to Chat Marinette was merciless, even a tad acerbic. His conversations with her were often fast paced and full of jokingly made insults. Most importantly, however, was the kindness that radiated from everything she said and did. Adrien knew for a fact that he would never forget the night she had consoled him over Ladybug's lecture. She had made him feel better in a way he didn't feel possible. Adrien didn't know how, but Marinette had shown an ability to empathize with him like no other.
The growling of Adrien's stomach distracted him from his thoughts. He couldn't wait for school to end so he could head home. Plagg was probably growing desperate for some cheese at this point as well. The instructor had her back turned to him as she wrote on the board. Adrien snuck a glance behind him. There was Marinette, diligently taking notes as far as Adrien could tell. Her eyes were shining with an unparalleled brightness and her tongue stuck out from her mouth ever so slightly. Letting his gaze wander Adrien realized that she was "writing" in her sketchpad rather than her notebook. Adrien panned his eyes over the desk, making direct eye contact with Alya in the process. The junior reporter gave him a mischievous wink. Blushing, Adrien whipped around faster than he should have in order to break contact with the girl. The action had been a little too violent for Nino to not notice and the boy chuckled at Adrien.
"Checking out the girls bro?" heckled Nino in a hushed voice.
"As if," whispered back Adrien.
"Now I know you wouldn't go getting in my way with Alya, which means," taunted Nino, "you were checking out Marinette, weren't you?"
"I'm a young guy Nino, I do what I feel is right. It's like that time I found you browsing that website. What was it called? Red-"
"Oh come on! That was one time!" yelled Nino. The instructor turned around with a dumbfounded expression on her face along with everyone else in the class. Nino was saved from further scrutiny by the ringing of the bell. Adrien attempted to smoothly extract himself from the situation but was stopped by Chloé.
"Oh Adrien~" crooned the girl, "We need to have a little chat."
"Okay. Want to go get something to eat? I'm starving."
"I don't think so; we're talking right here, right now." Adrien was taken aback by Chloé's sudden shift to a bitingly cold tone. Adrien looked to Sabrina, who was standing behind Chloé's shoulder, for comfort, but was met with a fierce glare.
"Do you think I haven't noticed you staring at her?" accused Chloé, shoving a finger into Adrien's chest.
"Staring? I wasn't staring at anyone!"
"Don't even think of trying to wriggle your way out of this one. I saw you gazing at Marinette back there." Of course Chloé had noticed. The girl had a long streak of being observant at the most inconvenient times.
"What of it?"
"I don't tolerate two timing Adrien. I expect an apology."
"We're not together!" exclaimed Adrien, letting anger enter his tone. Chloé had been like this as long as he could remember; always thinking she could just take what she wanted and disregard everyone else along the way.
"It's only a matter of time. I'd just prefer that you don't go on tangents with low-class trash beforehand." Chloé had both hands planted firmly on her hips, looking as if she had just stated the most objective fact in history. "I wouldn't want her to rub off on you, that's all."
This was one of those occasions where Adrien wondered what would happen if he used Catastrophe on a person. If he touched Chloé's skin would she crumble into dust? He had no way of knowing and of course he would never try to test it out, but that was more a testament to his self-control than wanting to let Chloé of the hook. Marinette was "low-class trash?" Not in a million years; not his Marinette. Not the freckled girl who giggled so cutely. Not the pigtailed saint who had picked him up when he was down. A person like that was as far from trash as you could get…and yet…Chloé insisted on the term. Unforgiveable.
Adrien held his body as rigidly as possible in order to not let his anger escape. The affect was wasted however, the tension he held in his face and muscles made his mood clear as day. "Chloé," he growled, "don't you dare talk about her like that to me or to anyone ever again."
"Why is that?"
"WHY?!" yelled Adrien, momentarily forgetting himself. "Get the hell out of my face."
Chloé gave the situation some thought, trying to find some way to worm herself out of it. Unable to do show she snorted and stomped out of the classroom, Sabrina following in her wake. Adrien released some of the tension in his muscles, relieved to have been rid of Chloé. His momentary peace was interrupted, however, by a snicker behind his back.
Turning around to confront the source of the noise, Adrien was faced by another female classmate of his. The new arrival wasn't haughty or arrogant like Chloé, not by a long shot. Her reputation on the other hand…let's just say most would consider her just as problematic. Worst of all, she was probably the last person he would've wanted to see considering the conversation she had most likely overheard. When it came to Marinette, nobody knew more than amateur journalist Alya.
Adrien dreadfully took note of the inquisitive and playful gleam her eyes. No amount of crime fighting could prepare him to take on the full scrutiny of Alya's mind. "Now, now," she teased, "I wasn't one to think you could get so impassioned over my little Mari."
Play it cool Adrien. You need to play your cards perfectly with this one. "I just didn't appreciate Chloé's tone, that's all."
Alya wasn't fooled at all. "That was much less an expression of dislike and more like pure anger just now."
"Life's been pretty stressful lately. Got to let it out sometime."
"Oh? So I suppose you were just accidently staring at her all day today?" Alya, like always, went straight for the jugular of the situation. Adrien had seen enough of her behavior in class to know that he would be figuratively be going home in a body bag at the end of the day.
"I was not staring!"
"Honey, your eyes were so glazed over you looked like you were blind." Alya laughed. "I had always read that the pupils dilate when someone likes what they see, but yours looked like saucer plates!"
Had he really been staring at Marinette that much? Alya had caught him that one time, sure, but that was ONE TIME. Besides there was Ladybug, the miraculous Ladybug whom Adrien had a…okay it was just a dumb crush. His Lady was cool and confident but he didn't really know her that well. He'd flirt with her and sometimes he thought she was even flirting back, but nothing serious. She always ran off after the battle was over as well, eager to preserve the secret identity that Adrien was ever-so-eager to know. Lady bug cared for him though; that much had been made clear to him a few weeks ago. But so did Marinette.
Cookies and flowers and sweet things. Oh God. This was another crush wasn't it? He hadn't noticed before because it had felt different, but Adrien couldn't deny that something had creeped up on him. This wasn't good.
Bringing up Adrien's little stare session had its intended effect. The boy's guard had been completely shattered, leaving his face wide open for Alya's interpretation. The gears were turning somewhere, but they only amounted to a dumbfounded expression that looked positively out of place yet so appropriate on the young model.
"I'll just take that as confirmation," said Alya, bringing her hand to her chin. "You're acting almost as cute as she does."
Cute as she does? Alya had no idea the level of cuteness she was referencing. "Well…we all stare a little sometimes."
"But not always at my little Mari, lover boy," teased Alya. "The school paper's gonna love this."
"I can do whatever I want; it's not illegal is it?" Alya leaned closer to Adrien, still cupping her chin. "But maybe I'll let this slide if you do me a favor."
"What is it?" groaned Adrien.
"I've been in the mood for a good croissant all day. Hot or cold doesn't matter to me, but I'd appreciate one by tomorrow."
"That's it? You want a croissant?"
Adrien turned to leave, eager to escape from Alya's clutches. Just as he had passed under the frame the bespectacled girl said what Adrien had been so afraid she would:
"Keep in mind that I only like the croissants from the Dupain-Cheng Bakery."
If Alya wanted a croissant she was getting a croissant. So what if Adrien wasn't going to be able to hand it off until the next day? The bakery was very close to the school and Adrien didn't know if the bakery would be open tomorrow morning. If he wanted to fulfill the girl's request he had to do it now. Marinette had nothing to do with it.
Having concluded this bout of internal justification, Adrien steeled himself and opened the door to the bakery. In his nervousness the sound of the bell ringing to alert the owners that someone was stepping through the doorway almost sent him running for the hills. Adrien knew that it was in his own interests to calm down, but serenity seemed to have a way of avoiding him. The only thing keeping Adrien in check was that rather than Marinette at the counter there was a very large man with brown hair and a mustache. Adrien had seen this man before, during career day in fact. The man had given speech that Adrien had been a little too…distracted…to listen to properly. Adrien remembered his name though; Tom Dupain.
The lack of Marinette in Adrien's immediate vicinity allowed to model to relinquish some of his tension and investigate his surroundings. The bakery had a pleasant atmosphere without being too overbearing. An elaborate rug gave Adrien something to look at while the exposed brick walls lent an earthly flavor to the ambiance. To the left of the counter was a display case full of sweets. Sniffing the air, Adrien was surprised to find that the fresh-scent of bread still permeated the air. Many of the bakeries that Adrien typically frequented tended to close around this time. Even then most places probably wouldn't be baking fresh products at this time. Adrien had no idea whether or not it was because Marinette's family was passionate about their establishment or just had a unique business sense.
Realizing that he was just standing in the middle of the floor ogling, Adrien returned his attention to Tom. The large man gave the boy a gentle smile. "What can I do for you today?"
"Pardon me. I was wondering if you still had croissants available for purchase."
"Of course! Just tell me the specifics and I'll have them for you in no time."
While Adrien had come to the bakery specifically to fulfill Alya's request he figure it would be a waste of the baker's time to sell one measly croissant. Adrien ordered a half-dozen while entertaining the thought of how nice it would be if the bakery had coffee as well. Croissants and coffee sounded relaxing…
"If you don't mind me saying, you look familiar." Tom pulled at his mustache, trying to recall why he recognized the golden-haired boy. It would come eventually.
"You were in my class once. You brought food for everyone."
"Oh ho! A classmate of my daughter, huh?" Adrien was slightly disconcerted over how much this news seemed to have pleased Tom. The longer they spent talking the longer Adrien would have to remain in the bakery.
"Say," said Tom as he handed over the croissants, "would you like to help us out with something really quick?"
"What is it?"
"You'll see soon enough," teased Tom as he signaled for Adrien to come beyond the boundaries of the counter. "My wife and I came up with a new icing recipe the other day. We've been testing it out ever since."
"A new type of icing?"
"Yep," said Tom as he put his hand on Adrien's shoulder and lead the boy to the kitchen area. "Pretty complicated to make compared to the standard fare. I'd love it if you tried it out for me. A taste test, if you would."
Adrien's heart skipped a beat as he entered the main kitchen. Resting on a table was an assortment of chocolate cupcakes, enough to feed an entire birthday party of children. Around two thirds of them had icing, clearly carefully applied if the wondrous swirls of white on the brown treats were any indication. The remaining cupcakes were slowly being iced by a young girl. Concentrating on the cupcakes, she hummed to herself as Adrien and Tom approached. While she was wearing plastic gloves and her pigtails were contained in a hairnet Adrien would have recognized the young woman anywhere. He wouldn't be able to avoid Marinette after all.
Tom clasped a large hand on his daughter's shoulder. Adrien felt a twinge of amusement at the shock that ran up her body when the contact was made.
"D-dad! Don't scare me like that."
"Hahaha! Don't worry so much my little Mari. Look! I brought a taste tester!" guffawed Tom as he motioned towards Adrien.
Adrien felt heat crawl up his face. He hoped that no one could see him blushing, because he felt as if it was incredibly obvious. Luckily, it seemed like Marinette would take most of the heat for him. The poor girl almost looked like she was about to start bawling her eyes out over Adrien's unexpected appearance. He felt a small twinge of guilt over this, but also felt fairly flattered.
Tom made a swift exit, chuckling to himself all the while. Perhaps the large man thought that his involvement ended with making the presence of a taste tester known. Adrien couldn't help but to think that Tom's amusement with the situation was because the baker could sense the tension in the kitchen.
Despite his nervousness Adrien tried to maintain eye contact with Marinette in an attempt to play it cool. It was clear that Marinette wasn't nearly as good at playing things off as Adrien; whenever his eyes met hers Marinette cast a glance somewhere else. Adrien would follow her eyes to their new location, causing Marinette to move hers again in a blur of white and blue. Her comical attempts to avoid his gaze were rather cute, but Adrien was starting to feel dizzy from all the ocular movement.
"So," started Adrien, hoping to shake up the current situation, "how's it going?"
Marinette began to wave her hands in front of her face wildly, sometimes grasping her cheeks. "Oh, uh…I was just thinking how great it was that you're here…no! How great you are-uh-I mean not just you; the whole class! So what I was really thinking was…ummm…school's fun?"
Oh. My. God. Marinette was babbling, it was almost cartoonish to behold. How could on person just let what they say get so out of control? Most importantly, however, was how damn cute it was. While Adrien had come to appreciate the feisty Marinette that interacted with Chat, her overwhelming meekness in this situation was strangely endearing. Forget the cupcakes; this sight was the real treat.
Marinette took a cupcake in her hand and clumsily offer it to Adrien. She had smeared the icing in the process, rubbing off quite a bit on her thumb. Adrien wondered what kind of reaction he would get if he licked it off like a cat. Perhaps he'd get to see that cute, flustered face again.
Not wanting to keep Marinette waiting, Adrien bit into the cupcake. The flavor was much stronger than he imagined; Tom's icing recipe was incredibly rich. Adrien couldn't imagine being able to eat two or three more without beginning to feel sick from flavor overload. There was also something else that Adrien couldn't quite place, an odd feeling in his mouth…
It had started as a mere inconsistency but it was becoming increasingly unpleasant. As if on cue his body rejected the feeling and his mouth spasmed. Holding the source of the unpleasantness in his hand Adrien came to the realization that he had forgotten to remove the liner from the cupcake.
Adrien hadn't thought it possible, but Marinette's face had become even redder. In fact, she was well on her way to turning purple; stifling laughter into her palm over Adrien's mishap with the cupcake. While Adrien didn't appreciate that the laughter was at his expense he was glad that Marinette had stopped thinking too hard about Adrien's presence. The more she loosened up the better.
"Why don't you let me do it for you?" inquired Marinette, stripping a new cupcake of its liner. The liner peeled of perfectly with no residue sticking to it. Were these the skilled hands of a baker's daughter? Despite Marinette's general clumsiness the she seemed to handle the cupcake with a natural feel. Adrien was reminded of the hat she had made for his father's competition, how skillful the stitching and embroidery was.
Marinette's handoff, however, was less than graceful. She fumbled the cupcake and dropped it, catching it again right before it hit the ground. Unfortunately she had caught the treat upside-down, smearing the icing all over her palm. It looked to be quite a mess and most definitely a second cupcake casualty. Feeling playful, Adrien dipped his finger into the mass of icing resting in Marinette's palm. He felt a shiver run up his classmate's body when he made contact. Deciding to ignore Marinette's reaction for now, he brought the finger to his mouth and sucked the icing off.
"This is great!"
Marinette stared at Adrien, not knowing what to do. Was she surprised that he had enjoyed the icing or was it something else? He eyes slammed from one side of her head to the other as she struggled to think of what to do. Eventually, Marinette brought her dirtied palm to mouth level and took a tentative lick of the icing.
Her eyes met his and she managed to squeak some words out, "It is."
Adrien couldn't help but to smile at this. Sure she may have had a crush on him sure she might act a little awkward, but this was still the Marinette that he knew. For the first time in a long time, he forgot the troubles of the "Adrien Agreste" and got to feel like "Chat Noir," and to be able to feel like this without the costume was a blessing indeed.