AUTHOR'S NOTE:

hello! thank you for bothering to read my crappy AU! just a few thoughts to share...

1. this started as a writing exercise to practice, but then I really fell in love with it. that being said, instead of a rewrite or reimagination of the universe to fit the premise like most AUs (coffee shop, flower shop, tattoo parlor, etc), I sort of dropped the shop into a a year-or-so ahead of canon... so...
2. more tags will be added as the story develops... I'm sort of just going with whatever feels right. please bare with me!
3. really, I know next to NOTHING about french culture or the french language. I'm going to do my best to make it seem natural and as accurate as possible, but I am an american so I am drawing largely on my own knowledge (particularly with the education system)... if you see something that seems wrong, please let me know and I'll do my best to work things in appropriately!
4. i don't have any sort of schedule for updates (yet) but if the story has a positive reception I'll do my best to carve out something reliable!


"I can't believe you," Marinette said under her breath, coming to the back door and undoing the lock. Immediately, a streak of blonde and black leapt through the opening, inviting a stream of unseasonably chilly air into the room. It might have been refreshing to some, but Marinette preferred the cozy warmth of the greenhouse.

A smug, annoyingly handsome grin flashed across from her. Marinette rolled her eyes and placed a hand at her hip.

"I'm sorry for the late hour, Purr-incess. I know the shop is closed, but I was patrolling nearby when it began to rain, and I thought I could…"

With a good-humored sigh, the girl moved to a cabinet and grabbed some spare towels. She handed them to her "guest," if that was the right word for him, before sitting at the desk in the back office, opposite the door.

"It's fine, I'm just surprised you're out so late. And it's storming. Don't you have anything to do tomorrow?"

Chat Noir smiled and dodged the question, instead countering with a flirty remark. "Don't you? You are here awfully late. Perhaps we could dine together, or walk down the Seine. I hear Andre makes the most delicious ice cream."

All the while, Chat wasted no time making himself comfortable. He toweled himself off quickly and then laid out on the chaise, curling into a ball and nestling himself into the cushy warmth.

She smirked, ignoring his invitation. "Well, don't you look comfortable?"

"Mmm," the black cat hummed a response, and Marinette couldn't suppress the giggle that escaped her lips when her partner's ear twitched. Sometimes he was more Cat than he was Chat.

"Summer or not, aren't you afraid of catching a cold, being out in the rain like this?" Marinette was half-thinking out loud, but once the words were out there, she recognized that there was genuine cause for concern. Tikki was susceptible to illness if they were out in the rain too long, and she had to wonder if it was ubiquitous across kwamis.

Noncommittally, Chat Noir shrugged and mumbled a few words before turning to face her. "I've got nine lives, a little rain won't put meow-t of commission..."

With a brow raised, Marinette was prepared to respond but stopped when the blond-haired hero opened his eyes.

"Mari?" Chat called, peeking through his half-closed lids. Behind the mask, his verdant eyes were droopy, but there was a hardness beneath the lethargy. Something about the way he said her name made her skin erupt into pinpricks, and she rubbed her exposed arms subconsciously.

"...Yes?"

He stared at her for a beat too long, and Marinette was about ready to kick him out of the employee office for making her blush, but he spoke up before she gathered the nerve. "I'm sorry about stopping in like this on you, all of the time. I know it's rude of me…"

She blinked a few times, the action deliberate and confused. Of course, Ladybug didn't mind Chat Noir's company (so long as he wasn't being annoying). As a civilian, however, she could see how it could be seen as odd for a superhero to hang out casually with a random, awkward sixteen year-old as frequently as he did.

By day, Chat Noir's visits came as a double-edged sword; it was good for business, but it also brought a lot of extra work. As he was basically a celebrity and in his wake came paparazzi, passing affectionate fans, and general increasing foot traffic in the shop's part of town. His visits increased sales, which helped her parent's business, but Marinette had trouble keeping up with the demand that came with it.

In those instances when Chat Noir came by day, he would never leave without buying something.

A rose, a lily, a bouquet of mums, an arrangement of tulips, even potted plants like rosemary or shamrocks were sometimes his purchase. And more often than not, she would end up with the same colorful flower that he had selected, gifted to Ladybug the next time they crossed paths as superheroes.

He might be annoying, but Marinette had to admit that Chat was sweet.

"Don't worry about it," she replied gently, rolling the desk chair closer to him. She did not break eye contact once, and his expression softened when she placed a supportive hand on his forearm. Automatically, the fingers from his other hand crawled up to meet her's.

"But I do worry about it. I… I know it's not fair to come to you whenever I have a problem, but I feel like you are one of the few people in all of Paris I can really trust."

Marinette's fingers tightened against his arm before she pulled away, not interested in getting caught in the cat's flirtations.

Carefully, she crafted a response that was both thoughtful and, hopefully, therapeutic. "Chat... That's… really kind of you to say. But you can't mean that. What about your family? Or your civilian friends? Or… um, Ladybug?"

He responded by sitting up from his prone feline position on the chair and facing Marinette properly, only to drop his head into his hands. Needless to say, Marinette was surprised by his fluctuating attitude; she was used to seeing him emboldened by confidence and dramatic, romantic fantasies. This was a totally different Chat Noir than she was used to.

"I feel like half of the time, my family is my problem. Ladybug will never talk to me about personal things, you know, for sake of our identities. And… I want to tell my friends, but it just feels like there's never the right time. It's hard to explain, and I can't tell you too much, but sometimes it's nice to just…"

He stopped and looked up at her, eyes wide and tired and emotional. There was something in the curvature to his lips that seemed caught between continuing to talk and refusing to speak. Incidentally, if anyone could understand the stress of living a double-life, it was Marinette.

"No, no" she said, biting her lower lip. "You don't have to explain, if you don't want to. And you don't ever have to apologize for coming, Chaton. You're always welcome here."

Chat did not come by after hours very often. For starters, it was closed; lights off and door locked, Marinette would retreat to the back to help prepare the shop for the next day. Count the till from the register, replace any popular bouquets, weave a few flower crowns (particularly popular with the teens right now) to set out for the next morning, and prep any special orders made for weddings, funerals, or other such formal functions. In the evening, Chat couldn't waltz through the front door with that charming look on his face; he was forced to go around the back if he wanted to come inside, to knock and await Marinette's permission. Of course, she never turned him away, but it was nice that he respected that boundary.

The black-suited hero looked up, encouraged by the kindness in her voice, and smiled. "Thank you. Let's just say there was a disagreement at my household…" he paused, a grimace replacing his brightened mood. "A loud, door-slamming kind of disagreement. I just needed to clear my head, and…"

"And you knew I would have nothing better to do?" Marinette joked. Chat Noir grinned before giving a hyperbolic, aggrieved gasp at the suggestion in mock-offense, but his ears did not perk up like they might once have.

"Heh. It's not that at all! It's just, between your cheery smile and the beautiful flowers, my mood cannot help but improve. I'm drawn here, helpless against your charms."

Marinette snorted and rolled towards the desk in the chair, grabbing an unfinished crown before scooting back towards him. She busied her hands on the delicate weaving of stem into stem, careful not to smash the buds in the process.

"Very cute, Chaton," she commented, kicking her legs up on the chaise beside them. He at least had the decency to blush.

"But you're here now, and I'm here. Do you want to talk about it? You don't have to, but, I can be a good listener."

Chat scrunched up his nose, pondering the thought, and leaned back in the chaise. He didn't seem to mind Marinette's feet crossing over his legs. They were simply that comfortable with each other.

"You are one of those people who make things better by listening, Purr-incess. But it would be… meow-ic to my ears just to listen to you for a little while. Get my mind off of it. What do you say?"

"Ugh, I suppose." Marinette complained through a smile, watching Chat relax as they steered away from the topic.

Beaming at her impish annoyance, the cat closed his eyes. "How's business?"

Marinette focused on the crown, weaving and pulling, careful but confident in the strokes and pattern. Chat had put both hands behind his head, and had the weather not been so dreary, he might have looked like he was trying to tan.

"That's a loaded question, chaton."

"Oh?" He peeked at her through a lid, and Marinette sighed. The exasperation in her voice was palpable.

She was basically running the place herself, and in truth, it was rather stressful. The Dupain-Cheng bakery had achieved such success that Maman and Papa restructured the business to accommodate large catering requests, partnering with local wedding planners, gown boutiques, tailors and seamstresses, chefs, and, of course, flower shops.

For Marinette, the flower shop had started out as just a part-time gig during the school year beginning back in October. The business was in a partnership with her parent's business, she had some latitude with her hours. That was a must for Marinette, since she was known to mysteriously drop everything and disappear for a few hours - especially, by total coincidence, during akuma attacks! Still, she didn't like to take advantage of the flexibility, but rather accepted it with good graces and tried to right by the shop.

The owners, until about three weeks ago, had been a kind gentleman and his wife, though she only made rare appearances. Approaching his upper sixties, the husband of the team was Mohamad Ashi Yuehula, but he insisted everyone just call him Mo. He would joke that he and Marinette were a perfect team, M&M's, and always left a bowl of the so-named candy on the counter in the back office. Madam Yuehula was reserved and charming, and during her infrequent visits she always treated Marinette with nothing but hospitality.

For the Yuehula's, the stress of entrepreneurship in a Paris-constantly-under-siege by Hawkmoth, combined with their climbing age and some family affairs prompted them to sell the business, and decisions were made quickly thereafter.

Papa bought the place for a good price, indebted to Mo and Madam Yuehula for their loyalty as business partners and their magnanimity overall. (There were some choice words exchanged by Maman and Papa on the subject after the fact about impulse control, but the deed was done).

With Mo gone from the store, Marinette was all but balancing the books herself (thankfully, Papa and Maman covered that), but she did everything else. Cleaning, ordering, stocking, preparing, pruning, watering, hauling, coordinating, everything. She supposed she should be grateful that her parents put such faith in her, but, that only made the weight of responsibility evermore pressing.

A silver-lining that Marinette was still thankful for: Mo had been a great teacher. With her eye for design, she was quick to learn on the delicate intricacies of all things flora. From arrangements to bouquets, crowns, potted plants and crawling vines, to proper watering, soil pH, fertilizer and pruning, she felt like it was just another extension of her lessons in fashion. Truly, the two went hand-in-hand. How to pair the right shades of lillies for a bridesmaid dress or what would complement the bride's personality felt to her just as natural as hemming a skirt or comparing textures for an evening gown.

Before the store was left to her parents, the job had been a nice change from her day-to-day. She could go to school and work some days and "relax" on her off days (which translates to superhero for "fight crime"). No one minded if she did her homework in the back when business was slow, which was just an added bonus. During the transitional weeks Marinette's parents helped as much as they could, but their support was more moral and emotional than anything. Her parents made appearances at the shop a few times in the beginning, but it was on a different part of town than the bakery and that was the main site of operations, so it made sense for them to stay home. After all, they knew flour, and now Marinette knew flowers.

Two weeks before the semester wrapped up, the day the shop changed hands, Marinette had been about the closest she's ever come to losing it. She had let herself be stretched too thin. Forty-hour work weeks, conservatively, combined with the temptations of sunshine and social outings with her friends, protecting Paris from akuma attacks and working on her design submissions? If that hadn't been bad enough, the western wind that were final exams swept across Francois-DuPont and knocked out whatever breath she had left. Marinette's current semblance of sanity was all the remained from that nightmare.

In the end, her grades came out salvageable, and a week into the summer, Marinette was at least grateful to be liberated from homework. She had three months - almost to the day - until her third year of high school began, but that only brought with it a new wave of priorities.

In the world of fashion, this time was considered critical to building the base of her portfolio. The designs she prepared this next year would be instrumental to any of the fashion programs she to which she might apply. The application process itself would bring a different set of difficulties in the months to come, but the preparation of her designs were consuming her nights and free-time since school concluded.

In a way, it felt like her final "real" summer. Next summer, she would be preparing for her senior year of school, applying to schools, preparing for… well, life. A real, adult, career-driven life. Now, she was a student, but she continued her appointed position as judge, jury and executioner for her final summer of freedom, and this job was the death sentence. At least it would kill her with warmth and honeybees, right?

Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng were constantly concerned it was too much to balance for their only daughter, and, truth be told, it was too much, but Marinette would never tell them. The business was profitable and with her college education on the horizon, the family could use the extra income to bolster whatever savings they had. Marinette did, all in all, enjoy the work. It came with a lot of responsibilities, but she handled it with about as much grace as anyone with her coordination could. And with an occasional blacksuited hero to keep her company, it wasn't always lonely.

"Mari? Is something wrong?"

Chat had roused her from her daydreams, only for Marinette to realize a warm tear had strayed from its hold and down her cheek, and she quickly rubbed it away.

"O-oh, no I'm fine," Marinette replied a little too quickly. "I think it's just the changing weather, making my eyes water. But you asked me something?"

"Well," he was still looking at her, reclined and relaxed like his namesake. His voice sounded doubtful. "I asked how business was, but then you got this vacant look in your eyes like you had seen the devil himself."

"Considering you're the only one here, that would make you the devil," Marinette quipped, returning to her handiwork.

Chat grinned. "Surprised that the devil is so devilishly handsome?"

She rolled her eyes and jokingly kicked him, though he made a show of pretending to be mortally wounded.

"No, my mind was wandering. It feels nice to just sit and relax, if I am honest minou. The shop is very busy."

They lulled into a comfortable conversation after that, talking about their days with perfected degrees of vagueness for sake of Chat's identity. Marinette did not bring up that the "friend" she watched the news with in the morning was Tikki, and Chat did not point out where he lived or reveal any of the names of his friends, and it was nice. But… conversations with Chat were never just nice - they were playful or filled with laughter or even joyous if he was in an especially good mood, but tonight? Something was off. There was a certain tension, and Marinette guessed that the "disagreement" he mentioned was more than he let on. His jokes felt hollow and his posture wilted like a bruised flower, the petals lackluster and unfamiliar. She hoped it was just a bad day, and tried to distract his mood with some stories.

At one point, Marinette shared a tale from about a particularly challenging groom that Mo had been kind enough to handle a few months back, but Chat vehemently defended the man in question.

"He was simply trying to do right by his bride! How can you fault the poor man that?"

Marinette giggled and placed the crown she had just completed on his head, and darned if the cat couldn't model the look perfectly. His soft tresses provided a perfect pillow on which the buds and blossoms rested, and Marinette nodded approvingly at her work.

"I didn't say I faulted him, Chat," she murmured, rolling back in the desk chair to recover another unfinished crown. "I just think he could benefit from a… cat-titude adjustment."

Chat's face went comically blank, staring at Marinette like she had just propositioned him, and she felt herself pink a little. She had been trying to help cheer up the poor cat, whatever had gotten him so down today, but had it been too much?

"That," he paused, completely serious. "Was the best pun I've ever heard. You can't see it, but I am laughing."

Marinette felt a giggle bubble to her lips and nudged him with her foot. "You don't look like you're laughing."

"I am!" He insisted, grin wide and wrought with mischief. "Have you ever eaten something, and it was just so good that you couldn't describe it? Or beat a really difficult level in a game, and you're just like… amazed? I'm laughing so hard, nothing is coming out."

The dark-haired girl covered her mouth with her hands, setting the crown to the side while she was rocked by her own laughter. Chat seemed amused, if not a little concerned, by her sudden and unexplained hysterics.

He knocked her legs aside the chaise and turned to her properly, an air of minor indignance surrounding him. "What! What did I say?"

"I have been spending entirely too much time with you."

He drew back, surprised, but Marinette backtracked immediately.

"I didn't mean it like that! I just - ugh! You with your puns! Here I am, trying to have a normal conversation, and they just swoop into my vocabulary like nothing. I just thought of another and it was… good. I made myself laugh! What's wrong with me?"

Marinette was still seated in the communal desk chair beside him, so Chat got down on one knee and grasped one of her hands in both of his own. The pair of them were caught in the throes of a certain kind of euphoria, the high of suppressing and snickering through the impulse laugh, and they met eyes.

Chat tried to make his face serious, and it was a total failure. "Purr-incess, I must know the joke! Teach me your ways of co-meow-dy!

She had to press her lips together to keep from bursting at the seams, and she patted the top of his hand gently.

"Mon Chaton, I cannot teach you. These are ancient secrets, passed down for generations. When it happens, you will know. It is the… meow-ment of cat-arthsis."

His face blossomed like a budding daisy, bright and blonde and positively radiant. Apparently, that had been enough to do him in, and they both leaned forward across Marinette's knees and laughed to the point where their sides were in stitches.

"That was just what I needed," he sighed contently and leaned back on his hands, his weight bouncing on the chaise. Marinette had flushed from the giggles, her face full of life and color as she finished the winding of another crown.

"You're so kind, Mari. Thank you."

She blushed a little harder, taken off-guard by his sincerity, and scooped the first crown off of his head. He swatted at her hand, clearly enjoying himself, but she was too quick for him.

"It's easy to be nice when I have someone nice to talk to." Marinette spun from the chair and returned to the desk, setting the finished crowns aside and musing to herself.

Back turned and hands going over "the books" on the desk (which was really just scribbled notes by the Dupain-Cheng family to one another about the shop), she blurted out a thought.

"I wish I could do more than listen though. You deserve better."

The silence that followed was uncomfortable, and Marinette silently wished she hadn't turned her back to him, because it would be too obvious to look at him now. She waited with baited breath for some sort of acknowledgement - even a "no" would be better than nothing.

Quietly, he spoke into her ear, and Marinette all but leapt out of her skin. Something about his cat-like prowl made his movements silent, eclipsed by the echo of her beating heart.

"I can't burden you with my problems."

Marinette gulped down hard on her throat and tried very hard not to turn her head, determined not to look at him so close behind her. She could feel the radiating warmth of his presence, inches away. Instead, she fumbled with her thumbs, trying to rid her nails of some dirt that inevitably stuck to her throughout the day

"You're never a burden, Chat. I'm just worried about you… you don't have to tell me everything, or anything. Just... whatever you're comfortable with, know I'm here. It might help." Her voice sounded unnaturally high, and she hoped he didn't notice.

He stepped back after a moment, holding his baton in one hand and turning to look out the glass walls of the greenhouse. Cold droplets of rain splattered the windows, turning the world into a kaleidoscope of grey. It seemed fitting for his mood.

He started slowly, rolling his weapon between his latexed hands. "It's… embarrassing, I guess."

Marinette turned around to face him after regaining her breath, unable to keep smirk that crept to her lips. In a tone void of humor, she joined in his studies of the watery Parisian skyline.

"Then you've come to the right place. I happen to know a thing or two about embarrassment."

He glanced towards her, both grinning at the undeniability of the fact that yes, Marinette Dupain-Cheng was known for falling, stumbling, stuttering, and altogether getting herself into less than ideal situations. She, of course, was referring to their shared experiences when her civilian self had gotten on the wrong side of more than her fair share of akuma attacks, but Chat knew the other, lengthier side of the that story.

"Well," he exhaled, and Marinette nodded in encouragement. "My family lost… someone important a while ago. I miss them everyday, and the… other people in my family will never acknowledge that there's this gap between us. Some less than kind words were exchanged today on the subject, and it just brought up a lot of… I don't know. Whatever this is." He flicked his wrist, as if to demonstrate the extent of his concerns so simply.

Marinette's brow drew closer and closer together as he spoke, and Chat Noir noticed.

A little distressed, he started to backpedal. "It's not so bad, most days, you know? Just every once and a while, things -"

"Chat?" Marinette stopped him, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. He halted immediately, biting his lip. Had he said too much? Marinette knew some of the broad strokes of his family life as Adrien, but it was so easy to talk to her as Chat he couldn't help himself.

"I want to show you something… come here," her hand moved down the length of his arm and grasped his hand, turning back towards the main part of the store.

It was an enchanting spot at anytime of day, the building almost entirely made of glass to emulate the conditions of a greenhouse for the plants. Lush greens and wild pastels dotted every corner of the store, bushes and flowers and buds and bouquets all aligned on displays and different tables and racks - but at night, the place had an entirely different feel to it.

"Wow." Chat Noir whispered, awed by the sight. He had never been allowed into the front of the store after hours, only ever bugging Marinette in the back.

The warmth was the first thing he noticed, the heat of a summer day trapped inside to keep the flowers at optimal health, though the sun had not truly made an appearance that stormy day. It was so warm he might have mistaken it for a blush branching across his cheeks, his whole body relaxing at the comfortable sensation.

But the climate was quickly forgotten, and Chat's attention was all but eclipsed by the mesmerizing sight inside the store once his eyes adjusted. It felt as if he was just invited to some sort of terrarium of twilight, the frosted glass and yellow-orange street lamps casting a hypnotic glow on everything within. It reminded him of watching people sit around a campfire on TV or walking by candlelight, but unlike those, there was no single source of the light. A private sunrise saturated the small store from all five walls - ceiling included - and it was breathtaking. The muted filter of the lamps outside painted everything sepia, from the flowers, to the paleness of Marinette's fingers and even his midnight black suit. It was, in a word, like the world itself had been subdued. Paused. Slowed down, but in the best way imaginable. The place had all the tenderness of a marigold with the shine of amber, dripping with honeyed delicacy that Chat was entirely unable and unprepared to describe.

"This way," whispered Marinette. She wasn't sure why she was being so quiet - no one was here - but it felt wrong to speak so loudly when the only sound was the falling rain above their heads.

Chat was fine to be guided, enjoying the short stroll through the golden garden with admiring eyes.

Marinette stopped walking, but tugged his hand to gather his attention. "Here."

She dropped her hold once he followed her gaze, though he was almost sorry for the emptiness in his fingers.

Chat looked down at a tray on a small folding table, upon which sat a potted plant. The tag read "Russian Snowdrop." Situated beside it were a small pair of scissors, a bowl of fresh soil and a spray bottle filled with what he could only presume was water.

"Some of my friends came by the shop the other day, and one of them knocked over this puschkinia," she explained, bending down and peering at the many fallen petals around the base of the stem.

"It was an accident, of course. And they're resilient little plants, so I've been trying to tend to it. It's not recovering well, but that's just the way things are sometimes."

Chat Noir studied the pot and noted the wilt of the angular petals, the diffused blue lines under the medallion glow. It clearly drooped at the sides, but when Chat glanced beside him, Marinette seemed pleased. They had brought their faces down to level with the plant, inches apart as they admired the fragile flower.

"It might not get better," she stated simply, no trace of disappointment in her tone. "It might, but it might not. And that's okay."

Marinette turned around and tried to arrange whatever look was on her face into a sympathetic smile. "Whatever is happening at home, whoever you lost, Chat… I can't imagine what that's like. It doesn't really matter if it was yesterday, a week ago, or years - you're healing, and healing takes time. Maybe the other people in your family don't need to be tended to," she paused and picked up a few of the fallen petals from the topsoil, rubbing the silken texture between her fingers. "And maybe you do. No one heals the same way."

Chat's mouth open slightly as he listened, a little amazed (by the words, the moment in general, or her in general, he wasn't sure). This moment with Marinette was special, and he felt a bit of clarity beneath the falling rain, under the canopy hanging leaves and branches of dark flowers.

"Mari…" was all he could really manage, looking down at his hands.

"It's okay, Chat Noir." She opened the palm of one of his hands and placed some of the fallen petals there, small and fragile within his grip.

"Just focus on your own healing; that's all you can do if people won't let you help them. An interesting thing about flowers..." she mused, changing her attention to a different pot on a shelf behind them, two rosemary bushes growing side-by-side in the fertile soil. Chat watched her every move with reverent attention, drinking it all in.

Marinette paused to test the density of the soil with her thumb. "If the kin of a flower nearby is thriving, instead of dominating the resources in the soil, they try to work together to be better. A healthy plant will only take what it needs, so the other might be left to focus its energy on what it's missing. It's sort of amazing, how smart they are. They help the other, just by focusing on what's best for themselves."

Chat pursued his lips, absorbing her words and the flowers and the gentle beauty of all of this. His chest squeezed with something like guilt, feeling undeserving of both her kindness, her knowledge, and this balmy sanctuary in the middle of Paris.

"Thank you. Marinette, I really appreciate… everything." He took a step back. "But, I did not keep an eye on the time, and I really should go." Chat clenched his fist closed, cupping the petals within before moving towards the employee area again. He did not wait for Marinette to direct them back as she did before.

"Oh, um, okay. Good -"

A tinkle of a bell told her the door had already opened. Standing in the doorway between the storefront and back room, her hand dropped to her side and she frowned.

"...bye," she said with an exhale. Marinette heard the hydrangeas behind her rustle, and she knew Tikki was somewhere nearby.

"He seemed... off, didn't he?" The kwami appeared at her shoulder, and Marinette glanced at her collarbone in acknowledgement.

"Yeah… That cat is unpredictable." Marinette shrugged. She went back to the desk and gathered her things, ready to turn off the light before she lingered around the finished tiaras of tulips and diadems of daisies she had spent the evening creating. The daisies, she recalled, had looked particularly cute nestled in Chat's flaxen fringe.

With a frown, she and Tikki exchanged a somber look. "I do hope he's okay."


"What's your problem?" Plagg asked with an accusatory tone between bites. His annoyance, usually extinguished by presence of camembert in his paws, was still conspicuously present.

"I know, I know. That was…" Adrien replied, slumped on his bed.

"Rude?" Plagg suggested, earning him a dirty look.

With a huff of hot air, Adrien laid back on the mattress and draped an arm over his face. "Yeah, I know. You're not making me feel any better, you know."

"It's not my duty to make you feel better," replied the kwami, though he did float down to sit on Adrien's chest. Their green eyes met from beneath Adrien's half-covered face.

"It was just so bizarre, Plagg. It just felt like… I felt just like I do when I talk to Ladybug. And then, just, bam. I got this urge to kiss her, but this is Marinette! As in, sweet, loyal, class president Marinette. When I realized what I was doing I had to get out of there."

Plagg made a face. "You humans and your feelings…"

Adrien rolled his eyes and lowered his arm, looking down at the small black presence that sat above his heart. Before he could say anything, Plagg paused in his feasting, wearing an odd expression.

"So… the girl reminds you of Ladybug?"

Adrien wrinkled his nose, partially at the suggestion but mostly at the smell from Plagg's cheese. "No - I don't know. Not exactly? I mean, they are really different in terms of personality, it just felt… I don't know, nice, talking to her like that. Like I do with LB. She has no way of knowing what's going on with my dad as Chat Noir, and somehow she was still so...understanding?"

The kwami hummed in reply, forcing a rather large chunk of cheese into his small mouth.

Through a stuffed gullet, Plagg sputtered out, "So what're you gonna do, kid? Another lady in your life, then?"

"No, I didn't mean it like that," he said, sitting up. Plagg floated upwards easily, unaffected by the change in position. "Marinette is pretty and kind, but I can hardly manage being in love with one person. Besides, she's one of my closest friends… I can't jeopardize that."

The kwami zoomed over towards Adrien's desk and plopped down on the corner, letting his tiny legs kick over the side while he finished his final bite of the odorous snack.

"That sounds pretty… logical." Plagg narrowed his eyes, lingering on the last word.

Adrien looked up, frowning at the little magical cat. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"Oh, it's not. Not necessarily, anyways." Plagg replied, bobbing his large head back and forth along his shoulders. Adrien made a face.

"Look," his kwami sighed. "I'm not interested in doling out advice in the love department. It's gross and not worth the return on investment, if you ask me."

Rolling his eyes, Adrien quipped, "Sounds an awful lot like camembert…"

Plagg ignored him, but rubbed his full belly in contentment. "All I'm saying is, you just explained what you think you should do, but you're usually the one all oh, my feelings! And you haven't mentioned a word of how you feel about your classmate, besides that she reminds you of Ladybug and you felt like you wanted to kiss her."

Adrien blinked repeatedly, chewing his inner lip and letting the kwami's words sink in. For as annoying as Plagg could be, he certainly had a point - it doesn't make sense to be romantically interested in Marinette when his heart belongs to Ladybug, not to mention the fact that she is one of his closest friends. But, he was pulled back into the memory of an hour ago, standing so close to her raven-hair and the softness of her ocean eyes under that hypnotic light in the flower shop… Her lips looked shiny, and soft - supple, if he had to choose a single word. She smiled so easily beside him, and her words were tender and caring and surprisingly simple. It was like she knew what he was feeling, and in a simple act, extracted all his negativity with nothing more than a gesture.

"We all heal differently…" he murmured, getting up and walking to the coffee table, eyes resting on the petals she had gifted him before he fled the scene. In truth, Adrien had all but forgotten about his argument with his father after talking to her.

"All I'm saying kid," Plagg flew up and popped into Adrien's hand where the petal was, and the current caused the flower to swoop up in the air, only to float back down and land on the kwami's head. It was like a tiny, tiny flower crown just for Plagg, and even Adrien had to admit it was one of the most adorable things he's ever seen.

"Maybe just get to know her better. If you like being around her and she makes you feel better, it's probably better than hanging out here in your room all summer. You don't have to marry her, but geez, seeing you mope all the time gets really exhausting. And it makes me hungry," Plagg finished matter-of-factly.

Adrien flipped his hand upside down and let Plagg fall a few centimeters, only to bob in midair with ease. The black presence was making a very good argument, and Adrien couldn't deny that Marinette did tend to put a smile on his face. Honestly, the girl was so enigmatically brilliant he would be surprised if she couldn't put a smile on anyone's face (well, except maybe Chloe). Whether at school or hanging out with Nino and Ayla, he found her easy to talk to and she was always a positive presence. The stuttering and shyness she originally endured when they met dissipated around the start of last summer, and he even had to gall to ask her about it once. Apparently, she was naturally a little jumpy - which he could definitely attest to, still startling her on occasion - and she was originally nervous to be speaking to him as the son of Gabriel Agreste, which made a lot of sense in retrospect. Marinette wanted to be a fashion designer, after all, so he could have imagined his surname and her own nerves made things challenging for her in the beginning.

But he had no doubts on the growth of their bond since then. If nothing else, they had really forged a friendship out of need, driven by Ayla's and Nino frequent disappearances to "go look for something" when the four of them were hanging out. Incidentally, the couple would always come back thirty minutes later with nothing found but sporting some conspicuous bedhead and flushed, breathy expressions. The first time or two, Marinette had seemed almost as uncomfortable as he was with the knowledge that - yep, their friends just ran off to have sex, and they were stuck here. But once they put it out in the open that, yes, the two had very clearly gone to have a romp in the sheets (or the bathroom, an empty classroom, a dark movie theatre, or basically anywhere they could), the tension started to disappear.

Things evolved with time, and Adrien began to appreciate more than just Marinette's kindness (which he did, of course). Quick-witted and whimsical, he already knew some of that side of her from their encounters as Chat Noir, but the dynamic was different. It wasn't just a hero and a civilian, skirting around his personal life and making vague conversation, teasing but friendly. Their interactions developed in a different kind of way, and things felt more natural by consequence. They learned each other's quirks - like that Marinette couldn't sleep with her socks on, or that he was sensitive to pressure changes and thereby hated flying - and it was one of the things he cherished most of all since attending public school. Nino was his best friend, but Marinette was sort of his partner-in-crime. If he was Chat Noir by night, working alongside Lady Bug to defend Paris, it felt like he could depend on Marinette in the same way by day.

That would explain getting swept up in the moment earlier, and the inappropriate urge to kiss her. His heart was merely having trouble untangling how comfortable he felt around the two, and he let his probably-hormone-driven instincts get the better of him.

Was it such a bad idea? Certainly, as his kwami pointed out, Adrien didn't have to marry her, and it didn't even necessarily have to be romantic. It seemed as easy as breathing to spend time with Marinette, and Plagg had at least one thing right - if it made him feel better to be with her, why not? It had been almost three years, and Lady Bug did not seem to be returning his affections anytime soon.

Besides, they weren't in any sort of exclusive relationship, so if he just wanted to become better friends with Marinette… that was okay, right?

"Mmm…" Adrien mumbled to himself, pacing his room. Plagg watched him with amusement, and while the kwami was tempted to point out that his charge was doing the same thing again - thinking not feeling - he ultimately thought better of it.

"Plagg?"

Adrien stopped and faced the kwami, standing maybe a foot away and offered the black presence his cupped hands. Smirking, he walked towards the bed and dropped Plagg on the tiny pillow next to his own, Adrien-sized one before settling into bed.

"I never thought I'd say this in my life, but I think you're right."

Plagg made an annoyed face and settled into the warmth of the pillows, curling into a ball of black fur. "Don't sound so surprised. You would think, after thousands of years, I'd garner a little more trust when it comes to giving advice."

Adrien sank into the mattress and gave the kwami a smug grin. "I thought you weren't interested in giving out love advice?"

"Oh, love? Is that what this is? I thought you just wanted to spend time with her."

Scoffing, Adrien turned over and wrapped himself in his blanket, choosing to ignore Plagg's laughter at the slight color that found his cheeks. The blonde was hoping for sleep, and he expected it to come easily. He had been so sleepy in the cozy warmth of Marinette's office with nothing but the pitter-patter of rain against glass filling his ears, but of course, now that he wanted rest? Adrien found himself very awake and mind very full of his blue-eyed friend.

Superhero or not, Adrien was first and foremost a human male. He would be have to be dense not to notice how attractive Marinette was, her skin like porcelain and features soft. After all, Adrien was a model - it should be expected that he could appreciate how good looking other people were without being romantically invested, right? And sure, his throat hitched from time to time when he caused her to giggle, but he always considered himself as getting swept up in the moment… just, a moment that happened to occur regularly. She always smelled of cookies, even after starting her job at the flower shop. It was quite literally like the smell of chocolate and sugar was stuck to her skin from the year's of a bakery-bound lifestyle. It was warm, familiar, and he rather enjoyed it.

Between her incredibly capacity for compassion and her charming clumsiness, Adrien considered himself lucky just to know Marinette, as a classmate and friend, but as Chat Noir especially.

Why was that? he wondered. Perhaps it was his problem with genuity - being raised by a famous designer, and himself growing into his own small fame as a model - he couldn't shake the small feeling that people treated him in accordance to his "status." The mere thought made him grimace, and he turned his attention to the ceiling.

Nino, Alya, and Marinette - indeed, most of their class with the exception of Chloe by default and Sabrina by association - treated him like an equal, but that was more-or-less the entirety of his social circle. He had no frame of reference to know when people were being themselves or acting a certain way to appease him. Where did the friendships end and the rubbing elbows begin?

"Ugh," Adrien muttered, turning over. He shouldn't think like that - these people are his friends! It was unfair to even imagine Nino sharing a joke with him because he wanted something, or to think about Rose waving in the hallway just to improve her position.

But his Agreste walls were high, and old, and resilient.

By comparison, Chat Noir had no attachments or obligations (aside from the minor task of helping defend Paris from evil forces, but other than that, no obligations). And then there was Marinette, the only civilian he really spent time around regularly as Chat Noir, and that had really just been an accident. He enjoyed her company as Adrien, so he would occasionally pop in on her balcony and lapse into conversation. Then, when she started working at the flower shop, his visits became even more frequent. The store was so close to his house, it almost became a habit just to pop in if he was transformed and on his way out or home from patrol.

Marinette treated him with the same esteem, with or without the mask. She neither swooned at his fame, model or hero, or dismissed his presence like he was a bother. She seemed almost unable to judge people poorly, and it reflected in her treatment of Adrien, Chat Noir, or anybody else.

He would visit her at work tomorrow. That wasn't an unusual thing to do - friends drop in on friends all the time at their jobs. He had been to visit her plenty as Chat Noir, and on a handful of occasions with Nino and Ayla. Just get to know her better - what was wrong with that?

"You have the dumbest look on your face right now." Plagg offered sleepily, turning over as Adrien's rolled his eyes.

"Gee, thanks, Plagg."

"Don't mention it. Or do. I don't really care."

With a chuckle, Adrien rolled over and tried to welcome sleep a second time, and with some patience and the rhythmic purring of Plagg beside him, it eventually came. His mind swirled, glimpses of his father, or a faceless girl with navy hair, or Hawk Moth, or even looming shadows, anxieties for the future ahead each making their appearance before morning.

Mostly, though, his idle dreams were filled with Russian Snowflakes, creamy and blue, silken between his fingers.