Adrien rests his forehead on the glass of his window and stares at the darkened city below him. He needs to move on with his life, but he can't. Not yet. For now, he just needs to process this new information.

Marinette has a crush on him.

Fuck.

Marinette is great. Adrien thinks she's great. He likes her a lot. Of course he does, he wouldn't be planning to spend actual time fake dating her if he didn't. But this—

It is new information. And it adds a new layer of complexity to an already way too complex situation.

The universe is a dick.

Plagg cackles. "Man can you imagine how much she'd freak out if she realized she was fake dating you? HA sounds like a soap opera!"

Adrien groans and sits down on the floor. He needs some time to process this. If anything, he had been under the impression that Marinette was still uncomfortable around him because of the gum incident. The way she stuttered and got all blushy around him—

Oh.

"How didn't I notice before?" Adrien mumbles. He hits his head against the glass in frustration.

"Careful there, you're going to hurt yourself." Plagg rests on the top of Adrien's head and Adrien can feel him moving around his hair to make a nest. "And you didn't notice because you were so caught up in Ladybug."

Adrien sighs. "Now I feel bad."

"Hey it's not your fault that you don't feel the same way," Plagg says. "And it's not like she actually told you about her feelings or anything like that. It could be worse. She could've asked you out. And you could've not realized what she was doing. You guys are hilarious to watch interact, I hope you know that."

Adrien's eyes go wide. "Holy shit," he whispers.

"What?"

"I tried to set her up with Nino! Oh my god." Adrien buries his face in his hands. "God this is so awkward," he says, his voice muffled.

Plagg tugs on his hair. "Hey, stop that. It won't be awkward until you make it awkward. Or more awkward than it already is."

"I'm just supposed to act like everything's the same?"

"Duh. Did you forget you're both dating superheroes? Or at least pretending to be? Now's not the time to bring up her crush."

"You're right," Adrien admits.
Plagg scoffs. "Of course I'm right. I'm always right."

"No you're not."
"I am this time."

Adrien closes his eyes and breathes in the quietness of the house. He wishes he'd left a window open, just to feel the cool night air on his skin. It always keeps him calm and steady. His fingers are twitching to do something. He has the strong urge to create a flowchart or something, just to organize all the thoughts that are flying through his brain.

"Do you think she'll come tonight?" he whispers.

"How am I supposed to know, kid?" Plagg asks.

Adrien shrugs. "You're a god or something aren't you?"

"If I could predict the future, we wouldn't be in this mess. Trust me."

Adrien laughs softly. "You're ridiculous."

"Yeah, so are you," Plagg counters.

"No wonder we ended up together." Adrien watches cars pass on the streets below him, small and and colorful, like toys. Everything is a game, life is a game, he just doesn't know how to play it. "Do you ever think—"

"More than you do."

Adrien rolls his eyes. "Do you ever think about how things would be different if someone else had gotten the miraculous?" His fingers find his ring and run over the sharp corners of it.

"Getting sentimental, are we?" Plagg teases.

"You say that like I'm not always sentimental," Adrien says with a scoff.

"Alright well, you were always going to get the miraculous. Destiny and shit."

Adrien frowns. "You believe in that sort of stuff?"

"I've lived a long time, kid," Plagg says. "And the miraculous? There's a reason for all of this stuff."

"Does 'this stuff' include a fake dating disaster?"

Plagg snorts. "Definitely not. That's your own fault, not the stars'. You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it."

Adrien hums thoughtfully. Plagg isn't wrong. He did get himself into this mess all on his own. He probably would've been better off just swallowing his pride and telling Ladybug he screwed up. But no, he's here now and he has to deal with it.

"I'm not good at this," he murmurs, more to himself than to Plagg.

"You'll figure it out," Plagg promises.

"I will?"

"Probably."

Adrien sighs. "Great."

"I'll let you in on a secret," Plagg says, patting Adrien's head. "No one has any idea what they're doing. Ever. People might have an inkling, but really, we're all just winging it. Wing it until you fly."

Adrien blinks. "That's…surprisingly deep and inspirational."

"Ew," Plagg grumbles. "I take it back. Pretend you never heard me say that."

Adrien smiles and rolls his eyes. "Heard you say what? I heard nothing."

"Good."

There has to be something good to come out of this mess. Adrien isn't sure what it's going to be, but it can't be just a disaster. That's statistically improbable.

Probably.

He finds himself listing the good, because otherwise, he's never going to stop thinking about the negatives.

Getting to know Ladybug better. Getting to know Marinette better. He'll finally find out how his dad feels about dating which…might not be a good thing, but at least they'll finally have that conversation. Spending more time with Ladybug outside of akuma fights and patrols. Spending more time with Marinette alone, since before this, their only conversations were five minutes of stammering and he usually only hung out with her when with Nino or Alya. ? Profit

Adrien swears he was better at this optimism thing at some point.


Marinette wakes up and stares at her ceiling for a very long time.

She's kind of scared to check her phone. But she does anyway, because she can't just lock herself in her room away from the world for the rest of the time. Although that sounds really nice right about now.

The first thing she sees is a text from Alya, and her heart soars a little bit because she loves Alya and is so glad she has Alya standing by her in this. Even if Alya has no idea how convoluted this whole mess really is. It makes Marinette's head spin a little bit, if she's being honest.

From: the best™
To: partner in (phone stealing) crime
morning babe! 3
just a reminder that i love u a lot
ill see you at school w/ fists ready 2 fight off the haters and paps (ง'̀-'́)ง

From: partner in (phone stealing) crime
To: the best™
Thanks al 3
Hows it looking?

From: the best™
To: partner in (phone stealing) crime
:(
dont look
ily but dont do it ill give u a recap school k?

From: partner in (phones stealing) crime
To: the best™
That….isnt encouraging
Alyaaaa D':

From: the best™
To: partner in (phone stealing) crime
im sorry :'(
but really
if u wanna look at stuff thats fine i just wanna be w/ u if u do
actually it doesnt have 2 b me i just wan w/ SOMEONE
theres some Bad Shit™
i dont want u 2 read it alone
itll either hurt u or ull hurt some1 else and as ur bff id like to avoid both of those things

Marinette sighs and puts her phone down on her stomach. She'll respond to Alya in a minute or two, but for now she has to let herself imagine what kind of things people have said while she slept. She can definitely imagine. Imagining might be the worst possible thing she could be doing right now, but she has to wallow in her own thoughts for a little bit. People get death threats a lot on the internet, right?

"Tikki?" she asks suddenly as she sits up, realizing that Tikki isn't next to her on the bed.

It takes a moment for Tikki to zip up to her bed. "Yes, Marinette?" Tikki asks with a cheerfulness that's only a little bit forced.

"Do you think this whole fake dating thing is a mistake?"

Tikki blinks. "You know what I think about it," she says after a long pause. "I think it's overly complicated where it doesn't have to be, and clearly it's causing more harm than good. But if you're happy—"

Marinette gives her withering look.

Tikki coos and nuzzles Marinette's cheek. "You can stop whenever you want, Mari," she reminds her softly. "If it's not good for your mental health…"

Marinette sighs and looks down. "Yeah I just…I'm committed to this now. Or something like that. I don't know." She flops back on the bed. "I really didn't think this through." Her phone buzzes a few times on her stomach. "Is it important?" she mumbles.

She feels Tikki flip her phone over and hum. "It's from your group chat," Tikki says. "From Nino."

Maybe it's not super important, but it's still probably something she should read. She picks up her phone and stares at the screen for a second before she processes any of the words.

From: ninope / the best bro / bae (biggest annoyance ever 3)
To: what the happ is fuckening
first of all our gc name is now almost ironically appropriate

From: the best™ / Alya / the babe with the power
To: what the happ is fuckening
lmao

From: ninope / the best bro / bae (biggest annoyance ever 3)
To: what the happ is fuckening
second are we going out for lunch today or nah

From: Adrien / my main man / sunshine
To: what the happ is fuckening
Can we?
My dad is back in time for lunch and I want to stall

From: the best™ / Alya / the babe with the power
To: what the happ is fuckening
rip off the bandaid marsh

From: Adrien / my main man / sunshine
To: what the happ is fuckening
Yeaaaah no thanks

From: Marinette / mari berry / partner in (phone stealing) crime
To: what the happ is fuckening
Can we hide in the bakery/my house
I dont wanna deal

From: Adrien / my main man / sunshine
To: what the happ is fuckening
That sounds perfect

From: ninope / the best bro / bae (biggest annoyance ever 3)
To: what the happ is fuckening
thats cool with me my dudes
see you at school

From: the best™ / Alya / the babe with the power
To: what the happ is fuckening
im stealing baked goods
also marsh i already told mari but i got my fists and am Ready 2 Fite (ง'̀-'́)ง

From: Adrien / my main man / sunshine
To: what the happ is fuckening
Please don't actually fight anyone Al, but I appreciate the sentiment 3

From: the best™ / Alya / the babe with the power
To: what the happ is fuckening
booooo i wanna fight
but ok fine
see u nerds in a bit!

Marinette forces herself to get out of bed and get changed. She feels like a robot as she gets ready, putting on her makeup and doing her hair more out of habit than anything else. She thinks that her emotions may have shut down out of instinct to protect herself, because she's pretty sure that below the blank emptiness there is pure terror.

Yesterday, things had been bad. Now, people have had hours to digest the "Marichat" thing. On one hand, people could've calmed down. On the other, it's had time to spread and people have had time to say things that are significantly worse.

She has a plan for telling her parents. And that plan is shouting out that she's dating Chat Noir just as she runs out of the door for school and then sprinting away from her house so she doesn't have to deal with it.

Perfect.


Adrien is surprised to find Alya and Nino standing in front of the steps of school instead of hiding out in the bushes. At least, he's surprised until he steps out of the car and suddenly someone with a camera jumps out from the bushes and starts taking pictures.

Nino crams his hat on Adrien's head as Alya grabs Adrien's arm and drags him inside. Caught by surprise, Adrien is barely able to register what's happening, let alone protest. Not that he would. He doesn't want another picture of his face all over the tabloids. Don't they have enough pictures to use from photoshoots?

"You could've warned me," he mutters once they've hauled him inside. He hands Nino his hat back and smooths down his hair.

"Sorry, dude," Nino apologizes. "We were caught up in planning how to get you inside."

"I don't think we succeeded," Alya admits. "These guys are vicious."

"They get paid to be," Chloé snips from behind them. She studies her nails and leans against the wall. "They're rats and it's their job to be."
"What's your excuse?" Alya asks.

Chloé rolls her eyes. "Am I taking him off your hands or what, Césaire? Don't you have a different friend you're supposed to be watching for?"

Alya's eyes go wide. "Shit you're right," she mumbles. She pulls out her phone and sends off a quick text before dragging Nino back out into the fray.

"Why am I getting handed off to you?" Adrien asks Chloé.

"Babysitting duty," Chloé says flatly. "I'm here to make sure you're not being a dumbass."

"I can take care of myself," Adrien promises.

Chloé shrugs. "I know that. They both know that. But we also know you have a tendency to take what people say about you to heart, and—" she reaches over and plucks his phone from his hands, "we don't want that."

He opens his mouth to protest before he gives in and leans against the wall next to her. "People aren't really saying anything bad about me."

"Just your relationship." Chloé flips his phone over in her hands a few times. "Besides, there's no doubt that you'll feel bad about what they're saying about Marinette, despite the fact that none of that is within your control."

"Of course I feel bad about what they're saying!" he says defensively. "She's my friend, why wouldn't—"

Chloé gives him a look.

Adrien sags against the wall. "What's that for?" he grumbles, casting his eyes to the floor.

She crosses her arms. "Adrien Agreste, do not tell me you're that oblivious."

He winces. "I might be."

Chloé groans. "You aren't serious."

"Someone may have had to spell it out for me," he admits.

"I hate you."

"Fair enough." Honestly, Adrien kind of hates himself for not noticing too. It's only fair someone else hates him for it.

"No." Chloé slips his phone into her pocket and grabs his hands. "You are not allowed to hate yourself for not returning someone's feelings," she says seriously. "You are not allowed to hate yourself because you didn't realize someone felt something that you didn't. Got it?"

Adrien stares at her.

"Got it?"

"Yes, mom," he says, only realizing afterward how much those words sting both of them.

Chloé scoffs and drops his hands. "If you try to check any social media I'm taking this back and locking you out," she says before handing back his phone.

"How would you lock me out?" Adrien asks, checking his notifications. He notices an email from Nathalie about lunch today and reminds himself to email her back with her plans before class starts. "I've never told you my password."

Chloé smiles deviously. "I have my ways."

Adrien narrows his eyes at her. "I'm changing my password now," he announces.

"I have my ways," she repeats.

"You know, between you and Alya, I'm starting to think that maybe I should just go back to writing letters and using carrier pigeons."

Chloé snorts. "That would just make our jobs easier," she points out. "You can't escape it, Adri. Nothing is unknowable."

He finds his thoughts going to Ladybug and brushes his fingers against his ring. "That's what I'm worried about."

Chloé grabs Adrien by the arm and pulls him closer as Alya and Nino drag Marinette inside the school. Marinette glances back over her shoulder with wide eyes, face pale as she stares at the paparazzi behind her.

"No damage done?" Alya asks Chloé.

"I know what I'm doing," Chloé snipes.

Marinette takes a shaky breath. "Holy shit," she whispers, looking to Adrien with wide eyes.

"You okay?" Nino asks, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She nods quickly. "Yeah it's just— It's been a morning." She glances toward the door and lowers her voice. "I told my parents I'm dating Chat."

Adrien notices Chloé's eyebrows raise slightly as she leans the tiniest bit forward. She'd die before admitting that she's interested in what Marinette has to say, so he'll ask for her. "How'd it go?"

"Um…" Marinette tugs on a pigtail. "I don't know?"

Alya frowns. "What do you mean?"

"I sort of—" Marinette takes a deep breath. "Okay, so I was running out the door because I was late—"

"Typical," Nino murmurs.

She flips him off as she continues her story. "And as I ran out the bakery I sort of just shouted 'I'm dating Chat Noir bye!' and left. So…" She meets Adrien's eyes. "That happened."

Chloé snorts. "Sorry," she apologizes when Marinette glares at her. "But that's one way to handle the conversation. By not handling it." She tosses her hair over her shoulder. "Hope they don't google it."

Marinette goes pale.

"Smooth, Chlo," Adrien mutters.

Chloé shrugs. "I wouldn't google yourself either."

"Why were you googling Marinette?" Alya asks, eyes narrowed.

Chloé hums and turns her attention to her phone, typing rapidly. "I'll see you later, Adri," she says, tapping him twice on the shoulder before walking away toward the locker room.

Alya's phone buzzes and she purses her lips as she reads the newest message. "Right," she murmurs. "Anyway, I hope your parents are cool with this," she says, wrapping Marinette in a tight hug.

Marinette sighs and sinks into the hug. "No promises," she mumbles.


By the end of the school day, Marinette is just about ready to sleep for rest of time.

Of course, Hawk Moth doesn't work like that.

"You alright?" Tikki asks as she flies out of Marinette's purse.

Marinette sighs. "No, not really. I just want to curl up in my room and stop thinking and experiencing life for a while."

Tikki nuzzles her cheek. "We can do that after this, if you want."

"I'd love that," Marinette admits. "Spots on, Tikki."

The transformation and magic washes over her, calming some of her anxiety and clearing her mind. She's always able to think more clearly as Ladybug. Maybe that's because she knows exactly who Ladybug is. She still has questions about Marinette.

Ladybug swings up to the roof of a tall building to get a better look of the streets. The akuma had gotten away while she'd been finding a place to hide and transform, and its trail of destruction is more minimal than most.

She squints in the sunlit as she looks around Paris. She finds a sign of the akuma, a car crash, and after checking to make sure the civilians are all safe and able to get out of their cars, she follows the akuma's path from above the streets.

Ladybug's breath catches in her throat as she sees Adrien duck into an alley, the akuma on his heels.

"Shit," she whispers. She didn't really want to be making appearances with Adrien as Ladybug, but like hell she was going to leave him cornered.

Ladybug swings down into the alley, wrapping her arm tightly around Adrien's waist as she swings by.

Adrien yelps and throws his arms around her neck, burying his face against her shoulder.

"S-sorry!" she shouts, landing them on a roof. "The akuma—"

"It's fine!" Adrien says quickly. "You were doing your job. Saving my life." He glances over the edge of the building before stepping back, and closer, to Ladybug. "Thank you for that, by the way."

"Of course. Doing my job," Ladybug says. That was all. Nothing more. Of course.

"Uh…so how do I get down?" Adrien asks.

Ladybug hesitates. "I can set you down somewhere safe," she says after a moment. "If you're okay with that?"

Adrien nods and puts his arms around her neck carefully. "Is this okay?"

Ladybug swallows and tries not to think about how close they are. She can scream to Tikki later. "Yup, it's fine. Hold on tight."

Adrien clutches onto her tighter as she leaps from the building. She's more careful with her swings than usual. Even when she has to swing Chat around the city she's not this careful. Chat always lands on his feet, and he has the bonus of a protective suit.

Adrien has neither of those going for him and that's kind of terrifying.

She moves away from the akuma, landing as lightly as she can in the first clear street. She makes sure that Adrien's feet are firmly on the ground before she loosens her grip on his waist. "Are you alright?" she asks.

Adrien nods before his eyes go wide. He whispers, "People are watching," and presses a quick kiss to her cheek.

Ladybug tenses, her cheeks heating up. She can see the people Adrien mentioned out of the corner of her eye, phones and cameras raised, all catching the moment.

More news for the tabloids. Joy.

She jumps away from Adrien as there's a large crash somewhere a few streets over. Car alarms start blaring and she gives him an apologetic. "I, uh, I have to…" She motions toward the akuma hopelessly.

Adrien nods. "Yeah, I'll… I'll find somewhere safe." He chews on his lip and glances at his feet. "I'll see you later?"

Ladybug is barely able to nod, screaming to herself as she throws her yoyo and swings off to the akuma attack. Chat arrives on the scene only a few minutes after her, panting and apologizing for being late, saying that he got caught up in something on the way. Ladybug just nods and focuses on not grabbing him by the should and screaming that Adrien Agreste kissed her! Her cheek. But still! His lips touched her skin.

She would've forgotten the fist bump at the end of the fight if Chat hadn't raised his fist first. She gives him a small smile as she bumps their fists together before she breaks off in a spring and swings off.

The moment she's detransformed and in her bedroom, Marinette presses a pillow to her face and screams.

"Are you okay, Mari?" Tikki asks nervously.

Marinette lifts her head from the pillow. "Yeah I'm good," she says before burying her face in the pillow again and continuing to scream.

Adrien Agreste is going to be the absolute death of her.