It had been on his mind for so many days and months that he had lost track of when the notion first came to mind.
Who was Ladybug?
It had plagued him, hounded him, nagged at him so much that the need to know was only staved off by the time she had told him that they should never know who the other was. He tried to respect her wishes, tried not to open that closet door in order to know who she was when the bright flash signaled her transformation back to her alter ego.
How he fought with himself not to open that door...
Not knowing filled his mind as much as the fun of being Chat Noir filled his veins with excitement and power. It was the biggest, unsolved mystery that was so tantalizing. His emotions spurred on the need that he ran through his head whenever there was a spare moment during class lectures, throughout photo shoots, and any time he was alone in his room. Videos of her, photos from the Ladyblog kept him sane, but it never helped keep the question out of his head.
The urge that squeezed his chest so many times, during so many moments of sending his love to her alone in his room made breathing almost unbearable. His own emotions tried to kill him as best they could by being unable to draw a simple breath and he almost wanted to let them sometimes.
Such feelings and issues were unrelenting and only when he was away from his room and his solitude could he cope. Only when he was next to his Lady could he give them something of a salve for the time being.
Who was she? How he wanted to know so badly! How his feelings screamed at him in anger, begging at him to seek her out after freeing another victim of Butterfly and plead with her to reconsider her previous words.
He was a fool to his own emotions and as strong as his love and admiration for her was, so was his hesitation.
What if she didn't feel the same way? She had pushed him away so many times, made light of his flirtatious words, and redirected him to more crucial moments...usually battle-related. Some of those times weren't the proper moment to speak of his feelings and he gave her those times when they were fighting, but after this long, he thought he could wear her down just a little.
She gave no notion of being attached more than the obvious superhero partner that was needed. She was his half and he was hers; they needed to work together and be a team. They did that well, but so many times he had wished it could lead to more.
"I don't care who is under that mask. I love that girl..."
Everything he saw from her was perfect. He didn't even see her physical beauty for all of the other highly attractive qualities she had as part of her personality. Everything about her was something to worship and he would gladly do so if she ever gave him a chance...any slight inclination that he was allowed to openly do so. He would send her bouquets of roses every day in red, the color of love and passion, to match his feelings for her.
The question of who she was often led hand in hand with when he found out. What would he do? What would he feel? What would he say? What would she say? Would she run away? Would she embrace it? Would she admit it? Would she ask to know his identity back? Where would they be when it happened? Would anyone else find out, too?
He often daydreamed at how he would find out in order to placate his mind from going crazy at needing to know. So many scenarios were plausible given the right circumstances. The time could run out on her miraculous before she could get away and expose her. She could be injured and trapped, causing him to be with her too long and see her change back because she couldn't get away. She could finally come clean and tell him herself. He would find her in mid-transformation in either mode. She would give herself away with a gesture or a word. He would end up following her, unable to take it anymore, and watch her transform without letting her know.
So many possibilities.
He often wondered at the probability of them all, finding most of them more doable than the others. He highly doubted that she'd come up to him and reveal herself; though it was the best possibility out of all of them. After all this time...why not?
So...how did he finally find out?
There had been two times when he had heard Ladybug truly laugh in a kind of laugh where one really enjoys the ability and gets lost in it. One time he had made a pun, though he figured she was being nice, and the other was just after a battle, when he slipped on water that had been spilled and skidded into a wall...pretty much knocking himself silly. His pride was hurt, but his ears soaked up that beautiful noise and he instantly forgave her at watching her laugh herself until she was clutching her stomach and her eyes filled with tears.
He supposed, when he thought back again and again after stumbling upon it, she would never have laughed like that in school...or around him. She had always been so nervous, so different from that first day they met. She was nice, polite, and stuttered so much until she relaxed and was much calmer. She was often late, got sent to the principal's office for doing something wrong in class, or tried too hard and would occasionally mess up from it. She never acted like Ladybug, but Ladybug had also called herself bad luck when they first met.
He would never forget the moment when his ears perked up to it and he instantly looked around, heart in his throat. He still thought to the day, shaking his head at it all.
She had been walking down the stairs of their school, Alya at her side. They were heading out for lunch, such a normal activity, Nino next to him for the walk out. He bid the trio farewell at the bottom of the stairs for the short hour and was heading to his car. The two had dissolved into their own little conversation amidst all of the other students shuffling around them.
He was about ready to get into the car when the heavenly noise hit him like a ton of bricks and he shoved away from the door, frantically looking around.
She was about ready to fall over, barely able to support herself on her knees as she laughed. Alya was joining in as heartily, pointing to something on her phone that he couldn't see. He stared and watched her enjoy whatever it was Alya had shown her, curious and too taken aback as he watched the same noise escape her as it had his partner.
It was impossible to forget such a noise. The most beautiful thing he had heard was escaping his first female friend, who was also his most trusted partner. It seemed to fit, but the revelation turned him to stone, one hand on the car door, the other hanging uselessly at his side. He stood there, two dead feet on the ground, Natalie's words forgotten as he tuned into only one thing, his face even.
How he got next to her, he didn't even remember...still couldn't remember. He was at her side and she was reduced to a stuttering mess once she found him next to her. He met her eyes, seeing the hair frame her face in the exact same way...staring at her as if seeing her for the first time.
"What was so funny?"
"Ah...A – Alya...had a video of...Ch – Chat Noir...sliding into a wall..."
"It's HILARIOUS! I know I shouldn't laugh at it because it looked painful...but...pfft!"
"Stop Alya! D – don't laugh...at...haha...Ch – Chat's...pffttt...misfortune!"
She broke down into another fit, tears coming to her eyes as she must be personally remembering being there, using the video as an excuse. He watched it in silence, the same reaction as the first one he witnessed that day. The commentary on Alya's phone was drowned out by her heartfelt exuberance, though she tried to cap it off as if she were offending Chat that happened to be standing in front of her.
He had never felt more grateful to her for such laughter in his life.
It was a strange thing to feel every single emotion and yet nothing all at once. All of the situations and emotions he had been going through for what felt like forever finally connected with a face, but the shock of finally finding out in such a mundane way, also a possibility he had considered, hit him hard.
He waited until she collected herself and bid her a good lunch, striding away without much more word...unable to think of anything else to say. His mind shut down after so many hours of it running nonstop. He was unable to think of what to feel first, of what to do, what to say.
Lunch was pretty much forgotten and he had almost forgotten how to eat as he sat at that big, empty table with a gourmet meal in front of him. More than once, he pulled himself from his stupor and tried to remember to bring the spoon to his mouth, but it would always become forgotten seconds later.
That was how he found out. It made sense. She never laughed that way in front of him. She had always been so shy to make such an outburst. The second she did, every twitch, tilt of her lips, squeeze at the corners of her eyes, the way she wiped at the tears, the hands that gripped her knees for support, were all Ladybug. The reaction was the same, but more than that, the laughter was it.
He would never forget it. He had memorized the sound and hoped to hear more of it. He didn't think he'd ever be granted a chance in such a way.
The biggest issue, more than anything he had ever faced before in his teenage life was: what did he do with this knowledge?!
The situation reversed itself on its head and stared back at him. All of the options he had thought she might do were now something he had to consider.
Did he tell her? Did he let her find out as he just did? Did he reveal himself to her after a battle? Did he follow her and talk to her in private? Did he write her something? Should he tell her? Dare he tell her?
Whenever he weighed saying anything, however he did it, versus keeping quiet, his feelings venomously denied his silence. They threatened to take him over, hold his heart prisoner, until he give in and do what they had demanded for so long. The chance was here and logic, naked emotion, told him to do what he had the chance to.
He was so preoccupied with what he should do that Nino finally pulled him aside and demanded he explain his aloof behavior to their group and in class. He hedged around the truth, redirecting the queries about her. He grilled Nino for information, asking questions that went beyond the realm of basic friendship. He stopped when Nino looked overly suspicious and started in on questions about his feelings for Marinette.
It was even a bigger shock to find out that Nino had been privy to a huge secret Alya had threatened him to keep quiet on, one concerning the feelings of their friend. Toward him. For quite some time now.
"Just don't get me in trouble with Alya, man! She's really fierce when you push her buttons, especially when it comes to Marinette. I've been quiet up till now, but if you like her, go get her. She won't turn you down."
He didn't know if he floated home on cloud nine or total shock. Days after that were spent in his room, homework forgotten, and calls from his friends ignored. He went through photo shoots, fencing, and Chinese, hardly paying attention. He was unable to pull himself from things enough so claimed anemia to explain his attitude in order to be sent home to the privacy and safety of his room.
Any time he had to sit in front of her in class, his head was about ready to burst with all of the things that he wanted to say, but was still stuck on. Nothing could get out first, mostly because of the inopportune timing for it. His heart was so full of her, knowing she was so close, but still so unreachable.
What did he say? What did he do? Did he even want to say anything at all? A part of him feared mentioning his secret and rocking whatever friendship they had. Should he be blunt? Should he be romantic and pull her to the side? The day Dark Cupid ruined his only moment kept running through his head, Nino's words following right after his constant hesitation.
When he thought of testing her to gauge her reaction, she never acted like Ladybug around Chat Noir. She was a bumbling mess and while it was cute, it despaired him a little. He feared she wasn't ready since she acted like she always had in front of him. Even if her feelings were a reason for it, he didn't want her to feel a shred of negativity if she found out it was him. He didn't think he could handle it.
Sorrow invaded him for the first time at the thought of her turning him down...of knowing he was her partner. He didn't want to think of such things, but it had been patient until now. It kept his lips sealed shut when he almost felt ready to say something. She had never reciprocated anything to Chat Noir...because she felt something for Adrien? He wanted to hope that, pray that was merely the case, but only she could set that issue straight.
More days passed as he warred with himself, finally feeling like things had started to smooth themselves out little by little. The more he sat in front of her, watching to her turn in homework, get in trouble for being late, or chat with Alya about whatever, the less he felt like confessing who he was. His feelings refused to be ignored, but the need to show her his other identity had started to become less of the issue.
He was okay with knowing her, of this different aspect of her that he fell in love with. It seemed normal now, to know that she had been given this special gift as he had been. It something that was just theirs; a secret that only they could share...even if they were known throughout the city.
When he was finally called into action again, meeting her in the spots wasn't weird. It wasn't awkward, and it wasn't problematic. He smiled at her as much as he always did, but when she pushed him away, one thing always ran through his mind.
'Would you act like this if you knew who I really was?'
Would she playfully shove his nose to get his face away from hers, that smile on her face as she did so, if she knew the real color of his eyes? If she could see his designer clothes and let him get in one full kiss to the back of her hand? Would she turn into a stuttering mess in the suit? Would she fly away with her yo-yo? Would he follow her if she did?
He entertained the ideas as much as he did trying to get her to react to his advances. They were a little less, knowing that she harbored real feelings for the real him inside. It made his heart flutter a little when he stood next to her, feeling her stand tall and strong against adversity with him at her side. She spoke normally to him and he wanted to shout out to her so many things, but he never did.
They parted ways after battle and he returned home as if knowing who her identity was a trivial matter. As if such normalcy had carved itself so far into his brain that he didn't flinch when he looked at her. He never gave away that he was aware, didn't act much differently.
Seeing her as Marinette after seeing her as Ladybug was almost surreal and it was hard to pick out the right emotion that he felt all day. Class went on as normal, the usual things making it all seem like a dream. But, the information was real, that laugh was real...even if he hadn't heard it since that fateful moment.
After so much time had gone by, he felt he had missed his chance to say anything, to do anything. He knew and he was more than okay with everything that had transpired. Knowing her feelings were there and were genuine, by the way she acted in front of him, almost seemed more than enough. It was a salve to his heart to know she pined for him like he pined for her. It was a strange comfort to know she may love him as much as he loved her and was merely afraid to show it due to simple human hesitation.
He said goodbye to her as usual, heading for the car and watched her walk across the street for her home. A place he had been to as both sides of himself. As both sides of herself.
Perhaps he would entertain the idea of discussing his feelings as Adrien with her. He needn't speak of anything concerning Chat Noir. A description of her as Ladybug was a description of her as Marinette. She was amazing either way and he loved her for the qualities he had seen that first afternoon, during that first fight with her. No one would, could, ever top her.
He smiled and got in the car. Perhaps he would think of the right words to say to describe his heart instead. Chat Noir could hide in the shadows, as he was good at doing, for a little longer. Perhaps if the day ever came down to it, he would come clean and see what she did. But for now, being by her side was enough.