AN: Me working on the sequel that no one asked for instead of finishing the ones that were asked for lmao.
As the French would say, c'est la vie.
WARNING: STORMY WEATHER 2 SPOILERS
"You snore in your sleep, you know."
"I do not!"
Beside her, Chat Noir giggles and though she feels heat creep up her face in whorls of blooming red—she cannot help but laugh along with him.
"Nothing to be embarrassed about!" he reassures with an innocent bat of his eyelashes.
(It should have been her first clue)
And because she is Marinette, she rolls her eyes but believes it to be the end of that particular line of conversation, anyway.
(She should have known better)
"Besides, it was a cute snore," he continues boldly. "Like, really cute. Like—"
Chat proceeds to emit some rather inelegant snorts. Rumbling, gurgling, disjointed and completely over exaggerated growls which seem to stem deeply within his throat in harsh exhalations. She would have worried, had he not been expelling them at her expense.
(She really, really should have known)
"Get out," she deadpans, or at least she tries to, amongst his obnoxious grunting and chortling.
"Like an adorable, black-haired, blue-eyed, baby pig," he wheezes.
"I will push you off this this balcony."
He halts his amusement in favor of flexing an arm in front of her.
"Not with these muscles, you couldn't—Eep!"
It is her turn to laugh something fierce and relentless as he squeals his surprise—a tinny, high-pitched and utterly girlish sound that tickles her to no end—and scrambles for the metal balustrade, though it remains stationary beneath him.
"You were saying?" she inquires sweetly, guilelessly, even as her hold on his bicep remains his only salvation from slipping off his precarious perch on her railing.
(As if he couldn't catch himself! And not that she would let him fall, of course.
"Marinette," he whines. She does not capitulate, seeking retribution for herself with another cackle.
"Say the words," she coos. He narrows his eyes at her. "What words?"
She sticks out her tongue before huffing. "You know…"
Another mewl from Chat, before he sighs. Marinette crows her victory and delight.
"I'm sorry," he yips through gritted teeth. She tuts.
"I'm sure you can do better than that," she comments, leaning into his space in feigned flirtation as she drops her voice and teases him airily. Something shifts just then. It drains the mirth from his face, slips the smile from his mouth—but not the light from his eyes. No, that is ever glowing… ever present. But there is something serious about the way he looks at her every time he does it, and he has done it more often than not in the past week since they played the piano together at midnight, her falling asleep on his shoulder, him taking her home and then tucking her in.
Internally, she groans as the memory of the morning after comes to her and she saw she was no longer in the school but in her room. In her bed. There was only one way she could have gotten there, considering her last recollection was of Chat Noir's elegant fingers flying over the keys, the stark contrast of his ebony gloves against the white scales enticing her designer's eye as remnants of the music he played swirled within her mind and lulled her to slumber.
Thinking about it still makes her blush like mad, though nothing salacious happened. Yet no one but her parents, Alya and Tikki had ever seen her asleep. So for Chat Noir to, it was a moment of vulnerability, and it was… felt intensely intimate. It was sacred. She doesn't know where they stand because of it, and now it's as though they are not in the same place in their companionship—is it a parallel plane or has it ascended? Or maybe they hadn't moved at all and she was building it in her head? And it isn't as if she's uncomfortable with this new stance they are taking with each other. If anything, their friendship feels stronger than ever despite the masks they continue to wear, both the literal and figurative kind. But even that armor is slowly chipping away, chink by little chink, so that she has to be careful around him lest she give herself away. And she wants to. Bon dieu, does she ever want to.
(To the point that she begins to ask herself, in the nights when Tikki falls asleep before her and she has only her thoughts for company, so what am I waiting for? Why don't I just tell him?)
(She knows why)
But she doesn't tell him the truth of her identity, and here they are. And it's moments like these, when he looks at her and it's as if everything apart from the two of them fades, she just, she does. not. know. She does not know anything except everything is changed. Somewhere between him saving her and promise me and a forehead kiss. Between sunsets and macaron snacks and late night rooftop conversations. Between the smiles and the laughter and the music and his arms around her… things are different.
They are different.
"Marinette," he murmurs, hands easing so that one finally grabs hold of the bannister while the other… the other one inches ever so gently up the length of her arm. She's never been more grateful for her blazer, as it conceals the goosebumps that trail in his wake, his fingers dancing up her porcelain skin so it feels more like the ivory of a piano than flesh.
"Marinette," he trills once more, her gaze ripping from the path he makes so she meets his eyes. He bites his lip, as if to contain his smile. She pouts, and that's when his hand meets its journey's end at her chin, his thumb tracing the bow of her bottom lip.
"I am sorry, princess."
She groans at the nickname he can't seem to let go of. He chuckles at her obvious ire, though it doesn't dim the sincerity from his apology.
"Ok, not a princess then," he yields, albeit with a hint of that omnipresent mischief. "But do be an angel and save me from this perilous height."
She rolls her eyes, all the while she ducks her head to hide her own grin.
Angel, he called her. She likes that.
She steps back so he has room to put his feet down but she doesn't stray far, not that she could even if she wanted to.
(She doesn't want to)
The hand that had been holding the railing now nestles comfortably on the curve of her waist, as he lands on both feet in front of her. When he straightens, she finds their bodies have aligned in—what she is increasingly finding to be—addicting ways. He is pleasantly firm in all the places she finds herself to be doughy, and from all the times they've been tangled up in each other in their superhero personas, she is entirely too aware of how he is lean beneath the leather of his suit. He is grounded, stable, which her all too clumsy self finds reassurance in.
His hand moves lazily, sensually, from her waist to the dip of her spine, just shy of her derrière. The wind feels crisp despite the heat bearing down on them from the sun's unhindered radiance and she feels taut with it, her muscles alternatively coiling and relaxing so that her hand twitches against his biceps. He lets out a soft breath as she (reflexively, she tells herself, it's a reflex) cossets the leather where she holds him, wishing with all her might she was touching skin instead.
Yes, the shift in them from that fateful night is never more evident than it is now—the air around them filling with a strange yet not unwelcome charge that makes the hairs on her arms stand on end, her belly tingle with an inexplicable excitement and her heart cry out for more of his touch. It feels as if there is a thread around her that binds them and all it would take is a slight pull from him for her to unravel right before him.
There is a look in his eyes, hungry and desperate but oh so fragile too—as if he would just as easily come undone if she so much as tugged at that string. He hums Angel of Music under his breath when he takes a step closer, drawing her to him with the hand low at her back. Hope tinges his dark gaze when she doesn't protest at his proximity.
Pull, pull, pull.
It makes her wonder if he would unwind if she plucked at that invisible connection, only to twine himself around her. She tilts her head upwards just as he cants his forehead against hers. He closes his eyes, his droning of Angel of Music fading into something unfamiliar yet calming all the same.
Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull—
She sucks in a sharp breath and reels back, opening eyes she hadn't realized had shut in the first place until they meet orbs shrouded in rueful, tourmaline hues.
The thread stiffens for another second, just as loathe as the two of them to let go, before finally falling limp and taking all the static electricity of the moment with it.
"I think," he rasps, voice low and gravelly that he has to clear his throat twice before continuing. It flatters her, especially as she remains feeling weak at the knees. "I think," he tries again, "that's my cue to leave."
She knows this. Agrees, even.
If only her hand would cooperate and surrender him.
She curls her digits just a bit tighter, a shudder going through her when she feels his muscles bunching powerfully beneath the suit as he treads impossibly nearer, accommodating her clutch.
You could stay, she wants to utter.
"My dad baked macarons for dessert. It's his specialty…" she says in lieu of such ridiculous pronouncements or a more appropriate goodbye.
(And there goes her mouth too, oh will nothing of hers ever follow her command?)
He grins lopsidedly though his eyes insist on narrowing. "Oh, you don't fight fair," he returns though she gleans that what he really means is, I wish I didn't have to leave.
Her name pierces the now stale air once more.
"Your mother calls," he says, rather unnecessarily, a grimace set upon his mouth. That he didn't want to go as much as she herself wished he wouldn't gave her the strength to withdraw her hand.
"À bientôt, minou," she bids in strained articulations, with an even more strained smile, before swiveling on her heel towards her trap door and trying in vain to disperse the bereavement she gains when his gloved hand slips from her back.
She has not taken two steps when she senses the touch of leather on her own hand. He drags her back into his atmosphere and she endeavors to tamper the flutter that arises in her stomach by pasting a faux frown upon her lips.
His answer falls from his mouth, though not in words. He raises their clasped hands to his chin so that his every measured inhales, his slow exhales, bathe her skin. She expects a kiss upon her fingers, as he is so fond of them whether she is Ladybug or Marinette. And though he does this indeed, she is jolted when he retreats only to wrap warm lips around another knuckle, and the next, and the next, till the entirety of her is ablaze and his kisses seem scored into the very marrow of her bones.
"Till we meet again."
With the sun sinking low in the horizon behind him, Chat Noir's face is a study in shadows. But if his visage was the night sky then those eyes, oh always his eyes… they were the glistening diamond stars of the eventide.
And then he is gone, taking all the oxygen with him.
She almost sinks to her knees, having not apprehended how much she was leaning on him till he had disappeared. She braces herself against her metal balustrade to catch her breath, the hand he had marked clutched close to her chest as it continues to buzz with the feel of him.
From her purse erupts a giggle, then Tikki is floating serenely in front of her.
"What was that about?"
Marinette huffs, albeit still in a bit of a daze.
"I hardly know anymore, Tikki."
The Kwami, never missing a thing, narrows her gaze pointedly onto her hands—the same one still cradled delicately close to her chest while the other fans her overheated face. At her observation, she stills.
"Are you okay?" Tikki inquires, not bothering to hide the teasing glimmer to her tone.
Marinette bites her lip before she rolls her eyes.
Tikki's laugh is so hard Marinette is certain it echoes all the way up into the galaxy.
Her mother summons her for dinner one final time and with seemingly Herculean fortitude, she follows. But ensconced as she is within the comforts of her own home—her parents laughing jovially before her, her belly full with a hot and delicious meal prepared lovingly by her father—try as she might she cannot escape Chat Noir. How every time he looked at her his gaze crept along her skin like a living touch, how his actual touch felt branded onto her soul, the manner with which he kissed her or held her—as if she was invaluable treasure—drove her wild with wanting and the effect with which he breathed her name, so softly but with so much gravity, like her name was both too precious to be uttered in anything but humble inflections yet it held so much power, too, because he believed her to be strong and fierce that to say her name any other way would be a fault (and it was only her name! Who knew one could divulge so much meaning onto a name? Of course, only Chat Noir could)—it all drove her wild with wanting.
Though she refuses to answer Tikki's question aloud, it is how she knows—without a shadow of a doubt—that no, she is not okay. So long as he is around her, stealing her breath and making her go weak in the knees, she would never be the same again.
Strangely enough, she is just fine with that.
And even stranger though, is Adrien.
He is different around her, a change she traces all the way back to Con Rubato as well. He is more engaging with her, more conscientious. He would stand when she entered a room then sit only once she had, like a modern day Mr. Darcy. He takes her words in with an air of devout seriousness, as if everything she says has the power to change the world, even if she were just rattling off the afternoon specials in her parents' bakery. Not three years ago, she would have squealed (then died) at his attentions. But now it merely confuses her. It is as if she has entered an alternate dimension where Adrien is the one who scrambles for any excuse to talk to her only to stutter his way through their conversations, whether to borrow a pen or copy her notes or set up study groups that she finds herself declining more and more.
The part of her that is still 14-years old rejoices at every look he sends her way, every genuine praise or bolstering shoulder graze. But Marinette has always been an all or nothing sort of girl. No, as Alya would put it, she is a "Ride or Die, Bitch" which would appall her were it not so true. She doesn't know how to do lukewarm or in-betweens, and so the Marinette of now would merely receive such affections with a befuddled slant of her head and a small, appreciative smile. That being said, her head is entirely too filled with thoughts of an overgrown, leather-clad, ridiculous yet charming cat. She should be embarrassed, or she would have been, if said cat was not showing up on her rooftop on an almost nightly basis under the guise of her house being on his "patrol route" when they both recognize it for the lie it is, a rose in his hand and a Phantom of the Opera tune purring low in his throat. Though, more often than not these days, each time he is around her he hums that same indistinct harmony—one he resolutely refuses to name with such stubbornness that she doesn't know whether to hate it for the vagueness or love it for its soothing quality.
(Who is she kidding? It's the latter. Definitely the latter)
Still, it is refreshing, for once, to not be part of a story wherein her love is one-sided. Because though they skirt around the topic, both grown yet still too awkward and shy to broach their feelings, it is there. She feels it, that heady tension… that ever-present pull in her navel that magnetizes her to him. It conquers her so keenly it is nearly impossible now to concentrate when they don their superhero personas; when every part of her is abuzz with his nearness—always close enough to touch but never quite able to bridge that gap. Never the right time, never brave enough.
But she knows he feels it too, even if he does give her funny looks when she's Ladybug and she's a little too late to throw her yo-yo or too slow to move despite the tapering of his flirtations because she's too busy being distracted by his, um, assets (she has become that girl now, bon dieu), and that's all that matters.
At least… at least, for now.
Because it's unthinkable to be anything but deliriously content during periods like this, where he arrives onto her rooftop and settles onto the chaise—right across from her—as if there's nowhere he'd rather be, as if he belongs there. Him and the smell of clean boy sweat and leather and that mysterious melody spilling from his lips like chimes hung out on a beachfront porch, light but resonant too. It ripples down to her sinew, till she is teeming with quiet satisfaction and unexpected fondness for the song.
"What is that?"
"What is what?" he replies coyly, though he knows that she knows that he knows he is perfectly cognizant of exactly what it is she's asking for.
"Dumb is not a good look on you, Chat Noir," she grumbles.
"Everything's a good look on me, Marinette."
She blinks, deliberately. He, too, is stunned into silence—his mouth intermittently falling agape and clicking shut, as if wanting to take the words back for the unintentional self-degradation but perceiving the futility of it. Wisely, he swallows the protest that no doubt wants to extricate itself from his mouth, clearing his throat instead before continuing as if he never said the quip at all.
She wants to laugh but recognizes the fragility of the moment, and allows him this one free pass.
"Right," he says, and she picks up where they left off.
"You were about to tell me what it is you're always singing underneath your breath?"
He smiles archly before tutting. "Not so fast." He wags a finger right between her eyes.
She swats his hand away.
"Hard not to be, when I don't know exactly what it is I'm impatient for?"
He sighs, as if the confession requires a gargantuan effort on his part.
"If you really want to know," he straightens from the sprawl he has settled himself upon his arrival, repositioning his arms which had been behind his head so that they are folded between his criss-crossed legs. She mirrors his stance, figuring that she ought to put some seriousness into her mien for all the pomp and circumstance he is displaying for her.
"It's a song I'm composing. On the piano."
"That's wonderful! What's it called?"
His eyes widen, as if it hadn't occurred to him to give it a name.
"You know… I'm not quite sure, yet." He stares at her for a beat, and his voice is rough when he declares, "I do have an idea, though."
For reasons unbeknownst to her, she blushes. To hide this, she stands then, her hand outstretched towards him. His brows are furrowed but he accepts it all the same and follows when she pulls him to his feet.
This time, his dumbfoundedness is sincere.
She rolls her eyes heavenward and fixes him with a look of utmost disappointment.
"What?" he exclaims again, arms crossing defensively across his chest before muttering, "Sometimes, I don't understand you."
"Believe me," she retorts, haughtily. "I know."
But excitement colors her countenance once more, till she is bouncing on the tips of her toes.
"I don't have a piano but there's one in the school! Take me there so you can play me the rest of the song. I've only heard bits and pieces and, mon dieu, I've never had a friend who could compose before. I know an actual composer! Can you believe it?"
She'd been talking a mile a minute and would have gone on, but she really does want to hear his original and with the school closed for the day, it means they would have to sneak in (not that it would be their first time). She couldn't exactly transform in front of him so she would need him to break the both of them in. Except he hasn't moved from his place in front of her. There is only that enigmatic smile and his bright eyes, gazing upon her like she is made of moonshine and starlight.
The ardor of his stare has her feeling all the blood in her body has rushed to her cheeks.
"What?" she retorts. "Is there something on my face?"
"Besides your beauty?"
She groans. He is such a cheeseball but damn if it doesn't get her. It gets her so bad that her blood redoubles its efforts of turning her face into a permanent tomato.
He laughs at her obvious modesty, amusement making him bold when he frames her hips between careful claws and gathers her in his arms.
"It's not entirely finished, you know."
She pouts. "Oh."
He chuckles again, thumb tracing the plump camber of her bottom lip before resting it on her chin.
"But when it is, I promise you mon ange," (cue her breath hitch. Blushing intensifies) "you will be the first to know."
He lets go of her chin so his hand can join the vine the rest of his limbs have made around her waist. And because he is a good head taller than her now, she steeples her fingers on his chest so she can rest her chin upon it as she murmurs, "Deal."
"Deal," he parrots.
Then, he adds, "Besides," he shrugs. "I don't think you're ready to hear it."
She scoffs. "What is that supposed to mean!"
Rather than answer her, he giggles a final time then nuzzles his cheek atop her hair. She grunts but obliges him by tangling herself around him as well, partly because it's not as if she can force him to (nor does she want to!) speak. But mostly, she likes this—the unconscious ease with which they fall into each other's arms, the subliminal fashion that compels them to gravitate towards each other's orbits and just stay there, like it was always where they were meant to be.
She likes him.
She wants to smack herself when the thought hits her. She likes him, like, really likes him! She might go so far as to say she…
Well, ironies upon ironies that after years of rejection, she now finds herself in the unique placement of desiring to return his affections, granted under a different skin.
And as if somehow linked to her thoughts, he shatters the silence (and her world) when he finally answers her.
"It means," he starts in a solemn and susurrous murmur, "that I like you, Marinette."
Her heart beating a tango and a salsa in her throat that her voice comes out hoarse, she replies, "I like you too, Chat Noir." And because she is an idiot and a fool and afraid, she remarks, "As a friend."
For a brief moment, he tenses beneath her hands. Then, with a steady sigh, he loosens, his arms travelling from her waist to grasp her biceps.
"And that is exactly what I mean when I say you're not ready."
There's something broken there, when he says the words and she meets his eyes. It is with growing horror that she realizes she is the one who put it there—that ache and the hurt and the unabashed longing and she wants to eat up her words or not have said anything at all, just held him, tighter and tighter instead, till she was losing herself in him. She wants to take the last 30 seconds back, just anything, anything to erase the sadness that paints his face in the kind of darkness that swallows you rather than emphasize the points of you that are filled with light.
"Chat," she cries, but he is all ready turning away from her.
And she lets him, because she knows. She knows that even with her powers, even with all that knowledge she claims of the Miraculous and the magic of this world, she cannot turn back time.
"It's getting late."
"Wait—" she tries a final time, pleading with an invisible force, yanking with all her might at their unspoken tie, to get him to stay.
Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull, pull, pull!
But all the warmth and color is leached from her universe—
He is gone.
Later, much, much later, after begging off dinner from her parents under the pretense of fatigue, when the house is quiet and the bustling sounds of the Parisian streets fade as slumber wraps its lethargic arms around the city, Tikki comes to her and asks, "Marinette…" in that sweet, tinkling tone of hers, so free of judgment and eyes wide with concern, "why did you say that?"
She cannot help but begin to cry.
"I—I don't know."
How could it have gone so wrong, so quickly?
Tikki touches a paw to her cheek, halting one of the tracks of her tears.
"Try, dear heart."
Suddenly angry, she turns from her Kwami in such brusque movements that Tikki is forced to float away from her to avoid being crushed. A pang of guilt goes through her. It isn't fair to lash out at Tikki when truly, she's mad at herself. But she holds on to her anger because it grounds her and it feels so much better than the cloud of despair that looms over her, threatening to engulf her and whisk her away to where she feels empty.
"What is the point, Tikki?" she bellows, a bundle of limbs and blankets as she moves from her chaise to stare out her round window.
(Waiting, always waiting—for a shadow, a flash of flaxen locks or a pair of sparkling emerald orbs)
"It's done. A week has gone and he hasn't visited, not once. There's no point going over what could have been. It's better to move on." She scoffs. "What am I even saying? There's nothing to move on from, we hardly started. "
"I wouldn't call a three-year partnership 'nothing', Marinette," Tikki reminds her gently.
"It's done," she snaps again with watery convictions, refusing to hear her Kwami out. But her voice still breaks when she emphasizes, "We're done."
"Is that what you want?"
"Does it matter what I want? It's over."
"But don't you see? It doesn't have to be!"
She whirls towards her and snarls, "You're such a hypocrite, you know that?"
Tikki doesn't deign her with an equal accusation or denial. She does not speak at all. She just stares at her with that unwavering comfort and understanding. The quiet brims Marinette with blind justification and the fortitude to hurl more vitriol, because if she doesn't fill the silence with words then she would surely fill it with sobs and she is so tired of crying over nothing.
"First you tell me we have to hide our identities from everyone, even each other, and now you want me to run into his arms, shouting to all and sundry who I am. Make up your goddamn mind Tikki!"
"I won't deny that. Yes, it was necessary in the beginning," Marinette grins, something sharp and sarcastic and devoid of all humor. Though she confesses, the ease with which Tikki accepts blame takes away most of the exhilaration of her supposed victory.
"But you have to remember, Marinette, I have been here before. I have seen countless Ladybugs and Chat Noir incarnates for more than a thousand years. While we and the Guardians always hope for the best, a peaceful partnership, that is not always the outcome."
It is odd, she thinks. She has always known Tikki was as old as time itself. But when her Kwami moves and speaks and thinks and views the world with such childlike wonder, it is simply too easy to forget. Now though, it becomes difficult to deny, not when the adumbrations that obscure her expression add years to her countenance so that she lists to the side with the weight of her age, her all too palpable grief.
"For every harmonious union there has been an equal and terrible clash. Even with all this power, we are not perfect. Humans are such…" a struggle crosses her eyes then, "well. I suppose that's the beauty of your species, isn't it? That even with so many things binding you together, each one of you is still made so differently, so inimitable, that your actions can never be one hundred percent predicted. It's wonderful," she smiles briefly, before her sadness ultimately wins out. "But it also makes our jobs difficult, and not all Ladybugs and Chat Noirs are what we desire them to be. Every contretemps has led to any human-mitigated disaster you know—famine, plague, conflict, war."
Tikki's eyes transform to a haunted, bottomless well that is awash with misfortunes and loss that Marinette will never fathom in her lifetime. It depletes the anger from her sinews till only the despondency she had been fighting unremittingly to avoid, is all that endures.
"Tikki," she snivels, sinking to her knees in absolution. "Tikki, I'm sorry. I didn't—I didn't know—"
"It's alright, Marinette," the Kwami coos, and it is with slack-jawed awe that Marinette regards Tikki's reformation from ancient, weary god to artless and optimistic Tikki, the Tikki she is more accustomed to. "You couldn't have known."
She drifts back to her cheek, pecking serenely at the curve before nestling there. "But what's not alright is this evident denial of your feelings."
Marinette groans, bringing a hand to her face to swipe futilely at her tears.
"What are you afraid of? Don't you see how lucky you are, that Chat Noir has fallen in love with all sides of you?"
At the word love, her heart rattles beneath her ribcage.
"Is he though?"
"Is he what?"
"In love with me?"
Marinette detects a hint of mirth when Tikki replies with, "Would that be a problem if he was?"
"Could I really be so lucky? For him to fall in love with me, twice over?"
Marinette yelps just then, when Tikki bites at her skin.
"Only you could find some fault in a situation that would benefit both parties."
Nursing her cheek, Marinette grumbles, "I just think it's too easy, is all. If something's too good to be true, it usually is."
Tikki stares at her in horror. "Look at you, Marinette! Exactly what part of this has been 'easy'? No," she shakes her head. "You're afraid, and it's about high time you admit it to yourself!"
"Alright!" she bursts. "Maybe I am scared! But can you blame me? If we're to start a relationship, I want there to be no more lies. I want us to be together, like Alya and Nino are together or like my parents, properly together—not sneaking out, always waiting for the sun to set. That means no more lies, no more hiding, no more masks. It means, revealing our identities."
Tikki's brows furrow in confusion.
"Well, we both know Chat Noir has no objections to that. And I've all ready said that I'm fine with that, too."
"But I'm not!"
And there it is.
"Hawkmoth is still out there. If we know each other's identities and one of us gets Akumatized," she shudders—real, quaking, anxious tremors rocking her body at just the idea, "I couldn't bear the thought of hurting him, if it were me. And if it were him, Tikki, I don't think I would be strong enough to fight him. No, I know I couldn't fight him. And I can't let Paris suffer because of my emotions… because of my weakness."
It is a long time before either of them speak. And when the pregnant pause is broken, it is Tikki who offers a final piece of advice.
"You are worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet."
It is a reproach, but Tikki manages to deliver it with such gentle sibilance, it merely makes Marinette weep harder despite her want to protest.
"Say you don't confess or reveal your identities to each other, or he confesses before you and you reject him, again," (she winces) "because of your fear. Who's to say that won't be the act that tips him over the edge to being Akumatized? Don't you see, Marinette? Either way, confess or not, the misery would be inevitable."
"There must be some way to stop it? To control it?" she wails, desperately.
Tikki sighs, lovingly ruffling her hair.
"That's the thing about life, isn't it? There can be no peace without chaos, no joy without anger… no love without suffering—for how can we know happiness, true happiness, if we don't first know what it feels to be dispossessed?
"When we open our hearts, Marinette, we expose it to everything. Yes there will be pain, but there will be such pleasure, too. Such merriment behind the agony, such sweetness alongside the sourness of humanity. Wouldn't you rather have someone experiencing it with you, always by your side, than carry it all on your own?"
Softer, Tikki adds, "And wouldn't you rather that someone be Chat Noir?"
Marinette remains silent for a couple more heartbeats, before she breathes, "Yes."
"It's okay to be afraid, Marinette," she affirms. "Just don't let it hold you back. In fact, if you're going to be afraid," she pats her head and presses on even as she darts to her bed.
"At least let him hold your hand. Then you can conquer your fears, together."
Marinette thinks that's the end of this emotionally draining conversation when Tikki dispenses a final valuation.
"And if I could just counter one more of your arguments?"
She cocks her head in acquiescence because why not? She has nothing to lose.
"You don't reach my age and not learn a thing or two about humankind, particularly when it comes to love. There is a great deal of things, too great a deal of stupid things even, that one does for love." At this, she shoots Marinette a playfully insinuating look, having been witness to all her teenage antics over Adrien. She blushes, scarcely stifling an embarrassed squeak.
"But they are great. From sweeping, romantic gestures to a simple birthday card from one child to a parent—each act of love possesses their own power, from the ability to launch a thousand ships to war or the persistence to find one's way home when lost or merely putting a smile on a friend's face. I suppose what I'm trying to convey is, love isn't a weakness. It never has been. Love has always been magic. Dare I say, it's more than that, even."
She mulls over her Kwami's words for two more days which turns to a week before she gathers any semblance of a backbone. But then an Akuma attacks and there he is.
How has she never noticed how handsome he is? How dashing and strong and courageous?
The Akuma, Bridezilla, as she aptly names herself, was jilted from the aisle ("Thanks for the encouragement, Universe," she mutters upon finding out). Though her real beef is with men in general, and her runner of a fiancé specifically, she aims her weapon—a bouquet that shoots wedding rings that cut off the victim's movements—at Ladybug, as they've reached the portion of the battle where the Akuma gets desperate for their Miraculous.
In her distraction, having not seen Chat Noir for so long and now getting a sensory overload of him, his touch and his voice and his scent, she hadn't seen Bridezilla till she was upon her. Lucky for her (and this she muses in barbed resonance), Chat Noir jumped to the line of fire so that he bore the brunt of the attack, which meant that he fell in a heap on the floor. He was bound in rings that tightened further the more he moved, ensuring he couldn't use his Cataclysm to free himself.
"Chat!" she bawls, dropping to her knees in front of him and trying in vain to free him. She gasps when an inadvertent squeeze from her efforts causes his leg to twitch and consequently, the metal to contract.
"Looks like she really wants to tie the knot with me, eh?"
She laughs, even as tears spring to her eyes.
"Don't tell me you're getting cold feet now."
Floating above them, Bridezilla cackles.
"With her?" his frown deepens. "I can see why anyone would run."
"Give up your Miraculous!" she snarls, having heard the tail end of their conversation.
"Mon dieu, shut up!"
Chat Noir spews a shocked chortle while Bridezilla flusters at the unexpected burst of her temper. Ladybug is known for her grace under pressure, after all. This is hardly becoming. But with Chat's oxygen depleting with every minute movement, her patience runs thin and her cool begins to simmer.
"I've just about had it with these putain de Akumas!"
Chat's eyes widen and she should be embarrassed but she is literally beyond caring at this point. She calls on her Lucky Charm in a most uncharming way that her ladybugs don't even bother to show up, the charm just lands in her hands. A stiletto. Personally, she would have poked the Akuma's eye and called it a day, but her Spots Vision urge her to use Chat's baton and a fire hydrant, from which she vaults herself and throws the heel like a boomerang, knocking the bouquet from the ex-bride's hands.
Ladybug extends her yo-yo to a lamp post and swings just in time to catch the Akuma victim before she falls hard on the ground. She lands them on her feet before sprinting for the bouquet, which she breaks to purify the butterfly, all in quick succession. Grabbing the shoe, she throws it in the air and cries out, almost hysterically when she sees Chat turning an alarming shade of white that is made even more deathly prominent against the blackness of his suit, "Miraculous Ladybug!"
The moment her ladybugs clear Chat to his feet, she bypasses his outstretched fist and launches herself at him at such top speed, they fall back to the ground.
"I'm sorry!" she wails even as she doesn't let up.
"Err—Ladybug? I kinda just got free from one bind but I'm pretty sure you're cutting off my oxygen this time."
She squeals, apologies spilling from her lips again as she springs from him. She propels herself to her feet, holding a hand up to him. She has to refrain from crumpling her face when she discovers they had been in a similar position not two weeks ago, her helping him to his feet so that he might take her to the music room in their school and play her his composition.
(A composition which she has rewound what little of it she knows in a merciless loop in her head in his absence, just to feel close to him again)
"So, you're good? Nothing hurts?"
He bevels his head quizzically. "Your ladybugs took care of it, like they always do." He gives her a searching look. "Are you? Okay, that is?"
"Yeah," she gulps.
This is it, she thinks. This is my chance.
"Actually—" she starts lowly just as he asks, "Are we near the Dupain-Cheng Bakery?"
She blinks her surprise.
"Um… yes. Why?"
He startles, having been focused on the direction of her home, as if he had forgotten she was there despite asking her a question. As if he were all ready somewhere else.
"N-nothing. Listen, I gotta go. Unless there's something else you need me to do?"
Upon her transformation, Bridezilla's bridesmaids had taken care of her, so there truly was no need to linger. Seeing this, he doesn't wait for her instruction. He nods his goodbye and leaps off in the direction of her street.
Her Miraculous trills, and Marinette races to the back door of her building just as Tikki releases her glamour. Her footsteps thunder up the stairs, her clumsiness nowhere to be seen for once, as she zooms past her parents and straight to her room in record time.
"Marinette?" Tikki inquires bewilderingly.
"He's here, Tikki," she whispers in breathless timbres. "He left me, Ladybug me, just as I was about to confess because he's coming here. To me, Marinette me!"
She can hardly hear Tikki's excited chirps over the roaring of her blood in her ears. He's come back. He's come back to her!
"Chat!" she shrills, as she opens her trapdoor.
But when she pops her head to the roof, he is not there.
She waits, thinking she might have arrived before him. She waits for the sun to set. She waits, even as the cold seeps to her bones with a piercing quiver. Still, he does not come.
No, he has not come back after all.
"Did you and Adrien have a fight?"
Only nibbling on her sandwich lunch and half paying attention to her surroundings, she absentmindedly replies to Alya, "What?"
The sound of Adrien's name stirs something in her, like wading through really thick mud before reaching the safety of the bank.
"Adrien and I?" she frowns. "I've hardly spoken to him these past few weeks."
"Yeah?" Alya mirrors her downtrodden mouth. "Maybe that's the problem."
"What do you mean?"
"Something's been up with the kid, but you know how Adrien is. You ask him if something's wrong, he'll just deny it with his stupid, phony smile. Although, Nino and I have caught him off guard a couple of times. It obviously has something to do with you though, because we ask him how he is and he'll say he's fine, it's just stuff with his dad or fencing or Chinese, blah blah blah. But," she fixes Marinette with a suspicious glare over the rim of her glasses, "he thinks we don't see, but he gets this look in his eyes after, it's like, really sad—as if he's lost something? Then he stares at you."
"Me?" she squawks.
"You really haven't noticed?" she returns, distrustful of her plain obliviousness.
"N-no," she stutters.
"Hey," Alya's attention becomes a blade, right through to her soul. It makes her sit up taller. "I know something's up with you, too, girl."
"What?" she says, dragging the vowel out. "No way," she denies, feebly. Alya does not buy it, it is written on her face, clear as day, just how much she doesn't believe her.
"Okay… then explain how you and Adrien just happen to get into this weird funk right around the same time. That's why I thought you might have had a row or something."
Marinette shakes her head. Alya sighs.
"Be that as it may, Nino and I aren't making any headway. So," she nudges her shoulder. "We were hoping you could talk to him. Now that you can speak more than two words to the guy without stammering up a storm," she pouts at the reminder (will no one ever let her live that down?) "Who knows? He might actually open up to you."
It is all too clear that her forlornness at, what she deems as, losing her chance with Chat Noir has made her selfish and blind to her other friend's apparent distress. She colors with contrition. So though she is hardly an authority in dealing with emotions healthily, she stows away her lunch and scrambles to her feet in a show of obedience. But a quick perusal of the courtyard shows no sign of Adrien, not even with Nino, who is conversing with Kim and Max.
"Where is he?"
"Nino says Adrien is practically glued to a piano, nowadays. You might wanna try the music room?"
Merde, she wants to shout. Of course, he is in the music room.
Her feet feels leaden but she forges on, walking an all too familiar path, all the while chanting, I am a good friend, I am a good friend, I am a good friend, in her head to bolster herself. She's operating under the adventitiousness that if she thinks it enough, she will become it. Power of attraction and all.
Besides, she does want to be a good friend, so there is that.
(But did it have to be the music room, bon sang!)
When she reaches the door of the place, she can hear All I Ask of You wafting through the wood. It steals her breath and seizes her limbs so that it takes her a better part of a minute to regain control of her faculties.
She will not cry. She will not be one of those girls who associates songs with people, thereby removing the joy from listening to said songs if the memories are not… optimal, when they hear it.
(Oh god, she has become that girl now, too)
He doesn't turn his head to her when she enters, doesn't acknowledge her when she sits beside him on the bench, doesn't even miss a beat when she joins him and plays the melody to his lower register.
When the final note is played to fruition, they sit there in silence—neither willing to break it, lost as they are in events brought on by the song.
Finally, when the quiet becomes too stifling, Marinette opens her mouth to say something reassuring except the connection between her brain and aforementioned body part seems to have fried somewhere along the way.
"He must have come to you, in your dreams."
He startles, the movement oddly familiar, though she dispels the recognition that it pothers within her.
"You know," she wiggles her eyebrows then abruptly stops. She wants to slap a hand to her forehead. How dare they! How dare her eyebrows betray her!
(Is she channeling Chat Noir now? Seriously? Is that where she is? Putain)
Adrien shakes his head, a perfect picture of puzzlement.
Shut up, Marinette, she implores herself. Don't say it.
But nope, her wires are still cut, as her lips form, no—it levels up and sings the words without her consent.
"The Phantom of the Opera!"
She cringes the moment she stops then pivots so that her back is to the keys of the piano, and Adrien is away from her line of sight. She is going to barf. She can string complete sentences around the guy now sure, but apparently she has traded the spluttering for… she shudders, singing. She crosses her arms, as if it could stop her from embarrassing herself further. She almost wishes for the stutter back.
What even is my life right now?
She expects him to leave, but Adrien has always been a kind soul. He chuckles, albeit a subdued sound, as if he's forgotten how, his sadness (so obvious, now that she is here and seeing, truly seeing, him) chasing any associations he might have had with happiness. When was the last time she had even seen him smile?
Too long, she concludes.
"Well, he is there," he taps his temple then croons, in an exaggerated baritone, "inside my mind…"
It is her turn to be shocked and for a beat, they stare at each other, disbelief adorning the air between them at what they had each done.
And then, they are laughing.
They are laughing and it is as loud and as forthcoming and as fun as it had been that day in the rain, when he offered her an umbrella. For a moment, she allows herself to fall back into that girl. She dusts her old feelings off from the shelf she had placed them in and she allows them to come rushing back. She remembers then, why it is Adrien who occupied her thoughts for so long. She can see how easy it would be, too easy, to fall in love with him again.
But his blond hair and his green eyes invoke the wrong memories. She feels her heart whinge with longing for another man and she just can't. It wouldn't be fair to compare Adrien, to keep comparing anyone, to a shadow.
Drowning as she is in her thoughts, she doesn't notice Adrien has all ready turned away, fingers back to the piano as he plays Music of the Night, which then fades to Think of Me, till eventually he settles onto Angel of Music.
She can hear Chat Noir's voice forming the words, almost as if he were here in the room and she is taken back to that first night he played for her so that he is sitting beside her—his beautiful digits deftly serenading her, her head on his shoulder, their breathing syncopated.
She isn't aware she is crying till warm fingers touch the skin of her cheek.
Adrien has stopped playing.
"I didn't mean to make you cry."
She didn't think it possible, but he looked even more upset than when she first entered.
So much for being a good friend.
"Ignore me," she laughs awkwardly, his hand falling as she reaches into her bag, meeting Tikki's big, round eyes when she surreptitiously gives her a tissue. "Oh, I'm such a mess. I'm so sorry, Adrien. Ugh," she sighs, wiping at her glistening cheeks. "This is not how this was supposed to go."
"And how was this supposed to go?"
"Truthfully? I don't know. Alya and Nino were worried about you and honestly, I can see why. I came in here to try to cheer you up, which is stupid, I know now. I can hardly console myself. What can I possibly do for you?"
At that, she meets his eyes and all of a sudden, she understands what Alya means. There is something soft in his green gaze when he looks at her and something fond when he directs his endearingly crooked smile at her. It brightens his face and again, there is something so distinct about the twinkle in his orbs that it arrests her, stops the babble of her mouth and calms the restlessness of her wrung heart. A thought brews in her mind then, something big and something reckless and something dangerous, to be sure.
But the way her soul calls out to him, the thread of recognition in her belly going taut after so long without its other half, the look of him, his knowledge of Phantom of the Opera. It had taken her so long but now that it is here, it is like waking from a really deep sleep or rising from the pull of a frigid ocean tide—it is too difficult to ignore.
If she was right, bon dieu, if she was right...
"What troubles you, Marinette?"
Could it be this easy? she wonders, for the umpteenth time. If something's too good to be true, it usually is.
It's okay to be afraid, Tikki's sage voice floods her head then, overriding her doubts and lending her courage. Love is magic. Love is strength.
"I wonder if it might be the same thing that ails me."
She gasps mockingly, "A boy?"
Marinette internally rejoices at the laugh she manages to wrangle from him. God, even his laugh!
Then, at the same time they utter, "Love?"
He nods, as if satisfied with their synchronization. She can hardly contain her beam. But the solemnity returns to his countenance and he asks her, "Are you in love, then?"
She nods, emphatically. "To the best guy I know. Next to you, of course."
He looks so taken aback, she almost laughs. "Me?"
"Don't pretend you didn't know!" she points an accusing finger at him.
"Know? Know what?"
"Oh my god," it sinks in and she raises an incredulous brow. "You really didn't know?"
He throws his hands up in the air in frustration. "What are you talking about?"
"Adrien," she starts slowly, as if he were a skittish animal she didn't want to scare into bolting from her. "Up until two years ago, I was madly in love with you."
"I'm not anymore, obviously," she continues flippantly, biting her lip to hide her amused grin. He is turning a peculiar shade of red, the hues of which had only ever been displayed by her before.
"I'm in love with this guy, but," she sobers when she returns to the heart of the matter. "I don't know," she sighs, jerking frustratedly at one end of her right pigtail. "I think I blew it."
For a while, he doesn't answer. The silence becomes so oppressively awkward, she contemplates leaving when he, at long last, replies.
"What makes you say that?"
It is a quiet thing, the way he phrases the question. But it is made all the more compelling for its lambency, when there is an overabundance of hope lining every letter and syllable. She senses her own hope rocketing straight to the heavens.
"He told me his feelings, and instead of reciprocating I," she gulps, the shame of her actions threatening to pull her down to her demons as she recalls that dreadful day. "I turned him away."
He seems lost in his thoughts too, but rises just enough to mumble, "Why?"
She closes her eyes.
This is it, she psyches herself again. This is really it.
"Because I was afraid. I had loved you for so long, you see, that I had grown so comfortable with the thought that whatever love I gave could never be returned. But then he did, god, he did and suddenly I was afraid that I would mess things up so badly and then eventually, I just wouldn't be enough. There were… other factors, I was afraid of," she glosses over this, just in case she is wrong. But if she is right, then it seemed prudent he be aware of it, too. "But it's not an excuse. The point is, I'm tired of being afraid, you know?"
She turns back so that she is facing the keys and then she is looking him in the eye, dauntless and ready.
"I'm tired of being afraid," she reiterates, before altogether deflating. "I want to tell him, really, I do. But how?
"How do I tell someone that he is the first person I think about the moment I wake for the day and the one who fills my dreams at night? How do I tell him that his arms around me bring me the sort of warmth no blanket, jacket or heater could ever replicate? That for me the sun rises and sets in his eyes? That if I were a moon then he was the planet with which I choose to gravitate around? That my whole world is centered around him? That his soul seems bound to mine? His name scrawled across my heart because it belongs to him?
"How do you tell someone you love them?"
The words had been building for so long, she gasps the moment they are out, like she had been holding her breath for just as long as she had been holding them in.
When she sneaks a glance at Adrien, there is an air of serenity about him that she hopes, hopes, hopes, is born from the baring of her mind, heart and soul. She feels naked, but invigorated too, a certain potency in the vulnerability—especially when he looks at her like this, with commensurate admiration, her words playing in his mind's eye to echo to his very actions.
"I imagine it goes something like this."
His fingers poise gracefully over the keys, and then they are flying, singing, painting—a captivating scenery of a boy cloaked in shadows and a girl with midnight hair, the moonlight as their surface and the open air their dome and how they find sanctuary in each other. It pierces their heady atmosphere, that beautiful mysterious tune that had kept her going on the days when loneliness comminated to cripple her.
—that same melody Chat Noir would hum to her, in the exposure of her rooftop and the moonshine pooling at their feet.
It starts soft, tinkling... excited, before climaxing to something sorrowful and dejected. But then, the tone shifts, and it is enchanting, bringing with it hope and passion and the happy chimes of church bells and an infant's laughter and above all else… love.
The last note fades from the room though it reverberates all throughout her body, leaving a pleasant tingle in its wake. She is crying again but she doesn't bother to hide it, doesn't bother to reach for a tissue. Not when he is there, cradling her cheeks like she is a most cherished gem, and catching her tears before they can journey the length of her face.
"Mon Ange," he whispers, breath lingering like a zephyr on her lips as he answers a question asked long ago. "It's called Mon Ange."
Only one person in the entire world would know to call her that.
But she dare not let herself believe, not until she too is cupping his face, her fingers splitting into diamonds around the sides of his eyes in a facsimile of a mask.
Those eyes, oh always his eyes…
(It should have been her first clue)
(She should have known better)
"Chat… you… you—"
His hands retreat from her face only to deluge her own, hold her to him.
"Yes," he sighs. "Yes, it's me."
(She really, really should have known)
He rests his forehead on hers, and then she is laughing as she is crying, gazing at him in uninhibited astonishment.
"It's you," she breathes, "it's always been you."
His smile stretches the breadth of his face, it's any wonder it doesn't hurt his cheeks or fly right off his visage. It is then she remembers, with another laugh.
"I suppose…" he pouts when she withdraws but she, too, cannot contain her smiles when she opens her bag and reveals, "now is as good a time as any to tell you."
Tikki floats placidly up to Adrien's blatantly jarred exterior and touches his nose in greeting.
"Hello, Adrien. I'm Tikki," she giggles, tipping his jaw up with a paw before resuming her introductions. "It's nice to finally meet you."
But before he can formulate a reply, something or rather, someone, is shouting, "Sugarcube!" and whizzing between them to collide right into her Kwami.
Tikki squeals, waving apologetically as Plagg whisks her away to the vents without so much as a by your leave.
Adrien has yet to say anything, and she grows worried at his lack of response.
"Adrien?" she waves a hand across his face. He captures it and holds on, tight. And she has a sneaking suspicion he thinks what he says next might be unpleasant to her and his grip is so she won't float away in the aftermath.
(She harrumphs. This is three years in the making, nothing could possibly make her leave now)
"So close," are his first words.
"So close, I could have figured it out and we might have been together sooner!"
His eyes are dilated with regret, bordering on hysteria.
"The Valentine's day card, the one shaped in a heart with a poem written inside."
She blushes. "Oh yeah," she coughs to hide her embarrassment. "That."
"It wasn't signed but I knew, I knew it was from Ladybug because it directly answered my poem for her—word per word. Then you! You left me a note with that assignment and I thought your handwriting looked a lot like the one of the poem's but I brushed it off because I could hardly believe it. I couldn't possibly be that lucky? I'm so used to disappointment, otherwise, it just became easier to accept that I couldn't deserve you… both of you."
He trails off.
"And are you?"
He seems feverish now at all the little hints she might have left that spoke of her admiration for him. She remembers Papa Garou and feels a little bad.
He hugs her then, his arms around her a habitual balm that feels like coming home.
He feels like home.
"I couldn't be farther, Marinette. I've fallen in love with you, twice now. Once is coincidence but twice?" He hums. "Twice is a pattern." He runs his nose along the arch of her neck, before rubbing it against the bridge of her own. "One I hope to make again," he kisses her forehead, "and again," her eyelid, "and again," one cheek, "and again," then the other.
Pull, pull, pull.
There is that force again, the one that links them together, in a nature so insistent, she is a slave to its command. She finds herself clambering to his lap and anchoring her hands in his golden tendrils. He receives her weight with nary a blink of an eye, like they have done this countless times before.
Pull, pull, pull.
Like it is right.
"Well then," she says, her lips hovering exhilaratingly close to his. "What do you suppose happens now?"
With her towering over him, his answer comes in the form of the crane of his head as he gives chase to the succulent curve of her smiling mouth.
But the day has other plans when the alarm rings and an announcement blares from the school speakers.
"AKUMA ALERT, AKUMA ALERT!"
They simultaneously turn their heads to the windows and it is there Adrien walks, carrying her all the while as he surveys whatever damage the Akuma might have all ready caused. It's an inappropriate thought given the circumstances but the way he doesn't even think about letting her go, his muscles flexing beneath his shirt as he hauls her to him with ease—it makes her quite dizzy.
(She's in love, okay? Sue her)
He sighs. "Duty calls."
She gets down on her feet, her body sliding in delicious thrills along his on the way to the ground. They let go of each other at the same time, calling for their Kwamis, suddenly shy.
He waves to one corner of the room while she gestures to the other.
"Right," they trill jointly before laughing.
They move to their respectfully claimed parts of the room, Tikki giving her a wink before she calls out her magic words and hearing the tail end of Adrien's too.
When the magic settles, she turns. Seeing Chat Noir standing before her and knowing it is Adrien beneath the mask makes all the air leave her body while also breathing so much energy into her core.
It's real, she says to herself. He's real.
It restores her confidence and she is leaping into his arms for a hug, one that takes no time at all for him to reciprocate so deeply, she is lifted onto the tips of her toes.
"I've waited for you my whole life," he sighs. "It's reassuring somehow, to know. You were always with me." He cups her head. "My lady," he whispers into the corner of her mouth. "Mon ange."
"Mon minou," she murmurs in kind before conceding, "I'm scared." It's a hard thing to admit but with him, it is as effortless as a heartbeat.
He holds out his hand.
"I won't let go if you won't."
She grasps his hand, before twining their fingers, loving the weight of him in her palm like that of a steady promise.
Because it is one, she understands now. And like all promises made by lovers, they seal it in the only way they know how.
With a kiss.
AN: Hope you had fun! Tell me all about it! :)
Also, come say hi to me on tumblr (same handle)!