Chapter Three


Looking back, she couldn't quite believe she'd ever thought getting up for school was hard. This was, by far, much worse. The time of day varied now, but morning or afternoon, it didn't matter. She still woke up hoping it'd be easier and, somehow, it never seemed that it was. Her eyes were heavy, the lights were harsh, and her whole body was a smattering of nauseous aches.

"Hello, honey," her mother greeted as she opened her eyes, peering blearily around the hospital room. It wasn't the same one she'd woken up in the first time. That had been the intensive care unit, or so her parents had said. This was her own personal room, where she'd been moved to six days following her surgery. She thought those were the facts, anyway. Her brain was pretty fuzzy on drugs most of the time.

"Mom," she rasped out, thankful when a glass of water was handed her way. That was always her first demand upon waking up. Something about the drugs made her throat ache. At first, she hadn't been allowed water, and that had made waking up even worse. Usually, she'd just turned her head to the side and cried herself back to sleep. But now, two weeks later, things were a bit more lenient. She drank the water, savoring the chill, as her mother called for the nurses.

They filed in a few minutes later, Marinette getting through what followed with little shame these days. They uncovered her, the tall, sweet older nurse (who was much stronger than she looked) picked her up before taking her to the bathroom nearby. Following, she was returned to her bed, which had been strapped with fresh sheets. They propped her up now, the back of the bed at an angle as she leaned against it.

She hadn't even done anything and she already felt exhausted.

After hooking her back up to the appropriate machines, the nurses checked her vitals before leaving. Once they were out of the way, her mother came up to the side of the bed and began combing through her hair. The pigtails from the day before were a mess, so she redid them, tying back her daughter's greasy hair without complaint.

Marinette was given a shower every three days and this was day two. Maybe, if she weren't so preoccupied with how her body seemed to float around her half the time, she'd have had the self-consciousness to care.

"They're going to bring your lunch up in an hour," her mother explained as she sat down beside the bed, smiling softly. Marinette just nodded, vaguely wondering how many drugs they still had her on. This was something she wondered nearly every day. She didn't like it, the idea of drugs filtering through her system, but she didn't want to imagine what it'd be like without them either.

Tikki shifted behind her pillow. She could only assume her kwami hid under the bed when they changed the sheets.

"I also have some good news," her mother went on. "The doctors have finally cleared you for more visitors." More than just family. "I called Alya this morning and she said she'd be over as soon as you woke up. Do you want me to text her?" Marinette nodded, the idea of seeing her best friend, even in her state, causing her to smile a little against her chapped lips.

Laughing lightly, Sabine pulled out her phone and sent the text.

"Is there anyone else you want to come see you?" she asked, reaching out to push some of Marinette's bangs from her face. "That nice boy, Nino, stayed through your surgery with us. And so did Adrien. Would you like me to have Alya bring them as well?"

"No," Marinette choked out. She felt her shame at what had happened wash over her. It pained her to think her friends had seen the accident, had witnessed the gruesome sight. She didn't want to cause them more anxiety over the whole ordeal.

"Marinette…" Her mother sighed beside her. "I know you may not want to see very many people right now, but… Adrien was very worried about you. I think that he'd very much like to come see you."

Marinette shook her head against her pillow. And so, the subject was dropped.

"Ms. Cheng?" Tikki had popped her head out from behind the pillow.

Sabine smiled down at the little kwami, Marinette still uncertain of what to think of the fact that her parents knew about her alter ego. Her mother had expressed discomfort over the whole thing, but her father—who must be manning the bakery that morning—had seemed proud. As a result, they were the ones making sure to bring Tikki cookies and other sweets every morning, Sabine reaching into her purse before pulling out two cookies and handing them to Tikki.

Wanting to stay out of sight of the nurses, the red kwami pulled the confections back under the pillow with her, the sounds of her quiet munching nearly lulling Marinette back to sleep.

It was Alya's voice that jolted her back into awareness.

"Sorry," Alya whispered as she slowly crept into the room, her posture oddly hunched as she looked around. "Were you going back to sleep?"

"No," Marinette rasped out, thankful her voice was a little stronger than it had been previously. She smiled, thrilled to see Alya despite how her body failed to express the notion.

"I'll leave you two alone," Sabine said then, standing before heading for the door. Once she was gone, Alya made her way over to the vacated chair, taking Marinette's hand as she sat down. She sniffed, as if fighting back tears, but her smile made it clear they weren't the bad kind.

Marinette sighed. "I look terrible," she muttered out.

Alya laughed. "You look wonderful, girl, trust me," she assured. "Never better." There was clear relief in her voice, her tone nearly bringing Marinette to tears as well. But crying was exhausting, so she pushed back on the sensation.

"Everyone at school is so worried about you," Alya went on. "Rose made a card and everything. They all want to come visit you during lunch sometime." She giggled. "Even Chloe agreed to come, but she made sure to be unpleasant about the whole thing."

"I find it hard to believe that…" Marinette took a deep breath, "…that even Chloe misses me."

"I know." Alya shook her head. "But… it was really scary, what happened to you. It was on the news and everything."

"Really?" Marinette closed her eyes painfully. She was used to being on the news, but not usually like this.

"Yeah, someone recorded it with their phone," Alya said, sounding rather disgusted. "It went viral."

Marinette cocked a skeptical brow.

"Not the part where you were hit," Alya corrected. "Actually, it was Adrien spazzing out that went viral. The parts with you were edited out."

"Adrien?" Marinette didn't understand.

"Uh, yeah." Alya gulped, stroking Marinette's hand some. "After you were hit, he kind of… freaked out. Attacked two cops, even."

"I don't… remember." The last thing she recalled was telling Adrien to get a message to Chat Noir. He'd seemed calm enough then.

"Yeah, it was after…" Alya's focus fell pointedly to the side, Marinette furrowing her eyebrows curiously.

"Hello, Alya." It was then that Tikki decided to pop her head out from behind the pillow, Marinette momentarily tensing at her kwami revealing herself. But Alya didn't seem the least bit surprised, though her face did pull into an expression of curious skepticism.

"Uh, Tikki, right?" Alya asked, Tikki coming out fully before sitting beside Marinette's pillow.

"You know," Marinette managed to choke out.

"I…" Alya took a deep breath, laying Marinette's hand down on the bed again. "It was an accident. Your purse, it flew off when you were hit. I found it and..." She shrugged. Clearly, there was more to the story, but she wasn't relaying it all. Marinette knew her best friend well enough to realize when she was hiding something.

But she'd been hiding something too. Something bigger. So perhaps that was where her focus should be. Besides, her last words about Chat hadn't exactly been conspicuous. She owed her friend an explanation.

"I'm sorry," Marinette murmured, staring down at her lap. "I didn't want to hide from you."

"I know," Alya assured with a big smile. "It's okay. I get it. I mean, I never actually thought I'd know Ladybug or Chat Noir's identities, so it was fun chasing them down. But, I knew that if I ever did find them, I wouldn't reveal them. Even if I'd wanted to. That'd be dangerous, right?"

Marinette nodded.

"That's why you kept it a secret, to keep everyone safe." Alya patted her hand. "I won't tell anyone, promise. And neither will Nino. We've already discussed it." So Nino knew as well? "In fact," Alya grinned, "this could be good. The Ladyblog is one of the most popular places to get info on Ladybug. Knowing who you really are means I can direct attention away from you."

Marinette let out a short laugh. "You're going to lie?"

"Not lie." Alya shook her head. "Just… bend the evidence in a different direction."

Marinette pulled her hand up and laid it on Alya's. "Thank you."

"Of course! You and Chat Noir have done so much for Paris. I couldn't reveal you guys."

Marinette's attention fell again. "Chat. Did someone… Did you manage to tell him what happened? Somehow? I've… missed a lot of patrols."

"I…" Alya faltered, looking down at Tikki before glancing again to Marinette. "He-he knows. I- He knows what happened."

"Good." Marinette hadn't realized how much Chat's knowledge, or lack of knowledge, had been weighing on her. It felt like a huge blanket had been lifted, leaving her open to easier breathing. "I'd hate for him to worry."

"Uh, well," Alya looked again at Tikki, who said nothing. "He- He's pretty worried anyway." Marinette frowned. "Can't really blame him, after what happened. Not like it was a minor accident or something…"

"What did you guys tell him?" Had they revealed all the worst? Had they worried him needlessly? Simply telling him she'd been in an accident and was recovering would have been sufficient. Granted, maybe Chat deserved more details, but she would have hoped they'd have had the decency not to cause him any unnecessary grief.

"I… It's not…" Alya huffed, shoulders slumping. "We didn't 'tell' him anything, Marinette. He was… He was there."

"What?" Marinette blinked in alarm.

"He was there," Alya repeated. "He saw the whole thing. He knows."

"I don't understand…"

"Marinette…" Alya was clearly uncomfortable. "It's… I don't know that I should…"

The sound of a knock on the room door cut through their conversation, much to Marinette's abrupt irritation. Her lagging brain stayed on the point a little longer than it should have. On Chat. He must have simply been a passerby when it'd happened, or maybe the police sirens had drawn him in? How had he been there?

She hadn't wanted him to see. She hadn't wanted anyone to see.

"Hey." It was Nino who poked his head in the door. "Sorry." He cringed, just barely slipping into the room. "I know we weren't invited, but we figured it could only mean one thing when Alya left class." He shrugged, fiddling with his headphones. "I thought this guy was going to vibrate right out of his seat, so I made him come too." He'd nodded toward the door, to someone Marinette couldn't see.

Alya had slumped some in relief beside her.

"Dude, will you just get in here?" Nino was speaking to whoever was on the other side of the door now, before huffing in frustration and reaching out. With a yank, he pulled Adrien into the room, the handsome blonde stumbling as Nino closed the door behind them.

Marinette couldn't help the way her eyes locked on Adrien. Many things flew through her head, namely the fact that, if Alya and Nino knew, then Adrien probably did too. Which made he feel even worse.

She'd long since given up pursuing Adrien romantically. Not to say her feelings for him had simply gone away—because they hadn't—but, rather, it was the guilt over his father that had stopped her. She and Chat had been the ones to catch Gabriel Agreste and put him in prison. It'd devastated Adrien, she knew, and so any kind of romantic intentions she had toward him had been pushed aside. Anyone she was serious about would eventually know she was Ladybug, she'd accepted that. How could she possibly have admitted such a thing to Adrien? No, she hadn't stood a chance with him to begin with, but the fact that she'd put his father in prison had stopped her own hopes.

She'd settled for being his friend, for being there whenever he needed. That was the least she could offer him, and the most without hurting him worse.

But now he knew. Now, he was defensive on the other side of the room, shoulders hunched. He looked at her only quickly, before his eyes darted away. He appeared tired, his hair uncharacteristically messy, and there were dark circles under his eyes.

She knew it was her fault. It was the same expression he'd worn for days after his father's arrest and during the hearing. This wasn't how she'd wanted him to find out. She hadn't wanted him to find out at all. How could she possibly face him now, when he knew she was the one that had done it? That she was the one who had ruined his already broken family?

Her own focus fell back to the bed sheets, before he had the guts to look at her again.

Nino had walked over beside Alya. He reached out to Marinette, a good distraction, before bending down and placing a simple kiss on the top of her head.

"How you doin,' beautiful?" he asked as he leaned back, eyes soft. Marinette smiled weakly up at him, not for the first time warmed by his attitude. She'd long since stopped wondering what Alya saw in him, realizing that despite his goofy attitude, he was one of the most caring, loyal, and compassionate people in their lives.

"I'm okay," she choked out, the emotion—grief, embarrassment, pain—welling up in her throat and threatening to bring her to tears. She fought it though, taking a shaky breath to steady herself.

"Hello, Nino," Tikki greeted, floating up toward him with a smile on her face.

"Ah, Tikki?" he questioned, smiling, and she nodded. "I feel like I know you already. If Plagg isn't talking about Camembert, he's talking about you."

Marinette frowned. "Plagg?" That was the name of Chat's kwami. She'd never come into contact with him, but Chat had mentioned him on occasion. The better question, though, was how did Nino know Plagg? And sound so familiar with him?

Tikki giggled, zooming once around Nino and Alya before settling back down beside Marinette.

"Yeah, Plagg," Nino said simply, casting an almost exasperated look at Adrien before focusing back on Marinette. "Annoying little cat-thing obsessed with cheese. And bad jokes. Very, very bad jokes. Some of his jokes are almost as bad as Adrien's." He'd looked pointedly at his best friend again.

Adrien, who was still huddled on the other side of the room. Marinette found just enough courage to look up at him again, from beneath heavy lashes. He was watching her now, lips pursed and hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket. He looked so uncomfortable. Why had Nino dragged him along? Why would Adrien want to see Ladybug?

He didn't. He didn't want to see her.

And she didn't blame him.

"How do you know Plagg?" Marinette asked, turning to look back up at Nino. "Have you been updating Chat?" That was the only logical conclusion she could come to.

Nino sighed, as if frustrated, and set a glare on Adrien. "Dude! C'mon."

"It's okay, Nino," Marinette assured, assuming he was upset at Adrien's distance. "You don't have to stay." She finally got up the gumption to look at Adrien fully. "I know… how you must feel about me." The implication behind her words was obvious, or so she thought.

Adrien blinked at her, his lips parting some in surprise before he scrunched his eyes closed and turned away again. He was gritting his teeth—she could see it in the way he held his jaw—and she hated herself for doing that to him.

She hated that she'd caused him pain at all.

Nino appeared even more irritated, if at all possible. Marinette tried to return to the previous subject.

"How is Chat?" she asked. "Is he worried? I didn't want to worry him…"

"He's worried," Nino practically snapped, his gaze still trained on Adrien. "He's just being an idiot."

Marinette didn't get it. Lips parting some, she glanced back to Adrien, not understanding Nino's body language or accusing tone. Adrien had the right to be bitter with her, to be hurt. Everything he felt was justified.

Yet, as she met those green eyes again, she saw something else.

Adrien's own guilt.

What did he have to feel guilty about?

Her thoughts were slow, connections only coming together gradually.

When she'd been laying there, on the ground, body broken and bleeding, it had been Adrien's green eyes that had reminded her of Chat. The two were so similar in color and she'd been surprised at how quickly her thoughts had gone straight to her partner. But, really, it made sense. They'd worked together for years, saved each other more times than they could count. When together, they functioned as one being, knew the other's moves before they'd even taken them.

And as she watched Adrien, she found herself reminded of Chat again. Because Adrien didn't shy away, or bite his lip, or get uncomfortable. Adrien was confident and easy going, and took punches with a grace Marinette had always envied. But Chat hunched away when hurt, and he bit his lip when he was nervous—just as Adrien was doing now.

When had Marinette memorized such things? When had Chat's imprint become such a huge part of her own person?

Why did Adrien remind her so much of him?

Those eyes…

"No, don't close your eyes!" She remembered, the words slamming into her. The memory didn't carry any visuals, but that voice… "Don't go! I can't do this without you!"

Chat's voice. When had he been there, during the accident? When had he been so close?

"You can't leave me! I need you! Marinette! You're all I've got!" When had he learned her name?

"I can't lose you!"

Adrien's eyes, staring down at her. Panicked, familiar.

Chat's eyes.

Maybe it was the drugs, or the fog lifting out of a lesson learned in near-death desperation. But she began to see it then.

And she knew. She didn't quite know how or why, but it was like these two things she'd always loved were abruptly muddled together, laced with guilt, coiled concern, and misery right before her. Across the room, looking at her like he wanted to run away and run to her in the exact same moment.

But he was frozen, so uncertain and so distraught.

He had been there; he'd seen it all. And he'd found out in the worst possible way.

She'd done that to him. And she regretted, not for the first time, having put her message on Adrien's shoulders.

How had she not seen it before?

All of this washed over her in only a few seconds, Alya and Nino looking between her and Adrien in tight-lipped silence. But Marinette had nearly forgotten they were even there. Rather, she felt herself existing only with him, much like they did when they were soaring over rooftops and sweeping between buildings. Like one person in two bodies, she had his despair, his absolute desolation and anguish. It ricocheted between them, because she was forced to imagine him in her place—if only to understand the way he was looking at her.

It was a prospect that pained her even to consider, let alone actually live through.

She was sorry she'd done this to him. She was so, so sorry.

Blinking back her exhaustion, she shakily raised her hand. She reached out to him, palm down as she smiled weakly. As she tried to, somehow, reassure him that everything was okay. That the nightmare was over.

"Here," she said quietly, her voice torn with her own sandpaper emotions. "Come here, kitty, kitty."

Her kitty.

She hadn't meant for her words to hit him as they did, but perhaps there hadn't been any avoiding it. Not after what had happened. He actually flinched away, eyes scrunching closed as a tremble wracked his whole body—one that ended with an aching cringe pulling at his lips.

She didn't have much energy, but what little she did have, she saved completely for him. Though it quivered, she kept her hand outstretched toward him. Waiting.

She'd wait forever for him, if that was what it took.

There was no holding it in. Something between a sob and a gasp left his lips, like his whole body was breaking apart with it. And as he turned back to her, there were already tears streaming down his cheeks. He laughed, maybe, or groaned, like everything inside of him was fighting, leaving him raw and exposed.

And yet Marinette kept reaching out. She smiled as best she could, a single tear marring her own cheek.

He gave in.

It was almost as though he collapsed toward her, fumbling across the room until he was at her side. He took her hand in his own, unable to control how his body convulsed, pushing his emotions out of him as he fell into the chair beside her. He was shaking all over, barely able to hold her hand despite his desperation to do so. He cried, sobbed, pulling her knuckles to his lips.

He broke down.

"It's okay," Marinette murmured, wanting to lean over and comfort him, but unable to. She cursed her own body, her own weakness, and instead had to settle for flexing her hand against his own.

"I-I-I th-thought I'd-d los-st you," he whimpered out, teeth gritting.

"I'm right here, Chat," she said quietly, pushing against his hold until she could lay her hand against his cheek. "I'm okay. Everything's gonna be okay."

He'd turned his nose into her hand, holding it there against the tears that fell continually down his cheeks. Until he pulled it around to his lips, kissing her palm and refusing to let her go.

He'd never let her go.

A black flash flew out of his collar a moment later, joining Tikki on the other side of the bed. Green eyes wide, he watched alongside his kwami partner, Alya, and Nino as Adrien's shields shattered. Nothing but nerves, he leaned his elbows on the bed and simply fell apart, Marinette's hand never released.

It wasn't until everything had been drained from his body, nearly half an hour later, that he reclaimed something akin to steady breathing. He still trembled and held Marinette's hand in his own, though it'd been lowered to the bed. No one had said a word the whole time, and even when he was nothing more than dead, tired eyes staring downward, no one commented on his break down.

Rather, once it'd seemed appropriate, Nino had cleared his throat and begun conversation, drawing Marinette's attention even as Adrien kept ahold of her. He asked about the kwami, as did Alya, and soon they were speaking of Ladybug and Chat Noir as if some sort of emotional break hadn't happened. It was a good distraction while Adrien slowly gathered himself together, at least enough to put the pieces in a bag and tie it closed.

It was when Sabine finally returned, Tom with her this time, that Nino and Alya decided to excuse themselves. Marinette needed her rest as well, which would have made their visit short anyway.

They faltered as they rounded the bed to leave, eyeing Adrien. He was still hunched in the chair, seemingly unaware of their departure. Before anything could be said to rouse him, however, Tom waved them on.

"He can stay," Sabine said simply, Alya and Nino nodding before heading out.

Marinette was thankful her parents let Adrien remain. She wanted him to stay, even if she was on the verge of falling asleep again. For a little while, she chatted with her father, but ultimately was too tired to keep it up. She watched Adrien for a few minutes, whishing there was something she could say but knowing words wouldn't do any good. And then she watched Plagg and Tikki flit around, their dancing above her head enough to lull her.

She fell asleep with her hand in Adrien's,

When she woke up again later, it was dark. The only light on in the room was the one behind her head, which was on constantly. The drapes had been pulled shut and her parents weren't there. They'd stopped staying through the night some few days ago, once the doctors had confidently explained that she was in better than stable condition.

But, nonetheless, she wasn't alone.

Beside her, arm folded under his head atop the bed, was Adrien. Someone—her mother or a nurse, perhaps—had draped a blanket over his back. He still held her hand, though he was obviously asleep, and Marinette couldn't help smiling despite her own drowsiness.

Carefully, once her head was a little less foggy, she slipped her hand from his before reaching out to him. She sifted her fingers through his hair, focusing more on the softness than the nauseous ache that permeated her body, seemingly all the time.

She wasn't sure if she'd intended to wake him. Maybe she had. She knew he wouldn't mind.

He pulled his head up slowly, looking pale and tired as he blinked. Her hand fell away, coming to sit in her lap as he rubbed his eyes.

Plagg popped out from behind her pillow a moment later, zooming right up into Adrien's face.

"I thought you'd never wake up," he said somewhat shortly, his tone causing Adrien to furrow his brows in displeasure. "Not that I'm complaining. Marinette's parents got me all the cheese I wanted. They've treated me better today than you ever have."

Adrien frowned. "Get out of my face, Plagg," he said, voice thick. "I treat you just as well as you deserve to be treated." He waved the kwami away.

Watching, Marinette giggled a little, head leaning back against the pillow. The noise drew Adrien's attention, his focus falling to her for a moment before a flush of redness overcame his cheeks.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"That makes two of us."

"You need your rest," he continued. "I can go, if you-"

"No, don't go," Marinette croaked out, reaching her hand to take his again, a dizzy chill worming up her arm in response to her quick action. "Please, stay." She didn't mean to sound so demanding, and knew that if her face wasn't already red as a result of her condition, she'd be blushing.

Adrien didn't object, instead returning her hold as he relaxed some in his seat. They didn't say anything for a few moments, Marinette closing her eyes as she tried to gather her thoughts against her traitorous body.

"I'm sorry," she said a moment later, taking a deep breath. "About your father. I… I wish you'd told me." It was worse, not only having a father sent to prison, but being the one that had sent him there. He'd had to testify twice, as both Adrien and Chat Noir. She'd never known.

She blamed herself. She'd always been so adamant about them keeping their identities a secret. And now, she was finding out, it may have done more damage than good. Not only had it resulted in her being unable to be there for her friend at his worst—because she hadn't known "Adrien" well enough to truly be there for him—but their identities had then been revealed in one of the cruelest, most painful fashions she could imagine.

"It's okay," he assured quickly, smiling that soft, Adrien smile—the one that was so full of loneliness and restraint. "You were there. You've always been there, far more than anyone else ever has."

"I've been so stupid…" she murmured. "I should have told you who I was a long time ago."

"No, it's fine," he cut in once more. "Really."

"You wanted to know," she went on, aware of how her regret welled up in her throat, behind her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't cry," he murmured, standing. "It's okay, Marinette. Please, don't cry."

But she didn't have the control that she normally did and the tears fell anyway. She tried to sniff against them, but it didn't work. And then he was gently wiping them away with his thumb, which only made her cry more.

"It's okay," he whispered, leaning over and placing his lips against her forehead. "Everything's alright now." Maybe his words were for her, maybe for both of them. She didn't care either way. Rather, she put all her strength into reaching out to him, in grabbing his over shirt so as to keeping him from slipping away.

She knew he didn't dare get closer to her. She could feel it in the stiffness of his posture, in how close he hovered without touching. Like she was made of glass. And the worst of it was, in those moments, she really was. She hated it. She wanted to pull him in and never let go—try to erase the horrible emptiness that had plagued her since the accident, when she'd thought she'd never see him again.

Instead, she had to settle for his lips on her forehead and his hand caressing her cheek. It wasn't enough, not near enough, but it'd have to do.

He reached up and took the hand that was holding his shirt after a few seconds, pulling her grip away as he sat back down.

"Don't leave," she practically begged.

"I'm not leaving," he said, voice steady. "I'll never leave you, Marinette."

And so he didn't.

He stayed with her all through the night, eventually falling asleep again, slumped in his seat as close to her bed as he could get. When her father showed up in the morning, he woke him for school. Adrien almost didn't go, anxious to speak with Marinette before he left, but Tom made him—as he told his daughter when she opened her eyes a few hours later.

But he came back for lunch, and after school too. He was with her whenever he could be, even if the nurses and doctors found it odd that he'd rather sleep in a chair beside her than go home to his own bed. Her parents didn't object to it either, simply letting his persistent presence be.

No one even said a word when, a week later, they found him sleeping in bed beside her, as opposed to in the chair. That was simply the way it was going to be, no objection worth trying.

He was with her all day during the weekends, eventually becoming a comforting addition for everyone when her parents couldn't be there. They watched movies, and made fun of the awful hospital food. When she was having a good day, he was there to make her laugh. And when she wasn't, he sat beside her in bed with an arm around her shoulders as she cried, miserable and sick with a body that was broken and useless.

The doctors, however, were astounded by her recovery, even if she wasn't. They'd expected a plethora of complications, but everything was moving along smoothly. They were constantly going on about how lucky she was, that her recovery was simply "miraculous."

Adrien made sure to bring Tikki extra sweets whenever he could, silently assuming she was the one behind Marinette's improving condition.

When she was finally allowed to go home, he was right there beside her on the ride back, Sabine and Tom having long accepted him as being wherever she was. Marinette had caught the ways they looked at him on occasion—sometimes like he was this shining bright star of a young man, and other times with sympathy. Likely, they knew who he was—both sides of him—and understood, perhaps, why Marinette was so precious to him.

They trusted him with her, which said a great deal. But perhaps, after realizing how many times he'd put himself in harm's way to protect her, there'd really been no options as far as their feelings toward him. It was what it was and that was it.

Being home was harder at first. There were no nurses to help, no one to go to when things got tough. It was straining on everyone, the fact that Adrien came by as soon as school was out both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because when the shop was busy, there was someone there to look after her. And a curse for the same reason.

Marinette lost her temper more than she should have, got upset and frustrated, and, generally, he was on the receiving end. But he took it all without complaining, as patient with her as he'd ever been. More often than not, she'd end up apologizing, only to get a small smile and a kiss on the forehead as reassurance.

The more time they spent together, the more Chat started to emerge. It was during these moments that she realized "Adrien" was the sad side of him. The lonely, serious side that worked hard and was overly disciplined. He was still compassionate and kind, as always, but it was "Chat" that cracked the stupid jokes and made her laugh. That smiled wider and stayed up with her watching movies and talking excitedly about his favorite anime. They weren't separate people, she knew that, but two parts of a whole she hadn't realized was one piece before.

She loved both, all, sides of him.

"Were you disappointed?" she'd asked one evening, sitting on the couch surrounded in blankets. He'd been behind her, standing, and tying her hair into new pigtails with a skill level he hadn't had three weeks before.

"About what?"

"About me," she'd explained quietly. "When you found out who I was."

He hadn't said anything right away, instead finishing with her hair before rounding the couch to crouch down in front of her. He'd smiled, the expression gentle, and put his hands over her own.

"I could never be disappointed in you," he'd said. "You were my friend, both as Ladybug and Marinette. There's nothing to be disappointed about." He'd leaned up and kissed her forehead, a sensation that Marinette had grown far too accustomed to.

She'd told him she hadn't been disappointed either.

School was over for the year when she was finally well enough to go back. Thankfully, with Adrien's tutoring, she'd been keeping up as best she could. The school had agreed to let her test out of her classes before the next year, so as not to fall behind, and so their evenings then included study sessions with Alya and Nino too.

It was two weeks before the next school year that she was finally given the go-ahead by her doctors to commence in what had previously been regular activities. Of course, her recreational pursuits had been somewhat more straining than most people's, so her parents, as well as Adrien, had strictly forbidden that she return to being Ladybug. Chat was already doing patrols again, had been for a while, and it irked her to no end that she wasn't allowed to go with him. Instead, she had to settle for sitting on her balcony until he inevitably dropped in. Her parents knew he was there, but they never said anything. He always went home sometime late, but was back the next morning as Adrien to pester her.

It was the night before their first day of school that her patience finally snapped. She wasn't getting any better sitting around at home, after all, and needed the feeling of the wind whipping her face, muscles stretching as she swung through the city. Tikki and Plagg had told them, after all, that there'd be more enemies they had to face—more like Hawkmoth. She had to be in shape for whenever their next enemy appeared.

So, with Tikki's nod of approval, she'd transformed into Ladybug for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

The elation of doing so was beyond anything she could have imagined.

Her stamina wasn't totally up to par, but her arms and legs did as she told them. There was no pain, no struggle, and she let the thrill seep through her as she traipsed from roof to roof, laughing out loud despite herself.

Chat was not pleased when they finally ran into one another.

"What are you doing?" he asked as soon as he dropped down in front of her.

"What's it look like, kitty?" she asked, tapping him on the cheek as she walked around him. "Patrolling. Same as you."

"You didn't tell me you were coming out."

"I didn't know I had to ask for permission."

It was the wrong thing to say. She knew as soon as she said it. Chat frowned, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. And she sighed, turning and pulling his hand toward her apologetically.

"I'm sorry," she muttered. "I should have told you." After everything he'd done for her, that was the least she could have done. "I just… couldn't take being cooped up anymore."

He dropped his stiff posture a second later, releasing a huff as he let her play with his hands.

"Just don't push yourself, okay?" he said carefully. "If you need to rest, just tell me."

"I will," she promised, smiling up at him before they finally separated and romped off into the night. Their patrol ended atop the Eiffel Tower, the two of them sitting side by side with the starry night above them.

"Chat," she said after a rather long silence, which had followed some very poorly executed jokes on his part.

"Yes, My Lady."

Their thighs were pressed together where they sat, Marinette watching their feet swing back and forth lazily.

"Adrien," she said after a moment, drawing his eyes that time.

"Yes, Marinette."

She met his gaze, smiling beneath her mask. "Thank you. For everything."

His warm, small smile was more than enough response. It was, unfortunately, followed quickly by a devious grin.

"Well, you know what they say," he purred, leaning his head closer to her own. "In sickness and in health."

Ladybug was not amused.

"Was that a proposal?" she asked, leaning back a bit. "Because we're only seventeen, for one, and I don't know that I want to marry you anyway, Alley Cat."

"You wound me, My Lady." He placed a clawed hand on his chest. "And here I thought I'd made some kind of puurr-ogress."

Ladybug tapped her foot against his own. "You've made some," she assured coyly. "Just not that much."

"Well, better that than nothing," he replied quietly. "On a serious note," his tone took a dive, "you may take my words however you wish, Marinette. Simply know that they are sincere, and that I am yours—always."

Her breath caught in her throat, those vivid green eyes slowly blinking down at her. She knew her lips had parted some, and that her cheeks were splashed with red. His own were too, his fingers hesitant as he gathered her hands into his. She didn't pull back—didn't want to—and instead watched with flutterings in her stomach as he leaned in closer.

He didn't go all the way though, only just barely allowing the tips of their noses to brush. Just like always, he'd let her take the lead. He'd live on the precipice of her actions.

She didn't want to make him wait any longer.

Closing the distance between them, she pressed her lips to his.

And everything inside her began to sing.

"Not a proposal," she murmured when they broke apart, only a hair's breadth between them. "But a promise."

A/N: Yay! Please leave reviews if you can guys! I'd really appreciate it ;)

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