Lukadrien: Zebras Can’t Change Their Stripes: Chapter Five
Read it on AO3: Zebras Can’t Change Their Stripes: Chapter Five
“Adrien, you really don’t have to cook for me like this,” Luka insisted through gritted teeth yet again as he carried another garbage bag full of rubbish out of his room that night after rehearsal.
“I am literally just making minestrone,” Adrien scoffed. “All I’m doing is opening cans and containers and boxes and dumping their contents into a pot together to simmer until the results are edible.”
“Yeah, but still…” Luka grumbled. “I didn’t bring you here to wait on me like this. I can clean my own toilet and do my own laundry and make my own meals. I never meant for you to—”
“—Hush,” Adrien cut him off, waving away Luka’s protests. “I’m not waiting on you. I’m mothering.”
Luka paused mid-step. “…‘Mothering’?” he repeated.
“Yep,” Adrien affirmed. “Your situation inspires empathy and compassion within me, so I’m adopting you.”
Luka choked on a laugh. “You’re what now?”
“Adopting you,” Adrien repeated with a straight face as he stirred the inchoate soup. “People have been saying it to me since I was thirteen, and, now that I’m an adult, it’s my turn to adopt people.”
Luka set down the trash bag and crossed his arms over his chest, humming thoughtfully as he studied Adrien. “…I don’t know how I feel about this.”
“Because you had it in your head that you were adopting me when you brought me home with you?” Adrien challenged with a foot on either side of the line between joking and being serious.
“…Maybe,” Luka hedged.
Adrien gave his head a toss. “Well, I just want you to know that I can pull my own weight around here. I appreciate your help, but I’m not a charity case. I can cook and clean and take care of you too. I’m not defenseless and in need of protection,” he informed tersely, trying to play it off lightly, as though he were kidding and only pretending to be sensitive about it.
Luka saw past the act to the truth, though.
He’d been bruising Adrien’s pride by trying to deny him opportunities that Adrien saw as a way to earn his keep and maintain his dignity.
“I’ve changed, you know. Living by my wits these past few years has toughened me up,” Adrien pretended to joke.
Luka came over to the stove and rested a hand on Adrien’s upper arm. “You’re right. You have grown up since I last saw you. You’re a very capable adult, and I’m seriously impressed, Adrien.”
The hard lines of Adrien’s face began to soften as his hackles lowered at Luka’s validating words. “Oh…yeah?”
Luka nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. You’re perfectly capable of doing the work, and I do appreciate the help. You’ve seriously been a godsend, Adrien. I just don’t want you to feel obligated to do all this.”
Adrien shook his head, hurriedly insisting, “I don’t. I want to help. I want to be useful and do my fair share. I don’t want to sit around and have everyone do everything for me anymore. I’m a competent human being, and I don’t need to be babied.”
“You’re right,” Luka affirmed, giving Adrien’s arm a squeeze before letting go. “I think we’re on the same page now. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t think you could manage things. I’m just not used to having someone take care of me. I think I’ve mentioned before about how when I was ten, the guy Maman had been with my whole life left, and she kind of went to pieces. I had to take care of her and Juleka, and, since then, I’ve never really let myself be taken care of.”
“That’s valid,” Adrien assured, processing Luka’s exasperation and pushback in a new light. “I guess we’re both just going to have to be patient while we get used to this new give-and-take dynamic, huh?”
“Yeah,” Luka agreed. “But, hey. If I ever do something that makes you feel like I’m looking down on you or treating you like a kid, call me out on it because that is never my intention. I have nothing but respect for you. I’m just used to having to take care of everyone else, so…”
Slowly, Adrien started to nod. “You respect me?”
Luka scoffed. “Adrien, I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for you.”
An impish smile slunk onto Adrien’s lips. “Even that day we first met and I gracefully face-planted onto the Liberty’s deck?”
Luka cracked a grin. “Okay. I was actually thinking, ‘Is my disaster bi showing?’ and ‘What are the odds of meeting two adorable klutzes on the same day?’, but as soon as you started to nerd-out over the keyboard, I had nothing but respect for you.”
Adrien broke into giggles. “Oh, I’m sure.” He looked down into the minestrone pot with a light blush and a shy smile. “Thank you.”
“Mmhm.” Luka patted Adrien’s arm and turned to head back to his room for another load of trash.
He only made it a few steps before he stopped and turned back around. “You know, you really haven’t changed at all.”
Adrien’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“You’ve grown and matured, sure,” Luka hastened to explain. “You’re a little different than I remember, but you haven’t truly changed. I know you were talking last night about feeling like a version of yourself that you hadn’t been in a while, but…I don’t think you ever stopped being you. The important things about you that made you you are all still there. I don’t think you’ve truly lost any part of yourself, Adrien.”
Adrien’s mouth rounded into an “o” of realization.
“I think it’s just a matter of you had to shove things down and not react how you instinctively wanted to react because you had to focus on staying alive,” Luka suggested, remembering the times in his own life when he had been in survival mode. “Maybe now that things have calmed down and are more stable, you’ll find that the parts of yourself that you think you’ve lost will come back of their own accord because it’s finally safe for them to.”
Adrien’s eyes misted over with hopeful tears, and a tentative smile bloomed on his lips. “That would be really nice.”
Luka opened his mouth to say something else, but, just then, there was an irate banging on the apartment door accompanied by a tirade of abuse.
“Luka, you piece of crap, open this door right now! You’ve been ignoring my texts all day! You can’t hide from me forever! I swear I will camp out here and annoy your neighbors until they call the police!”
Adrien looked to Luka in a panic, but Luka just groaned and shook his head.
“That’s Nino. He’s been blowing up my phone trying to find out how I know you’re alive and well pretty much since I texted him last night. What do you want me to do?” Luka looked to Adrien, letting him make the call.
Adrien took a deep breath. “…Let him in.”
Luka arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
Adrien nodded. “I’m feeling more optimistic and grounded today. I think going through a successful reunion with you helped.”
“Good. I’m glad,” Luka sighed as he made his way to the door where Nino was still banging and hollering.
He yanked the door open and gave Nino a put out, disappointed look. “What are we? Ten? This isn’t necessary.”
“It sure as hell seems necessary to me,” Nino growled, “because someone isn’t answering his phone.”
Luka stepped back and motioned Nino inside.
“So?” Nino demanded as he stormed into the apartment. “How did you—?”
The question died on his lips when he caught sight of Adrien in the kitchen.
Adrien summoned up the ghost of a smile and gave Nino a nervous little wave. “Hi, Nino.”
“Holy…” Nino swallowed an initial curse but then spit out a whole string of them as he rushed across the apartment to Adrien’s side, pulling him into a bone-breaking hug.
Luka watched as Nino and Adrien embraced, both of them trembling and sniffling, no words needed.
Luka tried to squish down his own jealousy at the thought that Luka and Adrien’s reunion hadn’t been like that. He reminded himself of what Adrien had said about having already reunited with Luka making it feel easier to see Nino again.
Still, it was a painful reminder that, as close as Luka and Adrien had been, Nino was Adrien’s best friend.
Nino was the first to pull back and speak. “Mec, don’t you dare disappear on me ever again. You hear me? You gave me grey hair. Look. Look at this.”
Nino jabbed pointedly at his head where a handful of grey strands were barely noticeable.
“Nino, I’m so sorry,” Adrien started in, but Nino cut him off.
“—No apologies,” he tutted. “I’m not mad at you. Your universe blew up. I get it. Just never do that again, and we’ll forget it ever happened, okay?”
He tipped his head to the side and waited for Adrien to respond.
Adrien nodded, his tentative smile growing and gaining confidence. “I’d like that.”
“Just one question,” Nino announced, resting a hand on Adrien’s upper arm while the other cupped his cheek. “…Are you okay?”
Adrien’s smile wavered. “…Not yet…but I’m working on it. The past four years were…” He bit his lip, searching for the right word before deciding on “…bad. I mean, there was some good stuff mixed in, but sometimes it was really, really bad, Nino, and I don’t want to talk about it right now. None of the truly awful things that could have happened to me happened, but it was still really bad, and I kind of want to forget about it and get my life moving in a better direction.”
Nino nodded, taking in what Adrien was saying. He inhaled deeply and slowly let it out. “Okay. All right. Never happened. I think I can live with that. I’m just glad that you’re home, Adrien.”
“Me too,” Adrien agreed, stepping in to give Nino another hug. “I’m really glad to see you.”
“Yeah. You too,” Nino sighed, giving Adrien’s hair a nuzzle.
They stayed like that for a long moment before gradually pulling apart.
“…So…what have you got going on here?” Nino inquired.
“I’m making dinner,” Adrien replied before remembering Luka’s existence and turning to look to him. “May I invite Nino to dinner?”
“Of course you can,” Luka assured. “This is your home too, Adrien. You don’t have to ask me for permission if you want to have friends over. I’d appreciate it if you’d give me a heads up just so that I can be expecting people, but you don’t have to get my approval.”
“How about if I want to move in with you guys?” Nino pressed. “Because I don’t think I can stand to let this guy out of my sight for the foreseeable future.”
Adrien’s eyes grew large with excitement. “May Nino and I have a sleepover?”
Luka’s kneejerk reaction was to tell Adrien no, he could not have people spending the night because Adrien was a snuggler, and Nino was going to end up snuggling with Adrien in Adrien’s bed all night, and Luka was going to be jealous.
But that was a stupid, self-serving reason to deny Adrien time with his estranged best friend, and Luka had no right to object anyway.
“Adrien, this is your apartment as much as it is mine. You can have friends spend the night,” Luka reiterated. “…I’m going to get back to cleaning, but you guys have fun catching up. Let me know when the minestrone is done, please.”
“Sure thing,” Adrien replied with a shining grin. “Thanks, Luka.”
“Sweet!” Nino crowed, pulling out his phone. “I’m gonna let Alya know I won’t be home tonight.”
Adrien gasped. “Did you get married?!”
Nino winced. “Not yet. Not for lack of trying. I am this close to wearing her down. She has commitment issues and doesn’t want to get tied down. She’s all about her career, and, I mean, I respect that immensely, but it was a struggle to even get her to move in with me. I’m worried we’re going to be thirty and still not married and without kids.”
Adrien grimaced on his friend’s behalf as he turned back to the stove to check on the soup and give it a stir. “At least you know you’ve found the person you want to spend your life with, though.”
“True,” Nino allowed.
After that, Luka couldn’t quite make out what they were saying from back in his bedroom.
He thought he caught Adrien remarking, “This just needs to simmer until the veggies are soft”, and then Nino and Adrien moved to the couch to snuggle while they chatted.
“So…what’s up with you and Luka?” Nino eventually asked, and Luka began to fold his laundry more quietly so as to better eavesdrop.
“I mean, I know you two were close, but…I thought we were closer? Why did you come to him?” There was a hint of hurt in Nino’s voice.
Adrien was quick to reassure him, though. “Nino, you’re my best friend. You were the first person I was planning on reconnecting with. I didn’t go to Luka. Fate just put us in each other’s path, and things worked out. He has an extra bedroom and enough discretionary income to take care of me without being a bother to him until I get back up on my feet. There’s nothing to be jealous of, Nino. I would never throw you over, not even for a hot guy.”
Luka nearly choked and immediately felt bad for violating Adrien’s privacy.
…Still. It was good to have some idea of where he stood with Adrien.
He immediately slapped himself because Adrien was vulnerable at the moment, and Luka himself was not emotionally healthy enough to be entertaining the idea of a relationship, especially not with someone like Adrien whom Luka would have to be one hundred percent serious about before daring to approach and risk ruining their friendship.
“Good,” Nino snorted back in the main room. “Make sure things between you and Luka stay completely romantic. Tell him to get the hell out of my friendzone. I have a total monopoly on all things platonic with you.”
Adrien burst out laughing, shaking his head and giving Nino a playful shove. “I’m glad you still value my friendship so highly even after I ghosted you for four years.”
Nino clicked his tongue. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just saw you last week.”
Adrien rested his head on Nino’s shoulder. “Thanks, Nino.”
Nino wedged his arm between Adrien and the couch, circling his arm around Adrien’s shoulders. “Don’t mention it. We’re cool, Mec.”
“…I’m not in any kind of shape to pursue a romantic relationship right now,” Adrien confessed sadly, a note of longing in his voice, “and Luka is actually going through a breakup at the moment. If you could refrain from making any kind of jokes or insinuations, I’d really appreciate it. I kind of just need stability right now. A roof over my head, regular meals, steady job, friends…”
“Say no more,” Nino assured, placing a kiss on the top of Adrien’s head. “I’ve got you…but let me know when it’s okay to tease you about this because teenage Adrien would have died if you’d told him he’d one day be Luka’s little househusband.”
Adrien elbowed Nino in the stomach. “Don’t make me kick you out. Apparently, this is my apartment. I’m also not required to share any of my minestrone with you, and it’s going to be really good, so you’ll be missing out.”
“Since when do you cook, Mec?” Nino hummed curiously.
Both Luka and Nino took second helpings of the minestrone and positively raved about it.
“I told you I was a good cook,” Adrien snickered around his glass of water. “I should have made a cake or something for dessert.” He turned to Nino. “I can make delicious cakes in a rice cooker.” He looked next to Luka. “Should I get started on some dessert?”
“You can if you want.” Luka shrugged. “I actually need to run out for a bit. I shouldn’t be gone more than an hour, if you think you’ll be okay by yourself?”
“Hello? I’m here too?” Nino snorted.
“Yeah, and you’re a handful. I know Adrien’s very competent, but I’m concerned about leaving him to babysit all by himself,” Luka sniped.
“Looow blow,” Nino booed.
“We’ll be fine,” Adrien assured. “I’ll show Nino how to make rice cooker cake, and then we’ll probably snuggle and talk or watch Netflix or something.”
Luka winced. “On your phone? We need to get you a laptop.”
Adrien’s brow scrunched up, and his lips pursed. “I really don’t want you spending money on me on expensive nonessentials.”
Nino bumped Adrien’s arm with his own. “He’s a rich kid now. Let him buy you stuff.”
“We’ll get you a laptop tomorrow,” Luka decided and then pointed at Nino. “Be good while I’m gone.”
Nino rolled his eyes. “I’m always good.”
Luka turned to Adrien with an affectionate smile, reaching out to tussle his hair.
“Text me if you’re going to be longer than expected, okay?” Adrien request, returning Luka’s smile.
“Will do,” Luka assured, putting on a brave face as he headed out.
As he drove over to Tom and Sabine’s to confront Marinette and ask for Plagg back, he reminded himself again and again that he was doing this for Adrien.
He summoned up the memory of Adrien’s smile, and what he was about to do felt a little bit easier.
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