Adrien bit down on the inside of his cheek and tried to suppress a smile as his classmates’ theories got increasingly more ludicrous.
“They must be stunt people! I bet they work in movies and the “magic” is all special effects!” Nino insisted. “
“There’s no way they could pull off stunts like that without some help,” Max remarked. “The more logical explanation is that we’re not dealing with mere humans. I’m leaning toward cyborgs, but aliens are also a probable theory.”
“I’m all for aliens!” Kim chimed in, and he high fived his friend.
“Please. Aliens? Stunt people?” Adrien could tell Alya was rolling her eyes even with his back to her. “If you paid any attention, you’d remember that Ladybug dropped a history textbook that is the exact same one that our school uses. She must be in the school, maybe Chat Noir, too! Think how close they could be to us.”
Adrien’s lips quirked up at the corner. You have no idea, Alya.
He heard a soft sigh, and craned his neck to see Marinette with her head bent over her sketchbook and an amused smile. As Alya’s best friend, she must have heard every one of Alya’s theories a hundred times over.
Max pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a sniff. “I think we’d notice if two kids kept disappearing from school on the regular to fight akumas.”
Adrien almost cracked up then, but was distracted by a loud snort of laughter. The source of the sound startled him more than the noise, for that sound had come from none other than Marinette.
Adrien looked around to see that every set of eyes had landed on Marinette as she outlined a sketch and bit back a grin. After a few seconds of silence, she must have realized that she was now the center of attention, because her eyes flicked up from her work and met his. Her smile faded into something akin to chagrin, but amusement still twinkled in her eyes.
“What’s so funny, Marinette?” Kim sounded offended on behalf of his friend. “It’s not like you have any idea who they are.”
Marinette’s teeth sunk into her lip to hold back another laugh and she cast him a wry look.
“I guess not,” she said with a shrug, “I just find it funny that we all think we know anything about Ladybug and Chat Noir when we can’t even recognize them with a flimsy eye mask.”
Adrien’s eyebrows mounted his forehead and he felt his mouth twitch into a smile. The other students looked stunned by Marinette’s statement and they all shifted under her scrutiny. Eventually, Rose spoke up.
“It’s hard to catch a good look,” she said feebly, “with them flying around all the time.”
“Oh, come on!” Marinette laughed. “Nino and Adrien have met Ladybug and even they don’t have a clue who she is. I’ve met Chat Noir face to face, twice, and I still couldn’t pick him out from a lineup of all the blond boys in Paris! It’s silly for us to try and play detective.”
Adrien felt his heart speed up when she mentioned meeting him while he was in costume. So Marinette hadn’t caught on, even when they had been so close he could pick out every freckle on her face? Adrien should have been relieved that his identity was still secret, but he was a little disappointed that someone who knew him so well hadn’t even recognized him.
He’d know her distinctive personality anywhere, mask or no.
Marinette’s smile fell, and Adrien soon realized why. Alya had buried her nose in her textbook with a slump in her shoulder, obviously hurt by Marinette’s statement. He could see the wheels turning as she tried to come up with something to say, and then she smiled again, hesitant this time.
“But maybe that’s part of the fun,” she said suddenly, “The mystery. Maybe it’s not about knowing who they are, but what they mean to all of us. They do so much for Paris, and it’s clear they love what they do, so we should accept that they want to keep their identities a secret.
“But,” she rushed to add when she saw Alya hadn’t lifted her head, “I think we should stay curious, and maybe one day…” her voice dropped and she shrugged, “maybe one day Ladybug and Chat Noir will be ready to show us who they are.”
The room was quiet as their classmates considered Marinette’s words. Alya lowered her book, hope radiating from her face. Adrien mulled over her words too, touched by Marinette’s sentiment. He wondered if he’d be ready one day to tell Paris that he was the teen behind the mask. It seemed so distant, so dangerous – but it flooded him with relief, too. No more hiding. No more lying. No more excuses.
He hoped the day would come when he and Ladybug could face Paris barefaced as a team, if only so he could know the incredible girl who had lucky charmed his heart and become one of his closest friends. Maybe she could even become his school friend, if she really was a student at François Dupont, and they could all hang out together!
He had a feeling she’d like Marinette; they had a lot in common.