The sun was high in the sky as the car slid to a smooth stop outside the massive gates and the driver rolled down his window to mutter into the intercom in a low voice; a voice almost imperceptible to those at the back. A female voice in the intercom crackled out an affirmative and a perfunctory greeting towards the driver slash bodyguard, which was gruffly answered in a similar perfunctory manner as the window rolled to a close smoothly. With a small jolt, the car rolled forward to the front door. As soon as the car stopped, the engine was cut and the driver jumped out of the car to open the door for his passenger. Adrien unfolded out of the car and stretched his arms to the sky; stretching as high as he physically can, legs shaking from the exertion.
Shaking his limbs slightly, he hopped from one foot to another. He was feeling cramped and exhausted. His father had sent him to another shoot on the other side of France for two weeks. Seeing as it was the summer holidays, he had no objections. But after two weeks, he was tired from the bad nights, the exhaustion of having to sometimes wake up before dawn so they could have the "sunrise golden shot", the days of not having time to eat because of the hectic schedules. The front door opened and he was greeted by Nathalie, as usual.
"Welcome back, Adrien," she said with a smile, her suit as immaculate as ever. In fact, her entire self is as immaculate as ever, not a hair out of place and not a stain to be seen. Her lightly painted lips curved into a pretty smile that was quite genuine.
"Hello, Nathalie," Adrien greeted her warmly. She'd always been there when his father could not; arranging for him as his father saw fit. Of the many people surrounding him, he felt like Nathalie knew his situation the most and he felt like he could stand in solidarity with her for that.
"Had a good shoot?"
Adrien shouldered his luggage. "Like always," he smiled cryptically.
Nathalie just returned the smile and gave a slight bow. "Very good. I do hope you enjoyed yourself. Have you eaten? Shall I prepare something for you?"
"No, thank you. I'm just tired and I'll probably go have a nap," Adrien made his way to the large double stairs and climbed the one leading to his room. He climbed the stairs surely. "Goodbye, Nathalie."
"I'll have your dinner ready soon; you just need to heat it up if you ever feel like eating."
He waved her concern away like it was cobwebs. He made his way to his room, dropped his luggage unceremoniously on the ground by the door and made his way to his computer. Dropping his carry-on on the floor, he flopped down on his computer chair, booting up the machine and waited as it started up. The minute it was on, a picture of Ladybug in action greeted him from all three small screens and another picture of her waving awkwardly loomed over him from the largest screen. The moment he saw the largest screen, he couldn't stop himself from smiling. She never failed to cheer him up, even when he felt like shit.
"Heya, Adrien!" Plagg zoomed out of his hiding place inside the carry-on. He had to move there when the guards patted Adrien down at the gates. The black kwami stretched out in cat-like grace luxuriously on the desk.
"Hello, Plagg." Adrien smiled as he used one of his fingers to gently and carefully stroke the kwami's head. Plagg let out a short purr. "Sorry you had to sleep in the bag throughout the entire trip back from the airport."
"It's no problem," Plagg dismissed him, keen eyes noticing Adrien reaching into the pocket of his light jacket. "But if you feel bad about it... a little compensation won't be unwanted." He rubbed two tiny paws in anticipation.
Adrien let out a laugh as he took out a packet of oiled paper wrapped in twine slightly smaller than his fist from the inner pocket. "I do have something for you for being on your best behaviour. It's a little squashed though, sorry." He held out the packet for the kwami to take.
"Not a problem, not a problem," Plagg said semi-graciously, greedily eyeing the packet. "Is this all for lil' ol' me?" He rubbed his paws again.
Adrien laughed again. "Yes, you greedy little kitty. Now, take it before I change my mind."
Grinning from ear to pointy ear, Plagg rubbed his paws one last time before zooming over to the packet. "It's almost as big as me!" he exclaimed happily as he picked it up, nearly toppling over from the weight of it. "Adrien, you're the best!" he declared, landing on the desk with a thump and ogling the packet. Reverently, he yanked the twine off and unwrapped it. Once it was fully unwrapped the smell wafted out with a vengeance. Closing his eyes and taking in the deepest breath his tiny body could manage, the kwami nearly fell over. "Time to dig in!"
Adrien shook his head in amusement and turned back to the computer. He checked to see if he has any new emails from his photographer or from the editors from the numerous magazines that featured him. They all showed positive comments and thanked him for agreeing to be featured on their magazine. He wondered if he weren't an Agreste would they even bother to email him this way. At the thought, his gaze turned to his carry-on next to him on the floor and he gulped, his gaze flicking back at Ladybug smiling awkwardly at him like he was seeking approval. She probably didn't approve and to be completely honest, neither did he.
Hands shaking slightly, he reached into one of the pockets of his carry-on and pulled out a small box. "I'm going on the roof!" he said to Plagg, trying to keep the smile on his face and to look as natural as possible.
Plagg made a disgustingly wet sound between chomps and Adrien assumed that he had been dismissed. He went out of his room and turned into the long corridor. At the end of the corridor was a tiny flight of stairs going steeply up, discreetly hidden behind a tasteful lattice and was used by servants to slip around unnoticed. He found it as a child and used it frequently when he couldn't sleep during those nights of missing his mother. Turning behind the lattice, he put one foot on the first step and hesitated. Is he really going through with this? Shaking his head firmly to quieten the voice of doubt, he hauled himself up those steep steps.
At the end of the stairs was a door that wasn't as tasteful as the rest of the house. A forgotten door. A door that looked out of place. A door Adrien counted as his secret to keep; the one out of many. As usual, it was locked but the keys hung on a hook nailed to the frame. It unlocked easily and opened with a slight creak. He made a mental note to oil it after this.
By this time the sun had slid off its apex, the shadows no longer stumps but not as long as it would've been if it were nearing sunset. Walking confidently, he rested his arms on the balustrade of the part of the house pointing to the street. He watched from above at the people walking around, going about their average summer days. After a while, he turned his gaze to the square packet he gripped in his hand tightly. The name of the brand stood out accusingly at him, this Apple of Eden. His eyes traced the letters slowly. Gauloises.
Eyeing his contraband critically, he ran his thumb under the seal and broke it, popping open the flap. Hands still trembling slightly, he shook one out and took it in his other hand, holding it out with the very tips of his fingers. Not giving himself a chance to second guess himself, he put the slim cylinder between his fingers and dug in his pocket for a lighter. He put the filter between his teeth to steady it as he shielded the flame against the light breeze. The cigarette caught aflame easily and he inhaled deeply, watching the embers brighten for a second before going back to its sedated colours. His throat burned uncomfortably as he took the cigarette out and exhaled, blowing out a puff of blue smoke. He stared at it with distaste as it dispersed into the air. After it did, he put the filter to his lips for the second time and gave another inhale, a smaller one this time. He hated the feeling of the smoke in his throat, the taste of it on his tongue and quickly exhaled, trying not to cough and gag.
"I didn't know you smoked."
He whirled around in shock and gaped in horror. There she was, sitting easily on the balustrade like she belonged there, her legs crossed and dangling dangerously over the edge, her arms braced behind her as she leaned back, staring at the blue sky above them. "Ladybug?"
She turned to look at him then, her eyes kind as a slight smile curved her lips. "Hello. Monsieur Agreste's son, am I correct?" she asked slowly, sounding like she was choosing her words very carefully.
"Adrien," he introduced himself. "H-how long have you been there?" he asked querulously. He had to ask. He had to know.
"Long enough," she answered slowly, eyeing the still burning cigarette in his hand, the thin column of smoke curling upwards before gently dissipating. "I didn't know you smoked," she repeated, quirking an eyebrow.
He looked down at his hand, at the symbol of his guilt. Quickly, he dropped it and ground on it with the sole of his shoe. "I don't," he said firmly. "I hate it." He was flustered. Ladybug? Here in his house? So close to him? And him with his contraband, he thought sneeringly, imaginary lips curled in disgust. He can imagine how he looked like to her.
She didn't say anything, her gaze gently resting on the still full sans one pack of cigarettes and the cheap lighter you get at convenient stores. "Then why...?"
Exasperatedly, he ran his hands through his hair and rested his arms against the balustrade again. "Some people in the agency told me it could help me relax. Some others told me it would help me not eat," he said to the people down below; the ones who couldn't hear him.
"Do you need help not eating?"
Her question shook him. He thought it over, turning it over and over in his mind. "No, I don't think so," he said slowly.
"Then do you need help relaxing?" Her tone was probing yet gentle, far from the accusatory tone he imagined she would use.
He thought this one over as well, turning it over and over in his mind, trying to formulate an answer that made sense to her. "No," he said finally, the word dropping like a brick to the ground. "Not really. I don't need help to relax, it's more like I need help in taking my mind off things I suppose."
"What kind of things do you need to take your mind off?" she asked, her tone unchanging and sincere. She got off the balustrade and made her way closer to him. Close enough that they stood side by side with only half a metre between them. She leaned on the balustrade as well, her gaze also pointed downwards to the people down below.
He eyed her out of the corner of his eye and shrugged helplessly. "I'm not very sure. School, working, fencing, my dad, my-" he stopped himself just in time. He almost blurted out one of his secrets. One of his biggest secrets, in his opinion.
She was quiet for a while, staring straight ahead. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, trying to memorise her face in profile, trying to drill into his memories the feeling of her standing so close beside him that he could feel the heat of her body radiating in the small space between them, mingling with his own body heat. She looked so alive. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned her face to him suddenly. When she noticed him staring at her, her eyes widened and colour rose to her cheeks. Flustered as well, he quickly looked away and downwards, the only place he could look that was the least awkward. She looked away from him and chewed on her lip lightly. He saw this and longed to run his thumb against those lips, so soft and inviting.
"Listen," she muttered, turning to face him again just as he turned to face her. He saw that the colour was still high on her cheeks, but her eyes remained resolute. Her eyes that was so much more alive and expressive than all the pictures of her combined. He stared into those eyes, knowing that if he let himself at it, he would drown into those eyes. The black hole of her pupils ringed with the light blue of her irises, the colour of the summer sky at noon. His hand twitched slightly with the yearning to hold her as he would if he were Chat Noir but he resisted the temptation.
"Don't look at me like that," she mumbled, looking away again. She fidgeted with her earrings and he noticed the five dots on it.
'I can't help it,' he thought. 'I'm using every ounce of myself against just pulling you to me. I'm using my entire fortitude to not blurt out my secret. You know how I feel about you, My Lady. You know who I am so much better than anyone else could ever come close to.' Clenching his teeth, he gave a small smirk and laughed, looking away.
"What was it you were going to say?" he asked, running a hand through his hair.
She remained silent. He snuck another peek and noticed her taking in deep, silent breaths, blinking to keep herself calm. She scratched her nose and swiped at an imaginary lash on her cheek as she chewed on her bottom lip nervously. She shifted from one foot to another and surreptitiously moved away from him, the distance between them now doubled. She shivered slightly; she didn't notice how their warmth mingled and now that she was slightly further away, she felt the breeze hit her and it shocked her, in a way. Why is she feeling so flustered dammit. She was not Marinette now; she didn't have to be so afraid of him. But she was so close to him, she can see the way his eyes reflected the sun, like looking at the sunlight filtered through leaves. She can count his eyelashes, almost feminine in their thickness and how golden they were. She noticed that he had small blemishes right underneath his jaw line and wondered if he knew. She could see the peach fuzz on his top lip and wondered if he wanted to leave it. Did he prefer having facial hair or not? She thought of her father's moustache and imagined Adrien with it and nearly spat in his face in laughter.
"What is it?" he asked, already smiling as she hid her mouth behind a gloved hand.
She waved a hand dismissively as she desperately tried to control herself. "Nothing, I just thought of something inappropriately funny." The image of Adrien with her father's moustache rose up again in her mind's eye and she couldn't help it; she doubled over in laughter until she was crouching on the floor, laughing helplessly.
Adrien crouched next to her. "Come on, don't leave me out of the joke. Why are you laughing? I want to laugh too."
Wheezing, she gestured for him to come closer. As he leaned closer, she whispered into his ear, quivering in suppressed laughter. "I was just imagining you with Thomas Dupain's moustache," was all she could manage before rolling around in laughter again.
"Thomas... Dupain? The baker?" Adrien frowned as the image of Marinette's father rose into his mind's eye. He remembered the fantastic moustache the man sported and transferred it onto his own face. At the finished image, he snorted in amusement, which gave way to small laughter; which in turn gave away to full on laughter.
They both lay there, in helpless laughter for a good forty five minutes, stopping many times but then they would look at the other's face, teary eyed with mirth, and then they were off again, helplessly laughing until they fell to their knees and trying to haul themselves to a stand. Finally, gasping for breath, they pulled themselves together and got off from the floor. Adrien took her hand and pulled her to a stand, ignoring her protests because she said just looking at his face reminds her of the moustache and sending her into tears again.
Still giggling, Ladybug swiped at her teary eyes and took a huge breath, smothering the last of the giggles. She looked back at the sun, feeling the slight breeze tickle her face as the laziness of summer crept back into her bones. She stared at the sun, he stared at her. It was a timeless game played by numerous players.
"Listen," she began again and turned to look at him. He quickly looked away and pretended to be inspecting his hand. "I can't claim to know what you're going through; I can understand it though. I'm sure your life is busy, but this isn't the way to do these things. I don't mean to sound preachy but this is kind of self destructive," she gestured at the cigarettes.
He smiled slowly; a mirthless smile. "I know. I know what you're trying to say. You still sound preachy," he shot her a sly look and she looked affronted, making his smile widen. "I'm aware of it all but sometimes I just want the world to stop and just slow down to this one moment; this one drag." She hummed and nodded her head. "But I will stop," he pushed himself off the balustrade and faced her. She in turn faced him, her eyebrows knitted. In one smooth move, he swiped the packet of Gauloises and passed it to her. "For you, I will stop."
Looking at the packet, slightly squashed in his proffered hand, she quirked an eyebrow. "Are you sure? Aren't you going to feel the pressure one day and try it again?"
He shook his head. "If I ever feel the pressure, I'll just remember this day. This one day during the summer that Ladybug came over and talked to me and I'm being totally cool about it when I actually am not." He looked at her seriously. "I mean I'm really not."
She giggled and held out her hand to take it. "Fine, you made your point. I'll keep this." He handed her the packet and she held on to it tightly as she tried not to look too pleased. "I really am happy you decided on this route. Although on the outside I'm being totally cool about it," she joked, placing the packet on the balustrade.
He just shrugged. "All for you, Ladybug." He turned to lean on the balustrade again. "So why are you here? Alone? What happened to Chat Noir? I thought you're supposed to be like the tag team extraordinaire."
This time she shrugged. "He said he'd be away for awhile but he'll definitely let me know when he's back."
"That's it? And you're not worried for him at all?"
"I trust my partner."
Adrien fell silent as he pondered over this. "So what do you think of him? That Chat Noir? From what I saw he's really quick and agile. He seems to always help you a lot." He grinned at the memory of racing after an akumatised human; the wind in his hair, the way his muscles bunched as he ran. "He must get all the pretty girls," he sighed.
Ladybug let out a very unladylike snort. "Yeah, all the pretty girls in his head, I'm sure. It's that frivolous attitude that I just can't stand."
He turned his head to peer at her, trying not to look too offended. "That's not true! He only has eyes for one girl!"
"If he does, he sure does a good job hiding it," she argued.
He tossed his head, puffing out one cheek in indignation. "So that's it then? You think of Chat Noir as a frivolous skirt chaser?" He almost couldn't hide the hurt in his voice. Almost.
Ladybug soldiered on, oblivious to his hurt. "If you think that's the only thing I think about Chat Noir then you must not know Chat Noir that well. Chat Noir might be outrageously flirtatious, but he's a good person. He's quick, he knows how to carry himself in a fight. He's also very protective of others. Chat Noir might be annoying and irritating at times but he's my partner. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I would trust Chat Noir with my life."
Adrien blinked at her, mouth agape. Then he just looked away, dropping his head to stare at the people down below, his hair falling forward slightly to cover his face. "Really, you are so passionate," he rasped, his throat tightening. He shook his head in bemusement. "What would I do without you, My Lady?'
She leaned forward a little more, trying to see his face. "Adrien? Are you okay?" Tentatively, she put a hand on his elbow. "Did I say something wrong? Wait, let me guess." She crossed her arms and quirked one of the corners of her mouth cheekily. "You're number one in his fan club, aren't you? I know that Bourgeois girl is the number one of mine."
He just chuckled, head still drooped. Clearing his throat and taking a deep breath, he threw back his head and fixed her a disarming smirk. "Yeah," he agreed. "You got me. I am the number one fan of Chat Noir. I think he's the coolest cat in boyfriend material tights to ever run around Paris. And about the only one worthy of fighting alongside the great Ladybug."
She blinked, not knowing what to make of his words. "What do you mean boyfriend material?"
He shrugged. "I'm just saying, he's a cool cat. He should be a lot of fun to hang around with."
Ladybug felt her mouth widen into an amused grin. "He is. He is so much fun to be around. Sometimes I forget that he's only with me for a short amount of time."
"He can stay with you forever, if you want," he suggested, looking solemnly into her eyes.
"If he knew who you were and if you knew who he is, you could hang around all the time. There would be no secrets between you; you'd both be free and liberated from your discretions against the other."
"That I cannot do," she immediately dismissed the idea. "I've thought about it and I decided that this is the best for the both of us."
"But what if Chat Noir disagrees? What if he's fully prepared to show you his face without the veil?"
"Well, he might be prepared but I'm not," Ladybug said decisively. "Chat Noir might be a cool cat in or out of his suit, but what if I'm just the luckless ladybug that just didn't meet up with his expectations?"
"I don't think you have to worry about that."
"Oh really?" she quirked an eyebrow at him teasingly. "And what makes you so sure?"
"Well, I am his number one fan," he shrugged lackadaisically, smirking. "Or," he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "You could just tell me. I wouldn't tell him."
Ladybug pretended to consider it. "Hmm," she hummed, stroking her chin. "Are you sure? It's a pretty big secret."
Adrien's eyes bugged out. "Really? You would tell me?" Quickly, he gathered himself and held up a hand, as if taking an oath. "I'm sure! I swear it!"
She doubled over as she laughed. "You're enthusiastic; I like that." Quick as a fox, she leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. "And you're cute. But I can't."
"Can't or won't?" he challenged, inwardly buoyant and soaring high in the sky. The place where her lips met his cheek burned pleasantly and he resisted the urge to run his fingers on it. He was right; her lips are soft and warm.
"Can't," she reaffirmed. "What if you're captured by my enemies? They would hurt you. And I'm not sure I want that happening."
"I would keep your secret to my grave!" he said ardently. "They can do whatever they want to me; I will not tell! You can count on me!"
"I'm touched, I really am." She reached down and took his hand in hers, feeling bold all of a sudden. "But I really can't. I should nip it at the bud and not even tell you. If you have nothing, they will want nothing. Simple as that." She squeezed his hand. "I really appreciate it, though." She beamed up at him, tilting her head to the right. "You're a really good person, too!"
"Am I? I mean, you saw me just now. I feel kind of broken. I must've looked like a mess to you."
She shook her head. "Everyone's broken; the difference is the size of the cracks. Broken is good, it means you survived tribulations. Pristine is not so good; it means you have never faced the reality and might get careless and just end up hurting yourself."
He just stared at her before shaking his head as well. "Oh, My Ladybug, you're so wise." He placed his free hand gently on her face, caressing her sun-warmed cheek. Boldly, he swiped a thumb lightly against her lips. "Only you would look at a broken piece and say it still has a chance. Most people turn away once the marble cracks. Only you would say the cracks give it character."
"The cracks show it stood the test of time," she breathed, her breathe hitching at how close he is. "Others crumbled and you're there with cracks. Those cracks are your medals."
He looked steadily into her eyes, ringed with the dark lashes, surrounded by her mask. He rubbed a thumb at the seam of where the mask met her skin. Her cheeks steadily began to deepen in colour. "Don't do this to me, Ladybug," he whispered.
"As far as I can see, I'm not doing anything," she countered, gaze as steady as his. At this short distance, she noticed that his eyes were a brilliant shade of green with a thin line of gold around the iris. As golden on the inside as he is on the outside.
"You're right." It was only a short distance; their breaths were already mingling. It didn't help that her head was already tilted. It would be a shame to leave her hanging. No, her head wasn't tilted towards him. But it can be. She wasn't protesting. And so he did.
She already knew what he was going to do, she could see it in his eyes. But knowing was not the same as preparing. When his lips met hers, she let out an involuntary gasp of surprise; one he drew into his mouth as delicately as if he was sipping the finest of wines. He smoothly pushed against her until she could retreat no further, having pinned her with the tenderest of touches to the balustrade. Her hips bumped into the stone as her mouth widened to deepen the kiss. "I'm leading this dance," he growled, snaking his free hand behind her head as he pulled her closer.
His other hand in hers traced tiny circles against her palm, touches she could barely feel through her glove. Frustrated at the muted touches, she pulled him closer with her free hand, pulling him closer to her as he had pulled her closer to him. Her tongue probed his lips as he flicked his tongue out to meet hers, their lips moulding easily against the other. Closing her mouth, she sucked on his bottom lip and bit it lightly.
Finally, she pulled away, both unable to breathe. Panting heavily, like they had both been running in a marathon, they both leaned away from the other until finally their hands slipped away from each others.
"I didn't know you were an accomplished dancer. For the most part," she teased, wiping at a little saliva on her chin. Though she had no doubt that that little bit of saliva was hers. "I also wasn't planning on that," she admitted, gesturing weakly at his general direction.
"The best things are usually unplanned," he replied, his voice more than a little husky.
"You better have not planned to sneak to the balcony just to see me then," she said mischievously.
"And you had better not have suddenly appeared on my roof to meet me," he replied right back, earning a wider grin from her.
"This could all be a happy coincidence," she shrugged coolly.
"Oh, so you were happy?"
"Don't get too cocky now," she warned. "I think I should be going," she commented. "I still have other places to patrol."
"Go on, then," Adrien encouraged. "Paris needs its Ladybug."
Waving awkwardly at him, she threw out her yo-yo and swung away, leaving Adrien on the roof of the Agreste Mansion, alone with a packet of cigarettes that she'd forgotten and a cheap, convenient store lighter. He took the packet with him as he walked down those steep flights of stairs and chucked it into the nearest bin.
The moon was an unimpressive sliver of light in the inky sky, the warm night of summer engulfing the streets of Paris. A lone figure sprinted to an impressive building. While others would've seen the "Closed" sign and turned around, this figure did quite the opposite. Instead, it scaled the wall to a window that was open; its curtain hiding the inside from prying eyes.
The figure easily parted the curtain and stepped inside the room.
A girl sat opposite her computer stiffened at the sound of his entrance. But when she turned around and saw him, she let out a wide smile that was quite genuine.
"Well, hello Chat. I see you're back."
Chat Noir bowed low and grinned back. "Hello, Princess. And it feels very good to be back."