I said it was the end? Did I say it was the end? What do you mean it's been months? Whoops.
note (12.02.2021): this chapter was originally written three months after the first two and the writing really showed it. same as the others, added new words, rephrased some, nothing drastic
Marinette tries to grill Chat Noir for his secret identity. I mean, it's only fair, isn't it? But he's just as resistant as she used to be when the story first began.
He'll talk to her later, he says, smiling all the while like Wonderland's Cheshire cat. Marinette wonders, indeed.
Another week passes, and there's no sight of anything from the past coming back from the dead.
Ladybug is about as flustery as Marinette is with Adrien, which is strange to say the least. Things have taken an unnaturally awkward turn for the worst, and there seems to be no way out of it.
Chat, dear boy, he tries, but she's always been the better problem solver of the two. Ever akuma, he tries.
When Paris' day is saved, they pound fists out of habit and flee. Something is going on that no one knows anything about.
Knowing is different from noticing, and Alya notices.
But Ladybug and Chat Noir are the least of her concern, because something is up with Adrien and Marinette.
Alya still hopes that Adrien will magically become less oblivious one day and just ask Mari out, because right now he's the last chance they've got to keep everything on the harbor.
Something magical and sudden happened, and it's that Marinette has given up on Adrien.
Overnight. Yes, overnight. One night. A single evening.
One day, Marinette walked into class and plopped down on her usual seat. Adrien walked into class and greeted his usual hello.
The usual seat, the usual hello. That pairing makes one Marinette squandering where she sits, blushing more than profusely, face as red as Nathanaël's hair. Instead she huffed and pouted and sighed, before smiling at him with the same kind smile she reserved for everyone else.
That's not concerning save for the fact that Adrien has never really been an 'everyone else' for Marinette.
But that's not where the magic ends! The other damning detail that crossed Alya's searching eyes is that Adrien was visibly disappointed.
The dear boy was not just surprised, but disappointed.
Alya rolls the event around her mind's eye and deduces three possible reasons for this:
a) Adrien likes feeling special, especially when it comes to how he's treated.
That's the first possible deduction, but not the one Alya wants to go with.
For one, Adrien already had Chloé to do that for him. Chloé treats everyone like trash except for Adrien, and that's basically special treatment already. She clings to him like he's the last ray of sunshine on earth, which Alya knows to be untrue.
Marinette is at least five rays of sunshine on her own.
b) Adrien enjoys seeing Marinette, specifically, ruffle about him, and the 'oblivious' thing is all just pretense.
This of course means that Adrien is well-aware that the lovely and amazing girl that is Alya's best friend has some very friendly feelings for him, and he doesn't do anything about it.
Yet again, there's evidence to the contrary.
Through Nino's daily reports – er, their usual conversation, Alya knows that Adrien isn't really the kind of guy to do that. Or maybe he's just a better actor than anyone accounted for.
Alya refuses this answer still, and so a third one comes to light.
c) Something is going on.
As soon as the day calls out, Nino gets up to leave. Well, first he'll probably sit on the stairs and listen to music until Adrien's driver shows up. It's a solid plan that he doesn't get the chance to do.
Alya comes out of nowhere and grabs him by the ear. She pulls him up to the back of the classroom, enough pain and embarrassment that Nino's right ear is as red as his left.
He reaches up to rub his ear. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No," she says as she pockets her phone.
That really gets the alarm bells ringing in Nino's head. Alya doesn't just pocket her phone. He probably did do something wrong. He's preparing to apologize when she jabs a finger at him and stops anything he wants to say.
"Something is wrong with our best friends."
Nino exaggerates his sigh of relief. Alya looks at him curiously.
"Not really," he says. "Actually I think it's pretty great."
There are very few times in life when Alya Césaire doesn't know something, and this amazingly is one of them.
"Adrien and Mari were made for each other, even if they refuse to show us their love letters," Alya snaps off rapidly.
Nino nods and scratches his elbow, where Alya's curlicue handwriting writes: What song is that?
"Alya," he says after her rambling. She doesn't stop.
It goes like that sometimes. She keeps going even when her usually on-point deduction land a centimeter off mark. She doesn't stop until faced with factual information that directly contradicts her own.
It makes her annoying sometimes, but that's never been a bother for Nino. "Alya."
She hums to signal her brake. Her eyes look at him with a vaguely angered expression that says, 'I was on a roll, why did you stop me?'
Nino takes her elbow, finger still pointed out when she jabbed it at him, and he directs it towards Juleka and Rose. The two girls have been inseparable since the day they met. They said hi to each other and just knew they were meant to be.
"You see them? That's what's going on with Adrien right now. He met his soulmate over the weekend."
"He's friends with me too, Nino," she takes her arm back. "He would've told me. And besides, that doesn't explain why he's suddenly all interested in Marinette?"
Alya shrugs. "He seemed really disappointed the other day when Marinette wasn't floundering about him."
"He usually doesn't care."
"No, he usually doesn't react. This," she gestures between their two friends at the front of the class, "is new. Whatever Adrien thinks he can get away without me noticing, is a reaction."
"What are we going to do about it? Sneak a peek at their love letters?"
Her face lights up. Nino finds it adorable most times. Lovely. Inspiring, even. Today he finds it scary.
"Oh no, no, no." He widens his eyes. "I didn't mean—"
"That's a brilliant idea."
"We don't even know where they are."
Alya rolls her eyes. "We know what they are, and it's each other. There's a whole concentration of mutual soulmates in our class, Nino. It's statistically sound."
"Marinette and Adrien are soulmates," he spells out.
"Yes. And we just need to get them to realize it. Here's your mission. You have no choice to accept it. If not, I will personally see that you destruct."
Nino sighs, and the mission begins.
Marinette notices her friends about three minutes into whatever shenanigans they have going on. It's not like they're subtle.
Nino surely isn't. He sits down next to her then looks away sharply. "Hey, Marinette."
The last time something like this happened, he and Alya got locked in an empty panther exhibit. "Hey, Nino," says Marinette with an almost bored tone.
"Have you seen Adrien today?"
Inside-Marinette panics, but outside-Marinette just raises her eyebrows at Nino. "I think he's in the library."
Nino's face goes slack. "Oh. Right. Um. Thanks, Mari."
The next day, Nino sits down next to Alya. "Are you sure this will work?" he whispers to her.
She grabs his wrist. "If you did exactly what I told you to do, I'm positive it will."
Marinette hops into the classroom then, and Alya smiles cheekily. "Hey, Mari. I really want to sit next to Nino today. Do you mind sitting by Adrien for now?"
Marinette's eyes go wide. "B-but, I can't. What if Madame Bustier sees?"
"Please, Marinette," Alya argues. "You're class rep. That's kind of worth an exception, right?"
"I don't think it works that way, Alya."
Time gives up on Marinette's attempts to avoid the inevitable. Alya and Nino are just too stubborn for that.
Oh, and Adrien walking into the room is also a deciding factor.
"Hey, Marinette, I guess you're sitting next to me today, huh?"
"Um," she mumbles. "Uh. What. Ah, sure."
Nino had already briefed Adrien through text that morning, as Alya instructed him to do so. From what Adrien knows, Marinette wanted to sit in the front today and maybe get to know Adrien a bit more.
That didn't make much sense to Nino, since Marinette knows some things about Adrien that Nino never considered learning about his own best friend (such as, for one, the number of times he runs his hand through his hair. Marinette keeps a very comprehensive spreadsheet.
Girl has a future in data science.)
Adrien glows despite Marinette's rather unenthusiastic answer. Nino and Alya beam at each other, a fistbump shared underneath the desk.
The mission promised to be a success until it's just silence in the front row.
The only time anything interesting happens in class is when Chloé looks pointedly at them and exclaims in a very loud voice, "No, Sabrina, I don't think we're allowed to change seats."
Alya Césaire always comes with a backup plan.
As they file out of the classroom, she grabs Marinette by the shoulders. "I hope you realize you just spent a whole day sitting next to Adrien without puking or passing out. You can tell him."
"It's not that simple, Alya."
"Not if you don't explain to me."
"Soulmate kind of complicated."
Alya thinks that maybe she should have paid more attention to what Nino was telling her. "Oof."
Despite all that, Marinette realizes that Alya's kind of right. She can't avoid Chat Noir forever, and she's not going to be able to properly let Adrien go. Just last week, Chat Noir went to her to talk, didn't he?
Whatever Chat Noir can do, so can Ladybug.
"Tikki, transform me"
Adrien almost jumps when he sees Ladybug sitting on his windowsill. (It's all windowsill, but you get the point.) She balances gracefully on a two-inch pane of glass, and it's his heart that's teetering on the edge.
He wanted to talk to Marinette himself, not that she was making it easy for him. It's a lot easier now that she's figured him out instead.
At least, that's what Adrien hopes is the reason for the visit. He asks, "Is there an akuma now?"
Ladybug shakes her head. "Um, no. I just wanted to tell you something, without anything breathing down my neck or yours."
Adrien tries not to stutter in some excitement. "What do you mean?"
She jumps down to the floor. "Adrien, I know you. Outside the mask, I mean."
His eyes are wide.
"And I know that I've always seems so confident and everything but I'm really not." She takes a step closer to him. "Especially in front of you."
Ladybug knits her hands together. Adrien's heart thumps rapidly, wondering at what point should he smoothly step in, but what she says next confuses him.
"What I'm trying to say is, I really really like you, Adrien. I just don't know how to say it without hurting Chat Noir. He's my best friend, my soulmate even, and I do care about him. You've just always kind of got in the way."
Adrien knits his eyebrows together. "You've been rejecting me… for me?"
They blink at each other.
"I don't get it," Ladybug says.
Adrien takes a deep breath. "My Lady, you get everything I say. You just pretend that you don't."
She smiles, her whole lovely Marinette smile. "I knew it."
(She did not.)