AN: This was supposed to be a one-shot but it spiralled out of control, so there will be one more chapter (hopefully). Adrien's obsessed with cats and decides to make a living from it.
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc
There was a legend that was told to children often; a romantic tale where if one thought about their soulmate while looking in a full-length mirror, then their wish would be granted and they would see a glimpse of their other half for a few seconds. A young dark-haired girl had been told the story while her smiling parents had tucked her into bed for many years. Sometimes her father, a burly man with facial hair that tickled when they embraced, would embellish the story and say that he saw her mother's face when he was a young boy, and that was how he knew they were meant to be together.
Marinette grew up with the romantic story swirling within her head. There were many couples that publicly claimed that they'd seen each other in mirrors, and they were happy ever since, but they were proven wrong more often than not—it seemed that only the elderly couples that were happily together after the trials of life could have proudly said they'd glimpsed each other, but none ever did.
By the time she was in secondary school, Marinette believed that it really was a legend; she had gazed into the mirror and whispered to see her soulmate countless times to no avail. There was no age restriction to the tale, so either she was destined to be alone, or it was a story that had gotten out of control for people to claim it was real. Therefore, she preferred to think that there was someone waiting out there to meet her, rather than believing that she was a lonely soul.
She immersed herself in her studies, excelling at different subjects and impressing many professors with her sheer willpower—she scored in the top percentage for years on end, and by the time she entered college, Marinette was a slight girl with dark hair that fell to the middle of her back, intricately braided to keep it off of her face most of the time. Her chosen subject to study was fashion, which shocked many professors when she'd timidly announced her decision at the end of school.
It was just before she'd finished college when her life changed. Marinette had came home from an interview for a university, clad in a smart-looking dress that clung to her body and fell to mid-thigh (her mother had been very adamant on measuring the amount of skin she was showing). She'd kicked off her shoes at the entrance of the apartment after waving in greeting at her parents downstairs, and ventured up to her room to collapse in the chair by her desk.
She twirled upon the chair, gazing at the full-length mirror that had been placed upon her wall since she was young enough to walk.
She looked tired. Dark-coloured hair pulled back, showing her slight Asian features and bright cerulean eyes, yet there was a smile missing from her face.
"Soulmate," she muttered, placing her chin upon her open palm, "as if."
And then, it happened. Her exhausted reflection within the mirror rippled, distorting the image for a few moments before it completely changed. The person reflected within it was no longer herself; it was a male who's mirror was facing his bed, and she could clearly see he had soft-looking blond hair, but his face was obscured at that moment. And as her incredulous gaze trailed to take in the details, she realised one shocking detail—the flush upon his cheeks wasn't for no reason.
"Fuck!" Marinette swore, hands slapping over her eyes to try and wipe away the image. "Stop!"
There was a peculiar detail, though. The only sound she could hear was her rapid heartbeat and slightly unsynchronised breathing, and there was absolutely nothing coming from the mirror just across the room—well, of course, right? Why had she even expected to hear him—to hear him enjoy the intimate activity that really shouldn't have been shared with her?
And yet, it had.
Marinette peeked through her fingertips, face burning brightly as she could make out the curve of his lips and tried to will herself to focus on his appearance rather than the frantic movement of his hand. It was still too intimate, though; Marinette gulped and breathed in shakily, squeezing her eyes shut once again just so she wouldn't intrude on his personal moment.
She gnawed on her lower lip.
It was three minutes later that she opened her eyes hesitantly and almost fell off her chair in shock. Marinette scrambled from the chair, rocketing across the room to stand stiffly in front of the mirror—staring directly at the male fixing his appearance in the mirror.
His eyes were green, framed by lashes that were stained blond at the ends. His hair was a golden halo that was swept across his forehead neatly, some strands just below in earlobe in length yet all coiffed professionally. The male was dressed, thankfully, and as her gaze travelled further down his body seeing the tight clothing that fit his frame snugly and complimented his natural features, she realised something that made the heat within her cheeks to dissipate.
He couldn't see her.
The blond-haired was primping and making sure he looked okay, while her mirror was completely full of him and the view of the rest of his room (it was cream-coloured, with splashes of stained oak upon the furniture).
"Hello?" she murmured.
It was useless, though. Mirrors didn't have speakers or microphones—the legend didn't include some sort of telepathic connection, so he had no way of knowing what she'd just seen (thankfully).
She didn't know him. It wasn't a familiar face, and Marinette was very sure that she would have remembered him as he was clearly very attractive with his lean body, bright eyes and handsome appearance.
Although it took a while, the dark-haired female soon became used to the fact that her mirror was no longer functional. She'd work around the small problem, using the tiny mirror in the bathroom or within her make-up pouch if needed, and she became accustomed to the male that was constantly appearing within her mirror—the only problem they had was when she peeked at the mirror and noticed that he was participating in certain activities every now and then. But he... he was her soulmate, if the legends were to be true (and if they weren't, then why the fuck was he trapped in her mirror anyway?), so his most intimate moments were meant to be shared with her in due time. So whenever she peeked towards his direction and happened to see such things, she buried her head within a pillow or adamantly walked out of the room—just until he could see her, too. It wasn't fair if he didn't know she was peeking.
He had slight dimples upon his cheeks when he smiled sincerely.
He liked to ruffle his coiffed hair so it was tousled and free when he came home, and lazed around upon his bed until the late hours of the evening when he finally slept.
When he truly laughed, his eyes shined with happiness and he looked more handsome than usual.
And so, days of watching him turned into weeks upon weeks, months, and eventually years. She observed as a plethora of clothing appeared on him during the changing seasons, particularly the jackets or small accessories like a belt that continued to appear despite his constantly altering wardrobe. The brands and pieces that she saw in magazine were either immortalised upon his ever-improving body, or he sorted out the articles of clothing on his bed to select what to wear on special occasions.
He was particularly fond of watching cat videos.
By the time she was twenty-two, had graduated from university and moved out to her own apartment that was small, quaint, and had cracking walls that she simply covered up with fabrics so she wasn't depressed by looking at them, Marinette had managed to create a slightly successful boutique that she managed online. She created her own clothing and shipped them off when needed, and money was simply enough to go by for her to live adequately by herself. The mirror which the blond-haired male lived within in followed to her new home and sat snugly within her bedroom, and through the years she'd discovered quite a few things about the legend.
Not many actually believed in it. When Marinette had began to ask her class-mates and closest friends about their opinion on the matter, they had laughed fondly and said it was a good dream to have. When another gazed into her mirror, they saw their usual reflection instead of within her soulmate's bedroom. And knocking upon the mirror or attempting to contact him with any sort of technique simply didn't work—and so, it had been years, and she'd simply grew sad from waiting for him to wish for her.
He was cute, extraordinarily so.
Marinette pulled her hair up into a bun for the evening, already having clad herself in a t-shirt and shorts for the summer weather, running her fingers momentarily through the bangs that had appeared during her last hair cut. The dark hair had been cut off to sway by her collarbones and became manageable, and the cut had been the first stylish choice that she'd chosen for herself. Her clothes had evolved through the years, especially when she began to wear her own creations and slowly improved as time went on, so it seemed only fitting that the long tresses needed to change from practical to something pretty, finally.
He'd gotten a cat. A feline that had sleek black short fur with bright emerald eyes, and the two of them were impossibly sweet together. Marinette sometimes found herself snorting with laughter when she'd awake in the evening to gaze and see the feline curling up within the tufts of blond hair, making a nest of sorts while the male was blissfully unaware and asleep. The feline had grown before her eyes, and the first time the black-coloured cat had looked into the mirror and seen its own reflection, it had hissed with fur standing upon end and she'd cackled in amusement from the reaction.
It had been five years by that evening. Marinette perched herself upon the end of her bed, an ignored novel within her lap as she stared at the mirror, watching his usual routine.
When the blond moved to a new home, he'd taken the same mirror and placed it in front of his bed, allowing her a brief glance of the new room. It was considerably smaller with navy-coloured walls and a double bed with plush bedding that looked particularly comfortable, and a matching large scratching post with two levels and a hanging bed that the feline never touched just beside the mattress (with the obvious attempt of coaxing the cat away from the blond's hair during the night).
She'd grown fond of him over time, and those feelings had only increased with every passing day. Marinette sighed quietly, knowing that pining was doing her no good—it had been five years and he'd glanced into his own mirror more than enough times and only seen his reflection; perhaps he wasn't searching for love or a girlfriend, and the distinct lack of females or even males that touched him intimately within his room made her think that that, indeed, was the case. The blond showed his love with affectionate touches to his pet cat which was particularly amiable most of the time.
So when her best friend invited her out for a double date, she didn't reject.
Marinette dressed herself in a pastel lime-coloured short-sleeved shirt, making sure not to show too much cleavage, tucked into dark shorts with a black blazer with a white trim, a sample of her new collection she was planning to add to her boutique in the coming weeks. She'd arranged to meet her friend—who'd been stuck to her like glue since before they'd hit puberty—at a new café that had opened, a ten minute walk from her apartment. Marinette gazed longingly at the empty room through the full-length mirror, admiring the black feline that was curled upon the blond's favourite pillow.
She couldn't pine after him forever. He shouldn't have been within her mirror in the first place, and that was exactly what she repeated under her breath the whole walk outside.
The weather had her cheeks flushed, she noticed while checking her appearances in a small mirror. After dabbing a smidgen of scarlet lipstick on, Marinette gazed at the clean and classy outside of the café, noticing the painted paw prints across the glass, and the board that was adorned with a carved cat head upon the top. It was quaint, lovely, and when she stepped through the door and heard the tinkling of bells above, she breathed a comforting sigh from the warmth within.
And then, she took in the décor and realised where exactly she was for a date—her first date at that. The café was an open space coloured a soft cream, with homely pictures in frames upon the walls, shelves with little trinkets and books on various subjects. There were a few bookcases stained beautifully, and a small counter to sit by the window with tall seats, while the rest were pillows upon pillows on the floor, surrounded by little coffee tables with animals beds placed sporadically around the room. Tiny boxes of toys were placed within every nook and cranny, and there were countless scratching posts with different assortments upon them for felines to enjoy. And as she felt her smile widen from realising what kind of café it really was, there was a brush of softness against her legs, curling around while vibrating in an endearing way.
"Well," Marinette started softly, crouching down to offer her hand to the feline, "hello there."
The cat was short-haired with burnt umber-coloured fur, decorated with spots of dark brown scattered everywhere and bright cerulean eyes. Marinette laughed softly as the feline sniffed her fingers, pausing briefly before rubbing its chin softly against the curve of her digits.
A voice announced itself along with a pair of nicely shined shoes appeared in front of her, right beside the feline that was happily purring away. "Welcome!" was said, "I see you've met Bridgette here. She's quite fond of greeting everyone that arrives—quite a good employee, I must say."
"She's sweet," Marinette replied softly, petting the feline's head one last time before standing up. As she stood up and brushed the creases of her clothing, Marinette took in the large white apron that the male wore, littered with paw prints much like the windows and quickly realised that he was most likely the owner.
"Are you here alone, or are you waiting for others?" he asked in a friendly tone.
Underneath the apron, it was clear that his clothing were made of high-quality material, especially with the long-sleeved shirt that he'd pushed the sleeves up to his elbows, the material crinkling wonderfully without looking too bulky. Her cheeks coloured as she realised she was too busy admiring his clothing, and as she looked up and promptly opened her mouth to profusely apologise for the distraction the words that were upon her tongue disintegrated.
He had coiffed blond hair, a dusting of gold upon the ends of his eyelashes, and there were soft dimples as he smiled with slightly furrowed eyebrows at the lack of response.
It was him.
His smile grew bemused. "I'm Adrien, by the way," the blond introduced himself, hands retreating into the pockets of his absurd apron, "just call me over if you need anything, okay? I need to disappear into the kitchen briefly."
And with a soft smile he turned around to leave, but not before reaching down to pet Bridgette's head quickly and she wasn't ashamed to say that she blatantly stared at his retreating buttocks that was framed wonderfully by his tight jeans—because, well, that was her soulmate's behind (he just didn't know).
"O-oh—okay!" she replied, but he'd already disappeared across the room to a small doorway that was framed by dangling beads in a plethora of colours.
Her face was flushed, and she stood ramrod straight awkwardly in the middle of the room as she processed the information.
The male she had been searching for every time she went outside had finally appeared, right when she'd finally decided to give up after almost five years of pining—when she'd agreed to go on a date within his very café (at least, she assumed it was as he was the only employee inside).
There weren't any seats left by the tall chairs by the windows, as customers had already ventured in and snagged those spots. Marinette heard the bell chime behind her, and chose to slip onto the comfiest looking cushions upon the floor, that were in the middle of the room, thankfully, giving a full view of the various cat toys and furniture along with the doorway that the blond had disappeared in.
She slapped her cheeks lightly in order to try and keep her nerves at bay.
Alya, her red-headed best friend who had voluminous bouncy curls and spectacles sauntered into the café five minutes later, clad in a tight deep violet-coloured dress that hugged her curves and fell to above her knees, smiled as soon as they caught sight of each other. Marinette waved her over with a grin, almost cackling in amusement as Bridgette shot across the room to sniff at her friend's feet as soon as she'd sat down.
"Oh, I should probably sit on the other side," Alya mused, running a hand through her curls, "hang on."
After she was seated across the coffee table, Marinette was fiddling with her fingers nervously, eyes darting towards the doorway to see whether the blond was emerging.
"The owner's... nice," she choked out.
"I hope so." Alya blinked. "He's my date's childhood friend—I think his name's Nino."
She pursed her lips. "No, his name's Adrien."
Alya cracked a smile and laughed, the noise ending in a small scream of surprise as Bridgette climbed abruptly onto her lap, head rubbing against the material of her dress. "I think I made a friend here. Also, I meant my date's name is Nino."
"...You think?" Marinette repeated incredulously. "When you asked me on a double date, I assumed that you at least knew them."
Her friend had the audacity to wink playfully. "It's the first date for me, too. I don't even remember your date's name, so good luck with that."
She pursed her lips. "Thanks for that, Alya."
"I'm the best matchmaker."
"Where did you meet them?" Marinette asked, shrugging off her blazer and folding it beside her. Bridgette was still upon the red-head's lap, vibrating away happily and getting cat fur slowly over her clothes. "Please, tell me that you've at least spoken to them."
Alya fiddled with her spectacles. "...Not really? I'm not sure what counts, if I'm honest. Nino—I swear that's his name, I'm sure now—went to the boy's primary school beside mine before I transferred. He recognised me online and just asked me out on a date."
"...So how did I get roped into this?" she questioned.
"Well, if he turns out to be a murderer, then you're going to suffer with me."
Marinette pinched the bridge of her nose with her fingers, resisting the urge to sigh. Her red-headed friend was fond of going on dates, but not of pursuing relationships with the ones she met. There were countless messages of her phone from Alya, all documenting her dates and the odd shenanigans that occurred as she somehow managed to have weird situations happen to her. It was like she had a constant bad luck charm that didn't let her have two normal dates without something weird happening afterwards—therefore, the fact that Marinette had actually agreed to sit beside a stranger that her friend didn't even know would've been good information to know beforehand.
"...You really don't know his friend's name, do you?" Marinette muttered.
Alya grinned widely, showing the contrast between her white teeth and tanned skin. "Nope."
The feline upon the red-head's lap leapt up and shot across the room, and Marinette's head shot up and followed the cat that had began to curl around Adrien's legs, almost tripping the male over as he made his way around the café, handing out little plates filled with what she thought was a cake of sorts as he greeted and made small talk with customers. When her gaze trailed back to her best friend's face, who's eyebrows were raised and a smirk across her lips, she narrowed her eyes in a silent message to just be quiet.
"Is that the guy you were on about?" Alya questioned, eyebrows still arched.
She made a noise of disapproval. "Yes."
"Cute," the red-head murmured appreciatively, placing her elbow upon the table and leaning against her palm as she looked across the room, "at least there's more eye candy than just the cats here."
If it was about anyone else, Marinette would have been fine, she was sure. But to hear someone whisper appreciative words to her about him specifically—her fucking soulmate—made her hands clench on instinct and lips to curl into a frown. It would be suspicious if she were to snap and defend him, a random male that she had met not even ten minutes earlier, but fucking hell, if Adrien hadn't waltzed towards them and stopped just behind Alya, then she would've uttered something that would've caused her best friend to squeeze her tightly until she confessed her sins and secrets.
"Welcome, you two," Adrien greeted kindly, the tray placed upon his arm teetering dangerously, "this is on the house, as a thank you for coming!"
It was definitely a slice of cake, double layered and decorated roughly with some sort of cream between and on top. Marinette couldn't even open her mouth to thank him as he smiled sweetly at them, and fuck, she knew that it was polite and slightly confused because his dimples weren't showing, and the fact that she even knew that at all was baffling.
Alya thanked him, though.
"Can I get you two any drinks, or any other food? I'm afraid I'm still waiting for menus to be delivered, so I'll just have to tell you everything we have to offer," the blond explained, a hand rubbing the nape of his neck self-consciously.
It was an endearing gesture.
"That's okay," Alya said, making sure to place her bag underneath the table between the two of them, "we're waiting for our dates first. Could we have a few more minutes?"
He smiled. "I'll be back in a few, then."
Her eyes were still glued to his retreating form, so when he was out of hearing distance, Marinette hissed, "Why did you say that?"
Alya audibly spluttered at the sudden comment. "Why did I... tell the truth?"
"Yes," she grumbled.
"Because... I don't know." Alya blinked, staring at her quizzically across the table. "You're not—oh, oh! It's finally happened! You're interested in him!"
She'd been interested in him for many years, but her friend didn't need to know that—she wouldn't believe her if she mentioned the mirror either. "Hush," she scolded instead. "There's no point in making a scene."
"Let's see if you like your date first, okay?" the red-head whispered, cupping a hand over her mouth dramatically. "If not, go seduce that sweet thing running the shop."
"Alya," she hissed, flushing at her words. "You're being ridiculous."
She sniffed. "I'm just trying to get you laid."
"Great," Marinette muttered, "now eat your cake."
For all of her life, her parents had ran and owned a successful pâtisserie within Paris so she was familiar with confectioneries and how to produce them, so when she took her first small forkful of the cake Adrien had given them for free, she was torn on how to feel. The texture and taste were fine, but the presentation was rushed and didn't do it justice—maybe he was understaffed so he didn't have time to decorate and attempt to display them properly.
By the time they had finished their small pieces of cakes, the bell chimed above the door indicating that new customers were arriving. Two males walked through the door, and by her friend's reaction of turning her head around once to glance and then whip it around and blatantly stare, she assumed that they were both of their dates.
"Alya!" a tanned male called, waving enthusiastically at her. He had thick ebony-coloured hair that was quite curly, cut short so it was styled messily upon his head. With dark sienna eyes behind his thick-rimmed spectacles, he clearly quite attractive. His t-shirt was loose and casual, along with his jeans that clung to his legs—it was clear that he, who she assumed as Nino, wasn't a novice when it came to dressing himself. "It's great to see you again."
And then, her eyes fell onto the shorter male beside him who was shifting upon his feet awkwardly with a strained smile. He had dark chestnut-coloured hair that fell to above his eyebrows that had a slight kink in it, and equally brown eyes that were darting nervously around the room. His white t-shirt had a low neckline—which wasn't doing him any favours—with sand-coloured shorts that were just below his knees; it wasn't the look she would've suggested for anyone's first date, let alone when they didn't know who they were matched with.
"Hey, Nino," Alya greeted with a wide smile, standing up to embrace him lightly in a quick gesture. "I was wondering whether you'd gotten lost."
"Definitely not," he replied, "Jean was just running late."
The other male's name was Jean, then. Nino and Alya took their places on the cushions on their side of the table, while Jean hovered awkwardly next to her without sitting down or attempting to create a conversation. Marinette watched with pursed lips as he nervously looked around the room multiple times before finally gathering his courage and placing himself down beside her.
Marinette decided to try and coax him into conversation, as Bridgette had climbed back onto the red-head's lap and was sniffing at Nino's offered hand. "Hello," she said.
Jean stiffened, hands clawing into his thighs. "Hi," he croaked, eyes wide.
"...Are you okay?"
"Ye—no," he choked out, shuffling back an inch or so and pulling the cushion with him. "N-no, I'm not."
Well, the date was going alarmingly well already. As Alya and Nino were cooing over the feline upon the red-head's lap fondly, she was sat beside a male who was shifting awkwardly and had a suspiciously shiny upper lip. If he hadn't been nervous and fidgety, then there was a chance that he could have been considered cute—he just wasn't on Adrien's level. She asked tentatively whether he'd been to the café before, but Jean simply gnawed anxiously on his lower lip and kept his gaze on the room. Marinette stared blatantly at her friend across the table, raising her eyebrows in silent inquisition when Alya merely blinked in surprise.
Alya's eyes widened before she covered her mouth in an attempt not to laugh. Bridgette jumped from the vibrations of her contained laughter and visibly stiffened, then abruptly darted across the room and disappeared within a bed, making it so they could no longer see her. The dark-haired female frowned at her friend, eyes gesturing towards Jean who was close to hyperventilating.
"Dude," Nino started, eyebrows knitting together in concern for his friend, "are you okay?"
Jean waved his hand in front of his flushed face, attempting to cool himself down. "I-I said this wasn't a good idea."
"I thought you meant the fucking date," he exclaimed, jumping up and pressing his hand against Jean's forehead to feel his temperature. "You're burning up, man. What's going on?"
"I told you," Jean wheezed in reply.
Nino huffed and raised his hand, waving frantically to catch the blond's attention across the room. "Adrien! Hey, Adrien! Bit of an emergency over here!"
Right. She'd forgotten the little bit of information that Alya had known—that he was friend's with the owner, who was clearly Adrien at that point; he was the only person with an apron on, therefore an employee, and since he turned his head and smiled widely and waved back to Nino, it was clear that they really did know each other. Marinette just didn't know that since her soulmate never had visitors within his room—goodness, she'd never even glimpsed any parental figures in his room since she'd discovered him.
At the thought of her sight of his bedroom, she wondered where the black-coloured feline that she'd seen for at least a year had wandered off to. If the blond owned a cat café, then surely he allowed his own cat to wander through it? She looked around, but all the felines she could see were multi-coloured or light and preoccupied with the other customers, except for Bridgette who was still hiding within a cat bed, peeking out of the side every few minutes before retreating back.
Adrien was all smiles when he stopped in front of them.
"What's up, Nino?" he asked kindly.
Nino frowned. "I don't know, my friend's just freaking out here, and I... I think he's having a panic attack."
"I-I just need to leave," Jean choked out, stuttering over his words and wiping frantically at his clammy face. They watched as he stood up and collected his possessions, muttering intelligibly under his breath before running through the door with the bells still chiming by the time we was out of sight.
Marinette blinked, unsure how to think since her date had ran away within minutes.
"So..." Nino started, drawling his words out as he smiled sheepishly at her. "Sorry about your date?"
"...Me, too," Alya added, shrugging her shoulders.
She grinned, well aware of Adrien's stare on her at that moment. "Clearly, we weren't meant to be," she joked. "I didn't hear any marriage bells in the future."
"Oh!" Nino suddenly exclaimed, slapping his hands together in an exaggerated gesture of recognition. "I'm such an idiot—Jean said he disliked cats, but I didn't think it would be this bad."
Dislike seemed like an understatement. He'd sweat profusely and watched the room with nervous eyes, and now that she knew that the reason for his discomfort had been the felines instead of her, or even the fact that he was on a date, it soothed some of the frustrations that had started to build. But still, she was the third wheel of her best friend's date so she'd be sat there awkwardly while the two of them were going to converse and reminisce about their shared past (which from what she knew, wasn't too much).
"Well," Adrien started, wiping his hands on his pristine apron. "Can I get you guys anything? On the house because of Nino, of course. He's a free ticket for you lovely ladies." He grinned, the small dimples clear on his cheeks.
Even though she willed herself not to, Marinette's cheeks grew warm from the generic praise.
"Have the menus still not arrived?" Nino asked.
Adrien shook his head.
The curly-haired male raised his eyebrows. "And I assume you still haven't hired anyone else to help? You're going to go mad trying to organise everything by yourself. And are you aware that Félix is trying to steal someone's coffee right now?"
"Fuck," Adrien cursed under his breath, searching through his pockets until he found a stuffed mouse toy within his jeans. He threw it expertly across the room, caching the attention of a monotone-coloured cat that had white fur on the bottom of his paws, so the feline raced off of a table to chase after the toy. "That bloody cat just likes the milk in the drinks. It's getting ridiculous."
"You need help," Nino pointed out. "Why don't you put up a sign asking for résumés?"
He ran a hand through his golden tresses. "I keep forgetting. Do you know anyone around here that's looking for work?"
It was a great opportunity. Before she could fully think through her decision, Marinette raised her hand in a gesture akin to that in education and blurted, "I'd love to!"
He blinked in surprise. "Really?"
Ignoring the incredulous stare of her best friend, Marinette's cheeks grew hot. "Yes."
It was the best decision that she'd ever made on a whim. Her parents had been so pleased when she told them that she'd found a job within a café, which didn't get in the way of her designing or online boutique, and that she was handling pasties and other such sweet foods. Initially she was in charge of keeping the cats from running away through the open door, or eating and drinking the assortment of things customers ordered, but when she'd revealed the information that she'd grown up helping out in a successful pâtisserie, Adrien had looked blissfully happy at the reveal.
The dress code was simple; anything that didn't reveal her breasts or buttocks, while wearing the half-apron that was wrapped around her waist which included a small notepad and pen to write down orders, and that was all. There was no nametag, so she kindly introduced herself to whoever passed through the doors. It turned out that Adrien wasn't talented at decorating the desserts, and it wasn't because he had a lack of time—which certainly had been the case in the beginning—but because his hands were clumsy and often brushed against the sweet toppings and ruined the masterpiece that had been there previously. So their method of creation turned out to be the blond baking in the early mornings when she arrived, and then she would happily decorate his assortment of foods and display them in a small display case that she'd persuaded him to order.
He was just as charming as his appearance. Adrien constantly smiled whenever they made eye contact, and the soft dimples combined with the sheer friendliness in his expression made her heart flutter. He was everything that she could want in a love interest—from seeing his strange sense of humour, hearing the occasional cat pun that he uttered, along with the clumsiness that was just so endearing in a sweet way, she'd fallen increasingly smitten with him. Adrien was... good; that was the best way to describe him. When a customer came in and was disappointed with their experience, or when a feline scratched them and made them bleed in any way, he comforted them and tried to soothe their frustrations to the best of his ability.
"Marinette," he called, extending the syllables of her name. "You're daydreaming again."
Her cheeks coloured. "My bad," Marinette murmured, brushing the creases from her apron.
After she'd mentioned that she was self-employed as a designer, Adrien had paid her handsomely to re-design their aprons, since the first lot that he'd worn had frayed and started to fall apart pathetically after a second wash. She'd added more stitches of multi-coloured paw prints across the apron, and made it so Adrien's ended at his waist, rather than covering his chest as well. When he'd asked why the style change, Marinette had swiftly changed the subject—he didn't need to know that the female customers had increased after he began to show more of his body.
"You're staring at the same table again," he pointed out, leaning on the counter beside her. She was standing behind the display case, supposed to be picking a customer's selected dish. "Is there someone you like over there? I still feel bad about your date bolting out all that time ago, so you can get off early if you'd like to pursue them."
The ambiguous use of gender words caught her attention. Marinette raised her eyebrows and coolly pointed out, "Félix is working together with Bridgette—she's distracting them so he can lap at their food."
"I give up," he groaned, running his fingers through his hair.
She patted his back. "Your children are out of control."
"I didn't raise them this way." Adrien sighed. "So you're not interested in either of Félix's victims, then?"
Eyeing them for a few moments and humming under her breath, aware of his inquisitive eyes on her face, Marinette took in the two; a female with short ebony-coloured hair and a nice smile, and a male with his black hair coiffed stylishly. They were together as friends, as the girl was quite the regular at the café since she was fond of felines but her room-mate was allergic, so it was clear that they weren't a couple from their lack of affectionate gestures to each other. Yet the mere question of whether she was interested in someone had quite the reaction of her part. She knew that it was just friendly curiosity, yet her muscles clenched and became stiff.
He still didn't know about her. Marinette had been working at the café for three months, having started two days after she'd blurted out that she was interested, and since that time she had simply stole glances at him during the day before seeing him again in the evenings within her mirror, finally knowing exactly how he spent his days.
"No," she said, looking him in the eyes. "I'm not."
He grinned. "Excuse me." And with that, he scooped the scheming feline into his arms and plopped him beside another table, introducing the cat with a charming smile and withholding the information that if there food on the table Félix would most likely attempt to eat it in any way possible.
Alya had pestered her constantly after their failed double date. They'd found out while nursing a bottle of wine together one evening that Jean had an irrational fear of cats, and had told that to Nino beforehand, but Nino had thought that it was a joke. Her red-headed friend had hit it off with her date, though, which made her smile widely when she heard the juicy details despite her protests. It turned out that Nino had had a large crush on her as a child and had written a long romantic card, but Alya had transferred away before she could receive it. Alya had gushed and groaned about how terribly romantic it was, and even stated that she would write a novel about their story because teenage girls would surely fall for their dumb tale—especially the part where Alya had wrongly thought he was a stalker of some sort, yet still agreed to the date bemusedly.
The only friend Adrien knew before the café had opened was Nino. Adrien had been the curly-haired male's pen-pal, and he'd moved per Nino's suggestion when he had the ludicrous idea of the café—all because he'd wanted a cat, and he liked big commitments.
The feline that constantly stayed within his room was revealed to be Plagg, and he preferred to laze around in Adrien's apartment on the upper floor, rather than deal with strangers in the café. The feline had wandered down once and she'd heard a strange high-pitched noise while working in the kitchen, and after inspecting behind a door she'd seen the familiar black-coloured feline before he'd ran back up the stairs and disappeared into the confines of his room once again. Plagg didn't venture downstairs very often, only a few times when the café was closed and she was still cleaning up, or when Adrien was working on baking in the early hours of the morning.
So when she'd returned to the display case to watch the café after delivering a customer their selected items, she almost jumped in surprise when warm fur brushed against her exposed calves. From having been around cats constantly for months she didn't squeak in shock from sudden close contact any more—so it was from looking down and seeing that it was Plagg, with his wide viridian-tinged eyes and innocent expression, that she'd allowed a noise of bewilderment escape.
"Hey, little man," she greeted, dropping down to her knees and offering her hand for the feline to sniff. "This is early for you. Everything okay?" And from the contact with said cats, she'd began to converse with them openly (something she was rather shy about in the beginning).
One of the best things, other than seeing Adrien bend over to collect items from the low coffee tables, was seeing him converse with the felines and attempt to hold conversations while smiling brightly when they made noises back at him. It was so fucking endearing that she'd simply gaped the first time she'd witnessed it.
Plagg audibly vibrated and rubbed against her offered fingers.
"Hang on," she cooed, stroking the feline's head. "I have something you'll enjoy."
After putting some of their new cat treats in a small dish, she wiped her hands clean before attending to the rest of the customers. Adrien hadn't mentioned needing any more help after she'd joined; the menus had been sorted, their food was on display—although they only offered a sweet selection and nothing savoury—and although they often had queues outside of the door with customers waiting to be seated, he never brought up the topic. The café was quite small in size, but it was quaint and had a certain charm to it. She'd helped him finish setting up speakers so soft music played through them, and things were just going so well.
He was laughing while talking to someone, and the sound was one of her favourites; especially when it was slightly breathless from surprise.
"I love you," she murmured, watching him touch his neck in a self-conscious gesture, "but you don't want me."
Why would he suddenly? It had been five years, three months and two days since she'd accidentally wished to see her soulmate, and he didn't share the same thought. But as she watched him flutter around the room with charming smiles and precious words spilling from his lips, she supposed it was enough to see him in the flesh; to see his smile, the glimmer in his eyes up close and to hear the low tones of his voice when he spoke.
Even if her heart ached, it was okay.
Their first joint decision had been absolutely awful. They'd decided that Félix was far too pesky and that they needed to keep better tabs on him during business hours, so Marinette had ordered a bell and a generic black collar to attach around his neck. The noise was terribly irritating; hearing the constant chiming of the bell, and watching the monotone cat mockingly lick himself slowly on what seemed like on purpose to cause more noise simply grated on her nerves. Adrien shared much the same thoughts—he was groaning, running his fingers through the golden hairs of his temples.
"That's it!" he exclaimed, hands emphasising his words. "T-that bell needs to be removed!"
She sighed. "He'll just run away."
"I'm going to go insane," Adrien prattled on incredulously, "you're going to have to put me in to therapy and that cat is going to be so smug about it."
"Stop throwing a pity paw-ty," she replied, rolling her eyes at his exaggerated sigh. "Just lure him over with treats then we'll take it off him. It's a bit strange that there's only one cat with a collar, after all."
Adrien frowned despite the pun (that usually made him smile beautifully). "He's already supposed to be on a diet, so treats will only make him closer to being fat."
"Adrien," Marinette said, fond laughter clear in her voice, "Félix is not fat. You control their diets very well; a little bit of cream every now and then won't make them inflate into balloons."
"Well, with the amount he eats..."
Whenever Alya asked why she wanted to work at the café, she'd say that the cute blond running the place combined with the adorable cats meant that she was sold as soon as she heard that he was looking for employees. Her friend constantly teased her for her crush, and she never corrected the accusation—it wasn't wrong, after all. It was deeper than an infatuation, though; Marinette's heart beat faster whenever he smiled warmly at her, and she blushed multiple times each day whenever he did something that was particularly sweet, even if it wasn't directed at her.
She could proudly say that they were friends.
"Can I ask you something?" Marinette started, interrupting his mumbled thoughts about Félix's weight. "I... I don't want you to take this the wrong way, really," she stuttered, stumbling over her words rather than her feet, "but you're very... reserved."
His smile was small, confused, and the slightly raised eyebrows showed that he wanted her to continue and elaborate.
Marinette cleared her throat. "I've noticed that you've, well, never agreed to a date from what I've seen. N-not that you—I-I mean not that I follow you around."
Not of her own accord, at least. While there had been a few tense moments when customers had approached him and tried to coax the blond to go on a date elsewhere, he had always politely declined and continued onto the next table without so much as fluttering an eyelid.
"So you've noticed," Adrien murmured, tapping his fingertips thoughtfully upon the countertop, "or do you mean you've been told by a certain nosey friend of mine?"
Her cheeks coloured but she stubbornly tried to keep her expression neutral. "I don't know what you're talking about," Marinette tried to say, voice higher than usual.
It was a blessing that their best friends were dating successfully. She'd managed to wrangle more information out of Alya about him than she would've been able to otherwise. She'd learned that he was home-schooled for most of his life, that he'd moved from another country to fulfil his spontaneous dream, and that he'd avoided dating anyone since he was young despite the sheer amount of pursuers he had over the years. Alya either hadn't mumbled the reason during their weekly drinking sessions, or she simply hadn't been told by her boyfriend.
"Nice try." Adrien smiled despite the breach of privacy. "It's not that I'm rejecting everyone without much reason—I just want to be sure of them instead of casually dating."
"No sex before marriage?" she joked despite her frantically beating heart.
His lips twitched as he deadpanned, "Not unless they're very purr-suasive."
"I'm very certain you stole that pun from me, actually," Marinette pointed out with a sly smile. "How are you going to make this betrayal up to me?"
Placing a hand on his chest in mock offense, Adrien gasped, "Oh, no—but unless you have proof that you're finally better than me at puns, then I'm afraid that I simply won't believe you."
Childishly, she stuck her tongue out in a silly gesture. He laughed in response and the sound warmed her heart—and her cheeks, certainly—and as she saw the fond smile upon his lips and the beautiful dusting of blond upon the ends of his long eyelashes, she found herself asking, "Do you believe in the mirror legend?"
He blinked. "Mirror legend?" Adrien parroted, breathing audibly through his nose. "I've heard of it, yes—my mother was fond of telling me about it whenever she tucked me in at night. That was a long time ago, though. I don't remember it too well."
That little piece of information meant that perhaps his mother had passed away, along with his belief in it. Marinette gnawed on her lower lip, staring into his emerald eyes as he looked at her with muted curiosity. She told herself that she was happy to simply be by his side as a colleague, friend, and whatever else he wanted he to be. Yet, as her gaze her soft at his slightly confused expression, she rubbed her fingers together and took in a deep breath.
"Legend has it that if someone were to wish to see their soulmate while gazing in a mirror," she started, voice breathy and hushed, and she didn't blink as they continued to stare at each other, "that they would see a glimpse of them; for a few seconds, enough to recognise them in person."
"Strange," he murmured, running a hand through his hair. "How would that work? What if they weren't there when you wished to see them—actually, how the fuck would you see them anyway? It's not like there's a random camera that your mirror could tap into."
Despite his disbelief, the quizzical questions that escaped his lips caused her to snort in amusement. Marinette covered her mouth with her hand, attempting to stifle the laughter as the blond looked visibly surprised at her reaction; perhaps he had assumed that she'd agreed with his points, rather than begin to laugh aloud at them.
"S-sorry," she stuttered through her laughter, wiping her cheek in a self-conscious movement. "It's a legend, Adrien. The details are never going to be exact."
"Okay." He blinked. "Then will you tell me what you believe?"
Her smile was strained. "What makes you think I believe in it?"
The blond shrugged his shoulders lightly, raising his eyebrows. "You didn't agree with my rather logical points just now—in fact, you laughed at them. You hurt my feelings there, Marinette." She tried not to laugh at that, too. "So, I'd like to hear your point of view of this."
"Okay," she found herself saying, "but you have to promise not to laugh."
If he were to laugh at her experience—though he certainly didn't know that—she thought that she'd want to curl into a ball and cry about her feeling for a while. But five years, six months and fifteen days of seeing him within her mirror certainly moulded her feelings into a very genuine, fragile ball of bubbling secrecy.
He agreed with a bemused expression.
"I-I know... I think that it would only work between full-length mirrors. The first versions I heard always mentioned them, so perhaps it would—maybe—connect between two and allow a peek through the other; so if they were in front of the mirror, the one that had wished to see their soulmate would glimpse and see them."
There was a silence growing between them as Adrien mulled over the idea given, not blurting the first thing that came to mind like she would've done if their positions were flipped. She was silently begging for him to accept the information, not to question the very belief and blow her off; asking quietly between the sentences for him to allow the idea that there was a soulmate out there for him (or, rather, in front of him unknowingly). She wanted to shout, wave her hands madly and proclaim that she was the very one for him—but that would just cause the opposite reaction that she wanted. Unless he were to pursue her of his own accord, she wasn't going to attempt to coax the male out on a date. Being friends was enough until he sought her out personally, if the day ever came.
His expression was neutral; a mixture of curiosity and a blank look. Marinette tore her gaze away when they'd made eye contact again, choosing to stare at her fiddling hands upon the countertop.
He was the first to break their silence. "You make it sound very one-sided."
"Yes," she murmured, "it would—I-I believe it would be, unless the other wished to see their soulmate, too."
"That would be quite lonely, if it were true," Adrien mused, and she could feel his stare boring into her flushed cheeks, "let's hope that people can accept that they're their own soulmates, then."
And with that answer, Adrien's hand gently squeezed her shoulder in a comforting gesture before he disappeared across the room to place their open sign outside, ready for the day. Marinette wondered whether that was what he really thought; and if it was, then she was at least happy that he was content with himself.
He was crying.
Marinette didn't know what to do. She sat in front of her mirror, pillow clutched in her lap as she watched anxiously through her mirror without the ability to do anything at all. She'd seen him do a vast majority of things, but sobbing quietly—or so she assumed from his barely moving mouth—was the worst thing to witness. Through the years she'd come to expect that approaching evening; she'd connected the dots when he mentioned his mother in passing once, and realised that every year on an exact date would he cry his heart out.
Plagg was there, kneading at his thighs and attempting to comfort him.
The blond swiped furiously at his stained cheeks, eyes red and quite swollen, a spurt of either sobs or laughter escaping as he looked down at the feline.
Marinette wiped her tears, too, muttering under her breath that she was being ridiculous.
When they met at the café the next day, she didn't mention the dark bags underneath his eyes, nor the fact that he hadn't styled his hair in the same beautiful fashion as always, and he responded much the same without mentioning anything about hers. So when she began to walk towards the kitchen to decorate their delicacies for that day, she was surprised when he gently caught hold of her wrist and stopped her from entering.
"Wait," he murmured, "I'm not opening the café today."
The question of whether he was okay was on the tip of her tongue, but she held it in. Marinette glanced at him over her shoulder, taking in the slightly painted expression as they made eye contact. She just—she needed to comfort him, but she couldn't without hovering awkwardly and invading his personal space.
"Okay," she replied.
And as they stood simply staring at each other; her with furrowed eyebrows and a concerned expression, and him looking quite pained and uncomfortable—was he okay with her being there during his vulnerable moment? He wasn't aware that she'd witnessed it many times during the years, and although she knew that he wallowed in the shadows of his room alone most of the time, it wasn't clear whether he found comfort with his friends outside.
She found herself saying, "Do you want to go somewhere else?"
To her surprise, Adrien licked his lips before saying, "Okay."
He smiled softly at her and she returned the gesture. After a few minutes of quiet debates on where they would venture to, as it was still within the early hours of the morning restricting their access to most shops that were local, Marinette didn't protest when he searched up different locations on his cell phone before deciding on where to go. When she asked, he simply said that it would be a surprise after they'd confirmed that they had the rest of the day free.
On their bus ride there, Marinette was thankful that she'd worn dark-stained jeans along with a warm black sweater.
"I like the cat attire today," was his only comment.
Her cheeks warmed and she was glad that Alya had given her the sweater as a gag gift, suggesting that she should wear it at work since it was decorated with a reoccurring pattern of cartoon cats wearing various silly expressions. And despite the fact that red-head had expected her to throw it into the back of her closet, she'd laughed and claimed that she loved it—and now that the blond had genuinely smiled, along with exhaling through his nose in a gesture close to quiet laughter, it was even better.
When they arrived at their destination, Marinette couldn't hold in her laughter. Arms around her sides to keep warm from the brisk weather, she felt the bubbles of laughter build within her chest before she was chortling heartily, well aware of the blond's perplexed gaze on her, attempting to understand her reaction. But, really, what had she been expecting?
"Y-you're obsessed," she choked out.
He blinked. "That's not very nice."
The café had been closed, and from all the different scenarios that she'd imagined her head of where they would visit on their first outing together (maybe even a date), the location they were at hadn't came to mind—because she'd expected that he'd visited enough times, and wasn't interested any more. Her cheeks were warm and hurting slightly from the large smile she was sporting, and all Adrien could do was return it with concern within his expression.
It was a large pet store, one that used to always be advertised on television when she watched it back at her parents'. There was a large section full of different animals that constantly bragged about their variety while the rest was full of supplies and other such things. As if to humour her, they walked slowly through the pet section, staring for longer than necessary at different animals that she knew didn't interest him too much. She pursed her lips at the snakes, tried to withhold laughter when he jerked back in surprise at the birds, before finally sighing and pushing at his back to indicate it was time to go.
"Okay, sir," she said, rolling her eyes. "You've proved you're not obsessed. Go on, go look for the cats."
He narrowed his eyes for a moments before breaking into a grin, grabbing her lightly by the wrist and dragging her along, too. Thankfully it was out of work hours that he was quite touchy—if he ever brushed her shoulder or pulled her by her hand within the café in front of customers, she was sure she'd squeak or drop whatever she was holding (which was usually plates or mugs, which would end up being quite expensive in return for the brief warmth of his hands).
Adrien's pace picked up as they turned the corner. "Yes, they have kittens!"
"...You're buying a kitten, aren't you?" she questioned slowly.
His grin was almost blinding as they stopped in front of a playpen. "Maybe."
Trying not to sigh, she asked, "How many cats do you have currently, Adrien?"
Gnawing on his lower lip, Adrien dramatically rubbed his lower chin in an exaggerated movement, along with humming. "Well," he started, raising his eyebrows, "a few?"
"Name them," she deadpanned.
"Okay," Adrien agreed, holding his hands up in a gesture meaning he needed a moment to think. "There's Plagg, Félix, Bridgette, Lila..."
She tried to keep her smile as flat as her tone, "Go on."
"Then we've got Fang, Nooroo and Wayzz..." Adrien trailed off.
The last names were strange, and when she'd learned that the first few days that he had been open—when parents had taken their intrigued children into the café—that he'd taken suggestions from the children on what to call the remaining three felines, she'd laughed despite the ridiculous names.
Her eyes flickered to the playpen; it was usually what held young children in, she realised, except for the occasion there were six different kittens inside, some from the same litter from their matching burnt orange-coloured fur patches, while the others had longer hair and were white. She looked between the kittens that were either snoozing, eating the food that was in endearingly tiny dishes within, or staring at them, and back to Adrien's smile and slightly raised eyebrows—it was an expression that was quite close to pleading, actually.
"One," she started, making sure her expression showed that she was serious. "You can have one, Adrien, as that way you'll have an even number and be happy."
"Great!" He grinned. "Pick one, then, Marinette."
She blinked. "Me?"
"Well, yes," the blond started, gesturing her forward to peer into the playpen. "I've chosen seven, so it's only fair that my best employee gets to pick one."
"I'm also your worst," she pointed out, stilling as her shoulder as pressed against his side as they looked down. The kittens were very cute, she could agree. The youngest feline at the café was over a year, Plagg, as he was the only cat that Adrien had raised from eight weeks. The rest he had found at a rescue centre, and they loved him enough that she hadn't expected that answer at all (she'd thought they just hadn't been allowed in his room, then Plagg was the exception). "Do I have any restrictions?"
He hummed. "You can have free reign, just this once."
"My hero," she drawled.
As she watched the tiny felines that were all staring at them curiously, some climbing over each other in attempts to get closer, Marinette was focused on just how close they were—her side was almost plastered against him, and he wasn't making any indication to move. All she wanted to do was embrace him, comfort him and his partially swollen eyes, but she couldn't. So, she caught the gaze of one of the honey-coloured kittens, noticing the dark flecks across their fur that was akin to spots, and tentatively asked the male beside her if they were okay.
An employee put a temporary black collar around the feline, told them that it was a female, and said they could collect her whenever they were ready—which meant when Adrien was done browsing the store. She rolled her eyes as he picked up another carrier—they already had far too many in their storage room—before waltzing through the store to find kitten food and toys.
"You're going to spoil her rotten," she observed as he was inspecting tiny stuffed mice.
He grinned. "Of course."
"There's no room for two cats to sleep in your hair," she muttered.
He still heard her, though. Adrien faltered in his step, expression unreadable as he stared blatantly at her. Marinette quickly realised her mistake; Adrien had never invited her upstairs into his apartment, let alone mentioned Plagg's sleeping habits. It was sensitive information that only she was secretly privy to.
She blurted the first thing that came to mind. "There's sometimes black fur in your hair!"
His eyes narrowed in suspicion as he raised his hand to the golden tresses, self-consciously feeling the strands to see if there was any fur intertwined. She pursed her lips, unsure whether he was going to believe the lame explanation—but to her surprise, he did. Adrien laughed it off, causing her expression to quickly turn incredulous, and he distracted her by choosing cat toys.
They bought a new bed, another tiny scratching post and some furniture contraption that would balance upon the radiator for when the weather grew colder. Her cheeks hurt from smiling by the time the kitten was safely tucked within the carrier, upon her lap within the bus. Adrien insisted that she needed to bond with her, so she would potentially follow her around the café, and for a while she thought that he was expecting her to bring the feline back home with her, too.
After placing their purchases inside, Marinette decided to spend her remaining time focusing on her boutique, rather than hovering awkwardly. Outside of the café, Marinette made sure the male was safely cradling the carrier when she announced it would be in her best interest to leave, if they weren't going to open for that day. He agreed with a soft smile, and she swallowed audibly from the sheer happiness that was in his expression. It was a clear contrast to that morning when she'd seen his reddened eyes and frown. Whether it was because of her or the new feline was unclear, though.
"Marinette!" he called.
She stilled, looking over her shoulder in the street.
Adrien's hands were still clasping the carrier protectively. "Do you want to come inside? Upstairs?" His head jerked in an attempt to gesture to his apartment.
The first thing she thought of was seeing the inside of his bedroom from a different perspective. Her cheeks warmed as she nodded tentatively, a small smile upon her lips. Adrien's returned grin was sincere, showing the soft dimples of his cheeks and she felt her pulse quicken from the realisation that this male—he, her soulmate—was inviting her happily into his home after months of being friends. He was opening up, and there was nothing that could have made her happier at that moment.
"Ignore their pleading glances," Adrien murmured as they passed the clowder of cats, "they don't actually like it upstairs."
She laughed when a few whined in return. "Does Plagg not get on with them?"
"I don't think he really cares, honestly," the blond grumbled, steadying the carrier in one hand so he could successfully open doors again. As they ascended the stairs to his apartment, Marinette peeked upwards a few times to admire the view—because, well, it was still her soulmate's backside. "They used to steal his toys when I first introduced, so there's probably a grudge there."
"It would be nice to see him downstairs more," she mentioned, "he's very sweet." Especially whenever the feline attempted to comfort Adrien, or pawed at his hair during the night to create the perfect bed.
Adrien snorted. "When he wants to be."
"Like you, then," she retorted, trying not to laugh.
He stilled on the top of the stairs, glancing over his shoulder with an offended expression. Laughter spilled through her lips from the exaggerated expression, and he took only a few moments before laughing, too.
The apartment was slightly nicer than hers (with a severe lack of cracked walls, though). He'd decorated it sparingly, with only one picture of a woman with golden-coloured hair and his eyes, who she assumed to be his mother, upon the wall within the living room. The kitchen wasn't covered or separated by a wall, so she was able to see the gleaming countertops and everything that was to offer in the first section of the apartment. Marinette removed her shoes happily—it was amusing to see him almost trip while attempting to remove his without putting the carrier down—and perched herself upon the edge of a leather sofa that had suspicious scratch marks upon the sides. There were two dark-stained doors that were closed, and she assumed they were to the bathroom and his bedroom—hopefully he specified which later, if necessary.
Adrien was glancing around the room, trying to determine where best to place the carrier so the kitten wouldn't be scared away.
"Why don't you just put her beside us?" she suggested, trying not to chortle at his serious expression.
"I don't know where Plagg is."
Her eyes flickered around the room. "Unless he's excellent at hiding, I think you might have locked him in your room."
At the mention of his room, he whipped his head around quickly, cursing underneath his breath. "Here," he murmured, placing the carrier into her bewildered arms, "I need to find that stupid cat. He can't even open a door."
The second door lead to his bedroom, then. It turned out that Plagg's deepest secret was that when he simply had to curl his paw around the door to pull it open, he pushed against it instead and constantly locked himself inside the bathroom or bedroom when Adrien was away. She tried not to laugh, really, but seeing Adrien's disgruntled expression from his cat's antics caused persistent laughter to spill from her lips. The blond sat beside her, lower lip jutting out in a dramatic expression.
"Do you want to watch a film?" he asked while retrieving the carrier from her shaking hands.
Marinette stilled, grasping for air when the object was gone. "I—yes."
Seeing the mischievous expression that was playing upon his face, the dark-haired female deadpanned, "No cats."
As it turned out, Adrien had a peculiar taste in films. He'd shuffled through the collection he had in the drawer beneath the television, shaking his head silently when the selected one wasn't deemed appropriate. And when he'd finally settled for one, Marinette had been baffled for the first ten minutes—two characters had already been murdered with far too much blood being shown, and Adrien wasn't phased at all; rather, he was enjoying himself with a genuine smile upon his face. And throughout the various scenes that were supposed to make the audience jump, she was far too focused attempting to look at him from her peripheral vision. Seeing his face illuminated by a screen, so close and just within reach, while the setting sun was causing shadows to became clearer within the apartment caused her heart to flutter constantly.
He probably thought she liked horror films. In truth, she watched them with Alya when they were thoroughly intoxicated so they could screech and laugh together.
The carrier had been set down beside the sofa, and they couldn't tell whether the kitten had ventured outside thus far. After Adrien had checked constantly every five minutes, she had scolded him and said to wait and not pressure the poor feline.
The screen faded to black as the credits rolled. Marinette blinked, running a hand through her hair before stretching.
"I hadn't seen that one yet," Adrien murmured, voice thick before he cleared his throat. "I don't know whether I liked it, but it was unintentionally funny at times."
If he asked her opinion of the plot, the plan was to agree with his. She couldn't remember the important details for the life of her. "Yes."
"Can I check on Cat now?"
"...Did you just call her Cat?" Marinette asked incredulously.
Adrien grinned, shrugging his shoulders lightly. "If you don't want to name her, that shall be the unfortunate name—she'll be the star of the café. People will think it's hers."
"You're ridiculous," she replied. "Bridgette would bully her."
"Bridgette just shows her love in mysterious ways," the blond corrected while pushing himself up from the couch. With his eyes scrunched shut, Adrien raised his arms above his head to stretch and her eyes darted down to see the exposed flesh (there was no apron to keep his shirt from riding up). Her cheeks warmed pleasantly, and she wondered how'd she been so lucky as to end up with someone who's appearance was equally as beautiful as their personality.
An eyebrow was raised when he noticed where her gaze was directed. Marinette reddened further, teeth sinking into her lower lip as she was unsure how to respond. And to her utter surprise, Adrien winked.
He hadn't done that before. Within her time working at the café, he had been polite to others, friendly, and their friendship had progressed steadily as the workload was split eventually. Other than their conversations within work time, they hadn't actively sought each other in their free time. In fact, their outing that day was the first time they had been together outside of the workplace.
"Do you want anything to eat?" Adrien enquired, his sock-clad feet padding towards the kitchen quietly. "Or a drink, maybe?"
"I'm fine," she replied, fanning her heated face discreetly.
"Are yo—oh!" His sentence was cut off abruptly. Marinette jumped to her feet, chortling softly when she realised that he'd tripped over a stray cardboard box. It was one that was decorated with ink, styled to have a windows and flower baskets drawn across the material; clearly for a certain cat's enjoyment. "Fucking Plagg," Adrien murmured, pushing the box aside, fondness clear in his voice.
When he'd tried to have boxes out for the cats to play with downstairs, some customers had mistaken them for rubbish and taken them on the way out, throwing them in the nearest recycle bin. But, of course, he'd still attempt to have some upstairs away from prying eyes.
Marinette was sat upon the sofa again when the blond trailed back, placing a clear plastic water bottle on the small table in front of them. With a grin, he sat beside her with a sigh and looked around the dimly-lit shadows in search for their new companion.
"Have you thought of a name yet, Marinette?" Adrien asked, leaning back against the cushions.
She hummed, rubbing her hands along her fabric-clad thighs. "I think Cat's growing on me."
"I'm not falling for your lies, you devil." He laughed.
Her smile was genuine. "What type of name would you prefer?"
Instead of replying, Adrien dramatically traced his chin with his index finger and thumb while scrunching his expression in a mocking gesture. She rolled her eyes, elbowing him gently on his upper arm.
His dimples showed as he grinned.
"Tikki," she blurted, cheeks warming. "I'd like to call her Tikki."
"Your wish is my command."
He was still smiling at her. Marinette's nails dug into her the material of her jeans, resisting the urge to gnaw at her lower lip from the sheer nerves of the situation. His expression was soft, friendly and so very endearing and it caused her heartbeat to pick up and echo within her head repeatedly. It was a look that was usually directed at his feline companions, especially Plagg within the late hours of the evening, but it was at her.
"I don't say this enough," he began, voice as soft as his expression, "but thank you, Marinette."
Her throat felt dry.
The smile upon his lips was genuine, she knew; it reached his kind emerald eyes and showed the soft indents of his cheeks. "You're the best employee I could wish for—seriously, it was like all my wishes were answered when you applied."
It became clear how close they were sitting. If she leaned closer to him, their shoulders would've touched.
"Thank you for hiring me," she rasped.
"I'm not firing you," Adrien interjected, hands flailing suddenly in front of his face for emphasis. They were closer than before, noses almost touching form his sudden movement. "Please, don't think that. I just wanted to show my gratitude, really."
She hadn't thought that, though. "I'm assuming that's what the kitten's for."
Adrien raised his eyebrows. "I've been hoping to get another for a while, actually. I thought you'd feel more... involved with the café if you chose one yourself."
She blinked. "I don't think it's possible to be any more involved." And she believed those words, really; there wasn't a way to be unless it wasn't on a professional level. Throughout the months she'd gone throughout many tasks, such as the ones that Adrien found himself too busy to complete. "Thank you for the thought, though. It was really sweet."
"I feel like I don't appreciate you enough," he admitted, a small smile across his lips. "Any idea how I can remedy that?"
Her breathing stuttered.
"You're silly," Marinette replied, lips curling into a frown at how high-pitched her voice had become. Clearing her throat, she continued, "You do more than enough for me—I was just a random customer that wanted to work here. There was no reason to even accept me from just that."
His smile grew as he pushed the golden strands from his forehead. "I've seen you before, though. You weren't a random customer."
At his words, Marinette stilled. "What?" she said, well aware of how bewildered she sounded.
"I knew you," Adrien pointed out, meeting her wide eyes with a reassuring expression. "I can promise that I'm not a stalker, but, well, you know that Nino used to really like Alya?"
Dumbly, she nodded.
"We were pen-pals growing up," the blond explained, "I've been talking to him for years, so whenever someone used to ask him out before he saw Alya again, he used to gush all about her." She knew the story, of course, from Alya's tales of her nights with her boyfriend. She hadn't heard the information uttered from the blond in front of her (he was rather private about his life before the café). "I... This is going to sound really awkward, but I've seen pictures of you for years."
"I..." Marinette trailed off, cutting herself off to gulp. "How long?"
To her utter surprise, his cheeks turned a delicate shade of pink while he averted his eyes, gold-tinted eyelashes obstructing his eyes. "A while," he started, laughing softly at how he sounded. "Nino just wanted to show me the girl he liked—forgot to mention that they hadn't actually talked before—and you just happened to be in most of the pictures. I think the first I saw was from you in secondary school?"
It was her cheeks that flamed from that. Marinette gnawed on her lips, uncertain of how to respond to his explanation. He may have seen her before she even knew he'd existed, but it wasn't for the same reason; it was foolish for her hopes to rise, but she couldn't stop the frantic beating of her heart from his words.
"So, I promise not to kill you," he continued, grin widening and showing the whiteness of his teeth.
Narrowing her eyes playfully, she murmured, "I don't know how to feel about being stalked by my boss."
"Flattered," Adrien supplied.
"Violated," she countered.
Though, if anyone had to right to feel violated, it was him. Her cheeks burned from the thought, causing the dark-haired female to avert her gaze and stare at the room. Blinking owlishly from surprise, Marinette pointed to small table in front of them, wondering how they hadn't noticed the intrusion.
The conversation was forgotten as they doted over the small kitten, and Marinette's cheeks began to hurt after hours had began to pass by. They'd spent more than the usual amount of time in each other's presence, and the blond had questioned it at all—he was far too busy attempting to coax Plagg to out of his bedroom to meet the new addition to the household. Despite the scratch marks across her hands and the swollen skin in some areas, it had been a delightful evening. They had brushed hands more than a few times during, and when Tikki had cautiously climbed onto Marinette's lap, the blond can shuffled closer and tapped his fingers on her thighs to attempt to attract the feline's attention.
When Adrien noticed the time—and she was truly shocked at how late it, especially since they had forgotten to eat—he began to insist that she could stay the night and he could sleep on the couch, to make her comfortable. Her response was to stumble over her words, horrified of the thought of sleeping in the very room she'd seen almost every night, and he attempted to soothe her by saying there was no reason to be embarrassed and that it was perfectly fine.
"Really," the blond murmured, placing a comforting hand on her arm. "I'd be completely fine with it. It's past midnight already, what if something happens out there?"
She wet her lips. "I live ten minutes away, Adrien."
"Wait." He blinked. "You do?"
"You never asked," she defended herself, making sure her cell phone and wallet were firmly tucked into her pockets. "I'll be absolutely fine. Thank you for tonight, well, today."
He shook his head. "I'll walk you."
"I studied martial arts!" Marinette blurted.
And with that, he was adamant that they were leaving together. After making sure Tikki wouldn't escape downstairs and meet the other cats too soon, they walked at a steady pace. Marinette shivered, rubbing her elbows in an attempt for warmth as they crossed the streets. It was undeniably sweet that he was escorting her, but she squashed the growing hopes quickly and hoped they stayed extinguished so their relationship wasn't damaged. Her cheeks were warm from his ridiculous jokes and the chilly breeze by the time they stopped before her apartment building.
They paused, eyes locked together and shared small, sincere smiles.
"Thank you for walking me," she murmured.
Adrien reply was warming. "Thank you for everything."
She shook her head. "I didn't do anything."
And yet, his smile showed his dimples and the light from the lamps on the street were acting as a mangled form of a spotlight for him, highlighting his golden-coloured hair and fair complexion, only marred by the slight dusting of pink from the weather. They were close, steady breaths appearing in front of them from the temperature. Abruptly he reached forward, frozen fingers brushing against her own and grasping her hand softly.
"You should go inside," Adrien advised, trailing his digits across her hand in a soothing manner. "Your fingers are freezing."
"So are yours," she found herself saying.
His lips curled into a sly smile. "I'll manage."
The years had been kind to him. He was tall, lean, with a healthy glow to his skin despite the circumstance. Within the months they had been working together he had stopped styling his hair in the neatly arranged halo of golden tresses; they were free, flicking in whichever direction they wanted, and it was mused and coiffed in a way that he used to achieve within the late hours of the evening after running his hands through it too many times. It was clear that he was happier than he was more. The cats, the café, being nearer to Nino and, hopefully, she had improved his happiness, too.
"Do you want to come up for coffee?" she whispered, gesturing timidly with her free hand up to her window.
"I—" Adrien cut himself off, clearing his throat softly. His hand was still upon hers, and she could feel the soft skin and perhaps the slight callous at the bottom of his fingers from previous activities. "It's probably best if I see you tomorrow," he murmured, voice lower than before.
When she opened her mouth to reply, it became apparent how close they were standing. Chests almost touching, within distance to feel his breath that was released, and share the tad of warmth that was offered. Her throat felt dry, and she closed her lips just as quickly as they opened with an uncertain expression. A touch on her free arm didn't make her jump. Adrien trailed his fingertips lightly upon the free skin before her sweater, causing her breath to hitch and stutter considerably. Their eyes were locked as he leaned closer, the movement artfully slow as though he was silently asking permission—wondering whether the movement was acceptable, or if she'd push him away and reject him.
And so, with an erratically beating heart and dry lips, Marinette gulped as their noses lightly pressing against each other and his lips curled into a genuine smile.
Their fingers intertwined as their cold lips connected. There wasn't an electric shock, nor choir bells ringing in her mind as novels described, but an erratically beating pulse within her mind and soft lips pressing against her own. It wasn't harsh, rough, or overwhelmed with passion that couldn't be extinguished; Adrien's movements were gentle, uncertain, and she returned the gesture tentatively. As they grew more confident in their actions, as a steadily building warmth was blossoming between their shared bodies, Adrien caressed the nape of her neck, fingers curling around her dark tresses of hair.
She squeezed his fingers in a gesture of approval, moving closer to lean upon his chest, free hand grasping upon the material of his shirt for support. He hummed underneath his breath, the noise in response to her gesture. A bubble of warmth erupted within her stomach, a chain reaction for her heart to beat faster, louder, pulse spiking and trailing from her head to her lower half tauntingly. Her movements were clumsy, almost nipping his lips accidentally and causing him to release a breathy laugh that did wonders for her re-located pulse.
His thumb traced soothing patterns into the flesh of her neck, and she tilted her head to allow more comfortable access while giving into the the sensations shooting through her, nerves whispering quietly in the back of her head that this was a moment she'd been waiting years for, and she hadn't initiated it at all.
His soft touches and persistent kisses stirred a breathy moan. Marinette took a sudden intake of breath, that surely wasn't too different to her uneven breathing, when the blond gently bit her lower lip, tongue soothing the swollen flesh moments after, a soft noise of approval escaped. He took the quiet noise for what it was, and before long her moans were muffled by their movements. Her grip upon his shirt became tighter, comforted by the gentle flicks of his tongue and the silent assurance that she wasn't as awful as she'd expected—the breathy moan that he uttered when she tentatively responded with her own proved that.
When their movements became slower, lazier in a way, and began to pull away while she was clutching onto him tightly, Marinette noted in that moment she hadn't seen him look any better before; the muted glow from the lamps, his swollen lips that were glistening slightly, combined with the curl of smile and the soft expression.
His fingertips trailed along her jaw once more, squeezing her hand in a comforting gesture, and placed a chaste kiss to her lips.
"You should go inside," he said lowly.
She gulped. "I—okay."
And with another squeeze of her hand, Marinette unlocked the door and trailed up to her tiny apartment in a daze. Sitting upon the bed, she stared at the mirror while gnawing her swollen lips, unsure of what that evening had meant—perhaps, it had meant more to her than to him. Time trickled by, and as she nervously clutched onto her duvet, staring firmly at his empty bedroom, a haunting thought floated across her mind.
What if he still didn't see her? Adrien had made it clear in the past that he wasn't interested in the legend, even if he had believed in it as a child.
But, maybe, because he had become... interested, if that was the right word, in her, then there was a chance that he would glance at her through the mirror when he was home. Surely, it wasn't a kiss that conveyed no meaning.
So, when she stilled as light emerged within the navy-coloured bedroom and her heart began to beat rapidly, all the hope that had been blossoming within her chest disappeared when Adrien fixed his hair with a small smile in the mirror.
The back of her throat burned, eyes stinging from the welling of crushed expectations leaking, and shaky breaths escaped as her vision became blurry.
Five years, seven months and nine days, and he still didn't want her.