AN: Before you read this, I just want to say thank you so much to the people who have stuck around, waiting for me to finish this fic. You're the reason I was able to keep it going, and I am so profoundly grateful. If you're new, you didn't have to experience the random hiatuses, but I appreciate you reading all the same.

This chapter is four pages longer than usual as an apology for all the waits. Thank you for pushing me forwards and helping me bring this little story to a close.

" lady?"

Marinette froze in place, her whole being quaking. She wouldn't say she 'burst into tears' persay, but they certainly welled up faster than normal and blurred the world around her. Regardless, she couldn't make herself look at Chat Noir, not now that he knew.

What was worse was that Chat also knew that Ladybug had failed. She'd let her emotions get the better of her and had let Papillion take over. Ladybug let the bad guy win, and she had to suffer the consequences. She might as well let everyone know she was Ladybug, so they finally see what a failure their hero was.

"What are you waiting for!?" Chloe's voice pierced through Marinette's self loathing, sharp enough to get her to look up.

When she saw Chat, Marinette paused. She'd expected him to be angry, or at least disappointed. He knew that Ladybug wasn't anyone special, she was a regular junior high student capable of weakness, just like anyone else. Chat should have be upset, devastated even, knowing that his partner was someone so... failable.

But instead of anger or sadness, Chat wore a small, sweet smile, so unlike his usual cheeky grin. His eyes were crinkling at the edges that she could barely see their familiar green. Being honest, she knew it was unlikely that Chat would ever be truly angry with her, but this? Genuine happiness?

It was too much.

Now she did burst into tears, giving a pitiful little hiccup and covering her face once more. Marinette could feel Chat's arms wrap around her, pulling her in close.

"It's alright, it's alright, I've got you." He murmured, rubbing soothing circles on her back, and it was all too nice and sweet for Marinette to handle.

"Um, what is going on?"

Marinette peeked up as Chat glanced back at Chloe, his brow furrowed. It seems like they'd both mostly forgotten about her. Chat wrinkled up his nose, his thinking face, before he made an imploring expression.

"Well, obviously, I need to remove the akuma from the area before I can purify it. Ladybug and I already planned to meet at the school."

"You did?" Chloe pulled a face, hands on her hips.

"Sure did! Bye now."

Chat swept Marinette up even closer, and Marinette hopped that Chloe was distracted enough to not notice that she was clinging to Chat.

He launched off before Chloe could respond, vaulting them over the crowd and back into the direction of the school. Marinette didn't really want to look down at all the people she'd been controlling so she hid in Chat's neck, not even making an effort to stop the tears.

"We're almost there my lady, just a little bit further..."

She didn't really need Chat's assurances, she knew he'd get her there safely, but she appreciated them all the same.

When they did arrive, Chat picked a quiet, empty corner of the school to gently put Marinette down in. Marinette curled up on the floor, her knees gathered up to her chest.

It was silent a moment, it felt like they were both taking their first real breaths since this all started. Marinette look at her hands where they were wrapped around her legs, resolutely not making eye contact. She felt more than saw Chat sit down at her side. He tilted his head into her field of vision, and her eyes danced away before finally landing on him.

He had that cute little smile from before, though he looked a little more wary now.

"Can he hear us?" Chat asked, making a vague gesture.

Marinette closed her eyes for a moment, listening. She couldn't hear feel anything, and all she could hear was Chat shifting beside her. It seemed like Papillion was gone, or at least not present anymore. Silent Night was gone too.

"No." She tested her voice and was pleasantly surprised when it rang out clear.

Chat looked pleased too. "Got your voice back too?"

"Yeah." Though not her courage, it seemed.

"Awesome..." Chat trailed off, still smiling but looking a bit at a loss.

This is what she'd been afraid of the most. That when someone found out, their easy friendship would splinter apart. What do you say to the person who knows your biggest secret?

"My Lady-" He started, but cut himself off. "That is, Marinette..."

"I messed everything up."

Chat turned to her quickly, frowning. "What?"

"I. Messed. Everything. Up." Marinette repeated, each word sharp. "Ladybug is supposed to- I'm supposed to protect Paris and spent all day leading a witch hunt and endangering people. I let Papillion get to me."

"Well, you're still human-"

"But I'm supposed to be above all this!" Marinette grit out, scrubbing at her face furiously. "I'm supposed to be a role model. I'm supposed to be better."

Chat was silent for a moment.

"No one expects that of you."

"Ha." Marinette let out a bitter laugh. "I'm pretty damn sure they do."

It was quiet again. Chat didn't say anything, just stared at her. For some reason, that made Marinette more angry.

"Aren't you disappointed?"

"Why would I be disappointed?"

"You know who I am now." Marinette flung her hand up, as if encapsulating who she was with one frustrated wave. "You know that I'm just some dumb, clutzy, ordinary girl who can't even stop a school bully from getting to her."

"Marinette," Chat grabbed one of her hands, "I'd never be disappointed that it's you."

She blinked at him, her expression scrunching. "What?"

"You're one of the smartest, kindest, most talented people I've ever met in my entire life. Why would I be disappointed?" Chat repeated.

"You-You don't even know me." Marinette argued, shaking her head. "You've met me twice."

"I do know you... well, I thought I did. But obviously not well enough if I couldn't tell you'" Chat looked away, making a face. "How could I not see you?"

Marinette was shaking, her mind racing to keep up. "We know each other?"

Chat peeked at her out of the corner of his eyes, and gave a little nod.

"Oh my god, we know each other?!" Marinette grabbed her head. "How does that make you not hate me more?"

"First of all, My Lady, I could never hate you. You're my partner, and my best friend. I trust you with my life, and I happen to like you an awful lot, I don't think I'm capable of hating you."

She paused at that, but Chat Noir was still going.

"Secondly, Marinette you're amazing! You've won competitions, you're class president, your designs are some of the most creative I've ever seen. And you're nice! Even to people who don't deserve it."

Marinette was shaking her head. "Are you sure that you're talking about the right person?"

"Positive." And he said it with so much conviction that Marinette couldn't bring herself to argue more.

"I just...I thought that after knowing me as Ladybug, you'd think that Marinette is..." Marinette waved a hand around and made a face.

"Actually, knowing that Marinette and Ladybug are the same only makes me like you both that much more."

Marinette covered her face again, but for different reasons that time. It wasn't too often that she got complimented, it was one thing to receive praise as Ladybug, she was a superhero, it was a given that she'd have fans. But as Marinette? The only people she had showering her in affection was her family and Alya and they were a. Her family, and b. Her best friend. It was pretty much required that they be nice to her.

But Chat...

"How can you even say that?"

"Okay, I'd be happy to address your startling and unwarranted self esteem problems as much as you'd like later, and I'm not saying that sarcastically, I honestly think we need to talk about this more, but we should probably start working on the akuma situation-"

"Oh my god, Tikki!" Marinette released her face and grabbed her yo-yo. "She's been in here the whole time, oh my god."

"Wait, your kwami is in your yo-yo?"

Marinette nodded, shoving the thing at Chat. "I think so. Here, break it!"

Chat grabbed the yo-yo in both hands and ripped it apart where the halves connected. It dropped to the ground, broken, and a little black butterfly flew out, just like usual. Unlike usual, a little red being fell out of it.

Marinette scooped her up, cradling her to her chest. Tikki's eyes were closed, her brows contorted as though she was in pain. Marinette brush a finger against her head, she felt hot, a bit like when she'd gotten sick.

"Oh no, oh Tikki. What do I do?"

"I'm not sure, but I know someone who might."

"What do you mean-" As Marinette glanced up, Chat dissolved into a flash of green light.

One second she was looking at Chat's masked face and the next it was-

"Adrien!?" She gasped, the hand not holding Tikki flying to her mouth.

"Tikki!" A little voice came, and a black creature buzzed into her space. "Let me see her Marinette!"

Marinette was pulled from her shock for a moment to look down at the little cat that was grabbing at her hand, trying to pull it aside to get to Tikki. She moved her fingers and the kwami settled by Tikki's side, holding up her head and carresssing her cheek.

"Plagg, can you do something?" Chat (ADRIEN AGRESTE) was leaning forward, staring down at their kwamis.

Marinette resisted the urge to lean away, resisted the urge to scream, trying to hold Tikki still for Plagg to look at.

"I can lend her a bit of power, enough to purify the akuma, but we'll need to take her to Master Fu's as soon as possible."

Plagg leaned down and gave Tikki a peck on the cheek. The spot he kissed shone a pearly white, buzzing for a moment before fading into Tikki's skin. She gave a little snuffle, and stretched, her eyes blinking open slowly.

"Tikki!" Marinette and Plagg called in unison.

"Marinette? Plagg?" Tikki looked more alert in an instant. "What happened?"

"Your girl got caught by Papillion, but she broke through all by herself." Plagg hovered up to her, giving Marinette an appraising look.

"Oh Marinette." Tikki sat up, and Marinette felt shame wash over her.

"I'm so sorry Tikki, I didn't mean to-" She could feel the tears coming on again and she hung her head.

"No, no Marinette, I'm not angry with you. What Chloe said to you was cruel and vile, and you had every right to be upset." Tikki patted one of Marinette's fingers. "I'm so glad you're okay, and I'm so proud of you for overcoming it.

Martinette sniffled and gave Tikki a watery smile. "I'm glad you're okay too."

"Now, I assume that there's an akuma that needs to be purified still?"

"I trapped it in the room." Adrien's sudden voice startled Marinette, and she glanced up to see him at a window, staring down the little butterfly.

In the brief moments that she'd been distracted, Marinette had forgotten that Adrien was here. And what's more, Adrien was Chat Noir. The boy who ran around Paris in spandex with her, who cracked jokes and smiled wide and flirted like it was his last day on earth, was the one and only Adrien Agreste.

She felt like she should be more surprised, but as she watched Adrien bat at the akuma, trying to keep it from the windows without touching it, Marinette found that it didn't really shock her.

Marinette had always been able to tell there was something sad behind Chat's bravado, he would stare at reunited families for a little too long, work extra hard to make sure they were whole and complete. He got quiet at times, after what she assumed were hard days, and was often beyond exhausted after a fight. And Adrien... well, it was no secret that his home life wasn't perfect. He ran himself ragged to fulfill his father's wishes.

The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Of course Adrien, buttoned up, perfect smile Adrien, became the goofy Chat Noir when he put on a mask. It was no different than clumsy, scatterbrained Marinette becoming the confident Ladybug when she put on hers. It, somehow.

"Marinette, you can panic about your love life later, right now we have work to do." Plagg poked her cheek and Marinette felt herself turning red.

"Sorry, sorry, you're right."

Adrien had glanced over, and he gave her a big toothy grin, and it was so Chat Noir that it hurt right behind her ribs. Marinette took a deep breath, and returned his smile.

They had a lot to learn about each other, but they were going to be just fine.

"Tikki, transform me!"

After Ladybug purified the akuma, summoned Lucky Charm just so she could use its cleansing powers (it transformed into a sponge and soap, Tikki's idea of a joke no doubt), they brought Tikki to Master Fu's. Adrien hadn't met the man before, but he greeted them both warmly, assuring the duo that he'd take care of Marinette's 'cat' and give her a call when she was well again. He gave Adrien a little wink when they left, and Adrien couldn't quite shake the weird feeling of deja vu as he walked Marinette back to her house.

It was quiet as they walked, but not the kind of awkward quiet it would be if they didn't know what to say. It was more like... peaceful, the calm after the storm. They'd been running around in circles for hours and no amount of magic could erase the emotional exhaustion of the day's adventures.

Marinette was still a little shaken up, giving Adrien tentative glances from time to time. He didn't bring up what had happened before it all started, didn't talk about Chloe or the akuma, or even Ladybug and Chat Noir. He merely opened the door to the bakery for her and followed when she motioned him up the stairs to her house.

When she opened the door, Adrien got a glimpse of Alya sitting with Marinette's parents, all of them crowded around the television and clinging to each other. The second the door opened and they had seen Marinette, however, they were up and out of their seats, crowding around Marinette.

"Oh Marinette, oh ma fifille." Her mother was crying, pressing kisses into Marinette's hair and all over her cheeks.

Alya was crying too, and not speaking for once, her eyes shut tight as she held Marinette.

Thomas Dupain had all three woman wrapped up in his big arms, as teary eyed as the rest of them. Adrien couldn't help but stare at, taking in their embrace and love, and feeling a weird emptiness in his stomach.

"Adrien, you brought her home?" Sabine asked when they all finally pulled away, moving to his side.

He gave her a nod, a polite smile. "I found her after Ladybug and Chat Noir left."

"So Ladybug did show up?" Alya glanced away from Marinette, where she was straightening her pigtails and brushing through her bangs.

Adrien looked at Marinette a moment, probably a moment too long. "Yeah, she did. She always does."

Marinette, who was teary from all the hugs, gave him a tiny, but genuine smile. Her face was a bit red and wet, and her hair was a mess from Alya's fidgeting, and yet Adrien couldn't help but think that she was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen.

"Thank you for taking care of her, son." Thomas gave Adrien a pat on the back and then a bear hug that had Adrien freezing, before he melted into it and returned it.

"It was no problem, I wanted to make sure she got back to you, safe and sound."

"We appreciate that so much dear," Sabine gave him a hug as well, her shorter frame making him bend over into it. "Would you like to stay for dinner? We could have some of those cookies you didn't get to try last time..."

"That's alright." Adrien shook his head quickly. "My father is probably wondering where I am..."

"Of course." Thomas gave a gracious nod. "I'm sure he's worried sick."

Adrien resisted making a face, trying to cover it with a smile. "Right."

"Well, you're invited over anytime, we'd love to have you." Sabine patted his cheek and Adrien could have melted from the kind, motherly smile she gave him.

"I'll keep that in mind."

Adrien glanced from the Dupain-Chengs to Marinette and Alya. They were whispering about something to each other, but when Alya saw Adrien looking, she nudged Marinette forwards and took a step to the side.

"Um." Adrien scratched at his neck. "I guess I'll see you at school?"

Marinette jutted out her lip, gave a huff, and rolled her eyes. The motion was so Ladybug that Adrien almost forgot where he was, and even more so when Marinette grabbed him and pulled him into a crushing hug.

"Thanks for everything, mon minou." She said quiet enough that only he could hear, and Adrien held back a shiver.

When Marinette released him, she gave Adrien a pat on the cheek, just like her mother.

"We'll talk later."

"Okay." Adrien gulped and made for the door.

He glanced at Alya, who rose a single eyebrow. Adrien gave a toothy grin and a shrug, making Alya's other brow to shoot up to join the first.

"See you at school." Adrien waved and hopped down the stairs, smiling to himself the whole way.

"I'll get some food started, Alya are you staying?" Sabine asked as she bustled into the kitchen.

"Already texted my mom!" Alya called out, before grabbing Marinette's hand. "I'm gonna take Mari to get cleaned up."

Marinette tried to keep her expression impassive while Alya dragged her up the stairs, depositing her on her chaise.

"What was that about?" Her friend crossed her arms, eyebrows high.

"What was what about?"

Alya rolled her eyes. "You, Adrien, hugging. Plus, you getting out a full sentence around him."

"It's nothing, he just took me home and I was thankful-"

"Marinette, yesterday you tried to thank him for picking up your books and ended up stumbling again mid-sentence, dropping the books he'd just picked up."

"It's nothing." Marinette repeated.

Alya didn't look convinced and remained in place, still staring. Marinette gave a sigh. If she explained, she'd be outing Adrien, and she didn't want to do that without his permission. Herself, however...

And well, she'd been wanting to tell Alya for a while now...

"Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about, unrelated to Adrien."

Well, it was related to Adrien, but Alya didn't need to know that yet.

"I'm all ears." Alya shook her head at Marinette's evasion, but she wore a fond little smile that made Marinette more sure.

"Do you remember the first day of school, when Ivan got akumized? What am I saying, of course you do. Well, when I got home that day, I found something weird on my desk..."

AN: I promised someone an Alya reveal a long time ago, so I wanted to deliver on that as best I could. I think it was a good way to wrap this fic up.

Obviously everything isn't perfect now. Adrien wasn't lying when he said that they needed to address Marinette's insecurities, and they haven't even touched Adrien's yet. But from here, things will get better.

I wanted this fic to be fairly short, it's supposed to feel a bit like an episode. Sorry again for the long waits, and thank you for staying with me til the end.