Chat Noir bounced recklessly from rooftop to rooftop, relentlessly propelling himself in the night's sky with his silver staff, carefully scanning Paris' streets in search of any akumas on the loose, any crime in the making for him to stop, any damsel in distress to rescue. Anything, really, to delay in any possible way the much-dreaded way back to a sterile and unwelcoming mansion. Despite the fact his skintight black leather suit was doing next to nothing to keep him warm in this late November night, he couldn't bring himself to return to his warm yet empty room just yet. So he kept moving without ever slowing since it was the most efficient solution he had found to avoid the awful bite of the cold on his skin. The young blonde had something to prove, and he couldn't do it without something - anything - interesting happening.

He was desperately waiting for an opportunity, any occasion to be perfectly honest, to show his dearest Ladybug how much he was devoted heart and soul to his heroic duties. That he wasn't only a shameless flirt goofing his way around and wasn't taking their mission any less seriously than her.

As of late, he had been coming to terms with the idea that Ladybug and he simply weren't meant to be, and that their relationship would remain just like it was: an iron strong friendship based on respective unwavering trust with their very lives. True, he had had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact his fantasies about kisses with his faceless partner atop the Eiffel Tower wouldn't ever bud into something real, but that knowledge stung less and less with each passing day. She still wasn't taking him seriously, though, even if he had laid back significantly with his lame attempts at making her smile. His lady was still pinning him as a silly cat, and he was itching to change that wrong perception of him at last.

This night was too quiet for his purpose. It was his turn to patrol on his own, and truth be told, he was desperately pining for some action, if only to steer his mind away from his wild and depressing thoughts. Honestly, his patrol should have ended hours ago, but he stretched it out every chance he got to. Years of maintaining his rather peculiar schedule had him more than trained at bracing his rather busy days with less than five hours of sleep, and he wasn't even barely feeling tired as it currently was. He genuinely didn't want to head home just yet, go back to an empty and way too huge house without anybody to authentically care about him or his feelings within its immense walls. Besides, Parisian rooftops were much better company than Plagg when he was feeling like this, even in his partner's notable absence.

Adrien knew very well his father wouldn't look that deep into his thin sleeping schedule nor his odd eating habits (honestly, how could something as little as Plagg ingest that amount of gross cheese on a daily basis was beyond him) as long as he was careful to maintain his level of excellence in the activities that had been imposed on him along with his school work. For the past four years or so, he had dutifully played the part of the perfect son without fail, hoping to gain a little sympathy of the older Agreste, to no avail. Nothing Adrien could do or say would change the condescending way his father regarded him. He had won a country-wide fencing competition just barely even a few days ago, and the only people that were cheering for him from the benches had been Marinette and Alya, Nino sending him a congratulatory SMS soon after he got the news. No famous designer had been spotted anywhere near the building where the competition was held that day.

The bite of the cold finally seeped through the leather of his suit despite his constant moving, making him shudder violently as he passed the Dupain-Cheng bakery. The thought that he could very well commission winter gear from Marinette for both himself and his spotted partner to get through the coldest days of the winter brushed his mind, and he wondered how he could approach her about that the next day at school. Would she believe Chat Noir had come to him with a special order? After all, it wasn't like Paris' superheroes could casually stroll into any boutique to buy coats and scarves without causing a ruckus, and they both had rather specific and odd needs to stay functional through a battle.

Chat Noir shook his head. She would never buy that lame excuse, she was too clever for her own good. He would have to try to talk to her about it as his heroic self, that would be much less suspicious. He was about to resume his futile and desperate chase for heroic duties and head back to the mansion to a warm and most welcomed though dreaded bed when the sound reached his magical ears.

A subtle, almost inaudible sob in the dead of the night. So soft and faint.

He stopped dead in his tracks and bounced toward the balcony from where he heard that unsettling muffled sound, intending to make it all better. Crack a few puns, tease the sad girl a little to put a smile back on her face, and maybe give a comforting pat on the shoulder or two before going on his merry way.

He was the famous Chat Noir, pun professional and part-time superhero. His job was to protect every citizen of Paris from harm, no matter where it came from.

Not all heroic duties were grandiose and newsworthy, after all.

However, when he realized that his enhanced hearing had brought him back to the Dupain-Cheng bakery, his heroic quest for a crying girl to comfort was instantly shoved at the back of his mind, long forgotten. The prospect of spending a little time with his favorite bakers' daughter thrilled him. He loved the unique warmth his shy friend emanated when he was with her as his alter ego and the pleasant fuzzy feeling she always seemed to leave lingering in his heart when they parted ways. Sure enough, a few stolen minutes in her company would lift his spirits up and help him get rid of his sour mood.

So, the leather clad boy landed behind his pigtailed friend on her balcony with a wide grin.

Through her sobs, Marinette was startled by a soft and well-known thump behind, safely indicating that Chat Noir had chosen this night, out of all nights, to visit her. This had become an unsettling habit of his over the few last years. The feline hero would drop off unannounced every now and then, not even trying to find an excuse anymore. He claimed rather loudly to thoroughly enjoy her company, and had even admitted a few weeks ago that she was the only friend he was comfortable enough to truly be himself around.

If you'd ask her, she would've sworn this annoying habit of his was utterly pissing her off and was bothersome beyond any common sense. But deep inside, if she was to be completely honest with herself, she couldn't deny that the attention he gave her, and her only, was most secretly pleasing her and making her feel... well... whole. And appreciated.

But tonight, out of all nights, she wasn't in the mood for any of his lame kitty puns, his goofy behavior or for anything else coming from him. She didn't even want him to touch her.

All she wanted was to be left alone with her sorrows. And cry like there was no tomorrow.

She didn't even bother turning around to face him. She wanted him gone already. She clutched the thick blanket tighter around her, trying to fend off the bite of the cold. A violent shiver ran through her whole being, and the young lady felt her partner creep closer. She knew that he was standing close to her, too close for him having missed the way she purposely turned away from him or the way her whole being was stiff and unwelcoming. She carefully kept her face hidden from him, for she didn't want her silly partner to notice the tell tale streaks on her cheeks, nor the way her eyes were red and swollen. She didn't want to give him grounds to ask questions she wasn't ready to answer.

Not yet, maybe not ever.

Her feline friend took another step toward her, his arms hung open for a hug, but she instinctively jerked away from his touch without being able to look at him. Like his sight alone was enough to burn through her very skin. She wrapped herself even further into the blanket, and stubbornly kept her eyes riveted to the ground.

That's when Chat Noir finally noticed despite her efforts to hide it. Her swollen and reddish eyes still full of unshed tears. Her breath short from all the sobs, and her beautiful face covered in salty drops. Unsettled by how much his princess was obviously upset, the young hero let his arms drop awkwardly by his sides and said softly, "Good evening, princess, what a coincidence, I was just thinking of you! What are you doing outside in this cold? Have you been missing yours truly? Is that why you're crying this much?"

"Not tonight, Chat," she snapped before wrapping her arms around herself under the blanket in a protective manner. As if she was trying to prevent herself from falling apart.

Chat's heart and head went wild at this simple but unfamiliar gesture.

This was the very first time Marinette had shut him down like this, without even trying to play along with him a little. Usually, she would flirt along a bit and throw back some sassy comebacks at him before shutting him out for the night with some good (or not) excuse. Never before had she acted so... hostile toward him. It was the first time in all the years he's known her that she was so eager to shut him out like that. Without any form of explanation.

He knew right away that something wasn't right. "Princess? What's on your mind? What's making my sweet little princess cry?"

"None of your business, alley cat," she answered dryly before closing her eyes, shaking her head as if trying to shake off her sorrows.

Chat Noir whimpered just as if she had slapped him with all her might. "Anything making my dear princess cry is my business."

Marinette couldn't take it anymore. She was so tired of uselessly trying to hold back her tears. She looked at him, her dearest kitty, the very best friend she had, dead in the eyes, her own irises limpid pools of azure tainted with her infinite sadness, and his green giant lakes of worries fixed on her raspberry lips trembling from the emotion shaking her at her very core.

He looked at her soft and innocent face for what seemed to be an eternity, before pulling her into a tight hug and kissing the top of her head softly. At this, she couldn't hold it any longer and dissolved in a mess of tears and violent sobs. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head again on his toned chest letting all her distress flow on the black leather suit.

Chat didn't know what had managed to upset her that much, but he knew for sure that she was truly shaken. He loved spending time with her as Chat since she was usually much more like herself than when he was around as Adrien. After four long years, she still hadn't managed to compose herself to be coherent around his civilian self, and that saddened him very much. She was such a wonderful girl, full of talents and happiness overall. A marvelous girl that everyone seemed to know and cherish.

Everyone. Except Adrien.

It was because of this that he began visiting her as Chat, to begin with. He was fascinated by how much the Marinette letting Chat in her room every other night was different from the Marinette that couldn't even look at Adrien without stuttering. Over the months at first, and then the years, Chat grew quite fond of her and came to truly cherish the special moments he got to spend with his sassy princess. But right now, she was far from the comforting ray of sunshine she normally was. She was nothing more than a crying, sobbing mess, clinging to his suit with all the strength she could muster in her hands.

She didn't have any way to know it, but at that very moment, Chat Noir vowed to himself to protect her no matter what. Against all odds, he would shield her from everything that might someday come her way.

Even if he kept claiming high and loud that he was in love with Ladybug for the sake of the show.

His sweet little Marinette would always come first from this day on.

She needed him. And he was happy to oblige.