Audio reading (podfic) for chapter one available on AO3.
- x - x - x -

Chapter 1: Turbulent Seas

- x - x - x -

When Marinette woke up on Sunday morning, there were one hundred and twenty eight notifications on her phone.

Blinking sleep out of her eyes, she stared at her phone in disbelief. Sure, once in awhile, Alya would bombard her phone with messages over something trivial. Something exciting would happen during the night and Marinette would wake up to twenty or thirty fanatical messages from her friend. However, this - one hundred and twenty eight messages - was insane.

Pulling down on the message notifications revealed that the messages weren't just from Alya.

Thirty five from Alya. Twelve from Nino. Nineteen from Chloé. The other sixty two messages were rather equally distributed from her other classmates, some of her cousins, and a few unknown numbers. Her lock screen did not show her previews of these texts; regardless, fear began to trickle into her heart.

She unlocked her phone and clicked on Alya's messages first.

Half of the messages were sent in full caps. Some messages were as short as 'OMG' but most of them were longer. Marinette's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as she stared at one of the longer, more recent messages.

Alya: PLEASE CALL ME MARINETTE! I NEED TO KNOW IF WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ON THE NEWS IS TRUE! HAVE I BEEN BEST FRIENDS WITH FREAKING LADYBUG ALL THIS TIME!?

Oh no, oh no no no no, Marinette thought, panic blossoming in her chest.

Marinette opened up her phone's internet browser and typed in 'ladybug.' The first five articles all bore the same general message in their title - LADYBUG'S IDENTITY REVEALED. One of the titles even had her full name (both parts of her last name included) in it. She clicked on that one and skimmed through it.

About half way down the article, there was a video titled 'proof.' Nervously, Marinette clicked on the video and watched as she - in her black-spotted garb - bounced across her neighbors roofs and landed on her own balcony. The camera catching this all zoomed in right as the recorded version of herself transformed back into Marinette.

The camera managed to zoom in to the point that you could clearly see her face and the Françoise Dupont High School logo on her shirt.

Marinette felt like puking.

"Tikki!" she hissed quietly, as if her room was already bugged by reporters. Which, of course, it wasn't. Because that would be crazy… right? Suddenly, Marinette didn't even feel safe her in her own room.

"Good morning!" the kwami replied nonchalantly, yawning deeply as she rose up into the air beside Marinette. The kwami froze when she took in Marinette's panicked expression. "Is something wrong?"

"Is something wrong? Is something wrong?" Marinette squawked dramatically, chucking her phone to the end of her bed, "Everything's wrong Tikki!"

Tikki glanced down at the phone and then back to Marinette. "Did you not get into that college you were hoping for?" The kwami guessed cautiously.

"I wish that's all it was. Tikki, I don't even think I can go to college now," Marinette whimpered as she pulled her knees to her chest and buried her face into them, "I don't think I can go anywhere anymore."

"Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be fine." Tikki tried to reassure her, flying closer and giving the top for her head a small pat.

"My identify is out," Marinette said, her voice cracking, "the world knows I'm Ladybug."

"Oh," was Tikki's simple, somber response. The little kwami gulped. "That is a pickle."

Marinette could only nod in agreement.

- x -

Her parents weren't big on keeping up with the news. That being said, that didn't mean that they were completely cut off from the rest of the world. In fact, unfortunately, their business was hinged on selling pastries to the world. On most mornings, the bakery was humming with life from all the people.

Today, it was empty, save for her parents. Today, her parents had closed down the shop, most likely to prevent it from being overrun from reporters and fans. Still, people bearing cameras and makeshift posters pressed themselves against the glass, trying to sneak a peak at the superhero girl.

Marinette saw all this from the top of the stairs. She had tiptoed her way down, just far enough to see but not be seen.

Her mother was on the phone with her aunt. "I don't know," Marinette overheard her mother say, "it could all be a mistake. She's only 17, meimei. I can't believe that my little girl is some... superhero." Her mother said the world superhero like it was a curse, rather than a blessing.

Marinette shuddered.

Her father was sitting at a table, reading a newspaper. On the side of the paper closest to Marinette, the headline read IS LADYBUG A SCHOOLGIRL?

Trying not to draw attention to herself, Marinette quietly tiptoed down the rest of the stairs. Staying out of view from the front windows, she silently grabbed a few pastries from the bakery stock. Although she knew she'd have to talk with her parents eventually, she didn't want to do it now.

She was about two steps up the stairs when her father's voice gently commanded, "Marinette, come over and take a seat. Your mother and I need to speak with you." Damn it, Marinette thought, as she unwillingly turned around.

- x -

It didn't go well.

It was all Marinette's stupid fault. She shouldn't have admitted it. She could have played dumb. Put off the inevitable as long as possible. But, she didn't, and once it was out, there was no going back.

Essentially, she was grounded from superheroing. Well, that's not how her parents put it, but that's what Marinette interpreted. Her parents took turns, pointing out the dangers and bringing up past close calls. Her mother kept saying if I'd know that was you, over and over again. They also were pretty furious that she'd started all this when she was just 14.

On top of that, they were even furthered peeved because she refused to explain how she came to have these abilities. Marinette only admitted to the basics: that she was Ladybug, that she'd been Ladybug for years now, and that she didn't know who Chat Noir was (not that she'd tell her parents his identity either way).

Marinette stomped her way up the stairs after the big conversation.

"Well, that could have gone worse." Tikki offered optimistically soon after they'd gotten upstairs. She had, of course, been listening, tucked in Marinette's pocket.

"How!?" Marinette snapped at her kwami and then regretted it when she saw the look on Tikki's face. "I… oh Tikki, I'm sorry, I'm just so stressed. This is not how I wanted any of this."

But, it was how things were. Life didn't always ask your opinion before changing. Marinette threw herself onto her bed, growling in frustration.

Over the next few hours, Marinette tried to keep herself busy. She finished every last bit of her homework, watched TV, and even eventually texted Alya back (in which she promised Alya that she'd explain everything soon, in person). Marinette did everything but go downstairs and face her parents. Luckily, they left her alone the rest of the day, except for around dinner time when Marinette's mother brought her a bowl of soup.

Marinette felt like a prisoner during meal time as she accepted the soup from her mother, muttering a few words in thanks. Her mother awkwardly reminded her, "I love you Marinette," before heading back down the stairs.

Carefully placing the bowl on her desk, Marinette flopped down into her chair and groaned.

"The soup looks good," Tikki commented after flying over and sniffing it.

Before Marinette could reply, another voice spoke.

"So it's true."

Marinette jumped out of her chair in surprise.

It was Chat Noir.

Chat Noir, clad in his typical black leather, was standing in her room by the open balcony doors that she definitely didn't leave open. He was watching her with a curious, beguiled gaze.

Marinette suddenly felt very naked (even though, for the record, she wasn't). Yes, Chat had met her before as a civilian, several times in fact, but he had never known that it was her. Now, he knew. Just like her parents, there was a knowing gleem to his gaze.

It was unnerving. Flushing, Marinette half-heartedly greeted, "Hello cat."

She was happy to see him, though. In all honesty, he was probably the only person in all of Paris who could fathom what she was going through. She needed his support more than ever before.

"Marinette." Chat's voice was an octave or two lower than normal as he stepped further into her room.

Shrugging, Marinette replied, "Yep, that's me. Marinette, the Ladybug. You got me." That last little bit was an attempt at a joke, but he didn't laugh. Chat was staring at her like he was trying to memorize every last inch of her.

She had to remind herself that had to be a shock for him. They'd been working together for three years, saving each other and saving Paris, and yet they'd never knowingly laid eyes on each other's secret identities… until now. She tried to be patient, not wanting to rush him. Although, she kind of felt like an animal being hunted, what with the way he was inching closer and closer to her.

He stopped a meter away from her and gulped audibly. Tilting her head, Marinette asked playfully, "You alright there, cat?" With the way he was acting, you'd think he was the one with his identity out.

"I'm good," he breathed, his voice soft, "how… um, are you?"

Seriously, what was wrong with him? Marinette shifted nervously under his intense gaze. His green eyes were reminding her of something, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Whatever it was, it was making her feel… excited? Warm? It was hard to describe.

"I've been better," she replied dryly.

"Oh, yes, right, er..." It was like Chat Noir had snapped out of whatever dreamlike state he'd been in. He blinked several times and then spoke with nervous energy, "Yes, your identity. Things might be dangerous, now that Hawk Moth knows who you are. We need to consider your safety, Marinette. I can have cameras and a security system set-up -"

"No, I'm good," Marinette cut him off, smiling at Chat Noir's antics, "trust me, I've had enough cameras for now."

"Are you sure?" replied Chat Noir, his brow furrowing with disappointment.

"Yes. Right now, my biggest problem is dealing with my life." Her messy, messy life. Her friends who felt betrayed. Her parents who were afraid. The reporters, who were trying to turn her life into a spectacle.

Chat looked at her for a long moment, before suddenly offering, "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Marinette almost said no. Almost. The thing was, who else could she talk about it with? She really did need a chance to unload onto someone. Chat Noir was sort of perfect. "Okay, I guess. If you don't mind."

That's how they ended up talking for nearly an hour. Chat Noir sat on her bed, criss cross applesauce, and listened as she told him about Alya, about the news reporters, and about what she feared from school. However, she didn't talk much about her parents, as she didn't want to worry him about the whole being-grounded-from-superheroing.

Chat Noir was a good listener. He commented occasionally and gave a suggestion here and there, but, for the most part, he just let her talk. It was exactly what she needed.

Then, while she was in the middle of telling him about the suck-up text messages she'd received from Chloé Bourgeois, his suit beeped. He was out of time already. "I guess I didn't feed my kwami enough," he joked, toying with the gold bell on his neck.

"Oh, well, yes, I guess you better leave," Marinette said, blushing when she realized how long she'd been talking for.

Only, Chat Noir didn't get up. He rubbed the back of his head nervously and said, "Actually, you know, I could also… not leave."

"You're about to detransform, though," Marinette pointed out, blinking in confusion.

"Right," Chat Noir replied, smiling in an almost pleadingly way.

"Oh," Marinette breathed. She understood what he was suggesting. He was offering to detransform, to show her who he was. "I… ah, gosh, Chat..." She rubbed her arms and sighed morosely.

He climbed off her bed and strode over to her, a look of determination on his face. She frowned at him as he approached. That frown dropped, though, when he got on his knees in front of her. His black gloved hands grabbed hers and he captured her eyes with his own.

Her mind went blank as she lost herself in those familiar green eyes.

She was leaning down towards him. They got closer and closer, until she could count the small scratches in his mask. There was something about him that shook her, sucking reason out of her mind. She'd experienced this before, but only rarely. Every time, including now, it felt almost supernatural. Only, every other time before, the trance had been broken by whatever akuma they'd been fighting.

There was no akuma now. There was only a day so hectic that it was enough to make her crazy. The new chaos in her life was surely inspiring dangerous spontaneity. Why, for a moment, she seriously considered pressing her lips to his.

"Ah!" Marinette yelped, snapping herself out of it. She sat up quickly and, instinctively, kicked Chat away. He tumbled backwards, meowing in indignation.

"Ow," he complained, now sprawled on her bed room's floor.

"I'm sorry," Marinette bumbled, rubbing her hot cheeks, "I think I lost my mind there for a moment. W-we… we don't even know each other, Chat. Not, you know, really." She added the last bit to try and sooth the harsh reality of her words. Chat Noir and Ladybug's interactions had always been superficial. They could talk about saving people, could talk about kwamis, and a few other casual topics. But, they couldn't talk about their families, their friends, their love lives… all that had always been off the table.

"Mari," said Chat, sitting up, "I think we know each other pretty well."

Of course he thought that. Chat Noir had had a crush on her, on and off, for the past three years. She'd always thought his crush was crazy. How could you crush on someone with a mask on, whom you couldn't truly get to know?

"No, we really don't, Chat," Marinette replied, trying to be as nice as she could about it, "we've never talked about family or friends -"

"Technically, you just did," pointed out Chat with a grin.

"- okay, but until now, we never did. We also have never really hung out." Crossing her arms, Marinette added the nail in the coffin, "Besides, you may know me, but I don't know you."

A chuckle escaped Chat. "Then let me tell you about me. Marinette, my name is -"

"STOP!" Marinette shouted as she jumped out of her chair, landing haphazardly on Chat's legs. Shes lapped her hand over his mouth. Then, she remembered that her parents were downstairs and winced. Hopefully, they didn't hear that exclamation. Softer, she hissed at Chat, "It's bad enough my identity is out! We don't need your identity out too."

Chat hissed too, but in pain, rather than in reply. Marinette slipped off him and he rubbed his legs, muttering, "Geez Louise." Then, he turned his attention from his legs back to her. "Princess," he spoke dryly, "I'm pretty sure you won't go blasting my identity out there for the reporters."

"Yes, well, still," Marinette replied, shaking her head vigorously, "we shouldn't be trying to make things more complicated." Everything was already too complicated.

In all honesty, it was more than that. The idea of knowing who Chat Noir really was frightening to Marinette. Because, knowing would intertwin them together more than ever before. It would make their relationship more real, more emotional. Just thinking about it made her anxiety spike.

No, it was better to keep things simple.

"For the record, I think you're crazy," Chat replied softly, painfully, "but okay. If that's what you want." He hesitated at the end of his sentence, as if he was hoping that Marinette might interrupt him and change her mind.

"Good. Thank you, Chat." She breathed deeply. Marinette's world might have been falling apart, but she would be damned if she didn't fight to keep up whatever barriers she could.

He was looking at her again in the same way he had earlier, when he'd first arrived. His brow was furrowed and he was studying her face. When his suit's alarm rang again, he barely reacted. Half-smiling, Marinette reached forward and flicked his bell, trying to nicely point out to him that he couldn't stay here with her forever.

Before she could draw back her hand, his hand caught it. Then, his whole body moved, his eyes slid closed, and he tapped his lips into hers, albeit briefly. It all happened quickly.

As quick as it began, it was over.

He pulled back, cheeks red. "Whoops," he giggled drunkenly.

"Chat," she gasped, her anger blossoming as she yanked back her hand, "what the hell!"

Chat shrugged a little, his dopey smile somewhat apologetic, before he started to move. He twisted himself around and then darted across her room lithely. Marinette barely had the time to splutter a few more expletives at him as he yanked open the balcony door and hopped onto the railing. "Chat!" She howled, furious and embarrassed. It felt like her cheeks were on fire. "You little rat!"

"Cat, not rat!" Was the last thing he yelled back at her before he completely vanished amongst the buildings. To Marinette's annoyance, he sounded pleased with himself.

- x -

School sucked.

Everyone knew. Of course everyone knew.

The day had started poorly. Getting to school was a challenge in itself, what with the milion reporters gathered outside of her family's bakery. Marinette had been tempted to change to Ladybug and leave through the attic, but she knew that would only make things worse. The last thing she wanted was to feed the reporters more proof.

So she shoved through the reporters, mumbling excuse me and pardon me. Her parents had stood at the bakery doors and tried to help by shouting at the reporters too, but it was rather ineffective.

The school doors seemed like a gift from god as she slipped through them. That is, until all the eyes in the hallway of the school turned to her. Kids she knew, kids she didn't, all stared at her. Marinette was used to being stared at while Ladybug. She was not, however, used to it while being Marinette.

The classroom wasn't much better.

Alya was on an emotional rollercoaster, going back and forth between being annoyed that she'd been in the dark about it to being thrilled that she knew Ladybug. Any time their teacher took so much as a three second pause in his lecture, she began whispering frantically to Marinette. Alya threw every and any question at Marinette, most of which Marinette refused to answer.

Oh, and then there was Adrien.

Like everyone else in the room, he was acting weird to Marinette. Only, his weird was a different sort of weird. Marinette couldn't quite put her finger on it. Just like everyone else, he kept sneaking glances at her. But, there was something different about how he looked at her… or maybe she was just imagining it. Considering how she'd been infatuated with him for a good three years, it wasn't unreasonable that she was reading too much into it.

- x -

At lunch, she hid in a broom closet. She needed a break from Alya, from the stares, from everything. It ended up being the most peaceful part of her day.

- x -

She had almost made it through a whole school day when an akuma attacked.

She just barely heard the distance explosions, faint bangs that blended into the sounds from the history documentary they were watching in class. That's the documentary, Marinette had hoped.

Nope. Soon, the principle came on over the loudspeaker and announced that school was going to have to end a few minutes early due to the akuma attack. After that initial announcement, the principle paused, cleared his throat audibly, then added, "Good luck to any who choose to fight it."

Kill me now, the seventeen year old thought as her cheeks burned in embarrassment.

She shoved her books quickly into her bag. Meanwhile, no one else in the class seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. They all sat there, watching her every movement like vultures waiting for death.

The door banged open loudly, pulling Marinette out of her own negative contemplations. She turned and saw Adrien disappearing around the corner, into the hallways. He's in a rush, she thought, or he just hates me now and wants to get away from me. That was a lovely thought.

Feeling miserable, Marinette found her way to the broom closet again. Only, now she was stuck with a conundrum. Her parents had very explicitly banned her using her miraculous abilities. Marinette had tried to explain to them that she had to help, that she was the only one who could purify the akumas. That hadn't mattered to her parents, who pointed out to her that that was an unreasonable duty for a young girl to have.

Honey, there's got to be somebody else who can do that. You're just too young to be risking your life like this. Her mother had told her.

Already, Marinette was faced with breaking her parents inane rules. She knew she would have to eventually, but she had been hoping for a few days to pass first. A little time for her parents to grow used to the idea that she was Ladybug. A little time for them to come to the realization that Paris needed her, needed Ladybug.

Oh well.

"Spots on." Marinette commanded.

- x -

Chat Noir kept making terrible bakery puns.

Reporters took ten kazillion photographs. Their flashes nearly blinded her.

Alya sent her eleven text messages, asking for a full play-by-play of what happened.

Then, as if all that wasn't bad enough, when she got back home, her parents were furious. Marinette hadn't been yelled at like that since she was a kid. She made the mistake of trying to play the I'm basically an adult card but that had only made it worse. Threats were levied.

We'll take away your phone, your computer, your TV.

We'll pull you from your school.

We'll move to the countryside.

The worst thing was that Marinette wanted to be pissed at her parents. She really, really did. But, she couldn't be. There was a part of her that understood why her parents were so freaked out about this. Just in the last three years, she'd nearly died five different times. Two of them had ended up televised with headlines like IS THIS THE END OF LADYBUG?

Her parents were worried that being a superhero would kill her…. and yeah, it might.

That didn't mean that she could stop. Marinette was Ladybug. Ladybug was Marinette. She had been selected for this role by something greater than herself. If only her parents could see that!

They couldn't. They probably never would.

Marinette curled herself into a small ball on her bed and pulled her comforter over her head. Her eyes were like leaky faucets, intent on dehydrating her. Tikki had long since given up trying to comfort her and was now giving her some space. There was just so much for Marinette to work out, emotionally.

She cried silently for a good half an hour. Then, out of the blue, her comforter was ripped away unceremoniously and she found herself half a meter away from a brightly smiling Chat Noir.

She started to scream. He reacted quickly, slipping his hand onto her mouth to quiet her. "Shhh!" He hissed at her through his teeth.

Then his eyes inspected her tear stained face and her now-furious eyes.

"Mari, what's wrong?" He spoke in a whisper, clearly horrified.

As soon as he'd pulled his glove away from her face, she couldn't help herself, she launched herself into a long rant about just what was wrong.

Her rant started out nasty, beginning with he kept breaking into her room and did he really think she appreciated that? She also might have called him an ass... several times.

The farther she got into her rant, though, the more the anger was replaced with anxiety and sadness. She really didn't mean to, but she ended up spilling all her emotions to Chat Noir (again) as he laid next to her on her bed. To his credit, he barely made any noise during this solid three or four minute rant. He just listened, his expression sympathetic.

Somehow, she reached the end of her rant. Her chaotic world, wide open for Chat to see. "So, there. That's what's wrong," Marinette concluded, sniffling.

"I'm sorry," Chat whispered, his own voice now hoarse with emotion, "I wish I could fix it all for you."

"You can't," Marinette replied bleakly.

Chat didn't reply. Even when Marinette, feeling the need for comfort, scooted closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder, he refrained from comments (inappropriate and otherwise).

- x -

He stayed with her, tucked close to her with only the comforter between them, until his suit beeped. Marinette wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed when he left.

She sat up to watch as he jumped up and balanced on her balcony's railing. From down below, several flashes lit up the night. Paparazzi. Chat looked down at the paparazzi, his leather flashing gray with every photo.

Suddenly, he twisted around on one foot so that he was facing her again. "I've got an idea," he told her mysteriously, a little smile on his face.

And then he was gone.

- x -

The next morning, Marinette got grilled by her parents about why Chat Noir had been photographed leaving her room via the balcony.

He's my partner, she told her parents. He's a boy, they told her. Which, let's be honest, was utterly ridiculous. Marinette had to bite her tongue to stop herself from telling her parents that she had spent plenty of time with Chat, alone, without their supervision. They also weren't dating (no matter what Alya wanted to believe).

As Marinette pushed through the somewhat-thinner crowd of reporters in front of the bakery, she prayed that today would be an akuma-free day.

Luckily, it was to be an akuma-free day. In fact, over all, day two was much better than day one. For example, the stares were also not so bad on day two. Maybe her classmates were realizing that she was not about to throw her costume on, right there and then, in the classroom. Many of them actually paid attention to the teachers, instead of obsessively staring at Marinette.

Good day or not, Marinette still sought out the broom closet at lunch. She was growing quite fond her quaint and quiet broom closet and the reprieve it gave her from her overbearing world.

That day and the next, the broom closet was the only place she truly got to escape to. At home, her parents acted more like prison wardens than parents. At school, Alya bombarded her with endless questions as her classmates snuck not-so-subtle glances at her.

All Marinette could do was to hold her head up and apprehensively await the next inevitable akuma attack.

- x -

It wasn't until Thursday that she was finally apprehended on her sneaky escape to the broom closet. Someone grabbed her arm and cleared their throat.

Only, it wasn't Alya (who had been rather furious that Marinette had been ditching her at lunch). It was Adrien.

She was at a loss for words, but that wasn't new. Years of acquaintanceship still hadn't managed to teach her how to act around him. Oh sure, she'd recently mastered full sentences, but now with the whole Ladybug thing… bleh. Under the gaze of his green eyes, she felt like she was back to square one.

"Marinette, I was hoping you'd have lunch with me so that we can talk," he inquired politely.

"Talk?" squeaked Marinette. She was being more and more conscious about the fact that his hand was still on her arm. I think I might melt, she thought.

Adrien broke out his perfect, toothy smile. "Yes, if you don't mind. I think I might be able... ah, assist you."

Oh, she definitely did not mind. He could assist her all that he wanted and then some. Marinette nodded dumbly and let Adrien guide her out of the school.

Adrien's limo, the one that always picked him up, was waiting in front of the school. Unfortunately, so were the reporters. Their cameras flashed and their voices called out as the pair of teenagers hurried towards the limo. Marinette, how did you become Ladybug? Marinette, who is Chat Noir? Marinette, when will the next akuma attack be?

Adrien looked just as disheveled as Marinette by the time they got into the limo. "Gun it, Arthur," he grunted.

- x -

"You're joking."

He wasn't.

Tentatively, as if they were a bomb in disguise, she carefully picked up the keys he'd place on the table. One, a car key. The other, an apartment key.

"It's too much." Marinette gently placed the keys back on the table.

Adrien frowned. "I disagree. It's barely anything. Honestly, I almost bought you a house." A house? Marinette blinked several times.

The waiter showed up to refill their drinks, which gave Marinette a moment to mull everything over.

Adrien Agreste was offering to pay for an apartment for her (or well, he had already rented it, but still) and provide her with a car. All for free. All because he wanted to make it easier for her to be Ladybug. He had told her that he imagined it can't be easy, what with the paparazzi treating her like a cheap celebrity. He told her that she deserved her own place… her own hideout (and yes, he'd used that exact wording).

That's why he had brought her to a very upscale italian restaurant, asked for a booth tucked in a corner, and pulled out the key ring.

My own apartment, Marinette considered, biting her lower lip, my own car. Well, the car was excessive. Ladybug could get around just fine using her abilities. However, her own apartment meant that she wouldn't have to deal with her parents. Then again, was it even legal for a seventeen year old to live by herself? Marinette wasn't sure how that would work.

That didn't mean that it was okay for her to accept these gifts from Adrien. "Adrien, it's too much money." Apartments weren't cheap. Cars weren't cheap. Hell, her family could barely afford one family car.

"It's a drop in the bucket when it comes to the Agreste fortune." Adrien replied stubbornly as he reached out and nudged the keys closer to Marinette.

She picked up the keys again, inspecting them carefully. They looked entirely normal. She couldn't help but indulge the possibility a little. "Who else knows where the apartment is?"

"Well, other than me? No one. It's being rented under a pseudonym and not even my father knows about it. I'm using money funneled through my own personal bank account to pay for it."

"Oh," Marinette murmured. She was not in love with the fact that Adrien was basically lying to his dad by keeping in the dark about it, but, at the same time, she was pretty glad about it. Gabriel Agreste was polite, fashionable, and had raised an excellent son; that being said, in the few times that she had interacted with him, Marinette hadn't been able to shake the feeling that there was something off about him. Honestly, she had half a mind to suspect that the man was somewhat involved with the whole Hawk Moth business (although Chat was always quick to point out that she was crazy, Gabriel Agreste had been akumatized before).

Although, it really didn't matter whether Gabriel Agreste knew, because Marinette couldn't possible say yes. She couldn't possibly take advantage of Adrien's friendship like this.

But, then again... what other choices did she have? Ladybug needed to be able to save Paris. If she stayed with her parents, she might not be able to. It was crazy, but Adrien's offer might just be the blessing she needed.

Marinette played with the keys, turning them over and over in her fingers.

"Okay."

Her life was like a runaway train. Uncontrollable, unpredictable, crazy.

- x -

"... are you serious. Are you serious." Alya's words were more like a statement than a question. She stared directly into Marinette's eyes, the rest of her stock-still. "An apartment."

"Um. And a car," Marinette added.

In front of them, she could hear Adrien chortling softly.

"Oh my gaw-dah," Alya murmured, leaning back in her chair and letting head flop black. "This just keeps getting better." Better. The word wasn't a good descriptor for the situation in Marinette's opinion, but whatever. She didn't tell Alya so that she could argue with her.

Nah, she told Alya soon after she got back from lunch because, honestly, she felt like she owed to to Alya. For three years, she'd kept her friend in the dark about her superhero identity. That was three years of lies.

"Where is it?" Alya whispered with excitement.

There was a limit on the truth though, even for Alya. "Alya, I love you, but I don't know if I want anyone to visit me there. I want to keep it as much of a secret as I can."

Her friend pouted and crossed her arms. "Girl, I don't know how you can expect to keep anything a secret any more. You're in the spotlight now. Permanently."

Don't remind me, was what Marinette was about to reply. Before she could, their teacher hushed them.

While her teacher demoed some math questions on the board, Marinette found herself playing with the keys in her pocket.

- x -

Marinette was a terrible person.

She gulped deeply, hating herself a little bit as she whispered to Tikki, "Spots on."

"If you're sure…" Tikki sighed, before disappearing in a flash of red. Tikki had tried to talk her out of this. Just tell your parents, she had said, don't just sneak out with your things.

But Tikki didn't understand. Marinette's parents wouldn't be okay with it. They wouldn't be like, oh yeah sure, go move into your new apartment that some boy at school paid for. That's fine. To them, this would probably be just as bad as her fighting crime as Ladybug. Maybe worse.

Obviously, she couldn't cram everything she owned into a bag (although she tried). Clothes, shoes, photographs, a blanket, a pillow, her school work, a few trinkets; these were shoved in backpacks and reusable cloth shopping bags. However, some things were too delicate for her carry or were simply too big. Her computer. Her mattress. Her comforter. Her sewing machine.

She glanced at those items forlornly. I'll just have to make do, she thought. One day, maybe she could get a job and buy herself her own copies of those things. In the meantime, the library had computers she could use and the apartment was sure to have a floor that she could sleep on.

Tearing her eyes away from her things, Marinette focused on the mission at hand: get to the new apartment. She had already memorized the address from the piece of paper that Adrien had given her. That piece of paper now existed in fifty tiny pieces, spread between three trash cans.

Marinette was not taking chances.

Off she went, looking more like a red turtle than a ladybug with all her bags and items. From her balcony, she went in a funny direction, away from the reporters, who, for some ungodly reason, were still camped out in front of the bakery. Doubling back around was much better than getting more photographs taken, especially since those photographs would show her running away from home.

- x -

"Holy shit." That wasn't a word combination that Marinette used lightly. However, this situation fully rectified its use.

The apartment downright regal. Beautiful white granite countertops, skylights, top-of-the-line appliances... it was shocking. On top of all that, every inch of the apartment was sparkly clean.

She carefully tiptoed further into the apartment, wondering if she got the wrong apartment number. The living room had furniture, clearly brand new. A huge flat screen TV, much larger than her parent's 40 inch TV at home, hung on the wall. This wasn't some empty apartment; this was a palace.

She almost didn't notice the note as it blended in with the white countertops. It was written in beautiful, sloping black ink.

Marinette, I hope you find everything to your liking. Please let me know if you need anything.

- Adrien Agreste

Marinette's head was starting to hurt. This was too much.

Nonetheless, she continued her exploration of her new space. Further into the apartment, she found herself peering into a bedroom. Which had a bed. With sheets and a comforter. What.

She stepped into the bedroom and let all her bags drop unceremoniously to the ground. That's when she noticed the two desks: one with a brand new Apple computer and the other with perhaps the fanciest sewing machine she'd ever laid eyes on. No joke: the sewing machine had a full-color, touch-screen interface.

No way, she thought, her jaw dropping as she inched closer to the machine. Sure enough, the side of the machine proclaimed in red letters, BERNINA.

A Bernina sewing machine.

They were the absolute best sewing machines and also pretty much the most expensive. Some of the newer models, like the one she was now tentatively touching, cost several thousand dollars.

Pretty much everywhere she looked in the apartment, Marinette found little surprises like this. The cupboards were packed with expensive dishware and glasses. The drawers were neatly organized with pots and pans. The fridge was half full with milk, eggs, and fresh produce. There was even a handful of bottles of some fancy-looking, foreign brand of shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom linen closet.

Almost in a daze, Marinette unpacked her clothes and tucked away what little else she'd brought with her.

- x -

"How do you like -"

"It's too much!" Marinette didn't even let Adrien finish. She'd cornered him outside of the classroom in the morning. "It's… Adrien, it's fully furnished. And everything's new."

"I know," he replied with a big smile. Why did he think that this was normal? Marinette groaned.

"But… Adrien. It's… well, so expensive..." She whimpered, not sure how to make him understand, not sure if it even mattered. Despite everything, she had still moved in. Her clothes were in the closet. Her photographs were in a desk drawer. Her blanket was thrown over the couch.

The beautiful boy shrugged, still smiling. "I'm not worried. You shouldn't either." Then, he reached forward and tugged on one of her pigtails playfully. "Anyways, it's already done. Too late for take-backsies!"

Marinette knew she was out of good arguments, so she just puffed out her lower lip to show her unhappiness.

He gave a little, amused shake of his head and then did something rather unexpected: he took a step forward and totally encroached on Marinette's personal space. Which, unlike with Chat, she wouldn't complain about.

Electric currents raced up and down her spine as Adrien whispered covertly, "It makes me happy to help you, ma chérie."

Her brain went offline. All she could do was stare at him, her face reddening, feeling dumb and happy at the same time. She drunk in his features; green eyes, smooth skin, gold hair. She didn't deserve his charity and didn't understand it. How could such a handsome boy also be so good?

His eyes narrowed and his face changed to one of suspicion. The movement of his green eyes, darting up and down her face like he was hunting for something, helped snap Marinette out of her stupor.

"Ohwellthat'snicewellanywayswedon'twanttobelateforclass!" The words poured out of her mouth and then she ran like Hawk Moth himself was after her.

Alya was already in the classroom when Marinette arrived. Her over exuberant friend really, really wanted to hear about the apartment. Marinette hadn't even sat down before her friend was telling her to like, spill, now.

The excitement was a little bit contagious. Marinette did her best to fill in her friend, whispering as softly as she possibly could, in hopes that Adrien (who had taken his usual seat in front of her) wouldn't over hear her gossiping about the apartment. It was bad enough that Adrien had bought all that stuff for her; openly gloating about it would just be worse. Although, Adrien most likely figured out what they were whispering about when Alya yelled, "A Bernina? You're shitting me!" Thankfully, their teacher wasn't in the room yet to hear that.

By the time class did start, Marinette had given Alya a full run-down of the apartment.

"So, what did your parents think of it? Were they angry?" Alya whispered as she pretended to take notes on Shakespeare.

"Um, they weren't particularly happy… but I didn't really tell them much… I kind of told them after the fact..." Marinette admitted weakly. Not only did Alya turn to look at her but so did Adrien, his brows furrowed. Was he listening in? Marinette wondered in horror. Great, now he knows how much of an awful chicken I am.

Before either Alya or Adrien could say anything to her, an announcement crinkled through speaker system. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, please come to the Principal's office immediately.

Uh oh.

She had a little guess for what this was about. If she was right, it wasn't going to be pleasant.

As she walked out of the classroom, almost everyone was watching her curiously. Everyone, except for Adrien, who had his phone to his ear and was whispering frantically to someone.

- x -

Last night, her parents had called her. She had picked up the first time. Her mother demanded to know where she was, so Marinette told her honestly, I'm at my new apartment. Her mother hadn't taken that well. Many things were yelled at Marinette over the phone. Near the end of the conversation, her mother was getting so worked up that the occasional Chinese word was slipping into her diatribe.

If it hadn't been so emotionally devastating, it might have been comical. Sabine Dupain-Cheng switched back and forth between being furious and pleading. One moment, she was telling Marinette, you're an idiot, you will come back or else. Then next moment, she was crying, we love you Marinette, we just want the best for you, please don't do this.

By the time she hung up on her mother (to her mother's utmost horror), Marinette had the horrible realization that this whole situation was affecting her parents much worse than it was affecting her.

In all honesty, Marinette always knew that there was a chance that her identity would be outed. Yes, it had been a nasty shock, but it hadn't been completely unexpected. Tikki had told her that some of her past Ladybugs had had their identities revealed; it happened sometimes. Her parents… her parents weren't expecting this by any means. One random morning, they find out their daughter risks her life on a weekly basis. Then to top that off, their bakery gets flooded with a stampede of reporters and over-enthusiastic fans.

Marinette was destroying her ill-prepared parents. But... she had to, for the sake of Paris.

The announcement had very clearly told her to head to the Principal's office immediately, but Marinette couldn't force herself to rush. Instead, she walked slowly, brushing her fingers against the lockers that lined the hallway.

- x -

The meeting was a catastrophe. Or, a cat-tastrophe, as Chat would say.

Of course both her parents were waiting for her in the Principal's office. Of course they were furious. Her mother wouldn't stop crying, and, with every tear, Marinette felt her heart break a little bit more. She kept having to remind herself, I have to do this, the world needs Ladybug.

Her parents stated at the very beginning of the meeting that she was a minor and did not have the right to move out. Or, as they kept calling it, run away from home.

She disagreed.

Her Principal tried to play the moderator but it was clear he felt out of his league.

The discussion went nowhere fast. Every argument that Marinette brought up was shot down almost as quickly by her parents.

I'm seventeen.

Seventeen year olds are still legally minors.

I'll be eighteen in four months.

Right now, you are seventeen.

It took everything Marinette had to keep herself composed and keep tears from spilling down her own cheeks. Especially because she knew she was losing the argument. Her Principal was more and more reluctantly agreeing with her parent's points. He kept using the word legally almost every time he spoke.

It was a curt knock on the door that announced the arrival of Marinette's unforeseen saving grace.

Nathalie.

It had been awhile since Marinette had seen Adrien's father's assistant. And now, here Nathalie stood, with a clipboard and a hard expression on her face.

Nathalie introduced herself politely, her voice utterly emotionless. It remained that way, even after Nathalie pulled out some legal paperwork and tenderly laid it onto the Principal's desk. Nathalie started to explain what she had and what it meant, but Marinette barely heard it. She was riveted by the bold, serif letters at the top of the page

PETITION FOR EMANCIPATION, it read.

- x -

The lock clunked as she turned the key. It was a wonderful sound, as if her apartment was saying to her, welcome back, come on in and relax, you've earned it. Although, had she really? She was breaking her parent's hearts. It was overwhelming to think about. She had no choice, though. She had to, for Paris.

Marinette locked her dark thoughts into the back of her mind. If she kept thinking about it, she'd explode.

She started stripping off her clothes as she headed into the bedroom. Within two minutes, Marinette had slipped on a pair of cozy sweatpants and a loose tank top. This evening, she was going to eat the vegetables from the fridge like rabbit and watch TV. No homework, no work, no thinking. She needed a rest from it all.

Only, as she walked out of her bedroom and back into the living room, she discovered that she was not alone.

A certain kitty was lounging on her couch. He gave her a big cheshire grin. "Why hello there, Princess. I pawsitively adore this new paw-d that you've got here!"

Tikki buzzed out of the bedroom behind Marinette, took one look at Chat, and then began giggling. "I'll let you deal with this." The kwami buzzed pleasantly before turning and flying back into the bedroom.

"Chat, what are you doing in my apartment?" Marinette demanded, crossing her arms. "How did you even find it?"

He shrugged. "You're not hard to track, m'lady. 'Sides, why wouldn't I come visit you?" Chat batted his eyes in a rather flirty matter. Which reminded Marinette of something.

"Hm… hold on for a second." She told him, an idea coming to her.

"Anything for you, ma chérie."

Into the bedroom she went, grabbed what she needed, and stalked back out. Chat looked at her, baffled. He had the good sense to look frightened after he registered the irritation on her face.

He wasn't ready for her onslaught.

"THIS -" Marinette brought down her pillow on Chat, whacking him with a puff, "IS -" Again, another pillow strike, "FOR -" Chat was both laughing and yelping, "THAT -" puff puff puff "KISS!" She'd never gotten a good chance to punish him for that. Last time he'd visited, she hadn't been in the state of mind to even think about it. Now that she had dealt some revenge, she felt much better. She sighed and smiled at Chat, who was curled up in a fetal position on her couch, giggling so hard that he was gasping.

"... it was still worth it." He coughed out between his giggles, so Marinette gave him a couple more pillow whacks.

Five minutes later and Marinette was sprawled out on the had found two sodas in the fridge and offered one to Marinette as a peace offering. With a pleasant laugh, she'd accepted it. Then, he'd settled down on the couch with her. It felt oddly comfortable, relaxing with Chat Noir.

Part of her knew she was probably sending him the wrong signals, but… it was nice to have company. In a way, he was the only one who could understand what she was going through. She might be in love with someone else, but she still needed Chat. She loved him too. It was, well, just a different kind of love. Or, at least, she was pretty sure it was.

It hurt her brain to think about, so she didn't dwell on it.

Marinette had thrown her legs on top of his as she stretched out on the couch. As Chat babbled about some new movie he wanted to see, his left hand was tracing imaginary shapes against her calf. It sent little tingles up her leg. She did her best to focus on what Chat was saying, despite this distraction.

"So, how'd you get this sweet apaw-tment?" The question caught Marinette completely by surprise. Only Chat could jump so spontaneously from talking about movies based on ABBA songs to the subject of a new apartment.

"Oh," she said, hesitating, "um, a friend is paying for it. For me."

"A friend," Chat echoed, his gaze boring holes into her face.

"... yes."

"Must be a pretty good friend."

"… yeah."

"What's this friend's name?"

"None-of-your-business."

"Hm, I don't think I know any None-of-your-businesses. Is that his nickname?" Marinette reached down and grabbed the pillow, which was chilling on the floor next to the couch, and gave Chat another whack with it. This only made him laugh.

Then, his damned suit beeped. "You'll have to leave soon," Marinette told him regretfully. She liked chilling on the couch with him. Then, in a moment of weakness, she indulged Chat with more information. "My friend - the one who's paying for this apartment - he's really great. I really don't know what I would have done if he hadn't set all this up for me. I mean, he shouldn't have, but…" she sighed deeply.

Chat bent towards her inquisitively. "It almost sounds like you like this classmate."

"Of course I do," she huffed back at him, stubbornly.

He laughed and shook his head, "Well, no, I meant, like, like-like him. But yeah, of course you like him if he's your friend."

She almost didn't say what she said next. A week ago, she would have never. But now, Marinette was opening up, letting Chat more into her world. He was a lighthouse and she was a ship sailing in a dark, turbulent sea; she wanted his advice, his presence, his friendship. So, she whispered honestly to him, "I do. Like-like him." Her whisper sounded more like a miserable whimper. She groaned aloud at her own feebleness.

"You… oh. You do." Chat's voice flattened out, all emotion dropping off his face and out of his tone. Marinette winced a bit; she should have anticipated this reaction. Chat was always flirting with her and then with the kiss last week… but, no, it was better to be honest with him. He needed to know that there was someone else in her heart. There's not enough room for both of you. Well, she didn't say that part out loud. No need to rub it in, after all.

"Are… are you okay, Chat?" Marinette asked gently, reaching forward to give his arm a gentle squeeze.

"I… uh, yeah. Sure." He didn't look okay. There were emotions warring across his face, but it was too difficult to tell which emotions those were. His hand had abandoned her calf and now he was ringing his two gloved hands together in a nervous manner.

Great job, Marinette, she told herself, how many hearts do you need to break today? First her parents, now Chat. She went too far. She tried to backpedal with her next comment, hoping to lessen the blow. "I… oh Chat, it's not a big deal. He doesn't like me like that. I'm just, like, nobody to him."

For some reason, that didn't make it better. "Nobody!?" He gasped at her and Marinette shrunk back into the couch. She hadn't been expecting that blast of emotion. "Do you really think he doesn't care about you, Marinette?" He was frighteningly serious as he locked eyes with her.

"Umm…" Marinette could barely get the words out of her mouth correctly. "I - uh - don't know?" No seemed like the wrong answer to his intense question.

Then Chat moved, twisting so his body was over her. He shifted forward until he was positioned above and staring straight down at her, his knees against her hips.

Green eyes. Why did they seem so familiar?

"Listen to me," Chat spoke slowly, his voice husky. Marinette was definitely listening as much as her short-circuiting brain was capable of. "You are not nobody, not to anyone."

Her breath was coming out as ragged little gasps. Basically, her whole body was on fire in a really good way. The way that he was looking at her, half possessively, half drunkenly, was strangely thrilling. In those long seconds that he hovered over her, too close and yet not close enough, she felt absolutely intoxicated. When his hand reached forward and traced her chin, her whole body arched up involuntarily.

They both gasped, but for different reasons. Her, in embarrassment, and him, in surprise.

He lowered himself ever so slightly, his leather suit a meer inch above her wildly rising and falling chest.

His face was close to hers. This was different from the last time, though. It was so much more intense. Marinette was putty underneath Chat's claws.

His suit beeped again - a final warning.

He sighed. "It's too bad you'd rather kiss Adrien and not me, princess." There was a hint of amusement embedded in his sensual whisper.

Before Marinette could register what he had said, Chat was moving. He was already prying open the apartment balcony door when she hurriedly rolled off the couch and onto her feet. "Wait!" she shouted after him, a thousand questions rolling around in her addled brain.

With a wink, Chat somersaulted over the balcony and disappeared into the night.

- x - x - x -

A/N: Hope you've enjoyed chapter one! By the way, this chapter was edited on 9/2/2018; particularly, the initial scene between Marinette and Chat was updated.

Also, I have recorded a full audio reading of chapter one. It is read by me, the author. If you like audio books, find this story on AO3 and check out the link to the audio fanfic.