Adrien jogged down the street, a huge grin on his face. Nino and Alya were hanging out in the park! His friend hadn't said anything about it to him.
Not a date, his ass. It was totally a date, and he was totally going to stake them out and get plenty of blackmail material to tease his best friend with later.
...but he wasn't going to stake them out alone. No, that would be creepy.
He was enlisting help.
It wasn't hard to find the Dupain-Cheng bakery, and the smiling woman at the counter directed him up to the door of their living room, assuring him that Marinette's room was just above it and she'd be sure to hear him come in unless she was out on her balcony. Adrien thanked her, glancing around the bakery and making a mental note to come back and buy something sometime before he headed up the stairs.
There was no way he would just walk into his shy classmate's living room, so instead he knocked on the door Sabine had told him about and waited. He slid his bag off his shoulder and set it down next to the door as he waited. From somewhere inside the room, he heard a faint "Coming!", then running footsteps before the door in front of him jolted with a BANG.
Adrien smothered his laughter. His classmate was apparently a bit too anxious to get to the door. He heard what sounded like hushed voices on the other side of the door (but who was Marinette talking to?) before it swung open and he was greeted by a suddenly very flustered Marinette. He waved.
"A-a-Adrien! Wh- what are you doing here?" Marinette managed, her arms flailing around her face before managing to flail to a halt, clasped in front of her.
He just grinned at her. "Well, I happened to notice two friends of ours looking very cozy in the park, and I thought I might follow them around a bit and see how their date is going, but I'd feel like a creeper if I did it by myself."
Marinette blinked at him. He was starting to feel like maybe this wasn't the best idea he'd ever had. But hey, he might as well dig himself into a bigger hole.
"And I just happened to have some awesome spy gear on hand, so I went home and grabbed it before coming here!" Adrien leaned over to grab his bag and tug out the headsets he had packed. He waved them at her. She still wasn't responding. "It'll be fun?"
Oh god, if he somehow broke Marinette he would get in endless trouble.
"...You want me to help you stalk our friends?" Marinette asked finally, eyes wide and looking like she very much did not believe what she was hearing.
"It's not stalking, exactly, we're friends with them," Adrien defended. "...I'd only take a couple pictures, honest."
It only took a few more minutes of persuasion before he was tugging a still-confused Marinette down the stairs and over to the park. Nino and Alya were nowhere to be seen.
"All right, we'll split up and try to find them, them," Adrien said after a few minutes of searching proved to be fruitless. "It's a good thing I have these, then!" He pulled out the headsets and pulled his on. He handed the other set to Marinette, who still looked a little lost. She put her set on anyway.
"And we'll have turn these on," Adrien said absently, feeling for the switch on his own earphone before reaching for Marinette's. She suddenly jolted into action the second his fingers touched her ear (he hadn't noticed that she wore earrings before! Maybe she normally left them off?), flying backwards until she was just out of his reach and then turning her own earphone on.
...oookay. Maybe she had a thing about other people touching her ears?
"Where do you think they might have gone?" Adrien asked. He glanced around the park. "Maybe we should split up and look for them. Do you want to go in that direction?" He pointed to the far end of the park. "They can't have gone far!"
Adrien walked along the street, occasionally checking in with Marinette to make sure she hadn't turned off her headset and run back to her house. He wouldn't blame her- honestly, looking back, what had he been thinking? She probably thought he was some sort of creeper now, running around following their friends.
"Good job choosing an activity to invite the shy girl out on," Plagg snickered from Adrien's shirt collar. Adrien shushed him as best he could without making any noise.
If he got outed as Chat Noir because he decided to nerd out with super-sensitive earpieces, Plagg would laugh at him forever.
"We should have code names," Adrien finally suggested, feeling uncomfortable with Marinette's silence on the other end. Only her greetings to passerbys break the silence on her end assured him that she hasn't ditched. "I'm thinking Agent Needle for you, and maybe Agent Cool for me?" He had to force his voice to be cheerful and joking, hoping that maybe Marinette would warm up to him enough for them to get through the day.
"Agent Cool?" Marinette demanded, sounding downright disbelieving. Adrien grinned. "Really?"
It was such a Ladybug answer that Adrien had to shove down the impulse to flirt in response. He grinned. "Well, do you have a better name? I'm open to suggestions."
There was a snort, and Adrien could just picture Marinette opening her mouth, ready to fire back some witty comment-
Pause. Then, the stammering. "N- no! I m-mean, your n-name is fine! I mean, it's- um- yeah. Uh."
Adrien had to hold back the groan. He had been so close...
Ten minutes and several mostly failed conversations later, Adrien was starting to feel like giving up was probably the best option. At times, it was almost like Marinette had forgotten who she was talking too and conversations would go fairly smoothly- but then she would suddenly revert back to stammering. It was all very frustrating and to top it off, Adrien couldn't even talk to Plagg without risking having Marinette hearing.
Come on, where is an akuma attack when you need one?
"Marinette, just talk to him like he's Chat Noir!" Tikki whispered in Marinette's free ear. "He's acting just like Chat!"
"I can't!" Marinette hissed, covering the microphone of her earpiece with her hand.
Tikki frowned. She could tell that Marinette was probably making Adrien supremely uncomfortable. This was her girl's chance to get to know him better, and she was going to end up driving him away. "Yes, you can! All you're hearing is his voice right now. If you're worried about him judging you for something you say, don't be! He's the one who invited you to stalk Nino and Alya with him. That is quite possibly the weirdest thing ever!"
Marinette frowned. Tikki was right; this whole situation was very weird. Maybe she should just pretend that Adrien was actually Chat Noir and play along with his insane spy game.
The voice from her headset startled her. "Agent Needle, are you still there?"
"Yeah. I don't see Alya and Nino. Any luck over there?"
Adrien poked his head out from behind a tree. Yup, that was definitely Alya and Nino up ahead, eating ice cream while sitting very close together on a bench.
"Agent Needle, I have located the subjects. I repeat, I have located the subjects," Adrien hissed, zipping close and hiding behind a bush. "Can you come to my location ASAP?"
There was a snort from the other end. He grinned. Marinette finally seemed to be relaxing around him. For their last several conversations, she had even been cracking jokes. "You are taking this far too seriously. Where are you again?"
"Near the ice cream store by the Louvre." Adrien grinned at the huge sigh at the other end of the line. "You're crushing my childhood dreams right now, Marinette. I always wanted to play secret agent!"
Another huge sigh. "Weeellll, I suppose if you always wanted to play secret agent..."He could almost see her rolling her eyes. "Fine. Agent Photo-face, what's your location?"
"That wasn't my code name!" Adrien whined quietly, grinning anyway.
"It was either that or Agent Giant Dork, your pick." Marinette's teasing tone poked something deep in Adrien's mind, and for a second he wondered if maybe she had somehow passed her earpiece on to Ladybug, because that was such a Ladybug response.
"I'll take the photo one. Are you on the way? Don't let them see you!"
"Yeah, almost there." Long pause. "Are you seriously hiding in the bushes?"
Adrien turned around, immediately spotting Marinette. She was doing a very watered-down impersonation of his dashes from tree to tree earlier. Within a minute, she had joined him behind the bushes.
"That was poor stealth form, Agent Needle," Adrien informed her.
Marinette gave him a look. "I'm fairly certain that rolling and diving would have attracted more attention, not less."
"Ah, but that's no fun."
They both stuck their heads up above the bush to look at Alya and Nino. They were close enough to hear what was being said, but far enough away to stay hidden. Adrien snapped a couple pictures. Marinette, rolling her eyes in amusement at his enthusiasm, took one.
Who knew that Adrien was such a giant dork? He was so much easier to be around when he was like this. Tikki was right- it was just so easy to treat him like Chat Noir.
They were close enough to hear when Nino, nervous about the not-a-date, messed up and said something stupid. Adrien's expression went from amused to horrified in a second. Marinette's brain flashed straight into Ladybug mode.
Okay, Nino needs time to recover properly from that- we need to distract Alya...but how?
Marinette's gaze flashed to the phone in her hand and her face lit up. Of course! The photos!
"Adrien, we need to retreat," Marinette hissed, tugging on his arm. "I'm going to send one of our pictures to Alya to distract her from what Nino said, and she might figure out where we are."
Adrien caught up to her plan in a second and darted out from the bush as Marinette set up the text. She sent it as she followed him, spinning to a stop beside him in an alley. They both peered back out at their friends, grinning at the scene. Alya was staring at her phone in confusion, Nino peering over her shoulder to see what had distracted her. They exchanged a couple quick words before Nino pointed in the direction they had been hiding. They both got up, awkward comment forgotten as they searched for Marinette.
"We should circle back around them while they're distracted," Adrien hissed in Marinette's ear. He tugged on her arm and she followed him willingly.
"Another picture?" Adrien proposed as soon as they came up behind Alya and Nino, who were currently inspecting the bush he and Marinette had been hiding in earlier. "I'll send it this time."
"Wait until we get to another hiding spot!" Marinette hissed, smothering her giggles. "We should go hide in that shop over there, it has a door on the far side as well!"
Adrien nodded his agreement and they swung around, Adrien sending his picture to Nino. They both giggled as they heard Nino's confused exclamation.
Two pictures and five close calls later, they decided to split up. Adrien went one way, while Marinette headed in another direction. It would be far easier to avoid detection that way.
"Marinette! You could transform into Ladybug!" Tikki exclaimed quietly, bouncing in Marinette's purse. She had enjoyed watching Adrien and Marinette's game of cat-and-mouse with their friends and was all too eager to encourage it.
But I can't! Marinette mouthed back, pointing at the headset. Adrien will hear!
"Just turn it off when you're transforming, then turn it back on again!" Tikki suggested. Marinette grinned and nodded in agreement before heading deeper into the alley to transform, setting her phone down first so it wouldn't be changed in her transformation. Seconds later, she was swinging up onto the rooftops and turning the headset back on. She only hoped that it wouldn't pick up the whistle of the wind, because that would be hard to explain.
She snickered as she unlocked her phone, only to be greeted by a flurry of confused texts from Alya.
What? Where are you?
WERE YOU STALKING US OH MY GOD
GIRL ARE YOU FOLLOWING NINO AND I AROUND WITH ADRIEN?
MARINETTE ANSWER YOUR TEXTS
"Is something funny going on over there, Agent Needle?" Adrien's amused voice came over her headset. "I can't see them at the moment."
"No, I'm just looking at my texts from Alya. She's hilariously confused."
There was a cackle from Adrien. "Yeah, Nino seems to think that I'm following them around with you. Can't possibly imagine what might be giving him that idea."
Marinette couldn't hold back the unladylike snort. Then she grinned. "Do you want to send our next photos at the same time? That'll confuse them."
"Perfect. Give me, like, two minutes to get the picture and then maybe three more to get to my next spot."
"Sounds good." Marinette flattened herself against the roof and zoomed in with her camera. Nino and Alya appeared to be questioning passerbys about her and Adrien. A flash of movement caught her eye, and she grinned as she saw Adrien stretching his phone past the entryway of a store just long enough to take a picture and retreat.
No one noticed as Ladybug ran over the rooftops, sliding to a stop behind a chimney. "Are you ready to send the pictures yet, Agent Photo-face?"
"Give me a minute," Adrien responded immediately, his voice hushed. "I got too close, I think they're onto me."
"Oh no!" Marinette peered down at the street. Alya and Nino were headed towards the store that Adrien had just hid in. "Where are you now?"
"The clothing store- um, I'm not sure of the name, it's small though." There was a gasp. "Oh, no, they're right in front!"
"Hide in the dressing rooms," Marinette suggested. There was a noise of agreement. "Hurry, they're going in!"
"I'm in the dressing room, but people can see under the door! There's, like a good six inches of space between the floor and the door!" Adrien sounded panicked now.
"Take your shoes off, then! Is there a chair you could set them on?"
A pause, then rustling. "Yeah. Shoot, they're here." His voice was hardly a whisper now.
"Move around a bit, like you're trying things on," Marinette instructed quietly. "If there's any hangers of clothes in the room, move those around too."
"Uh-huh." The sound of plastic hangers clacking against the walls reached Marinette's ears. There were a tense few minutes while Nino and Alya drew closer to the changing room. Marinette, struck with a sudden idea, swung back down to the ground and released her transformation (momentarily silencing her headset) before dashing across the street to take a picture of Alya and Nino through the store's window.
"I'm going to send you a picture I just took," Marinette whispered into the headphones as soon as she was safely hidden again. "Then you can forward it to Nino."
"How will that help-? Oh, I see." A pause. "Hah. It worked. They're so confused right now."
Their game of cat-and-mouse continued all afternoon. At times, Marinette and Adrien waited longer between sending pictures, letting their friends get back into date mode. As soon as things turned awkward, there was a photo to spur the chase on.
"All right, you assholes, Nino and I have to go home now," Alya called out once the clock struck five. "You can come out now!"
Marinette and Adrien exchanged grins and both shook their heads. Adrien typed a "Nope! :D" into his phone and showed it to Marinette. Giggling, she copied the message into her own phone and they sent the texts at the same time. They both had to clamp a hand over their mouths to keep from snorting at Alya and Nino's exasperated groans.
"Well, that was fun," Adrien said with a laugh as Alya and Nino went their separate ways. He held out a hand to help pull Marinette out of the bush they had been hiding in. "I should probably get going before Nathalie starts wondering where I am. See you on Monday?"
"Yeah, of course." Marinette suddenly remembered the microphone looped around her ear. "Oh, right, don't forget your spy stuff!" She turned off the small device and removed it, handing it back over to Adrien. He took it with a nod and headed off with a wave and a grin. Marinette grinned back before heading back to her own home.
"That was awesome, Marinette!" Tikki exclaimed as soon as they were alone. She shot out of Marinette's jacket and spun around in an excited circle. "You got to hang out with Adrien all afternoon and both of you had a lot of fun!"
"Yeah, he's more of a dork than I thought. It really was like hanging out with Chat Noir." It had been so similar, in fact, that she had almost called him Chat Noir or kitty more than once.
That would have been bad.
Across town, Adrien was still grinning as he packed the headsets away. After their fairly disastrous start, he hadn't been expecting the afternoon to go so well. He still wasn't sure what exactly had made Marinette suddenly more playful and outgoing, but he was glad it happened. It had been like working with Ladybug, and he'd even almost slipped up and called her My Lady.
"So do you have a crush on her now, too?" Plagg asked as he gobbled down on a slice of Camembert.
"No, I love Ladybug," Adrien said immediately. "But I'd like to hang out with Marinette more. She's a lot of fun." She was good in an emergency, too. Although neither of the situations that afternoon had been an emergency, exactly, she had been the one to come up with the idea to salvage Nino and Alya's date and she had kept him from being found by the duo when he got trapped in the dressing room store.
"I wonder if I could persuade Ladybug to use these during patrol or fights," Adrien said thoughtfully as he put the small headsets away. "It would make things more fun during patrol and might be helpful during fights."
Plagg immediately froze, mind zooming to the small red flash he had seen more than once inside Marinette's jacket that afternoon. He could see where this was going to end up from a million miles away.
Seconds later, the little cat kwami shook himself and laughed. What did he care if Ladybug and Chat Noir revealed themselves to each other because of Adrien's love for dorky spy gear? It would be amusing, at the very least.
As long as it didn't affect his cheese, Plagg would be fine.