Author's Note: This is my gift for Sombramalamutt, for ML Secret Santa Exchange (a fandom initiative on tumblr for those, who are not familiar with this). I hope you'll like it!

Huge thank you to Remasa and cinnamon-apple-roll for betaing this.


He did it again

Plagg was snoring peacefully in Adrien's locker, when the whispers started.

'He did that again, didn't he?'

'Our Sunshine child? Sure he did.'

The little black cat perked up. That was his Chosen's nickname. And his Chosen's classmates.

'I have honestly had enough. How can he know four languages and Morse code and still be so dense?'

'My man can't be best at everything.'

Ah, Plagg thought, that was Bubbles and his girlfriend. What did Adrien do this time?

'True. But if he keeps this up Marinette will run out of tears and dry like a raisin.'

'Come on, babe. You know he doesn't do this on purpose. That's just his basic reaction. He really is very friendly.'

'Yeah, yeah, a human equivalent of a Labrador.'

Plagg snickered quietly among Adrien's clothes. Too bad he didn't have anyone to take a bet, because he would wager a week's supply of camembert, that his charge declared his eternal friendship for Pigtails again. Probably patted her affectionately over the shoulder or if he was really lightheaded maybe even gave her a hug. The boy was an A-class master of mixed signals if Plagg ever saw one.

There was a clatter of metal and a thud.

'Oh, crap,' Bubbles called. 'It wasn't me!'

'Relax,' Red chuckled. 'Marinette's locker sometimes opens itself like that. Apparently her maladroitness rubs off on her things. Just pick it up, will you?'

'A dictionary?' The rustle of paper told Plagg the boy did as he was told. 'Why would Marinette need one in her locker?'

'Beats me,' even confined to his current hideout the kwami could hear the girl shrug. 'Never seen this in her hands before. Just put it back.'

Was it Plagg's imagination or did he hear an exasperated sigh from Pigtails's locker?

'Wait!' Red exclaimed. 'Show me that! I think I saw a bookmark.'

The sprite narrowed his eyes. He could definitely pick a scheming vibe. After a few moments of rustling Bubbles cackled and his girlfriend snorted.

'Friend!' They both cried.

'Oh, Nino,' Red sighed through the laughter. 'You should put it in Sunshine's bag. Maybe then he would learn what that word means.'

'Nah, you could probably hit him with it, and he still would be as oblivious,' mirth lined the boy's voice.

'Hmmm. Maybe we could do something about it?' Now that was definitely a scheming voice, if you'd ask Plagg. And a tiny squeak of "Yes!" from somewhere near.

Clearly Red wasn't the only one with a scheme here. And he loved schemes! The little cat chuckled again. He was almost sure it was Tikki's paw that threw that dictionary out of Pigtails's locker. So he listened very, very carefully. He already liked this idea. And maybe he could even help a bit. It's not like he had anything better to do, and he could definitely use more company and a less dense Chosen.

'We need to establish an automated reaction,' Red said.

'A what?' Bubbles supplied eloquently.

'We need to create a situation in which we expose and train Adrien to the proper reaction,' how come this girl had so much patience was beyond Plagg.

'Girl, my bro is not some Pavlov's dog,' the boy gasped, scandalized at her suggestion.

'Excuse me, but it was you who said he was a human equivalent of a Labrador,' she scoffed.

'Okay. A – it was you who said it, and B – you're sure this is even ethical?'

'Well…' Red clearly hesitated, 'maybe we could think of it as a prank then?'

'And if this behavioral crap actually works?' Bubbles clearly still had doubts.

'Then no one would care. Besides, he's not that observant in these matters. We are practically doing him a favor.'

'If you put it this way…' A scratching sound told Plagg, Nino was probably rubbing his neck.

'Good. Now we need to have more people aboard.' Wow, Red was fast.

'What for?'

'Actors.'

'Will we be needing a director too?' Bubbles asked hopefully.

'Probably,' Plagg definitely could hear smirk in Alya's voice.

'Then I'm your man,' Nino stated proudly and the black sprite was sure there was at least one finger gun involved.

'You are anyway,' the girl drawled in a seductive voice, definitely moving closer to the boy.

And then the conversation came to an abrupt end and all Plagg could hear to his utmost disgust were the sounds of good old face sucking.


Training the Lab

Nino and Alya needed only one afternoon to work through the details and they set their plan to action the next morning. Unsurprisingly every person they approached agreed to participate, some even enthusiastically. It was clear that everybody had had enough of watching those two idiots dance around each other, especially since it was obvious for everyone bar the said idiots, they would end together. Their classmates thought it would be a good thing to speed things up. It could count as their Christmas good deed. As for their motivation – some, like Kim and Alix did this purely for fun, others like Rose and Juleka would do anything for a blooming love, while Alya and Nino were just really tired of Marinette's failed attempts to confess and of Adrien's denial.

Alya's job was to keep Marinette temporarily out of Adrien's sight, going by the rule that absence makes the heart grow fonder. She was to keep her friend occupied at all times, so the only occasion Adrien would get to see his just-a-friend would be during classes, where no interaction would be possible and Adrien would be facing another way, so in fact he still wouldn't get to see much of her.

Nino was responsible for navigating Adrien through the "exposition phase" as Alya called it.

They started even before the first lesson, with Ivan.

'Hey, Dude!' Nino greeted his colleague giving him a secret wink to start Operation Ceefizz ("Clearing the Friend Zone"). 'Watcha doing?'

'Nuffin,' Ivan sighed putting on his most love-struck face and looking pointedly at Mylène. The boy wasn't subtle, but again they were dealing with Adrien here. The blond politely smiled at his classmate.

'Something's on your mind. I can see it,' Nino pressed on to Adrien's surprise.

'I'm just thinking,' Ivan sighed again causing a small whirlwind of dust on the floor.

'Thinking, huh?' Nino nudged Adrien in the ribs, but his bro was still patiently waiting for the conversation to run its course.

'Yeah,' the huge boy boomed finally tearing his eyes from his crush. 'Christmas is coming. I'm thinking what I should get for Mylène.' He took a deep breath and Nino knew what he would say next. 'You know, she is such a - g-r-e-a-t f-r-i-e-n-d,' he drawled like was talking to a half-brain. Well, in a way he was.

'But Ivan!' Nino gasped and stared. 'Don't you mean g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d? '

'That's what I meant,' Ivan's cheeks covered with rosy hue worthy of Marinette and Nino made a mental note to congratulate him on his acting skills as soon as he ditches Adrien, and to cast him in a more significant role in his next film. One that would involve actually showing his facial expressions. Or his face for that matter.

Adrien remained politely quiet throughout the exchange, his features blissfully free of any reflection. Nino sighed. There was still so much work ahead of them. He would have to ask Alya to swap with him sometimes. He wasn't sure how much of this he would be able to take in before he'd want to strangle his best bud. It wouldn't hurt to distract Marinette from time to time instead.

Nino arranged the next setup at lunch deciding not to overload his buddy with stimuli. As scheduled Rose and Juleka were waiting for the two of them in the locker room. Them entering was a signal for the girls to start the scene. Juleka smiled at them, gave Rose a cute, shy wave and left for the girls' bathroom.

'Thank you!' Rose called after her and blew her a kiss. 'Hi guys! What do you think of my new shawl?' The petite blonde twirled and the silky magenta scarf that she wrapped around her shoulders billowed after her.

'It's amazing!' Adrien commented politely. 'This must be quality silk. The fake kind doesn't billow so nicely.'

'Yeah!' Nino interrupted. The last thing he needed was a discussion on types of silk, which he had no doubt his friend would happily provide. 'Looks good on you,' he complimented Rose and for better measure threw in a couple of finger guns. 'Is this a gift?'

Their classmate nodded and hugged the shawl to herself. 'From Juleka,' she breathed dreamily, although Nino didn't miss the cheeky sparkle in her eyes. 'She really is a - g-r-e-a-t f-r-i-e-n-d.'

Mr. Director and co-schemer smiled at her, both in acknowledgement of a line well delivered and in actual fondness, 'Don't you mean g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d, Rose?' He raised a brow at Adrien's polite blink. Were they getting somewhere?

Rose dissolved into giggles. 'That's what I meant,' she chirped happily.

'Oh,' Adrien's own brows quirked in surprise. 'I didn't know it's official.'

Their classmate smiled sweetly. 'A recent development,' she confessed. 'But we've always been close.'

'Yeah, that's nice,' Nino piped in, afraid that Rose going off script might ruin their plan. 'But don't you need to go?' He nodded in the direction of the bathroom and Rose squeaked when she remembered she should follow Juleka now.

'Yup! Gotta go!' She exclaimed rushing after her girlfriend. 'To get some smooches,' she said under her breath but loud enough for the two boys to hear her. Mr. Polite blushed to the tips of his ears. Nino took that as a good sign.

Adrien's friends continued enacting that impromptu reality TV, as Max had called it, for the next few days, careful not to go overboard. The expositions took place once, sometimes twice a day. Plagg was utterly amused watching a more and more confused Adrien respectfully listening to various people explaining their relationship status to him. He quickly decided this was his third favorite thing in the world, right after cheese and cat naps.


A great friend

Adrien was having a hard time. It seems lately that not only everybody seemed to be getting girlfriends, but they all decided to rub it in his face too. Oh, how he wished he could acquire one of those for himself. Specifically one spotted red clad heroine that took his heart.

But he couldn't help it, so he patiently listened to his classmates, and tried to show at least mild interest, although he noticed he started phasing out in such circumstances, his ears barely registering the repeated tune of "great friends" and "girlfriends", when his mind wandered freely.

After the third person suggested they were thinking about Christmas gifts Adrien recalled the red hat Marinette had given him last year. He regretted a bit that he had passed it on, even if it was in a good cause. It didn't change the fact that he had to personally cataclysm it to free the akuma, destroying his great friend's gift. Now it occurred to him that maybe it would be in good tone to reciprocate to his benefactor. That night to Plagg's silent facepaw he googled "perfect gift for a great friend" and started browsing through search results with a new vigor.

When next day he and Nino witnessed Aurore feeding Jean Luc grapes at lunch (just before pointing out what a good friend she was and being enlightened once again about another couple's relationship status), he couldn't stop thinking about how much fun it would be to share food with people he was just friends with. He had had a particularly good chocolate mousse lately and he remembered how Marinette liked chocolate. He wished he could take her to try it out. They hadn't had lunch together in ages. Which was unfair, because it seemed that although Marinette was usually busy with the girls, she still managed to spend time with Nino. But whenever Adrien wanted to join them, Alya showed up with a scoop or a problem to solve, and she would drag him away from them. Strangely enough soon after they would stumble upon another person blatantly showing off their girlfriend.

One time Alya forced him to go to library in search for a history book that might contain something on the Miraculouses and they found themselves in the middle of Ultra Mecha Strike IV trial show. Those new features and attacks looked really interesting. He idly wondered why Marinette wasn't there and what would she think about them.

Shortly afterwards Alya abducted him again and to his slight embarrassment they caught Mylène and Ivan in the middle of a cuddle session. At least that's what it looked like, because Ivan swore he was just cheering Mylène up after a particularly snide remark from Chloé. Of course, she was his-great-friend-don't-you-mean-g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d, so it was perfectly understandable to give her a comforting hug. Adrien couldn't get that image out of his head. Well, to be more precise, he couldn't get the idea out of his head. For the remaining of the afternoon and evening he pondered upon how he'd like to platonically hug someone too – purely to comfort them, of course. Marinette seemed a bit sad lately. Maybe she could use a friendly (cuddle) hug? Provided he would actually see her outside of class, that is.

Oh, he surely thought a lot about Marinette theses days, Adrien noticed. Definitely more than Ladybug, even if he said so himself. Somehow Marinette sneaked into his thoughts and took the place usually occupied by his partner. It must have been because of how little time they'd been spending together lately and because of that perfect gift he finally found and couldn't wait to give to her. These at least were the reasons he came up with when after one particularly affectionate display of feelings between Nino and his "don't-you-mean-g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d" Alya Adrien's thoughts ran straight to Marinette's full pink lips presenting him with a detailed analysis of how perfect they seemed for kissing.

Although the explanation about recent difficulties in meeting her seemed totally plausible, Adrien couldn't really ignore the heat that rose from his heart and crawled onto his face, stopping only at his ears. Maybe he was running a fever?


Don't you mean g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d?

To everyone's relief about a week and a half before Christmas Alya announced the end of exposition phase. It was about time as they had used all their acting skills and those last few scenes came up rather thin. Now it was up to her and Nino to get to the last stage of their plan – inducing reaction. Gift exchange seemed like a perfect opportunity, although Adrien had some objections as he admitted to not feeling very well lately. Alya chalked it up to the training phase proving effective. Besides, if they waited longer, the effects of the exposition could wear off and all that hard work would be wasted.

That's how the four of them ended up in the courtyard during lunch break and opening gifts. Marinette was on the verge of explosion from excitement. It was probably due to finally seeing Adrien up close after Alya and Nino kept them carefully separated for the time of exposition phase. The bluenette reverently handed Alya and Nino their gifts, complementing them with a hug.

Out of the corner of her eye Alya noticed, with no small amount of satisfaction, that their blond colleague stomped nervously from one foot to the other, a fresh coat of pink adorning his cheeks. He was (im)patiently awaiting his turn, while Alya and Nino opened their presents and Marinette ducked into her backpack to produce his gift. A glimpse of disappointment flashed over his face when their gifts turned out to be hand knitted scarfs. An intricate pattern of musical notes was scattered over staff woven into Nino's green one, while Alya received a pink triangle shawl covered with ladybug yoyos. Marinette really outdid herself.

Adrien's hand went to his neck, where a light blue scarf – his favorite – was wrapped in loose loop. Alya hoped Marinette had made something different for him, because he clearly would be in a lot of trouble trying to choose which one he should wear. And the redhead wasn't disappointed when the girl finally pulled the last gift out of her bag. She smoothed a few wrinkles on the Christmas tree patterned paper and with a shy smile handed it to the boy. He did his best not to tear the wrapping into pieces on the spot, but his rather frantic movements as he fought with the paper were far from his usual calm and composed demeanor.

Adrien pulled the content of the pack out and sighed in awe as he spread the garment over his chest. It was a light blue vest, a few shades darker than his scarf, but complementing it perfectly, embroidered with a string of little ladybugs – along the right side of the collar and the left side of the buttons, including a stray one right over his heart. It was beautiful and Adrien was enchanted, hand sliding over the delicate fabric and ornaments. Marinette stared at their friend analyzing the final result. She seemed quite content.

Nino and Alya grinned so wide, their cheeks hurt. That was their opening.

'Wow,' Adrien whispered. 'Thank you! This is amazing, Marinette!'

'Yes! Wow!' Alya interjected, before the blond would launch his trademark sequence. 'This is amazing!' She repeated after him.

'You're lucky…' Nino added with a hint of mischief in his voice, and Alya knew what his next line would be. Now they would get to know if their plan had worked. '…that Marinette is such a - g-r-e-a-t f-r-i-e-n-d…'

'Don't you mean girlfriend?' Adrien supplied dreamily, still one hundred percent absorbed by his gift.

There were two heavy thuds of female bodies hitting the floor. One right in front of them, caused by a stunned Marinette and one right behind, by Chloé who clearly had been eavesdropping on them, while hiding behind the stairs.

'…What?!' Adrien was abruptly roused from his reverie at the sound and then his ears caught up with what had been said. 'Did I just-? Oh my,' he gasped at the unconscious form of his great-just-a-(girl)-friend at his feet.


That's what I meant

Chloé was released from ER soon after the ambulance took her in (and after an epic tantrum she threw there). Marinette had to stay for observation as she banged her head really hard, but luckily she was back home the next day. And news traveled fast, so that week there was a surprising amount of angry fangirl akuma targeting her.

Adrien would have never thought the time would come when he would be thankful for so many attacks. They provided him with a perfect excuse to postpone confronting Marinette about his words. Unfortunately they also provided Chat Noir with numerous occasions in which he had to escort her to safety before Ladybug was able to reach the scene. Somehow the red clad heroine was extremely late to every battle that week. And running over the rooftops with Marinette in his arms at least once a day did very funny things to him. He was suddenly very aware of her, his mind helpfully supplying him with flashbacks from all of their previous encounters. Every wink, every smile, every friendly pat on the shoulder. Every hug, every word whispered in her ear, every dance, every occasion they spent time together, just the two of them. He almost face-planted on bare concrete one time, when a particular almost-kiss scene from Nino's film popped into his head just as he was leaping to Marinette's rescue once again.

It couldn't end well and it didn't.

'I can't do this anymore, Plagg,' the blond whined, confined to his room after the school was closed due to the intensity of the attacks. 'What am I going to tell her?'

'Who?' Plagg raised his head from the wedge of camembert he had been devouring.

'Marinette!'

'Your great friend Marinette?' Plagg asked with a sly grin. An exasperated groan was all the reply he got. 'Oh,' he snickered, 'you mean your great girlfriend Marinette?'

Adrien buried his face in the pillows on his bed.

'You could, I don't know,' Plagg tsked as if considering Adrien's options, 'give her the present you picked for her and explain that you didn't mean that?'

A beat of silence.

'Unless,' the black sprite drawled in a low murmur, 'you did mean that?' He flew to his Chosen and settled just beside his ear.

'Admit it,' he whispered and was rewarded with another groan. 'Admit that you liiiiiiiiiike her.'

Adrien pressed his face harder into the pillows.

'Admit that you want to kissssssssssss her…' Plagg honestly didn't remember when he had more fun. He turned his back to the boy, hugged himself and started making smooching and sucking noises as his paws travelled up and down his sides and he wiggled his backside. 'Oh-oh, Marinette, oh-oh,' he moaned. 'You're such a great friend…'

'Oh, god,' Adrien growled.

'You called?' The black cat turned around. He scooted closer to the blond mop of hair. 'Admit that you- Holy cats, kid! You have a fever!' He exclaimed running a tiny paw over that patch of the boy's forehead that was accessible over the covers. 'You're hot as hell!'

Adrien raised his head and looked at his kwami with glassy eyes. 'I suppose,' he mumbled swaying a bit. 'That must have been that time when I went to the battle straight from the shower. All that running over the rooftops in December cold wasn't doing me any good either.' He flopped face first to his bed again.

'Lovesick just gained a new meaning,' Plagg sighed sourly, covering him with a blanket.

Adrien dreamt of Marinette. Even in the middle of a fever he saw her clearly. Her blue eyes, her midnight blue pigtails, her full lips smiling invitingly. He could smell her scent too. He hadn't even realized he knew it. But he did. Too well. He definitely had it memorized, even before the last week, when every breath he took as Chat was full of it.

In his dreams he did everything he previously wanted to do with Marinette. He gave her the present. He invited her to lunch and they ate a mountain of chocolate mousse, and chased it with raspberry lemonade. They discussed the new Ultra Mecha Strike features and tested them at her place. He took some pictures of her wearing the hat and gloves he gave her. He comforted her with a hug (and there were cuddles involved too, because his dream - his rules). He walked her home from a stroll down the Seine. He held her hand. He tilted his head to press his lips to hers but just as they were a hair width apart Adrien woke up.

He was clutching the blue vest to his chest. He didn't remember taking it to bed. It smelled divine. Lavender, vanilla and lemon grass. Marinette.

'Feeling better, loverboy?' Plagg greeted him from his perch on the shelf.

'Yes,' Adrien realized he did. His head was no longer reeling and he was no longer feverish. He felt better than in days and he knew exactly why. Without any fuss he ran to take a shower and then threw the blue vest over the black Gabriel turtleneck and grabbed Marinette's gift.

'What's the rush,' the black sprite grumbled yawning ostensibly. 'Is there a fire somewhere?' He teased, but Adrien was too lightheaded to notice.

'We're leaving, Plagg,' he announced putting on his coat and scarf.

'Hey! My cheese!' The little cat spluttered, as he was unceremoniously separated from a fresh wheel and shoved into Adrien's pocket. 'Where are we going anyway?'

His Chosen grinned at him. 'To see my girlfriend.'

...

Lessons were resumed the next day and Chloé landed in the ER once again, after a fit of fainting spells. All the time she mumbled something about blue vest with ladybugs and pink beanie with cat ears. Which was exactly what the newest couple at school was wearing that day.

...

* The End *


AN: If you enjoyed my little fic, let me know in the comments or visit me on tumblr (perditaalottachocolate-blog). There's more Xmas content coming soon!