encore (n.) - french, a repeated or additional performance of an item at the end of a concert, as called for by an audience
Adrien squeezes his way through all the parents and loved ones and dancers covered in makeup and sweat. He hadn't actually expected Nathalie to stay longer than expected so this is—
He doesn't want to keep Nathalie waiting.
Plagg gives him a small salute as he finally gets through the crowd and backstage. Adrien would ask how Nathalie was even allowed backstage, but restrictions like those don't seem to exist for her. She's always able to get backstage if she needs to.
"She's in your dressing room," Tikki says without being prompted. "She hasn't been there long, don't worry." She ruffles Adrien's hair as he passes.
Adrien bats her hand away and smooths his hair back down, knowing that whatever gel is left in it has probably left it looking like a particularly inventive hairstyle. He shoots Tikki a grateful smile. "Thanks."
"Break a leg," Plagg teases as Adrien turns down the hall.
Nathalie is standing in the doorway of his dressing room, straight backed and tapping away on her tablet. She's so incredibly out of place, it's almost as if she were copied and pasted directly from her office into the theater.
She barely glances up as Adrien passes her to get into the dressing room. "Adrien," she says, voice steady and emotionless as usual.
"Hey, Nat," he replies, not bothering to keep the smile off his face as he sits down in the one chair him and his dressing roommates had snagged for the center of the room. He notices the flowers laying on the dressing room table and brushes his fingers against a lily petal. "Thanks for coming."
"You did wonderfully," Nathalie says. Her voice stays the same, but the corners of her lips lift just the slightest, like the ghost of a smile. "A summer well spent, I would think."
"Absolutely," Adrien agrees. "I'm glad you enjoyed the performance."
Alya appears in the doorway next to Nathalie and raises a hand in greeting. She leans against the doorway and types quickly on her phone.
Nathalie lowers her tablet, glancing to Alya before her eyes settle back on Adrien. "Your father was here."
He stares at her. "What?"
She nods shortly. "He had to leave once you finished performing, but he did see you dance and offered his congratulations."
Adrien swallows thickly. "He— he was?"
"Yes, and your friend got plenty of pictures."
He looks to Alya.
Alya scoffs and puts her phone down. "Okay, fine, it was me but you don't need to call me out like this."
Nathalie raises an eyebrow.
Alya looks away. "I just wanted some proof that he was actually here. In case Adrien wanted to see. He wouldn't have been able to see his dad from the stage."
Adrien feels a burst of warmth in his chest. "Thanks, Al," he murmurs, not looking to Nathalie. He's not sure if she's wearing her disappointed look, she isn't a fan of unauthorized photographs, but if she is, he doesn't want to see it.
"The car will pick you up tomorrow as soon as you call," Nathalie says stiffly. "Earlier rather than later."
Adrien thinks of a car and home he hasn't been in in ten weeks. He doesn't miss them much at all. "Of course."
Nathalie gives him a long look before stepping back. "I'll see you then," she says before vanishing into the darkness of backstage.
Adrien turns to Alya. "You were taking pictures of my dad?"
She shrugs. "I'll admit it was probably a little creepy, but like I said, I wanted proof for you. Just in case. But," she steps into the dressing room, "that's not why I'm here."
"Why are you here then?"
Alya crosses her arms. "I'm not letting you leave this building until you ask Marinette Dupain-Cheng out on a legitimate date."
Adrien glances to the flowers on the table, the bouquet of red roses sitting behind the one of lilies and orchids. "I'm two steps ahead of you."
A bell rings as he pushes the door open. He takes in the small shop with a smile as he approaches the counter.
"Hi, how may I help you to—" she turns around and freezes. "To…day…" Marinette stares at him. "Adrien?"
He smiles and puts his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels. "Hi, I was told I just had to try the chocolate croissants here?" She ducks her head to hide a smile. "It was a date."
When Marinette looks up at him again, her face is the perfect mask of a costumer service worker, with the exception of the twinkle in her eyes. "Just one?"
It only takes Marinette a few seconds to hand him a bag with the bakery logo stamped on the side. She smiles like the sun and it makes his heart do funny things.
"How much?" Adrien asks as he takes the bag, letting his fingers brush against Marinette's for longer than necessary.
Marinette smirks, her cheeks turning pink. "One kiss."
"A steal," Adrien murmurs. He leans against the counter and kisses her softly, feeling her grin against his lips.
She laughs breathlessly when she pulls away. "Hi."
He presses his nose against hers. "Hey."
Behind her, Alya clears her throat loudly.
Marinette jumps away from Adrien, blushing profusely. "Alya!"
Alya smirks. "Hey, girl. Marshmallow."
Adrien raises his hand and the pastry bag in greeting.
"Give me two min—"
Alya interrupts Marinette by spinning her away from the counter. She pulls at the ties of Marinette's apron. "You, missy, are on break."
"Captains orders," Alya says with a click of her tongue. She tugs Marinette's apron off and ties it around her own waist.
Marinette glances back over her shoulder at Adrien. He shoots her a fond smile. "How did you even know to come here?" she asks Alya. "Isn't it your day off?"
Alya rolls her eyes and takes the ribbons out of Marinette's hair, letting it fall to her shoulders. "You say that like your parents and I didn't know." Alya winks at Adrien before spinning Marinette back around and swatting her out from behind the counter.
Alya gives her one last shove. "Go date your boyfriend. I'm sure he wants more time with you than just a quick kiss over the counter."
Marinette glances over to Adrien, cheeks pink.
He smiles and holds his hand out to her, wiggling his fingers.
"I'll be back later," Marinette promises to Alya as she takes his hand.
"I can't hear you," Alya says, turning away from them. "What was that? The wind?"
Adrien laughs. "Come on, I want you to show me around while I eat."
He eats his croissant slowly as Marinette leads him through the streets of her town. She peppers the sidewalks with stories, showing him all the secrets that you only learn by spending your entire life in one place. She points out her favorite spots, weaving the past with the present, directing him through shortcuts and winding alleyways.
He'll remember very few of the actual street names and businesses, but he'll never forget the stories from her childhood and the feeling of her hand in his.
He offers her the last of the croissant and she takes it with a brilliant smile. "Better than Starbucks?" she asks.
"Starbucks?" Adrien asks innocently. "What's that?"
Marinette laughs and leans against his arm, resting her head on his shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay with just wandering around?"
"Of course I am," Adrien promises. "As long as I get to spend time with you, I'm happy."
She groans and presses her face against his arm. "Oh my god you aren't allowed to say things like that."
"Nice weather we're having," he tries instead.
Marinette pulls away to look up at the sky. They both stop in their tracks as they take in the light gray clouds hiding the sun. She raises her eyebrows at him. "Yeah, it's lovely."
Adrien rolls his eyes. "I'm doing my best. Alright, how are you?"
"You asked me that like two hours ago," she points out as she leads him across the street to a park she'd mentioned earlier.
"It feels different asking in person than over text," he admits. He ducks under a low hanging branch and follows Marinette to a bench.
She leans against the back of it instead of sitting down on it. "Okay, well, I'm doing better than the last time you asked."
Adrien tilts his head. "Hmm, I wonder why."
Marinette buries her face in her hands. "Oh my god shut up," she mumbles.
He wraps an arm around her and leans against the bench. "You know you love me."
She lifts her head from her hands. "The question is why."
"I ask myself that constantly."
Marinette shoves him lightly. "You took a five hour train ride just to come see me, you kept it a surprise but told my parents and best friend so I could have the rest of the day off of work, you've bought me so many gifts. And that's not even talking about who you are, just what you do. You do too much for me."
Adrien takes her hand and entwines their fingers. "And you're too good for me."
She scoffs. "That's not true."
"Then we know both those statements are false. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I would buy you the moon."
She smiles up at him, eyes soft and sparkling. "Unfortunately, I can't afford to buy you the moon, but I might be able to swing a star."
It takes him a second to recover, because his heart is never really prepared for Marinette to stay stuff like that to him. "And I'm the one who has to stop?"
"You are significantly worse than me," Marinette says.
Adrien glances up at the darken sky as he tries to think of something to say and frowns. "It looks like it's going to rain."
Marinette follows his gaze. "I think I have to agree with you," she says. "But, we've gotten caught in the rain before," she says with a shrug, "We'll be fine. I can teach you how to make the best soup for colds and we can sit on the couch and watch Studio Ghibli movies." She looks away. "I-I mean, I just assumed you're staying for the weekend, but—"
He kisses the back of her hand. "My Lady, my weekend is yours."
Marinette turns pink and laughs. "How'd you manage that?"
"Nathalie. She thinks I need a break." Adrien doesn't agree, he's getting enough sleep and has plenty of free time, but he knows his friends won't agree and he can't complain about getting to spend more time with his girlfriend. Girlfriend. He still gets butterflies in his stomach when he thinks about it sometimes.
"I knew there was a reason I liked her," Marinette muses.
Adrien scoffs. "You met her once. For like thirty seconds. I don't even think you said anything to each other."
"She makes sure you don't work yourself to death." Marinette raises an eyebrow. "I like her."
Adrien holds up his hands in protest. "I can take care of myself!"
"Sure you can. Speaking about leaving you on your own—" Adrien shoots her a confused looks. "I have dance tomorrow morning, so I have to abandon you."
He waves a hand. "It's okay, I've already got a plan for that."
"Do you?" Marinette crosses her arms.
"I'll go with you."
Her eyes go wide for a moment before she snorts and starts laughing. "You want the preteens to be even worse than usual?" she asks between her laughter. "You'd literally be swarmed."
Adrien smiles, "As appealing as that sounds, I'm good. Alya actually wants to steal me for a few hours and I figured you wouldn't mind."
Marinette narrows her eyes at him. "If she tells you embarrassing stories about me, I'll kill her, but yes, I'm totally fine with that. It's not like I'd be very entertaining while in dance class."
"You know I love watching you dance." She scoffs. "Maybe Alya and I will show up in super conspicuous disguises," he muses.
Marinette groans. "Don't do this to me."
"Long trench coats and fedoras and sunglasses and newspapers."
"I hate you," she grumbles.
"No you don't."
Adrien snorts. "Anyway, how is dance going?"
She eyes him. "I should be asking you the same question. Someone's been very quiet on his end."
He rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah… I asked first, I promise I'll answer after?"
Marinette shakes her head, but goes anyway. "It's pretty good. Finally getting back into the swing of things after this summer. I've been taking lots of extra studio time to practice pointe on my own, which you know," she says pointedly. Adrien nods dutifully. "I'm kind of freaked out about everything post graduation but…for now I'm just trying to get to that point, you know?" She rolls her eyes. "I mean you don't but just agree with me for conversation's sake?"
"Of course. You're going to be fine," he insists. He takes her hand and squeezes it softly. "You're an incredible dancer. Companies should be fighting over you."
"Like they are over you?" Marinette teases.
Adrien groans and slides down the back of the bench, sitting on the slightly damp grass. "Please don't remind me."
She laughs before she joins him on the ground. "Haven't decided yet?"
He leans forward and rests his hand on her shoulder. "Not really," he murmurs. "That's…a really big choice."
Marinette hums in agreement and runs her fingers through his hair. "You've still got plenty of time," she reminds him. "Months."
"My dad would rather sooner rather than later."
"Too bad it's not his life." She lets him think about it for a few moments before, much to his relief, she turns the conversation back to herself. "I've been talking a lot to Wayzz lately," she says softly, her voice taking on the sort of storytelling quality it sometimes does when it's late and they've been video chatting for so long that nothing but the screen feels real.
"Have you?" Adrien asks in surprise. She had told him about Wayzz, how he had been the one to approach her about the scholarship, how he'd found her new shoes when Chloé wrecked hers before the showcase. Adrien's only ever really heard about Wayzz in passing from Plagg and Tikki, and now Marinette, but he's been almost an invisible force in Adrien's life for years now.
"Mhm, it's been nice." Adrien shifts so he can look up at her as she talks. "He's been really helpful." She tenses and Adrien lifts his head from her shoulder in surprise as she starts to ramble. "I-I mean, I've been talking to Tikki and Plagg too and I love them and their opinions mean the world to me and they've been super helpful, but it feels a little different sometimes because Wayzz isn't technically a dancer so it's almost an outside perspective and—"
"And it's nice to have another opinion," Adrien interrupts gently.
Marinette takes a deep breath and gives him a small smile. "Yeah. Yeah, exactly. He's been really helpful when I need new shoes too. Which has been happening a lot more now that I'm doing so much pointe. It's…it's weird, I've already got a support system and I haven't even graduated yet."
It makes Adrien unspeakably happy how easily Marinette has become integrated into his world. He just hopes that he can fit as easily into hers. That's one thing this weekend will be a test of. "I'm glad," he murmurs, resting his forehead against hers. "You deserve all the support in the world."
"Stop that," Marinette whispers before pressing a soft kiss to his lips.
Adrien melts under her touch. He'd probably stay here forever with her, with her soft kisses and sparkling eyes, but they separate with a jerk when the first raindrops being to fall.
He's going to file a complaint with Mother Nature.
"This keeps happening to us," he says with a sigh.
Marinette laughs. "Weren't we complaining about how oblivious Alya and Nino were last time?"
He gives her a look. "I can complain about it again."
She elbows him lightly. "They'll get there. Eventually."
"And they told us we were too slow getting together." Adrien gets to his feet and offers Marinette his hand.
"Do we make a break for it?" she asks as she lets him pull her to a stand.
He squints up at the sky as the rain falls harder. "We're already soaked," he points out. "You said something about soup and Ghibli movies?"
Marinette's smile could clear the clouds from the sky. "I did. Come on, let's go home."
Right now, home feels like anywhere Marinette is. Getting on the train this morning didn't feel like he was leaving much behind, even for a weekend. It could've been a one way trip and he thinks he'd feel the same. He'd miss Nino, he'd miss Nathalie, he'd miss the familiarity of Paris and Tikki and Plagg, but he wouldn't hesitate a moment longer than he did when he stepped onto the morning train headed out of the city. He can see himself staying here in the rainy park with Marinette for years, and he wouldn't miss much.
Marinette takes Adrien down streets that he doesn't recognize. She'll have to lead him around for ages before he's able to find his bearings on his own, but he can't find it in him to mind.
It takes him a while to realize they're taking the scenic route.
They're dripping wet and freezing cold, and she still wants to show him around. She has a skip in her step and a smile on her face, dancing to nonexistent music that he has to strain to hear.
Marinette pulls him in a slow circle at a street corner, sidestepping puddles and cracks, humming a song he vaguely recognizes from one of her playlists softly. Adrien wraps an arm around her waist and turns their steps into a waltz.
She leads more than he does, but it's so easy for him to hand over the reins and let her. Her hand feels so right in his. They fit together perfectly, they walk together in step and they move together as one. Marinette leans her forehead against his, smiling like there's nowhere else she'd rather be, than in the pouring rain on an old street corner.
Adrien's heart feels so full that he swears that it's going to burst. I love her bubbles up inside of him, running through his mind over and over again— a mantra, a promise, a truth. It bubbles up from his heart and off of his tongue and he wouldn't stop it even if he could.
"I love you."
Marinette's eyes flutter open, her lips parted in surprise. And then the corners of her eyes crinkle as she smiles, shining and shining and shining. And Adrien would give the entire universe just to make her smile like this for the rest of time.
"I love you too," she whispers, like it's a secret that she doesn't want to break, like it's something fragile and precious.
The butterflies in Adrien's stomach flutter up and burst into bright laughter. He holds her closer and presses their foreheads together again. "I love you I love you I love you I love you."
They stumble over the next waltz step, but find their footing again in each other, and Adrien lets himself get swept away by her music, her magic, her smile, the rain and the thunder—
She dances him away to somewhere where his feet will never touch the ground.
And he couldn't be happier.