Dialogue from the episode is obviously not mine. Based on translations by mlsubbing.
For Megatraven and AmyNChan.
Chapter 1: #SameBush
"Like what I keep saying," Adrien said as he fit his earpiece to his ear. "Just be yourself. You'll be fine."
Nino said nothing while he fumbled with his own earpiece, a complete wreck compared to his usual calm, easy-going, always-smiling self. It was unnerving to see him handle a piece of electronics with anything less than 100% confidence.
"Just relax!" Adrien continued, giving Nino's shoulders a little shake. "She's not going to bite your head off. She's really friendly and sweet and nice. Just remember to breathe, and smile."
"Oh god," Nino suddenly gasped. "What if she smiles back?"
"Uh… Dude, that's the whole point."
"But you don't understand!" Nino exclaimed, throwing his hands up and onto his cap. "When she smiles, she just lights up, and her eyes are so bright and it's like—"
"I do understand, believe me, I know her smile is disarming," Adrien agreed. "But the important thing is to remember all the other times you weren't freezing up in front of her. You're fine. You've had plenty of fun conversations with her before, certainly more than I have. You can do this."
Nino seemed to give a start at that, eyebrows lifting. "What?"
"I said you can do this."
"No, before that—"
"Oh mon dieu," Adrien sighed, rolling his eyes. "She's waiting for you! Just get in there!"
Nino stumbled a bit from the force that Adrien used to push him into the path towards the meeting place, allowing Adrien to jump into the bushes. He pushed aside the branches as gently as possible—wouldn't want to a strict zookeeper to be akumatized, right?—and only paused to glance back to find Nino still where he left him, deep in thought.
"Come on, Nino," Adrien spoke into the earpiece. "One foot in front of the other."
"R—right," the crackle of Nino's voice responded. "Okay, here we go."
Out in the pathway, Marinette was saying goodbye to Kim and Max—huh; they were there, too?—and turned to Nino with a smile.
"Oh, hi, Nino!" she greeted brightly. "Adrien isn't with you?"
Adrien felt his heart skip a beat at the mention of his name, but instead of thinking on it, he quickly pressed the speak button on his earpiece.
"Tell her you'll be better without me."
"You'll be better without me," Nino promptly echoed.
As Marinette gave a noise of confusion, Plagg floated to rest on top of Adrien's head, saying something about things getting interesting. Adrien's effort to shush him was unsuccessful, but what else was new, really?
"I mean— without him!" Nino recovered. "No need for Adrien to wander around in the zoo!"
Adrien frowned as Nino got his line right. That line…It sounded a little too much like how he talked to Ladybug.
Your Chat Noir is showing, Adrien, he chided himself.
No. Nino had to be Nino—the normal one with great social skills—just like Adrien had kept telling him. What Adrien had to do was imagine what Nino would do, then get Nino to do it. It sounded absurd, but what can you do?
For some reason, Marinette stumbled on her words before settling on, "Wasn't he supposed to come? Don't you want to wait for him?"
Adrien said nothing, this time, waiting to see what Nino's answer would be.
Nino's answer was a very eloquent, "I— er— Y— You're right! We'll wait for him!"
Adrien groaned, slapping his forehead. He had half a mind to ask Nino what the heck he was doing, but, inhaling slowly, he tried to be more productive, instead.
"Dude. Breathe," he reminded in what he hoped to be a calming tone. "We can work with this. But I'm not going to go over there, you hear?"
He saw Nino glance at him and surreptitiously nod as he and Marinette took their seats. On opposite ends of the bench. Facing away from each other. Adrien fought the urge to slap his forehead again, choosing instead to look for a way to turn things around.
Rapidly tapping a finger on his chin, his narrowed his eyes onto the small details, looking for something to go on. Nino was chewing on his lip, knowing he maybe messed up with that last bit, but he otherwise looked marginally more relaxed. There's still the understandable presence of nervousness, but there was also a healthy amount of stable ease. For now. The trick, then, was keeping that up once he was again faced with Marinette's dazzling smile.
As for Marinette, her back was straight but not tense—she always did have a nice posture, unless she was tripping over her feet or her words—and she was tapping her toes together. He couldn't see her facial expression from his hiding place, but it didn't seem like she was doing it out of impatience. She was an animated, expressive girl, constantly moving or creating something, and bursting with that infectious energy—
See, this was why he agreed to help Nino. Of course it was to…well…help Nino, but Adrien would be lying through his teeth if he insisted that he didn't have his own ulterior motive.
He'd told Nino that he'd observed him looking at Marinette a little too much lately, but the truth is: it takes one to know one. Adrien had also caught himself looking at her for more than a few times than he'd like to admit, and, even now, when he was supposed to be strategizing his best friend's next step to woo her, it was her and the tinkling sound of her laugh that was claiming his attention.
She was messing with his head, and he'd been wanting a project, something else to concentrate on. He was already pining after Ladybug, he didn't need another girl to—
And, besides, it was always nice to have a chance to help someone as Adrien, and not just as Chat Noir!
That the project ended up being precisely about her was mere coincidence, but he'd take it, because if she was with Nino, then—
"Ugh. Watching humans do nothing is painful," Plagg piped up, and for once, Adrien was grateful for his kwami's commentary. He could only interrupt his own treacherous thoughts for so many times. "Don't you have some cheese I can munch on?"
"You just gobbled that huge piece half an hour ago!"
"Yes, but that was half an hour ago!"
Adrien actually did have some cheese, but that was for if an akuma showed up and Plagg needed to recharge. He reallyhoped an akuma didn't show up. This date needed to go well.
He pushed the speak button on his earpiece.
"Nino. Pretend your phone was on vibrate and that you got a text from me. "
From where he sat, Nino's eyebrows furrowed, but fished his phone from his pocket, anyway.
"Tell her that you got a text from me, and that I suddenly have an unscheduled photoshoot."
Nino's eyes flew to Adrien like he was going to protest out loud, but Adrien saw that coming and firmly threatened, "I will remove my earpiece and leave you alone with her if you don't do it; I kid you not."
"Sheesh, what's got you all worked up?" Plagg laughed. Adrien ignored him.
Nino looked like he wanted to bolt, but fortunately Marinette turned to him, looked at the phone in his hands and asked, "Oh, did Adrien text you? Is he nearby yet?"
Her voice had a tinge of excitement in it, as if she was looking forward to Adrien's arrival, and his heart gave a jolt. He swallowed and ignored that, too.
"Y—yeah…" Nino answered, carefully turning to her and chuckling nervously. "It's…um… He said he has a sudden photoshoot."
Nino's voice sounded unnatural, and his words were much too scripted, but it had to do for now. (It was unquestionably better than his automatic echo of, "You'll be better without me.") Besides, the excuse wasn't out of the ordinary.
"Oh," Marinette said, softly, as the eager line on shoulders fell. Adrien's chest clenched at that, and he felt the strongest need to comfort—
"Well, you know Adrien," Nino's voice came without needing assistance. For the first time since they'd arrived at the zoo, it sounded steady, even, and sure. "He doesn't just flake out without good reason. He's really in demand, and he gives his best in everything. He's got a lot on his plate, and yet he tries to still be there for his friends when he can. There are things that are beyond his control sometimes, so don't… I hope you won't think badly of him because of this."
"I won't," Marinette replied readily and with such certainty that would have floored Adrien if Nino's words hadn't already. There was a soft smile on her lips, too, as she gazed up warmly at the boy in front of her. "You're a good friend, Nino."
Huh. Who would've thought that the topic of Adrien himself was what was going to do the trick?
There was a small pause as only the muted sound of the faraway animals and the crowds visiting them became the background for the comfortable silence. Adrien suddenly felt like an intruder. Should he leave? Nino's got this, right?
"Well," Marinette began, gesturing to the rest of the zoo. "Shall we go see that panther, then? Kim was just here telling me about—"
"Actually, Marinette," Nino interrupted, a smidge of nervousness returning to his voice, "before we go, I… I have to tell you something."
Oh here we go.
Like, here we go here we go.
"Yes?" Marinette encouraged, tilting her head with a wide smile, and oh god she was so cute.
ADRIEN AGRESTE, YOU ARE HERE TO HELP YOUR BEST FRIEND GET THE GIRL, NOT OGLE AT SAID GIRL.
"The truth is…" Adrien's best-friend-whom-Adrien-was-supporting continued, lifting a hand to scratch at the back of his neck, "I honestly find you super cute. And, well… I was thinking—if it's all right with you, that is—I was thinking if we can…maybe…call this a date?"
Marinette's eyes widened, and Adrien felt his fingers tightly grip the railing in front of him. He wasn't sure what he wanted Marinette to say. For Nino's sake he wanted her to say yes, but—
Whatever was at the end of that thought vanished into thin air when the panicked cries of "DON'T STAY HEREEEEEE!" and "Hide yourself!" pierced the afternoon air, along with the sprinting Kim and Max. Adrien didn't have time to wonder at how surprisingly fast Max was going to be able to keep up with Kim, because a legitimately horrifying roaring black panther was racing right behind them.
"Well, that explains things," Plagg observed, but Adrien could barely breathe, much less pay attention to his wise-cracking kwami, as the panther darted past Nino and Marinette.
An elephant's trumpeting came next, making everyone turn to a whole assortment of feral animals advancing towards them.
What the hell?!
Nino, already jogging in place, let out a, "Well, uh, let's put it off for later!" before sprinting, with Marinette right behind him. It honestly would've been comedic, if they weren't facing almost certain mauling by provoked zoo animals.
And although Adrien was Chat Noir, hero of Paris, he couldn't help ducking back into the bushes as the pack of animals stampeded past his hiding place, because that was a Big Cat and very large animals, and, at the moment, he was just a very breakable human being.
Well, that had to be rectified quickly.
He had to make sure that Marinette and Nino got to safety, too.
"Plagg!" Adrien began, punching his fist forward.
But then something burst into the bushes nearby, causing him to snatch his outstretched arm back towards himself, taking his kwami into his fist and shielding him to his chest.
What the hell?! Adrien thought again, spinning around. When he caught the distinct pink of Marinette's pants a few meters away, he breathed a sigh of relief—well, at least he knew she was safe—and immediately choked when the even more distinct shape of a kwami, a red one with black dots, zipped up towards Marinette's shoulder.
And without much ado, he heard Marinette's voice call out, "Tikki!—"
Credits: Hat tip to tumblr user adriendupain-cheng's head canon of Adrien's motivations, and tumblr user ladybugs-and-kittycats's initial observation of where Marinette and Adrien transformed. I actually believe they were across from each other, but for this fic, we'll go with a what if. This whole fic is a what if, anyway.