It had all started out so innocently.
Just a small gesture. Springing from an overheard conversation.
"I don't think I have enough for that linen I need," Marinette bemoaned to her bestie, as she flipped through her empty wallet. Adrien had gotten into the habit of eavesdropping on them in class, whenever Nino wasn't chatting him up. Nothing nefarious or anything. He just liked to listen to Marinette's voice without the stutter.
"Cash flow trouble?" Alya asked. "Marinette, I told you. You need to start taking money up front for your commissions. At least to buy the material."
"I know... I don't feel right doing that unless it's finished though!" the designer said, "But now I have to have that linen by tomorrow or else I can't enter the contest!"
Contest? Not one of his father's, but he wasn't the only game in town.
Nonetheless, he felt compelled to help. "I could lend you the money," Adrien spoke up, catching their attention and making them aware he was listening. Marinette wasn't exactly whispering after all. The girls looked at him, one with delight and the other with horror and embarrassment.
Guess which one was which.
"N-n-no! I can't take your money!" Marinette stammered, waving her arms wildly. "I don't know when I'd be able to repay you! I don't want to owe you anything, Adrien!"
Her words stung, although she probably didn't mean it that way. Still, it was nothing to him and he'd be doing a favor for a friend. Unless she didn't think they were friends?
"I-it's okay, I promise," she went on, oblivious to his turmoil. "I'll just... I'll see if I can borrow it from my parents." She didn't sound convincing to be honest. However, he knew her well enough by now that she wasn't going to change her mind. Even at her own expense. His eyes went to Alya, who only gave him a helpless shrug and a shake of her head.
Adrien pressed his lips into a thin line, feeling thoroughly disatisfied by the entire situation.
The feeling persisted all afternoon, even though his photoshoot and the car ride home.
Then, as luck would have it, he spotted Marinette on the street walking down along a section of shops. "Hey, wait! Slow down!" he called urgently to the Gorilla. He knelt up in his seat to get a better look, trying to gauge where she was going. That big fabric store was down the street, wasn't it? His father took him there once or twice on errands. Back when he still did his own errands. Did that mean that Marinette somehow got the money?
The designer hadn't noticed him. Of course, he was in a very non-descript town car with tinted windows. "Tail her," he ordered, "Just... don't be creepy about it." The Gorilla raised an impressive eyebrow, but silently did as he was bid.
"I'm pretty sure tailing someone is creepy by definition," Plagg whispered from his shirt pocket. He was ignored.
The Gorilla was surprisingly good at covert surveillance (which begged the question where his father picked him up from) and they easily followed Marinette down the street. Adrien did a mental cheer as she stopped in front of the fabric store. Oh great! So she did get the money after- Wait. Wait, where was she going?!
With a forlorn slump of her shoulders, Marinette walked past in defeat. Adrien's heart broke as he watched her go. Oh no. She didn't get the money after all. She'd really jeopardize her dreams because she was too proud to ask for his help?
Gorilla nodded over to her in silent question. "No, stay here," Adrien replied, waiting until his classmate rounded the corner and was out of sight. Damn it, he was going to help her, whether she wanted it or not! Jumping out of the car, he headed into the fabric store.
Despite himself, a cold shiver ran down his shoulders as he entered. He had a vague idea where he was going, as the couple times he'd been in here his father had left him here for hours. Already, he was reliving the unpleasant memory of being bored out of his mind at four years old, being yelled at for running through the empty stacks, and ultimately punished for acting out. All in all, not a fun time. Marinette was worth it though.
The model found the linens easily enough, but then came to a dilemma. He had no idea which one Marinette wanted. Plagg poked his head out of his shirt pocket. "That one," he said, pointing to one of dozens and dozens of rolls of creamy fabric.
Adrien stared at him. "How could you possibly know that?"
"Uh... special intuition," the kwami hedged, before he added more confidently, "I have very refined taste, you know. Besides that one looks most like camembert."
The blond rolled his eyes, accepting the response. Besides, the wrong linen was probably better than no linen at all, right? Slapping down his credit card for six meters of the (surprisingly expensive) linen, he left the shop and returned to the car with his package in hand.
Right, now all he had to do was give this to Marinette and...
That might actually be a problem.
If she wouldn't accept his money, he didn't doubt she'd throw the actual fabric back in his face too. Especially if he did get the wrong one. Right, he had to dump it on her and give her no way to return it. Doorbell? No, her parents would notice. Post? That would take too long and was suspicious besides. She needed this tonight.
Well, Chat Noir it was.
That evening, he took the shopping bag to her balcony. Making sure that she was actually in, he carefully laid the fabric down by her hatch. Then he knocked on the glass of the hatch.
Seconds later, he was gone. Hiding away behind some outcrop on the roof of the school, he watched to make sure Marinette headed up. The designer didn't disappoint him as she climbed up to her balcony with a bewildered look on her face. He held his breath when she noticed the bag and opened it up. Marinette let out a gasp and a squeal as she unrolled the expensive linen. Something warm thrummed from his heart through his blood at the sight of her delighted expression.
He should have known then.
Chat ducked away as Marinette looked around for her benefactor. Hopefully, she wouldn't look too long. She had work to do. "Good luck, Princess," he murmured, grinning to himself as he took off back towards home.
The next time that Adrien saw her properly was school on Monday morning in class. He didn't need to ask how the contest went. The grin that nearly split the designer's face as she entered the classroom said everything.
"Good weekend?" Alya questioned as Marinette hopped lightly up to their bench.
"The best," she replied, exuding pride and glee. "I won the contest!" she declared, pumping both her fists in the air. Her excitement was infectious and half the class came over to congratulate her. Soon the air was filled with the clamorings of, 'So what did you win?' 'Lunch with Yiqing Yin!' 'WHAT?! That's insane! You're so lucky!' Adrien stayed where he was, basking in the happy glow that came off his precious classmate. He was more than a little smug that he was responsible for it. Alas, yet another one of his accomplishments that would never be recognized. He was used to it by now.
Marinette's bright smile passed over him and she looked down at him with a light in her eyes that could power the sun. Suddenly, that heat went through him again, making his very blood restless. It was just a little harder to breathe in the most pleasant way possible.
I have to do this again, he thought insensibly. It was an irrational impulse. Why would he need to do this more than once? The contest was done. Finito.
Yet there was the knowing, the secret thrill in being the cause for that bright expression. It didn't matter that she didn't know. No, actually it was better that she didn't know. There wasn't any embarrassment, no platitudes, no rejection. He could just keep making her happy with no restrictions, no strings attached. The possibilities were limitless.
He should have known then.
Now he was hooked.
Ever since then, Adrien kept a careful ear to the ground. (Un)fortunately, it seemed like Marinette's cash flow problems were resolved as her commissions began paying off all at once. It just meant that he had to get a little bit more creative. For the most part, his gifts were small things. A set of high quality fabric shears (in pink). A strawberry pincushion. A special brand of coffee or tea. A gift set of a hundred different colored threads. Then there were the big 'asks' where she'd mention to Alya some hard to find item and he'd go through his father's back channels to procure it for her.
The gifts came at irregular intervals, but they always happened the same way. He'd go to her balcony as Chat on cloudless evenings, drop off his gift, knock, then dash. Then he'd go to his hiding spot on the school roof and watch for her reaction. As always, that lovely warmth went through him as she spotted his present of the day and she smiled. A couple of times, a chill went down his shoulders as she called for him to come out, offering him cookies or sweets. He never took the bait. As far as she was concerned, the gifts fell from the sky.
No, he would simply relish her smiles and happiness from afar.
Then one day, something changed.
It was a normal day at school, nothing out of the ordinary. Adrien had been too busy the past couple of nights with shoots and lessons to even consider leaving the house as Chat. All his homework was beginning to catch up with him. Nervewracked with reviewing and making sure his math problem set was perfect, he almost didn't notice that Marinette came in with a new jacket. In fact, he didn't notice until Alya mentioned it.
"Whoa, sick jacket! Where did you get it!" the blogger asked, as Marinette came to sit beside her.
"Oh, I made it!" the designer replied proudly, extending her arms for her bestie to inspect.
Adrien surreptitiously looked up out of the corner of his eye. Then he froze when he recognized the jacket. Or rather, the buttons on the jacket. They were the black gunmetal and floral embossed leather buttons that he'd hunted down for her. He'd assumed it was for a commission, not a personal project. In fact, he'd never seen anything he'd given her make it to the classroom before.
"Doesn't she look great, Adrien?" Alya asked with a grin, when she noticed him noticing. At once, Marinette's smile fell en lieu of a wide-eyed nervous stare. Like he was about to snap at her or something. He hated it when she did that.
However, the blond had no room for such thoughts as he tried to figure out how his tongue worked again. "I, uh, y-yeah. It looks amazing, Marinette," he said, caught off balance. Of course it did. It was perfect and fit her perfectly. The compliment brought the smile back to the designer's face, bringing back some sense of normalcy. Only Adrien wasn't all the way there yet. He couldn't take his eyes off the jacket. Why the hell was he suddenly obsessed with her buttons of all things? They weren't even that hard to get.
She's wearing them, stupid, that's why, his sense finally supplied. At the realization, the current of heat came back with a vengeance, forcing his eyes forward lest the girls noticed how flushed his face was. Unfortunately, Nino still did.
His best friend's expression went sly. "So~" he said, nudging his elbow against Adrien's, "Mari looks pretty sick in that jacket, huh?"
"Yep," the model replied curtly. That was all that he was going to say on that matter. Nino gave him a raised eyebrow waiting for elaboration. When none came, he sighed and gave it up, leaving Adrien in peace with his own thoughts. If one could call the sudden fever in his heart 'peaceful'. He could tell that he was walking on the razor edge of a precipice and there would be no coming back from this fall. The problem was that he was addicted to the rush.
Damn him, he wanted to see Marinette wearing his gifts.
Adrien didn't let himself fall to the impulse immediately. The shift was too drastic, too intimate. He didn't want to alarm her. His gifts continued to be professional in nature. This started from supporting her fashion dream after all. He would always keep doing that, no matter what.
Then he saw the Chat Noir t-shirt.
It was unsanctioned merch, of course, because he and Ladybug weren't exactly taking license fees. (Although he might want to talk to her about copyrights at some point. To protect themselves.) Nonetheless, his eyes couldn't help but widen at the black t-shirt with bright green paw prints trailing diagonally over the front. It was cute. Really, really cute. Would she wear it?
Adrien stayed in front of the stall in the park for entirely too long, torn between desire and common sense. Was this too self-serving (of course it was, on sooo many levels). Would she suspect something (she probably already does). Was this too dangerous (way, way, waaay too dangerous, don't even consider it).
Common sense lost.
Handing over €10, Adrien took the t-shirt with trembling hands and headed straight home. For the first time, Chat didn't stick around to see her reaction to the gift. He didn't need to see, didn't want to see. He only needed to see her the next day. (Would she? Wouldn't she? Oh God, he was going to stay awake all night wondering.)
Marinette did not disappoint. The next day, she arrived in the locker rooms wearing her brand new t-shirt and a big, bright smile. Adrien froze up as she passed by, his heart hammering in his throat. She was wearing it, she was wearing Chat Noir's shirt. His shirt. "Good morning," she called to her classmates, instantly receiving a small flurry of compliments on her cute new shirt.
"Where did you get that?!" Alya demanded, ever the fan girl. "That's awesome!"
A secretive smile spread over Marinette's lips. "A present from a friend," she said, her voice full of affection.
Adrien's heart nearly stopped. A familiar rush of heat went through him. A friend. Her friend. He was getting the acknowledgement he never asked for. However, now that he had it, he wasn't ever going to let it go. He needed it desperately. Just like he needed to see her wearing his gifts, like he needed to see her smile and know that he had done that.
Just a friend? a single traitorous thought whispered.
Adrien shoved the thought into his locker and slammed it closed.
However, try as he might, the compulsion simply wasn't going away. The Chat t-shirt came up every once in awhile, but Marinette wasn't going to wear it every day. His mind kept spinning around other similar presents. Thing of it was, he was running out of ideas for neutral gifts that fashion designers would like. Or more like, there wasn't enough space in his mind to think of them, now that he was slowly being consumed by thoughts of what other gifts he wanted her in- to give her! To give her.
So through the next couple of weeks, he found his restraint slipping drastically. As his need to be closer to her grew, his gifts began to reflect that. He got her chocolates filled with raspberry rose creme, pink shoelaces (ugh, what was he thinking), a bouquet of peonies, a charm bracelet with a four leaf clover (a lucky charm, ha), vanilla flavored lip gloss (his favorite), and more.
Marinette surprisingly took this all in stride. Never taken aback by a single gift, she tried leaving presents of her own. A box of macarons. Cookies. Even a small cake. None of which he took. The sky didn't go taking bites out of pastries, after all. However, Marinette continued to be strangely unperturbed. By now, any normal girl would probably start freaking out that they were getting stalked.
It was honestly a little suspicious. Adrien drummed his fingers against his desk as he stared mindlessly at his computer screen, completely lost in thought as he tried to puzzle through his classmate's behavior. It was easier (and less terrifying) to analyze hers than his own.
Maybe she was just especially fearless or figured that he was harmless (which he was). Somehow, that didn't sit right with him. Marinette was brave, not reckless. Wouldn't she mention how odd it was to Alya at least, confiding in her as the gifts became less neutral.
...Unless she was used to having secret admirers.
Unexpectedly, the thought lit a dark flame underneath him. A strange anxious restlessness built up in him, making him bristle with agitation. Bad enough that he pushed himself away from his desk and began to pace. If he had his tail, it would be lashing. The very thought that anyone else would be doing what he was doing with Marinette was galling. He shared a special connection with her. He was her secret friend, her benefactor. No one else was supposed to share that place with him!
Plagg watched him from the corner of his eye on the edge of his desk, as he took some considering bites of his camembert. He hadn't said much about the strange habit that Adrien had picked up, although the blond thought he'd heard him muttering about 'dead mice' under his breath once.
Suddenly, Adrien stopped pacing as an idea came to him. Scarcely putting any thought to the matter, he went to his closet and began to rifle through his clothes.
"Kid," the kwami finally spoke up, his eyebrows rising high up his brow. His voice pitched with mild alarm. "Okay, now you're going someplace you can't come back from. What are you doing?"
The blond pulled out one of his old hooded jackets, about two years old and in near mint condition. He'd outgrown it already and hadn't bothered to donate it. It would fit her perfectly. "Marinette likes my father's label," he reasoned, although there was a trembling undercurrent to his voice betraying his calm demeanor. He ran his fingers down the light gray sleeve, already imagining it on her. "She'd love this."
"Be that as it may, you're scent-marking her," Plagg pressed urgently. "Don't you know what that means?"
Despite the fact that he never heard the term before, he knew. On a deep, instinctual level, he knew. "Yeah," he breathed, his green eyes flicking up to meet his kwami's. "I know exactly what it means."
The next day...
"Damn, girl, whoever your friend is they're loaded! Isn't that a Gabriel Agreste? Like €500 or something?" Alya's voice was hushed, though it still spilled over to the row in front and two prying ears. Adrien was eavesdropping, naturally, as smug a grin on his face as any cat.
"It's a couple of seasons out of fashion, so I don't think that much anymore, but yeah," Marinette said shyly, toying with the collar of the jacket as she cuddled up in her latest gift. "I like it though. It's still got a timeless enough look I could pull it off. Adrien, what do you think?"
The blond gave a sharp, guilty start. Wiping the cheese-eating grin off his face, he whirled up to look at Marinette, wrapped up in his clothes, his scent. He very nearly purred, relishing the warmth and possessiveness that thrummed through his blood. "I think you look amazing," he said, never more sincere. He smiled again as she ducked her head shyly, her cheeks flushing with a rosy blush.
Friend wasn't the right word for her anymore. Hadn't been for a while. He'd fallen off that ledge ages ago without ever realizing it. Involved? Not really. Girlfriend? Not even close. Invested? Almost, but...
Mine, supplied the word from some other part of him. A term his conscious, human mind would understand. Still not quite right, but it was the closest thing to it.
Adrien liked that word. He liked it very much. Mine, he repeated, giving his lovely Marinette a smile and a wink before he turned his attention back up to the front of the class. This was good. He was satisfied now. That driving, incessant need was no longer there, though he'd still play the role of Marinette's anonymous benefactor, her hunter and provider. Then bask in the glow of his good deeds. Only now it was very clear what he was and what she was to him.
Heaven help anyone who messed with what was his.