Adrien is Confused
"Sorry but I don't do autographs at school."
The girl he was speaking to looked a bit ruffled by his answer and her face turned from a pink hue to a dark and ugly crimson. He gave her his best apologetic smile and continued on his way to class as quickly as he could. It seemed every time he thought he'd seen the last of his fan base while at school, they emerged from the shadows and insisted he let them admire him. He glanced back down the stairs to see the girl which had asked him and saw she now had her bottom lip stuck out, pouting angrily, her friends gathered round to console her and probably bad mouth him. He felt a little guilty, but school was the one time of day when Adrien got to feel like a real person instead of some thing to be polished to perfection and idolised. He turned back fully as he reached the top of the stairs and nearly collided head-on with Sabrina who dropped the folder and book she had been carrying as she startled.
"Sorry," he said as he bent to retrieve the items for her.
"Sabrina! What are you doing? Be careful or you'll knock Adrien down the stairs! Why are you always so clumsy?"
"It was my fault Chloe," he said, standing to face her as she moved closer to them, "I wasn't looking where I was going."
"Aww, Adrikins, you don't have to make excuses for her," she told him as she suddenly linked her left arm into his right, completely ignoring the way he tensed at the contact, "I just hope none of my assignment got lost when she dropped everything."
"It's all here Chloe." Sabrina said, waving the folder in the air and flinching slightly as it was snatched from her hands.
Chloe led the way to class after that, Sabrina trailing just behind them. She discussed the upcoming spring line Adrien's father was working on but didn't really pause long enough for him to give any substantial opinions on the matter. Instead he defaulted to basic agreement or disagreement on her speculations as he knew she preferred. He was well aware of how self obsessed Chloe could be but he had always supposed that was just how she managed the lack of any real attention from her father. Everyone coped differently after all. He didn't mind it too much as long as he spent his time with her in small intervals. She was his oldest friend and he doubted she was fully aware of what her behaviour was like for everyone. He liked to think that given time she could change.
As they entered the classroom, the girls moved away to sit in their usual seats and Adrien slid into his own, giving a fist bump to a smiling Nino who was already seated.
"Hey dude, how was fencing yesterday? I overheard there was some kind of drama?"
"Nah, not really. Someone just spilled soda on his uniform and M. D'Argencourt gave a really over the top lecture to us all about it."
The two lapsed into trivial conversation as the classroom began to fill up and Adrien felt himself begin to relax somewhat from the guilt over the earlier autograph request. Nino was trying to explain some filtering technique he'd used on his latest music mix (which in all honesty he didn't understand at all but Nino seemed pretty excited about it) when Alya and Marinette walked into class. Both boys gawked at the latter as she made her way to her seat a whole five minutes before class was due to start.
"Yes, the rarely seen early bird, the Marinette" Alya said in her best nature documentary voice, "seen for possibly the first time this semester!"
"Alya!" Marinette blushed at her best friends words but smiled too, "You practically dragged me out of bed this morning. Of course I was going to be on time when you held my bed covers hostage."
Adrien watched the girls continue to bicker good naturedly as they passed by him and let out a snort of laughter when Nino asked if Marinette was responsible for the bruise forming on Alya's forehead.
"She's not actually, my little sister tossed a wooden brick at me last night but I wouldn't put it past this one-" she stuck out her thumb in Marinette's direction while the girl in question stuck out her tongue in response, "You know, taking Marinette from her bed is like separating Adrien from sweets. You could lose a finger."
"Hey!" Adrien protested with false offence in his voice, "You try living on a model's diet and then see how you react when I try to take your weekly Madeleine from your hand."
"I'd say 'you don't need it, you're sweet enough,' but I've heard your potty mouth Agreste. You're anything but sweet ."
"I'll say it again. You. Tried. To. Steal. My. Cookie."
"Guys! Guys!" Nino interjected, "Marinette and I are starting to feel left out here. We wanna fight too!"
All four of them burst out laughing at that and Adrien turned to look at Marinette now that he'd realised she hadn't said anything for a while. Her eyes widened a little and she glanced down at her desk when he began to speak.
"Did she really steal your covers?" he asked her, "That's brutal."
"Um, y-yeah," she stammered, her cheeks turning a rosy hue, "B-but, I could sleep c-competitively. Like for France in the Olympics."
She smiled and looked up to meet his eyes again. He was a bit relieved, she always seemed to have trouble looking in his direction when he started speaking to her. He returned the smile and gave a exaggerated sigh.
"I wish I could. Nathalie wakes me at 6am every morning. Even on the weekend."
"But dude, you miss class almost as much as she does. Just Friday neither one of you turned up for Biology. How do you manage it? Where do you even go?" Nino asked.
"Hmm," Alya placed her hand on her chin and looked between himself and Marinette as if she was trying to work out some conspiracy theory they were involved in, "he has a point. You always seem to miss class. At the same time. Is there a reason for that?" She smirked and wiggled her eyebrows at him expectantly but for the life of him Adrien had no idea what she was trying to say. He furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to enquire but wasn't quite sure how to start.
Meanwhile, Marinette had flushed scarlet so rapidly he considered asking if she was feeling light-headed at all. Still unsure what was going on, Adrien closed his mouth and turned as he heard Nino speak up.
"Alya, dude. Quit it. You'll kill her and I don't wanna have to explain the body to Mlle. Bustier or M. Clueless here."
Adrien was about to ask what he had meant by that comment when the teacher in question walked in and closed the door behind her.
He would ask Nino later but he had a feeling this was going to be one of those things his friend took strange pleasure from keeping him in the dark about.
He was sure he would be enjoying the view if he wasn't thinking so hard. He'd come to Le Jardin du Luxembourg for the impressive greenery. It made the air smell cool and clean and living in such a large city had made him appreciate real fresh air when he had access to it. He was perched atop the Palace staring out at the lawns and the statues surrounding the Octagonal basin, the Eiffel Tower on his right in the distance. In past months he'd decided this was one of his favourite spots just for looking at the beauty of Paris. And yet he was unable to stay in the present long enough to appreciate it.
He'd been thinking a lot during class today and only his well practised mask of fake interest had saved him from being noticed and scolded for not paying attention. He was still thinking now. He often did when he got confused or embarrassed by something. A social cue he had missed or a misunderstanding. Sometimes even just over-enthusiasm he had shown for something no one else found remotely interesting. Or Marinette.
When he'd first started school he'd gotten caught up over-thinking about each of his new friends. Did Alya really mean something she'd said or was that just her way of teasing him? Why was Nino so concerned by his dad's behaviour? Why did Kim and Alix hang out together when all they said were such obnoxious things to each other?
He was a quick learner though and he had picked up a lot in his first couple of weeks about how everyone's personalities differed and how it effected their interactions. Alya was usually teasing as long as her voice stayed soft, whereas if it got sharp it meant she was pissed. Nino genuinely cared about him (that one had been more of a shock for him than he'd have liked to admit to himself) and wanted him to be treated more fairly. Kim and Alix thrived on the competition they got from one another and being rotten was just how they bantered.
Marinette though. He still didn't understand her. If he ignored his own interactions with her, he would confidently say she was outgoing and energetic. She made friends easily and stood up for anyone treated unfairly. She was silly in a fun sort of way. That was the Marinette he wanted to hang out with. That was who he'd thought he'd made friends with in his first week. But she almost immediately changed around him. And that was what bugged him; it was just around him.
Whenever he tried to talk to her or they hung out as a group she got all shy and quiet and she often found excuses not to keep eye contact with him. Her stammering had almost all gone now, except for moments when she was caught off guard, but she had never stammered with anyone else that he'd ever seen.
For a while he'd thought that maybe she didn't like him regardless of what he'd thought after he'd explained the chewing gum incident. But she seemed happy enough to spend time with him, sometimes even just the two of them, although her weird behaviour seemed even more exaggerated when Alya and Nino weren't around. And she'd gotten him a Christmas present. You didn't do that when you didn't like someone, right?
Was she somehow embarrassed by him? He had no idea what he could have done that she found embarrassing to be reminded of but she did tend to act almost mortified whenever Alya pointed out she was going to be hanging out with him. It was like Alya knew something he didn't. In fact, it was like everyone did and he was just so confused. He'd been confused ever since that first week. And it was upsetting him that he was so socially incompetent that he didn't understand.
He gave a start as a hand landed on his shoulder, twisting round suddenly but relaxing as he spied the person that had drawn him out of his thoughts.
"Ladybug," he sighed.
"Sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to startle you. You looked a million miles away. Are you okay?"
"Just thinking," he told her with a half formed smile and he was sure his face gave away that there was more to it than that. "Why are you here anyway?" he asked, his face forming a half frown, "We're not due to meet for-" he opened his staff face to show a digital clock glowing green in the semi-darkness, "-HALF AN HOUR AGO!? Oh God I'm sorry, I totally lost track of time. How'd you find me?"
Ladybug raised her hand, which held her yo-yo and waved it at him, brow raised in a teasing manner, a half smirk on her face.
"We have GPS on each other while we're transformed, Kitty."
"Oh. Right. Forgot." His smile turned sheepish this time and he rubbed at the back of his neck absent-mindedly, desperately trying to ignore the look she was directing at him. The look that said she knew something was troubling him and that she was going to find out tonight if it killed her.
He turned his head away slightly and his eyes moved wildly, trying to find something in their immediate area to use as a topic change. He turned back when he heard her sigh, sure she was rolling her eyes.
"What's wrong?" she deadpanned.
"What!?" he said, and grimaced as his voice cracked, "There's nothi-" He stopped mid-word as he caught the way she was looking at him and realised it wasn't working, "There's just a girl at school I don't get. That's all," he sighed.
"Oh, a giiiiirl, Kitty?" Ladybug looked like this was the best piece of news she'd heard all week and he had to correct her assumptions before she started some very uncomfortable teasing. He avoided acknowledging the stab of pain he felt at her complete lack of jealousy over her misunderstanding.
"Hey, it's not like that. She just acts super-different around me. Nothing like how she acts with everyone else. It's...odd."
Odd didn't even begin to cover it. He was so lost when it came to what was going on with Marinette that he would consider carrying a map to school if it'd help him.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked, sitting down next to him on the ledge, "Careful with the details though. Nothing too personal."
He glanced at her and considered. Maybe she could help. After all she was a girl, like Marinette, and he assumed she was about the same age as them. Maybe she'd know some key social factors he'd missed because she probably had a normal life full of peer interaction, unlike him.
"Hmm," he started, "Okay, where to start? Okay...Okay...Okay, so she's this really confident girl most of the time. Tells off bullies, goes after what she wants, sticks to her guns and so on. I've seen her talking with other people and-" he waved his hand about vaguely as he paused to search for the right words, "-and she's this really cool, fun person." He found himself smiling when he thought back to some of their more positive interactions from recently. "She has all these really cool hobbies and she's totally dedicated to...um, this thing she likes and wants to make a career in when she's older." He wanted to add that it was fashion she liked and that she was a big fan of his father but he knew there was no way to make that obscure enough to tell Ladybug.
"Okay..." she said eager for him to continue.
"Well she was like that with me when I first met her, I um, I kinda pissed her off by accident," his cat ears flattened and he grinned sheepishly. "So she was totally okay with putting me in my place and making sure I knew what she thought of me. I thought when we got it all worked out that things would be better, you know? But now she's nothing like that."
"What? Pissed off at you?"
"No. She hangs out with me in groups and stuff and even just the two of us a couple of times, but now she...she...acts weird." He had absolutely no idea how else to put it.
"It's like she freaks out or something if I'm nearby. She does this flailing thing with her arms-" he demonstrated vigorously, "if she's caught off guard, she mixes her words up – I'm telling you Milady she has said some of the most nonsensical things I've ever heard. And she used to stammer at me. A lot. That one's not so bad any more though. We've even been known to have one or two short conversations," he added humorously.
"Hmm." Ladybug was looking at him out of the corner of her eye with a barely suppressed smirk on her face.
"What?" he asked, eye narrowed.
"Nothing," she said and the smirked formed fully as she exaggeratedly shook her head in mock innocent protest, "And she's not like this with anyone else? No other boys? It's not like she acts like this with say, just blonde people or-"
"No, just me. As myself. I've met her as Chat. She's just normal around Chat."
Unknown to him Ladybug was laughing internally at her partner's obvious obliviousness to such a normal thing. It was pretty evident to her what was going on and as much as she wanted to draw this out and tease him, she knew she should probably show him some mercy, for now.
He looked up at the sound of her chuckle and felt his confusion increase. What about this could possibly be funny?
"Oh Kitty," she said turning to look at him with a sort of pitying humour in her eyes, "you really don't get it, do you?"
"Why she acts that way. Why people in general would act that way around one person and one person only."
"Uh, no," he said rolling his eyes at her, "That's why I'm confused."
Ladybug held her smirk and sighed, putting her face in her hand for a moment before lifting it again and giving him a piercing look that said to take note of what she said next, that it would be important.
"She has a crush on you."