The next akuma attack was three days post-discovery. Adrien had been concerned- or, rather, frankly paranoid- about the sudden lull, but Plagg had reminded him that his father was busy at this time of the year, the end of the school year and exams lining up almost perfectly with the push to finalize the summer line, coordinate the summer runways and photoshoots, and in general make sure that Gabriel was in the best possible position going into the summer season. It meant long hours going over designs and then making sure that the finished product lined up with the vision, of making sure that staff were lined up for all of the events, of ensuring that Gabriel's international locations were doing well...
Well, it was really no wonder that Hawkmoth's activity had slowed for the time being.
During his first year as Hawkmoth, his father had left the coordination of pretty much all of those things to Nathalie and a couple of the senior designers, presumably so that he could keep akumatizing people at the same rate as he had before (the official excuse, of course, was that he had still been suffering from grief because of Mrs. Agreste's disappearance and wouldn't be able to juggle everything). Apparently things hadn't gone quite as perfectly as Mr. Agreste had wanted (and it was really hard for his designers and other staff to get last-minute things done when akumas were interrupting them practically every day), forcing Mr. Agreste to switch the majority of his attention to the company during the frantic rush. That in turn meant that his attacks had to step down for a period.
Of course, dialing back on the attacks didn't mean stopping them, as evidenced by the akuma alert lighting up Adrien's phone.
Adrien swallowed a groan as he silenced the alarm, sliding his phone back into his pocket before anyone could notice it. At least the akuma had showed up between classes, making it easier to slip away. He headed to the bathrooms, hiding in a stall until the other boys in the bathroom had cleared out and it was safe for him to transform. Chat Noir slipped out the bathroom window, then charged across the city to join Ladybug, who had gotten there before he had. She was already focused on the fight, eyes narrowed as she spun her yo-yo and sent bits of the melted marshmallow that the akuma was shooting at her flying away.
Chat Noir really, really wanted to taste the marshmallow and see what it was like- it smelled amazing- but Ladybug had had words with him about eating akuma-generated food before and he really didn't want to get scolded again.
"It's a chocolatier," Ladybug told him breathlessly as he dropped down next to her. "He was trying to make something with marshmallow filling and his intern accidentally tipped the entire vat over and spilled it. Or that's what I'm guessing, at least. It's hard to tell."
Chat Noir frowned as he extended his baton, pushing the Chocolatier back. "He got this upset over that?"
"It wasn't the first time that the intern has spilled stuff, I'm guessing."
Soon enough, their battle was in full swing. Chat Noir focused on the akuma as much as he could, but in the back of his mind there was the constant reminder that it was his father behind this. The same person who had (occasionally, rarely, once in a blue moon) tucked him into bed at night when he was younger, the same person who had used to proudly smile when Adrien first started modeling and showed a talent for it, the same person who Adrien had spent years of his life trying to please- that was the man terrorizing Paris, preying on people's emotions for- what? Presumably Mr. Agreste was trying to get Mrs. Agreste back, to prevent whatever it was that had made her vanish.
She wouldn't have wanted all this to happen, of that Adrien was sure.
The lump in his throat only went away when he remembered something Marinette had said the previous night as they had worked on their homework together shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor, wrinkling her nose in disgust as she pointed out that Gabriel Agreste, world-renowned fashion designer had been (perhaps somewhat indirectly, they didn't know how the akuma victims' personal preferences played into their outfit design) responsible for the parade of what were frankly fashion disasters. He had been the one to come up with the names, presumably had some hand in dealing out the powers, had definitely been the one responsible for his own (incredibly tacky) design as the Collector, and yet...
Audrey Bourgeois had just written a scathing column about the akuma designs, in an odd twist of irony. No wonder his father had been in a bit of a foul mood right after that.
"Well, that was a bit of a sticky situation," Ladybug joked as she released the purified akuma at the end of the fight. She watched it go, fluttering over the sagging mountains of melted marshmallow. "Not a bad akuma, though." Her teasing grin turned towards him. "Good job not eating any of the marshmallow."
Now that the fight was over, guilt and anxiety promptly weighted down his gut like lead. He should tell her about Hawkmoth now, before they had to split and go back to their respective schools. But the lump in his throat was back in full force now, and he could barely form words around it. How was he supposed to tell Ladybug without letting on who he was? He hadn't figured that out yet. "I- yeah."
He didn't want to tell Ladybug who he was, not yet. He was worried about her treating him differently and thinking that he couldn't handle the fights anymore, worried about her judging him for not figuring it out sooner, worried- well, that it could mess everything up. He had begged Marinette right away after they got back up to her living room not to tell Ladybug who he was, in fact. Not that he thought that Marinette would go behind his back to do that, but he just- he wanted to be sure. He couldn't handle another reveal, not even with his partner.
She had tried to- to protest, he assumed, or at least tried to say something, but he had cut her off. With her family's support, he could manage his father's defeat without adding more identity reveals to the mix.
Ladybug's expression turned anxious, even as she tossed her Lucky Charm into the air to cast the Cure. "Are you okay, Chat Noir?"
"I-" He was choking on his own words. Ladybug's fingers ran down his arms, wrapping around his wrists steadyingly. "I, uh-" He had to spit it out, he had to!- "Yeah, I'm fine. Just- just tired."
Ladybug's eyes scanned over him, then nodded. "Okay. Take a nap? I want my partner feeling his best."
Chat Noir managed a smile. Today wasn't the day he would be telling his partner about his father, apparently. Next time, for sure. He had to pull himself together soon. "Right."
Adrien couldn't help but be thrilled to be allowed to have dinner with the Dupain-Chengs that evening. Nathalie hadn't even needed to consider the request before allowing Adrien to go, which was a relief.
If she or his father had noticed that he wasn't sleeping at home anymore, she wouldn't be allowing him out. The fact that he was still getting his freedom meant that so far, his nightly escapes were going unnoticed.
Of course, it was still early. Not even an entire week had passed yet.
"It's going to be weird to go home and then come right back," Adrien told Marinette with a small laugh as he helped her chop the veggies for dinner. He had headed over to her family's house right after school, and was going to be staying there until the Gorilla came around to pick him up (walking to and from Marinette's place to his own and without supervision could only happen during broad daylight, apparently), and then staying at home for all of thirty minutes or so before going right back over. "I'd rather just stay over, but I know they wouldn't allow it. I mean, it took how long for them to allow me to sleep over at Nino's house, and he's, uh..."
"Also a guy," Marinette filled in when Adrien floundered. She reached over to scoop up his chopped vegetables and toss them into the frying pan. "I get it. And I know you've mentioned that you aren't planning on telling Nino about, uh, everything, and you staying over here, but you could probably tell Nathalie that you're going to sleep over there on, like, a Friday or Saturday evening, so then you can sleep in on the weekend instead of having to wake up super-early. Unless she would check in with Nino's family ?"
Adrien blinked at the suggestion, pausing mid-chop and then setting down his knife to properly consider it. It was really, really tempting- they were just coming up on their first weekend with the new arrangement and even the thought of having to get up early so that he could go back to the mansion without being spotted sucked- but would Nathalie check in with Nino's family?
Ugh. He really, really wanted to, though. Being able to sleep in and then actually properly get to sit down and eat a Dupain-Cheng breakfast? That would be amazing. But did he dare risk Nathalie finding out that he was lying about his whereabouts?
"We could also claim that we're having a sleepover for all four of us here," Marinette offered after a minute had passed without Adrien saying anything. "That might be more acceptable. We can say that it's so we can do lots of studying for finals together, without wasting the time to go home and then meet up again the next day."
"Maybe," Adrien agreed, liking that more. "And we can actually study, and invite Nino and Alya over during the day." He grinned, remembering their last "study" session. "As long as they actually study and don't pull us off-track again. We'll have to tell them that they'll get booted if they start making out or flirting with each other again." He glanced over at Marinette. "This weekend, do you think? Or next weekend, so that I can be more fully rested going into finals?"
"Why not both?" Marinette smiled at his startled expression. "Mention both at once, and see if she'll go for it. If she says that two is too much, then decide which weekend you want to go for."
Adrien smiled. Marinette was so smart. "I'll do that."
They worked in silence for a few more minutes, Adrien finishing with the vegetables and Marinette taking over the cooking from him, expertly stirring things together and adding in spices. It smelled amazing. Adrien hovered, not sure what he could do to help, but he knew that if Marinette could think of anything for him to do, she would tell him.
"Ah, Adrien, I was hoping that you would be here!" Mrs. Cheng said cheerfully, sticking her head around the door. "I need something from your room and I was wondering if you could grab it for me."
Adrien blinked in surprise. "I- I mean, sure, I can go in, but- why do you need to wait for me? It's your house, you can go in."
"Oh, I couldn't! That's your room, sweetheart. I'm not going to go in there without your permission." Mrs. Cheng smiled at him. "It's your space now, and I don't want to intrude on it."
Adrien frowned, still not quite understanding. "But... it's a guest room. In your house."
"And we gave that room for you. We don't want to intrude on your space. It's your room now, not the guest room." Mrs. Cheng glanced over at Marinette, then back at Adrien. "Would it help to have you redecorate a bit? I know it feels like a guest room, but we can change it up a bit if it would make you more comfortable."
"Yeah, we didn't exactly have much time to redecorate for you when you moved in," Marinette chimed in right away, before Adrien could protest. She reached over and shut off the burner. "We can go do something about that right now, if you want. Dinner can wait for a little while."
Adrien glanced at Mrs. Cheng, but she was nodding and sliding into the kitchen behind Marinette to take over the cooking. "You two go do that. I'll take over this, and then I can come help once this is in the oven."
Blinking in surprise but not resisting- there was no protesting when any of the Cheng women put their minds to something, Adrien had learned that long ago- Adrien let himself be dragged down to the guest room's door, then nearly ran into Marinette when she drew to a sudden stop in front of the door. He blinked, then realized what was going on when Marinette stepped aside and looked at him expectantly.
She wasn't going to go into his room before him. He had to go in first and then invite her in.
"I'm really fine with you guys coming in," Adrien told her with a small, self-conscious laugh as he pulled the door open to the guest room that he was staying in. "I'm used to it. I mean, at h- at the mansion, the maid comes in when I'm not there all the time. And then Nathalie and my father just come in when they want- I don't know if they come in when I'm not there, but when I'm there, they just come in if they have something that they want to tell me. The Gorilla always knocks before coming in unless it's an emergency, but he doesn't always wait for a response before he does."
Marinette was frowning. "That's not right. I mean, sometimes my parents come into my room, but it's only when I've given them permission, or there's an emergency, or- okay, maybe sometimes they get a little over-excited when I have, uh, friends over and then they pop in, but they've gotten better about it after I talked to them about that. It's important to have privacy in your own room."
Adrien smiled slightly. "That sounds nice. I'd love to have- well, I think it sounds nice, to have a space that's private. To only have people come in who I want to come in, and when I want them to come in..."
"You'll have that here." Marinette waited until Adrien waved her in before entering the room. She glanced over the room, then winced. "Oh, this really looks like a guest room. It doesn't look like you've used the bed at all!"
"I wanted to keep it tidy!" Adrien protested. "In case...uh, in case anyone came in, I guess." He ran a hand over the top blanket. It had taken a few minutes that morning to get it perfectly straight, with sharp corner folds. "I wanted to keep it looking nice."
Marinette was staring at the bed in- surprise? Horror? "I think I was the one to make the bed last before you came, and it didn't look nearly this neat. And I only make my bed, like, half of the time when I get up. You don't have to get up early to make the bed to- to photoshoot standards."
Adrien swallowed. "Right. Okay."
"I mean, if you want to, that's a different story," Marinette said hastily, apparently completely misunderstanding his expression. "Then it's fine! But if you're just doing it because you think we expect it of you...that's not the case, not at all."
"Right." Adrien shuffled from side to side, looking at the room. "So, uh... where are we meant to start?"
He honestly didn't know. After all, it was a very nice room- a pale blue on the walls, some decorations that Mrs. Cheng had probably brought back from China and family photos hanging on the walls, some with Dupain-Cheng family members who Adrien recognized and others with people that Adrien didn't know- the Cheng grandparents, he was guessing, and some other extended family members on both sides. There was a bookshelf with an assortments of books- some baking, some cooking, some about family histories and culture in China. There were a couple books in Mandarin, and others in Italian. There was a dresser with an attached mirror part that had a gorgeous embroidered piece of fabric draped over it, with a couple knick-knacks placed on top of that, and a very standard bed: sheets, two pillows, a couple plain fleece blankets that had been folded at the foot of the bed, since it was too warm to use them. Under the windows there was a radiator, painted gleaming white. A storage chest sat at the foot of the bed, and a small table was next to the door, the perfect spot to set keys or a bag to grab on the way out.
In short: it might have been smaller than he was used to, but it was cozy and, like the rest of the house, had been put together to reflect the Dupain-Cheng family and their interests, instead of just being pulled from an interior design magazine.
"The bed," Marinette decided after a moment. "We have a bunch of sheets that we can use for this one, actually- uh, we keep them in this closet, actually."
Once again, it took Adrien a second to realize what Marinette was doing, and then he smiled. She wasn't going to go digging in his closet without him going first. He rounded the bed- there wasn't as much space as he was used to, but it was hardly cramped- and opened the closet, stepping aside so that Marinette could step in front of him to scan the piles of linens.
No matter how important Marinette found it for him to take the lead in his own room, the fact remained that he was significantly taller than she was and if she was going to help him out at all with figuring out which set of linens to pick, she needed to be able to actually see the options. The closet was pretty full of sheets and blankets, and Adrien had no idea which ones were the right size for his new bed.
"Okay, so this bed is the same size as mine," Marinette said, glancing back at the bed. "Which means that you'll be looking at this side of the closet. And, uh, I really had a thing for having a differently colored bed every week when I was younger, so that's why, uh..."
Adrien laughed. "That's why you have an actual rainbow of sheets in that size, you mean?" He reached out, running his fingers over the pile. There were a good eight or nine colors at least, which... well, that was pretty impressive. "How long did you spend in 'zillion-different-colors' phase?"
"A couple years?" Marinette shrugged at Adrien's expression. "I don't remember. But there were enough sheets that they never really got worn down, so we just stuck them all in here when I grew out of that and decided to decorate my room in a pink theme instead."
"Ah." Adrien looked at the closet again, then reached for a set that was a blue that reminded him of Ladybug's eyes. "I like these."
"D'you want help switching out the sheets?" Marinette asked, reaching in to help Adrien pull the sheets out without disrupting the rest of the stack. "And- hmm. We have a couple blankets that could go with those sheets. Not that you really need a blanket right now, since it's almost summer and it's getting hot, but if there's any cold nights and you get chilly, it's better to have them out and ready."
Adrien nodded as he picked out a green blanket to go with the blue sheets, though he had a really hard time imagining ever feeling cold here. Aside from the fact that they were above a bakery- the warmest possible business Adrien could possibly imagine, the entire building just smelled warm, if warm could have a smell- the whole atmosphere was just so warm and friendly and welcoming. "Help would be good. I can tidy up a bed in the morning, but making it from scratch I'm not great at." He grinned, remembering the one and only time when he had tried to make his bed at the mansion, after the maid had to leave early due to a family emergency and had only gotten as far as washing and drying Adrien's sheets. He had assured her that he could handle the actual bed-making so that she could go right home and... well, he had tried.
Fitted sheets were hard, that was all he was going to say. It did not help that his bed at the mansion was so large.
(There might have been some less-than-optimal language that he let loose while wrestling with the fitted sheet. No one could prove anything.)
"It's easier with two people, at least," Marinette said cheerfully, setting the linens down at the foot of the bed so that she could start stripping the sheets that were there. "Easier to wrestle with the mattress that way."
Adrien grinned. "Yeah. I've only got a white belt in mattress wrestling. Just a beginner."
Marinette snorted. "Does wrestling have belts? I thought that was karate."
"You question my qualifications? How dare!" Adrien flopped down on the bed dramatically, pressing the back of his head to his forehead. "...but you might be right."
Marinette laughed and gave his side a gentle shove. "Get up and help me, you lump."
"And now I'm being bullied!"
Adrien loved Marinette's unrestrained laughter.
It didn't take long to remake the bed with the new sheets. The blanket that Adrien had grabbed was a little large for the bed, but it didn't seem to bother Marinette. They just made sure that there was an equal(ly large) amount of blanket hanging down either side of the bed, placed the pillows on top, and then stood back to admire their work.
"You can bring some of your books and things over and we can make space on the bookshelf," Marinette said, leaning over to look at the bookshelf. "My parents can get another bookshelf and stick it in the living room and move their books there so that you have the space. They just have things in here because it had just been an extra room. And then I know I have pictures of you and Alya and Nino and I, and one of you fencing, and- oh, we can look. These others can probably find a new home, too. And the storage chest- that should be empty. It's mostly there so that visitors could put their suitcases inside and have them out of the way."
Adrien stared at Marinette. "That- that's a lot. Like, getting another bookshelf and moving it- that's pretty permanent. Like, Ladybug and I will defeat my father by the time summer starts, probably."
"Yeah, well, you'll need somewhere to live afterwards, won't you?" Marinette sat down on the bed, patting the space next to him. Adrien settled next to her, unable to resist the invitation. "And maybe the city will try to make arrangements for you to be able to stay at the mansion, but you can stay here, too. I know it's not as big, but..."
"I love it here," Adrien assured her, leaning back on his hands and admiring the room, too-wide blanket and all. He didn't need things to be perfect, or huge, or expensive. "If your parents are all right with me being here, I'd love to stay. I've had enough of the mansion for a while, I think."
Marinette's head rested against his shoulder. "Okay." He could feel her shift as she settled. "I'm glad you like it here. We just want you to feel like it's actually your space."
He still didn't think that that was entirely necessary, but Adrien wasn't going to argue with them. Instead, he leaned back into Marinette's side, enjoying the quiet warmth. After a few seconds, though, he couldn't keep quiet any longer.
"I haven't told Ladybug yet," Adrien said quietly, dropping his head back against Marinette's. "I tried, during the last akuma attack, but I chickened out."
"I- I can tell her, if you can't," Marinette offered after a moment. "Next time she comes nearby during patrol, or during an attack."
Adrien shook his head. "I swear that I'll tell her at the next attack. I just needed more time to figure out how. It's only been a few days." He swallowed, remembering the way that his throat had closed up around his words. He had wanted to tell Ladybug, but he didn't know how. "I don't- I've been trying to think of how to tell her without giving away my identity, but I just blank."
He could hear the frown in Marinette's voice. "Are you sure that you don't want to just tell her who you are? I don't- she doesn't seem the type to judge you about the whole situation, and it seems like it would be easier-"
"Not right now. It's not safe." Maybe the final battle was (in theory) in sight now that he knew Hawkmoth's identity, but he was leaning towards the safer option of not letting any more people find out who Chat Noir was. He had seen the downsides of when superheroes knew each other's identities in action with Rena Rouge and Carapace, and they did not need anything like that happening again. "Like, whenever we have distractions going on in our civilian lives, it shows during battle, even if we try not to let it. It's the same when we have superhero stuff that we're distracted by. This would probably be the same. Like, what if we know each other? What if we slip up and yell the other person's civilian name during battle?"
Marinette nodded, an odd expression on her face. "Yeah, I can see where that would be bad."
"It would be awful. Our advantage would just be gone." And since they currently had a serious one-up on Hawkmoth and Mayura, they really didn't want to lose that. "So I'm not going to tell her until Hawkmoth is defeated. And like I said, I don't want her treating me differently, either, and I worry that she might if she knew that Hawkmoth is Chat Noir's father. I can still fight."
Marinette was watching him consideringly, but she smiled when he looked up at her. "That's understandable."
"I just want to be careful, and not knowing each other's identities has worked out for us pretty well so far." Adrien let out a long sigh, trying to let go of the stress that he had been holding on to. "After he's in jail, though, I want to tell her. Hopefully we'll be allowed to then."
"I'm sure you will be." Smiling, Marinette leaned forward to give his hand a gentle squeeze. "But for now, let's not worry about that. After all, we have a room to redecorate."
By the time dinner was ready to come out of the oven, the guest room was...well, not quite Adrien's room, not yet, but it wasn't nearly as guest room-esq as it had been before. Marinette had pulled some photos she had of him and their friends from her room and put them in some empty picture frames that they had around so that he could put them up in his room, and Mrs. Cheng had cleared off the desk and dresser surfaces so that he could put some of his things on them. There was space on the bookshelf, too- apparently Marinette's parents had an extra bookshelf in their bedroom and could move things there- and even a little in the closet, though Marinette's parents were still brainstorming where they could move some of the stuff in there so that it would be accessible when they wanted it.
Adrien still thought that it was overkill, but the idea of having a room that he knew people weren't popping into without his knowledge was- well, it was really, really nice. And he couldn't deny that being able to make the space his own was a fun idea, and if he was going to stay there after Hawkmoth and Mayura were defeated, like the Dupain-Chengs were clearly planning... well, he would feel more comfortable if he felt like the space was really his own, Adrien knew that.
It was just that they were going so out of their way to accommodate him. Marinette's parents were busy, he knew that, and yet they had spent a not insignificant amount of time clearing out the guest room so that he would be able to move in more fully.
"You can bring more stuff over tonight, or whenever you have the time," Marinette was saying as they sat down around the table. "Books and more pictures and whatever knickknacks you want to have here."
"The Jagged Stone CD you signed," Adrien said immediately, grinning when Marinette blushed. "And the posters!"
Mrs. Cheng laughed. "Any possessions that my daughter didn't make and sign?"
Adrien had to think about it. "Uh...there's the jacket that Marinette made me last year. That isn't signed."
"I embroider my signature on everything I make," Marinette reminded him. "So that's signed, too."
That made Adrien pause. "Oh. Uh, then I guess other gifts that I've gotten from friends? I'll see as I go along, probably. And I'll probably wait to move a lot of stuff until after school is over." The and until after my father and Nathalie are in jail went unsaid.
"We can help," Mr. Dupain assured him. "We might need one person working the counter at all times, but the rest of my staff can keep the kitchen running in back. Just say the word."
Adrien couldn't hide his smile. "Thank you."
"And now- did you have a good day at school?" Mrs. Cheng asked, changing the topic, and Adrien couldn't help but smile as Marinette chimed in, telling her mom about the exam review that they were doing at the moment.
He loved having people who he could talk to about his father, because it made the whole process a little less lonely and he knew that he didn't have to handle it all alone (excluding Plagg, of course), but it was nice to talk about normal things, too. To be part of a normal family that sat down and ate dinner together, instead of sitting alone at his family's long dining room table and hoping that his father might show up.
Adrien wasn't going to be hoping for that anymore, that much was obvious. Even when he had dinner at home- and he was going to have to, he knew well enough that he wouldn't be able to get away with going to Marinette's house for dinner every night- he would be hoping that his father and Nathalie were busy, or even better, out of the house entirely.
It wasn't likely, but he could still hope.
The Gorilla picked Adrien up after dinner and he spent a cursory hour in his bedroom at the mansion (no one even checked in on him, which was unsurprising) before zipping right back over to Marinette's house. She let him in via her balcony, and Adrien gave her a quick hug good-night before heading down to his room.
As Adrien settled into his bed, he couldn't help but smile. The room felt a lot more comfortable now, even though they had only really changed a few things. That, and knowing that the Dupain-Chengs considered it his space, not just an in-use guest room...
He hadn't even known that he wasn't fully relaxing before but now, Adrien could sleep soundly.
a/n: I'm so sorry about the delays! November is being a bit crazy for me right now and somehow, I've fallen behind on posting. I want to say that I'll be getting back on track soon, but...uh, I'm not going to make any promises that I can't keep.
re: Marinette not revealing her identity yet... I might remind everyone that you are only getting one POV and have no idea what Marinette's thought process is or isn't. Also, I would like to remind people that in Chat Blanc, Adrien knew Marinette's identity for potentially months without telling her. If anyone wants to bash on Marinette for not saying anything yet, I will personally crawl through the screen and strangle you.
ANYWAY, as always, (all other) comments make my day!