"So what we need to do," Adrien says, moving the paper clip three centimeters to the left, "is shift the entire second row about fifteen centimeters. That should shift the center of gravity enough for it to balance."
Alya nods slowly. "Riiiiiggghhhhtttt."
Nino holds out the tape dispenser. "You do you, man. I mean, you do know what you're doing, right?"
Adrien shrugs. "I've never done this before."
"Great," Marinette mutters. "So none of us know what we're doing."
He smiles at her. "Just because I've never done this doesn't mean we can't win this."
"We better win this," Alya says, putting her hands on her hips. "You, Mr. Physics Genius, may not need the extra points, but some of us don't understand how the hell circular motion works."
"Well why didn't you ask? Hey Mari, hold down the third ruler. Thanks." Adrien moves one of the cups over. "Circular motion was easy, I could've helped out."
Alya throws her hands in the air. "Of course it was easy!"
"How do you know what you're doing?" Marinette asks hesitantly.
"We just learned the basics of torque and center of gravity — you can let go of that now, by the way — so we use that to sort of get an estimate of where we want to place everything. Then the rest is just feeling it through."
She blinks. "Okay?"
Adrien runs through the rules again. "We haven't used the same combo yet, have we?"
Alya shakes her head. "Nope. Not that this is exactly balanced yet." She pushes down one of the meter sticks with her finger.
Nino pulls apart a paper clip. "Hey, we could be doing as bad as Chloé's group right now." He jerks a thumb towards them.
Chloé is stomping her foot while Sabrina is standing on the table with Juleka. Rose is handing them a cup and well... Technically their meter sticks are balancing. If you count hitting the ceiling as balancing.
The goal is to balance four layers of meter sticks, with a cup balancing on each layer, with the exception of the last layer which has two cups. They're only allowed to hang things from certain places, and they can't repeat any of the combinations of spacing they use. The winner is the group who does it with the least amount of water.
Kim has already spilled a cup on Max.
"What are we aiming for?" Marinette asks, taping one of the paper clips down.
"No water," Adrien says.
"Okay, 25 milliliters max." Adrien hooks the last meter stick on. "I think we can do it."
"Debatable," Alya says. "But I like your optimism."
Marinette lifts their mobile a little higher. "So are we hanging this?"
Nino climbs up on the table. "Yeah sure, hand it up."
Alya climbs up next to him as Marinette carefully passes it and then a cup of water up to Nino.
Which he drops.
Adrien doesn't even try to catch it, he just accepts his fate.
Bad luck is bad luck is bad luck.
The cup lands on his head, drenching him. He shuts his eyes as water drips down his face. He can hear Alya trying to stifle her laughter.
Adrien sighs and holds out his hand. "I'll get more water."
"Sorry, man, I swear I didn't mean to." Nino is trying not to laugh too.
Adrien opens his eyes as Nino shoves the cup into his hand. "I'm glad my pain is funny to you."
Alya gives up and laughs. "You're so overdramatic ."
Adrien gives them his best Chat grin before turning to the sink, gears turning in his mind. It'll be worth it.
"Here," he says, holding the full cup of water out to Nino. As Nino leans down to get it, Adrien dumps it down his shirt.
"OH FU—" Nino jerks away.
Alya grabs him to keep him from falling off the table with one hand and keeps the mobile balanced with the other.
"Oh no," Adrien says dramatically. "I'm so sorry. I definitely didn't mean to do that at all."
Marinette doubles over laughing as Nino glares at him.
"You're welcome for missing your headphones," Adrien says flatly.
"You're evil," Nino hisses.
Adrien raises his eyebrows and smirks. "Then fight me, Nino."
Alya tries to restrain Nino without disturbing the mobile. "I swear to god , if you two ruin this for us, I ruin your lives."
Marinette climbs up onto the table and grabs hold of the mobile. "Please don't kill each other," she says, prying Alya's hand off Nino's arm.
Nino narrows his eyes. "I'm going to kill you."
Adrien leans around the group to see if Ms. Mendeleiv is paying attention. She's too focused on fixing Chloé's groups mess to notice. He fakes a fighting pose. "Come at me, bro."
Adrien easily catches Nino when he dives off the table, faking a fall to the ground. Adrien tries to shove to shove Nino off, but Nino tickles his stomach and it's a lost cause.
"S-stop!" he laughs, pushing Nino away. "This is- This is cheating!"
Nino sits back victoriously. "I win!"
"Now kiss," Alya says from the table.
Marinette laughs as she adjusts the cups.
Adrien puckers his lips. Nino snorts and rolls away, getting to his feet. He holds his hand out to Adrien.
"I gave you a fight," Adrien says, taking Nino's hand. He yanks Nino to the floor. "Who's the real winner now?" he teases.
"Me," Marinette says. She steps away from the mobile. "Tada!"
Alya throws her hands up in the air. "YOU DID IT! IT'S BALANCING!"
Nino and Adrien scramble to their feet as Ms. Mendeleiv comes over. She examines the mobile carefully before taking a picture and telling them to pour all the water into a graduated cylinder. She walks away with a curt nod.
Alya hugs Marinette tightly. "Have I mentioned you're actually a goddess?" she asks, holding Marinette at arms length.
Marinette shakes her head. "Like Adrien said, it was all about feeling the balance."
"Thank god," Nino says, climbing back up to take down the mobile. "I need those bonus points."
"Do you think anyone used less water than us?" Alya asks.
Marinette shrugs. "We didn't use much, just the little bit that was in the cup."
Adrien looks around the room. The one other group whose mobile is successfully hanging has about half a cup full of water. He smiles. "I think we won."
"I'm done," Alya announces, tossing her papers in the air.
Adrien looks up to watch them flutter to the ground like enormous, harsh snowflakes. Like something one of Hawkmoth's weather akumas might come up with one of these days.
"No you're not," Marinette says, grabbing one of the pages out of the air. "Unless you magically did the entire project."
Alya groans and falls back on Marinette's couch. "But we've been researching for hours ."
Nino drops his head on his book. "She's right," he says. "I hate school. I hate learning. I hate life."
Marinette spins around in her chair. "All we have to do today is half the research."
"How much more is that?" he mumbles.
"Um…" She bites her lip as she swivels back her computer. "We've done maybe a quarter."
Nino and Alya groan loudly.
Adrien rests his hand in his chin. "We're halfway there to halfway there."
"Whoa we're halfway there," Nino sings.
A pillow comes flying from the couch to hit the back of his head.
Adrien smiles as Nino chucks it back towards Alya.
"I say break," Alya says, catching it easily. "I'm going to go steal from your kitchen."
"Dad made croissants and macarons the other day," Marinette says with a wave of her hand. "Have fun, bring up plates please."
Alya and Nino jump up and run down Marinette's stairs. Adrien watches them from his space on the floor. "Should I go with?"
Marinette shakes her head. "They'll bring something up for you. And do you really want to be around them?" She raises her eyebrows.
"Gross." Adrien rolls over onto his back. "Just because we know that might be happening doesn't mean we have to talk about it."
"What, our best friends possibly making out in my kitchen?"
Marinette laughs. "So do you don't want to talk about that time out your house when they were almost definitely making ou—"
Adrien slaps his hands over his ears. "Stop right there, I'm not listening! "
She rolls her eyes and pushes her chair towards his spot on the floor. "Like you haven't kissed someone before."
"Photoshoots," he corrects. "It doesn't count when people are placing you and you met the person you're kissing ten minutes before."
"It's technically a kiss." Marinette muses.
Adrien drops his arm over his eyes. "It's like a stage kiss." He's only had one real kiss. And he doesn't even remember it, because his luck is just that good. "Do they come over often?"
She seems caught off guard by the change of subject, but doesn't question it. "What?"
"Alya and Nino. They seem to know their way around."
Marinette hums. "Yeah, I mean, we've been friends for years and Alya's my best friend. They've known each other since they were in diapers, but I've known them since I was like six. They know this place as well as I do."
Adrien nods. He used to know his house that well. Back when there was still life in his house and it wasn't hollow and empty. When him and Chloé would play knights and princesses and you could actually hear laughter and sounds of life.
"It won't take you long to know it as well as us, even if you're not constantly playing hide and seak. It's not that big," Marinette says. "And now that we know all the secrets, we can just show them to you. Unless Nino wants to force you to find them yourself, which he might."
Adrien props himself up on his elbows. "What do you mean?"
He looks over to see her blushing lightly. "I mean, we're friends, right? And Alya and Nino are here all the time, so I just sort of figured…"
"You want me to come over again?" he asks in surprise.
"This is already your second time over, so yeah." Marinette looks away. "You don't have to, obviously, but if Alya and Nino are going to be here—"
"I'd love to!" Adrien mentally hits himself, because that was a little too enthusiastic.
She lights up. "Great!"
"Yeah it is! Because I have food!" Alya shouts. She drops a plate next to Adrien as Nino hands one to Marinette.
"Does the princess allow a half an hour break?" Nino teases.
Marinette shoves him away. "Oh shut up! And yes , let's stop thinking about wars for a little while."
Adrien wakes up with a groan. He runs a hand down his face, feeling the indents on his cheek from the pillow he'd gotten at some point. Marinette's room is dark except for the bright lights on her desk. She's clicking through a presentation, moving around images and adjusting fonts.
His head feels full of cotton and he sort of just wants to go back to sleep, but that isn't fair to Marinette. She's the only one working while him, Nino, and Alya sleep, and she's hosting. Talk about bad manners.
She turns to look at him as he stands up. "Morning," she says with a smile.
Adrien blinks at her. "Morning?"
"More like eleven at night." Marinette shrugs. "Have a nice nap?"
"I feel like death."
"The side effects of a nap."
Adrien runs his hand through his hair. It probably looks more like Chat's now than ever. His bedhead is as close as he gets. "How long was I asleep?"
"Only about forty minutes." She motions to Alya and Nino, who are curled up together on the couch. "Alya was out first, then you, then Nino."
He sits down in the chair next to her. "Sorry you were working on the project by yourself for so long."
Marinette waves the apology away away. "I barely did anything. I actually spent most of my time planning out a dress. And…then I felt bad for not doing anything so I started setting up the presentation."
"You shouldn't have. We were literally not doing anything. Wait—" He backtracks in the conversation. "Did you say eleven?" Time to panic.
She nods. "Yeah it's 11:18."
Adrien scrambles to pull his phone out of his pocket. "Do you want me to leave cause the Gorilla's only a call away—"
"Don't worry about it!" Marinette says quickly. "My parents came up when you were asleep and asked if you were staying over. I said yes, so now no one has to be waking up their parents to come get them at unreasonable hours. Or drivers who are paid to pick you up wherever and whenever. If you want to leave, you can, but you're welcome to stay." She gives him a nervous smile.
Have her eyes always been this blue?
He blinks a few times to stop himself from staring. "I… I am?"
"Of course!" Her sincerity is making him melt a little. "Although you might want to call Nathalie. I called Nino's and Alya's parents, but I didn't have a number to call for you."
Adrien winces when he unlocks his phone. Yup. There are the texts. And phone calls. And voicemails. Oops.
Nothing from his father though, so it's not really that bad.
He calls Nathalie back. "I'm okay," he says when she picks up on the second ring.
"Adrien," she says harshly. "Where are you? Why haven't you been answering your phone? "
There's something in her voice that surprises him. Is that…concern? Genuine worry?
"I'm still at Marinette's. We fell asleep," he admits. Hopefully his father won't find out about this.
"I'll send G—"
"No no!" Adrien says quickly. "It's okay, we're going to keep working on the project. Marinette's parents are letting me, Alya, and Nino stay the night."
"My morning is open tomorrow anyway," he adds. "I can walk home when we're done, I'll be back before noon, I promise."
"Fine," she says, her voice back to icy and sharp. "Be back before noon or your father will hear about this and there will be no more of this nonsense. Sleep well."
A chill settles through him once she's hung up. There's something so weird about encountering his own personal life and sort of maybe possibly considered family while in Marinette's home. A home so bright and lively and… lived in. With family and friends who care and worry and stay the night on accident and leave dishes on the floor.
"All good?" Marinette asks. She's wearing the worried look she gets whenever he accidently lets too much about his home life slip. He hates that she has worried looks that he can name, but the fact that she cares so much makes his heart flutter.
Adrien forces a smile. "All good."
"I'm boycotting," Nino says. He pushes the packet away. "This is like an acid trip."
"There are some adaptations where that's exactly what this is," Adrien says, flipping the page.
"Sweet." Alya looks up from her phone. "I'm glad William 'greatest writer in the English language' Shakespeare is equal to an acid trip."
"I'm glad we don't speak English," Marinette murmurs. "And I don't really want to perform this…"
Adrien shrugs. "We'll be fine. At least we don't have to memorize it."
Alya pulls off the highlighter cap with her teeth. "So, I'm Helena, right?"
"You're Helena, I'm Hermia, Nino's…Demitrius? Demitrius. And Adrien's Lysander." Marinette chews on her lip. "Nino's right, this is ridiculous."
Adrien pulls out the organizer they made when they were assigned the scene. Of course they got the most confusing one. "Hermia's in love with Lysander, and Lysander's in love with Hermia. Demitrius wants to marry Hermia, and Helena is in love with Demetrius."
"We're good so far," Nino says, looking up from where he's highlighting his script in bright green.
"Pfft, yeah right," Alya scoffs. "We've already got this…love square! Why do we need a love square? Love triangles are bad enough! Love squares are worse. "
"And then we add magic," Marinette says with a sigh. "It's like Shakespeare is trying to make everything difficult."
"Wouldn't be much of a comedy if it wasn't." Adrien shakes his head. "Now we add the love flower in, which is when this scene happens. So…" He reads the diagram carefully. "Now Demetrius and Lysander are both under the flower's spell and both in love with Helena. Hermia is pissed at Helena and Helena thinks that the others set this up to make fun of her." He looks up. "Are we good?"
"Let's just get this practice over with so we can present and be done," Nino says, standing up. "Come on, dude, you're up first."
"Nymph?" Alya asks. "I'm getting called a nymph? Of all the pet names, really? A tree spirit? "
"You call me a puppet," Marinette says. "Although I threaten to tear out your eyes with my nails so I think we're even there."
"School drama's got nothing on this," Nino mutters.
"Ready?" When they nod, Adrien clears his throat. "Why should you think that I should woo in scorn?"
"How about a balloon sword fight?" Nino suggests.
"What about an actual sword fight," Alya counters.
"Why does that sound like a terrible idea?" Marinette asks as she packs up her books.
"One of us can sword fight, and it's not you," Adrien says to Nino. "And it's not sword fighting, it's fencing. There is sort of a difference."
Nino shrugs. "I still say balloon swords."
"But actual swords are cooler." Alya pulls out her phone. "I can find us actual swords."
Marinette plucks the phone from Alya's fingers. "How about we compromise? Fake swords. Plastic, wood, whatever. Just not real."
"Thank you for keeping us alive," Nino says, throwing an arm over Marinette's shoulder. "I wasn't looking forward to being impaled."
Adrien rolls his eyes. "Like I'd actually stab you."
"I'd stab you," Alya says. "Next time you make a pun. Prepare yourself."
He presses a hand to his chest. "You wound me. My puns are on point , ferrule they're the best. Your insults make me feel feint, because my happiness is never fuller than when I'm making puns."
Nino groans. "Now I'm going to stab you."
Marinette shakes her head. "Not your best work."
Adrien shrugs. "I tried."
"You tried and now as soon as I find a sharp object, I'm stabbing you," Alya says flatly.
Chat scoops Nino up in his arms.
Nino struggles, and Chat has to dodge his fists. "No! I can't leave, I have to find Adrien!"
"I'm sure he's fine," Chat says, shoving away his guilt. "I'll come back to get him if he's not out there afterwards but you need to get out ."
Ladybug is having just as difficult of a time with Alya, her heartbreaking screams for Marinette tearing his soul to shreds. He hadn't seen her when him and Ladybug burst into the school looking for people who got caught inside. She has to have gotten out.
He can't think about Marinette, he has to focus.
Ladybug throws Alya over her shoulder and points to the door. "Let's go, Chat!"
They drop Alya and Nino a safe distance from the school. They turn to go back and take on the akuma, but Alya and Nino are already racing back towards the school.
Chat uses his baton like a bar to stop them.
"Stay here," Ladybug says to them. "It's not safe there."
"Marinette!" Alya sobs. "Marinette's still in there, I know it! Marinette and Adrien didn't get out, they were with us and then weren't! We have to go back!"
Chat's heart sinks. No no no no no no no.
Ladybug looks around frantically. "I'm sure they're around with the rest of the people who got out, maybe you should go find them. The group is just around the corner, sorry we couldn't drop you off with them but we wanted to avoid getting sw—"
"They didn't get out!" Nino snaps. "What about that aren't you getting!? Marinette and Adrien are stuck in a burning building and can't get out ! Aren't you supposed to save people?! "
"Please check the crowd," Chat pleads. "We have to stop this akuma before anyone else gets hurt."
"Anyone else?! " Alya's voice is high and panicked. "What about Mari and Adrien, are you just going to leave them to die ?!"
It hits Chat like a punch. Marinette has to have gotten out. She has to. He didn't see her anywhere in the building, he didn't hear anyone, she has to be with the crowd. She isn't stuck in a burning building. He refuses to believe that.
Ladybug shakes her head. "No, we aren't we- we—" Anxiety is building up in her voice. He can't help but feel exactly the same.
There's a crash.
They whirl around to see the center of the school give in, the heat shattering windows and ashes and sparks burst from the hole.
If Chat thought Alya's screams before were soul shattering, this is a million times worse. And he understands. Because if they're right and Marinette didn't get out, Marinette is gone.
He's having trouble breathing.
Nino stares at the school in shock, seemingly unaware of the tears running down his face.
"MARI!" Alya screams. "ADRIEN!" She makes another break for the school.
Ladybug grabs her by the wrists.
"No, let me go! Let me save them!" Alya hits her fists against Ladybug's shoulders. "Someone has to save them, you were supposed to save them! " Her voice gives out and dissolves into sobs.
It's taking all Chat has not to do the same.
"They…they didn't…" Nino covers his mouth with his hands and stumbles backwards, no's muffled by his hands.
"Marinette!" Alya wails, bringing her hands to her face.
Ladybug is trembling. She's…crying. Ladybug is crying. "No no no no no no no," she says. Her voice is shaking so badly Chat can barely understand her. She takes Alya's face in her hands. "I'm right here, Al, I'm right here, don't cry, please don't cry." She hugs Alya tightly, and they disappear in a flash of pink.
Marinette Dupain-Cheng hugs Alya tighter.
Nino doesn't hesitate, he throws his arms around them as Alya collapses against Marinette, all of them sobbing. A red kwami hovers over them nervously.
"Adrien?" Nino asks, his words wavering.
Marinette shakes her head. "I- I don't- I didn't—" She stops trying and buries her face in Nino's shoulder.
"I'm right here."
When they turn to look at him, he releases his transformation. Plagg drops into his hands and Adrien looks away.
He's not prepared for Nino to jump at him, throwing his arms around him and hugging the life out of him.
"Don't do that!" Nino sobs into his shirt. "Don't scare us like that!"
Alya drags Marinette over and hugs him even tighter. She shaking. It kills him that he's part of the reason why.
Marinette looks up him with tear filled eyes. "We have to go," she whispers.
Adrien nods and carefully untangles himself.
"Don't," Alya pleads.
Nino won't let go of his hand.
"We have to, it's our job," Marinette says. "Tikki, spots on!"
Adrien takes a breath. "Plagg, claws out!" He's instantly more comfortable as Chat. He stretches his arms out, glancing nervously to Ladybug.
Is everything going to change?
Ladybug's looking back at him with a similar look.
"Be careful," Nino says softly.
"Always are," Chat says with a wink.
Ladybug rolls her eyes. "Debatable."
They're going to be okay.
"Just please go find everyone else," Ladybug says, throwing her arms around Alya one last time. "We'll call you after to meet up, just be safe."
They both nod.
Chat hugs Nino, because he still feels like he's falling even though everyone's alive and safe.
"Don't do anything risky," Nino mumbles.
"When do I ever do anything like that?" Chat teases. "My Lady," he says, sweeping into a bow. "Shall we?"
Ladybug unhooks her yoyo and smiles. "Already ahead of you alley cat."
Ladybug's earrings beep. She turns away from the akuma victim. "I have to—" She blinks. "I mean, we should probably get out of sight."
Chat nods. "Good plan, LB."
There's a bit of remaining awkwardness that's settled between them. He's not sure how to feel about it.
But he's so relieved.
They land in a dark and empty alley just as Ladybug's transformation gives out. Marinette tucks her kwami in her purse.
"Marinette," she scolds.
Marinette sighs. "I'm sorry, Tikki. But I couldn't just…" She bites her lip. "They thought I was dead, I didn't what else to do."
Plagg pops from Adrien's ring as his own transformation wears off. "All I can say, kid, is at least you weren't first."
Adrien scowls and swats Plagg away.
"I'm kidding. You did the right thing."
Adrien stares at him. This is new. "Really?"
Plagg nods before floating up to the top of Adrien's head and settling in his hair. "Sometimes people have to know. Might as well make it people you trust."
Tikki sighs. "Plagg is right about that."
"I am glad you told them." Tikki floats up from her purse to nuzzle Marinette's cheek.
Marinette's gaze lands on Adrien. "Me too."
"We should probably talk about this, shouldn't we?" he asks.
She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. "Probably."
"We don't have to do it now if you don't want to," Adrien says quickly.
"I don't," she admits. "But…" She steps forward and throws her arms around his neck. "For what it's worth, I'm glad it's you."
Adrien hugs her tightly. "Me too." He thought he'd lost her today. And she thought she'd lost him. They needed to talk and sort things out and get used to all of this, but right now, he just needs to hug her and remind himself that she really is here and alive.
"I should call Alya, they'll know the akumas been defeated and are probably freaking out."
Adrien reluctantly lets go. He wants to think that Marinette is just as reluctant.
Alya and Nino are waiting for them in Marinette's room when they get back. They don't move, they just sit on the couch and stare.
"So…" Marinette says slowly.
"You're Ladybug and Chat Noir," Nino says.
They nod. Plagg flies towards the cheese on the plate Marinette is holding, and Tikki pops out of her purse to grab a cookie.
"Do you want to talk about this?" Adrien asks. "Because we can. And…I mean we technically have to work on our history project."
"Only you," Nino mutters.
"Tomorrow," Alya says. "Right now, can we just…watch Disney movies downstairs and cuddle?"
Marinette nods. "Please."
"This is a terrible idea," Nino says.
"You think all my ideas are," Adrien says with a smirk.
"It'll be fine," Alya says, getting her camera ready. "It's what Lucky Charm is telling you to do, right?"
Marinette looked down at the jar of pickles in her hands. "Yeah… But really, Tikki?"
Tikki shrugs as she takes another bite of her cookie. "I don't choose the Lucky Charm, you know that Mari."
Marinette shakes her head. "I just wish it didn't involve flinging Chat across several rooftops."
"Like you haven't done that before?" Adrien teases, tugging on one of her pigtails.
"You were a literal puppet," she says. She bops him on the nose. "This is different."
He scoffs. "Not really. But we can pretend. Ready, Plagg?"
Plagg swallows the remains of his cheese. "We're going to die," he says.
Adrien shrugs. "Probably not. Plagg, claws out!"
Marinette sighs. "Tikki, spots on!"
Nino hands the pickle jar to Chat. "Have fun, don't miss."
Chat tucks it under his arm. "You think so lowly of me. Bugaboo?"
"This is the worst thing we've ever done," Ladybug mutters. She wraps her arm around Chat's waist. "Ready, Alya?"
Alya gives her a thumbs up. "Action!" she says dramatically.
"Beautiful," Alya says, spinning in Marinette's chair with her hands clasped together.
"I feel like death," Adrien groans. He rests his head on Marinette's shoulder. "That was a bad idea."
"I told you, kitty," Marinette says with a smile. "At least you hit the roof."
He groans again.
Nino whistles. "Ten thousand views already? Damn, girl."
"Damn boy," Adrien corrects. "Who got flung into a rooftop? Not Alya."
Nino just shrugs and leans down to kiss Alya. "Congrats, Al."
Adrien covers his eyes. "Grooosssss."
Alya sticks her tongue out at him. "Look who's talking."
"I'm in pain," he protests.
Marinette laughs and presses a kiss to the top of his head. "We know."
And he'd probably be like this even if his entire body didn't feel like a giant bruise. Wrapped up with Marinette on her couch while she plays with his hair. Yup, he's never moving again.
"You're all disgusting," Plagg says.
Adrien shrugs. He's happy to be disgusting if it means he gets to be surrounded by his best friends in a home filled with warmth and life and love. Cuddled up with his partner and girlfriend and laughing at videos with people he loves and who love him.
Adrien is happy with disgusting. He doesn't need anything else.