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Unexpected surprise

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Adrien Agreste. Age twenty-six. A successful international supermodel, currently changing his career to a CEO of a fashion empire. Was born and raised in Paris; had moved to the USA six years ago; came back for a visit. Rich and kind, handsome but lonely. Had experienced a lot, had seen even more. Had nothing left that could surprise him anymore.

Except, maybe, this - a small, blonde girl, with emerald eyes and freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose – the spitting image of his mother Emilie Agreste, excluding, perhaps, the freckles. Adrien didn't remember his mother very well. She died when he was still a tween, but he spent hours staring at every single picture they had of her and knew every detail of her face, every peculiarity, every gorgeous feature, the way she smiled, the way her eyes sparkled, the way they loved. Now with his own eyes wide open, Adrien observed her little copy playing with her dolls at the park and couldn't believe his sight. Even less he could believe his ears.

Her name was Emma. Emma Dupain-Cheng, to be exact.

Six years ago, without warning, at the age of twenty Adrien had left Paris. One morning his father had offered him a chance of a lifetime career move, but there was a catch - pack a bag and catch a plane in two hours. Adrien agreed without thinking twice.

Of course, he regretted leaving his Lady behind, but that was probably for the best. After all, the last time they had seen each other, they’d had a huge fight, and she had told him that she wished she'd never met him. He interfered with her feelings, she’d said, confused her, made her fall in love with him, made it impossible for her and that mysterious boy she was always pining after to be together. His Lady had wept, shivered and looked absolutely miserable on his account. She was mad at Chat Noir for that night, a single night they spent together. Adrien wished he could regret it the way she did, but he just couldn't. It was too perfect not to treasure it forever. 

They had been celebrating her 20th birthday. He had invited her to dinner. It had gone so well, they’d had so much fun, their easy friendship slowly slipping into dangerous territory. In the end, neither of them could resist the romantic spell they were plunged into, or maybe it was only Ladybug who couldn't, because Chat Noir had never hidden how he felt about his partner and how much he always wanted their relationship to more than platonic. That night Ladybug had allowed him to go the lengths he could only dream of. She had agreed to be his girlfriend and had made the first move. He’d thought that everything was perfect, but when he’d woken up the next day, she was gone.

Then came the fight. A few days later when they had met up again, Ladybug was an emotional mess. She’d said she had thought a lot about what had happened and had admitted that she loved him but also insisted that she couldn't be with him because she loved that other boy as well. She claimed that it wouldn't be fair to either of them so she would rather stay alone than hurt anyone by half-loving them. Chat tried to reason with her, to say that he'd accept what she was willing to give him and it would be more than enough but, in the end, they had just fought harder. Always so determined and stubborn, Ladybug told him that her mind was made up – she would rather live a miserable life than give him only a half of her heart and always look over her shoulder for that other guy. He deserved so much more. He needed someone who could love him with all their heart, she’d said. Chat tried to protest, but pushed to her edge Ladybug didn't listen.

“I wish, I'd never met you!” were the words that finally broke him. The anger and desperation, mixed with tears and shivers all over her body made it clear that Ladybug meant every word.

“As you wish,” Chat bowed down and disappeared into the night. He also had his limits, and despite regretting it later, at that precise moment he couldn't fight her anymore. She wanted him gone? He would obey. He was a loyal partner after all.

So, when Adrien heard about the job in New York City the next morning, he didn't think twice. To leave and let Ladybug be happy with that other man had sounded like a sensible solution at the time. He didn't want to stand in the way of his Lady's happiness anymore. He'd had enough of being a problem for those he loved. Because if not for him, he figured, and his dumb, stubborn attempts to win her over, she'd be free to be with that other man already. She'd be happy by now. Chat Noir had gotten his chance with Ladybug, and it wasn't “it” for the girl of his dreams, so he had to step back and leave. Once free of him, his stupidity and his foolish feelings, without him confusing her, Ladybug would have a chance to be happy with that other lucky man. He could live with that. He loved Ladybug too much to continue ruining her life and it looked like his love was just as destructive as his cataclysm.

Maybe, there was an underlying reason he was chosen to be Chat Noir in the first place? Was it possible that Plagg and him were a match made in Heaven? Both lovable dorks. Both able to destroy with a single touch.

The truly devastating consequence, however, had been Plagg's announcement that Adrien had to give up his miraculous. It had to stay in Paris, Plagg had explained, and if Adrien were to leave, he would have to give up the ring to a new wielder. Adrien hadn’t even needed to consider; there were matters much bigger and more important than his desire to jump across the rooftops of Paris. Hawkmoth was gone, and Adrien wasn't needed anymore. Heartbroken but determined, Adrien had removed his ring and given it back to Plagg. He’d also given him enough Camembert to last a month as a parting present. In silence, though clearly upset, Plagg had left his life. He remained in his heart forever.

Adrien didn't call anyone from the airport. Goodbyes were either unnecessary or too painful. Explaining why he was abruptly leaving was the last thing he wanted to do now. He'd call everyone later, after he was safely across the ocean. That included Nino, his best friend.

Six years later, never forgetting his Lady, never loving anyone else, and never feeling at home anywhere, Adrien had finally come back to attend Nino's wedding. His best friend was marrying his school sweetheart Alya Césaire, that crazy reporter who had always chased after him and Ladybug. She wasn't that crazy anymore, though. Alya was a respected journalist with a successful career and was about to make his best friend happy. That was an occasion deserving the risk of coming back and running into Ladybug, though Adrien thought it highly unlikely. He still didn't know her civilian identity, and he doubted she knew his, so even if they did meet, neither would probably realize it. In any case, Adrien didn't plan to stay long. One week - a few days before, a few days after the wedding and he'd be back in his bachelor pad across the ocean, not ruining anyone's life. Before that, though, Adrien had planned to spend his visit as low-key as possible, see a few friends and avoid his father. He wasn't prepared to be knocked off his rails by a carbon copy of his mother messing around in the sandbox of a local park.

This particular afternoon Adrien had planned to surprise Nino. He had arrived the previous day but didn't let anyone know just so he could sneak up on his friend and scare the living daylight out of him - an innocent prank to lift his mood, remember the old times and add just a bit of fun he desperately needed in his life right now. Everything was going perfectly. An hour ago Adrien had called Nino, said he was at the airport, waiting for a departure and casually asked him what he was up too. Nino informed him that he was at a nearby park, doing a favour for a friend. The park was easy to find. Nino shrieked with terror when Adrien jumped out on him but loved the surprise nevertheless.

Imagine, however, Adrien's astonishment when he learned that Nino's favour was two hours of babysitting Marinette's five-year-old daughter. The same Marinette Dupain-Cheng who had been excessively shy and never entirely gotten over her stutter around him; that girl who had always been a mystery to him; the only girl that Adrien had ever had a crush on apart from Ladybug. A secret, tiny, minuscule crush he’d never let anyone know about and had worked hard to get over because he’d had his Lady. He couldn't afford to stray away. He had been confident that his loyalty would pay off and it had. Only not in the way he had hoped and not without ruining Ladybug's life in the process. At least Marinette seemed to have hers all set up. That was good to know. Who knows what would've happened if Adrien let his destructive love ruin her dreams as well?

“… she had to go to an important meeting—” Nino's voice broke his train of thought, “—and her usual babysitter is sick. Alya couldn't do it, Tom and Sabine are away, and it's not like Emma would go to just anyone anyway,” he added. “So, it was either me or no one.”

Nino continued to say something about this little girl's character and something about time and impossible to find. Adrien couldn't distinguish words anymore. The sentences had stopped making sense. It all mixed up in his head like white noise as he continued just to stand there, staring at a little girl bearing a striking similarity to his mother and wonder if there was something wrong with his head, or eyes, or maybe it was exhaustion, or perhaps a combination of everything above.

Then came the most stunning detail.

“You know, bro,” Nino whispered conspiratorially. “Although Marinette won't admit it, we think that Emma's father is Chat Noir.”

That statement quickly brought Adrien's attention back to Nino as he almost choked on thin air. He immediately remembered that the girl was around five years old plus nine months of pregnancy- Adrien felt his insides freeze because six years ago, Chat Noir was him, and if everything was correct, he was this little girl's father.

Adrien frowned in confusion. How could that be if he was pretty sure that he had never been intimate with Marinette at any point of their acquaintance? Apart from that little crush fluke, he had never really known her very well. In fact, because of his love for Ladybug and his innate loyalty, which he wasn't sure was a benefit or liability anymore, he had never even attempted to be with anyone else. He just wasn't interested anymore. He believed there were even rumours that he wasn't into girls in the circles he lived amongst in the US due to that little peculiarity of his.

“And how do you know that, Nino?” Adrien asked, trying not to sound too interested.

 “Well, it's not a secret anymore, but you should keep it to yourself anyway, just in case.” Nino smirked at him with a knowing smile. “Our sweet little Marinette used to be Ladybug up until about six years ago.”

Adrien paled, but Nino didn't seem to notice, too excited to finally be able to spill the beans to his best friend.

“I swear I wanted to tell you before, but Alya wanted to keep it a secret,” he smiled apologetically. “And I wanted to stay in her good graces, for quite obvious reasons. Now, however, seeing as she is engaged to me, I think, it's safer to tell? Keep it to yourself, though. If my woman finds out that I told you, she- Just don't tell her, bro, ok?”

Adrien turned to Nino. “I won’t, but you have to tell me how you know all of that.”

“Well, right about the time you left—” Nino started, “—in a matter of a few days or maybe weeks, can't remember now, we had a new Chat Noir. You could tell right away he was a newbie - a brown-haired teenager with no sick skills and quite serious, at that. Nothing like the cool dude we had before. A couple of days later,” Nino sighed. “Our old Ladybug suddenly swung by Alya’s apartment and told her that she had to give up being Ladybug to a new girl due to some complications and because there was a new, younger Chat Noir and he needed a new, younger Ladybug. Before that, however, she wanted to let Alya know who she was and to apologize. Alya freaked out at first, but when Marinette appeared in Ladybug's place, it all made sense.”

Nino paused for a moment. He crossed his arms over his chest looking at the small girl currently climbing into a swing. “Then,” he said in a much quieter voice. “Marinette took off her earrings and gave them to a small, red creature she called Tikki. They cried for like an hour or two, and it left. Later we found out that her so-called ‘complication' was her pregnancy.”

Nino paused again. This time Adrien looked at his face, surprised to find a range of emotions there. It was obvious Nino cared for Marinette. The mix of warmth and sadness when he looked at her daughter spoke volumes.

“She went through so much, man,” Nino whispered, anger spiking in his eyes. “That bastard- Left her alone and miserable- If only I could get my hands on him-”

“Anyway,” he sighed and turned to look at Adrien after a moment of composing himself back to his cheerful self. “We all helped her as much as we could and here we are. Emma is like our shared daughter, and Marinette landed an awesome job, so she is back on her feet.”

“Did she tell you Emma's father was Chat Noir?” Adrien asked. As much as he needed to think this through, he couldn't. His mind was frazzled and confused by all the questions and doubts flooding him. He was a father??? To a five-year-old girl??? He left his Lady pregnant and alone??? Where was that other man??? Was he so low that he didn’t want to care for someone else’s child? Why had no one tried to contact him? He would've jumped on the first plane back the moment he found out-

“Nah,” Nino interrupted his thoughts again. “No matter how hard we tried to make Marinette name the father, she refused. The closest Alya got from her sounded something like ‘I don't know who he is, I wish I knew, but I don't.' But when Emma was born, we all just knew. I mean, man, can you look at her – blond hair, green eyes, she even likes puns at her age – and deny it? How could she not be Chat Noir's daughter? No offence, bro-” a smirk surfaced on Nino's lips, “-but I even considered you as a possibility because, you know, Marinette had a huge crush on you for like forever. Though, I had to give up that thought after Alya told me that Marinette hadn't seen you in like ages.”

By this point, Adrien's head was not only throbbing but also spinning. That little detail about Marinette having had a crush on him was, maybe, just a little bit too much. He had to sit down.

“Hey, are you alright?” Nino eyed him suspiciously.

“Yeah,” Adrien murmured in return. “Just a bit tired. Jetlag, long flight, time changes, stuff like that.”

“Okay,” Nino frowned and pointed to a nearby bench. “Wanna go sit down?”

“Sure.” Adrien followed his friend to the bench. For the next few minutes, watching his newfound daughter and completely blocking out Nino's chatter, all he could do was wonder what he was going to do. Did he need to do anything? Nino said Marinette was finally feeling fine. Did he want to wreck her life again? And how did he feel about Ladybug being Marinette? True, he’d had a crush on his shy, cute, stuttering classmate but he’d never gotten to know her very well. Well, he knew Ladybug very well but why hadn't he recognized her in Marinette? It couldn't be just because her behaviour was drastically different around him, could it?

Adrien closed his eyes, trying to remember. Everyone seemed to like Marinette back in school; some were even in love with her. He respected her a lot for her talent and her bravery but he had never really gotten to know her really well. Mostly because she always seemed to freeze around him, leading him to believe that she didn't like him, and as such giving him even more motivation to squash that damned crush before it had a chance to develop any further. Graduation and separate colleges had certainly helped.

But now Nino revealed that Marinette didn't hate him at all. Quite the contrary, she was in love with him and if she was his Ladybug that meant he was that mysterious boy she wanted to be with. And that meant that when he had removed himself from the equation so she could be happy with that other boy, he had actually left her alone with “the consequences” of that one night. He, Adrien Agreste, was that bastard Nino wanted to get his hands on.

Feeling like his head was about to explode, Adrien pushed all thoughts aside and walked straight up to the girl. He crouched beside her and smiled.

“Hello, Emma. My name is Adrien. How are you?”

The girl scanned him from head to toe with narrowed eyes and smirked. “I don't speak with strangers,” she said. “My mama told me not to. And don't even think—” she pouted, “—that if you give me candy, I'll follow you to your car so you can kidnap me! My mama will find you and kick your butt.”

Satisfied with herself, little Emma turned around and went on to play with her dolls leaving a rather stunned Adrien behind. Appearing out of nowhere, Nino chuckled having observed the whole interaction. “She is Chat Noir's daughter, I tell you. Just as fiery and feisty, isn't she?”

More like her mother, Adrien thought.

“Wait till you try to put her down to bed,” Nino continued.

Adrien looked at him with apparent interest. “What happens then?”

“She jumps around for an hour fighting akumas,” Nino smiled fondly as Adrien's heart stung. His friend was here to put his -Adrien’s- child to bed. He wasn't. “Then she sneaks out of her room and tries to climb to the roof. Marinette even had to block all the ways up in her house.” Nino's face turned abruptly downcast. “But that is more sad than funny, though.”

“Why is that?” Adrien asked.

“Emma always says that she is looking for her daddy and for some reason, she thinks he will wait for her on the roof.”

Chapter Text

A little shocked and dumbfounded, Adrien couldn't take his eyes off little Emma. His little daughter Emma was playing a few meters away and completely ignoring everything around her, including her star-struck, newfound father whose heart was quickly filling up with something he had never experienced before. He couldn't look away - the sight was truly mesmerizing. In a matter of ten minutes, the girl climbed the playground set a few times, built something remotely resembling a castle from sand and managed to squeeze in serious talk with her dolls, all while exhibiting an impressive range of emotions on her adorable face. Watching Emma, realizing that she was a part of him, a tiny person he unknowingly created with the person he loved, was still a bit surreal, startling and unbelievable at the same time. He didn't even notice as a small smile started to play on his lips.

It was probably just his imagination, but Adrien could already see the resemblance, past the obvious physical features, not only to him but to his Lady as well. Little Emma had fire and fervour in her, just the right amount of sass and impressive pouting skills. She rolled her eyes like Ladybug used to. She punned like Chat Noir. His sense of humour, Adrien noted. Definitely his. It made him proud. There were so much life and light pouring out of this little person that he couldn't help but grin, something he hadn't done in years. Emma was someone Adrien ceased to be when he left Paris all those years ago. His spark and vigour had long burned down by now, replaced by an overbearing sadness and emptiness, a void nothing and no one could fill for years, the hollowness that was now rapidly shrinking because, standing there, looking at this little girl, Adrien couldn't help but wonder what if. What if there was still a chance for him? An opportunity to live his life to its fullest, to love and be loved and to do something worthy at last. A chance to be the father he never had.

Wholly submerged in his thoughts while observing little Mlle. Feisty, Adrien didn't notice a small red car pull up in a parking lot behind him. Nino, however, perked up at the sight of a petite woman coming over to them a minute later.

“Hey, Nino!” she greeted him, still some distance away. “Thank you so much for doing this for me. I appreciate it.”

Adrien stilled at the sound of the painfully familiar voice, his heart plummeting inside his chest. How did he never notice that Marinette had Ladybug’s voice?

He slowly turned around.

How? Just how in the world had he never seen the obvious before?

Marinette was a little older and didn't wear her superhero suit anymore, but he could suddenly see his Ladybug so clearly. She was gorgeous. A petite frame, but a huge measure of confidence. Shyness and nervousness were gone, giving way for determination, elegance, and grace to shine through. Her midnight hair was down, cut just above her shoulder. She wore a simple yet stylish dress that highlighted just the right features of her figure. A few simple accessories completed the look.

Adrien stalled. If he could describe Marinette in one word right now, it would undoubtedly be exquisite. Gorgeously, dreamingly, wonderfully, beautifully exquisite. A light blush treacherously covered his cheeks as a realization that the six years of separation did nothing to lessen his feelings hit Adrien hard. He still loved this woman with all of his heart and now, knowing that she was Marinette, a cute girl he used to have a crush on, he loved her even more.

“Mama!!! I've missed you so much!!!” A cheerful shout interrupted his thoughts.

“I've missed you even more, my little kitten.” Marinette caught the running Emma on the move and, taking the girl into a tight embrace, placed a tender kiss on her nose. Emma laughed and pouted a bit, but instead of pulling away as Adrien thought she would, she leaned closer and rubbed her nose against Marinette's, drawing a giggle out her.

“Thanks again, Nino. I don't know what I would do without your help,” Marinette said standing up with Emma safely settled in her arms.

“Don't worry, Marinette,” Nino replied. “I always enjoy spending time with my little monkey. By the way—” he motioned into Adrien's direction, “—we have a surprise guest.”

Standing silently aside until this point, Adrien gulped. Despite the overwhelming range of emotions and thoughts running through his mind, the moment Marinette’s eyes met his, only one question consumed his whole being – would she? Would she consider him worthy enough of a second chance after what he did to her? Would she ever consider forgiving him? Would she let him be a part if not of hers than of Emma’s life? Was it too much to hope for? Was it too soon to ask? Was it too early to even consider?

A lot could have changed in those six years. A lot had, probably, changed but fifteen minutes with Emma, not even five with Marinette and he was prepared to beg for forgiveness and to explain everything right there and then.

“Adrien?” Marinette seemed surprised. “I thought you weren’t coming back for another day or two.”

“I—” Adrien smiled weakly, “—I wanted to surprise Nino, so here I am.”

He couldn't find the right words to say. He couldn't pull his eyes away either, so for the next few moments, the pair just stood there staring at each other, blushing for no reason, nervous sparks flickering in each other's eyes, millions of questions in Adrien's, thousands in Marinette's.

“Mama,” a sulking voice interrupted the duo's silent conversation. “He wanted to lure me in his car with candy and kidnap me so he can demand all of your cookies for himself!”

Adrien's eyes widened in surprise as he, quite perplexed by the accusations, looked at Marinette helplessly, trying to figure out at the same time how to defend himself against this “little, devious, it seemed, kitten”. There must have been something on his face because Marinette stopped narrowing her eyes at Emma and broke out in a fit of giggles as soon as she glanced at him.

“I think someone’s pants are on fire, sweetie.” She bumped her child’s nose. “What did I tell you about lying?”

“But he did want to steal me, mama,” Emma pouted. “Asked me my name and smiled nicely, just as you warned me about the strangers. Like this.” Emma's lips split into a wide grin.

“She had quite a few rather impressive word choices to scare him away,” Nino added with a smirk. “I don't even think she needed me here for protection.”

“Oh, no,” Marinette gasped and turned to Adrien. “She wasn’t rude, was she?”

“No, not at all,” Adrien smiled. “Just a bit intimidating.”

“Emma, apologize now.” Marinette put the pouting child to the ground. “You can’t be rude to people, no matter how much you think they want to steal you.”

“I'm sorry,” the girl whispered after losing a minute-long staring battle with her mother. “I'll try to be polite next time.”

“All is forgiven,” Adrien crouched down in front of the little girl. “My name is Adrien,” he said and offered her his hand. The girl eyed him suspiciously for a moment but after obtaining a nod from Marinette stretched her hand as well. “I am Emma.”

Shaking her little palm lightly, Adrien smiled again. “Now, we are not strangers anymore. It's nice to meet you, Emma.”

“Nice to meet you too, M. Kidnapper,” the girl tried to pout, but a mischievous, barely-there smile was still visible.

“Emma!” Marinette frowned. “You know what? Go into the car while I say goodbye to Uncle Nino. And—” she leaned closer and looked straight into her eyes, “—do not touch what is laying at the back seat. You didn't deserve it-”

The girl squealed before Marinette could finish her sentence and, yelling out a quick “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you”, ran off.

“I'm so sorry, Adrien,” Marinette said as soon as the car's door shut behind the girl. “Emma has a wild imagination sometimes. Don't take her too seriously most of the time and you should be fine.”

A wild imagination just like her father’s when he was younger, thought Adrien.

“She is adorable, Marinette,” he said out loud. “I am thrilled to meet her.”

Despite everyone keeping her a secret from me for years, he mentally frowned. Why?

A very Chat-like grin appearing on Adrien's face stopped Marinette in her tracks. Shaking off a light shiver suddenly running down her skin a moment later, Marinette paused. Must be just her imagination… or that wishful thinking she hadn't been able to put an end to for all those years.

“It's nice to see you again, Adrien, but, unfortunately, I have to run now. We should catch up later, though,” she smiled at him and turned back to Nino. “Say Hi to Alya for me, and I'll see you both on Friday, right? Dress rehearsal?”

“Yup! See you then, Marinette!” Nino smirked, eyeing Adrien with unconcealed satisfaction. The minute Marinette pulled out of the driveway he placed his arm on Adrien's shoulder, purposely not mentioning the fact that the latter was still staring in the direction where the small, red car left and whispered: “She is still single, you know. And—” he leaned closer to Adrien's ear, “—a very impressive catch, by the way. A successful career, that adorable kid, her own house and don't forget her amazing cooking skills. Mmmmmm…. Makes me wonder, though,” he frowned a bit. “Why is she still single? But, dude,” he lightly punched Adrien in the shoulder a moment later. “That doesn’t matter right now because it only plays in your favour.” Nino wiggled his brows, not even bothering to suppress a wide grin on his lips. “You’ve got a real chance, man.”

Adrien stirred up, furiously blushing by this point. He hadn't felt like that in a long time. Ever since he left Paris, the pinkish tint of his cheeks became an alien concept, and now Marinette made him blush at least twice in a matter of minutes. If he was giving away his inner feelings more than that, Adrien wasn't aware. He was too smitten to notice anything.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” he murmured and shoving his hands in the pockets as he finally took his eyes off the horizon.

“Whatever you say, man,” his friend grinned even wider. “But I'm just saying that if you like what you see, you should act before it's too late. Because to me, it looks like Marinette hasn't quite gotten over her high school crush on you, Agreste. And—” he patted Adrien's shoulder, “—by the look of you, it seems that you've just developed one for her as well. So, think about it. Plus,” Nino stretched. “There is a bonus in Emma. She is an amazing kid and could easily pass as your own, by the way,” he paused for a few seconds before plastering that grin back on his face and playfully wiggling his eyebrows. “She does resemble you a lot, man. Anything you want to share?”

Adrien only glared back. “Since when did you become so straightforward?”

“Ever since I started to hang out with Alya, bro,” Nino's eyes instantly filled with a lovesick, dreamy look. “My gorgeous woman is right in one thing – life is too short to hold back on anything. If you really want something, go and at least try to get it or you will regret it later. Give it a thought, Adrien.”

*       *       *

It took everything Marinette had to block out the flood of emotions and memories that the unexpected meeting with Adrien brought back. As if on autopilot, she started the car and drove away. The further, the better. She didn't need this right now. She couldn't afford to deal with that avalanche. She didn’t think she could handle another heartbreak. Not now. Not ever. Her child was now her top priority. The need to get Emma home safe through all of the Parisian traffic was far more important than her school crush and her growing desire to hide somewhere and either blush and scream because, man, he was still so gorgeous, or cry in pain, because she didn't realize just how strong her feelings for him still were.

Marinette sighed and stopped at the red light. A couple of years ago when she was looking for a new place to live, she moved to the suburbs for Emma's sake. Fresh air and more space for her baby outweighed the convenience of a short commute. Besides, Marinette didn't really want to spend too much time in the city that held some of her most painful memories, memories of two boys, to be more precise. The one, whom she still loved ever since he gave her his umbrella on that rainy day but who was always so out of her reach. And another, who she fell for so suddenly and hard, whom she chose to be with after much deliberation and to whom she gave her first kiss and herself. That same boy who left her after their first serious fight. She wasn't blameless in the slightest. Far from it, but sometimes she wished he would have stayed and at least tried fighting for her. Yet he simply left when she snapped. She still loved him as well.

Red changed to green, and her car slowly drove back onto the streets. Yes, Ladybug had said all those horrible things to Chat Noir that day, but it's hard to blame entirely a confused and emotional girl who just had her life's dreams go down the drain. When she decided to be with Chat, Marinette was so confident that it was the right decision. Undoubtedly, that adorable dork behind the mask was the man for her. But as soon as the girl acted upon her decision, the guilt kicked in. Her long-lived, sun-filled dreams to be with Adrien invaded her head and accused her of choosing Chat Noir over faithfully waiting for her first love, berated her for giving up on Adrien. She had fought it for days but, exhausted from the constant emotional struggle, in a spur of the moment, Ladybug dumped all of her feelings on her partner that evening.

Some of those things were not worded even remotely correctly.

They fought. He left. Marinette decided to take some time to calm down and cool off, finally sort out her feelings and thoughts. Only after that, she would go back to Chat Noir and beg him for forgiveness; only after she would be sure of her feelings so that similar accidents could be prevented in the future. It took her a few days but once they passed, all the girl wanted to do was to find him, press close to his chest and whisper just how sorry she was, just how much she loved him and just how hard she wanted to make their relationship work. She decided that the truth would be the best route for them. Ladybug would tell Chat everything he didn't know about her yet – her pathetic and embarrassing at this point crush on Adrien and her real name. The masks would come off to give them a chance to work on this together. They would succeed, Marinette believed. Adrien wasn't in her life for a long time already, and with Chat by her side, she would probably forget him soon anyways.

The only problem was – she couldn't find him anymore. Ladybug spent weeks searching for Chat Noir, jumping from roof to roof, expecting to see him around the next corner but gradually losing hope. Chat never came, not even to help her with those small crimes they helped to deal with since Hawkmoth's defeat. Soon Marinette realized that she was pregnant and in a matter of days some new teenage boy in Chat Noir's suit told her that Plagg wanted to let her know that her partner had left Paris. That evening, with a heartbroken face, Tikki told her that she also would need to give up her miraculous to a new Ladybug. Those were the rules they had to follow and, considering Marinette's condition, it was also the smart choice to make. It would be for the best.

Marinette asked Tikki for only one more night. She needed to come clean with Alya because ever since their school days there was no one closer to the girl than her dear, Ladybug-obsessed journalist friend and having been forced to lie to her all this time Marinette wanted nothing more than to drop this weight off her chest. That evening Ladybug swung by Alya's apartment and detransformed. Many tears, hugs, explanations, and apologies later Marinette gave her miraculous back to Tikki. They couldn't let each other go for quite some time, but in the end, the kwami had to fly away, and Marinette had to start planning her new life - the life with her baby. She never hesitated to keep the baby, she poured all of her love into that little girl, a part of the man she had loved, a part of the man she still loved all these years later.

And now there was Adrien. She knew he was coming, but it still took her by surprise. She didn't expect him to be this handsome, this sweet, kind and this dreamy. Gosh, it hit her the second she saw him. She still loved him. Marinette thought that wasn't the case anymore, but she blushed when he merely looked into her eyes. Unexpected. His voice made her heart beat rapidly and tighten. She didn't anticipate that. What's even worse - she thought he looked so much like Chat Noir would've looked at this age. Marinette stopped herself before she could even imagine him being Chat. What good would it be if she did? He wasn't him. He was way too different. She was also not so lucky. She would only set herself up for another disappointment.

The good news was that she didn't stutter around him anymore. She had grown out of it. She had to. Marinette Dupain-Cheng was a respected designer now, and aces of communication were at the top of the list of her qualifications.

Marinette was also wiser now.

She perfectly realized that even if she was still in love with Adrien and even if he, against all possibilities, might like her back some day, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Would he take her with someone else's child? Sure, Emma was adorable and Adrien was incredibly kind, enough so to actually to do it, but what sort of reputation would that bring to the Agreste family? His father was a very conservative man, a world-famous fashion mogul, and her employer. He would never approve of Adrien having a relationship with a single mother who didn’t even know the name of her child’s father. He didn’t need a scandal attached to his name or his brand. Marinette couldn't afford even to imagine the existence of the possibility if she wanted to keep her job and her sanity. She had Emma to take care of now.

The woman turned the light off and slipped under her comforter, curling up on herself and covering even her head. Some sleep sounded nice right now if it would even happen this night.

*       *       *

First thing in the morning Adrien found himself standing outside of Gabriel's office. There wasn't any particular reason nor had he any strong desire to be here, but the rules of etiquette demanded a greeting when coming home from a long absence and his father was impossible to catch at the mansion anymore. It was the right thing to do, and so Adrien came to see his only parent in person. Once he arrived, however, the secretary asked him to wait for a little while since there was already someone else in the office. So Adrien waited, pacing the room impatiently.

Years of separation aided by Adrien's realizations that his childhood wasn't normal in any sense didn't do well for their relationship. Estranged more than ever and coming here solely out of politeness, Adrien just wanted to get it over with and be free to do what really mattered right now. Specifically, try to make sense of the information he had received yesterday from Nino - Marinette was now a successful designer at his father's company, she had Emma, his daughter (though, she seemed not to know that), she also was Ladybug, and he still loved her.

Adrien stopped. He still loved her but did she love him? Frustrated, he started to massage his temples lightly. This was too much too soon too suddenly. Everything was too uncertain, too chaotic. And just how in the world was he supposed to fix this mess? Only one thing was undeniable – they needed to talk. He needed to confess.

A moment later the door behind him opened rapidly, almost hitting him in the back. Adrien quickly stepped away and turned around, nearly crashing into Marinette. She gasped, lifting her eyes to him but regained her grace and posture almost immediately. A light blush and a quiet babbling slipping from her lips, sounding a lot like “Good morning”, and the one he loved was leaving the room in a hurry, clutching a few overstuffed folders to her chest. Adrien stared after her until Nathalie interrupted him.

“M. Agreste will see you now, Adrien.”

Stepping into the room, Adrien noticed with a sad, barely there and almost ironic smile that his father was still just as unapproachable to him as ever. Same strict posture, serious look in his eyes and not a single hint of wishing to spare him even a few minutes willingly. Gabriel, it seemed, had frozen in time. He did look a little older, but that was about the only visible change. His speech remained just as harsh, dry and short as Adrien was used to during his childhood. That no-nonsense attitude was still present. The subjects for conversations were just as absent. Their talk was, unsurprisingly, just as small and tense as ever, ending with Gabriel asking when Adrien was going back to the States.

“I have a ticket booked in a week, Father, but I might stick around a little longer,” Adrien answered.

“I don't see a reason for that—” Gabriel replied coldly, “—but suit yourself, Adrien. You are an adult now and, I hope, a responsible one. You may go now.” The man went back to the work he was doing before Adrien walked in. “I have too much work and too few reliable people to do it.”

Not surprised at the slightest at his cold dismissal Adrien stood up and left without a word. The first thing he did when the office's door closed behind him was to find out where he could find Mlle. Dupain-Cheng. The first thing he heard when he reached the place was Marinette's disappointed voice through a slightly ajar door. The first thing he saw, peeking in through the opening, was a small blond girl standing at the table, looking guiltily at her feet, hiding a pair of scissors behind her back.

“I told you not to touch anything on my table, Emma.” Marinette was kneeling beside her, holding a bunch of cut-up papers in her hands. “Was that so hard to do for the fifteen minutes I was away? What am I supposed to do now?”

“I'm sorry, Mommy.” The girl wiped away a few tears rolling down her cheeks. Adrien held his breath, his heart tightening in anticipation, his own childhood incidents surfacing rapidly in his mind.

She’s just a small kid, his mind screamed, she did it innocently. He should be punished, his father's voice echoed in his memory, he should learn to take responsibility for his actions.

From Adrien's experience, being in trouble, no matter how small or big the damage was, didn't bring anything good. Ever. The scissors long dropped to the floor and forgotten, Emma stood there and cried in front of an equally distressed Marinette as his fears awoke. His whole being screamed to go in and protect his little girl, but he couldn't move an inch. It wasn't his place. He knew that much.

Maybe, Adrien thought suddenly, if he would walk in and distract Marinette a little, Emma's punishment wouldn't be too severe? He promptly raised his hand to knock when the scene in the room made him stop. In a split second, Marinette pulled Emma into her arms and pressed her closer, tears streaming down both of their faces.

“Come here, kitten,” she whispered. “Don't worry about it. It's not a huge problem. Not at all. We'll find a way to fix this, ok?” She gently brushed Emma's hair and wiped away a few remaining tears. “Don't cry, sweetie. I am at fault here too, you know. I should not have left these papers where you could easily find them. Don't cry, Emma.” She pulled away a little and placed a gentle kiss on the little nose. “Mama still loves you no matter what.”

Adrien froze. That… that was so different from anything that he'd ever experienced as a child. His eyes filled with tears at a simple realization. How amazing was she? How perfect. How much of an idiot was he for giving up on such a great girl all those years back?

He finally knocked. “May I come in?”

Marinette raised her eyes and stiffened. Her cheeks covered a pinkish tint as she replied: “Yes. Of course, come in.” Standing up and letting Emma go, she hastily tried to wipe away her tears undetected by her unexpected guest, spectacularly failing in the process.

“I’m so sorry about this, Adrien,” she apologized. “We didn’t realize you were here.”

“That's alright,” he smiled. “I should've probably waited for a better moment though?”

“No, it’s fine,” Marinette assured him with a small smile of her own. A small, adorable smile on her lips. “How can I help you?”

“Marinette,” suddenly sounded behind his back. Adrien turned around to find one of his father’s employees peaking in. “The boss asked for those final sketches again. What should I tell him?”

“Um,” Marinette paused, looking desperately at the papers Emma cut up a few minutes earlier. “I will bring them in a few hours?”

“Cool,” the girl replied and shut the door.

“I’m sorry, Adrie—”

“Hey, Marinette? We need you at the fabric department a.s.a.p,” sounded from the door again. Turning around Adrien saw another of his father’s employees. This time there stood a young man. “They’ve been waiting for you for twenty minutes already,” he added.

“Just a sec,” Marinette nodded and looked back at Adrien.

“Mommy, can I colour this?”

Marinette closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.

“Fine,” she whispered barely audible. “Everything will be fine. I just need to do one thing at a time.”

“I'll be right there,” she told the man at the door and turned to Emma. “ You can't touch those, but I'll give you a few blank pages to draw on. Go sit at the desk and be quiet.”

“I think, I'd better go,” Adrien smiled when she looked back at him. “Bad time for a chat.”

“I’m really sorry, Adr—”

“Mama!” Emma’s voice filled the room again. “Can I play with this?”

Another knock on the door and one more person peeking into the room seem to put Marinette in a state of despair. Clenching fists by her sides and biting hard into her lower lip, she was visibly trying hard to keep herself in check and not to scream at the top of her lungs. After a couple of deep breaths, she sent the girl on her way letting her know that she'd be right there and that Thomas already told her that she was needed at the fabric department a minute ago.

“I'm sorry, Adrien.” She turned back to him again. “But I have a huge project due by the end of the day and with all the last-minute tweaks in addition to Emma's setting me back a couple of hours I really can't spare a minute right now.” Her eyes shifted into the girl's direction, but despite all the stress and chaos, they were full of warmth and love. “I usually don't bring her with me but today was an emergency,” she explained. “Our babysitter got sick. Alya and Nino can't watch her all the time, especially with the wedding so close and all of the last-minute preparations and my parents are away on their annual vacation right now. Emma,” she sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Emma is so stubborn sometimes that she refuses to go to a different babysitter or anywhere else for that matter. I tried to force her a couple of times, but every time she caused so much trouble that I was pulled from the work to pick her up immediately. Bringing her here—” Marinette looked anxiously at the remnants of her documentation before glancing at the clock on a wall, “—seemed like the best option in the morning but I am not so sure about it anymore.”

“Mama!” Emma called again. Marinette sighed and turned to face the girl. Her face paled.

“Emma, no!” She almost cried and moved quickly to snatch a folder out of Emma’s arms. “I told you not to touch anything. How am I supposed to leave you here alone again and not expect another disaster?”

His next words Adrien didn't expect himself, but once they were out, he desperately hoped Marinette wouldn't refuse.

“I can watch her while you go to the fabric department if you want.”

“Oh, no. No, Adrien,” she mumbled right away. “I can't bother you with my problems, and even if I agree, Emma won't stay with you. She doesn't trust people easily and she doesn't know you well enough yet. But thank you for the offer.” Her lips quivered in a ghost of a smile.

“Come on,” Adrien smiled. “I'll just sit in the corner and watch her, so she doesn't spoil anything else. I have nothing more important to do today anyway.”

“That’s not a few minutes, Adrien,” Marinette sighed. “That’s half an hour at least. They won’t let me out until everything is settled.”

“Then half an hour it is,” Adrien replied. Seeing an uncertainty that started to give in on her face, he quickly added: “And don't worry about it bothering me or being too much. I owe you a lot from back in the days, and if it comes to it, you can always repay me by getting a coffee with me someday.”

Adrien didn't wonder much about the reason why Marinette's cheeks glowed a pretty shade of pink as she looked at him almost shocked but it indeed was a good look on her. A moment later she snapped her eyes to a side, eyeing that clock again. Her anxiousness grew, and she asked quietly: “Are you sure it's ok?”

“Yup,” Adrien nodded. “We’ll be just quietly sitting in here while you are doing your job. So you go, make us proud, and don’t worry about anything.”

“Okay,” Marinette barely exhaled. Her cheeks flamed even more as she went back to the desk. “Emma,” she crouched by the girl's side. “I'll go out for a few minutes. Uncle Adrien will stay with you, so you be a good girl and listen to him. Alright? Do not go outside the office and don't be rude. Do you understand, Emma?”

“You’re leaving me with M. Kidnapper?” The girl asked in surprise.

“His name is Uncle Adrien, and he is not going to kidnap you, Emma,” Marinette corrected. “He'll stay with you here in this room until I get back. Okay?”

“Okay,” the girl agreed and went back to scribbling on the piece of paper without any further fuss much to Marinette's surprise. Well, that was unexpectedly easy.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Marinette called as she was practically running out of the door. “Thank you so much, Adrien.”

“No problem,” she heard him say before closing the door and quickly heading to that damned fabric department. Today was not an easy day already. Final days of any project weren't easy. Finishing a major collection was the worst of all. Bringing Emma along was a necessary evil today. Adding Adrien to the mix was the worst thing possible, but she didn't have a choice. Either that or failing the project and possibly losing her job. That she couldn’t afford.

Forty minutes later, all details and questions settled, Marinette nervously stepped back into her office. The scene before her eyes was picture worthy yet heartbreaking. Sitting on the floor, both Adrien and Emma were furiously fighting with paper cut out dolls. Marinette stopped. She had rarely seen Emma so ecstatic. She was a happy child overall but the way her eyes shone, the width her smile stretched and the range of her gestures, as she watched Adrien with unhidden awe, were surfacing only on special occasions.

“Surrender, Ladybug and Chat Noir!” Adrien proclaimed in the serious voice, raising what seemed to be a cut-out Hawkmoth drawing. “I want your Miraculous and your amazing ability to pun!”

“Nevaaaar!” Emma cried and shook one of her dolls. “We are a mew-velous team, and you'll nevaaar win!”

“But if I won't I will cry,” Adrien answered and grimaced so impressively even Marinette couldn't hold back a giggle.

“Mama!” Emma jumped to her feet, finally noticing her. “Look what we did!”

The girl ran up close carrying two paper dolls of Chat Noir and Ladybug in her hands. Her, Marinette’s, blond, green-eyed Chat Noir, not the other boy they had now and her, Marinette’s, image of Ladybug with dark hair tied in pigtails and sky-blue eyes, not the current one.

“Uncle Adrien drew them for me,” the girl continued to babble cheerfully. “He is so cool and such a good drawer, mama. And did you know he knows a lot of stories! And he is funny-”

Marinette looked at Adrien with amazement in her eyes. No one was ever able to get Emma to like them so fast. So fast and so much. He shyly smiled back at her and stood up.

“Can he stay, mama?” Emma’s request caught Marinette’s attention amidst the flood of “Uncle Adrien” compliments.

“No. Absolutely not, Emma,” she answered right away. “I'm sure Uncle Adrien has a lot of much more important things to do today than to babysit you.”

“Please, mama, please,” the girl continued to beg. She knew her puppy eyes didn't work on Marinette, but that didn't stop her from using them. After all, Marinette wasn't the only person in the room.

“Emma-”

“Mommy, please. I’ll be super good-”

“Emma, this is out of the question,” Marinette crouched down and, taking her hands into hers, looked the girl into the eyes. “Uncle Adrien is very busy. He can't stay.”

“Please?” Emma's little lips started to quiver and eyes filled with tears, as she looked up not at her mama's eyes but into the other ones in the room. “Please?”

“Actually.” Adrien finally gave up, his words a bit hesitant. “I can stay if you want. The only thing I had planned for today was lunch with Nino and Alya but that can wait, and you do need help. So-”

“No, Adrien,” Marinette protested standing up. “I'm thankful, but I can't accept this-”

“Marinette.” The door opened and in peaked the first girl. “The boss is asking again.”

“In two hours, Maerynn,” the woman almost seethed through her teeth. “I told you the first time.”

“Okay. Geez,” the intruder frowned. “Just doing my work. Don't get all riled up.”

“We’ll be in that corner,” Adrien whispered and followed Emma who was already tugging him by the hand, sporting a winner’s smile on her lips.

“Adri—”

“It's not a big deal, Marinette,” he called. “Make it two coffee dates, and we'll be even.”

“D- ddat- tes?” Marinette stuttered, unsuccessfully trying to suppress yet another blush. Not a good habit to return in the most unfitting of times.

“Um,” Adrien stalled. “A friend catching up with a friend kind of outings?”

“Okay,” she finally replied a few moments later watching the duo getting right back to their banter. What was wrong with her? Why couldn't she refuse him? Why couldn't she make him go? He seemed to be willing to leave. Then what happened for Adrien to be still remaining here, in the same room as her? How did she end up owning him two coffee dates… eh… two a-friend-catching-up-with-a-friend outings in less than an hour? Not that she minded deep down but still...

“Thanks. I appreciate it,” Marinette mumbled and went to her desk. Half an hour later the woman wished she'd insisted that Adrien left the minute he stepped into her office the first time. Better yet, she should've locked the door before he even entered. True, it was technically easier with Emma not bothering her every five minutes but the pair's non-stop giggles and muffled laughs, silly voices, and dramatic conversations were distracting, not to mention the sight of Adrien playing on the floor with her child was too attractive to miss out on. Unsurprisingly, Marinette couldn't keep herself from constantly glancing over, ultimately losing her concentration and ability to work fast. The few times she caught him looking back didn't help either.

“Do you have any candy?” she heard Emma ask.

“No,” Adrien replied. “But I have mints. Do you like mints?”

“Is that those little green thingies?”

“Yes,” Adrien laughed and pulled a small container out of his pocket. “Here, want one?”

“Ewww.” Emma frowned. “They are spicy. How can you eat them?”

“I like spicy food,” Adrien teased, popping one in his mouth. “Try them. They are not so bad.”

“They are green.” Emma wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I don’t like green candies. I like pink ones.”

“I’m sorry,” Adrien smiled apologetically. “I’ll bring you pink candies next time.”

“Can we go get them now?” she asked all of a sudden.

“I don't-” he started to protest, but Emma was already by Marinette's desk.

“Mama, can we go buy some candies?” she asked. “Please, please, please, pleeeeaseeee.”

“Emma.” Marinette sighed. “You already made Uncle Adrien play with you all of this time. You are not forcing him to take you out for a treat.”

“But, mama!”

“Emma-”

“Hey,” Adrien interrupted softly. “If you don't mind I can take her out for a bit.” He walked closer with the sincerest expression Marinette had ever seen. “We can go to Le Jardin des Tuileries. It's not that far, and then we can have lunch with Alya and Nino.”

“Adrien—”

“Just think about it, Marinette,” Adrien reasoned. “You really need to concentrate right now, and I doubt that we are helping you much here. Plus, I, honestly, have nothing else to do. It’ll just have a good, relaxing day with Emma.”

He is right, Marinette thought. I really need Emma, no, both of them, out of this office right now because there is no possible way I’ll do anything let alone finish this if they stay. On the one hand, Emma would be much better off visiting the park and having fun than being cooped up in the office with her stressed-out mother. But- but it was so weird to have Adrien Agreste play a babysitter to her daughter. A bit cruel, maybe also, to let Emma and Adrien bond only to have him leave her in a week.

No. Marinette couldn't let that happen.

She was about to refuse but just before her lips opened Emma came to stand by Adrien and took him by his hand. That stalled her.

“I'll bring her back as soon as you tell me—” Adrien continued to convince her, enjoying the feeling of a small palm in his hand. It was selfish, he knew, but he didn't want to let her go yet. If he could have just a few more hours- “—and I will send you reports every hour, so you'll know where we are and what we are doing.”

“Adri—”

“It's either that or we are playing here,” he shrugged. “I just thought that walking around outside is more fun than sitting on a hard floor.”

When Marinette didn't respond right away, undoubtedly tempted by the prospect, Emma's eyes brightened. She knew her mother too well to grasp that deal was as good as sealed. Just one last push.

“Please, mama,” she begged. “Let M. Kidnapper steal me away just for today.”

“You are not calling him M. Kidnapper, Emma,” Marinette corrected. “He isn’t kidnapping you.”

“Borrowing?” the girl asked, grinning from ear to ear. Marinette didn't refuse this time.

Marinette paused, stalling under the gazes of two similar if not identical green, begging eyes. The moment she glanced at that clock and her mind calculated just how far behind she was, Marinette gave in. She wouldn’t do any work with those two around anyway. Might as well let them go to enjoy themselves.

“Oh, alright,” Marinette sighed, still hesitant but cornered in a tight spot with no better options in view. After all, it’d be just a day out for Emma with my old friend/crush. What could go wrong? Nothing, she insisted. Everything, her heart corrected. “But you are sending me those updates every hour, a picture and a description of what is going on. And make sure she behaves. If she starts to bother you, bring her back right away.”

“Yay!” Emma cheered and pressed her palm into Adrien's hand even tighter. “I'm ready, Uncle Adrien. Let's go.”

“I'm sure everything will be just fine, Marinette. Don't worry.” Adrien pulled his cell phone out. “Can I have your number, so I have somewhere to report to.”

“Will you buy me a black cat plushy?” Emma bumped in again.

“No, Emma!” Marinette groaned. “Not another one. You already have a hundred of them. Please. No more.”

“I have only thirty-two,” Emma corrected. “Not a hundred. And I don't have any from Uncle Adrien yet. A black cat plushy and ice cream,” she looked back at Adrien those big kitten eyes on a full display. “Please?”

“Sure.” Adrien could barely hold himself from hugging and kissing his daughter’s little, pretty face. “The biggest plushy we can find and an ice-cream.”

“Don’t let her order you around, Adrien,” Marinette protested. “She only looks innocent but she is a master extortionist in reality.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” Adrien smiled and passed his phone to Marinette. The pair exchanged their numbers, and five minutes and a ton of instructions and warnings later Adrien left the office with the five-year-old girl walking by his side, holding his hand and cheerfully telling him all about her fantastic collection of black cats. He never felt prouder and more scared at the same time. He was going to be Emma's daddy for a day. That alone scared the hell out of him but also filled his heart with so much pride he never thought possible.

Chapter Text

“So where should we start?” Adrien asked Emma as soon as they stepped outside. “Le Jardin des Tuileries or a candy shop?

“Rides! Rides!” the girl squealed as her eyes filled with sparkles and a wide grin illuminated her face. “I want to ride a rollercoaster!”

“Guess what?” he smiled in return. “That’s precisely what I want to do too. And I bet we can find a candy shop there as well.”

“Yes!” Emma couldn't contain her excitement. “I remember there were lots of stores with treats. Mama even bought me a huge lollipop!”

“Perfect,” Adrien agreed. “Then Le Jardin des Tuileries first and after we’ll have lunch with Uncle Nino and Aunt Alya. Does that sound good?”

“Yes!” Emma squealed again. “I already went to ride rides with Mama before! It was so much fun! But,” she pouted all of a sudden. “They didn’t let me go on everything I wanted. They said I was too small.”

“Awww,” Adrien sighed playfully and crouched beside her. “Maybe we can ride some of those today. I am sure you grew up a little from your last visit.”

“Yes,” Emma’s lips stretched in the widest grin he’d ever seen. “This time I’m going to ride on every single ride and then—” her eyes filled rapidly with an equal amount of hope and begging, “—can you win a black cat plushy for me at the arcades?” There was a giant one last time, but Uncle Nino couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll try my best.” Adrien gently poked her nose and stood up. “Let’s go now, Mlle. Emma.”

“I like you, M. Borrower,” she chirped. “You are the best babysitter ever.”

“And you are the best girl I have ever watched over up to this very day,” Adrien’s smiled back. She was the only one he ever watched over, but Emma didn’t need to know that. She’d still be the best even if he'd babysat thousands of kids.

Holding her tiny hand gently yet firmly, Adrien led his little companion to his car only to realize that it wasn’t even remotely equipped for a small child and in a rush and under stress, neither Marinette nor he remembered a car seat. One look back at the offices plus a memory of the madness that was there and the idea of going back to get that car seat and in the process to waste some more of Marinette’s precious time refused to settle in. Instead, Adrien pulled out his cell and did a simple Google search. A large department store where all the necessary accessories could be found wasn’t that far away and just a little bit over thirty minutes later the blond duo returned with a brand-new car seat, a car toy organizer, a few toys and books to go into said organizer, a cute ladybug neck pillow, a car window shade for sun protection and a pair of fashionable kid’s sunglasses along with a sun hat to match her dress. Another thirty minutes later the father and his daughter walked into the park. The next few hours changed Adrien’s life forever.

When Adrien was small, he had everything that a child could possibly want. Within the confines of his room, that is. Arcade games of his choice, a skateboarding rink, a basketball hoop, all the video games he could wish for, a rock-climbing wall and even a zip line - all was readily available within the relative safety of his bedroom. As a result, the boy was rarely allowed to leave the mansion for such places as this one, but when he did go there on special occasions, those were the very best times of his life. A magical kingdom of rides and sweets, laughter and excited squeals, colourful balloons and live cartoon characters - these all remained one of his fondest childhood memories.

Today, however, Adrien discovered a new kind of joy, a much more fulfilling one. He didn’t do anything special. He only rode merry-go-rounds, tiny bumper cars, a petite Ferris wheel and other toddler’s attractions with Emma but somehow this brought him a lot more happiness than all of the special days he remembered combined.  At first, Adrien couldn’t figure out why he was having so much fun until he caught himself enjoying simply watching his little lady having a blast on a ride, he was, unfortunately, too big to fit into, just as much as he did riding the previous one with her. Emma’s shining eyes and her broad smile, the excitement on her face and the happiness that radiated with her every move – that was all he needed to have a blast himself. His decision to stay in Paris was now cemented in place. He was finally getting a second chance in life, if not to be with the woman he loved, then to be a father and love someone who might return his affection one day. Who was already, it seemed, more than a little fond of him, he thought smiling as Emma ran up to him and jumped into his open arms, shouting “That was so much fun! Can I go one more time?”

A few hours, later after they rode almost every single ride that Emma was allowed to go on, the pair finally wandered into an arcade and spent another half an hour playing games, trying to earn enough tickets to get the biggest, cutest, blackest cat plushie he had ever seen. Or was it Emma who said it? Who knows? It didn’t matter anymore anyway. Her joy became his; her excitement made him excited; her sadness made him want to cry. And for the first time in his life, Adrien silently thanked his parents for putting all those arcade games into his room and keeping him locked inside so he could practice for hours at a time. Today his skills had finally come in handy because the moment he handed that massive toy to his little daughter, she kissed him softly on the cheek, melting his heart into a puddle and bonding his heart to hers forever.

“So, Emma,” Adrien said, trying to balance both the girl and her new kitty at the same time on his shoulders as they exited the arcades. “Should we go get lunch now? Uncle Nino already called me a few times.”

“Okay,” Emma replied. “I am hungry, and I want to tell Aunt Alya all about my day.”

“Sounds great. Now—” Adrien tightened his grip on her, “—hold on tight. We are going to fly to the car.”

The girl squealed and threw her arms around his head, gripping tightly onto his locks and squishing the huge toy between them. “All ready, M. Babysitter! Let’s fly!”

*       *       *

At that same time, Marinette could hardly control her anxiety. Letting Emma go with someone she hadn’t seen in such a long time, no matter how nice she remembered him to be and no matter how strongly she felt about him all those years, was a terrifying experience, to say the least. For about an hour she did her best, trying to keep herself in check and get some actual work done, but then gave up and dialled Adrien's number. She called about every twenty minutes or so after that, unsuccessfully trying hard not to sound too nervous, and every time Adrien went above and beyond in his efforts to make her feel just a little bit calmer. At her fifteenth call, he was finally able to convince her that Emma was fine and enjoying herself and that he was having just as much fun as she was and it wasn’t a burden for him at all. Still a bit uneasy but more or less relieved, Marinette finally focused on her project. After all, it was hard not to believe all those happy pictures Adrien sent and not to be convinced by Emma’s excited voice on the line, gushing about how she just rode that new ride that wasn't there the previous year and how cool that was. Marinette’s mind calmed down a bit. Her heart clenched with a worry of a different kind.

*       *       *

“Marinette can’t make it today,” Alya disappointedly sighed, putting her cell phone away and picking up her freshly brewed cup of the finest Arabica coffee. “I was hoping she could spend some time with Adrien. You know, high-school crushes that haven’t vanished, us getting married and the romantic atmosphere that comes with that…” She glanced over to the street, her sight lingering a little on a nearby couple strolling by hand in hand. “I feel kind of bad for her. A single mother and not getting any younger...”

“I’m sure that everything will work out as it should,” Nino responded calmly, not taking his eyes from his fiancée. He did worry about Marinette as well, but she was a beautiful and fantastic woman so, for some inexplicable reason, Nino was quite sure that she wouldn’t be alone for much longer, especially now that Emma wasn’t a baby anymore because so far that had been her main excuse for not dating.

“Do you think I am crazy for actually thinking that it could happen?” Alya asked after a waiter took their orders. “I know wishing that Adrien and Marinette might have a future together is kind of unrealistic right now.”

“What makes you say that?” Nino raised an eyebrow. “Nothing in this life is impossible.”

“Well,” Alya put her cup down. “Adrien was away for six years. Who knows what happened during that time? He didn’t tell you much about his life there, did he?”

“Nah,” Nino shrugged. “He did at the start, but it was all the same – home, university, work, home, university, work. So, I just stopped asking after a while.”

“Exactly my point,” Alya reasoned. “We know almost nothing about this new Adrien, the Adrien of six years later. He might have a girlfriend in the USA. He might be married-”

“Married?” Nino almost choked on his drink. “I am sure he’d at least mentioned that to me.”

“And Marinette…” Alya continued, seeming to be in her own little world. “She never talks about Adrien anymore, I mean, nothing at all, not even a mention of his name in the last few years. And when I try to ask her,” she frowned. “She shuts down completely, like a super-secret, undercover agent. Though, I suspect that she still has a soft spot for him.”

“Definitely,” Nino nodded. “You should’ve seen her at that playground…” Nino’s voice trailed away as he looked over Alya’s shoulder and suddenly sat up straight, an amused smirk spreading on his face at the same time his eyebrows slowly crept up.

“I think,” he whispered. “Your wish is much closer to becoming a reality than you realize.”

“What do you mean?” Alya asked, but Nino only nodded his head in the opposite direction. The girl frowned and turned around. The moment she did though, her mind blanked out because just a few meters away from the café, crossing the road with a golden paper crown on his head, a couple of frilly, pink packages in his arms and a huge grin on his face was Adrien Agreste. Skipping beside him and holding his hand, Emma Dupain-Cheng was looking happier than ever and wearing a similar pink crown on her golden locks, cradling a huge black cat plushie in her other arm. Alya blinked a couple of times. Nino decided to rub his eyes just in case.

“Please, tell me I am not seeing things,” she whispered.

“Unless we both have gone insane at the same time, then no, you are not,” Nino replied.

The pair continued to stare at the blond duo as they were getting closer until Emma spotted the stunned couple a few moments later and began to drag Adrien over.

“Auntie Alya! Uncle Nino! Look at my new babysitter!” the girl could hardly restrain herself from bouncing in place once they reached their table. “Mama got him for me this morning. Do you like him? He’s so cool and even better than Mme Bella! We had so much fun today! Look! He won this kitty for me-”

Emma’s happy chatter continued to amuse everyone present while a blush slowly spread over Adrien’s face under Nino and Alya’s stares.

“So you really like him, I see?” Alya finally interrupted Emma’s bubbly speech.

“Yes, I do!” the girl squeaked.

“More than you like me?” Alya pouted playfully but laughed not even a minute later at Emma’s serious attempt to decide who did she like more after all. “Come here, pumpkin!” She pulled the girl closer. “You can like both of us. I can share my precious princess.” Alya tightly hugged the girl. “Give auntie a kiss, kiddo, and tell me all about your day!”

That was all the invitation Emma needed to quickly smooch Alya’s cheek and, settling in her lap, to continue her story. Meanwhile, Adrien removed his crown and sat by Nino’s side.

“Dude…” Nino mumbled in awe, still staring at his friend in utter shock.

“What?” Adrien frowned. “Is something wrong?”

“No, not really,” Nino said, his thoughts still distant, before adding: “What are you doing with Emma?”

“Helping Marinette out?” Adrien shrugged his shoulders and leaned back a little in his chair a bit confused as to why his appearance with little Mlle. Dupain-Cheng evoked such a strange reaction. Was it so surprising to them if he looked after Marinette’s daughter? They all used to be close friends before his departure. Helping each other out was what friends did.

“She had some kind of important project due today and Emma had already helped her out with her extremely professional cutting skills. What?” he asked a bit annoyed when Nino’s shocked stare didn’t cease. “Listen, I just happened to be in the same area, visiting my father, and had nothing else to do. Are you suggesting I should’ve just left her there to struggle alone? You know how my father gets when he’s disappointed. And wasn’t it you—” Adrien pointed out, “—who babysat Emma for Marinette yesterday? So stop looking at me like I murdered someone and either explain what I did wrong or- just stop, Nino. I am trying to be a good friend here and help.”

Nino blinked, raising his hands up in a defeat. “Hey, bro, chill out. I wasn’t saying you did anything wrong, man. That’s fine. Helping Marinette is cool. We all help Marinette from time to time. That’s totally neat. It’s just…”

“What?” Adrien was trying to calm down. What was the big deal?

“Umm,” Nino nervously rubbed the back of his neck. “How many times have you met Emma before today?”

“Just that one time yesterday at the park,” Adrien responded. “Why?”

From a corner of his eye, he saw Alya’s eyebrows shoot up as she stared at Adrien with her eyes wide. Nino’s reaction wasn’t any better.

“Can someone, please, explain what is going on?” Adrien murmured. He glanced at Emma, who was now examining the menu under Alya’s guidance. Good, she looked happy, meaning he didn’t mess up anything too bad. “I’m starting to feel like a one-man freak show, and no one but you can see it.”

Nino chuckled. “Nah, bro. You’re fine. It’s just as you might have already heard—” Nino finally relaxed back in his chair and started to explain. “—Marinette’s been having a bit of a babysitter crisis lately. Well, not lately but practically ever since she started needing one.”

“Babysitter crisis?” Adrien frowned. What did that mean? No one wanted to babysit his baby?

“Yeah,” Nino sighed. “She has a bit of a problem finding one because Emma will stay with no one except for yours truly, Alya, her grandparents, and Mme. Bella, their long-time neighbour. And even in her case, I think Emma only likes her because she’s known her ever since she can remember.”

“Picky little lady,” Adrien smirked and glanced at Emma who at the moment was arguing with Alya about which flavour of ice cream was the best at this particular café.

“You wouldn’t even believe—” Nino smiled fondly to himself, looking at the girl whom he considered almost as his own by now, “—the things Marinette has tried to get Emma to spend even five minutes with someone without supervision and any problems. Until now it seemed possible only if the little rascal spends at least a couple of weeks with that particular person and with one of us present. Apparently, you are an exception.”

That made Adrien even more proud. First, his daughter wasn’t a pushover and liked to surround herself only with the best people around. He wasn’t sure about this Mme. Bella but if Emma liked her, he would assume she was a decent person. Second, she loved him immediately. That had to mean something!

“Well, I guess I am just naturally good with kids?” Adrien grinned.

“Aha.” Nino cocked his head to the side, teasing and singsonged, “or you are not telling us something.”

The couple laughed, and before Nino could ask any more Emma-Adrien related questions, Adrien turned his attention to the menu, changing the topic to the day’s special.

“Ah, I’ve missed Parisian cuisine,” Adrien whined. “I mean, New York’s restaurants were fine but look at that!” he pointed at something but received no response from his friend, whose attention was already claimed by Emma. Adrien's eyes lingered for a moment on the pair, and he couldn't help but smile, seeing the warmth in Nino's eyes and hearing the softness of his voice toward the little girl, giving her an obligatory cheek kiss from her Uncle Nino. Adrien's gut tightened. He hadn’t been here to love and protect his child but, thankfully, his friends were, and their love toward his little girl showed. One day he'd need to repay this enormous debt. Somehow, he’d think of something worthy.

Most of their lunchtime was almost solely dedicated to discussing last minute details of Nino and Alya's upcoming wedding. There were laughter and teasing along the way, serious tones and sly remarks made an appearance as well. Tiny details were scrutinized as Emma made sure to insert a few of her silly comments as well and as their meeting progressed Adrien couldn’t remember the time when he’d had so much fun having lunch with anyone. It had been years, for sure. New York was a lonely place for him.

However, there was one thought that wouldn't leave him all throughout their meal - the fact that Emma was loved and adored by his friends very much, and that she loved them back with all of her heart. No wonder she wouldn’t accept any other babysitters – few people could rival those two in entertainment. All through the meal, Alya wouldn’t let Emma off her lap for long. She teased and tickled her, played and laughed with her. She always asked for Emma’s opinion and had a million pet names for her. Nino’s shameless flirting and compliments seemed to give Emma life as she skillfully swooned over him in return.

Adrien loved Nino and Alya. He truly did. They shared a lot of fun times together, and he treasured them enormously. Yet, despite everything, a hint of jealousy stung somewhere deep inside Adrien's chest as he watched their casual banter.

He closed his eyes and deeply inhaled.

No one to blame but himself.

If only he had stayed…

If only he hadn’t reacted the way he did…

If only he’d delayed his departure by a few weeks or even days…

Quite a few what ifs swirled around in his head but even Adrien realized that there was no use in brooding over them now. He forced the negativity away and smiled when his daughter looked at him and asked what ice cream flavour was his favourite. “Strawberry,” he answered and when she left satisfied that their tastes matched, got to finishing his meal. The rest of the company was already choosing the desert.

“Do you want to help Uncle Nino buy us some ice cream?” Adrien heard Alya whisper into Emma’s ear in a short while. “Drag him over there—” she pointed somewhere in the café to Emma. “—and help him choose some for all of us, okay, pumpkin?”

“Sure,” Emma squeaked and she proceeded to pull Nino out of his chair by his hand. Awkwardly getting up in a hurry, the man almost tripped a few times being dragged away by the little girl. Adrien couldn’t help but let a chuckle escape from his lips as his eyes trailed after the pair. She really was something else. His Emma.

“So, Adrien,” Alya called him as soon as they were left alone. “What were you up to all these years overseas?”

“Nothing special,” Adrien shrugged his shoulders. “Mostly studies and work.”

“Any friends? Girlfriends?” Alya leaned closer.

“Um,” Adrien’s eyebrows knitted in confusion but, honestly, he should've known better than to be surprised. Alya was always the one with an itch to find out information, to get the scoop, to uncover the truth, whatever that truth might be. “Not much there either. I had a few friends and maybe one or two acquaintances I could get lunch from time to time but no girlfriends. Is there a particular reason you are asking?”

“No, no reason,” Alya backed away a little. So far so good. Hope still lives. “And when are you planning to go back?”

Adrien paused. To confess that he wasn’t planning on going back to the USA anymore, at least not permanently, would raise a few questions he'd rather avoid for now. Not before he talked to Marinette about that. But to lie? He didn’t feel like that either. So the man settled for: “I have a ticket booked a few days after the wedding,” which was the truth apart from the fact that Adrien didn’t intend on using it. Surprisingly, Alya’s friendly demeanour deflated right away as she seemed to freeze in place for a few moments, then hummed something under her breath and looked at Emma in the distance.

“Then,” she continued a moment later. “Can I ask you for a favour?”

“Sure,” Adrien nodded, but Alya remained silent for a short while yet. Then she bit her lip, looked him straight into the eyes and said: “Unless you are planning to marry Marinette in the near future, do not let Emma like you more than a regular babysitter.”

Speechless at that bold statement, Adrien froze dumbfounded. Never in his life had he observed anyone so serious, still friendly yet somehow deadly threatening, as the woman in front of him right now. Not even his father could master that expression. Not once had he affected him as Alya had just done.

“Why?” His lips opened before Adrien could stop himself but once it slipped out, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret the question. Why wasn’t Emma allowed to love him more than a mere acquaintance? He wasn’t a bad influence, was he? The last time he checked, he was deemed to be quite decent from a common public's point of view. Nino’s warnings that Alya was a bit overprotective when it came to her loved ones came to his mind, but even they didn’t make sense right now. Was she protecting Emma from him? Why?

“Let me explain it to you, Adrien,” Alya finally responded, her voice much calmer, yet just a bit sadder. “More than anything in the world, that little girl over there wants a father. Emma literally puts ‘a daddy’ on her Christmas and birthday wish lists,” Alya paused. Her eyes full of love yet mixed with pain were still fixated on Emma at the ice cream stand as she continued barely audibly. “Imagine what would happen if she starts to really like someone suited for that role, someone who makes her feel special and loved, who gives her the time of her life, someone like you, Adrien? Do you honestly think she won’t be hoping for that person to become her daddy? She’s a small kid, Adrien,” Alya shifted her now begging eyes to the man across the table. “She doesn’t understand a lot of things. She wouldn’t understand why the man who became so much to her in so little time would have to leave in a few days. So, please,” Alya pleaded. “Marinette already had her heart broken. Don’t break Emma’s, too.”

“Adrien?” Alya asked a few minutes later when no response followed her appeal. “Adrien?” She placed her hand on his shoulder bringing him out of his thoughts. “You are still one of our best friends, and we still love you, but this is something important to me, to all of us. Please, understand that Emma is a small, naïve child and she searches for her father in every man that comes her way. All I am asking of you is not to raise her hopes up because you’ll be away in less than a week, living your own life, but her heart will be broken. She is too small for that. Plus, she is nothing but another random child to you—” Adrien flinched and closed his eyes, struggling to keep himself from commenting, “—for Marinette she is everything. You'll break both of their hearts.”    

“Is that the reason Marinette is still single?” Adrien’s realization slipped out of his mouth, a thought he wasn’t planning on voicing out loud. “Not to give Emma ideas in case it wouldn’t work out?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your concern,” Alya responded surprisingly harsher this time but stopped, gathered herself back into a much calmer person and continued: “You are just visiting for a few days, Adrien. Please, don’t unintentionally mess things up for us to deal with for who knows how long after you leave to live your happy, perfect life overseas.”

“You know so little about my life, Alya,” Adrien whispered back. “It isn’t even remotely perfect-”

“Awww,” the woman interrupted him, suddenly sporting a wide grin on her lips again and looking somewhere past his back. “I knew, you’d remember my favourite flavour, Emma. You’re the best, kiddo! Thank you.”

“I bought you the best strawberry ice cream they had, M. Borrower.” Emma appeared suddenly by his side with a wide smile on her lips. “Do you like it?”

“It is my favourite flavour, Emma,” Adrien winked and accepted a little vial of the desert from the girl who looked at him and saw the world already. He took a spoon and tried some immediately.  “I love it. Thank you very much.”

Emma’s face lit up with joy. Alya gave him a judging stare. Adrien’s heart sunk. He had some serious thinking ahead of him. At the very least he needed to talk to Marinette and come clean no matter how hard it might be. He had to make a plan. A strategy. He had to do something because Emma shouldn't search for him in some other random men. Her father was right here in front of her, and he loved her more than anything. He just couldn’t say it to her yet. Not until he talked to her mother first. Adrien took another spoonful of ice cream, watching his little girl gush about some random yet exciting thing to Alya. Soon, he thought with a small smile, soon you’ll have your daddy, Emma, and he would bring the moon and the stars, along with the sun, down to your feet.

The rest of the lunch went pretty smoothly, and soon they all were already heading their separate ways. Parting, Alya gave Emma yet another kiss. To Adrien, she said: “I'm watching you, Agreste.” The man nervously chuckled in response and took Emma’s hand in his own. “Of course,” he answered and waved goodbye. “I understood everything.”

When they were finally left alone, Adrien turned to Emma with a question on what she wanted to do next. Excited that their time together wasn’t over yet, the girl asked if they could visit a trampoline park. The day was still young, Marinette was still busy, and Adrien was willing. Plus, the only minor inconvenience, the fact that Emma wore a dress, was easily solved by a shopping spree.

Being a model for most of his life Adrien wasn’t a stranger to clothes, but never in his career had he had this much fun around them! Frilly dresses, little skirts, bows and ribbons, pink, purple and white, jumpsuits and tiny, elegant gowns - Emma looked adorable in everything. Adrien didn’t even have to decide because Emma pointed out the things she liked the minute they stepped into a store, and then playfully modelled the outfits for him in a changing room. And, boy, she had great taste in clothes. By the end of their visit Adrien ended up buying her not just one outfit for a trampoline park but an average size wardrobe of pinks, ruffles, bows and twirling, girly accessories. The pair left the store hand in hand, grinning widely and beaming with joy. They seemed the epitome of happiness for most, and only a few were able to distinguish the growing sadness in the man’s eyes as his heart was breaking more and more, his hatred for himself intensifying.

I am even worse than my father, Adrien’s thoughts carried on as he led Emma to his car. He wasn’t an involved parent, but at least I knew where to find him. He wasn't ideal, but I had a father in my life and knew who he was. What kind of a monster would cause a five-year-old to wish for a daddy for Christmas or her birthday? What kind of a father am I if I wasn't even here for the first five years of her life? True, I didn’t know she existed, but somehow that doesn't feel like a good excuse right now.

“You have a wonderful daughter, monsieur,” an employee at the trampoline park brought him out of his thoughts as he was paying for their tickets.

“Thank you,” he smiled sadly. “She is amazing.”

Amazing enough to make him happy again and push all of his depressing thoughts away by doing something so simple as tugging him onto a trampoline and making him jump with her. Unexpectedly, it brought him some much-needed relief. Bouncing and flipping, falling and laughing until they couldn’t anymore, watching Emma's cheeks turn red from running around and her eyes spark with enjoyment – that was all Adrien needed to feel happy right now.

“This is so much fun, M. Borrower!” Emma shouted. “You know, if you want, you can borrow me anytime. I won’t complain. Just make sure to bring me pink candies next time!”

“Be careful what you wish for, little Lady,” Adrien playfully warned and ran after her, attacking the girl with a storm of tickles, much to her enjoyment. “Or I just might do that.”

Emma laughed and squealed. Adrien wished once more that he could time travel so he could go back and kick his own ass off that plane.

When they were finally done with the trampoline, it was getting dark already. A series of texts and calls to Marinette confirmed that she needed another two hours or so. Thus, seeing as Emma was pointing out a poster on a stand, Adrien suggested they go to watch a movie. That should fill up the remaining time easily. Marinette agreed almost immediately, and soon the father and his daughter stepped into the theatre, Emma’s little palm in his, a feeling he couldn’t get enough of and loved so much already.

They chose the movie, paid for admissions and soon settled into their seats snacking on popcorn. Ten minutes into the movie Emma climbed onto his lap, saying that her seat was too hard and uncomfortable. Five minutes later she was sound asleep. Adrien gently cuddled her in his arms as his thoughts wandered, realizing just how much he needed this little girl in his life from now on. The day they met, she sneaked into his heart. The very next one, Emma managed to not only snatch him out from the dark abyss he existed in for years but also to fill his life with meaning and purpose. She made him happy, made him feel, made him come alive. He needed to be close to this precious miracle, no matter how small and hard to get his chance was.

The events in the film were rapidly developing on the screen, engulfing the audience, except for a certain blond model in the middle row, who couldn’t take his eyes off a little girl snoozing peacefully in his arms, making all sort of expressions in her sleep. Ten minutes until the end of the movie he lovingly brushed a few stray hairs from her forehead, smiling at the serene expression on her adorable, little face. In her sleep Emma frowned and scrunched her tiny nose at his touch but then turned around and cradled herself into his chest, murmuring under her breath something only he could hear:

“I love you, daddy.”

Chapter Text

It was a bad decision, and she knew it. The moment Adrien and Emma stepped out of her office Marinette wanted to run after them and take her baby back. A quick reality check put a stop to those thoughts. She did have that critical deadline for a massive project to finish today and with Emma's “help”, Marinette now needed a few extra hours she hadn't planned for. So not liking what had happened but also not seeing a better solution, the woman returned to her work and tried to concentrate as much as she could. The faster she finished her job, the sooner she could take her daughter back and, maybe, there wouldn't be any lasting damage.

To Emma's heart, at least, because for Marinette, it was probably too late already.

Marinette might've had doubts about her feelings toward Adrien when they met at the park yesterday. Today, however, after spending the whole morning with him in the same room, she couldn't deny it anymore. She knew she had it bad again. All of those years of being apart, all of those hours of convincing herself that she was over him dissipated in a single meeting. Her heart was up and running, screaming and longing, loving him all over again.

That might not have been a problem if it wasn't for one little detail. Marinette wasn't alone anymore, and she couldn't follow her heart blindly. Now she had Emma to think of first and, considering the recent development, she was getting a little worried. No. Worried was not even remotely cutting it. Marinette wasn't even nervous. She was terrified! Emma liked Adrien, liked him a lot and right away! A girl who was usually quite cautious toward strangers agreed to spend a day with Adrien alone mere hours after being introduced, and that was precisely what worried Marinette. Emma didn't allow a lot of people into her heart, but when she did, she gave it wholly, just like her mama. Her obsessive wish to find a father was also well-known.

Under normal circumstances, Marinette might have considered this to be a good thing, a possible chance at personal happiness for her and a much-desired daddy for Emma. But not now and not in this situation, because Adrien would disappear from their lives as fast and as unexpectedly as he had appeared in just a few days, leaving both of them heartbroken.

The woman stopped drawing and closed her eyes. She didn't spend the last couple of years trying to protect Emma from that kind of pain and disappointment only to let it all go to waste now. She couldn't let that happen to her baby. There wasn't even a real chance anyway - Adrien would never look at her twice. He had never done so in school. He never sought her out after graduation. She hadn't heard a word from him while he was overseas. Why would that change now? The answer was simple - it wouldn't, and she'd do anything in her power to protect her baby's heart. No matter what it would cost her.

Determined even more to finish her job quickly, Marinette put away another final sketch and glanced at her cell phone. A few more pictures and a text message from Adrien. Emma was grinning. Emma was riding a petite rollercoaster. Emma was hugging a huge black cat plushy. A small smile found its way onto Marinette's face despite all the worries. Emma seemed to be having a great time.

 For that she was thankful. That also added fire to her fears. Her baby was happy for now but what will happen in a week? Marinette's mind couldn't help but conjure up numerous disastrous scenarios: Emma crying, Emma constantly asking where Adrien was, Emma demanding to take her to Adrien, Emma drawing Adrien in all of her sketchbooks, Emma refusing to eat her meal unless Marinette brought back Adrien. Marinette signed. She was playing with fire, and she only prayed that her fears would stay just that - fears, an abstract that would never become a reality.

Another picture made its way onto her dash. Emma in a pink crown on her way to lunch with the soon-to-be-wed couple. Marinette smiled sadly. She was too busy to attend herself, but she suspected that Adrien and Emma would cause quite an uproar. And she was right because just a little over two hours later her cellphone received a message from the bride-to-be.

[Alya: Hey, did you hear the latest breaking news?]

[Marinette: Did Nino see your dress and like it? Or did he finally give up on DJ-ing his own wedding?]

[Alya: I am working on the DJing thing, but that is not it! You won't believe, but I just discovered a new gene! Unfortunately, it runs only in Dupain-Cheng family. In its female part to be exact!]

Marinette giggled. Alya could sometimes be very adorable and over the top. Dramatic. She was Alya Césaire after all.

[Marinette: Really?]

[Alya: Yes! Thanks to this gene none of the Dupain-Cheng women can resist Adrien Agreste's charm, falling madly in love with him at first sight!]

Then followed a few pictures – Emma sitting on Adrien's lap and feeding him ice cream from her spoon, Emma putting a paper crown on him and laughing, Emma kissing smiling Adrien's cheek and finally Emma sitting on his shoulders and waving goodbye to whoever took the photo.

A soft smile adorned Marinette’s face. Looking at those two, she caught herself thinking about how cute they looked together, how handsome and fit Adrien was and how naturally they bonded-

Bonded???

Marinette paused and bit her lip. No. She couldn't allow that. For her baby's sake, for her innocent little heart, she had to do everything in her power to save her from heartbreak.

[Alya: You do realize that it was not one of your greatest ideas, Marinette?! What were you thinking?! Are you prepared to face the consequences?]

[Marinette: I didn’t have a choice, Alya. It was either that or a chance to lose my job.]

[Alya: Oh, come on! The old man will never fire you, and you know that! You are his best designer.]

[Marinette: Because I finish everything on time and take my work seriously. And I wouldn’t be able to do that if Emma was around the office today.]

[Alya: Oh, don't go there with me, girl! You could've put her in Gabriel's office, and he would be perfectly happy! He adores her and don't you even bother to deny it!]

[Marinette: If by adores you mean tolerates then yes he does.]

[Alya: Aha, like the fact that she's the only child who is allowed in the office building for more than five minutes is not proof enough for you? Or that he remembers her birthday?]

[Marinette: First of all, it was my conditional clause in the contract to be allowed to bring Emma to work sometimes, and you know why! Second, she shares her birthday with his late wife. That's kind of hard to forget!]

[Alya: How about the fact that he forgave her for “improving” his collection a day before the show??? He would’ve killed anyone else, but Emma was given a free pass!!!]

[Marinette: Only because I fixed everything overnight.]

[Alya: Christmas presents?]

[Marinette: Coincidence. He just happened to have a few extra toys in his office.]

[Alya: Yeah, right. Like I would ever believe that Gabriel Agreste keeps toys in his office.  What about that ridiculously expensive, limited edition, Agreste-fashion Barbie doll he gave her two years ago for her birthday? How many of those do you keep in your office to give out to kids who are not even allowed to be there?! What about last year? He gave her a personally designed dress!]

[Marinette: M. Agreste was thinking about making a children’s line and that was a prototype that he didn’t need anymore!]

[Alya: In her size and her favourite colour? Complete with a pair of matching shoes and hair accessories? And don't forget a miniature handbag with “Emma” embroidered on it! Just a lucky coincidence, I guess. Humour me.]

[Marinette: Alya! This all can be explained.]

[Alya: Go ahead and try but give me a logical reason, not a coincidence every time.]

For a few minutes, Marinette stared at the phone. Then she closed her eyes, breathed out and typed back.

[Marinette: I need to get back to work now, so if you would, please, let me get back to it, I’d really appreciate it.]

[Alya: Avoiding the topic won't explain it, Marinette. What is it with you two and those Agreste men??? Ignore the facts all you want but Gabriel Agreste loves Emma, and so does Adrien who, by the way, is leaving next week. From what I saw - it’s too late now. She already told me that she likes him more than Mme Bella so be prepared. Just a friendly warning. See you tomorrow at five.]

[Marinette: See you tomorrow.]

Marinette put away her cell phone and bowed her head over the table. She tried to convince everyone and herself for years, but deep down she knew that Alya was right – Gabriel Agreste loved Emma, and she didn't have the slightest idea why.

Finding a job with a baby who had trust issues with new people wasn't easy. So when she was first interviewed for a position at “Gabriel” Marinette specifically asked to put in her contract a clause that would allow her to bring her child to the office once in a while in case of an emergency. M. Agreste disputed that stating that a child would not fit into the fashion madhouse but when Marinette refused to work for him he backed away. Being the man he was and recognizing the talent when he saw it, Gabriel perfectly knew that any other brand would snatch her up and give her a personal nanny if that was what she wanted because Marinette Dupain-Cheng was the talk of her school, a rising star, they said, the most promising graduate of the decade. He had to have her in his company even if it meant a compromise from his side. The clause was approved after Marinette explained her reasons and argued that she would be more productive in an office with Emma playing in a corner than frantically trying to find a suitable babysitter and ending up missing a day at work.

Since then Emma didn't come to her office often, and when she did, she mostly stayed in her room playing with toys. After a while, everyone got used to the idea, and some of the colleagues even started to bring the little girl treats when she was around. For Gabriel Agreste, she didn't exist. In the beginning, at least. Emma wasn't allowed to leave Marinette's room without direct supervision so he never really saw the little girl until her third birthday. That day Emma begged Marinette to spend the day with her at her work and seeing as it was her birthday, Marinette gave in. It was also a week before the spring show, and Marinette was busier than usual. A few hours into the day and Emma slipped out of the office undetected, venturing to wander through the halls in search of someone she could share her gift with.

*       *       *

Two years before the present time

Gabriel both loved and hated this day - the day of his beloved, kind, beautiful, late wife's birthday. She passed away unexpectedly a while ago and ever since then his life had never been the same. That loss darkened not only his days but his very soul, creating a cold, indifferent man he was today.

Gradually he stopped caring for his son, letting his work consume his every minute awake. From Adrien, he unintentionally began to expect only disappointment. His mother did that to him, why would her son be any different. She died and left him alone and emotionally broken; she left him disheartened in love, in life, in everything around him, unable to trust or love anyone anymore. Deep down he knew that these feelings weren't healthy, leaving this world wasn't Emilie's fault, but he couldn't help himself but feel that way. Maybe, because he didn't grieve properly or, possibly, his grief was just too big for him to overcome alone. He might never know but this day, the day of her birthday, was the most painful day in a year because it was her, his Emilie, who wouldn't leave his thoughts the whole day.

This year Gabriel was spending this day at work as usual. There was no point in taking a day off, especially since this week the spring collection was supposed to be finalized. Gabriel liked to check every item to ensure perfection personally, and that was the reason why he was heading into the designer's department first thing in the morning.

Walking through the hall, Gabriel suddenly stopped near a large window, spotting a rainbow just above the horizon at the corner of his eyes. Emilie loved rainbows. She told him once that she believed rainbows were a symbol of hope after the rain. Sometimes she even used to stay and watch them until they disappeared.

“Why are you so sad, Monsieur?” he suddenly heard a voice that didn’t belong in these halls, a child’s voice.

Gabriel looked down, freezing in his place. A small, blond girl with bright emerald eyes was tugging at his jacket gently and smiling at him. Yet it wasn't the presence of a child that shocked him most of all. It was an uncanny resemblance to the one who occupied his mind today.

“Today is my birthday,” the girl smiled. “and that's why I want to give you this.”

She stretched her arm out and offered him a small, pink teddy bear, sending the pain right through his heart.

“I know it's pink and you are a boy. Most boys don't like pink, but mama says pink is a happy colour. I want you to be happy today.”

Dumbfounded and not controlling his actions, Gabriel took the bear and looked back at the girl.

“Why?”

“Because it's my birthday!” She grinned. “Everyone should be happy today! My mama always tells me to share one of my presents with someone who is sad so that they could be happy. She says that I made her happy so I should share this gift with others. You are sad, and it's my birthday, so I want you to be happy.”

She smiled again. Gabriel gulped in astonishment. Fast-approaching footsteps broke their silence. A moment later Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng ran up to them, looking distressed and apologetic at the same time.

“Emma! What are you doing here?” She kneeled before the girl and hugged her. Then quickly stood up, picking Emma up in her arms. “I am so sorry, M Agreste. I don't know how this happened and I hope she didn't bother you. She usually is very good at staying in my room, but today she escaped somehow. I'll do my best to prevent this in the future.”

Snapping out of his trance, Gabriel quickly reverted to his cold, business-like self. “Please do, Mlle Dupain-Cheng,” he snapped and turned around. Keeping his posture straighter than usual, he slowly walked back to his office, clutching a small, pink teddy bear in his hand.

The first thing Gabriel did upon his return was to pull out his wife's photo album and find her baby pictures. Thank goodness, due to her parent's obsession with photography, they had quite a few of those and, despite the images fading and losing colour and sharpness, a quick look confirmed that he didn't imagine the resemblance at all. Emma looked almost identical to his late wife in her toddler years. That, of course, could only be a coincidence but, on the other hand, the man vaguely remembered Mlle. Dupain-Cheng being in the same class as Adrien in school. Yes, he remembered noticing that when accepting her application and he was too experienced not to suspect anything and write it off as a coincidence. Of course, even the idea sounded somewhat unrealistic and even pathetic in some sense, but Gabriel wasn't a man to leave things unresolved. He needed clarity. The album back on a shelf, he picked up his phone and dialled a number.

“Pierre, I need everything you can find on Mlle Marinette Dupain-Cheng and her child. Immediately. Yes. And check for possible connections with Adrien. Of course. As always.”

Gabriel hung up and sat back in his chair. His eyes closed as a tired sigh escaped his lips. Soon he'd know for certain because Pierre was his best man and he was a professional at his job. If anyone could give him answers to the bundle of questions wildly running through his head right now, that would be Pierre.

Two hours later a man in a sleek gray suit was already sitting in the chair in front of his desk, pushing a red folder onto the table. Gabriel looked at the papers and carefully inspected some of the highlighted information. He couldn't remember the last time when he experienced such a wide range of emotions. He could hardly hear Pierre talking in the background.

“They certainly knew each other, M. Agreste, being in the same class. However, I could not confirm if they saw each other after graduation. The last page might be the most interesting one, and I suspect that is why you requested all of this. Emma Dupain-Cheng was born about nine months after Adrien left France. Her birth certificate is missing the name of the father.”

Gabriel stood up and walked to the window. The rainbow was still there. Strange. It never stayed for so long before. The man stood in silence for a couple of minutes before asking the question that was occupying his mind for the last few hours.

“Is there any way to confirm it?” He didn’t even turn around, his eyes still glued to a play of colours above Paris. “Reliable and confidential way.”

“DNA analysis will certainly do the trick, M Agreste,” Pierre replied indifferently. “I'll need Adrien's and your samples to be extra accurate. Do you want me to obtain the girl's and her mother's confidentially or openly?”

“I don't want anyone to know about this, Pierre,” Gabriel replied. “Especially Mlle Dupain-Cheng. Unfortunately, for Adrien's part, the best I can offer you in such circumstances is anything you can find in his old room. I'll let Nathalie know to let you in. What do you need from me?”

“A cheek swab would do, Monsieur.”

“How long will it take?”

“It always depends on a payment,” Pierre answered. “The fastest I'd say a week if we are to include your samples. If only parents and a child are to be involved then a few days. But I'd recommend the first option since Adrien's sample may be considered a highly unreliable source since we would be searching for it in the room that he hasn't occupied in years. You do want the most accurate results possible, right?”

“Then a week it is,” Gabriel sighed. Better to wait longer then make a mistake. “And remember, this is confidential.”

“As always, boss.” the man stood up and walked out, leaving Gabriel standing at the window, still watching the rainbow, a small, pink teddy bear in his hands.

*       *       *

“Marinette, the boss wants to see you. And he said to bring the kid.”

Panic ran through Marinette's mind yet somehow, she wasn't too surprised. Gabriel was going to fire her after that little stunt Emma pulled earlier. Really, it should’ve been expected. The only question remained - why hadn’t she started packing already?

Resigned, Marinette took Emma away from her colouring and headed over to Gabriel's office, stopping only once they reached the door. There was little strength left in her to knock, and she was a bit scared, but most of all she was upset. She worked so hard for this job. She deserved to work here. She knew that. However, Emma would always come first and if Gabriel wanted to fire her because of her baby's innocent actions, then she would have to accept it. With renewed determination, Marinette knocked.

The moment she entered, Gabriel Agreste stood up behind his desk. He silently motioned them to the chairs and sat down.

“Mlle Dupain-Cheng,” he started right away with the voice less strict than she'd expected yet with a still unreadable façade. “It came to my attention that your daughter has a birthday today.”

“Yes, Monsieur.” Marinette blinked. That was the last thing she expected. Correction. Gabriel inquiring about Emma's birthday was a thought she hadn't entertained at all. “I apologize again for her-”

“That's quite alright,” Gabriel interrupted her. “No harm was done.” He tried to smile as his eyes lingered on Emma for a few moments, curiously studying the little girl. Eventually, he leaned down and took a sleek, black box decorated with golden ornaments out of the drawer.

“My late wife also had a birthday on this day.” His eyes focused on the box for a minute as he paused. “I've never met anyone with the same birthday date before,” he added, shifting his eyes back to Emma and finally to Marinette. “Your daughter reminded me of her today, so I wanted to give her a small gift.”

Standing up from his chair, Gabriel walked over to Emma whose eyes were already sparkling with excitement.

“Oh, no, M Agreste!” Marinette protested. “You don’t have to give her anything-”

She couldn't finish. He didn't let her.

“I want to, Mlle Dupain-Cheng, and as my employee, you have to do everything I tell you to do. Therefore,” he crouched down in front of Emma's chair. “Here you go, um…”

“Emma,” the girl smiled shyly.

“Here you go, Emma.” The corners of his lips tugged up with a smile. “Happy Birthday!”

Grinning to her fullest abilities, Emma stood up on her feet and accepted the box from his hands. A quick glimpse through the transparent top and Marinette saw a gorgeous Barbie doll dressed in one of Gabriel's designs she recognized right away. She remembered that dress and all the hype it created, but she didn't know that it was used to dress up dolls. In fact, Marinette didn't even know there were toys associated with “Gabriel”. Later she would find out that it was a very pricey, limited edition item with only fifty copies ever made. However, she would never learn that just a few hours ago about five people were working on locating and buying out one of those for Gabriel Agreste who requested an exceptional gift for a small girl by the end of the workday.

“What do you say, Emma?” she gently nudged her daughter.

“Thank you very much, Monsieur…”

“Gabriel.” The man stood up. “Gabriel Agreste.”

“Thank you very much, M Agreste.” Emma smiled and pressed his present close to her chest. A tiny smile made an appearance on Gabriel's face again. He quickly squashed before it could be noticed by anyone else.

*       *       *

A week later Pierre was back in his office with a different folder. Gabriel stared at it silently, not knowing if he was ready to see the content and face all the implications it could possibly bring. Simple black letters on white sheets of paper inside that red cover could change his world forever or crush a small hope he was already harbouring in his heart. Unexplained and not really welcomed yet, but still hope.

He finally gave up. “Just tell me, Pierre.”

“Well, what can I tell you, M Agreste?” Pierre shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Congratulations! You are a grandfather.”

Not letters but the words, yet his world stopped for a few moments. Gabriel's thoughts stopped, his vision blurred. His breathing quickened after a pause. He never suspected that this would be how he would react to the news.

“Is that accurate?” he whispered. “Any chances of a mistake?”

“We checked it three times with three different samples, M Agreste,” Pierre answered. “There are no mistakes. Emma Dupain-Cheng is your granddaughter and the child of Adrien Agreste and Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

“Thank you, Pierre.” Gabriel stood up, his composure back, the cold exterior in a full view. “That would be all for today. Send the bill to me personally. And I hope that it’ll stay between us.”

“As always, boss.” Pierre nodded and quickly left.

Left alone, Gabriel could do nothing but stare at the folder. A full five minutes passed before he gathered the courage to open it and look through the papers. There were no mistakes. But there were questions, lots of them. Why didn't Marinette tell him anything? Why didn't Adrien, his son, mention anything to him, his father and the grandfather of this child? Was he afraid? Ashamed? Pierre couldn't find any proof of contact between this girl and his son in the years following his school graduation yet Emma clearly existed and was undoubtedly Adrien's daughter. There could be only two explanations - Adrien might've not known, or he might have decided to have nothing to do with the baby and her mother.

Gabriel frowned at the mere thought. I thought I raised him better than that. Though, I knew that disappointment would come sooner or later. Why didn’t Marinette say anything to me? Most people would think that it would've been much easier for her to receive a job or to get excellent child support from Adrien.

Even without his help, his son was more than capable of supporting this child and offer her a carefree life.

Lots of questions. Zero answers.

*       *       *

“Marinette, M Agreste wants to see you.”

Taken aback by surprise, Marinette frowned but closed her sketchbook and headed to Gabriel's office. It was quite uncharacteristic for the head of the company to summon his designers as soon as the last runway was over, so all she could do as she walked the hallways was to contemplate the reasons for this particular call. Since the previous accident, Emma had yet to come to the office and mess up something again, so the most likely explanation was that Gabriel wanted to discuss a few ideas and trends for the next collection. However, Marinette wasn't at that level of the team yet, and she knew that. Could Gabriel have changed his mind about firing her? Was he going to scold her for something she fell short on? His disapproval was infamous and could mean the end of her career in the fashion industry in general. Whatever it was, that five-minute walk was one of the most nerve-wracking ones yet.

“Good morning, Mlle Dupain-Cheng.” Gabriel pointed to a chair in front of his desk as soon as Marinette entered.

“Good morning, M Agreste,” she tried to smile in return and settled in.

“I have a rather strange request of you today, Mlle Dupain-Cheng.” Gabriel broke an awkward silence. “Currently I am considering you for promotion, but to make the decision, I need to ask you a very personal question. Is that alright with you?”

Marinette stalled. She didn't expect that. She also didn't know about any promotions planned for this year but, if obtained, it would've been a great opportunity for her. In the process of renovating her newly bought house, the single mother could use any assistance she could get. Marinette would never admit it out loud, but it was hard to raise Emma alone, both financially and emotionally. A promotion would make things just a bit easier if not a lot, taking away the financial part of the dilemma.

“It depends on the question, sir,” she answered shortly. “I'll try my best to give you an answer.”

“Very well.” Gabriel sat back. His eyes fixated on Marinette, observing her carefully, as he asked his next question. “Can you name the father of your daughter?”

Shock and fear merged on Marinette's face, her body tensing instantly. A couple of moments she needed to gather back her composure did nothing to help her find a suitable answer. That wasn't something she expected. That wasn't something she was willing to disclose. What did Emma have to do with anything?

“Is this information in any way related to my work performance?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“Not to your performance directly,” Gabriel replied. “But since you did an excellent job on the last collection, I am considering you for one of the top designer positions in the company. As you are well aware, I don't like any scandals associated with my label, and I will do anything to avoid them. Being a top designer, and a representative of “Gabriel”, you must be beyond reproach so to prevent any damage from happening, we usually research the candidates first.”

Marinette tensed up, trying her best to suppress a shock and rising anger caused by Gabriel admission. If she understood correctly, he possessed a file on her containing her daughter's birth certificate and who knew what yet. Did he know she was Ladybug? Where she bought her groceries? Her dry cleaner's number? No. Forget that this was way out of line and an unacceptable intrusion into her personal life, to say the least, but how could he talk about it so calmly and freely? She had nothing to hide. Not after giving up her Miraculous. Yet this made her incredibly angry.

“This is standard practice in this industry, Mlle Dupain-Cheng,” Gabriel inserted, probably guessing Marinette's thoughts from the expression on her face. “I can assure you that all of the big companies have files on all top and promising designers, no matter who they are working for. Information like this could be quite useful sometimes-”

Gabriel paused, cleared his throat and continued: “Judging from what we know, you came up as a decent and reliable person except for one little detail - a missing name of your child's father. I am sure that there is a simple explanation but our competitors could be quite unkind. We would hate to see you being shamed and dragged through the public eye for something so simple as a name.”

Watching Marinette even closer, Gabriel added: “We just want to make sure that there is no potential scandal before throwing you into the high fashion world. For your sake as well as for the label and your little daughter. That's all.”

The boldness with which he spoke derailed Marinette off the tracks into confusion. Her anger quickly took the second place when Gabriel continued to stare at her, clearly expecting the answer at any moment.  For a few seconds, Marinette just sat there, not knowing what to do. The promotion sounded so lovely, yet she couldn't admit that Emma's father was Chat Noir. That would be the front-page news. She also couldn't just make up some random name for two reasons. One, she hated liars and wasn't that good at lying herself. Two, any information she gave would apparently be checked upon and proven to be false. There was only one thing left Marinette deemed possible to do.

“I’m sorry, M Agreste,” she finally answered. “But I cannot answer this question. I must ask you to make your decision based on my work performance alone.”

“Are you sure, Mlle Dupain-Cheng?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “All I need is a name. I'm not asking you for the reasons why his name doesn't appear on her birth certificate or why you went your separate ways. His name only. Is that too much to ask?”

“In this case, I believe it is, M Agreste,” Marinette confirmed and straightened up letting her employer know that her decision was final. She might be fired for this, but some things were way too important for her to compromise. With all the strength she had left, Marinette added: “Also, I would appreciate if you would keep my daughter out of these corporate trivialities in the future. Did you need anything else from me?”

“No. That would be all,” Gabriel said and stood up. He stretched his hand. “It was a pleasure talking to you today.”

“The pleasure was mine, M Agreste.” Marinette shook his hand and promptly left.

That weird conversation didn't leave her mind for a long time and even two years after she still hadn't figured out why he asked her that question or why he hadn't fired her on the spot for her refusal to comply with his demands. Instead, next week she received a promotion to one of the company's best position, earning a colossal paycheck by her standards, complemented with an exclusive, vast benefit package available only to the top employees of “Gabriel”. Emma had not only became more than welcome at the office, but she also started receiving personal presents from Gabriel Agreste himself on every possible holiday there was. Everyone just assumed that the boss needed inspiration and Emma surely had plenty of it to offer. His exceptional attention was just a way to say thank you. Truly unusual for him. Jaw-dropping even, but still, there was no other explanation available at the time.

For Gabriel that conversation answered only one of his questions - Marinette was a decent woman who relied solely on her talent and hard work to earn her place in the fashion industry and didn't use her “unique” position as the mother of Gabriel Agreste's only grandchild to her advantage. For that, she deserved his respect and a little subtle reward. He was still unsure if Adrien knew about being a father, but he strongly doubted that there was a single woman in the world who would keep an Agreste child a secret from either Adrien or Gabriel; if not for the hope of being included in the family, then definitely for the chance to get a nice child support. If Marinette still kept quiet after he asked her so directly than the most obvious conclusion for him was that Adrien refused to acknowledge the baby. Being a decent woman, Marinette probably didn't want to bother with suing him or telling Gabriel.

“I thought I raised him better than that.”

That thought wouldn't leave his mind for days until a decision was made.

“Very well, if he doesn't want to take responsibility on his own, I will make sure he does.”

Gabriel Agreste personally scheduled a visit to his lawyer that same week and changed his will that same appointment. Adrien's inheritance was cut in half. The other half went to a certain Emma Dupain-Cheng. Confidential. To be revealed and awarded only after the passing of Gabriel Agreste.

A few years later the day of his beloved, beautiful, kind, late wife's birthday was still the most painful day for him. But now it also brought hope and love. With the small, blond girl with her pink teddy bear and emerald green eyes came a start of a change in him, something that no one expected anymore. Slowly learning to open his heart, Gabriel looked at Emma as a lasting remembrance of his Emilie, a gentle kiss and a soft push to his former, caring, loving Gabriel-self. And just as that small photo of his lost love in her toddler years took a special place in his wallet, the little girl he noticed sometimes running through the halls of his offices captured his heart forever and made him want to love again.

Chapter Text

Adrien had never felt like this. Never in his life had he felt like he was standing on the verge of something wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, yet somehow still a little unobtainable, withheld and entirely undeserved, all while sitting at the back of his car and gently petting the blond hair of his sleeping daughter.

I have to tell her, rang through his mind over and over again. I must. Marinette has to know I was her Chat Noir. She needs to know who Emma's father is. Maybe then there would be at least a slightest hope of us being together- but first, I have to tell her.

Just then Emma yawned and moved about, making all kinds of facial expressions in her sleep, frowning and scrunching her little nose, her tiny lips tugging into a sleepy smile, as she tried to settle in a more comfortable position. Carefully Adrien kissed the crown of Emma's head, a smile of his own sneaking on his lips. So short and fleeting but that little moment of happy and adorable was enough to break the train of his depressing thoughts and for quite some time after that Adrien could do nothing but memorize every movement and every expression of his little daughter's face.

How foolish of me it was to leave her and run, his mind sprung back into actions after a while. How stupid it was to not fight for her but giving up. I could've been here for this. I could've been here for her. For them. For everything. For me, as well… I'd better be careful not to mess it up this time. I need to do this right, or I might never get another chance.”

At the same time, Marinette was already ten minutes late. Adrien didn't mind at all. From her texts, he knew she was alright, which was the important part but how could he complain if that same unexpected traffic gave him a little bit more time with his daughter? He didn't know when he would see her again, or even if he would see her again. Every moment with her he treasured. Every minute to him was precious.

From this moment on Adrien's primary objective was not to mess it up again and tell Marinette everything at the right time in the right place in hopes of receiving a response he wanted to hear so badly.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away Marinette was nervously biting her lips as the clock slowly tick off the minutes. Stuck in unforeseen traffic due to a massive accident, she could do nothing but wait. Wait and anxiously nibble at her lower lip.

This day was insanely crazy and full of obstacles but, thankfully, Marinette knew how to fight the winning battle. Not only she was able to fix everything and finish her project, but she also did that on time. M. Agreste was so pleased that with almost no objections he let her have the rest of the week off. Being Alya's maid of honour and with the wedding just a couple of days away, Marinette could have not been more pleased with that.

Despite her anxiousness, Marinette couldn't help but grin in the solitude of her car, thinking about the impending nuptials of her best friend. There was probably no one else more excited about it than she was! Besides the happy couple, of course. For Marinette was there when they started dating. She helped Alya to choose the perfect outfit for every important date. Even the dress Alya wore when Nino proposed had been Marinette's suggestion. She also secretly claimed the credit for the timing of the proposal itself, because who else made Alya look so incredible that Nino couldn't resist but propose as soon as he got a stable job? Marinette grinned wider. Everything was so amazingly perfect. Even Adrien-

Her smile dropped.

It would’ve been perfect if not for Adrien and the effect he still had on her. The last thing Marinette needed now was for her stupid teenage infatuation to return and make her miserable as soon as he steps onto that plane. The easy way out would be to stay away from its objective but, considering that their best friends were getting married, there was no plausible way for Marinette to avoid Adrien. With every minute she spent with him, however, she felt her old feelings surfacing little by little but fast enough to make her terrified. Marinette knew it was ridiculous to be afraid of her past, hopeless crush to come back but that was one thing she didn't want to happen. She had too many things to worry about as it was, Marinette couldn't afford another heartbreak.

She also couldn't let herself hope that he would stay despite her heart's greatest desires because Adrien was leaving very soon and there was nothing she could do about it. Her feelings would never be reciprocated. There was just not enough time for that to happen in less than a week so she and her heart must stay away from Adrien for her and her baby's sakes. Breaking Emma's heart and her hopes of having a father the moment Adrien boarded that plane was something Marinette was sure she would never forgive herself for.

None of that, however, was the main reason Marinette decided to stay away. Her heart was simply already occupied by someone else, and the memories it held were too precious to let them go for the man who was merely passing by. Chat Noir might not be in her life anymore but to remember him Marinette wanted more than anything. All these years she constantly replayed in her mind every wink, every salute, every smile, every kiss and yes, even every single one of his stupid puns. She wanted to remember everything about Chat because one day she planned to tell Emma a story of the brave and selfless man who, unfortunately, didn’t know she existed but if he did, he would've loved her to pieces. He would’ve given her the whole world and more, just as he wanted to give it to her mother.

Marinette couldn't forget, and Adrien couldn't take Chat's place in her heart.

Her plan was simple. Marinette would take Emma and get away from Adrien as fast as she could. She would also try to eliminate any future unnecessary encounters. She wouldn't even entertain this stupid, naïve, unrealistic idea of a possible relationship that came out of nowhere.

Just hold on for another couple of days, she tried to calm herself down. After the wedding, you can lock yourself up in your house and stay there until Adrien's safe and sound back in the States. Then you'll put your life back together and move on. For now, you'll come, take Emma and leave immediately. The less time you'll spend with Adrien the better. Remember, go there, take Emma and leave immediately. Go, take Emma-

*       *       *

When a small red car pulled over by the agreed-upon spot, Adrien reluctantly left his seat and walked over.

“Hey there.” A soft smile graced his face as he leaned down and opened the door for Marinette. “So, I guess ‘Finish the Important Project’ mission finally succeeded?”

“Finally,” Marinette sighed and smiled back. Her sight unwillingly focused on the man in front of her. She blamed her exhaustion but the last time she had seen someone so handsome and unfairly complimented by the nighttime was a long time ago when Chat Noir was still a part of her life. Reflected from the streetlight, sparkles mischievously danced inside Adrien's eyes; his playful smile and a wistful look on his handsome face made Marinette pause and swallow involuntarily. The hitched breath and the stumbling heart in her chest were quickly crumbling her resolve to not fall for him again and surely proving Alya right. That “can't resist Adrien Agreste” gene undoubtedly existed and it looked like Marinette was an unfortunate bearer.

“I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting,” she managed to mumble after a few moments.

“It wasn't a long wait so don't worry,” Adrien offered her a hand. “Mi' lady?”

Marinette froze in her place. She hadn't heard those words in years but they, so unexpected and painfully familiar, rendered her speechless and furiously blushing. To her utter humiliation, and even despite the darkness around, she suspected that Adrien had noticed.

“Marinette?” Adrien whispered when the pause and silence between them became a little awkward.

“Sorry,” she muttered under her breath, finally gathering herself enough to operate on a basic level. “Long day. Too tired to function properly.”

Adrien chuckled, his hand still stretched out in anticipation. Ever such a gentleman, Marinette reminded herself and, hesitantly placed her hand into his. It wasn't anything like she'd expected. When their hands touched, no electric shocks were running through her body, no maddening cluttering of her heart, threatening to jump out of her ribcage, happened. No. Nothing so incredibly dramatic. Instead, it simply felt warm. The most comfortable of warmth there was. His hold felt incredibly safe. As he wrapped his fingers around hers, it felt so intimate and secured, so right that it felt like coming home.

Slowly Marinette got out of the car, relishing in the feeling and only when she stood firm on her own feet asked: “So- where is Emma?”

“She is sleeping in my car,” Adrien answered quickly but didn't let go of her hand, trying to confine to his memory the feeling. He couldn’t let go because holding his Lady's hand in his own was something he wanted to do for a long while.

Still not thinking clearly, he mumbled: “Do you want me to bring her or her stuff first?”

“What stuff?” Marinette frowned instantly, taking her hand away and effectively bringing Adrien back to the reality, her own clouds fleeing before the rationality of a grown-up mind. No answer was received yet but knowing Emma very well Marinette already suspected what Adrien meant by “her stuff”. For some reason, Emma always seemed to be an object of affection for everyone around and the gifts were almost always an expression of that affection. Was she about to discover that Adrien wasn't immune either?

But then again, it was Adrien, the boy who handed her his only umbrella when she was still mad at him and went to his car soaking wet instead. He was the boy who tried to scratch the gum off a bench for a complete stranger and showed his kindness and generosity over and over again throughout their school years. Adrien was the boy with the biggest heart she knew. It was his kindness that changed her opinion of him and condemned her to many years of hopeless pinning in the first place. Why was she even surprised to discover that he got something for Emma as well? Why was her heart tightening at the reminder of why she fell for him the second day they met?

“Um- we- kind of-” Adrien nervously started to rub the back of his neck, a move she knew too well. “Well, Emma needed an outfit- for a trampoline park- and I- Emma- well- shortly speaking- I maybe- bought her some clothes- and a couple of accessories—” his eyes shifted to the side, the voice had gotten quieter with every word, a light blush flooding his cheeks, “—and maybe some toys- if you don't count in a few pairs of shoes-”

Marinette pinched a bridge of her nose, trying to understand, to grasp the meaning of what she just heard him mumbling, her internal turmoil pushed aside because just now she thought she distinctly heard a whole list of things instead of only one. One present would've been fine but multiple???

“How many things did you buy her exactly?” she whispered a full minute later.

“Just a couple, Marinette.” Adrien raised his begging eyes to her. “Please. I had to keep her interested and entertained for the whole day. For you—” he had the audacity to blame her, “—so you could finish your project. I did that for you.”

You insisted on babysitting her, Adrien. You told me it wasn't a problem. You were saying it was going wonderfully all day long and now you are blaming me for your complete inability to say ‘No’ to a small kid?”

Marinette glared at Adrien, but he just stood there, looking a bit confused, a lot surprised by her boldness, a little guilty yet devilishly innocent and adorable.

“Adrien, you cannot give her everything she wants,” Marinette sighed, resigning the battle before it even started. Was there even a point to lecture him? He did help her out a lot and who knows, maybe he had never dealt with a child before, not with an Emma-like one anyway. He might actually not know how to say ‘No' to a kid after all. Plus, his innate generosity might have played a role as well. She couldn't blame Adrien for who he was. “Emma is a child, Adrien,” Marinette added lastly. “A small child that needs to be taught some boundaries. I can't take anything from you. You can return it all to the stores tomorrow.”

“But, Marinette,” she heard a quiet voice in return. “Can you at least consider it? Just this one time? Please. I'm sorry for my incompetence but I bought only the absolute best from what we saw, and Emma really loved it all. She already planned where she would wear everything. I've just met her, so I wanted to give her a couple of presents for all of the years I missed. Please?” His voice was almost a whisper now. “Please, don't punish her because didn’t know about the rules and regulations.”

Marinette sighed and closed her eyes if only not to see his. She had to admit - his pleading was melting her heart. Adrien had never begged her for anything before, and she wasn't immune to that just as he wasn't to Emma. Another “Please” and she gave in. One time wouldn’t hurt, she told herself. It's not like it would happen again. He'd be away and out of our lives pretty soon so…

“Alright,” Marinette agreed. “But, Adrien, that is a one-time only thing! Anything else you bring her, you are taking back right away. Understood?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Adrien's face lit up. In his excitement he didn't even realize how his arms wrapped around Marinette, effectively sending her into a stupor. A few seconds later, realizing just what he'd done, Adrien pulled away and, blushing furiously, murmured: “Thank you. I'll go bring everything over.”

The man rushed back to his car and opened the trunk. Slowly coming back to reality, Marinette observed in horror as he was pulling out countless packages and bags barely fitting them into his arms.

“See?” he grinned. “I told you. Just a couple of things.”

Mentally facepalming, Marinette stopped herself from throwing a remark or two about just how different their understanding of “a couple” was. This day was already beyond exhausting. She didn't have enough emotional or physical, for that matter, strength to explain to someone, who looked just like a grown man but obviously was still a silly, little child, what “a couple” and “can barely hold it in two hands” meant. Marinette was dealing with her own kid on a daily basis; she wasn't obligated to educate one more.

“I’ll bring Emma,” Adrien added after successfully stuffing the trunk of her car full of packages that probably contained half of some random boutique or two. “Can you, please, hold a door open for me?”

“Sure.” Marinette opened the back door of her car, adjusted Emma's car seat's straps and straightened up, turning around in preparation for Adrien's arrival. At once her heart skipped a bit. A few meters away Adrien was carefully walking over with her Emma in his arms. Her sleeping daughter looked so small and fragile yet calm and secure in his strong embrace, and he was cuddling her so lovingly, placing a soft goodbye kiss on her tiny forehead when he thought Marinette wasn't looking, that Marinette couldn't watch anymore. She turned her attention to the car seat and tried her best to hold emotions and her tears in. With a soft smile, Adrien placed Emma into her car seat, buckled her in and gave her head a final ruffle.

“Well, I guess this is it,” Marinette rushed to say as soon as Adrien closed the door. She had to follow her plan and escape. “Thank you so much again, Adrien. You really helped me out today, but I should go now. It's late for Emma, and I need her well-rested for tomorrow's rehearsal, or she'll be grumpy and uncooperative. And we all know we can't afford that.”

She smiled at Adrien, hoping to lure him into a false feeling that she was okay and not nervous at all to stand so close to the man who made her chest tighten and her heart jump out of the rib cage. “So, good night?” The corners of her lips treacherously trembled.

Yet instead of taking his leave, Adrien continued to stand in place, silently looking at her. Soon he carefully reached out and tucked a few escaping hair strands behind her ear.

Marinette tensed. “I’ll-”

“Wait,” Adrien interrupted quietly, taking Marinette's hands in his own. “Don't go yet. I need to tell you something.” He moved closer and almost whispered, “Did I already tell you how beautiful you look today?”

“Not that I remember…” Marinette replied, her cheeks disappearing under a thick layer of crimson. Stupid! She mentally knocked her head on the nearest tree. Run away! Run as fast as you can!

Adrien slowly leaned closer and Marinette forgot how to breathe. Involuntarily, she swallowed when suddenly she could feel his breath on her skin once he started to speak again. “That won't do—” he was so close, “—I have to correct my mistake right away.” Marinette's lips parted. “You look amazing, Marinette,” Adrien almost purred. “You look gorgeous and I-”

A sudden cry abruptly broke the magic spell. Shaken from her trance, Marinette quickly stepped away from Adrien.

“Emma—” she found herself slightly out of breath, “—I- I- have to- to go—” Marinette fished the keys out of her pocket, “—she is- is waking up- I need- need to leave—” She walked to the car, “—drive home- She’ll fall asleep again- Yes, again. Bye, Adrien,” the girl quickly opened the door of the car. “Thanks again!” Still furiously blushing, she jumped into her car and speeded away before Adrien could even blink.

“But we need to talk…” he whispered to the one who couldn’t hear him anymore and who was currently driving away, wiping the tears that started to fill up her eyes before stopping a few blocks away and letting them flow.

This wasn't happening! She couldn't let this stupid crush to come back, and Adrien with his perfection wasn't helping.

“I am hopeless… What was I thinking? He is leaving- I can't love him… I can't have him… I must forget…” Marinette quietly sobbed, resolving once again to stay away no matter what it cost her.

*       *       *

The next day was lonely. Don't get him wrong, Adrien wasn't alone. He spent most of it amongst all kinds of people he didn't really pay attention to but never in his life had he felt lonelier than today. The reason was simple.

He missed them.

Missed Emma and Marinette after only one night apart. How much more pathetic could he get? The day was empty without Emma's silly laugh and Marinette's adorable blushes. Adrien couldn't concentrate on anything, his thoughts and desires focused only on one thing - the family he didn't have yet. He wanted to take his little girl by her tiny hand again and pull Marinette close to his chest. He longed to feel a soft peck of Emma's little lips on his cheek and tried to remember how hot and spicy her mama's kisses on his mouth were. He discovered that longing hurt physically, hurt in every possible way, in every part of his body.

The only hope for relief was that five o'clock wedding dress rehearsal where they would surely be. Adrien arrived thirty minutes earlier in hopes of seeing them sooner. To his delight, it wasn't futile.

The first thing he heard when walking into the building, was Emma's voice. A bit frustrated, but who cared? She was already there, and he could see her again.

“But Uncle Nino!” Adrien could hear a pout in her tone. “I don’t want to go and throw my flower petals everywhere! I want to keep them for myself! They are so pink and pretty.”

Without a second thought, Adrien walked in the direction of the now precious voice. Soon he saw his little, lovely, secret, but only for a little while yet, daughter, standing near the doorway into the main hall, dressed in one of the dresses he bought her yesterday and passionately arguing with Nino.

“Emma, sweetie—” Nino closed his eyes in contained exasperation and pinched the bridge of his nose, “—you need to do it. Believe me. Just throw them around while walking and after the show you can take them home. Okay?”

Emma’s frown deepened. Nino sighed and took some of her petals. “See?” he threw them around, “It’s easy.”

“You're mean, Uncle Nino!” Emma cried and crouched to the floor trying to gather every single petal back. “I don't want to do this! They are too pretty to throw them away! They'll get dirty.”

Visibly frustrated, Nino groaned and face-palmed, but a wide grin appeared on his face as soon as he had noticed Adrien approaching.

“Hey there, man!” he fist-bumped Adrien's shoulder. “You're just in time.”

“Am I?” Adrien raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, you are.” Nino quickly walked behind his friend and took him by the shoulders directing his sight to the little girl not far away. “You, my friend,” he proclaimed. “Have a rare opportunity to help me out.” Nino's voice sharply changed to whining and Adrien laughed.

“Not funny,” the groom-to-be pouted. “Alya entrusted me with teaching this little monst- angel, I mean, angel how to be a flower girl and I am not good at it. So, a little help?” his eyes grew big and pleading. “Please?”

“Are you implying that I can teach her because I am a good flower girl?”

“You are the second-prettiest flower girl there ever was,” Nino proclaimed in the most serious of manners, straightening up and putting a hand on Adrien’s shoulder. “And it is your sworn duty to help the prettiest one to fulfill her role!”

Adrien snorted and erupted in laughter. Nino shook him by his shoulders, his head hanging low as he begged again. “But seriously, dude. You, as a model, know how to put on a show and you also seem to possess some kind of Emma-whisperer abilities, judging from yesterday. Help meeeeeee-”

At that exact moment Emma, who gathered all of the petals back, turned around to see who was talking to Nino. Her face lit up as she dashed toward Adrien shouting happily: “Uncle Adrien! You came back! I'm so glad to see you! I missed you!”

Smiling, Adrien stepped forward and caught the running girl in his arms. She hugged him firmly before placing a soft kiss on his cheek. Laughing and showering each other with compliments, both of them completely ignored Nino and the lowered jaw on his astonished face.

“I missed you too, my little bug!” Adrien finally concluded, noticing his friend’s expression. “Now, tell me - what is this horrible Uncle Nino bothering you with?”

Emma frowned and pouted her cute, little mouth. “He wants me to throw away my pretty, pink flower petals and I don’t want to because they will get stepped on and become all dirty and stinky and- and- and not nice! Uncle Nino is mean!”

Adrien chuckled, bopped Emma’s nose with his finger and put her down on the floor, kneeling right by her side.

“Ah!” he raised his finger. “But Uncle Nino has a good reason to ask you to do that, Emma.”

“He does?” the little girl’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“Do you really want me to tell you the secret why?” Adrien offered in the most mysterious of voices. In return, Emma feverishly nodded.

“It has something to do with a couple of princesses and a queen.”

Emma’s eyes lit up. Adrien got comfortable on his knees and took her basket of petals in his hand.

“You see,” he continued. “These petals are not ordinary. They are magical, and tomorrow they will play a crucial role but only with some help from one amazing princess.”

To his amazement, Emma smirked. “You are lying!” she crossed her arms over her chest. “I am not a baby anymore to believe in magic!”

I. Am. Not.” Adrien pouted. “And I can prove that to you. Did you see Aunt's Alya white gown and your Mama's pretty dress?”

“Of course, I did!” Emma nodded, a wide grin spreading on her face. “The dresses are so, so pretty! Mama even has one for me. She made them herself. But—” the girl frowned again, “—she doesn’t allow me to touch them or even come close.”

Adrien nodded, suppressing a chuckle. Judging by yesterday, it wasn't a surprise that Emma wasn't allowed anywhere near their dresses. “Okay,” he continued. “But do you see your Mama and Aunt Alya wear such pretty dresses every day?”

Emma’s hard thinking was written on her face as expressions changed one after another rapidly. Observing her, Adrien enjoyed every frown and every eyebrows movement, every twitching of her mouth and focused concentration in her eyes. A few moments later, Emma gave up.

“No,” she said. “They don't wear such beautiful dresses every day, but I wish they would. Mama looks like a princess in it.”

“Exactly,” Adrien smirked. “Mama and Auntie Alya become princesses when they wear such beautiful dresses. However, they can do it only on special days and tomorrow will be one of those days.”

Emma gasped and clasped her hands together. “Really?”

“Yes. And not only them, Emma,” Adrien gently poked his finger in Emma's chest. “Tomorrow all three of you will become princesses. Aunt Alya will become The Wisest Princess ever. Your mama will become The Prettiest Princess of them all, and you will become The Coolest Princess around,” Adrien declared with his best impression of serious expression. “That's the absolute truth and you know why will this happen tomorrow?”

“Why?” Emma bit her lip in anticipation, completely enveloped in the story.

“You will become princesses for one day only so The Wisest Princess Alya can become The Wisest Queen Alya of Kingdom Ninoland.”

Emma squealed and jumped in her place. “Really?”

Adrien nodded, a silly grin trembling on his lips. Who did just say she didn’t believe in magic anymore?

“This is so amazing!” Emma continued to squeal. “Aunt Alya will become a queen! Just like in fairy tales! A Queen! So cool!”

Adrien hummed satisfactorily. He was on a roll, complimenting his story with a couple of appropriate emotions and expressions to make it more believable. A few random details on the magical kingdom and its fair royalty didn’t hurt either. Even Nino was interested now, especially after “Ninoland” was mentioned.

“Yes, exactly like in fairy tales. But—” Adrien's face became serious all of a sudden, “—as in all fairy tales there are ancient, evil forces that want to prevent this from happening and steal princess Alya away so she won’t become a queen!”

“No!” Emma gasped with horror. “Oh no!!! We have to protect her! We need to call Ladybug and Chat Noir! They will protect her!”

Adrien laughed. “No. Not this time, my Coolest Princess.” He gently ruffled her golden hair. “This time we need you.”

“Me?” Emma gave him a surprised look.

“Yes, you.” Adrien nodded and pointed to her basket full of pink flower petals. “You can protect Aunt Alya with these. That’s what Uncle Nino was trying to teach you. He just didn’t want to spoil the secret.”

“But how?” Emma looked at the basket in confusion. “These are just flowers.”

“Oh, but they are just flowers today,” Adrien smiled. “You see at the stroke of midnight they will gain magical powers, and by spreading these petals in a specific pattern, you'll be able to create an invisible, power shield around princess Alya to protect her.”

“I will?” Emma looked at him with her eyes wide.

“Yup. All you need to do is to throw them everywhere where aunt Alya will step in this room, and evil forces won't be able to touch her. That's why we have to practice today, so tomorrow everything would go as planned and we can win a battle for Princess Alya.”

For a moment Emma continued to stare at Adrien in concentration. Then grabbed the basket from his hands and walked back to Nino with newfound determination.

“Show me again, Uncle Nino. You didn't have to hide the truth from me, you know!” she pouted. “I am not a baby anymore, and I can protect Aunt Alya from the evil forces!”

Nino laughed and shot invisible guns towards Adrien. “You rule, man! Thanks.”

“No problem.” Adrien stood up. “Told you, I’m good with kids.”

“Or,” Nino grinned and winked at him. “There is something you are not telling me.”

“Go teach your Padawan, oh great King of Ninoland,” Adrien chuckled, pointing into Emma’s direction. “Or your future queen might not be pleased.”

Nino laughed nervously and went over to the small girl who was now feverishly throwing flowers all over the place. Watching them with unhidden pleasure, Adrien leaned on a door frame. Thinking about it, he couldn't explain how he figured out what exactly Emma needed. He knew he had to ignite a desire inside of her and once she had it, she'd be unstoppable. But why? Maybe because he was the same way? If Adrien, younger or older one, wanted something really badly, there was little that could stop him from stubbornly reaching his goal. And if Emma inherited that trait of his, all she needed to succeed was a desire to do what she was asked to – throw flower petals in front of Alya. A little bit of magic and here she was – the perfect flower girl.

“Wow! Nino is good!” He suddenly heard a familiar voice beside himself. “I didn't expect him actually to teach her something!”

“Hello, Adrien,” Alya greeted him, not taking her eyes from Nino, in awe observing him walk around with Emma.

“How was your day yesterday?” she finally faced him. “I hope you took my advice seriously.”

“Nice to see you too, Alya.” Adrien tensed. Their conversation still lingered in his mind. Do not let Emma like you more than a regular babysitter, a mere passerby. Do not get close to her under any circumstances unless you plan to marry Marinette. Alya loved both, her best friend and her daughter, and wanted to protect them. He could understand that. Yet, he wondered just for a second if it was possible that in her overzealous Alya scared away more than one man who could've been possibly interested in Marinette? Not that he was complaining. Deep down, he was thankful. He was, however, somehow intimidated by her as well.

The bride-to-be scanned him with her narrowed eyes. “Your return ticket is still next week, right?”

“Yes, why?” Adrien frowned. Why was she so concerned about his future flying plans?

Before Alya could reply she was swept away into Nino's arms. “Here is my beautiful, Wisest Princess,” he cooed lovingly, kissing her cheek lightly.

“Auntie Alya, Auntie, Alya!” Emma was tugging her dress from beneath. “I will save you tomorrow! I now know how and the evil forces won’t stop you from becoming a queen!”

Not even bothering with untangling herself from Nino’s embrace, Alya giggled, confusion playing vividly on her face. “What are you talking about, sweetie. A queen of what?”

“Of Kingdom Ninoland, of course,” the girl continued to bubble excitedly. “Did you forget about your transformation tomorrow?”

Alya threw a confused look at Nino.

“Oh, yes, the Wisest of Princesses,” Nino chuckled. “Did you forget already? Emma will throw those magical, flower petals in front of you tomorrow and they will protect you from the evil forces so you can walk up to the aisle and become the Queen of Ninoland.”

For a second Alya got even more confused but then noticed Nino’s frantic eyebrows wiggling signalling to just go with it for everyone’s sake. Realization hit her almost immediately – a walk on petals to the aisle, the transformation from a princess to a queen of Ninoland? Who came up with this nonsense??? She laughed.

“Of course, I remember, kiddo.” Alya got free from Nino’s hold and crouched to Emma’s level.  “I just didn’t know they told you my little secret. Tell me, who is the one that betrayed his future queen?”

“It's Uncle Adrien!” Emma grinned. “But don't you scold him, Aunt Alya! He is perfect, and I love him so much! He did it only because he loves you too and wants to help me protect you. I am not a baby anymore so I can help you. Uncle Adrien thinks I can and I can! He is the best!”

Alya glared at the place where Adrien was standing just a minute ago. The space was empty, and Adrien was quickly walking down the hall, further away from the woman who wanted to hunt him down dead for sneaking into Emma's heart despite her warning. The last thing he needed now was to be evicted from the building or sent to a hospital.

*       *       *

The rest of the day and the rehearsal went pretty smoothly. Everyone knew their places and roles. Emma was adorable. She made a whole ceremony out of throwing her flower petals and made sure to spread them not only on her way down the aisle but on a stage as well, explaining that Aunt Alya will be standing there too and thus she needed to be protected there as well.

However, it was Marinette again who captured Adrien's attention that evening the most. The friendly way she held herself with everyone, the strict yet gentle, loving manner she handled Emma with, cleverness and skills she used in saving the evening a couple of times - it was all impossible to miss. That famous stubbornness which drove Marinette to success, trying again and again until it worked - Adrien had found it irresistible even back in their teen days. Yet now, much to his doom, Marinette was better in everything - beauty, maturity, the way she held herself, in everything. Adrien couldn't help but let his eyes linger on her all evening long, just as she tried her best to avoid him at the same time. He would lie if he said that it wasn't disheartening because, after all, Adrien only wanted to catch Marinette's attention so that she could see in his eyes how much he loved her.

Once everything got wrapped up, discouraged by his constant failures, Adrien decided to leave before Alya could find him. Not because he didn't like her or was actually scared of the bride but more that he didn't want to deal with another heart to heart conversation right now. Not when he couldn't say that no, Emma wasn't just a random kid to him and yes, he had a ticket but he wasn't planning on using it; no, he wouldn't stay away from Emma and he would love if the girl would love him back and yes, he would very much like to marry Marinette if she would have him. Although after tonight he wasn't so sure about his chances anymore. For some reason, Marinette seemed to be terrified of him all over again.

In any case, Adrien wanted to speak to Marinette before subjecting himself to Alya’s interrogations anew. Thus, avoiding any contact with the bride-to-be as much as possible seemed like a logical solution. During the rehearsal that was easy. Now, however, she was more or less free to hunt him down, and he had nowhere to hide and no one to protect him. From the looks of it, the talk with Marinette wouldn't happen today also, her continually being either busy or with other people as much as possible. Finding no further reasons to stay, Adrien quietly walked outside, trying to remain undetected to all, and was already unlocking his car when he heard Nino shouting his name.

“Adrien, wait! Hey, why are you leaving so early?” The groom ran up to him.

“Tired,” Adrien responded and caught himself by surprise that it wasn't a lie. Exhausted emotionally and disappointed with yet another day wasted with not even a single opportunity of talking with Marinette, he had zero desire to stay or even chat with his friend. He was ready for this day to be over so tomorrow might bring him new opportunities.

“Come on,” Nino wouldn’t give up. “What’s wrong? You don’t look like yourself, dude. You haven’t been all evening.”

Adrien stopped and turned to look at Nino. They were best friends ever since they'd met. Their friendship survived six years of living on different continents and was still going strong. Nino understood and knew him like no one else, apart from his little Chat Noir secret, that is. If Adrien couldn't be himself and honest with Nino then with whom he could? And frankly, he was too tired to keep up a happy act anyway.

“I just didn't want to be chased away by your lovely, future wife, Nino, so I decided to leave on my own,” Adrien sighed.

Nino frowned. “Did something happen, bro?”

“Nothing new,” Adrien shrugged his shoulders. “Just wanted to avoid another ‘Don't you dare to come close to Emma' lecture.”

“Ah, don't hold that against her, Adrien.” Nino chuckled and bumped Adrien's shoulder. “Alya’s just very passionate and protective, man. Come on. You have to understand her. Emma is like her own daughter by now, and she went through hell with Marinette when that bastard-cat dumped her pregnant and alone. Of course, she'll be on her guard when Emma starts to get all affectionate with a random person. She just doesn't want to see either of them hurt again. That's all.”

There was no possible way for Nino to know just how much guilt and self-condemnation that phrase stirred in Adrien. No way he could have known just how much his best friend would have given away this second for the chance to change everything and make that statement false, to go back in time and rewrite their history. Yet the way Adrien flinched and tensed hadn't escaped Nino's attention. Neither did Adrien's clenched fists and the thin line of his lips.

“Adrien? What's wrong?”

“Nothing,” the man murmured. He didn't mean to let out so much of the emotions that accumulated throughout the day and stormed inside him, but now that they were seen he needed a plausible explanation to lead Nino's attention away from the fact that that “bastard-cat” was him. One day Nino would know but not yet, not when Adrien hadn't had a chance to fix his mistakes yet.

“I get her, Nino,” Adrien cautiously proceeded. The best diversion was to focus on the other side of the issue. “But does she need to chase away all of the potential candidates as soon as they appear?”

Nino paused before his lips slowly stretched in a grin and he fist bumped Adrien’s shoulder again. “Are you a potential candidate, Adrien?”

“I don't know yet,” Adrien blurred out, happy that his weird reaction was quickly forgotten. “It's hard to decide when I can't even get a minute alone with her. She's either busy at work or being guarded by Alya or runs away as soon as I come close.”

“So, you are interested!” Nino grinned. He silently observed Adrien for a few moments before adding. “Are you serious about it, though? I mean, Marinette is awesome and Emma is adorable, but they're a packaged deal. You got to love them both.” Nino halted, observing Adrien for a moment or two more. “You did hit it off rather unexpectedly with Emma, to be honest, but before you proceed, make sure you aren't interested in Marinette only because her daughter is adorable.  “

“I don't think I am in this because of Emma,” Adrien quietly answered in a little while. “I mean, she is amazing and is such a joy to be around. I do love her already but…” he stopped, nervously fidgeting with his keys in uncertainty. “Have I ever told you I had a crush on Marinette back in the days?” he finally admitted. “And now it's all coming back so suddenly and strongly. I mean, Marinette is incredible. She is the woman I can see myself spending the rest of my life with. I can't stop thinking about her, Nino. About them...” Adrien leaned on his car, his eyes focused on the building his girls were still in. “I've been lonely long enough. I want to try this and see if we can make it work. They are both remarkable. They deserve to be happy and I want to take care of them. I want to be that man who will make them happy. I don't even know how to explain this or how I can make it work, but I want to take a chance.”

“Aren't you going away soon, though?” Nino asked, a tiny smirk playing on his lips. His friend had finally admitted to the crush he always suspected back in the school but was never able to confirm. Now Alya owed him twenty euros or maybe even more if Nino would count in the dividends for all these years. “Stay here, dude,” he added as happiness for his friend started to fill his mind with new ideas and possibilities. “You and Marinette would be an awesome couple and with Emma liking you already I don't see why you shouldn't try. Just imagine how much fun would we have. Double dates, bro escapes from our wives- Now you have to stay or none of what I’ve already planned would work if you aren’t here.”

“I will,” Adrien smiled. “Even if Marinette wouldn't want me, I'll stay. I have neither will nor desire to go back to the States and that miserable life I had over there.”

“Then, don't worry, man,” Nino slammed his hand against Adrien shoulder blades. “Nino can help you there. I'll make sure you spend some time alone with Marinette tonight, but you'll have to take things slowly to not spook her away. For starters, tell Marinette you are done with the States and will be staying here with us, to get her used to the idea and maybe get the things started. Take her out, just talk, get to know each other better, alright?”

“Sure,” Adrien nodded. “Slow and steady wins the race, right? Though I don't see how you are going to trick Marinette into spending some time with me? I think she'd been avoiding me all night.”

 “Luckily for you,” Nino smirked. “Alya asked me to drive Marinette and Emma home today. Her car happened to be in service but—” he winked, “—let's just say that I might have planned to do something with my bride after the rehearsal and—” he hummed as the thoughts rolled in his mind, “—it was supposed to be a surprise so I couldn't tell her when she asked me to drive Marinette home- Thus in order to do that thing I planned, I asked you to play a chauffeur to Marinette? How about it?” Nino proudly grinned.

“That might actually work,” Adrien straightened up, his heart filling with hope. “At least it will give me- how long? About thirty minutes or so to talk with Marinette since I doubt she would jump out from a moving car. At least, not with Emma still in it. Thanks, man!” He smiled. “You are the best!”

“I certainly am!” Nino chuckled. “Just promise me, Adrien, to be careful and not to hurt her. She's been through a lot as it is. Another heartbreak could be too much.”

“I’d rather die myself.” Adrien looked straight into Nino’s eyes. “Never again.”

“Again?” Nino frowned. “When-”

“When we were in school?” Adrien rushed to interrupt. “Didn't you tell me she liked me then and since I was an oblivious idiot I unintentionally kind of broke her heart?”

“Oh yeah,” Nino nodded, missing a slight streak of sadness on his friend’s face. That, Adrien thought, would make it two heartbreaks I caused my Lady instead of the one I knew about. Why didn’t I count this one before? Never again if I can help it!

“Now I only need to think about what thing I was supposed to do with my woman…” Nino thought aloud in the background. Switching his attention to Nino's words, Adrien thought about it for a minute before the corner of his lips twitched. Passing by Alya and Marinette today, he might have overheard some information that would undoubtedly be proven to be quite valuable now.

“I'll help you there,” he noted, pulling his cell phone out and climbing into his car. “Give me a moment.”

In about five minutes Nino's phone beeped and before he could open the message Adrien was standing by his side again.

“You are very welcome, bro,” he grinned.

At first, Nino couldn't believe his eyes, so he took another look to make sure he read it correctly and glanced at Adrien.

“Man, but that's impossible. How did you do this?”

“Trade secrets,” Adrien smirked and wiggled his eyebrows. “Now if you could convince Marinette to let me drive her home before Alya sees us, that would be great.”

“Right,” Nino nodded. “I'll be right back. But, man!” He still couldn't believe. “Alya wanted to go on this “Romantic Yacht Voyage on the Night Seine” forever. I called them every day for weeks! It was booked solid for another two months. How?”

“Let's just say—” Adrien smirked, “—that they always keep a few spots open for the people who are in a desperate need of a favour. I am waiting, Nino. No Marinette within ten minutes and the deal is off.”

He didn't need another warning. Nino was rushing back to the building already to give Adrien a chance in making his dream a reality and to fulfill one of the greatest wishes of the woman he loved more than anything. A mutually helpful agreement and if he was lucky enough then all four of them would benefit. Talk about a deal!

Nino ran. Adrien settled in his car and waited. Somewhere in the building, Marinette was getting ready to leave.

Chapter Text

“For the last time,” Marinette grumbled, exiting the venue with sleeping Emma in her arms, “There is no need for Adrien to drive us. If you can't give us a lift, I'll call for a taxi. It's not a big deal.”

“But, Marinette,” Nino objected. When he sprinted into the building a few minutes ago, a refusal wasn't something he'd expected, but here he was now, stuck with a girl who didn't even want to hear about a ride in Adrien's car. Glancing at his watch, Nino quickened his steps to get ahead and walked with his back forward. The time was pressing.

“Why not?” he stopped, waiting for Marinette as she adjusted the position of her sleeping daughter. “I don't understand why this is such a big deal for you? It's just Adrien, your old friend Adrien, the one whom you, may I remind, had entrusted with Emma yesterday for the whole day. Why can't he drive you home instead of me? You know that if I could, I would.”

“Because I inconvenienced him enough already, Nino,” Marinette insisted. “He's only been back for three days, and I've already ruined one of them with my problems. I can't do this to him again. I'm sure Adrien has far better things to do than drive me around. Plus, I don't want him to remember me as some helpless creature who can't do anything herself. Save me some dignity here, Nino.”

The silence that followed was unexpected considering that Nino hadn't shut up for a while now, but even more were the words that followed.

“You’re afraid of him.”

“Excuse me?” Marinette stalled and looked back at Nino whose slight smirk was hard to miss.

“Either your crush is coming back, or you are afraid of Adrien for some reason,” Nino added. “That's the only explanation I can think of because you never were this opposed to getting help from us, Marinette, and if I remember correctly, you did tend to freeze around him back in school. So, either you are afraid of him for who knows why or your feelings are coming back and with them all the clumsiness. That's why you are running away, Marinette, right? You don't want to make a fool of yourself.”

“Nothing's coming back!” Marinette insisted, trying to hide her emotions behind a shaky smile. “And why would I be afraid of Adrien? You don't make sense, Nino.”

“Indeed, why?” 

Marinette pouted. “Nino, you know that crushes aren't an option for me right now, and I am not afraid of Adrien so stop it. I don't want to be bothersome. That's all,” she maintained. “He is here for only a week. Let him enjoy his time the way he wants it, not get him stuck with me.”

“But what if—” Nino leaned forward and quietly offered, “—what if he wants to be stuck with you?”

A thick, visible even in the darkness blush covered Marinette's cheeks. Her breath hitched for a moment before she gathered herself and silently resumed her march to the curb. Once there, she said without looking back. “I am calling for a taxi, Nino, and that is final.”

“Marinette, please,” Nino whined. “You can't. You know Alya would kill me if you do.”

“She is about to marry you, Nino. She wouldn't kill you.”

“She'll kill me if your random taxi driver would happen to be a serial killer-”

“Don't be ridiculous!” Marinette scoffed. “We used to take taxis all the time back-”

“Fine!” Nino interrupted, raising his hands up in surrender. “Fine. You win. I'll tell you what's going on, but promise me to keep it a secret.”

Marinette raised her brow and signed. “Okay. What's going on, Nino?” 

“Well—” Nino cleared his throat, “—let's say that I agreed to drive you only because Alya asked me and I didn’t want her to suspect anything if I suddenly started to refuse. It’s that simple, Marinette. I didn’t have a choice but to agree to something I couldn’t do.”

“And what exactly Alya couldn't suspect,” Marinette tilted her head to the side.

Nino didn't reply with words. Instead, he simply pulled out his cell phone and showed it to Marinette, placing a finger to his lips.

The woman glanced at the screen. It took her a minute to realize what she was looking at but when she did, she gasped, failing to contain her excitement inside.

“Nino, that’s awesome! How did you get those? You know Alya would freak out-”

A low groan and a shuffle from sleeping Emma forced Marinette to lower her voice and start rocking her daughter back to sleep. That couldn't make her to keep quiet, though.

“She was buzzing about this thing to me for months now if not years. That is so neat of you to surprise her like that and on the day before your wedding!”

“I know, right?” The groom-to-be beamed with pride. “Do you understand now? You know how hard Alya is to surprise and I wanted to give her a surprise of a lifetime so I couldn't refuse to give you a lift to avoid suspicions. And since the only other person who knows about this is Adrien, it was only fitting if he would give you a lift and let me do my magic for Alya. Please, Marinette,” Nino begged. “I'd feel much better if someone close to us and not a random person drives you. It's our wedding. It should be friends and family event, not a random taxi driver showing up to take you away.”

A bit conflicted, Marinette sighed and closed her eyes. She wanted to avoid all of the unnecessary contacts with Adrien, for her own sanity mainly but also to prevent any more bonding between Emma and him. So far, she was pretty successful in her quest but Nino's request to let Adrien drive her threatened to undo most if not all of her hard work.

“Nino-” she didn't even know what to say, all of the excuses sounding ridiculous by now, so maybe just one more groundless refusal would help.

“And don't forget that you promised to repay me for all that Emma babysitting,” Nino shamelessly stated. “Marinette, please. I'm really in a hurry here if I want this to succeed.”

“I’ll be safe in a taxi-”

“You’ll be safer with Adrien.”

“Nino-”

“Marinette, please. Do I need to get on my knees? Because you know I will. I need to leave in about three minutes. It would take at least ten for a taxi to get here, and I'll never forget myself for leaving you alone in the dark with a small child in hands to wait here instead of safely sending you off with a friend. Or are you avoiding him after all?”

Marinette stiffened under Nino's gaze. She couldn't exactly explain why she didn't want to go with Adrien. It was too complicated for a three-minute talk. In her arms, Emma turned again, murmuring something in her sleep. She was tired and needed to be in her bed soon.

Maybe, just maybe one more time wouldn't hurt. She could handle another thirty more minutes or so.

Slowly, she exhaled. Going home with Adrien wasn't the best situation to place herself into but, in a sense, Nino was right - she didn't want to make him and Alya worry about her safety when they could be enjoying their romantic getaway. They meant too much to her for that.

“Marinette,” Nino whined somewhere in the background. “Please.”

“Fine, Nino,” she finally gave up. “But let's be clear about this – I am not afraid of or crushing on Adrien. I just don't want to inconvenience him, and I am doing this solely for Alya, but now it is you who owes me big. Do we understand each other?”

“Of course we do,” Nino grinned and pointed in the depth of the parking lot. “This way, my friend. Your carriage awaits you.”

*       *       *

“You have a car seat?” Marinette was staring in dismay at the highly unusual accessory for a young, single man installed at the back of his car. Emma, however, felt just like home, already climbing into the hot pink, black polka dots seat. The girl woke up the moment she heard Adrien's voice and was back to the full energetic self, effectively spoiling all of her mother's plans to keep the duo apart.

“Um…” Adrien's hand reached behind his neck in an unconscious move. “I got it yesterday when I looked after Emma. I wanted her to be safe in my car, but at the same time, we didn't want to bother you with such a tiny detail when you already had more than enough on your plate.”

“Isn't it gorgeous, Mama?” Emma squealed in the background. “Uncle Adrien wanted to buy me a black one with green stripes, but I wanted pink. He also got me these. Do you like them?”

Marinette glanced over and almost groaned, watching her daughter pulling a few books and stuffed animals from somewhere behind her seat. Also, pink. Really fluffy. Definitely not cheap.

She forced a smile. “They are charming, sweetheart.” She turned to Adrien, “While the car seat is quite convenient for us right now, promise me you'll return it to the store tomorrow, Adrien. You've already spent more than needed on us.”

“I promise I’ll deal with it when I don't need it anymore,” Adrien agreed yet unmistakable sparks of mischief twinkled in his eyes. Marinette sighed and proceeded to buckle Emma in. This day was already too long, and she was too exhausted to argue with someone who was obviously going to do what he wanted, not what made sense. If Adrien wanted to waste his money like this, who was she to argue? It was his money. He probably had more than enough anyway. Resigning to her fate, Marinette settled in the front passenger seat and prepared for the ride she hoped won't be too awkward, which was an understatement because the whole way to their house Emma's chatter didn't seize. She described her secret mission for tomorrow, explaining her plans in details, asked questions and answered them herself, completely ignoring her Mama's embarrassed sighs and appeals to slow down or stop altogether. Emma retold the story Adrien made up for her, making an emphasis on her being The Coolest Princess, while her mama was only The Prettiest one, prompting a light blush on Marinette's cheeks. Then she switched to telling Adrien all about her toys and her favourite dresses, her room, her dreams full of wonders, her babysitter Mlle. Bella and how she wished she could go to Disneyland Paris this summer. Only when about a couple of minutes were left before they reached Marinette's home, silence finally enveloped the car's interior. Afraid to wake the girl up, both adults remained quiet for those last few moments.

“Thank you very much for driving us, Adrien,” Marinette quickly whispered as they arrived. “It was quite nice of you to help Nino out with his surprise for Alya. She will absolutely love it. Thank you again, and I'll see you tomorrow at the wedding. Good night.”

Not waiting for his reply, she quickly unbuckled the seatbelt and was about to climb out of the car when Adrien caught her wrist.

“Wait, Marinette. Let me help you.” His hand was gentle on her arm, yet it burned the skin. “You can't possibly carry Emma, your bags and open a door at the same time.”

“I've done it before,” she replied with a voice a little bit too high pitched not to betray her inner state. “It isn't that hard actually, and while I appreciate the offer, I'll be fine. Thanks.”

To get away as soon as possible was all that she wanted now because that conviction that she could handle some miserly thirty minutes and not fall in deeper was proved to be wrong multiple times over the course of the last half an hour. Adrien's kind proposal to drive them to help Nino, the way he smiled and laughed at Emma's stories and excitement, a couple of times she caught his eyes focused on her instead of the road - this all was slowly pushing her closer and closer to the edge much faster than she would've liked.

“Marinette,” he quietly pleaded as their eyes locked on each other again. The butterflies went mad in her stomach. Him holding her hand didn’t help at all.

“I'll be fine,” Marinette repeated. “You've been kind enough to me already.”

“Marinette, please. Let me help you.” Adrien almost begged, refusing to give up that easily. Marinette needed to know the truth. He had to tell her because as naïve and pathetic he was, he dared to dream that she'd forgive and accept him. In his foolishness, he wanted to believe that they could be together and he would never let her go again. He couldn't let her go. Not now, not this time, never again. But for that to happen Marinette needed to know and now when they were alone and Emma was asleep was the perfect opportunity.

“I'm sure you can do it all yourself,” Adrien added, terrified of losing his chance once more. He quickly exited the car after Marinette gently pulled away and rushed over to the other side. She was already unbuckling Emma from her car seat. He touched her shoulder lightly.

“You are very strong and amazing, I admit it. But what kind of a gentleman would I be if I wouldn't help my friend? I think I can call myself your friend, can I? And I bet that Emma is bigger and heavier from the last time you carried her like this. Let me take care of her for you or I can open and hold the door if you'd prefer to take her yourself.”

Marinette straightened and looked at Adrien. Both, her breath and her heart stopped for a moment because it wasn't Adrien in front of her right now. At least, not the one she got to know the last couple of day. Instead, there stood a green-eyed boy with an outstretched hand, offering his umbrella to a complete but rude stranger. There was no thunder in the sky, but just like the first time, at this exact moment, all of her resisting and reasoning vanished. She looked into his eyes, glanced over a slight smile and found herself in love all over again. Years later, head over heels in love with the same boy, yet just like the first time, Marinette didn't have a chance.

Her heart rate rapidly picked up. Falling for the same guy way out of your reach for the second time? Pathetic! There must be something wrong with her because she couldn't blame Adrien for leading her on. How could she? He was the perfect gentleman. All this time he never tried to make an obvious move on her, to kiss her, embrace her, get close to her or anything like that. He respected her wishes and was trying to earn her trust unlike a lot of people she knew in the industry. He physically touched her a couple of times but so did many more people every day. He paid her a couple of compliments but most of her friends and colleagues, both male and female, often did so too. It never bothered her before. In fact, she was often flattered. Apart from being himself, Adrien did absolutely nothing to make her fall in love with him. He even stated a few minutes ago that he considers her a friend.

Just a friend.

Marinette stalled. Stupid! So blindly dumb and stupid! Adrien considered her to be his friend yet she, caught up in her feelings, kept pushing him away for no reason. It isn't fair to him. He did nothing to deserve such treatment. Friends don't do that to their friends, and Adrien didn't have a lot of those as is. How could she, as one of those few, behave toward him as a selfish jerk? She needed to keep her emotions under control and be a friend he thought she was. For Alya and Nino. For Adrien. How could she claim to love him and hurt him like that? Because it was hurt reflecting on his face just now. Adrien deserved better. Gathering all of the strength she had left, Marinette smiled.

“You are not going to give up, are you?”

“Nope.”

“You are too kind for this world, Adrien,” she responded softly. “Alright then. I’ll carry the bags and open the door. You can take Emma.”

With a soft smile on his lips and excitement in his eyes, Adrien carefully took the sleeping girl in his arms and followed Marinette. Her house looked immaculate and comfy even from the outside. It wasn't as big as his father's mansion, but it was a nicely sized, two-story building in an excellent neighbourhood surrounded by lots of mature trees and flowers. Even from the outside, it looked and felt like home to him. Marinette opened a front door and let Adrien inside a tastefully decorated foyer. She put away her bags, removed her shoes and took sleeping Emma from his arms careful not to wake her up and cause another spontaneous session of nonstop chatter.

“Thank you, Adrien,” she smiled. “Again, I am very sorry for inconveniencing you so much. Count on me to force you to come up all the way up here so far away from your home.”

“That's fine,” Adrien looked at her with a bold determination in his eyes. Now or never! Marinette was obviously getting ready to kick him out, so he needed to be straightforward and bold if he didn't want to be pushed out of the door instantly.

 “It's nothing that a cup of coffee won't fix.”

Surprise and confusion on her face were hard to miss. That bold statement was probably the last thing Marinette had expected. She knew school age Adrien, the one who was shy and yielding, not the one who was plainly inviting himself over for a cup of coffee at the hour more fitting for the sleep than conversing. That was his Chat Noir side, but Marinette didn't know that. He hoped she would recognize it, though.

“Certainly, you must have some other, more interesting places to be at right now, Adrien,” she timidly suggested.

“With whom and where?” the man responded with a hint of bitterness. “In my empty house with my ever-absent father? No, thank you, and I am pretty sure that neither Alya nor Nino would be happy to see me right now. Besides them, I don't think I have anyone else to catch up with, except you, Marinette. So, if you'd have me, I'd love to spend what's left of this day with a cup of coffee and a good friend like you, unless you had other plans, of course. Then I won't intrude.”

His words resonated deep inside Marinette's heart as she remembered just how lonely Adrien's life had always been. He had never really complained about that, but they knew. They saw it in his actions, his words, even in his eyes. The guilt about pushing him away nagged at her anew. Adrien didn't deserve the treatment she was giving him these past few days. Not in the slightest. Even if it was for her heart's and her child's protection. Biting her lip in hesitation, Marinette looked at Emma. Her baby was deeply in her slumber, so maybe she could let him stay for just a little? A cup of coffee might make his day just a little happier, and despite everything, that was precisely what Marinette wanted in her heart all along - to make Adrien happy.

“Then, would you like to stay for some coffee, Adrien?” she asked.

“I'd love to,” he smiled back. “Thanks.”

“I'll go put Emma in her bed. You can wait in the living room or the kitchen, whenever you feel more comfortable.”

“Of course,” he nodded. “I’ll wait here.”

Silently Marinette went upstairs, changed Emma into her PJs and tucked her into her pink and fluffy bed without a single word. Then she sat on a floor for a minute or two, leaning on Emma's bed, lost in her thoughts, listening to the soft breathing of her child.

“What am I doing, kitten?” she whispered in a while. “I need to stay away from him, but at the same time, if I'd be honest, I wish he would stay with us forever. Too bad, that isn't going to happen because he'll be gone soon, and we'll probably never see him again… Just like Chat… Just like your Daddy.” She paused for a second, memories of the one she was betraying by falling for Adrien stirring up. She was pathetic, really, loving only those men with whom she had absolutely no chances or was bound to ruin the ones she had.

A stray tear rolled down her cheek. “How am I supposed to spend an evening with him and not get even more heartbroken? When will I learn to protect myself, sweetheart?” Marinette whispered, wiping the moisture away. Her voice cracked. “When will it be my turn to be loved and cared for? Will I even be happy one day? I am so tired of tearing myself up in every direction- of being alone- of- I just want…”

Marinette fell silent. In a moment she got up, wiped her tears away and left the room.

I have to be strong, she was trying to convince herself, walking down the stairs. I'll just have to bear for one more day. A cup of coffee won't harm me, but it will make the one I love happy, so I must be strong. For him.

She found Adrien in her living room, looking at the picture frames on her walls. Most were of Emma at the different stages of her life and her significant milestones. Others featured Marinette's family, Alya, Nino and her at their happiest moments.

“So, coffee?” Marinette asked, intruding into Adrien's reverie when he failed to react to the sound of her steps. Instead, he seemed to be entranced by one of the pictures of Emma and her.

“Yes,” Adrien replied quickly, immediately taking his eyes off the photo. “Yes. I am sorry. I got distracted. This—” he pointed to the frame, “—is an excellent shot.”

“Thanks,” Marinette smiled and headed to the kitchen, beckoning Adrien to follow. In her heist, she never noticed the pained expression and lingering moisture in his eyes. He never voiced the thoughts of just how much he missed due to his own poor decisions.

“Pumpkin spice?” Adrien couldn't contain his surprise when Marinette handed him a cup of his favourite drink and a piece of an apple pie to go along.

“If I remember correctly you used to like it?” Marinette shied away. “I can make you something else if you want-”

“No! No!” Adrien protested. “I was just surprised since rarely someone keeps ingredients for the best drink in the world in their house. That's all.”

“I actually make it quite often,” Marinette shrugged. “I had a friend who was constantly bringing me one, claiming that it was the best drink in the universe until it grew on me and I started to like it myself.”

“Is that so?” Adrien's lips stretched in a smile. That was the first time Marinette admitted that his efforts were successful after all. “Your friend has a good taste.”

“He did,” she whispered and changed the topic because talking about Chat Noir when drinking coffee with Adrien didn't feel right.

From that moment on the evening went pretty smoothly. The pair chatted about their former classmates, mostly discussing Nino and Alya’s impending wedding, joked a little and even shared a few details of their lives in the past few years. Stories about Emma and her adventures were constantly brought up either by Marinette herself or asked about by Adrien. So, when sometime later he remarked that she did a pretty impressive job raising Emma on her own Marinette wasn’t surprised. Yet accepting a compliment from Adrien was something she could never get used to.

“No, really,” Adrien insisted when Marinette refused to take all of the credit. “She is an amazing girl. You did incredibly well.”

“But it wasn’t just me,” Marinette argued. “My parents, Alya and Nino, Mme. Bella- Everyone helped as much as they could.”

“Still the main work was yours, Marinette,” Adrien maintained. “You aren't used to getting praised, are you? Just agree with me because I'll spend this whole night telling you how amazing you are until you believe it yourself.”

An adorable blush covered Marinette's cheeks again as she quietly mumbled her thanks and Adrien's breath stumbled. That was it. The right moment, the right mood and, hopefully, the right place. The fear and the urge to run seemed to disappear from her eyes, replaced by something that didn't look quite like a dislike towards him so, starting from afar — blatantly dumping the fact of his paternity on her wasn't the smartest idea in his opinion — Adrien decided to plunge.

“Can I ask you a more personal question?”

Marinette stiffened, her eyes widening a little - a step back from the relaxed girl that sat there an instant ago but it was too late to back down.

“Okay,” she responded in a moment. “I can't promise you an answer, though.”

“Fair enough.” Adrien placed his cup down. “I know it's none of my business, but I was wondering why such a beautiful and amazing person as you doesn’t have a special one in her life?”

The transient expression of pain on her face didn't escape his attention before Marinette looked to the side, her eyes glazed with sorrow. “I would rather not talk about it.”

Adrien paused. He could retract, apologize and hopefully go back to the easy conversation they were having but, at this point, it wasn't an option he seriously entertained. He couldn't stop now; not when he finally had her all to himself and without available escape routes. Marinette had to know the truth, so he couldn't stop. Slowly but surely, he pushed forward.

“I am sorry if that was too personal. I am just curious. If it makes you feel better—” Adrien weakly smiled, “—you aren't alone in the situation like this. I, for example, had never had a girlfriend in my life.”

Marinette's eyes snapped at him and, after a momentary struggle, much to Adrien's surprise, she failed to contain a giggle.

“I am sorry,” she burst out laughing a second later. “I just remembered the American gossip magazines we used to read at the office. Your father hated them so much that we had to sneak around any new magazines with articles about you.” She paused, inhaled deeply and mocked her best reporter's expression. “Why does Adrien Agreste, an established model, a rising star and a merciless, worldwide heartbreaker cannot seem to find a lady for himself and settle down? Why no woman yet had been able to capture his heart? Could it be that he isn't looking for a lady but a gentleman?”

“Not funny,” Adrien pouted and frowned. “You have no idea how miserable they made my life. Paparazzi were everywhere I went. Like literally, everywhere. Work, stores, restaurants, even my morning jogs. Some days I even suspected they had a hefty bounty on my bachelor head or some sort of prize for any information containing my name and a ‘confirmed girlfriend' in one sentence that would not be proven false. Not a fun experience at all. Believe me. But hey!” His head tipped to the side. “I hope, you know that there is a simple explanation for my single extended status.”

“Like what?” Marinette stopped laughing but continued to tease. “Try to convince me, Monsieur Agreste, if you can because those reporters were pretty dead sure about their facts and let me tell you - they were pretty convincing.”

Instead of pouting and picking up the game, much to Marinette's surprise Adrien suddenly became serious. His eyes filled with softness and gentleness she had never seen on his face before and focused on her. A thick layer of crimson flooded her face just from that alone.

“I fell in love with a girl when I was fourteen or fifteen?” Adrien started, his voice quiet and gentle. “I don't even remember when now because to me it feels like I've loved her my whole life. I still love her to this day despite trying to get over her for years. I even went on a couple of dates trying to prove to myself that there were other women and surely there would be a few I'd like just as much. But in the end, I couldn't do it. All I could see was how they weren't her – wrong height, wrong built, different hair colour, not her eyes, the character isn't hers, different laugh, not her. I've never had a second date, and after a while, I just gave up and accepted my fate to always love her.”

All throughout his speech Marinette was keeping a brave, impartial facade yet deep inside a knife was ripping through her heart, carving it in, plunging her entire body in excruciating pain at his every word. All those years! All those years she was in love with Adrien all while he loved someone else. All those nights she didn't sleep. All those tears she cried for him were useless. Adrien Agreste's heart was taken a long time before that. Maybe even before they've met. Because of him, Marinette lost Chat. Because of her feelings for Adrien, she pushed her partner away. She hurt the man who loved her more than anything because of her stupid “love” for someone who had his affections somewhere else all along.

Adrien didn't need to leave the country in a few days to break her heart. Not even knowing it, he was crushing it already- in her own house- by her own permission.

Marinette felt the need to gasp for air as a knot stuck in her throat and pain continued to pulsate through her whole being yet Marinette continued to keep a straight face. She couldn't show her agony to Adrien. She was his friend first of all, and as such she couldn't complicate things even more with her stupid feelings and inability to not fall for him. Maybe it was for the best after all that she had never confessed? Spared both of them some awkwardness and embarrassment. Gathering all of her strength and fighting her lingering tears at the same time, Marinette continued the conversation.

“That girl must be very lucky to be loved that much.”

“I think I'm the lucky one,” Adrien protested. “Lucky to have met her because she is incredible. Amazing and awesome. Talented, kind and brave. She isn't perfect but always owns to her mistakes, a bit stubborn but that makes her that much more irresistible. She makes me feel like my life is worth something; like I am worth something.”

“Why aren't you with her then?” Marinette stood up under the pretense of getting more tea and turned a little sideways, turning the kettle on to boil some more water. Adrien didn't need to see the storm of emotions threatening to burst out. “Have you ever told her about your feelings?”

“I did,” Adrien sighed sadly. “She said that she already loved someone else and that I only confused her and messed everything up with my confession. She said she dreamed of being with that other guy for ages and now I was forcing her to choose, and that was unfair. So-”

Adrien paused, his eyes focusing on Marinette and only when she looked back at him concerned by his silence he continued. “I left. I know this wasn't my best decision but I honestly only wanted for her to be happy and if my presence was making things hard, I was willing to remove myself from her life so that she could be happy. All those years—” he paused, lowering his eyes to look into his mug. “—there were times when I survived only by the thought that she was happy. Not with me but still happy. With that other man she liked so much.”

Not being able to look at him anymore, Marinette turned away. She filled her mug with more coffee and cupping it faced the window, looking outside, gently blowing at the steaming liquid in front of her. Adrien wouldn’t know that she didn’t see anything through a thick veil of tears in her eyes.

How could he, thoughts raced through her mind. How could he say all of this to her so easily? What kind of person would go around telling people who are in love with them that they live only by loving someone else? Didn't he realize just how much he was hurting her?

Marinette sadly chuckled to herself as she remembered that she had never confessed her feelings to Adrien, so no, he didn't realize. He was utterly oblivious in a true Adrien Agreste's fashion.

“Why didn't you stay? Maybe she would've chosen you?” Marinette blurted out. It would be a little rude to kick him out and go cry herself miserable without an explanation, explanation that she wasn't going to give him.

“I was—” Adrien thought for a second before continuing, “—I thought I was a momentary weakness or a fleeting misunderstanding to her or maybe we just drunk a little more than we should've? Who knows? In any case, when everything was said and done, I didn't want to ruin her life and her dreams.” He paused again, the memories getting the best of him, his voice cracking under their weight. “Even thought of being with me caused her so much pain…” he whispered. “I didn't want to torture her, and she said she was in love with that other guy. I was in the way of her happiness. I would've never forgiven myself if I caused her to be miserable her whole life. That’s why I left.”

Marinette's heart went numb. Forgetting her own pain, she suddenly could feel his. Adrien was hurting. He was hurting immensely. She could sense it now. All those years he was alone in the States and heartbroken. For a moment, she wondered if his pain was worth it? Was that stupid girl who made him suffer so much even happy? Was she worth it?

“I hope, that your sacrifice made her happy, Adrien,” she sighed and risked a glance at him. He caught her eyes immediately. “It was very honourable of you to do.”

“I saw her recently,” he rushed to add once her sight slipped back to the window. “I think she is happy. At least she looks happy, though she is still single.”

“Then, maybe, you still have a chance,” Marinette whispered, thanking everything on Earth and heavens that the lights were dimmed and she wasn't facing Adrien at this moment because from this angle he couldn't possibly see a stray tear slipping through her defences.

“I hope I do.” Adrien stood up and took his mug to the sink. “I am already trying.” He walked closer and leaned on a wall beside Marinette. “But what about you? Why are you still single? Don't tell me it's a shortage of interested guys. I'd rather believe that Alya spooked them all away than that there were none.”

Unexpectedly, Marinette giggled. Unnoticeably to Adrien, she wiped her face and turned to look at him.

“Alya isn’t that bad, Adrien. She only chases away the bad ones. The rest she leaves up to me.”

“And you didn’t find a single, worthy candidate in the crowd that she had allowed to court you?”

“If you don't mind—” a little spark of joy that was just there vanished. “—I really don't want to talk about it.”

“Do you still love him?” Adrien pushed despite, his whole being just screaming inside. He was so close, so close. He wanted, needed to know if there was still a chance for him. If not, he'd accept it and approach the issue from a different angle, but for now, the only question that pounded in his head was the one he just voiced against his better judgment.

Marinette looked at him in surprise. “Who?”

“Emma’s father.”

As if shocked, Marinette stared at Adrien in silence. The storm inside her grew into a hurricane as new and new questions bombarded Marinette's heart. The story he had just told her shuttered her heart into a million pieces. The questions he asked brought back memories. The feelings avalanche rushed down on her exhausted soul, baring all the pinned-up emotions, pain, and guilt. In that single moment, it all became too much.

Marinette broke.

A single tear suddenly became a flood as the mug almost fell out of Marinette's shaking hands. It disappeared before she knew what had happened, but she didn't care. Marinette couldn't handle it anymore. She couldn't keep it inside her for much longer. All those years of solitary suffering with not a single soul to share her whole story with- it all became too much. The floodgates were open, and now there was no way of shutting them back up.

The girl burst into tears, covering her face with hands, feeling more vulnerable than she'd ever felt before but not caring anymore. She felt Adrien wrapping his arms around her trembling frame and pressing her closer, cradling her shaking body, whispering something in her ear she couldn't decipher at the moment. He held her close until she was able to control herself again and only then she heard, “Did he hurt you that bad, Marinette?”

In an instant, she ripped herself away and glared at Adrien with pure anger in her eyes.

“Why does everyone think that he hurt me, Adrien?” she snarled. “It isn't him! He didn't do anything! It's me! Me! I hurt him!” His eyes grew wider as she talked. In all the years of their acquaintance, Adrien has yet to hear his Lady speak so passionately. “I hurt him so bad that he—” the sobs were quickly coming back, interfering with her speech, “—he left the city! Left his family, friends, everything because of me. Just think about it! How cruel I must have been to make him leave everything behind and move away! The words I said to him- I'll never forgive myself for them.” She hugged her middle with her arms and curled in on herself. Adrien reached out, wishing for nothing more than to take her back into his arms, to comfort and to protect, but Marinette turned away. This time he didn't push. It wasn't the time to press anymore.

“I searched for him,” Marinette continued when her voice evened out a little. “While I had the opportunity, I searched everywhere I could think of, but never found even a trace. He never came back and, to be honest, I don't think I have much hope left that I'll ever see him again. But all those years I lived knowing that there is a man somewhere out there whom I've hurt really badly- and- and I can't even find him to tell him how sorry I am—” tears rushed down her face, “—to tell him that I- I still love him- I- I want him back in my life. I can't- I can't even do that.”

She suddenly stopped and raised her eyes at Adrien. “He doesn't even know he has a child. He doesn't know about Emma,” she whispered. “And Emma- she- more than anything Emma wants her daddy- and I can't- I can't give it to her- How am I supposed to tell her one day that she doesn't have a father because I couldn't sort out my feelings? How?” Her eyes filled with desperation, her body shaking violently. “How am I supposed to tell my baby that she doesn't know father's love because her mother couldn't give up on someone who never really cared for her anyway? How, Adrien? Tell me, how?”

In tears and trembling, Marinette closed her eyes and covering them with her hands slipped down to the floor. “She'll hate me,” she whispered. “I hate myself already…”

Adrien couldn't move. He hadn't expected such a violent breakdown, but, thinking about it later, he was hardly surprised. When Chat Noir decided to leave, he hadn't considered Ladybug's point of view. He had never considered that she might want him to stay, that she might love him more than the other boy. He had never thought that maybe a momentary mistake and a fleeting misunderstanding weren't him, but the battle that was raging in a young girl's heart, faced with a sudden change and flooded by doubts when giving her heart to him after years of resistance and pinning after another. Here he was blabbering about how honourably he acted by giving up his happiness for her sake, yet it was him who by that same action he was so proud of, and that was supposed to make her happy, ruined his Lady's life.

He was such an idiot, a stupid moron. He didn't deserve a second chance. He dared to hope of being accepted and dreamed of possible happiness- but now Adrien finally saw just how much he messed up, how much he hurt the one he claimed to love more than anything. He should've stayed and fought for her. They would've figured it all out eventually. Instead, he ran- ran like a loser and a coward he was.

“I'm sorry, Marinette,” Adrien rushed to her side and wrapped his arms around her shivering body. “I'm so sorry. Please, forgive me—” his voice cracked. “—I should’ve never-”

A sudden, terrified scream for help broke through the air. Marinette froze and stood up sharply, a barely audible sigh slipping from her lips.

“Emma.”

Without a second thought, Marinette rushed outside. Adrien followed. The view shocked them both. Their little girl was desperately clinging to one of the second-floor windows. Her tiny hands were barely holding onto the edge of the frame as she cried and screamed for help.

Marinette felt her heart freeze. Her breathing hitched and the body refused to obey. Unable to move, petrified, she found herself helplessly looking at the terrifying scene for a few moments that lasted an eternity. Then suddenly the instinct kicked in and Marinette sprinted into action, only to discover that Adrien was already scaling the building. That rock-climbing wall in his room and years of Chat Noir-ing had finally paid off at this very moment. Quickly he reached the window, scooped Emma up in his arms and climbed onto the roof without thinking about it twice. It seemed safer for them to go up on the roof than down to the ground, so Adrien did just that.

As soon as he felt a solid surface under his feet, Adrien collapsed to his knees, pressing Emma tight to his chest. His child's tears soaked his shirt almost immediately while his own fell to the top of her head. Softly he began to whisper words of reassurance to her, trying to calm the girl down, trying to compose himself as well. When he finally did, he heard Emma's whispering back to him through her tears.

“You finally came, Daddy. I saw you in my dreams. You saved me every time, just like now.”

Her little arms wrapped around his neck, as she continued to cry and repeat over and over again, “Please, please, don't leave me again. I promise to always love you. I will be a very good girl. Please, Daddy, don't leave me again.”

Having climbed the fire escape stairs, Marinette ran up to them at that exact moment. Barely being able to see anything through her tears, she grasped Emma from Adrien's arms and hugged her tightly.

“Emma- sweetheart- are you hurt? Don’t cry, kitten- Mama’s here. My baby- You’ll be fine now-”

At first, too stressed and shocked from all the events, Marinette didn't hear Emma's persistent cries, but once she calmed down just a tiny bit, she noticed that her daughter was trying to break away, reaching towards Adrien. Only then she listened to what Emma kept repeating.

“Mama, it's my Daddy! It's him! Let me go! I have to ask him to stay with us, please Mama! It's him!”

Marinette glanced over at Adrien who not being able to utter a single word as he struggled to breathe, silently stared back at her.

“Emma.” Marinette turned back to her daughter.  “Sweetie, I am sorry, but Uncle Adrien isn't your daddy. That's not him, kitten. He isn’t him.”

Her words made no difference. The girl continued to cry, trying to escape.

“It's him, mama! I saw him in my dreams. He saved me on a roof. It's him, mama! Tell her, Daddy! Tell her it's you!”

Marinette swallowed and without even looking at Adrien said, “I think it's better if you leave, Adrien.”

Her harsh tone brought him back to the reality of the situation and his quest. “Marinette, wait. Can we talk?”

“There is nothing to talk about. Please, leave.”

She couldn't look at him, trying and failing to control her rising anger. That! That was precisely what she was trying to protect Emma from! That was exactly the reason she didn't want Adrien near her child. First, he broke her heart, and now he was about to destroy Emma's. Marinette may have loved Adrien more than she could express but she loved her child more. Emma would always come first, and Adrien had to leave! Enough damage was done already, and his reluctance to comply with her request just made her that much angrier with each passing moment.

“But what if I am her father?” Adrien almost shouted. “Marinette- “

“Adrien, please,” the woman spoke through her clenched teeth, forcing herself not to yell at him for the sake of her baby who was still crying and trying to get out of her embrace. “Don't make it harder than it already is. You are not her father, and you know it!”

“But Marinette, please, listen to me-” he pleaded.

“No, I won't!” she raised her voice just enough for him to get the memo. “I won't because you don't make sense, Adrien! This doesn't make sense! You know where kids come from, right? You cannot seriously claim to be her father because we've never been that close. You—” her voice cracked with pain, “—you've never even noticed me as a woman before, Adrien. Never. I was always just a friend, wasn't I?”

“Marinette-”

“Go away, Adrien,” she whispered, hiding her eyes away. “I am not stupid. I know who Emma's father is, and he isn't you.”

“Can you name him then?”

Marinette turned to face him sharply. Her hold on Emma tightened as she searched his face. In a moment, she sighed bitterly. Of course, Nino would tell him her secret but how dared he to use it against her? Her voice became cold and distant, her face matched.

“I would've known if you were him, but you aren't. You can't be him. Leave, Adrien. Please.”

In an instant, Adrien's heart shattered into a million pieces. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to scream it out loud. He wanted to prove that she was wrong this time. Yet he couldn't. The time was wrong. The place was wrong. The mood was the worst. Marinette had almost lost a child just now. She won't listen. She wasn't listening already. Not right now. Not in the state she was in at this moment.

“Let me at least help you to get down,” he whispered.

“You've helped me enough already today,” she snapped back.

“Marinette-”

“Just leave, Adrien.”

He didn't say anything more. There was no use. Marinette's defences were up, and they looked impenetrable. Silently, Adrien got up on his feet and left without looking back. Emma's crying echoed in his heart for hours past. Marinette's tear-streaked face haunted his mind just as long.

Chapter Text

Sleep was something Adrien hadn't even attempted that night. Restless mind and body, still shaken from the events of the evening, he lay in his bed, silently staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing. A few hours had passed - Emma's tears and Marinette's rejection still echoed in his head. As if it hadn't been enough, the thought that just a few hours prior he could've lost his daughter, the daughter he’d just discovered but who’d already meant the world to him, chased the slightest hints of any rest tonight away.

A split second made all the difference. A few moments late, a little slower pace and - Adrien couldn't bring himself even to think what could've happened but even the thought of it scared the living daylights out of him. And then there was Marinette. Her cold, dismissive glare chilled him to the bone. The steel in her voice could rival the best of its kind. The thick walls she immediately erected around herself and Emma would need a little more than a miracle to bring down.

Adrien could understand, though. Once a good friend, now almost a stranger, he came back half a decade later and immediately imposed himself onto Marinette, prying into the most private areas of her life and claiming to be someone she’d been searching for the last six years, in the most of the inappropriate and stressful of the moments- Adrien would've kicked himself out as well. He couldn't blame Marinette. Not in this situation.

But he couldn't stop as well, because there was much more on the table than he was willing to give up without a fight. Adrien had already walked out of Marinette's life once- maybe even twice if he counted his civilian self’s failure to maintain contact with her after graduation. He didn't intend on repeating this mistake again and his retreat a few hours prior was just a little sidestep on the way. Lose a battle, win the war they say, right? His withdrawal tonight was just that – a lost battle. The war was still going on.

But everything aside, one more thought wouldn’t leave him. Why in the world was Emma in that window in the first place? Or rather how? She was supposed to be asleep. What dreams had she mumbled about? How did she know he was her father? Was that just a wishful thinking on her part or maybe something more? What was going on?

His cell phone's buzzed, bringing Adrien out of his dazzled reverie and confusion. He glanced at the time. Three in the morning. The screen showed a text from Marinette.

[Marinette: I am really sorry for such a late message, but I couldn't sleep before apologizing for my outburst. I am still too shaken to think straight right now, but even as is, I understand that I acted out of line and was undeservingly harsh to you. I am sorry for that.]

Adrien sat up. She wasn't sleeping either. His fingers were hovering above the screen as he was contemplating his answer when it lit up again.

[Marinette: I also wanted to say thank you. Thank you for saving Emma. Thank you for saving my whole world. Thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.]

Adrien's breathing hitched yet he bit his lip and quickly typed.

[Adrien: Can we talk? I need to talk to you.]

Only a few minutes passed until three running dots at the bottom of the screen appeared but it felt like an eternity.

[Marinette: I'm sorry, but I don't think that's a good idea. After today I think it'll be best if you stay away from us. Especially from Emma. Nothing against you personally. I still consider you a friend, but Emma is a naïve child and I don't want her to get any unrealistic ideas and get disappointed afterward.]

Adrien typed as fast as he could.

[Adrien: Please. All I am asking for is one meeting. Just us. Leave Emma at home if you must, but I need to talk to you.]

No matter how many times he pressed the Send button that little Not Delivered under his message wouldn't disappear. Marinette must have either turn her phone off or blocked him altogether.

“She wouldn't,” his heart screamed.

“After tonight she might,” his mind doubted.

With a heavy sigh, Adrien gave up the battle half an hour later and curled in on himself under his blanket. The messages were still not going through, and any further attempts seemed to be useless. Instead, he should give sleep another chance. Maybe it would be more merciful on him than Marinette.

No such luck. A few hours later Adrien was still twisting and turning around between his sheets, and once the clock stroked seven, he forced himself out of the bed. Today was Nino’s big day and complete exhaustion, both mental and physical, on his part didn't mean that Adrien could slack off on his responsibilities. His best friend deserved better.

Having quite a few errands to run before he had to arrive at the venue, Adrien didn't expect Nino to contact him earlier than eleven o'clock, but just a few minutes past ten his phone buzzed. The message was far from friendly.

[Nino: Get your ass over here (Rm. #7 on a second floor), or I swear, I will personally help Alya hunt you down and do whatever awful things she wants to do to you!!! Make sure no one knows or sees you!]

Adrien held his breath. He wasn't surprised to receive such a message at all. If Marinette slept as little as he did — which he suspected was the case — her appearance alone would give away the fact that something out of the ordinary had happened the day before. The discovery was bound to happen. Timing was the only question and it looked like Nino knew already. Adrien wondered if Alya did as well, and if that would be a Yes, he should probably prioritize his survival a little bit more today. His corpse wouldn't be able to win Marinette over.

Trying not to think about it too much, Adrien left his house and in about twenty minutes was already standing in front of the door number seven on the second floor of the wedding venue. He knocked. Nino opened instantly, looked around the hallway and sharply pulled Adrien inside.

“What the hell, man? What the hell?!” He seemed to be shaking with either rage or confusion. “What did you do?! I-”

Nino's furious whispering was suddenly lost somewhere in the background when in the opposite side of the room Adrien spotted a small, blonde girl sitting at a table drawing with her markers.

“Emma-” he whispered, and for a moment, everything ceased to exist, then something erupted inside of him, tension and tears bursting out of his exhausted body, leaving him entirely blind to anything else but her. There she was. His little princess. His precious daughter.

His Emma.

“Emma!” Adrien called a little louder. This time the girl turned around. Her face stilled for just a second.

“Daddy!” she squealed with joy and jumping out of her chair, ran directly into his open arms.

They met in the middle. Adrien, smiling through his tears fell to his knees just as his little girl was throwing her arms around his neck. He wrapped her in a tight embrace to match hers, a hug tighter than they had ever given anyone else.

“Emma,” Adrien continued to whisper. “My Emma. Are you alright? You are not hurt, are you?” He pulled her gently away, twirled her around, checking carefully for injuries, and satisfied with her physical condition, pulled her back to his chest. She wasn’t hurt, she was fine. That and her joyful laughter were all that mattered right now.

“Um-” a distantly familiar voice suddenly cut in. “I am sorry to interrupt you right now in a middle of such a heartwarming reunion but what the heck, Adrien????”

Snatched out of such the perfect moment, Adrien looked up at the intruder. Nino was fuming; he could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.

“I thought,” he continued. “I thought I was helping you to talk to Marinette and- I don't know, maybe, ask her on a date- flirt a little- get things going- you know, normal stuff. And what do you do? How do you thank me? Marinette is a nervous wreck and looks like she hasn't slept a bit. And Emma- Emma tells everyone right and left that you are her father!!! What happened, Adrien? What the heck is going on?”

Ignoring his enraged friend for just one more moment, Adrien looked back at Emma and gently kissed her nose.

“I missed you so much, my little bug,” he cooed to her with a smile. “But, I am afraid, Uncle Nino and I need to talk now. Why don't you go and finish what you were drawing over there while we do that? Sounds good?”

A cute little pout and a frown graced Emma’s face. “Only if you promise to stay here until I finish,” she replied. “It’s a present for you!”

“Of course, I'll stay,” Adrien smiled and lightly pressed his forehead to hers. “Promise.”

The girl grinned and ran back to the table while Adrien stood up, preparing to meet whatever Nino was going to throw at him because telling his friend everything was the first step of his brand-new plan. Adrien might not have slept much last night, but he didn't waste a single minute, considering his options and debating elaborate tactics. In the end, there was only one thing he realized - he needed help, preferably from people whom both Marinette and he could trust. If Adrien wanted to win, he required comrades in this battle, and Nino was his first candidate.

Adrien leaned back onto a wall, still watching Emma as he spoke. “I was going to talk to you anyway so might as well do it now. Yesterday-” he paused for a moment, thinking of the right words to say. “Yesterday everything started relatively well, quite amazingly actually. I drove Marinette home. We had a cup of coffee. Emma was sleeping, and everything was moving in the right direction but then—” his voice sank, “—then Emma decided to walk out a window on the second floor-”

She what?” Nino’s face paled in a split second.

“I don't know how it happened,” Adrien added. “Honestly. One moment we were in the kitchen talking while she was supposed to be sleeping in her bedroom, and the next thing we know, someone screams and Emma is barely holding onto the second-floor window. Don't ask me why and how. I wonder that myself.”

“Damn…” Nino seemed to be having troubles articulating his words now. He nervously scratched his forehead, starting to pace back and forth and finally calmed down enough to speak again. “Well, that might explain why Marinette is so out of it today. But she is Ladybug, even though she is a retired one. She is still more than capable to deal with that kind of stuff. I bet she just swung up there-”

“She didn’t,” Adrien interrupted, his eyes focused on Nino, waiting for his reaction as he spoke. “I did.”

“You?” Surprise and disbelief zoomed across his friend’s face. “How?”

“Yes, Uncle Nino.” Emma suddenly materialized by his side. “Daddy saved me. Just like in my dream.”

“Emma,” Adrien looked sternly at her. “I thought we agreed that you were going to draw over there?”

“But I want to tell Uncle Nino how you saved me.”

“And you will—” he crouched beside her, “—but some other time. Now we had a deal and if you want me to keep my end of it-”

“Fine,” the girl pouted. “But don’t leave until I finish.”

“I won't if you behave.” The corners of his lips twitched in a smile as he bumped her nose with his finger. “Now off you go.”

Satisfied, Emma ran off again. Adrien straightened up and met with a silent question in Nino's eyes explained. “I scaled the wall, picked Emma up on the way and got on a roof.”

“What are you some kind of-” Nino’s smirk vanished, his eyes widening instantly as something clicked in his mind. “Did you say the roof???”

Adrien didn't reply because not even waiting for it, Nino began to panic, resuming his pacing around the room, mumbling something under his breath, and looking like the world had just ended. Adrien stilled. By now, he realized that there was something important related to roofs, Emma, and her father but what exactly he didn't know. At first, it was Nino who let a few words slip when they first met at that park. Then he heard Emma murmur something about her dreams and a roof and him the day before but being too distraught he paid little attention to what exactly she was saying.

“Oh, my gosh!!! Oh, no!!!” Nino continued to wail. “Why did you have to get on the roof, Adrien??? Couldn’t you jump down? To the side? Back into the window? If Alya finds out-” Nino halted and paled. “That’s it!” he whispered. “You are a dead man!!! Dead as dead can be- and me- even deader. Oh, man! Why, Adrien? Why the roof?”

“Nino.” Deciding that enough was enough, Adrien walked up to him and taking hold of his shoulders stopped him in his tracks. His eyes focused on the man in front of him. “What is it with roofs and Emma, Nino? Why is that such a big deal?”

The groom who wasn't so sure he was going to survive this day anymore bit into his lower lip hard, looking to the side. His brows knitted in a frown. “You don't know yet?”

Adrien shook his head. Nino sighed and closed his eyes.

“Emma,” he started in a little while. “Emma keeps having those strange dreams about how she is sitting on a roof with her daddy who just saved her from something. She said she doesn’t remember what he saves her from but she knows that that man is her father.”

Taking advantage of Adrien's weakened hold, Nino turned sideways. His fingers fidgeted with the hems of his sleeves as he continued. “Marinette told us that Emma started having them about two years ago. She doesn't have them often, once or twice a year at most, but it's still an issue and a safety hazard because every time Emma tries to climb up on the roof. So far, she’s never succeeded in getting all the way up and we thought that it was just a stage and would pass, but it didn't. That little stubborn thing keeps having those dreams, and every time she tries to get on a roof to meet her daddy.”

“That’s-” Adrien felt his heart tightened, lost for words. His five-year-old daughter wanted to meet him so much, she risked her life for a miserly, almost non-existent chance? He glanced over at her, feeling every nerve in his body tingling with pain.

“That was probably why she was up there,” Nino concluded. “She must have had the same dream yesterday, and since Marinette blocked all of the accessible ways to her roof, the smarty pants probably decided to go through her window.” The man pinched the bridge of his nose, contemplating on something before exhaling and looking right at his friend.

“That’s why she thinks you are her father, Adrien.”

“Poor Marinette. I can't even imagine what she is going through right now,” Nino whispered a moment later, turning away in exasperation, trying hard not to think about the consequences of this situation. “And Alya- She is so going to kill me. You and me. Both of us. I helped you to get there, and I am so dead for that. No. Really,” he whined, hiding his face into his hands. “So dead. We both are goners. The only thing that could save us right now-”

Nino suddenly froze before sharply he turning around.

Are you Emma's father by any chance?”

Instead of replying out loud, Adrien continued to watch Nino with such determination in his eyes that the man didn’t need words to understand his answer. His eyes widened to proportions Adrien had never witnessed before.

Oh my gosh, Adrien!” Nino's hands that gripped Adrien's shoulders. “You are Emma's father? You were Chat Noir? But how? Why didn't you-”

In an instant, Nino stilled.

Slowly the power of his grip decreased as Nino stared at his friend in shock. A moment later he snatched his arms back as if burned or extremely disgusted; it was hard to judge. He took a step back.

“I am not going to wonder now about why you didn't tell me or how I didn't realize it myself,” Nino said when the initial shock subdued. “I just have one question for you, Adrien.” His eyes filled with pain, a kind of hurt Adrien had never seen in his friend's eyes before. “Why did you leave Marinette? Wasn't she good enough for you? A baby didn't fit in your glorious future? Did you think her a burden to be ashamed of? What? What was going on in your head?” he almost spat. “And even if- even if you didn't want anything to do with Marinette or her baby- Why couldn't you-” Nino paused, struggling to continue, as his voice overflowed with sorrow and anger. He turned away. “At least- the least you could've done is to tell her who the father was. Maybe then Emma wouldn't try to kill herself every time she looks for you.”

Nino's words seized. He couldn't bear to speak anymore, too overwhelmed by the inner turmoil that crushed on him. It ripped, it broke, it hurt, mercilessly destroying one of the best things in Nino's life - his friendship with Adrien. Nino liked Adrien. He really did. The man was still his best friend even though he’d lived across the ocean for years. However, right now, at that very moment, Nino wondered how the heck was he even able to stand in the same room with Adrien?

A quiet whisper “I didn't know” brought him back from his silent rage.

“What the hell do you mean you didn't know?” Nino was about to explode as fury coursed through his veins. “How could you not know such things?”

Adrien tried to keep his voice quiet if only for the sake of the little girl sitting nearby. What he was about to say wasn't something he wanted her to hear. So, he faced Nino and spoke quietly yet sternly. 

“I didn't know Ladybug was Marinette. I didn't know she was pregnant, and I didn't leave because I wanted to, Nino. I knew nothing of this. No one told me anything, Nino. This whole mess could've been avoided if only someone didn't keep secrets from me. You could've told me, Nino, but you didn't. Why?” Adrien paused and looked at the other man.

“Hey! Don't make me the guilty one!” that replied. “I couldn't. The girls made me swear I wouldn't say anything to anyone, not even to you, dude.”

“I'm not making you guilty,” Adrien sighed, closing his eyes. “I just keep thinking about those 'what ifs”, keep wishing things would've been different.” He paused, pain mirroring on his face before he continued in a whisper, his sight falling to the ground. “Everything could've been different if someone, anyone would just tell me stuff. I would’ve come back on the next plane. I would have been here for them. I might have even been with them, but- but as it stands - the last time I saw Ladybug I still didn't know who she was and she told me that it was a mistake- That I was a mistake. She said she wished she’d never met me- that I’d ruined her dreams of being with the other man she liked. So I left. Ladybug didn't want me anywhere near her. I was the problem, an obstacle to her happiness. What else was I supposed to do? Do you—” Adrien looked in the eyes of at the man whom he considered to be his best friend, “—do you really think I would've left her if I knew? Do you think I would not keep an eye on her if I at least knew her name? Everything I did I did for her happiness, or at least I thought so.”

“Yeah, okay.” Nino frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “So now you are blaming Marinette and us for everything?”

“No, I don't.” Adrien shook his head. “I won't lie, I do wish you would've told me, but I cannot blame you for not doing so. Same for me - I wish I would've stayed, but I didn't,” Adrien sighed, dropping his head backward, letting his eyes wander around the ceiling. “Now I realize what a self-centred coward I was. A knee jerk reaction to be rivalled with - that what it was, not a noble sacrifice as I thought. I wish someone would've kicked my ass back then, told me that six years ago, but that didn't happen and now we have the mess we have.”

“You’ve got it there, bro,” Nino frowned. “A mess indeed.”

Adrien leaned on a nearby wall, his forehead landing on its cold surface. “It gets worse, though,” he added.

“Oh?” Nino crossed his arms over his chest. “And how could it get any worse? Are you married or something?”

“No,” Adrien shrugged. “Never touched or even looked at another woman. Once you are in love with Ladybug,” he murmured with the tiniest of a smile on his lips. “You never forget her. It's like a lifelong sentence - either bliss or torture.”

About minute both of them stood silently, pounding on their own thoughts. Then Nino asked, “So how does it get worse?”

“Ah,” Adrien straightened up. “I might have found out recently that the other man she was in love with, the one she preferred over Chat Noir me-”

“What another man?? Nino interrupted. “As far as I know, Marinette had ever only had a crush on you, Adrien- Wait a second-” Nino's jaws dropping down instantly. “Nooooo. Don’t tell me she broke up with Chat-you because she was in love with Adrien-you?”

“That’s about the scoop of it.”

“Pfft,” Nino couldn't contain his amusement. The anger, the betrayal that wasn't, it all took a step back in the light of the most ridiculous criss-cross love dilemma Nino had ever heard. “No way, man! That's so awesome—” he cleared his throat, “—bad. I mean horrible. Yes, utterly awful. Horrendous.”

He tried to keep it together for a few moments but just a second later a chuckle escaped Nino's lips. “Wait till Alya hears about it,” he didn't even pretend anymore. “She is going to flip!”

“Ah, so my messed up personal life is nothing but amusement to you?”

“Nah, man,” Nino bro-fisted Adrien's shoulder. “I know it's bad, but even you have to admit that this isn't something you encounter every day.”

Adrien only weakly smiled. “No, it's not. Somehow it doesn't make it easier.”

“So, what's next, dude?”

“I’ll try winning her back.” Adrien looked back to Emma, a soft smile trembling at his lips. “A tall order, I know, but I want to try anyway. I still love her, Nino, and now I have Emma as well. They both are everything I want or will ever need.” His eyes lingered on the girl for a few moments before he added. “But I messed so badly that I'm not sure Marinette will even want me back. That’s why I’ve told you everything. I need your help, Nino.”

“Well, for starters,” Nino interrupted. “You’ve got to tell her the truth.”

“That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do, Nino,” Adrien groaned. “Honestly, I thought this would be a little easier than it actually is.”

“How hard could it be? Just go and tell her!”

“You’d think so, right?” Adrien ran his palm on his face. “But every time, Nino- Every single time I try to tell her, something just has to happen. Either Marinette escapes in the middle of a conversation or Emma would try to jump out of a window. You choose. I swear, sometimes I even suspect that Marinette's trying to avoid me deliberately! She told me to stay away today. After yesterday's accident, I mean, Marinette straightforward told me to stay away from them. Do you think—” Adrien faced Nino suddenly, “—do you think she hates me? Why else would she say that?”

“Are you crazy, man, or blind?” Nino shook his head in exasperation. “Marinette has never hated you and she never will. If you ask me, I’d say that it's more likely that she hasn’t gotten completely over you and just wants to protect herself since you’ll be leaving soon again. Don't know about your Chat persona, though, but the way she behaves around you now is a typical I-have-a-crush-on-Adrien-that-I-can't-afford Marinette.”

“What?”

“Trust me, dude.” Nino petted Adrien's shoulder. “Once you are Marinette and you are in love with Adrien Agreste you never get over it.”

A friendly chuckle broke through the final strains of tension, and once that playful spark returned to Nino's eyes, Adrien braved his request.

“You’ve got to help me, Nino.”

“Me?” Nino's made a face and backed away a step. “Man, no. No. Don't even ask something like that. You know I love you, dude, and everything, but no. First, this is something between you two guys. Second, I already tried to help you and do I need to remind you how it ended? Third, Alya's going to kill me-”

“First,” Adrien interrupted, his determined eyes focused on Nino. “I tried to do it myself, and it doesn't work. Blame my bad luck or something, but I seem to not be capable of doing it alone. Second—” he raised his arm to silence his friend who was about to protest, “—your help yesterday was priceless and quite appreciated, and actually got me the closest to telling her. Like, literally, seconds away. And finally—” he crossed his arms over his chest, “—would she, Nino? If I know one thing about Alya, it’s that she wants Marinette to be happy and Emma to have a father. I can be both of those things. I want to make Marinette happy, and I am Emma’s father. Why would Alya kill you for trying to fulfill one of her greatest wishes? I think, quite the opposite - she would help us-”

Nino was about to reply when a beat of one of the latest tunes sounded from his pocket. Pointing his fingers at Adrien to stay in place, he quickly pulled his cell phone out, glanced at the screen and swore under his breath.

“Okay,” Nino quickly added. “We have about five minutes left before Mme. Bella arrives to pick up Emma, so let's get back to the reason I called you here in the first place - I need you to make Emma stop calling you her daddy because I don't want Alya to have a full-blown heart attack at the altar or even worse - ditch me there in order to kick your ass. We’ll deal with you and this whole mess later, after I get her married to me. Capish?”

“Why did you need me for that-”

“Adrien,” Nino sighed. “I love Emma with my whole heart. She is like a daughter to me by now, but to get her to do something so profound I cannot. Not for the lack of desire on my part, believe me, but how am I supposed to make her keep quiet about someone she was searching her whole life for? She is a kid. She doesn't listen to the reason and logic. But you, my dear Adrien—” he pointed his finger towards the man, “—you have a way with her. She listens to you for some reason. Geez.” his smirk was full of irony. “I wonder why now?”

“Not funny,” Nino frowned when Adrien laughed. “Go get Emma to cooperate - work your magic, Emma's Daddy, and save my wedding. Or marriage. Both actually.”

“As you wish, oh noble King of Ninoland!” Adrien bowed down and headed to the table his daughter was still sitting at, fully engrossed in her own thing. A miracle of some sort, he thought on his way. I would've eavesdropped a long time ago. Must be inherited from her mother.

Arriving, Adrien leaned over to see what Emma was drawing, but his little girl quickly covered her drawing with her hands.

“No peeking, Daddy!” she cried out. “I'll call you when I'm done.”

Adrien sat in a nearby chair and turned the opposite way. “I am not looking. See? Can I stay here?”

“Okay, you can stay,” she agreed. “Just don’t look.”

“Emma,” Adrien asked in a minute. “Can I ask you for a favour?”

“Sure,” she hummed. “But first- Ta-da! You can look now. Here, Daddy, see? It's for you!”

Turning around, Adrien didn't see anything spectacular — a smiling girl, offering him a childish drawing — but his heart tightened, breath lost its rhythm, and a smile vanished as his lips parted slightly.

“Is that-”

“It's you and me, and here is Mama too!” Emma happily pointed out a stick figure dressed in a red dress with black hair. The blond stick person in a green t-shirt and black pants was supposed to be him, he reasoned, and a small blond girl in a blue dress in the middle was probably Emma. All three stood together, smiling and holding hands. A huge light pink heart behind them. “We love you, Daddy” written at the top.

“I didn't ask her yet, Daddy—” Adrien suddenly started to distinguish the speech again. “—because she was very sad yesterday and today, but I will ask her later.”

“Ask whom what?” he murmured, eyes still glued to that Daddy Emma wrote in unskilled letters.

“Ask Mama if we could keep you and-”

A loud snort followed by a poorly disguised laugh interrupted Emma’s speech. Adrien, who couldn’t stop a chuckle himself, turned to Nino trying to fake his best judging look. Nino shrugged, sincere, innocent look on his face. “What?”

“I am sorry for him, sweetheart.” Adrien turned back to Emma. “Uncle Nino is a little bit weird today. Probably because he is about to be kept himself. By Auntie Alya! So,” he cleared his throat. “Do you think your Mama would want to keep me?”

Emma's face brightened. “Oh, yes, Daddy! I really, really think she will! You are a perfect daddy. You are handsome, give presents, and you smell nice, so I am sure mama would want to keep you. But if she won't—” Emma slightly frowned, “—then I'll ask her if I can keep you in my room-”

Another loud snort from Nino echoed through the room. This time Adrien ignored him completely.

“Do you think that maybe I can ask your Mama myself first if she would want to keep me?” Adrien smiled at Emma, tucking one of her loose hair strands behind her ear. “I'll get her a nice present, and maybe she'll like me even better? What do you think?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Emma jumped excitedly. “Mama likes chocolate and kisses! Get her both!”

Adrien’s eyebrows crawled up. “Chocolate and kisses?”

“Yes!” Emma beamed. “Mama always says that chocolate is the best cure for everything and every time I kiss her goodnight she says that it was the best thing that happened to her that day. So, if you'd get her chocolate and kisses, she'll love you forever and would want you to live with us!”

“Okay,” Adrien chuckled. Emma was his child, and he was biased, but as of now, she was officially the best, most adorable kid on the Earth. “I'll try that.” He nodded and quickly added. “But only if you promise me to keep a little secret.”

“Oooh! A secret!” Emma squealed. “I love secrets! Okay! I'll keep your secret, and you get Mama to keep you!”

Adrien laughed. The most adorable for sure. “I need you to keep a secret that I am your Daddy until I talk to your Mama. Don’t tell anyone, especially Auntie Alya. Deal?”

Emma's face instantly saddened. For a moment it seemed like she was about to cry. It broke his heart.

“You don’t like me?” she whispered, looking at her feet. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, Emma. No.” Adrien hurried to shift forward, wrap his arms around the small girl and pull her closer into a hug. He sadly smiled to himself - so eager to please and always looking for the approval of her loved ones. How agonizingly familiar was Emma’s behaviour.

“No, of course, not,” he whispered into her ear. “How can you even think that, Emma? You are the best little girl I've ever met and don't forget that today, you are also The Coolest Princess who will protect The Wisest Princess Alya from the evil forces. It just couldn't get any better. You are the best. How could I not like you? In fact—” Adrien pulled back a little and caught Emma's sight, “—quite contrary - I like you very, very much. To the Moon- No, to the end of the Galaxy and back. Triple times.”

Adrien bopped her nose with a finger and smiled the sincerest way he could. It seemed to reach her heart because the next moment Emma looked happy again, smiling widely herself.

“Promise?”

“I promise,” Adrien reassured her but didn’t let go completely. “You see, the reason I want you to keep it a secret-”

“Because if you tell anyone, Emma,” Nino cut in from behind. “Then it'll spoil our ‘Surprise! Adrien is Emma’s Daddy!’ party!”

In a matter of a few seconds, Emma's face went from confusion to delight. “We're are going to have a party?”

Both men nodded enthusiastically. “Sure. Yeah. A party we will have,” they chanted in unison. “Just keep it a secret,” Adrien added. “Because what kind of a surprise it would be if everyone already knows that I am your Daddy? No fun, right?”

“Okay,” Emma nodded, a grin splitting her lips. “But I want to help.”

“Of course,” Adrien agreed.

“We’ll go to Disneyland for that party, right?” Emma asked.

“Absolutely! No problemo,” Nino confirmed. “Disneyland is the perfect place for this party! Right, Emma's Daddy?”

“Without a doubt,” Adrien side-glared at his buddy. “Uncle Nino even volunteered to take care of everything himself. You know, like a party planner?”

“We'll talk about that later,” Nino fake smiled. “Now we need to go, right, Emma? Mme. Bella is waiting for you downstairs.”

“Okay,” the girl agreed yet suddenly became a little shy, hiding her hands behind her back and lowering her eyes to the floor, instantly reminding Adrien of Marinette in her school days.

“Um, Daddy,” she whispered. “Can you walk with me down the aisle, please? I don't want to mess anything up with my magic flower petals, and I need you to help me.”

“Awww, I'd love to,” Adrien smiled. “But, unfortunately, I can't. Your magic flowers can protect only princesses, so someone needs to protect the Great King Nino of Ninoland. You'll do just fine, Emma.” He gently petted her golden hair. “You've practiced hard, and you'll do amazingly.”

The sound of Nino’s cell phone split the space once again.

“I'm sorry, Emma,” Nino interrupted, glancing at the screen. “But we need to go now.”

The girl nodded, stood on her toes, leaned over and planted a kiss on Adrien’s cheek. “I love you, Daddy,” she smiled, melting Adrien’s heart once more.

“Love you too, Emma,” he couldn't contain a smile himself.

“We'll talk after the wedding so don't disappear,” Nino warned and vanished behind the door, leading his little girl away.

Adrien remained in the room for a few more minutes. Thoughts, concerns, hopes, and a relief in a way, all mixed up in his sleep-deprived mind and a few minutes to clear his head were highly needed. Yesterday had been extremely stressful, but opening up all of his secrets to Nino today was no less nerve-wracking. Adrien also suspected that their conversation after the wedding would undoubtedly feature Alya as well and even the thought alone had Adrien gulp in fear. However, another issue occupied his mind too much to care about his safety at this point - in a couple of minutes, he would encounter Marinette.

Adrien fixed his suit. An involuntary sigh escaped his lips as he opened the door to the mostly empty hallway and headed to the main gallery. Despite all of the events of the past twenty-four hours, he looked decent and even somewhat sharp.

Until he saw Marinette, that is.

Just a few meters away from the entrance to the main hall she appeared to be thoughtfully immersed in a conversation with someone he didn't know. Her lips graced a gently smile. Her outfit was simple, yet it made her look incredible - a jaw-dropping level of incredible where Adrien was concerned. Floor-length blue gown with beautifully arranged designs of Swarovski accents that accentuated her eyes and defined her curves in all the right places. A small bouquet of white roses in her hands contrasted nicely with her dark hair, crowned by an elegant Swarovski pin. Simple yet elegant and tasteful, bringing out her best features exceptionally well.

Rip, Adrien Agreste all over again.

His jaw slacked, the man froze in his place, but in just a few moments Marinette's eyes shifted and Adrien got caught. His face flushed bright red. There might have been a light blush on Marinette’s cheeks as well, but it was hard to judge for she turned back to her conversation partner way sooner than Adrien could look closer. Soon, though, to his relief or horror, he didn't know yet, Marinette bid her farewell and headed Adrien's way. Only now, as she walked closer, he noticed the slight puffiness under her eyes and a spider web of red strings in them betraying her sleepless night and exhaustion.

Marinette smiled despite that. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

For a little while neither of them, both nervous and unsure, said anything and just when Marinette wanted to start Adrien braved his chance.

“Hey.” He fidgeted with his fingers safely hidden in his pockets. “I want to apologize for yesterday-”

“No, Adrien,” Marinette interrupted. “That’s me-”

“Marinette,” he stopped her from continuing. “Please. I messed up so badly yesterday I don't even know what to say.” Adrien paused for a moment, eyes desperately searching Marinette's face for some kind of a sign he wasn't even sure which. “I'm sorry,” he continued shortly. “I crossed all imaginable boundaries yesterday. I should've never pried into your personal life, and I'm very sorry that I did.”

“I bet you didn’t realize just how messed up I am,” Marinette sadly smiled. “I am sorry for exploding on you. I should’ve had more composure than that.”

“You aren’t messed up, Marinette,” Adrien protested. “You just went through something traumatic and have a rather sensitive area in your life but who doesn’t?”

“I know quite a few people-”

“So not the point,” Adrien chuckled. “Listen. I want to make it up to you. Can I take you, let's say, out for lunch tomorrow to compensate for the spoiled evening? Any place you want,” he rushed to add when Marinette stilled. “Somewhere public of course, so there won't be chances of me misbehaving again. What do you think?”

“Adrien, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I am sure you are busy, and I don't want to take more of your time-”

“I have the whole day free tomorrow, so that's not a valid excuse.”

“Well, then-” Marinette thought hard. “Then-”

“Then there shouldn't be any good reasons not to have lunch with me,” Adrien finished for her. “Come on, Marinette. I feel awful for putting you through yesterday's experience. Let me make it right. Please?”

Marinette shifted her weight to the other leg and bit her lower lip. She wanted to refuse. He loved another. He was leaving. Her renewed feelings were doomed and useless. She couldn't do this to herself anymore. But- those green, pleading eyes wouldn't let her reject his offer on the spot. “How about I'll think about it and tell you later?” she finally managed. Later, Adrien would either forget, or she would escape as always.

“Sure,” Adrien nodded. “I'll wait.”

“Good,” she exhaled. “Now I think we better go and make our friends happy and proud today, okay?”

“Let's do this,” Adrien smiled and followed Marinette into the main room. Relieved and happy that their fragile relationship miraculously didn't take a turn into the hatred and avoidance zone, Adrien could barely hold back a grin yet he knew that any progression needed to be done extremely cautiously. He’d do his best. Hopefully, his bad luck would leave him alone for once.

Chapter Text

She had little sleep and too many confused and contradictory emotions inside of her, but as the sun peeked above the horizon, Marinette had firmly decided on one thing - neither Alya nor Nino deserved for their best man and the maid of honour to be at odds with each other on their wedding day. Having already had one unfortunate experience of hurting her loved one while being emotional, Marinette couldn't allow for that to happen again - she couldn't spoil the happiest day of Alya's life. That's why when the first sun rays of the day pierced through her windows, she stopped agonizing over the events of the last night and carefully considered her actions for the day - take a step back, put herself together and her loved ones above her own emotions, and do everything possible to remain civil with Adrien for her friends' sake.

Easier said than done but, nevertheless, as soon as she could, Marinette talked to Adrien, ensured they both were on the same page and more or less made up. Then she walked down the aisle, stood by Alya's side and smiled, made sure the ceremony and the dinner ran smoothly, and everyone looked their best. Not a single detail escaped her watchful eye as she pulled her best for her best friend on her special day. Still, in all the chaos, somehow, Marinette couldn't think of anything else but Adrien and the previous night.

For the most part, she was confused. Adrien had never paid her so much attention as he had done in the last few days. Why? Why would Adrien be so interested in her all of a sudden? Why was he so concerned about her feelings toward Emma's father? Why did he suddenly care so much?

One particular line had bothered her the most, though. But what if I am her father? Inevitably, Marinette's thoughts raced back to Chat Noir as her sight shifted to the side to catch a glimpse of the impeccable human being standing beside Nino. He was tired and sleepy, but even in this state, Adrien was an image of perfection. The flawlessly fitted suit, that neatly groomed hair, his immaculate stance, not a string, not a thread out of place. Perfect, and so unlike Chat with his wild blond mop of a hairdo and skin-tight suit that left little to the imagination. Not the look the Agreste heir would ever be showing off. Not at all.

Of course, they shared some physical characteristics, which proved only that she just had a type, not that they were the same person. Their personalities were way too different for that. Adrien was sweet and thoughtful while Chat was ambitious and often talked before thinking. Adrien was always polite and mindful of others. Chat couldn't live without flirting and badly-timed puns. Chat had loved her from their very first meeting while Adrien had always insisted she was just a friend. He couldn't be him. He just couldn't be.

“Do you, Alya Cèsaire, take this man-”

A smile played on Marinette's lips as she remembered the moment she fell for that silly cat - that day he died for her for the fifth time. A nasty akuma had been aiming for Ladybug but he, her stupid, reckless cat, had jumped in front of her again. With a growl, Ladybug had gotten ready to fight to the death. It was an epic battle, but eventually, she had defeated the akuma and brought everyone back to normal. Everyone, including Chat Noir. The first words he had spoken to her upon waking up in her arms still lingered in her mind to this day.

“For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health-”

“My Lady,” Chat had murmured, still weak and disoriented. “I didn't have a chance to say it to you in my last four lives, so I am not waiting for the right moment again. I love you, Ladybug!” he had whispered. “I love you with all my heart and soul. I will always love you, no matter where you are, who you are or even if you love me back.”

“To love and to cherish; from this day forward-”

“I love you,” Chat had said, and her world had changed forever.

That was the moment when something had clicked. For the first time in her superhero career, Ladybug had realized that, just a few minutes earlier, she hadn't been fighting to save Paris or to protect its citizens. No. Her battle was for Chat Noir. His life was at stake. She couldn't lose him. She'd lose her own life in trying, but she couldn't afford to lose him because-

At that very moment, Ladybug had realized that she had loved that silly cat, loved him more than she had ever loved Adrien. At that very moment, letting her tears flow she pressed closer to her partner and sobbed on his chest for what felt like hours. That evening, wrapped in his arm, she leaned over and pressed her lips to his, their first, conscious on both sides, kiss, marking a start of their relationship.

“I do.”

To be completely honest, at that time Marinette had still been harbouring a warm affection for Adrien, but after Chat's confession, she had decided to leave her former classmate behind and look at her partner with different eyes. And truly, Chat Noir had been a breath of fresh air after years of unrequited love. He was different. He excited her and made her happy. He was always such a goofball yet quite a gentleman. He never went further than she allowed him. He always respected her. Never pushed, never insisted, he was happy with what she was ready to give him. Quite soon Marinette found herself wishing with all of her heart that she would be able to give him all of her love, but somewhere deep inside, the ghost of Adrien refused to leave.

As if in fog, Marinette heard Nino starting to repeat the oath, but her thoughts were still far away - the day she broke Chat's heart. She didn't mean to hurt him, but did it matter now? That day, her twentieth birthday, she had decided it was finally the time to commit to a serious relationship with Chat. No more 'maybes' or taking it slow. No more hesitant kisses only to hold him at arm's length later. Chat had waited years for her, patiently enduring her stupid hesitations and uncertainty. It was time to give them both what they truly wanted and her birthday seemed like the perfect day to finally forget the past and move on.

However, as soon as Marinette had crossed the line, a part of her heart, the one that still belonged to Adrien, raised a rebellion. After their night, she had awoken when it was still dark and fled. For the next while, miserable and confused, feeling the guilt of betrayal, Marinette couldn't find peace anywhere. In her head, she understood that she couldn't have betrayed someone she was never in a relationship with, but her heart refused to listen, chanting “How could you? What about Adrien?” over and over again.

She had tried to fight it. She knew it wasn't normal, but back then she was a mess and had no one around to help her. At least, no one to whom she had the courage to go. The breaking point, however, came as soon as she saw Chat Noir for the first time after their date, approaching her with a charming smile on his lips. He looked like his life couldn't be any better while she was utterly miserable. She tried to pretend. She tried to act normally but, in the end, she just couldn't.

She broke.

Ladybug had cried; she had yelled; she had pushed him away. She had been beyond exhausted and just wishing for that confusion, pain, guilt and that unbearably heavy burden of betrayal to vanish. She had never planned to tell him about Adrien but did it almost immediately. She had never wanted to make him feel responsible, but somehow, he looked crushed and guilty as soon as he understood. The last thing, Ladybug had meant to say was I wish I'd never met you, but it slipped from her lips before she could stop herself.

That was the very moment something broke inside of him as well. She could see it in his eyes, and before Ladybug could finish her sentence, before she could fix the damage Chat had quietly replied, “As you wish, my Lady. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.”

He'd bowed down and disappeared into the night, leaving a mess of a Ladybug to stand there, frozen in her place, too shocked to chase after him by the sight of a small, black velvet box that slipped out of his pocket. About ten minutes later she had finally gotten the courage to pick it up. The content was speaking louder than anything Chat Noir could've ever said.

“I do,” Nino happily said somewhere to her side, and Marinette's heart tightened. That could've been her and Chat if only she would've controlled herself and her emotions or gotten help when she needed it. She didn't, and she wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to forgive herself for that.

Even back then she'd immediately realized she hurt him; however, the full extent of the catastrophe she had unleashed Marinette had understood a little later when a new Chat Noir had appeared and a delayed period prompted her to buy a pregnancy test. Forced to give up her Miraculous, alone and pregnant, Marinette had finally sought out help. She had gone to her parents and confessed to her friends only with one thought in mind - her baby. Because what most people would've regarded as an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, Marinette had accepted as a precious gift from the destiny, a second chance, a small part of Chat Noir she could still have.

“You can now kiss the bride!” the priest said, and Marinette, pushing her thoughts away, cheered as Alya pulled Nino into a kiss. This day was her best friend's wedding. She had to do her best and look happy. No. She has to do her best and be happy.

But her mind was still refusing to let go despite her best efforts. The guilt of hurting Chat Noir in such an irrational and cruel and simply childish way was haunting her for years. That guilt had kept her single all this time. That guilt drove her to give Emma the best upbringing she could. That same guilt was the base of a mountain of reasons why she couldn't give Adrien a chance, not that he wanted one anyway. That guilt was something she had never let anyone on, except for yesterday when Adrien had practically forced her to open up. Maybe, that was for the best, though - a good reminder of how horrible of a person she was and how undeserving of happiness she'd become by her own actions.

Marinette had never forgiven herself for hurting Chat Noir, but even if she did, there was another issue standing between her and any potential suitor - she still loved him. A part of her heart would always belong to Chat Noir and committing herself to anyone else until that was the case was out of the question. Being with another man, even if it were her other love Adrien, would always feel like a betrayal to Chat, and burned once in a similar situation, Marinette was too afraid to try it again. It could only lead to her hurting Adrien, just as she hurt Chat.

Why was she even thinking about it? Adrien was leaving for the States soon. Yes, he took an unusual interest in her recently, but it only was his way of catching up with a good friend. Nothing more. It couldn't mean anything more and Marinette knew it. Immediately, she shrugged her shoulders, inhaled deeply and looked ahead with renewed determination - she'd be nice to him, she'd be his friend, and she would lock her foolish heart under a few more locks to keep it from acting out. After all, she had Emma to think about.

The rest of the ceremony and the reception Marinette dutifully followed Alya, helping her with the smallest needs and details. She made sure the guests were all taken care of. She straightened Alya dress when it was a little dishevelled after the first dance. She helped her with the washroom and fixed her hair. She accepted the bride's calls and made sure nothing significant happened on the world's arena while Alya was away from the internet. There was a small mishap with the cake. Marinette took care of it. Nino lost the USB drive with the music he prepared for Alya? It was Marinette who found it. She even fixed Adrien's jacket when some kid pulled hard and ripped the button off. And she did it in the friendliest of the ways. Anything and everything that went wrong - Marinette was there to deal with it, so it was no wonder that by the sundown she was barely standing on her two feet.

That was why when somewhere closer to the end of the reception beaming with joy Emma dragged Adrien up to her and asked for the permission to dance with him, Marinette didn't have the strength to forbid her daughter a few dances with Uncle Adrien, especially since she was unusually well-behaved for the whole day. To her amazement, Emma seemed to forget the previous night and hadn't called Adrien Daddy again, apart from a few times in the morning. She also hadn't spent her whole day shadowing him as Marinette was predicting instead quietly enjoying whatever entertainment Mme. Bella was providing her. Marinette was surprised but extremely happy because it looked like unnecessary drama was avoided with minimal damage.

“Did you dance yet, Mari?” Alya whispered from the side when the pair took off.

“Not yet,” she weakly smiled. “Didn’t have time.”

“You should. I know how you love to dance, girl. I wouldn’t want you to spend this whole day doing nothing but work. Go have fun as well.”

“That’s fine, Alya,” Marinette sighed. “I had plenty of fun today. Plus, we can always go somewhere after you come back from your honeymoon and catch on all the missed dances.”

“Well, the evening isn't over yet, Mari. Find yourself someone and go dance,” Alya tempted with a wink, turning her attention back to Nino. From a corner of her eye, Marinette saw Nino whispering something in Alya's ear and instantly her friend stilled. Her eyes focused on something in the room, then glanced back at Marinette.

“I need to step out for a few minutes,” Alya said with a smile, but something was off - Marinette could feel it. Alya's smile was too tense, her voice way too jittery. She moved in a too stiff of a manner.

“Do you need help?” Marinette rushed to offer.

“No.” Alya tried to look carefree. “Just a word with the husband.”

“Okay.” Marinette nodded. “I'll be here if you need me.”

“Sure,” the bride replied and dragged her groom outside the room.

About five minutes later Marinette was still sitting alone as the voice of Elvis filled the room, changing from a more upbeat tune. I can’t help falling in love with you, he sang as Marinette slightly dizzy with exhaustion took another sip of her champagne. The previous stressful and sleepless night was finally getting to her.

“Marinette?” she suddenly heard to the right and almost jolted around, startled by the unexpected voice.

“I'm sorry,” Adrien apologized. “I didn't mean to scare you.”

“No, that’s fine,” Marinette smiled. “I’m just a bit tired so I kind of spaced out. Where is Emma?”

“Oh, she's back with Mme Bella,” Adrien replied. “They went to get the dessert.”

“Good.” Marinette fell silent. Even despite her strong determination to be friendly, she was still trying to avoid being alone with Adrien and actually managed to do so for most of the day. However, being as tired as she was now, she didn't want to run away again and quite frankly she didn't care anymore either. Adrien was nice. He proved to be quite helpful today and friendly, and charming, reliable, trustworthy and looked so handsome in that suit-

Get a grip, girl, she scolded herself in her mind and hid her blushing face from Adrien who just as silently as she continued to stand beside her.

“Are you too tired for a dance?” Adrien quietly asked a few more moments later.

“Hm,” Marinette smirked. “Did Alya send you?”

“No?” Adrien eyebrows knitted in a frown. “Why would you think so?”

“Because we just discussed the topic of me not dancing yet and then she vanished and you appear with an invitation. Too much of a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, while it does look suspicious,” Adrien smiled. “Let me assure you that neither I saw Alya in the last twenty minutes, nor did she ask me to do this. Believe it or not, I wanted to invite you for a dance ever since the evening started, but you seemed to be always busy. So, I waited until you sat down, and only then came to rectify this awful injustice of you not dancing yet.”

“Nah,” she lazily shook her hands. “Thank you, but I still need to do-”

“Come on, Marinette,” Adrien walked to stand in front of her, smiled and stretched his hand out. “Dance with me. You need to relax a little too.”

Blankly Marinette stared at his hand for a couple of seconds. Then her eyes shifted to his face, to the eyes filled with worry for some reason, and to the smile that seemed to tremble on his lips.

Some things are meant to be, Elvis sang in the background as Marinette thought. She was tired physically, but even more so she was exhausted emotionally. She wanted a break so badly, to relax and have fun. At this very moment Marinette just wanted to feel happy, and wanted, and needed at least for a couple of minutes and here was Adrien asking her to dance, wanting to spend the next five minutes holding her in his arms as the slow tune floated through the room. And Marinette loved to dance.

 She nibbled at her lower lip nervously because maybe it was that little alcohol that she had or perhaps the years of loneliness were finally catching up with her, but as Adrien quietly sang along “Take my hand” with Elvis Marinette didn't find neither a reason nor a desire to refuse.

“Sure,” she smiled back and stood up. A sigh of relief escaped Adrien's lips, but Marinette didn't notice. She was too busy freaking out internally and overthinking again if this was the right choice to make.

Slowly, they walked to the dance floor just as the new song started, and everything took a step back as soon as Adrien pulled Marinette close. With her cheeks dusted with a blush, Marinette was barely breathing - Adrien's sudden closeness making such a primary action nearly impossible. The warmth of his body on her skin, his breath burning so close, Marinette raised her eyes to look at Adrien as they started to move, only to see him focused on her and her only, nearly inaudible singing along:

And in this crazy life. And through these crazy times

It’s you, it’s you, you make me sing.

You’re every line, you’re every word, you’re everything.

“I didn't know you can sing,” Marinette noted, for the first time realizing how lovely, deep and perceptive Adrien's voice sounded when he sang.

“That's because I can't,” Adrien chuckled. “It only comes out on rare, exceptional occasions and I usually make sure no one hears me.”

“That's a shame,” Marinette responded. “You have a nice voice.”

“You like it?”

Marinette nodded.

“Thank you.” Adrien grinned. “Then I guess I have no choice but to sing some more for you.”

And so, he did as they danced like never before. The room filled with music, Adrien held Marinette close, moving with the beat, twirled her around and pulled back, landing her right against his chest. Oozing with confidence and sex appeal, Adrien was the most adequate dance partner she'd ever been with -- not that there were many in the first place but still -- and the last five minutes were the best dancing experience Marinette had ever had. The magic he'd created engulfed her, and soon it felt like they were the only duo on the floor - her, him and his quiet singing in her ear. Naively enough, there even were a few moments when Marinette felt like Adrien didn't just murmur along with the song for her but actually meant every word. She dismissed the thought immediately. She couldn't be his everything. Impossible.

The damage was, however, done and when the next song started, Marinette didn't want to leave. This felt nice. Dancing with Adrien felt so natural and amazing that when he placed his hand on her waist and drew her closer to him Marinette, starved for more, hungry for feeling loved and wanted, losing her head in the moment, didn't protest. Instead of pulling back like she'd planned Marinette placed her left hand on his shoulder and her right one into his other hand.

So I’m gonna love you

Like I’m gonna lose you

I’m gonna hold you

Like I’m saying goodbye,

This time Adrien whispered and the way he tightened his grip around her waist closer to the end didn't escape even her. Goodbye was something she didn't want to say as well but something that was needed to be done, so when the song ended, Marinette slightly pulled back out of his embrace.

“One more,” Adrien breathed into the crook of her neck. “Please. Just one more.”

She regretted agreeing to his plea right after the first sound of the next song floated around the room. That wasn't the song Marinette could dance with Adrien with a straight face. She already survived two, but this one was just a little bit too much, especially when Adrien looked her straight into the eyes somewhere in the middle and sang along as he meant it.

I have loved you for a thousand years

I’ll love you for a thousand more.

“I'm sorry,” Marinette interrupted instantly, stopping their dance and pulling away. That was more than she could handle. “I'm sorry. I need to go,” she whispered and fled.

All she wanted was to feel happy for a few moments; another heartbreak was what she got instead. A single tear, the first of many to follow, escaped her eyes as Marinette vanished into the ladies’ room, the one place where she knew Adrien couldn't follow her, somewhere where she could let it all out, kick her own butt, get it together and renew her determination to stay the heck away from him.

*       *       *

“Are you alright?” Adrien asked her when about fifteen minutes later she emerged back, calmed down and determined to finish this day to the best of her abilities.

“Yeah,” she tried to smile to ease the worried look on his face. “Sorry, I didn't feel very well suddenly. Needed a break.”

“Maybe you should to go home and rest?” He still looked worried. “I'll take care of everything here.”

“Thank you, but I am better now. Everything will be over soon anyway,” Marinette answered looking around. She spotted Emma in the middle of the room, jumping around with a couple of her friends under the watch of her caregiver. The energy that kid had surprised even Marinette sometimes. Some guests continued to dance, others enjoyed their desserts, the newlyweds- they were still away it seemed.

“Did you think about the lunch tomorrow?” Adrien's asked.

Marinette stilled. “I'm sorry, Adrien. I didn't have much time to think about it with all the craziness around. Can I take a rain check on this?”

“On the lunch or the thinking? Because if it's the thinking part, then we can think together now. Let's see,” Adrien hummed, observing her. “Seeing how you feel now, I assume you'll probably want to rest tomorrow, right?” Marinette nodded. Adrien continued. “Then, how about I'll drop by your work on Monday? Whatever time is better for you and we'll have lunch in one of those cafes across the office?”

“Sure.” Marinette nodded, too tired to protest anymore but already planning how swamped with work she'd be all Monday. Too busy to go out for lunch for sure. “Now, if you don't mind, I think we actually need to search for our newlyweds. People will start to leave soon.”

“I'll go check the outside,” Adrien responded. “You stay here in case they'll come back on their own.”

“Thanks,” Marinette whispered and headed to her seat.

*       *       *

“You!” Alya hissed as soon as Adrien came into her view. “How-”

“Alya, calm down,” Nino put his hands on her shoulders from behind. “As I said for a dozen of times now Adrien didn't-”

“It doesn’t matter, Nino-”

“Alya, I thought we agreed to be civil about this and to let them deal with it on their own?”

“I know what I agreed to but-”

“Actually,” Adrien carefully injected into their conversation. “You need to head back right about now, but I'll gladly stay behind if you want to slay me as a wedding day treat.”

“You think you are so smart?” Alya glared. “Think you can escape my wrath after what you've done?”

“No,” Adrien shrugged unable to keep a lovesick grin off his lips. Despite Marinette running away at the end, those few dances she gave him were the best time of his life so far. Not a million angry Alyas could spoil it for him right now. “I said I'll stay behind for all your killing pleasures, but right now guests are getting ready to leave, and Marinette is there all alone taking care of everything.”

“What are you so happy about?” Alya narrowed her eyes. “Why is there a dopey smile on his face, Nino?”

“I have no idea.” Nino wrapped his hand around Alya's shoulder and started to lead her away. “But he's right we need to go back inside and finish that thing called the wedding. Kicking Adrien's ass can always be done later, Al. Okay?”

“You better not run, Agreste,” Alya glared and stomped to the venue. “Let’s finish it quickly, Nino-”

The pair left. Adrien followed them soon. But not before lifting his face up to the starry sky, closing his eyes and enjoying the light breeze of the warm August evening. The melody slipped from his lips unintentionally.

Take my hand,

Take my whole life, too.

For I can’t help falling in love with you.

*        *       *

“Nino? Why do I suddenly feel like I am in dire need of protection?”

“Oh, really?” Alya eyebrows jolted right up at Adrien's words, eyes narrowing at her target. She thought she calmed down after Nino pulled her back into the room full of guests where she had to be nice and smile instead of raging about the shocking revelation of the century. And in a way, it worked. By the time they performed the last of their duties, Alya had thought her anger had subsided enough to talk about it rationally. So, they called Adrien to one of the rooms provided to them for a conversation. Before coming, though, Alya personally packed Marinette into her car and insisted she left the premises immediately.

“You are exhausted and need a rest a.s.a.p.,” Alya insisted. “Marinette, you’ve done more than enough already and we actually paid them money to clean up the whole place so shut up, get in the car and drive away before I call the national guard on you.”

“Alright, alright,” Marinette finally agreed. “Listening and obeying, ma’am.”

Only after Marinette drove away, Alya headed to the room where Nino and Adrien had already been waiting. The anger came back as soon as she had caught sight of a certain blond and her glare alone seemed to scare the living daylights out of Nino's best friend as he paled and shrunk deeper into his chair.

“Protection?” she scowled. “So now you need protection? How about six years ago when you knocked Marinette up? Where was your need for protection then, Adrien?”

“Al-”

“Stay out of it, Nino! Let me teach him some responsibility for once!”

“Hey, I'm not irresponsible,” Adrien defended himself. “Not that you need to know, but we used a condom. There was a whole box of them in the upper drawer of the night table.”

“You used a condom you found in some cheap motel room?” Alya seemed to spit fire now. “Are you that stupid, Agreste? Why didn't you bring your own? How dumb can you get? Those things can't be trusted. Someone could poke a hole in it-”

“I didn't bring my own because I didn't plan to have sex,” Adrien shot back. Never in his life had he thought he would have to defend his love life choices against Alya. In the middle of them, Nino just sat, pitching the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed, mind numb. “A nice dinner date and maybe some cuddles and kisses - that was all I was hoping for. That's the most I could’ve hoped for considering how the things were between us. First date, Alya!” he added. “And it wasn’t a cheap motel. It was my mother’s apartment.”

“You took her to your mother’s apartment for your first date?” Alya scowled. “Adrien, that’s so ridiculous and tacky. You could afford so much more!”

“What else was I supposed to do?” the man grumbled in response. “I wanted it to be special and sweet and just the two of us. Winter meant it had to be inside unless we wanted to freeze our butts off on some random roof, which we didn't. We hadn't revealed our identities, so a public outing was out of the question as well. That apartment, Alya, was huge and nicely decorated and it wasn't lived in for years, so it meant privacy. It seemed like the perfect solution at the time.”

“Wait a second.” Alya’s eyes widened. “If nobody lived there for long- could the condoms you found there also be a few years old?”

“How should I know?” Adrien shrugged. “I didn’t put them there.”

“Guys, guys!” Nino interrupted not even bothering to hide his amusement. “Who cares about the age. The real question here should be, whose condoms were those? Let's see.” He grinned at Adrien, “It was your mother's apartment. I assume no one lived there after her, and the last man she dated was, presumably, your father so we can assume-”

“Don’t. Even. Go. There,” Adrien growled.

“The condoms must belong to-”

“Idiots,” Alya groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose as well. “Both of you are morons.”

“What did I do this time?” Adrien cried out, desperately looking for help from Nino.

“Adrien,” Nino chuckled from his seat, clearly being more entertained than concerned. He knew Alya, and he knew that her anger was short-lived when it came to her friends and despite everything, Adrien was still her friend. Not to mention that there could, possibly, be quite a few good consequences of this discovery, which Alya, being Alya, had probably, already calculated. Marinette being finally happy for starters. His new wife would never put that chance in jeopardy.

“Condoms expire,” he continued. “They last from a few months to a maximum of a few years, depending on a couple of factors. The one you used was probably ancient and as such - bad. Useless in other words.”

“Oh,” Adrien blinked. “So that’s how-”

“Idiots,” Alya continued to murmur. “Two fools.”

“Hey!” Adrien protested. “Don't blame me. I followed the rules. Everyone says use a condom - I used a condom. No one ever told me to check an expiry date. Why there is even an expiry date on them? It isn't food or medicine. It shouldn't expire!”

“Listen, Nino.” Alya suddenly turned to her new husband. “Are you absolutely sure he is the father? Emma is a rather smart girl to be born from—” she paused and scanned Adrien from top to bottom, “—him.”

“That,” Adrien interrupted before Nino could reply. “Can hardly be doubted.”

“Oh, and why is that?” Alya looked him over skeptically again. “Did you ever consider that Marinette might have had another blond admirer with green eyes? She was and still is quite popular, you know.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Adrien smiled. “But Emma is mine for certain.”

“Did you have a DNA test done or something?”

“No,” Adrien responded but stood up and pulled out his wallet, producing a small photo he took a habit of carrying around.

“Is that one of your other kids?” Alya frowned. “Because while she does look incredibly like Emma, it's not her. A non-identical twin I can accept but definitely not Emma. And why is this picture so old? What did you do to it?”

“I don't have any other kids,” Adrien stated nonchalantly.

“Are you sure about that?” Alya smirked. “A week ago, you didn’t know about Emma. Maybe-”

“I've never been with anyone except Ladybug in all my twenty-six years.”

“Fine.” Alya accepted the excuse and took the photo from his hands. She looked at it more closely, not giving Nino even a chance to peak. “Oh! I know,” she exclaimed a moment later. “It's your secret, well-hidden from this world sister when she was still young and pretty. Your father's love child perhaps?”

Instead of answering Adrien only stared back, his eyebrows creeping up. “Really?”

“Let me dream, Agreste,” Alya pouted. “Do you know how hard it is to come by a delicious secret or a mystery these days? A cousin?” she guessed again.

Adrien shook his head.

“It's you!” Nino added, finally getting a quick look. “And you were so cute, dude.”

“You know, bro,” Adrien responded with a chuckle. “Even though my father is the fashion-forward designer and has a wide range of clothes choices in his collection, when it came to dressing our family he was always quite traditional.”

“So, the child in the pink dress and the bow in its hair isn’t you?”

“Afraid not,” Adrien laughed. “That's my mom.”

“Your mom?” the duo repeated in unison. “She looks-”

“Exactly like Emma,” Adrien finished for them.

“That's some insane resemblance,” Nino remarked. “No wonder, you stared at her like you saw a ghost that day.”

“Neat,” Alya breathed out, still staring at the photo. “Okay,” she sighed in a little while and returned the picture back to Adrien. “I’ll let you live for now.”

“Thank you very much,” Adrien bowed down and chuckled. “Oh, The Great Queen of Ninoland.”

“I said I’ll let you live, Agreste. I didn’t promise to not harm you,” Alya threatened but the smile was already making its way on her lips.

“So, what’s next?” Nino decided to step in. “Did you tell Marinette yet?”

“No,” Adrien sighed. “Didn't want to dump this on her at the wedding, but I secured a lunch on Monday. I'll tell her then.”

“Wait?” Alya frowned. “This Monday?”

For some reason, Adrien didn’t like Alya’s reaction. Something sounded wrong. “Yes?”

“Well, hate to disappoint you, Adrien,” Alya went to explain. “But as I was sending Marinette away just now, Nathalie called her to let her know she is leaving for Milan with your father tomorrow.”

“What?” Adrien paled. “My father-”

“Easy there, lover boy,” Alya giggled. “It's a work-related trip. Someone cancelled on him at the last minute, so they were looking for a replacement and Marinette was the next on his list.”

“He can't just order people around like this and at such short notice,” Adrien frowned. “What about Emma? Where will she be for a week? Marinette's parents?”

“No. Tom and Sabine have been away in China for a few weeks now,” Alya shrugged. “And they're not due back for at least one more. Emma’s, actually, going with Marinette. Since, as you said, this is extremely short notice, Gabriel himself offered to not only take her along but also to hire her usual caregiver for the trip to keep Emma comfortable.”

“My father would do this for Marinette?” Adrien seemed to be quite confused. These were some extreme measures in employee accommodation for any employer and being in the industry his whole life he knew next to none of those who were willing to do so. Gabriel Agreste was certainly not one of them. Why would his father-

“Oh, you’ll be surprised at what he's willing to do for Emma,” Alya interrupted his thoughts. “But we'll discuss it later. Now let's get back to the main issue here. Marinette leaves tomorrow morning so you'll need to wait a week to talk to her.”

“Or go there now,” Nino added.

“Have you seenMarinette today?” Alya glared at him immediately. “She was so tired she barely stood on her own feet. She is probably fast asleep by now anyway.”

“But what if she isn’t?” Nino protested. “What if she is laying there in that bed, dreaming of a handsome blond prince with green eyes to come and rescue her from her loneliness?”

“Nino-”

“Listen, guys,” Adrien intercepted. “I don't think I can wait a week if I can help it, so I'll go there now and see if she is awake. If she isn't, I'll leave and try tomorrow morning. Worst case scenario, I'll either ask Father to take me along to Milan or we'll talk in a week.”

“Fine,” Alya hesitantly agreed as Nino gave Adrien a couple of thumbs up. “But don't wake her up. For your own safety,” she added. “Good luck, Romeo.”

“Thanks,” Adrien smiled and headed for the door.

“Hey, Agreste?”

“Yes, Alya?” He turned around just before exiting.

“How will you prove to her that you were Chat Noir?” Alya tilted her head to the side. “You don't have that thing anymore, right? That little floating bug or something?”

“His name was Plagg,” Adrien responded with a sad smile. “And he was the grumpiest little cat you could ever meet. Loved Camembert more than his life-”

“That!” Nino chuckled. “That explains some things I was always curious about.”

“You mean the smell?” Adrien deadpanned.

“Maybe?”

“Well now you know but to answer your question,” he looked back at Alya. “Ladybug and Chat Noir spent years saving Paris, fighting akumas, doing patrols, talking nonsense and making amazing puns, Alya. There are things that only the two of us know so I think I can prove to her my former identity.”

“Gotcha!” Alya finger gunned him, a bit disappointed that those sweet secrets weren’t voiced out loud. “Go, get her, Agreste. Just remember, it’s either Marinette’s happy or you are dead.”

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Adrien chuckled and closed the door behind himself.

Chapter Text

For Marinette, the call from Nathalie was a lifesaving jacket in the roaring ocean. In no circumstances, her offer could’ve been more perfect than now, because flying to Milan with Gabriel meant she didn’t have to lie or scheme to refuse Adrien the lunch she’d promised without much thinking. Now she had a legitimate excuse - a business trip for his father’s company. Work. Couldn’t refuse. Blame Gabriel. Period. And by the time she'd return, Adrien would long be gone. That was the perfect solution.

Hardly believing her luck, Marinette started to pack their bags. Emma was already fast asleep, thrilled to know that first thing tomorrow morning they’d get to go on a little vacation. She loved to travel and Gabriel’s offer to accommodate her daughter was something out of the fantasy fiction. This evening could not have gotten any better. Quite soon Emma’s suitcase was all packed and her own was almost full as Marinette caught herself dancing along her path from the closet and back to her bed, humming under her breath a few particular melodies from the wedding. A smile tugged at her lips. Dancing with Adrien was the experience Marinette would never forget. Only for a few songs that evening she allowed herself to dream the dreams that would never come true, giving herself permission to feel the things she knew she shouldn't. And it felt so damn good. So good that for just a moment Marinette wished they’d live in a different universe - in one where he didn’t have to leave and she wasn’t in love with two people at once.

Just then her phone chimed.

[Adrien: Sorry for the late message but I was wondering if you are asleep or still awake.]

Marinette frowned. Something must be wrong if Adrien messaged her at this late hour, knowing how exhausted she was. He even made a remark about it when they parted their ways, so, unless there was an emergency, she doubted he would’ve bothered her. With troubled heart, she responded.

[Marinette: No. Not yet. Did something happen?]

The reply came almost immediately.

[Adrien: Yes. I need to talk to you. Can you spare me a few minutes?]

Worry tugged at her heart as she typed back as soon as she could.

[Marinette: Sure. Listening.]

His next reply wasn’t something she’d expected.

[Adrien: I’m in front of your house. Can we talk face to face?]    

Um… Before replying Marinette glanced down at herself and hesitated. Her hair was damp from the shower and catching a cold wasn’t something Marinette could afford, but that was the least of her problems. The first thing she did after putting Emma to bed was to change into her nightgown, and today it was a somewhat risky assembly for going outside. A red silky baby doll that ended just below her derriere, embroidered by black lace and a couple of pretty ribbons in the place of the stripes - that was about all that she wore at the moment; because, despite all of the heartbrokenness she’d harboured in her heart, the way Adrien made her feel during those few dances ignited something inside her. Loved and desired in his arms, Marinette wanted to wear something to reflect that moment. She dressed for the dream that was never meant to be, and that was fine- in the safety of her house. She couldn’t go out like this. She couldn’t ask him inside either. Not in this state.

Another chime stirred Marinette out of her reverie and she started to search frantically for something to cover herself up. Either way she chose to meet him, she’d need to dress more appropriately. A few more minutes she spent ransacking her closet for the matching red satin robe, completely forgetting to reply and to warn Adrien of the delay. By the time she swaddled herself in the garment, her phone was constantly buzzing with a stream of small incoming messages. The moment Marinette opened her app and saw them her world came to a halt.

[Adrien: Alright, we can talk like this if you prefer it this way because I’m not waiting another minute to tell you everything and I’m not leaving again this time around.]

[Adrien: So here it is, my Lady. Hopefully, that'll be enough of a proof.]

[Adrien: It was your birthday.]

[Adrien: I brought you a pink, fluffy teddy bear.]

[Adrien: I told you about my father giving a similar toy to my mother when they first started dating and then every following birthday he would give her one as a reminder of his love for her.]

[Adrien: I took you out to a dinner at my friend’s apartment in the central part of Paris.]

[Adrien: I lied about that. In reality, it was my mom’s apartment. I have the keys if you want to see it.]

[Adrien: You wanted to put on some music and dance after dinner. You said you loved dancing.]

[Adrien: You kissed me first and said that you wanted to know who I was under that mask in the morning.]

[Adrien: You finally agreed to become my girlfriend and start dating with no secret identities between us.]

[Adrien: When I woke up, you were gone.]

[Adrien: The next time we met you told me about the other man you liked and your ruined dreams and future with him, but you never mentioned his name. He was me, Adrien Agreste, wasn't he?]

[Adrien: I left after you told me that you wished you’d never met me.]

Three little dots continued to run across the bottom of the screen as Adrien was typing something else, but Marinette didn't need anything more. What she had was already more than enough.

It was him - her Chat.

An avalanche of emotions crashed over Marinette. There was no doubt. Only her Chat Noir would know the details Adrien had provided. There couldn’t be any mistakes. If he only recited the events publicly known, or even something that had happened in the open space, she could’ve doubted it, but not this. These- these details were too intimate for anyone else to know. That night on that date in that apartment there were only two people present and no one certainly heard that story from her. She doubted that Chat would’ve said anything to anyone as well. He wasn’t the kind to kiss and tell. Which only left one conclusion - the man she was in love with but had lost any hope of finding was here- at her doorstep- asking to see her. What’s more, the other man she loved and fought so hard to forget was also here- also asking to see her.

Chat Noir and Adrien Agreste were one and the same.

Her breathing halted as her heart skipped a beat. She wasn’t in love with two men. She loved only one! She didn't have to tear herself over that issue anymore. She could be happy. Was that too early to hope for that? She had to apologize first. She hurt him so badly. What if he wouldn't want to see her again? But he was here, and he was reaching out. She could see it now, all those days he was trying to reach out, and she kept pushing him away- Emma! Oh gosh, he met Emma! He spent a day with her, and he probably realized that she was his daughter-

The cell phone slipped down from her trembling hands, and on her shaking legs, Marinette rushed downstairs. She had to see him! She had to tell him everything. She had to finally apologize and try to make things right. For a few seconds, she struggled with the lock, tears in the eyes making it too hard to see, but in a moment the door swung open and Marinette stepped outside.

*       *       *

[Adrien: I’m in front of your house. Can we talk face to face?]    

Adrien knew that a little delay in replying shouldn’t mean much, but as he glanced at her home a few minutes after sending his question and saw no signs of any movement, he couldn’t help but feel anxious. Judging by everything Marinette hadn’t left her bedroom to either come out outside or let him in. Adrien sighed. She was probably thinking of another excuse to make him leave. Why was it so hard? Why was Marinette so intent on pushing him away all the time? He only wanted to tell her the truth, which should, in his opinion at least, solve half if not all of their problems. Humour him, but he dared to hope for a happy outcome - for being accepted and finally being able to love and be loved back. That was all that he wanted. Simple enough; not much at all.

Adrien closed his eyes. He was tired of being pushed away for no reason, and if he could help it, he wasn’t going to let it happen again. One way or another he was going to tell her. The man looked down on his cell phone again. Not a single indicator of movement there as well.

“Fine,” he murmured under his breath. “If you don’t want to me to tell you in person, then I guess I don’t have a choice but to tell you like this.”

Feverishly he started to type messages in hopes to get through to Marinette before she either blocked him or turned her cell phone off again. He didn't write long, heart-wrenching explanations. No. His messages were short and to the point with one goal in mind - to prove he was Chat Noir to Marinette's Ladybug six years ago.

Ten or so messages later the front door finally swung open.

Dishevelled and shaking, with tears streaming down her face, Marinette stepped outside, clutching her hands to her mouth.

“Chat?” with a trembling voice she breathed out barely auditable.

“My Lady?” The sigh of relief escaped Adrien’s lips as he walked closer. She finally knew.

“Is- is that really you?”

“You found a little scar at the back of my neck and was actually really happy about me-”

“-not being perfect after all,” Marinette finished, exploding into more tears when Adrien tilted his head and pushing his hair aside revealed a tiny line that he inherited after a freak accident in the kitchen when he was about six years old. Baking cookies on his own at such a young age wasn’t a good idea, she told him that night. Simply wanting to try some despite his Father not allowing any in the house wasn’t a good enough reason to endanger his own life, she insisted.

Adrien placed his hand on his chest and added, “You also discovered that-”

“You can purr at the most random of times.”

“They weren’t random,” Adrien protested, chuckling, a hopeful smile appearing on his lips at the memories. “Those were the moments I felt like never leaving and staying with you forever.”

“Chat.” Marinette stepped closer but didn’t dare to fall into his arms. Instead, she wildly sobbed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Chat. I didn’t mean- I don’t know how- those words- I didn’t mean them- I’m so sorry. I-”

Strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her fragile frame into a tight embrace. “I know, my Lady,” Adrien whispered into her hair. “I’m sorry for leaving so suddenly without fighting for you-”

“No, no!” Marinette pulled back a little. “You did nothing wrong! It’s me. I am the one to blame.”

“I love you,” Adrien said instead and smiled. “I still love you so much.”

Marinette’s lips parted yet no sound escaped as she stared at him dumbfoundedly. How can you love me after all I did, he read a silent question in her eyes. Gently, Adrien brushed a few stray hairs from her blushing face and tried to wipe away tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I love you more than I can handle,” he quietly repeated before pulling her back onto his chest, partly to hide his own long overdue tears, partly to warm her shaking body up. He buried his face into her hair placing a feather light kiss on top and added. “You are freezing, my Lady. We should, probably, get you inside.”

Marinette slightly shifted but didn’t pull away. Instead, she gently wrapped her arms around him and quietly murmured into his chest, “I don’t want to move. If I do, you might disappear on me again, and I can’t let you go. Not again. Not ever.”

“I won’t,” Adrien smiled, his chest tightening in a blissful feeling he’d never known before. She wanted him; he was more than welcome. “I finally got back to you. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Still not letting you go.”

“I can hold your hand if you want or carry you in but if we remain here any longer we might get an audience soon, or you'll catch a cold. Your outfit, although extremely lovely, doesn't seem to be very warm.”

Lightly giggling through her tears, Marinette pulled away and rolled her eyes, reminding both of them of their happier superhero’s days.

“I see time hasn’t changed you a bit, Chat,” she smiled at him, using her sleeve to wipe the moisture from her face, swaddling herself into her robe. “Come in. I believe we do need to talk.”

“Finally,” Adrien sighed loudly with a satisfying grin on his lips as he followed Marinette into the house, not letting her hand slip out of his all the way there.

*       *       *

“I know this isn't probably something you were hoping for, so I apologize in advance if this all is a little disappointing,” Marinette quietly said as they entered the living room, their hands never breaking the contact.

“What are you talking about?” Adrien asked. He was here yesterday, but it seemed to be so much more inviting today. “This is perfect, Marinette. More than perfect. Your house is amazing, sweet and warm-”

“No,” she interrupted him, shifting her sight to the side and gently, much to Adrien’s disappointment, pulling her hand away. “I mean me. Chat- um, Adrien,” she exhaled softly in hesitation but pressed on. “The girl you told me about yesterday- the one you love- is it Ladybug? I mean, did you fall in love with Ladybug all those years ago?”

“On the very first day we met,” Adrien whispered and reached for Marinette’s hand again. Yet her sight fell to the floor as she turned away from him.

“I’m sorry.” He soon heard a quiet whisper. “She doesn’t exist anymore- There is only me left- Not the best part of us-”

Adrien chuckled and moved closer. “Unless—” he stood in front of her and took one of her hands in his, “—you are implying that I was in love with your costume, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I was and am in love with you, Marinette. I care about you, the girl underneath the mask or do you really think that that suit was changing who you really are?”

Adrien slowly brought her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on the top of her knuckles. For a second, Marinette hesitated but soon lowered her head, avoiding his glance.

“You never noticed me without it.”

“That’s where you are very wrong, Marinette,” Adrien responded, not taking his eyes from her. “I saw you more than you think I did. Much more than I allowed myself and—” he gently cupped her cheek, bringing her to look at him, “—you have no idea how hard I had to work to block those feelings and stay loyal to Ladybug. I was madly in love with my Lady, and I didn't want to betray her. But every time I would look at Marinette I was catching myself thinking that she was cute and brave and talented and totally amazing. Marinette enthralled and I was drawn to her all the time. She was the only other girl I had ever had a crush on.”

A soft gasp escaped her lips, but Adrien continued.

“It got a little easier once we graduated and I didn’t see you every day, but I still thought about you often.”

“Adrien-”

“And your mask wasn’t magically changing you into anyone else, Marinette,” Adrien continued, gently pulling her into a hug. “It was always you under all that magic. My heart was captured by you, by your beauty, bravery, kindness, everything that makes you so amazing, everything that I observed in you these last couple of days even though you don’t wear your mask anymore.”

“I am sorry I left.” He pulled her closer into his embrace. “I should’ve stayed and fought for you. We would’ve found out each other’s identities sooner or later, and this whole mess could’ve been avoided.”

“No, don’t be.” Marinette lifted her head. Tears were twinkling at the edges again. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Adrien. You did what you thought was best. You put me above everything else and I appreciate it. If there is someone who is to be blamed, it's me. I should've not insisted on those damn secret identities. They made sense when we were fighting Hawkmoth, but after his defeat, there really was no reason to keep them secret anymore. But I stupidly insisted—” she started to sob, “—and for no good reason. I am to blame here- I did it to myself- to you- to both of us- I ruined everything-”

Unable to speak clearly anymore, bitter tears flowing freely, Marinette started to tremble again. Burying her face into his chest and letting it all out, she continued to murmur apologies over and over again, spilling out her pain and regrets.

Looking desperately at her shaken, miserable figure, Adrien was lost, not knowing what to do. He wanted so badly to comfort her, but how? How could he explain that he could never blame her? How could he make her understand that he didn't hold any grudges? Not anymore. It was all a huge misunderstanding and both of them played their roles in it. But at the same time, he didn’t want to bring this all up again, to open the old wounds. He only wanted to be close, to be with her. The only thing that really mattered to him right now was that he, no, they, had finally gotten another chance. Nothing else.

Adrien cupped her tear-streaked face and raised it up to make her look at him.

“No, Marinette. Please,” he begged. “Don't cry- There is no one to blame- Marinette- It just happened- Stuff happens all the time- Nobody's at fault here- We both played our parts in it- so there is either no one guilty, or we both are- in either case, it's already gone- let go of the past- let's live for the present-”

It wasn’t working. Marinette was crying and shaking more and more after his every word. Her lips continued to whisper fervent apologizes bottled up inside for years. His words didn’t work. He needed something else. So not even thinking this through and failing to see another solution, Adrien leaned forward and captured her lips against his in a kiss.

                           

His arms wrapped around Marinette, pulling her closer. Unconsciously, Adrien deepened the kiss, consumed by the feeling of the woman he loved all of his life pressed flash against him. He kissed her fervently, almost desperately, giving her all of his love with one thought in mind - to make her feel safe, and warm, and loved, and cherished in his arms the same way she was in his heart.

And in a short moment, Marinette responded with the same passion he remembered in his Lady. Melting against him she kissed him back just as feverishly, the feelings she kept hostage for so long spilling out. The overwhelming love she felt for him echoed in soft moans escaping her lips and flowed through her arms pulling him closer. It took over her body, desperately clinging to him, and as their lips moved together, breaths mingling in a heated dance, neither felt more at peace or more at home than there and then at that very moment.

Breathless, they pulled apart resentfully a few minutes later, both blushing, lips trembling in soft smiles, tears slowly vanishing, their foreheads touching, still looking into each other’s eyes.

“Never repeat that again, Marinette,” Adrien whispered. “I love you. I always did and I always will. I know we made mistakes, but we’ll figure this out. We always did, even when the whole world was against us. We’ve defeated not only every akuma we’ve fought but also Hawkmoth, so what’s a little misunderstanding for our awesome team, right?”

“I love you too,” Marinette smiled, and Adrien exhaled with relief because that smile finally reached her eyes. In a moment, he pulled her to his chest and pressed tighter against him, holding her as his biggest treasure.

“I missed you so much,” he quietly added, enjoying how relaxed she suddenly became, melting into his embrace. “I-” Adrien paused, suddenly feeling a gentle yawn against the thin material of his shirt. He chuckled and pulled Marinette back enough to see her painted with exhaustion face. Only now a memory of her stressful and sleepless last a couple of days came to mind.

“You are exhausted, my Lady.” He brushed her bangs away. “I probably caused you quite a commotion and a few restless nights with my appearance, huh?”

“That you certainly did,” she responded with a sleepy smile. “I don’t think I slept much any night last week, but I am fine. I don’t want to go to bed yet.”

“Aren’t you leaving tomorrow morning?” Adrien remembered. “When do you have to get up?”

“Six,” Marinette yawned again.

“Six isn’t early. I always get up at six.”

“So does Emma,” Marinette added, leaning her head against his chest. “I don't even need an alarm. That kid always crawls into my bed at around six. But not me. Nah, if I could, I'd sleep till ten. Especially after the last few nights.”

“Then off to bed we go, Mari.” Adrien softly kissed the top of her hair. “You need your rest to look presentable in Milan.”

“Yeah,” she murmured. “I’ll catch a few hours of sleep on the plane. Don’t worry-”

“The flight is an hour and a half at most,” Adrien stated. “And I doubt you will sleep there with my father and Emma present.”

“I’ll sleep in the hotel then.” Marinette tried and failed to fight another yawn.

“You need to rest, Marinette.”

“I will. Later. Now I want to stay with you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Adrien leaned closer and nuzzled her forehead. “You have my heart and my baby-” He suddenly paused. “Marinette, I know about- about Emma, but can I- can I hear that from you?”

“She is yours, Adrien,” Marinette smiled through her sleepy, lingered gaze. “Emma is your child. I’ve never-”

She couldn't finish as Adrien pulled her back into a bone-crushing hug. “Thank you,” he murmured. “I know it's weird, but there is something special about hearing it from you.”

“You taking it very well,” she uttered in his chest. “I thought you might-”

“I’ve had my time to freak out,” Adrien chuckled. “But it was more of a happy squealing type of a thing - I've always wanted a family.”

“So, you are okay with that?”

Adrien could detect a little worry lingering in her voice. “More than okay,” he rushed to assure. “Anyone would be happy to find out they have a daughter so wonderful as Emma, and I am so happy it’s me, so happy she is mine.”

“I’m glad.” Marinette smiled, leaning her head and settling back on Adrien’s chest. He felt her arms squeezing him tighter for a moment, and although Adrien couldn't see, he sensed her eyes closing, breath becoming slower and steadier.

“I'm not going anywhere again,” he repeated. “But you, my Lady—” Marinette gasped in surprise and as, without warning, Adrien gathered her into his arms princess' style, “—you are going to bed this instant.”

“Adrien!” she sharply inhaled. “Put me down.”

“Will do as soon as we reach your bed.”

“Adrien-”

“The second floor, right?”

“Adrien Agreste!”

“You’ll wake up Emma if you continue to shout.” Adrien chuckled when Marinette fell silent instantly. “Let me take care of you, Princess,” he added. “I missed you so much and there is nothing more I want right now than to spend time with you, but you need to rest. Life didn’t stop because we found each other. We still have our work and responsibilities, but we also have each other now. We'll talk tomorrow. We've got all the future to talk, and this time I'll be by your side, don't worry.”

“I'm going to Milan tomorrow,” Marinette whined. “I wish I could stay, but this is once in a lifetime opportunity for me.”

“I'm sure Father won't mind me tagging along,” Adrien winked and Marinette's face lit up. “See? I told you, I would be by your side from now on, my Lady. Now tell me which door should I open,” he added, already walking up the stairs with Marinette in his arms.

“The one with ‘Mommy’ sign on it,” Marinette quietly answered, cuddling closer.

They slowly got upstairs, stepping carefully and keeping quiet but Adrien couldn’t help a chuckle when he saw a rather childish paper sign stuck to one of the doors. It was evidently done by Emma and read “Mommy” on it. There was a similar one with “Emma” written on it on the other door. The third door remained bare.

“No one lives there?” he asked.

“That's a guest room/my office,” Marinette replied, her voice way sleepier than merely a minute ago.

The door to her bedroom was still slightly open and the lights were on, just as she left them, rushing out in a hurry. Walking in, Adrien noticed a couple of packed suitcases, one remaining unfinished. He walked past it and put Marinette on her bed.

“What else do you need to pack there?” he asked, pointing to the open bag.

“Nothing,” Marinette yawned, taking off her robe. “I’m done with it.”

“Good.” Adrien zipped the luggage closed. Then, seeing that Marinette already got under her sheets, he turned the lights off and walked closer to kneel by her bed.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Princess.” He placed a gentle kiss on her lips. “Sleep well.”

He was about to pull away when Marinette caught his arm. “Stay,” She yawned half asleep. “Don’t go. Stay with me.”

“I need to go if I want to join you tomorrow on that flight,” Adrien replied, gently brushing her hair out of her face.

“Stay,” Marinette tugged his hand closer. “Just until I fall asleep. Please. I’m so tired of being alone.”

He hesitated for a moment, but when her arm reached forward to catch his other hand, Adrien gave in. “Okay. Until you fall asleep.”

“Mhm,” Marinette hummed and pulled him under her sheets. Immediately, she cuddled against him and wrapping his arms around the love of his life Adrien couldn’t find in him the desire to leave. Lulled by her steady soft breathing he soon felt his eyes close as well. A few minutes of rest won’t hurt him either, he thought and immediately followed Marinette into the dreamland with a smile on his lips.

*       *       *

That was one the most peaceful nights of his life- until about five thirty in the morning that is when something started to play rather unpleasantly and loudly in the room. Frowning, Adrien sat up and looked around, searching for the source of the annoying sound. Rolling off the bed, he soon noticed Marinette's cell phone lying face down between her luggage. Picking it up, Adrien glanced over at its owner - she really was a heavy sleeper because none of the screeching sounds her device was making caused Marinette to wake up. In fact, she only groaned and turned around, covering herself with her comforter even more.

Adrien snorted and looked at the buzzing cell phone. Seeing the name on display, he picked it up without a second thought.

“Hello, Nathalie? Wait a sec,” he whispered and quietly walked out of the room to spare Marinette another thirty minutes of sleep. Once down on the first floor, he returned to the call.

“Yes, it’s me, Adrien- No, Marinette is still sleeping- Okay, will do. Tuesday, right? Sure- Um, what about Father? Oh, I see. Alright- No. Don’t do anything. I’ll deal with it myself- Yes. Thank you- You too, Nathalie. Have a nice day.” 

He turned the phone off and was about to go back up when a small figure appeared at the top of the stairs. In a silky pink nightgown and clutching a little Chat Noir plushy to her chest, Emma looked at him with her eyes wide-open and fully awake.

“Daddy!” She exclaimed and ran down the stairs.

“Hey there, little Princess,” Adrien caught her in up his arms smiling. “Why are you up so early? Let’s go back to sleep.”

“No!” Emma replied, hugging him with her little hands. “I don’t want to sleep anymore. You are here! Let’s play. No. Let’s eat! Or-”

“Hold on,” Adrien interrupted her, pulling a little away and nuzzling her tiny nose. He scanned her carefully. She really did seem to be fully awake. Just like Marinette had told him yesterday - an early riser like him. So maybe…

“I think I have a better idea, Emma. Want to go on an adventure?”

Emma’s whole expression brightened up as she nodded excitedly.

“Let's go on an adventure! Yes! Yes! Yes! Adventure with Daddy” she squealed and jumped in his arms. “Let’s take Mommy too! Mommy loves adventures!”

“Shhh,” Adrien placed a finger to her mouth. “Mommy is very tired, so we’ll let her sleep a little bit more, okay? We’ll go by ourselves and return before she wakes up. Do you want to go change your clothes before we start or would you prefer to go as is?”

“Change! I want my pink dress with a bow at the back.” Emma eagerly squeaked as the pair headed up the stairs. Soon, clothed in a lovely dress, she was already buckled up in his car and driving away, again without any doubt or concern for her Mama who continued to quietly sleep in her bed.

*       *       *

The room was dark. Marinette could tell even without her eyes that it was really early in the morning, probably even before sunrise. Strangely enough, considering how much she hated to get up early and how little sleep she had gotten that week, she felt perfectly rested for such an early hour. Deciding to enjoy a few more minutes before her alarm will go off, she turned around to the other side and cuddled her pillow. Happy memories instantly invaded her mind, thoughts that Adrien and Chat Noir were one and the same person pleasantly warmed her whole body.

He loves me, she thought with delight. He found me, and he still loves me. He said he wants to be with me-

A wistful smile adorned her face as she snuggled her pillow, hoping to dive right back into a sweet dream. A moment later she turned around. Another minute or so after, she tossed across the bed once more. Somehow, falling back asleep didn’t work today. Weird. She felt too rested for that. Really, what was wrong? Why was she fully awake before the sunrise? After a couple more minutes and constant tossing and turning, Marinette finally gave up.

Ten o’clock?!!!” she gasped, staring at the time in disbelief.

The first question that popped into her mind was How. But it was immediately pushed aside as Marinette realized What it meant. She missed her flight! She missed her trip and Gabriel probably already fired her for being such an irresponsible moron.

Frantically, she jumped out of bed. Her sight shifted to the windows and Marinette frowned. She’s never closed her curtains. There were no neighbours behind her house for once. Plus, she invested in those fancy privacy screens that let the light in but didn't allow anyone to see through from the other side because she loved how the sun was greeting her every morning with its warm rays. It helped her to wake up. With curtains closed no wonder she slept in.

She quickly found her cell phone to see if her notice of release had already been emailed to her but saw nothing. She did notice that her alarm was off. However, she couldn’t remember if she even turned that on the prior night.

What about Emma then? A weird feeling sunk into the pit of her stomach. Emma always woke her up early in the morning. Always. That was one of the reasons she could afford to forget about setting up the alarm from time to time. Yet today the house was suspiciously quiet. Too quiet if you'd ask her. Quickening her pace, Marinette rushed to check Emma's room. It was empty. Her bed was poorly made, and a few outfits were lying on top of it, but the girl wasn't there.

Heart pounding heavily, Marinette headed down the stairs. Her living room was also empty. So were the family room and the kitchen. No one was in the hall.

“They are probably outside,” Marinette tried to convince herself. Adrien might have stayed over and taken her outside to play. Why didn't he wake her up then? He knew she was due to leave for the trip early in the morning?

She rushed toward her backyard windows, but there was not a single person as well.

The thoughts of the lost job vanished when Marinette realized her house was empty - Adrien was gone, and so was Emma.

Chapter Text

Marinette did her best to fight an annoying, persistent and bordering on the insane thought. The maddening rate of her heartbeat didn’t help. Neither did the sickening knot in her stomach.

Adrien wouldn't do this! He just couldn't. As far as she remembered there wasn't a single evil bone in that man. Then, on the other hand, that was precisely it – as far as she could remember. Because Adrien was away, away for six years and six years is a long, long time. Something in the bottom of her stomach tightened. Anyone could change in six years.

Drastically.

No, Marinette protested, holding back the moisture in her eyes. She had to believe in him. Believe in her partner. Believe in the boy who gave her his umbrella only to soak under the rain himself. Adrien couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Not him. Never. There had to be an explanation. A perfectly logical explanation she probably failed to notice in her sleepy hassle this morning.

However, her empty house, a missed flight, a possibly lost job and not a single word from him made that fragile beacon of faith hard to keep alive.

Marinette shrugged in refusal to believe, feebly rejecting any accusations her mind was conjuring up when a distant sound of the front door lock opening reached her. She rushed to the foyer just as the voice she knew and loved so much split the maddening silence of the house.

“Emma, dunk!”

The next moment, grinning to his full potential, Adrien stepped into the house with her- umm- their daughter sitting on his shoulders. At his command, the little girl dipped down and clung to Adrien’s perfect-a-second-ago hairstyle, throwing her arms around his clean-a-moment-ago face in order for him to walk into the doorway without bumping her head on the frame. Marinette could see a fleeting look of disgust in Adrien’s eyes as Emma smashed her double chocolate cookie against his face and got her sticky with chocolate fingers stuck in his hair. He patiently ignored everything, but Marinette could hold back a giggle, despite being somewhat angry with him.

“Good morning, Mama!” Emma shouted and started waving her hand, sending even more crumbs around, some of them flying down on Adrien’s clean t-shirt. He let her down immediately, sheepishly smiling at Marinette, while trying to brush at least some of the mess out of his hair.

“Morning, Princess.” Adrien’s smile gave place to a frown as soon as he caught his reflection in the mirror. “What was the point of showering?” he murmured and tried to illuminate the cookie remnants from his face. Ignoring him, Emma was already jumping into Marinette’s arms.

“Mama, Mama!” she squealed. “Did you know that Daddy has a climbing wall in his room? Did you? He let me climb a little! And arcades! And lots of books! And a zip line! And so many video games! And you can even see the Eiffel Tower from his window! That’s so cool, Mama! And he has a real chef cooking food for him, and his food was so good! Can we move into Daddy’s room? Please? Can we? Can we? Please, please, please?”

Marinette giggled and squeezed Emma tighter.

“I really doubt—” she ignored her daughter’s begging eyes and the charming smile, both definitely inherited from her father, “—that Daddy would want you to move in with him if you won’t make your bed in a morning properly and put your clothes back in its place.”

Emma pouted. “But, Mama-”

“No ‘buts,' Emma.” Marinette placed her index finger to her little rascal's lips. “Go upstairs and tidy up your room and don't come back down here until it's spotless.”

The little girl frowned. She was about to say something else, but the stern look from Marinette stopped her. Even at her five years of age, Emma knew better than to argue with her mother.

“Fine.” She wrinkled her nose and furrowed her brows. “But I don’t like you anymore. I like Daddy now!”

“I think I can live with that. Now go and do what you were supposed to do before you left the house.”

With an adorable huff, Emma was about to walk away but suddenly turned back and whispered into Marinette’s ear. “Did you know that Daddy is a huge fan of your boss, Mama? M Agreste? He has a gigantic picture of him in his hallway with some kid.”

“Yes, dear,” Marinette chuckled, glancing over Adrien curiously looking their way. “Daddy is a huge fan of M Agreste. He absolutely adores him, and I'm sure he'll tell you all about it later. But for now – go clean your room. And, Emma, you do remember what cleaning means, right?”

That question earned Marinette another pout and a frown. “Yes, Mama, I know! Put everything in its place and not stash it under my bed or in my closet. I remember.”

“Good, now, off you go then.”

As soon as Emma was out of the hearing range, Marinette turned to Adrien. That stupid, mangy cat had some explaining to do and scolding to take. To her surprise he was already right in front of her, his hair and face more or less back to the clean state, a striking contrast to her own dishevelled from the night look and more than sensual nightgown she was still in.

“Good morning again, my Lady. Love the outfit,” Adrien purred, leaning closer. A blatant attempt to plant a kiss on her lips was stopped by a glare and a finger on his nose.

“What’s wrong?” Adrien frowned, wrinkling his nose.

“You can’t do this, Adrien.”

“Can’t do what?”

“You can’t just take Emma and leave with no explanation, no notes or messages.” Marinette crossed her arms over her chest, Adrien’s sincere confusion fueling her anger even more.

“Why?” Adrien protested. “I know I wasn’t around before, but she is my daughter too, and I think I-”

“Pay attention to without letting me know, Adrien!” Marinette scolded. “Can you even imagine how I felt waking up first of all, late for my flight and second without the slightest idea of both of your whereabouts? Forget that I’m probably already fired and years of my hard work gone to hell, but you could've at least leave me a note. Do you even know what I’ve already started to think?”

“I did leave you a note, Marinette,” Adrien interrupted. “I put it on the night table beside your bed especially so you would see it first thing upon waking up.”

“There were no notes. I would’ve seen it.”

Instead of arguing any further, the man offered Marinette a hand. “Shall we go check, my Lady?”

“You know what? We shall!” Marinette huffed and stomped up the stairs, leaving Adrien and his hand behind. He quickly followed her yet as soon as they entered the room it was evident there were no notes on either of her night tables. The left one was bare, and the right one was half covered with the comforter that Marinette threw aside when rushing out of bed. Adrien frowned in confusion and headed to that one. He kneeled down and pushing the comforter out of the way looked underneath.

“Aha!” He pulled a small card from the tight space between the bed and the night table. “There it is. It might have been swept there with the comforter.”

With victorious and somewhat smug smirk Adrien passed the card to Marinette. “My Lady?”

“The best and the sweetest of the mornings to you, Princess,” she read.

“Don’t worry about sleeping in. Nathalie called and said the trip was postponed until Tuesday. Emma and I decided to let you rest and went to my place to pick up some fresh clothes. We’ll have breakfast there and be back in a few hours.

Love.

Adrien.”

Marinette groaned as she slowly sat down on her bed, still staring at the note. She quietly muttered, “I’m sorry, Adrien. Sometimes, I can be too rushed in my judgments.”

“I know,” Adrien said with a tiny smile. “Don't forget I've spent quite a lot of time with you as Marinette and Ladybug, so I've seen it. But you are also quick to admit your mistakes, and that's what matters, so don’t worry about it.” Still standing on his knees, he leaned forward, placing his hands on either side of Marinette. With only a few inches separating their faces he whispered, “You totally thought I kidnapped her, didn’t you?”

“I-” Marinette turned away in embarrassment. “You can’t judge me. I had a perfectly logical reason to suspect so.”

“Aww, my Lady,” Adrien tilted his head to the side, never taking his eyes off her. “If I would want to steal Emma, I would’ve done so the day you let me babysit her. You trusted me then, no? What changed?”

“That was different.” She refused to look at him yet. “Then I gave permission and knew where you were all day. Now I had no idea what happened in the first place and don't forget that I just woke up and was freaking out about the missing trip and a lost job.”

“Mari,” Adrien softly smiled as he lightly ran his fingers over her cheek, bringing her to look at him. “We’ve worked together for many years hand in hand, trusted our lives to each other. Don’t you know me better than that? Do you really-”

“It’s different now.”

“Why? Marinette? What-”

Adrien frowned as he searched her face. He could see there was something, something Marinette was still debating on saying out loud as she was biting her lips and trying to hide her eyes. He pulled back to give her some space, taking her hand in his.

“Marinette-”

“Can I be honest, Adrien?” Marinette suddenly spoke before she could change her mind. When he nodded, she continued. “I knew you better than this. If you remember I had trusted myself to you before we revealed our identities. I even insisted on taking the masks off later to show you just how much I trusted you.”

Marinette paused, her eyes full of pain and worry, observing his reaction carefully.

“I’m so sorry to say that, but you were away for six years, and that is a long time, Adrien. Anyone can change in six years. I know I did. We had an amazing time together this week, but that was not enough for me to see if you’re still my loyal Chaton.” Marinette's sight shifted to the side, guilt flooding her face. “I'm really sorry, I know I am harsh and probably unfair to you, but it's all too soon and too much. Plus, trusting my own life to someone is a lot different than trusting my baby’s.”

For a few moments, Adrien remained silent. He always wore his heart on his sleeves, so even though he tried to hide it, the hurt in his eyes was too evident for Marinette to miss. She bit her lip in uncertainty and mentally beat herself up. Always too rash to speak before thinking! Ugh! This was Adrien, after all. How could she-

“I suppose that’s fair enough,” Adrien responded before Marinette could apologize.

“I am sorry,” Marinette whispered hiding her face in her hands. “I am being a jerk, I know that. I’m just so scared and still a bit shook from this whole ordeal.”

“Hey,” Adrien said quietly as he leaned closer and took her hands away from her face. “Don’t be. That’s me who should be apologizing here.”

“But you left me a note, and I was stupid enough-”

“Hey.” Adrien looked offended for some reason. “You aren’t stupid. It was just a misunderstanding. Misunderstandings are stupid. You aren’t.”

“I’m ruining everything again with my rushed emotional outbursts,” Marinette almost sobbed. She ruined it once in exactly the same way. That time she hurt him unfairly too. That time he left. Marinette didn’t want to repeat the same mistake again. She didn’t want him to leave. There had to be something she could do to fix it before it was too-

“Marinette, listen,” Adrien intruded into her thoughts. “We aren’t perfect. No one is. We all make mistakes. All people do, but we can learn from them and get better at this. Let’s not repeat history. Let’s talk and solve this.”

Her eyes wide, Marinette let a light hopeful smile appear on her lips as she nodded.

“I love you, Marinette,” Adrien continued. “And I don’t want to leave again. I want to make it work this time. Do you want this too or-”

“I do, Adrien,” Marinette whispered. “I really, really do. I’m so sorry.”

“Good,” he smiled back and gently brushed away a stray lock behind her ear. “You know, this is all so new to me. I’ve never had a family of my own. Never had kids before. Or at least I didn’t know I had one. I don’t really know how this whole parenthood business works yet, but I know we can do anything if we are honest, open to a conversation and both want it.”

“But I keep messing things up-”

“Me too,” Adrien chuckled. “Or did you forget who just stole Emma and didn’t make sure you knew where we were?”

“You left me a note. It was me-”

Adrien moved closer on his knees and took her palm in his. “I should’ve made sure that you knew exactly where we were. I should’ve never left the house like that. Damn, I could’ve texted you or something! But I didn’t - got too excited and completely forgot. You have the full right to be angry, Mari. I understand, I really do.”

“We need to learn how to communicate and do this together,” Marinette tried to smile.

“And we will. We'll figure this out, and I'm really looking forward to it.” Adrien winked. “For starters, let's put just a few things on our ‘to-do and to-learn’ list and add as needed.”

“We have a list?” Marinette giggled.

Adrien gently kissed her knuckles. “We do now.”

“And what’s in it?”

“Well,” Adrien leaned closer and almost purred. “I’ll have to work my ass off to earn your trust back and learn how to parent with you as my fair guide. As for you, my Lady—” he gently poked her nose, “—you have to learn how to share because I want a part in this thing called family. Agreed?”

“I’ll do my best and work on it,” Marinette smiled. “But, please, bear with me if it takes some time - she’s been my everything for too long. It’ll be a little hard to let go.”

“Understandable,” Adrien agreed. He softly chuckled watching Marinette's guilty expression. “We'll get there one day, Mari. Don't worry. But for what it's worth let me open you one secret.” He waited until Marinette looked at him and only then continued. “I like Emma very much, but I could never steal her from you.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because—” Adrien lightly caressed her cheek, his smile and his touch making Marinette feel so safe and secure. How could he look at her so lovingly and be so sweet after she was so mean to him just a few minutes prior? “—I don’t think I could ever be happy with just one of you, Mari,” Adrien whispered. “You both are so incredibly beautiful, fun, smart and strong in your own way. I know it’s selfish, but I want to be in both of your lives. I finally have the opportunity of being a part of something great after years of misery and loneliness. Why would I throw that chance away? I'm not that stupid.”

“I love you both. You and Emma are making my life worth living,” Adrien continued as Marinette noticed that he was slowly getting closer. It didn’t frighten her. Instead, she found herself wishing that he would just shut up and kiss her already. “I need both of you. If I can help it, I don’t think I could settle for just one anymore,” Adrien whispered against her lips but didn’t make a move.

“You are such a sweet talker, Adrien.” Marinette halted her breath, his own burning against her lips. “So cheesy.”

A fleeting hint of a smirk split his lips, complemented by an eyebrow wiggle. “Is it working?”

“Yes?”

“That's all I need,” Adrien breathed out and closed the distance between them. He pulled her closed as she wrapped her arms around his neck. The anger and bitterness and all misunderstandings were fast forgotten, as Adrien's lips, not before kissing her senseless, travelled down her neck, lavishing it with soft butterfly kisses. Marinette couldn't help but close her eyes, a soft moan escaping, when his hands, burning with every touch, started to roam over that barely-there baby doll nightgown. It was so long since she was touched in this way, she had almost forgotten how it felt. Impossibly long since a man loved her like this. In fact, Adrien was the only man to touch her like that and Marinette melted in his arms, not really caring for anything but that he was finally here and he loved her and wanted to be with her and-

“Ewww!” Emma’s disgusted voice intruded into the blissful bubble they had built. “That’s so gross, Daddy! Girls don’t like when boys kiss their necks!”

For a moment Adrien couldn’t distinguish if Marinette squeaked or groaned as they rapidly pulled apart.

“You need to kiss Mama’s lips to make her like you,” Emma added, quickly running from the door and climbing onto the bed. “All princes do that. Want me to show you?”

“Would love to,” Adrien chuckled in amusement, hoping that going along would dissolve the awkwardness of the moment.

“Mommy,” Emma said sternly to get Marinette’s attention and leaned closer, pushing her bewildered father away. She quickly smooched Marinette’s lips and grinned, looking at Adrien. “Like this, Daddy! On her lips.”

“I see you’re the master,” Adrien teased.

“I am.” Emma looked extremely proud. “Right, Mama? You do love my kisses the most in the whole world! Right?”

“I do love your kisses, kitten,” Marinette giggled and winked at her. “I also love when you knock on the door before entering and clean your room as I asked you.”

“I finished already!” the girl rushed to reassure her.

“Then you won’t mind me checking.”

“I did! I promise!”

“I know.” Marinette bopped her nose with a finger. “I just want to marvel at my lovely daughter’s amazing cleaning skills. Can I?”

You didn’t make your bed too,” Emma pouted.

“I was about to do that,” Marinette replied quickly. “Why do you think Daddy came up here? He’s going to help me.”

“Can Daddy help me too?”

“Sure,” Marinette chuckled. “He'll finish here and go straight to your room, okay?”

“Cleaning isn’t fun.”

“I know, Emma,” Marinette pulled the girl into a hug. “I didn’t like cleaning too when I was little, but, unfortunately, that's something that we need to do. Now, go finish your job, and if you do well maybe, we'll do something fun today.”

“With Daddy?”

“With Daddy.”

“I’ll call you when it’s ready,” Emma sighed and was about to depart when her sight fell on a few pillows lying around. A little Chat-like grin immediately sneaked on her face. “Or I can become an akuma and pillow-rize you!” she cried out and grabbed one of the pillows.

“My name is Pillow-rator!” she stated proudly, standing before Adrien. “And I’ll pillow-rize you so you’ll have to clean my room for me! Mommy can do without your help!”

“Oh no!” Adrien gasped. “What should I do, my Lady? Please, protect me before I fall under her pillow-tacular spell!”

“I guess—” Marinette laughed at the most ridiculous expression of fear Adrien faked, “—I guess we have no choice but to use the Lucky Charm and oh! Look what it is?”

“What?”

“That's secret knowledge,” Marinette grinned. “It lets me know this little akuma's weak spot.”

“And what is her weak spot, my Lady?”

“Why, thank you for asking,” Marinette grinned harder. Instantly Emma's eyes widened, and she inhaled sharply, knowing exactly what her Mama meant. “I'll have you know, Chat Noir, that our lovely Pillow-rator here is super ticklish-”

“No!” Emma squeaked. “I’m not!

“Oh really?”

“Yup.” Marinette got ready to tackle Emma.

“Just like my Lady over here?”

It was Adrien’s turn to grin as the woman in front of him froze in her tracks.

“If I remember correctly—” He wiggled his brows. “Someone-”

“You would not dare!”

“Watch me,” Adrien grinned and dived forward, trying to catch his victim. For a moment, he succeeded and even was able to tickle a few spots much to Emma’s delight. However, once Ladybug - always a Ladybug and quite soon Marinette was already free and standing by the door.

“You!” she glared at her offender. “Both of you are grounded! Emma, go clean your room and you—” she pointed to Adrien, thinking for a second, “—you can clean my room! And I- I’ll go have a quiet, peaceful breakfast that I deserve after what you two put me through today!”

With a huff, Marinette turned around to leave.

“She never liked to get into a tickle war with me,” she heard Adrien tell Emma. “You know why? Because I'm not ticklish at all.” For her own selfish safety reasons Marinette decided to ignore his smug claim, that wasn't even entirely true – he was ticklish, just not as much as her – and headed down to the kitchen.

About ten minutes later, she was in the middle of enjoying her morning coffee when her cell phone suddenly buzzed.

[Adrien: Hey, Princess? :3]

[Marinette: If you are trying to win my mercy using cat emoji, you are failing]

[Adrien: Didn’t even think about it. =^^= I just have a question]

[Marinette: Yes?]

[Adrien: Where do I put this super cute burgundy lace bra that I would really love to see on you?] 

Marinette could feel her ears getting hot.

[Marinette: Do NOT go through my drawers, you creep!]

[Adrien: You wound me, my Lady! T_T This cat was diligently cleaning your room, and this unexpected treasure was found on a floor behind your suitcase]

Marinette facepalmed. She was in the process of finishing up her packing yesterday when Adrien showed up. That piece must have slipped from her hands and fell in between her bags. At least it was a really cute bra.

[Marinette: Put it in the suitcase you found it by]

[Adrien: You wish is my command ;3]

A few more minutes passed, and Marinette was almost done with her breakfast when her phone buzzed again.

[Adrien: Forgive me, my Lady, but I’m a mere male human and can’t help it]

[Marinette: What did you do this time? >:( ]

[Adrien: Nothing, but you know those persistent things called thoughts? And how they cannot be controlled sometimes? Especially if you’ve worked in the fashion your whole life and the sexy bra belongs to the woman you love?]

[Marinette: Adrien, what did you do? Do I need to get up there?]

[Adrien: That would be awesome but Emma is next door, so I don't know how well that would work out. I do, however, have another question]

[Marinette: ?]

[Adrien: Was it a set?]

There was a slight pause as Marinette blankly stared at the screen. For a few short moments, she thought. Then smirked and typed back.

[Marinette: Would you like to find out?]

[Adrien: I would've never asked if I wouldn't like to find out or better yet see]

[Marinette: Well this particular quest is especially hard to complete but not impossible if you are determined. What shall I have you do?]

[Adrien: How about a bet? If you kiss me by the end of the day, you’ll have to show me]

[Marinette: Show as in?]

[Adrien: As in wearing it for me. It is a nice garment]

[Marinette: I sense that this is not as easy as it sounds]

[Adrien: You were always very smart, my Lady. I’ll have you know that I’ll do my best trying to seduce you today]

[Marinette: With your lame puns?]

[Adrien: I have a few other tricks up my sleeve]

[Marinette: And if I won’t kiss you, then what do I get out of it?]

[Adrien: Anything you want]

Marinette paused. She liked challenges and winning; she really did, but she wouldn’t mind losing this bet. She was in love and starved for years and wouldn’t mind some time alone with Adrien at all. It’s not like she wasn’t replaying their morning, short make-out session for this entire time in her head. And it was not like she wished she wasn't dead-exhausted yesterday evening to literally fall asleep on him. But there was Emma and the day had just started. All of her certain desires would have to wait. So, maybe- maybe, she should have a little fun and pay him back for the morning scare? Tease him a little? They could go somewhere public, for example, where he wouldn’t be able to do much. She, on the other hand, knew all of his weak spots and could use them to her advantage.

[Marinette: You have a deal, Chaton]

[Adrien: Perfect! Is Emma down yet btw?]

[Marinette: Nope. Why?]

[Adrien: I promised her a Disneyland trip if she does her room properly first, so I’m just making sure she wins. Is it okay btw? Ugh! So sorry! I should’ve asked you first if you had any plans for today]

A Disneyland trip? That’s a very, very busy place. With lots of people and things to do and lots of opportunities for her.

[Marinette: That’s fine. We can go there. She’ll love it]

[Adrien: Your mercy has no bounds, my Lady. <3 Text me when she’ll be down. ;3]

[Marinette: Will do, hot stuff ;) ]

Ten more minutes later Emma was declared the winner of the competition. Half an hour later the trio left for the Disneyland, Disney songs playing loudly on the repeat, Marinette’s outfit extra cute and Adrien prepared to win his bet. An hour later they were already boarding their first ride.

It wasn't the first time Marinette had visited Disneyland, but this was definitely the visit to remember because Adrien tried his best to win their bet in the given situation. Random brushes and innocent touches against her bare skin – simple, but they electrified, igniting a desire in her body for closer contact. A few random compliments whispered into her ear, and she found herself blushing each and every time. He held her hand whenever he could and wasn't shy of wrapping his arm around her. His sight was lingering on her and her only all day, apart from Emma, but, always a gentleman, Adrien had never gone beyond what was appropriate for the place they were at and the audience around them. He promised to seduce her - instead, he was actively making her fall in love with him all over again.

Not the one to step away from the competition, Marinette paid him back with his own coin. She knew exactly when and what to say to make him blush, how to stand and what angle to show off to evoke that lovesick grin of his. She knew what he liked. She played with it. She went as far as eating her ice cream in a way that made Adrien’s face crimson red, but that was where she stopped. After all, while hiding her desires in the middle of one of the busiest places in Paris was easy for her, for Adrien it was quite hard.

Not so subtle seducing apart, their day was quite wonderful. They rode as many rides as they could, visited a few castles and even had dinner with Cinderella. But as the evening was fast approaching, all three started to feel quite exhausted. Even Emma admitted that she wouldn't mind resting a little. She only asked for one more ride before going home and since it was one of those tiny little things where the kid could go alone neither Marinette nor Adrien objected.

Adrien went to settle Emma on the ride while Marinette took out her cell phone to see any missed messages and phone calls. There was a few from her parents who were coming home in a few days. She'll need to think of a good way to break Adrien's parentage news to them. Though, she would be away in Milan when they would arrive. That'd give her some more time to think about it. There was surprisingly only one email from Alya. Marinette knew she was on her honeymoon and Wi-Fi was scarce there, but she didn’t expect her to be this indifferent to the situation. She was about to tap on the link when a pair of strong arms waved itself around her waist from behind.

“You scared me,” Marinette pouted.

“I’m sorry,” Adrien murmured into the crook of her neck. “I just wanted a cuddle.”

“Exhausted?”

“You have no idea. Full-time work doesn’t drain as much as this. Why did I think it was fun before?”

“Because you were a kid,” Marinette giggled and finally clicked on that email. Her eyes quickly scanned the content where Alya was not so subtly trying to pry out the details of what happened while trying not to spoil that she knew Adrien was coming over to her house the night of their departure.

“Alya thinks she is so sneaky.”

“Remind me to get her a gift or something,” Adrien mumbled against her skin again.

“Why?”

“Well, I do kind of owe her a thank you for saving you for me, no? If she wouldn't guard you so diligently who knows what could’ve happened. You could be married by now, and I'd be completely miserable.”

“Well,” Marinette couldn’t help but mischievously smile. “There might have been a few dates she wasn’t aware of…”

“Really?” Adrien’s head popped up. “Do tell me, my Lady. Who was able to sneak by Alya the Great’s watchful eye?”

“Well not really dates,” Marinette chuckled. “More like I went out for lunch with Luka a couple of times.”

“Wait, Luka as in Juleka’s brother Luka?”

“Yup, him.” She couldn’t help but giggle as Adrien unconsciously tightened his grip on her. “We ran into each other about two years ago, and he invited me for lunch to catch up.”

“Okay,” Adrien pouted. Marinette couldn't see him, but his voice gave him away. “So, when Luka invites you out for lunch, you accept, but when Adrien does the same you run away as fast as you can? Not fair, my Lady.”

Marinette chuckled and placed a reassuring hand on top of his. “When Luka invited me, I remembered how because of him I doubted my feelings for you back in the school. So, I thought that, maybe, he could help me to get over both you and Chat.”

She could feel Adrien growl deep inside, despite him remaining completely silent, as his arms tightened around her once more.

“Don’t worry, Chaton,” Marinette laughed. “We’ve met a few times for coffee and actually had a nice time, but Luka wasn’t interested in me romantically. He just genially wanted to catch up.”

The sigh of relief that escaped Adrien was amusing. Marinette continued.

“And I wasn’t interested in him romantically as well. Quite contrary—” she lightly squeezed Adrien’s hands, “—he helped me realized just how deep my love for you was.”

“Then why did you chase me away when I tried to get closer?”

“Because I couldn’t allow myself to be happy after what I did to Chat,” Marinette whispered after a short while.

“For all you know, Chat Noir could’ve been married and happy by this time,” Adrien responded.  

“I know,” Marinette sighed. “It was stupid, but still, I couldn’t. I couldn’t just forget and move on before making sure he was alright. I loved him too much for that. I couldn’t also be happy with anybody while still loving him as well. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”

Adrien didn't answer. He only pulled her closer and whispered into her ear, “I love you so much, Marinette. You have no idea.” Before she could reply their little daughter ran up to them and with a smile begged for another black Chat Noir stuffy as a souvenir. Marinette groaned. Adrien shifty picked up Emma on his shoulders and announced a race to the Gift Shop.

*       *       *

“Mommy, I want to be Rapunzel!” Emma declared when there was about ten minutes’ drive left to their house.

“You want to grow out your hair?”

“Nah. I want to fight with a frying pan and win!”

“Nice,” Adrien laughed. “I can see your Mama’s spirit in you.”

“Hey,” Marinette protested. “I was the strategist. It was you who swung your stick right and left.”

“But you were and still are a fighter, my Lady? No?” Adrien paused for a few seconds, eyes focusing on the nearby intersection as they continued to drive. “Mulan,” he added a moment later. “I think you are Mulan.”

“Who? Mommy is Mulan?” Emma asked. “No! Mommy is more like Cinderella. She cooks and cleans all the time. And makes me do that too!”

“She is Mulan because she can kick some serious butt- ah, no! No, your mom is Belle.”

“Why?”

“Because she is very intelligent and extremely beautiful.”

“Really?”

“Totally. Although…”

“What?”

“I think she is Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.”

“Because she likes to sleep?”

“Yes, but also because anyone with half a brain would fight a dragon for the chance of being with her.”

“Daddy-”

“Or Tiana. Yes! She is definitely Tiana!”

“Why?”

“Because she has to deal with a doofus of a prince like me?”

A string of laughs filled the car, and while furiously blushing Marinette remained silent, quietly debating when would be the most convenient time to lose her bet, Emma couldn't help but ask. “And who would you be, Daddy?”

“Me?” Adrien hummed. “Well, I’m certainly Ariel.”

“Why?” This time it was Marinette who asked.

“Because I’ll give up my whole world for a tiny teensy chance to be with my Princess?”

“You are too cheesy, Daddy,” Emma yawned, cuddling her new Chat Noir toy to her chest.

“And going way overboard,” Marinette added. “I had no idea you wanted to win so much.”

“People had slain dragons and fought armies of ogres for a single kiss,” Adrien chuckled. “I just said a few compliments. Nothing spectacular.”

“Rapunzel is down and out,” Marinette noticed, prompted to check on Emma for the lack of the chatter that hadn’t ceased ever since they left the park. She must have really been exhausted after a day like this which meant she’d be hard to wake up until about six in the morning. Emma might be an early riser like her father, but she was also a heavy sleeper like her mother, and that gave Marinette plenty of time to lose a bet.

The house was already, and soon the car was parked in the driveway. Before she could exit, though, Adrien reached out and taking one of Marinette’s hand brought it to his lips. Holding her sight, he placed a soft kiss on her knuckles. “Just so you know, Mari, everything I told you today is true. No bet involved, I’d tell you the same things over and over again because you are the most amazing woman I know and deserve so much more than I would ever be able to give you.”

“Adrien-”

“Wait, Mari,” hesitant, he inhaled, but continued in a moment. “I just want you to know that I’m serious about this - about you, Marinette, and about Emma. I'm moving back to Paris, and I will be here for you and for her until the day of my last breath. I love you. I’ve been in love with you ever since we’ve met-”

“Adrien-”

“I know I'm asking for a lot here,” he rushed to add. “Marching out of the blue into your life after six years of absence and claiming not only my undeserved parental rights but actually hoping for your love as well? That's a lot. Especially after I ran away so shamelessly. Believe me, I know that. So, if you don’t want me by your side, I will understand. I just hope can I remain in your life at least?”

“Adri-”

“I promise, I’ll never push you or cross the boundaries you wouldn’t want. I’ll respect your decisions even if I wouldn’t like them.”

“I want you to have someone you can rely on when life gets too hard. I want to help you raise our daughter. I want you to know that there is someone who loves you more than anything in this world.”

Fighting the urge to kiss him right there and then, Marinette bit her lip hard and closed her eyes. Get yourself together! Don’t cry. Don’t kiss him yet! Not yet. Not here. He deserved better than a quick peck in the car with a sleeping child at the back.

“I just wanted you to know that,” he whispered at the end.

“Will you carry Emma for me, please?” she responded after a few seconds, trying hard not to betray her swirling emotions.

“Of course.” Adrien kissed her hand one more time and smiled. “At your service, my Lady.”

Almost silently they followed a routine of a few days prior. This time, though, Adrien brought Emma as far as her bedroom before being sent downstairs, while Marinette took to putting the girl to bed. Gathering her thoughts, she didn’t rush, carefully considering her answer to the man who had just bared his soul before her.

Yesterday, when the reveal happened, Marinette’s could think of nothing but how much she loved Adrien and how hard she wanted to be with him. There was still no doubt in her mind about that right now, but if this morning had shown her anything it was that they had a lot of work to do before that could happen. They weren’t careless teenagers anymore with no responsibilities, no hard to break habits, or their own ways of lives, already integrated into their characters. Issues were bound to arise no matter how much they loved each other. They could easily not work at the end. This could quickly end in a mess of a century, but they could also, quite possibly, make each other happier than they could’ve ever dream of.

In a way, Marinette thought, Adrien was already in. Emma was his daughter and they both knew that. Marinette could never take that away from either him or Emma but was she ready to give him what he wanted because he was quite clear in his wishes. Was she ready to entrust him with her heart again? Was Adrien worth the risk of another heartbreak?

Marinette bit her lip as memories of this morning surfaced before her. The way he handled her baseless accusations- The way he understood that it wouldn’t be easy and trouble-free to build a strong relationship- The way he offered to take it step by step and work hard on it together- The words he said in the car- His willingness to accept her rejection if she would think it for the best as long as he could remain there as a friend- Those weren’t just sounds; she could tell he had really meant them. Those were a commitment. A lifelong commitment. And as far as she remembered neither Adrien nor Chat Noir ever lied to her. He was ready to commit. Was she?

Years of struggles made Marinette stronger than she’d ever been. She didn’t need a man to be successful, but Adrien might just be what she was waiting for to finally feel complete. He could be that someone by her side on whom she could lean on when it would get too overbearing. He could be that someone who would love her as much as she loved him and whom she could entrust with her and her child's hearts. Adrien wanted to be that someone and, to be honest, with every passing minute, with every thought and memory Marinette listened less and less to the voice of reason. Complications be damned! Issues and problems would always be there, and they’d deal with them as they would cross that bridge just as they had dealt with this morning’s mishap. No doubt, it’d take a lot of work, but they could do it. Adrien was willing to try his best and commit, why wouldn’t she? They were, after all, Ladybug and Chat Noir, the perfect team, the yin and yang, two parts of the whole. They could be happy together.

They would be happy together.

She couldn’t believe she had even considered not giving them a chance.

Her mind firmly made-up and with an eager heart, Marinette left the room only to find Adrien sitting on a floor by the door.

“Too tired to go down?” She settled by his side.

“Just wanted to be closer to you,” Adrien replied quietly. “Here was the closest I could get without getting in your way.”

“Dork,” Marinette giggled. “Still trying to win the bet with a smooth talk?”

“Nah,” Adrien chuckled. “I know that once you set your mind to something, there is little that can stop you from winning. To be honest, I didn't even really try to win - it would’ve been useless anyway. Don’t worry about it. I’m a grown man, I won’t die if I won’t see you in sexy lingerie or get a kiss today. I haven't been kissed in years, and here I'm alive and healthy-”

“That’s too bad,” Marinette interrupted him, pouting as she climbed into his lap, straddling his hips while facing him. She slowly ran her fingers through his hair and along his jaw, playfully adding, “Because I was about to willingly lose the bet. But if you don't want me to kiss you…” She smirked and slowly leaned down, stopping only a little distance away, enjoying Adrien's hardly subtitled gulp.

“I never said I don’t want you to kiss me,” he mumbled, eyes focused on her lips.

“Oh, really?”

“Yes- never said that.”

“Well then,” Marinette teased, mere millimetres away from his lips. “I have three things to tell you first.”

“Go ahead.” Adrien swallowed as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“First, I do own a set of a nice, lacy, burgundy matching undergarments.”

“Do I get to see it?”

“Eager, aren’t we?”

“Just a tiny bit.”

“You didn’t win yet.”

“I feel like I’m really close, though.”

“Not there yet,” Marinette teased. “But even if you are, I still need to tell you two more things, and it might take me past midnight to do so.”

“I’m all ears,” Adrien whispered as his hands wrapped Marinette into a tight embrace.

“I look jaw-dropping in that set,” Marinette whispered against his lips before pressing a barely-there kiss on them.

“You have no idea how much I want to see that,” Adrien whispered, his breath quickening.

“Oh, I think I do,” Marinette teased as she shuffled in his lap, her lips hovering over the edge of his jaw, burning his bare skin with its warmth. He closed his eyes and leaning his head back onto the wall asked, his voice raspy,

“What is that one more thing you wanted to tell me?”

“I love you,” Marinette barely breathed out and closed the distance between them in a kiss that promised much more than a private showcase of one of her most sensual pieces. Much more.

Chapter Text

In all the years he remembered, Adrien had never slept better than today. The bed was soft and comfy. The air warm yet fresh, with a slight hint of Marinette’s perfume still floating around. But the best part was that sweet realization that years of misery were finally over. She loved him and wasn’t pushing him away anymore. He could stay by her side. He, not some other mystery man, could make Marinette happy. They agreed to give them a chance, and this time he would his ass off to-

Someone’s fingers brushed his hair. “Daddy?”

Adrien wrinkled his nose as something poked it.

“Daaaddddy?” the voice whispered, following a few more prods. This time to his cheek. Adrien tried to shrug the annoyance away, but in retaliation, it started to force open his eyes. Left with no more options, Adrien turned around and hid under the comforter.

“Dadddyyyy?” the voice persisted, and someone's little hands snuck under the blankets to tickle his back. Adrien groaned and turned back to face the offender.

“See, Mommy? He isn’t sleeping!” With barely opened eyes he saw grinning Emma, lying between him and Marinette. Of course, Adrien sleepily smiled. How could he forget?

“Shhhh,” Marinette murmured without opening her eyes and wrapped her arms tighter around the squirming girl. “Pillows don’t talk and don’t move, Emma.”

“I want to cuddle Daddy too.”

One of Marinette’s eyes popped open. She lifted her head to see his messy mop and a little bit confused expression better and smiled. “I suppose we can let him in on our sacred ceremony.”

“Sacred ceremony?” Adrien yawned and glanced at the clock. 6:15 am. Not too early for him, he supposed. Actually, he would consider it a sleep-in on regular days.

“The Dupain-Cheng cuddle ceremony,” Marinette explained. “We don't get out of this bed until 6:30, and until then we have to cuddle to prevent the evil spoiling our mood for the day.”

Adrien chuckled. An unexpected but a really sweet tradition, he had never heard of or experienced before, but nothing he wouldn’t love to partake in. Who would in their sane mind refuse fifteen or even more minutes of cuddling with his girls?

“May I?” he asked, making sure not to move until the permission was received. Once the approval was given he swiftly wrapped his arms around both girls at once and squeezed.

“Daddy!” Emma laughed. Marinette giggled and scooped a little closer, sandwiching Emma between them.

“I like this sacred ceremony of yours,” Adrien whispered and placed a soft kiss on the top of Emma’s hair. “Though, I suspect it was put in place more because someone didn’t want to get up sooner than they needed.”

“Shhhh!” Marinette glared. “No need to give away anyone’s secrets. As punishment you could be banned from the Cuddling Ceremony forever, didn’t you know?”

“Silent as a fish,” Adrien chuckled, yawning and closing his eyes. The rest of the time before the alarm clock went off, he spent enjoying the cuddles of his two ladies in silence.

Once the time to get up had arrived, Adrien had the misfortune to propose to make breakfast. That quickly got him shoved out the door and sent to the kitchen, while the ladies got ready to face the day. In about ten minutes Emma skipped down the stairs. Marinette followed another ten minutes later - just enough time for him to make a simple breakfast of sausage, scrambled eggs, and croissants.

“Smells delicious,” Marinette noted, settling behind the kitchen table where Emma was already devouring her portion. “I didn’t know you could cook. You always had chefs in the mansion, didn’t you?”

“I did here,” Adrien shrugged. “But not in New York. There I had to learn how to cook if I wanted to survive. It’s quite enjoyable actually.”

“Hmmm.” Marinette bit into her croissant. “A man that has the looks and can cook? You drive a hard bargain, Agreste. I might decide to keep you after all.”

“My Lady,” Adrien smirked. “May I add to your dilemma and prove my worth to you tonight with a dinner that’ll make you forget all the doubts you’ve ever had?”

“How can I refuse such an offer?” Marinette winked, glancing at the clock.

“In a rush?”

“Nope. I still have another fifteen minutes or so before Emma goes to her babysitter. My work starts at eight, so plenty of time to get downtown.”

“Is that how your days usually work?” Adrien settled across Marinette with his own plate. “You go to work and Emma to her babysitter every day?”

“Pretty much,” Marinette nodded. “When there is school, Mme Bella takes her there and brings her back home, but during breaks, she spends her days at her house. Emma’s quite fond of her, so that isn’t really a problem. On weekends, though, we always do something fun together, so she doesn’t feel abandoned by her mother. Sometimes my parents would take her for a day or two. Alya uses her Auntie privileges once or twice a month. I know that, maybe, this isn’t ideal-”

“I hope you aren’t serious now,” Adrien interrupted, seeing the guilt rising in Marinette’s eyes. “I’d kill to have so many people care about me when I was a kid. From what I’ve seen so far, Emma feels and is very loved. You are an incredible mother, Marinette. You support yourself and still manage to do so much for her. Amazing, really.”

“Thanks,” Marinette smiled. “I try to give her what I had myself – unconditional love and acceptance with a sprinkle of discipline because let me tell you—” she playfully pointed into Emma's direction, who by that time was already colouring something in the living room, “—that little angel over there has so much Chat Noir's mischief in her that sometimes it's hard to contain.”

“Pfft,” Adrien huffed. “It’s not like her mother was a model girl herself - sneaking out of her bedroom all the time, getting in fights with Akumas on an almost daily basis and may I notice, without her parents' consent or knowledge! I wouldn't be surprised if she even had—” he gasped, then grinned, “—a secret boyfriend and stuff not even I know.”

Marinette nervously chuckled, shifting her eyes away, remembering a few cases, involving a couple of stolen cell phones. “Let’s not deliberate.”

“Hmm.” Adrien cockled his head to the side. “Now I’m intrigued.”

“Nope. Not telling and it’s nothing important, so, let’s remember me young and innocent.”

They both laughed and continued to their meals, the rest of the conversation flowing effortlessly, memories of prior times and friends coming to mind and just as Marinette was about to stand up Adrien asked.

“Mari?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think I can look after Emma today?”

“You don’t have anything to do?”

“Not really.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I have a few calls to make regarding my move back to Paris, and I think I need to visit Father. That’s about it.”

“You going to tell him about Emma?”

“I think I should,” Adrien replied with no obvious enthusiasm. “Better I tell him myself than someone else will and if I’m staying here, believe me, he will find out.”

For a short while, Marinette watched Adrien in silence. He seemed to be so cheerful, carefree and happy just a moment ago. Not anymore. The smile was gone, shoulders hung low, and the eyes shifted to Emma as he fidgeted with his own fingers.

“If I could,” he continued quietly. “I’d keep her away from him, to be honest.”

“Why?” Marinette’s eyebrows knitted in a surprised frown. Everyone knew his father was strict, but it couldn’t be that bad. Surely, he was more loving towards his family than his employees. And even if not, his attitude had changed a lot in the last few years - Gabriel Agreste was not the same man she was hired by. These days, working for him was somewhat enjoyable.

“He—” Adrien glanced at Marinette before darting his eyes back to Emma, “—my father has a talent for making one feel self-conscious and miserable- like there has to be something wrong with you because you could never satisfy his expectations- a failure and a disappointment because you were never good enough. Sometimes I doubt he even likes me-”

Adrien stopped talking when a pair of delicate arms wrapped around him, their warmth and familiar, loved scent enveloping him in an embrace. Pulling him close, Marinette whispered, “He does love you, Adrien. I know he does. In all the time I’ve worked for him, your father had never said a bad word about you. He’s proud of what you’ve achieved; he’s just not very good at expressing his feelings.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Adrien sighed. “But I don’t want Emma to feel the same way I did growing up. I want her loved and appreciated. I want her to have a real family, not an empty shell for the good of the public image.”

“Well,” Marinette placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “You’ll be surprised, but Gabriel really likes Emma.”

“Father knows about Emma?”

“Not that she’s his granddaughter, but he does know her,” Marinette let him go and leaned against the table to explain. “They've met about two years ago, and ever since then he exhibits unusual, I’d say, amount of affection towards her. He always stops to talk when she is around, often asks me about her, and showers her with presents on every possible holiday and sometimes even random days, like ‘the start of a summer’ or ‘only ten days left till Christmas.' It's ridiculous, really. Even Alya took notice, and doesn’t let me live it down.”

“Are we talking about my father now?” Adrien’s eyes seemed to be uncommonly round. “The man who gave me the same lame pen a few years in a row for my birthday and never spent any time with me even on holidays unless he had absolutely nothing else to do? And even then, I would get no more than five minutes of his time.”

“Pretty sure,” Marinette giggled at the completely perplexed expression Adrien’s adopted. “Don’t look at me like that. I was surprised myself. He is your father. You should know what’s going on, not me because I’m absolutely clueless. Anyway, I have to run.” Marinette came closer and quickly kissed still frozen in confusion Adrien. “I’ll let Mme Bella know that Emma will be with you today. Good luck with the talk. Love you,” she whispered and went to say goodbye to Emma.

In mere minutes Marinette was out the door, but Adrien was still astonished. His father liked Emma and according to Marinette and Alya from what he could remember now, had been showering her with attention and presents. What in the world was going on? Why would he do that? Why would he show more affection towards a daughter of a random-to-him employee than his own son?

He is your father. You should know what’s going on

Something clicked.

Adrien’s eyes widened instantly.

Of course.

His father saw Emma and more probable than not had the same reaction he did. For Adrien, Emilie Agreste was a mother. For Gabriel, she was the love of his love, the woman he was still unable to let go years after she’d left them. Of course, he would notice Emma’s remarkable resemblance to his late wife, and no doubt, he knew Marinette’s connections to his son. His father wasn't the one to left questions unanswered, and he had the resources and ways to check any suspicions he might have had.

“Of course,” Adrien murmured under his breath. Gabriel knew. How could he even think that his father wouldn’t know, having Emma and Marinette so close to him? He was a smart man - the compliment was due where it belonged. Surprisingly to Adrien, though, Gabriel seemed to like Emma instead of ignoring her existence as he did with his son. That baffled Adrien for a few moments before he dismissed the thought away. The reasons and motives didn’t matter. The main point was that Emma deserved to be treated much better than Adrien ever had been, and Gabriel Agreste seemingly was a better grandfather than he ever was a father.

The sole question remained – why didn’t he tell him?

*       *       *

Adrien visited his father’s office multiple times, and every single one of them wasn't exactly pleasant, to say the least. Today, however, there was a special feeling of suspense in the air when two men greeted each other with a polite, somewhat detached “Good morning.” Adrien proceeded to sit in a chair across from his father's desk and looked around, not really knowing how to start a conversation like the one he came here for.

“The New York office called me an hour ago, Adrien,” Gabriel stated with his usual air of coldness, almost glaring at the man in front of him. “Care to explain why did you suddenly decide to stay in Paris, abandoning your responsibilities? I thought you were an adult, Adrien, not a reckless teenager anymore.”

The strictness, the coldness of Gabriel’s voice was hard to miss. Not the slightest concern for or even minimal signs of affection towards his own son. Just demands, discontent and calculations.

Adrien sadly chuckled to himself. Ever since this morning, he was secretly hoping that perhaps Marinette was right and his father just hadn't been very good at expressing his love for him. Everyone said he treated Emma exceptionally well, so was it too much for Adrien to want to believe that maybe, just maybe, his father was learning and would be more welcoming and loving towards his son as well? Most likely, because looking at his father now, Adrien let that flickering of hope vanish. Gabriel Agreste seemed to be perfectly able to express his emotions. It was written on his face, evident in his stiff posture, resonated in his voice - Gabriel didn't show his love for his son because he didn't feel any. For his father, Adrien was still only a huge disappointment, and that was a treatment he was getting.

Briefly, Adrien considered leaving without saying anything, but then he recalled everything Marinette had said and his own conclusions. Most likely, Gabriel knew already. For some incomprehensible to him reasons, he seemed to care about Emma a lot, so he might as well clear this up and make it official. He would need to tell him sooner or later, so why not now? He might just be lucky enough to get the answers to his own questions. Not beating about the bush, Adrien asked.

“How long did you know, Father?”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed as he looked back at his estranged son. “I clearly said they called me an hour-”

“How long did you know about Emma, Father?” Adrien interrupted, something he had never done before. Not with his father, at least. “And why didn’t you tell me? Was Emma not that important of a detail? Not worth discussing or even mentioning?” Adrien could feel his blood boiling with every word, just as much as he saw his father tense in front of him. He had never openly disobeyed, never spoke back to Gabriel, but now that he’d started, Adrien found it hard to stop. “Oh, wait. No!” he continued. “From what I’ve heard, you obviously took a liking to my daughter.” Adrien stood up, placing his hands on the edge of the table and leaning over. “You certainly pay more attention to her than you ever did to me so I would guess she isn’t that unimportant to you after all. Then why? Why have you never said anything? Do you hate me that much, Father? Am I such an enormous disappointment to you that you can’t even treat me as a normal human being?”

In silence, Gabriel glared back at Adrien. After finding out about Emma and making his own conclusions on the situation, he considered his son to be a spineless, irresponsible weakling who ran away from his problems and refused to answer for his actions. That outburst just now added to his already ruined opinion on his offspring, but Adrien’s shocking lack of manners was not the point right now.

Because how dare he, a pathetic excuse for a human being who left his precious, little granddaughter alone and fatherless, to demand anything from him right now? How dare he to expect even the slightest of respect from Gabriel when he had decided to abandon Emma before she was even born? He wanted to be loved? Wanted to be respected? How about loving others himself! How about taking responsibility for his actions?! How about being decent enough to let his father know about the baby he didn't care the slightest for? He, Gabriel, should be the one asking questions now, not him!

Gabriel stopped short of growling because right there and then he was beyond disgusted and ashamed of his son. Clenching his teeth together, his lips in a thin, tight line, he stood up and as silently as he could, walked to his window, as far away as he possible from the disappointment of a century. Turning his back to Adrien and, trying to control the anger that burned inside of him, Gabriel finally replied.

“I found out two years ago and don’t you dare to blame me for not saying anything to you, Adrien.” He turned back and glared at his son, “It’s not my duty anymore to remind you about taking responsibility for your actions. You are an adult, Adrien, and you had been an adult when you made her- or at least you were supposed to be one. You should’ve been the one mentioning the baby to me years ago even if you wanted nothing to do with her. You didn’t. So why would bring it up?”

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know, Father!” Adrien took care to say every word clearly. “I had absolutely no idea I had a child. Do you really think that I would’ve left if I knew?! Do you really think that after years of neglect you put me through I would throw away a chance at having a real family for once? Do you?! I loved Marinette, I would’ve never left if I knew!”

“Oh, please!” Gabriel turned back to the window with an annoyed look on his face. “If you are finding excuses, at least make them believable! You and Mlle Dupain-Cheng knew each other for years. You were certainly close enough to make a baby, so do not tell me you didn’t know! If, as you say, you loved her, then it's even harder for me to believe you’ve never spoken after you left. Don’t you have the same friends? Pregnancy and a child are hard to hide, Adrien, especially with shared friends. They would’ve told you even if she didn’t.”

Adrien paused, taken aback. He never really thought about that with all the craziness going around, but really, how come Nino never mentioned anything? How did it happen that they had rarely spoken of Marinette over the years, and even when they did Emma was never mentioned? The only things Nino had told him were that Marinette was fine, she was accepted into the school she wanted, she graduated, got a job, she bought a house, she was out with Alya, or Alya was at her place. Neither pregnancy nor the baby had ever made it into their conversations, and Adrien refused to believe that those were so insignificant to his best friend that he’d simply forgotten. Nino loved Marinette and Emma to pieces, and the only reason Adrien could think of for Nino to keep such secrets was that he was asked to stay quiet. But why? Were they trying to spare Marinette's feelings? Upkeep her reputation with him? That was insane.

Adrien shrugged - whatever the reasons were, he'd deal with them later. Now, no matter how angry he was, he had to face reality, and reality was saying that from his father’s point of view Adrien did get Marinette pregnant and dumped her, escaping to the USA. As unfair as it was, but Gabriel was right - with shared friends and their presumably “relationship,” there was little Marinette could do to keep her pregnancy a secret from him even if she wanted. Adrien pressed his teeth together. His father didn’t have the full story. He didn’t know that Marinette couldn’t possibly tell him about Emma because she didn't know who he was. Full disclosure for Adrien was not an option, but something had to be said - something that would explain everything in a rational, believable way. At least to Gabriel.

“We parted our ways after a huge fight before either of us knew,” Adrien said slowly, straightening up and crossing his arms over his chest.  “For reasons, I would rather keep private, we didn’t talk after that for six years. I might assume my friends hadn’t said anything to me because we were at odds with Marinette, and she might have not wanted me to know, so yes, Father, as astonishing as it might sound, I didn’t know that Marinette was pregnant, and I didn’t know Emma existed. I would’ve never abandoned them otherwise. I would’ve come back the moment I knew and took my responsibility.”

“Some friends you have there, Adrien,” Gabriel scoffed. “Really trustful and respectful, I see. But then I would lie if I’d say I’m surprised. I did tell you from the first day that that boy was a bad influence, didn’t I? Yet even with that kind of friends, it’s still hard to believe that anyone would keep a baby a secret from its father, Adrien. Especially, a rich and famous one like yourself. If not for a ring, then nice child support-”

“Marinette would never!” Adrien snapped right back. “She isn’t like that. She would never use a baby to get to me or get money. Fine,” he sighed. It looked like being vague about it hadn't worked, and a good reason was still needed. Something Gabriel could believe. Something that could explain all or at least most of the issues here. “If you must know, there might have been a misunderstanding, and I might have screwed things up, and as a result, Marinette didn’t want to contact me or have me anywhere near Emma. Happy? I’ve been a disappointment not only to you, Father, but to her as well.”

“You cheated on her?”

“No!” Adrien rushed to protest. “And before you ask anything else - this stay between Marinette and me, but I’m sure knowing that it was my fault, would help you to understand her better. No one wants a disappointment in their life. She didn’t either.”

An awkward, tense silence fell between them as both, father and son, tried to sort out their feelings. Gabriel blankly stared out the window, his lips pressed into a thin line as he started to realize that he might have rushed a little in his conclusions about the scope of Adrien’s knowledge. And while he couldn’t say he was surprised that he managed to mess up his personal life so badly, in a way, pity started to rise in his heart. He was his son after all and seeing him suffering a personal shipwreck wasn’t what he wanted for him at all.

“Father?”

Disappointment… When and why did he become that, Gabriel wondered? Was it because of his mother’s untimely departure? Was it because, drowned in his own sorrow, Gabriel had no one else to blame and couldn't help transferring some of the bitterness onto Adrien? Only because he was her son? Because her blood ran in his veins? Because his eyes were the same colour? Because she gave him his name or because he loved to laugh just as much? Because sometimes he thought she loved their little boy more than she loved Gabriel?

He didn't know the reasons anymore, but now, after a few years with Emma, Gabriel was starting to realize the wrongness of his ways. He couldn’t say what prompted that, but that girl had something in her to melt his heart and make him see the other side of the issue. Adrien was hurting just as much as him, if not more. Gabriel lost a wife. Adrien lost his mother and what did he do? What did the father of the boy do when his mother disappeared? He made him an orphan with a living parent. He made him a company asset instead of a son. He judged and sentenced Adrien the first chance he got without a shred of concrete evidence and a chance to defend himself. That might have been a tiny bit harsh.

“Why did she finally decide to tell you?” Gabriel managed to ask.

“She didn’t,” Adrien sighed. “I found out on my own.”

Gabriel looked back at Adrien, his eyebrow quirked up. “Is that so? And how?”

“Do I really need to explain, Father?” Adrien huffed. “You’ve seen Emma for yourself. You should know.”

Gabriel silently walked back to his desk and pulled out the red folder that changed his life two years ago. On the first page was Emma’s and his wife’s toddler pictures, followed by a DNA test results and Marinette’s profile. Adrien flipped through the pages and smirked ironically to himself as he took out his own copy of his mother picture, almost identical to the one his father had.

“The DNA test was a little bit extra in my opinion.”

“Maybe for you, it would've been, but not for me. How would I know who you’ve slept with and who you haven’t?”

“I wasn’t sleeping around,” Adrien seethed through his teeth. “Marinette was the only woman I’ve ever been with.”

“Well I couldn’t possibly know that, now could I? But if I was going to disinherit my own son—” Gabriel looked at him strictly but already in a slightly different way. Something had changed in his sight. Something new was present there that Adrien didn’t see before. Was it a hint of understanding? Maybe even a little bit of affection? It was too early to tell, but something had definitely shifted, “—I needed to make sure she was my granddaughter for certain.”

“You were going to do what?”

An older man returned to his position near the window, looking away in the distance. “I assumed,” he stated. “That you bailed on them and didn't want to take your responsibility, so I decided to take it for you. Mlle Dupain-Cheng was promoted to a well-paid position, and Emma's name was written into my will. She will officially inherit half of my estate. The other half is still yours.”

Adrien looked in bewilderment at the man standing a couple of meters away. “You promoted Marinette only because of Emma?”

“Yes and no.” Gabriel shrugged his shoulders, his back is still to Adrien, eyes focused on something beyond that window. The reasons he was still avoiding eye contact was vague even to him. He couldn't say he felt disgusted at that moment anymore, but embarrassment and uncertainty of how to proceed were there for sure. How do you even start to repair a relationship stained by false, unjust accusations and broken for years? He didn't know yet. That thought, however, would undoubtedly need some careful consideration in the near future.

“Even before this whole ordeal happened, I was considering Mlle Dupain-Cheng for a promotion,” Gabriel continued. “She is talented, hardworking and has proven herself to be a highly qualified professional on multiple occasions. The girl definitely deserved that promotion. However, I would lie if I would say that my newfound knowledge about Emma didn’t speed things up, and didn’t give her a better deal salary-wise.”

“Father-” Adrien’s voice grew closer, but Gabriel ignored that.

“Someone had to take care of them, Adrien, and since I thought you-”

His speech had seized abruptly, so shocked the man was to suddenly feel his son’s arms around him. Neither of them remembered the last time they touched each other, moreover, the last time they hugged. Completely knocked off his feet, startled and confused, Gabriel froze in place, lost in what to do or even how to feel about this.

Their contact lasted only a split moment before Adrien pulled back, a bit embarrassed himself. He didn't plan on hugging the man he was arguing with just a moment ago. It just happened. Gabriel wasn't the best father in the world - far from it – but he stepped up and took care of what really mattered to Adrien when he couldn’t. That alone deserved at least some gratitude and respect.

“Thank you, Father,” Adrien said. “Thank you for taking care of them when I couldn’t.”

The words echoed through the room for what seemed like an eternity as they stood and watched each other, not a single muscle on either of their faces moving. Finally, Gabriel closed his eyes and exhaled slowly as a hint of a smile tugged at Adrien's lips. Something had been broken between them at last.

“You really didn’t know?”

You raised me, Father,” Adrien replied, placing his hand on Gabriel's shoulder. “You of all people would know that I would've never left if I knew. Even if I didn't want to be with Marinette, I would've stayed for Emma.”

“Then,” Gabriel cleared his throat. “I believe I owe you an apology.”

“Thank you,” Adrien smiled in reply and beckoned them to get back to the table.

“What are you planning to do next?” Gabriel asked as soon as they settled in. “I hope you realize that simply dropping everything in NYC will be quite unprofessional and will bring a blow to the company’s reputation.”

“Don’t worry,” Adrien answered. “I’ve spoken with Claude already. He's working on reordering my commitments as we speak, so I can fulfill them all as soon as possible and hopefully be back here in a few weeks to stay.”

“And your office duties?”

“That’s even easier since I was only starting to get involved. They already have a replacement in mind, and all I have to do is to brief that person in, which shouldn't take more than a few days.”

“Alright,” Gabriel faintly smiled. “I see you aren’t as irresponsible as I thought you were.”

“I’m twenty-six, Father,” Adrien chuckled. “The days where I could ditch Gorilla and sneak away whenever I wanted to see a movie are pretty much gone. Unfortunately,” he sighed dramatically. “I have to adult these days.”

“Right,” Gabriel chuckled much to Adrien's amazement. He hadn’t seen one of those in a long time. “I assume you would work here after relocating?”

“If you want me, but just so you know – I’ve been cutting back on my modelling over the years, so I'll appreciate if you could place me by my specialization. I didn't earn a Masters in Business Management for good looks. People actually say I'm quite good at it.”

“So I’ve heard,” Gabriel remarked. “Alright. What about Emma?”

“I think the first thing to be dealt with should be getting my parenthood legally recognized. I’ll be discussing details with Marinette, but I don’t think she’ll object to putting my name on the birth certificate and adding Emma to my will.”

“What about Emma’s last name?” Gabriel raised his eyebrow. “Technically she is an Agreste.”

“I’ll leave this up to Marinette,” Adrien replied. “I did nothing so far in bringing Emma up, so it should be her decision, won’t you agree?”

“Alright, and Mlle Dupain-Cheng herself?” Gabriel leaned back in his chair, but the stiffness of his posture was hard to miss. “Have you resolved the misunderstanding? Will you co-parent? Getting back together?”

“We made up,” Adrien couldn’t hold a smile back. “And we might be getting back together as long as we can work everything out.”

Gabriel picked up a pen and started to fidget with it. “Do you actually want to be in a relationship with her, or is it just because you have a child together?”

“Father,” Adrien grinned. “I wanted to marry Marinette six years ago. In fact, the night we had that argument, I was planning on proposing. I haven't changed my mind. I still love her, and I know she still loves me. Emma’s just a lovely addition, not the reason.”

“Alright,” Gabriel let go of his withheld breath. “But let me give you a little bit of an advice Adrien.” He paused for a moment before locking his eyes with the young man in front of him. “Do everything possible not to mess this up this time. She is a nice, talented and decent girl. Look around - you can hardly find girls like her anymore, so you screw this one again, and you may never find another one like that. Understood?”

“Yup,” Adrien chuckled with amazement.

“Just a little warning, but if you do screw this one up, you’ll find yourself with a new sister.”

Adrien blinked. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Of course not. The brand must stay in the family,” Gabriel proclaimed with a straight face. “On a more serious note, though, I think you should know that I’ve been considering training her as my successor. Mlle Dupain-Cheng seems to really get what this brand is all about, and that’s hard to come by these days.”

“You’ve been her idol ever since she was thirteen, Father,” Adrien laughed. “Marinette had your designs plastered all over her wall. Of course, she’ll know what your brand is all about.”

“My designs modelled by you?” This time Gabriel definitely smirked. “The boy she had a crush on?”

“They are still your designs and she loved them no matter who modelled them.” Adrien found an escape. “Marinette loves your work. She'll do you justice.”

“I hope so too.” Gabriel cleared his throat. “As for Emma- don’t think that being a father is an easy business,” he continued, his voice cracking at his next words. “I failed at it miserably, as you know, but you have the potential to be better, Adrien. Your mother was amazing with kids, and you have a lot of her in you-you should be fine as long as you take it seriously. Just remember that it’s a life-long commitment and you have to work to succeed.”

“Of course,” Adrien barely spoke. Was he speaking to his Father? Where did the cold, indifferent man go, and who was this, dared he to say, caring grandfather? “I didn't realize you liked her so much.”

“Emma?” Gabriel looked to the side. “Let's just say that I haven't realized just how lonely my house would get once you left. I suspect that this, along with my age, might have made me a little more sentimental than necessary, and Emma- She looks so much like your mother- Not just looks, she has her flare, her vigour, her love of life and enthusiasm.” A faint smile graced Gabriel's lips. “She's like a second breath, a second chance in life-”

“Do you want to tell her that?” Adrien stood up from his chair.

“Tell whom what?” Gabriel frowned.

“Tell Emma that you are her grandfather.”

For the first time in his life, Adrien saw his father look somewhat nervous, as he pressed back into his seat and looked away, his fingers searching for a place to hide. “I don’t think now is a good time.”

“Well, I think now is a perfect time,” Adrien protested. “Unless you can name me any legitimate excuses why it wouldn’t be?”

Gabriel blinked once. Twice. Three times. “Well-”

“She is just outside the door with Nathalie.” Adrien chuckled. “Let me go get her.”

Quickly, before his Father could protest, Adrien walked out of the office and found Emma sitting behind the desk, too immersed in her colouring to notice his arrival. To her justification, he did walk in rather quietly. So quietly, in fact, that even Nathalie didn’t stop helping Emma with her project.

“Thank you for looking after her, Nathalie,” Adrien let himself be discovered.

“Um, not a problem,” the woman replied, quickly hiding away the piece of paper she’d been doodling on under the other sheets and stashing the blue crayon in the box.

“Daddy!” Emma took her picture and proudly showed it to him. “Look that’s me and you and Mommy, and Mme Nathalie drew you and Mommy when you were kids like me. She said she knew you when you were little, so I asked her to draw you for me- And you look so pretty- Show him, Mme Nathalie.”

“That would be a bad idea,” the woman stated, quickly turning her attention back to her computer.

“I’m sure it looks amazing,” Adrien grinned, coming closer. “Can I see?”

“I don’t-”

“Oh, please, Mme Nathalie!” Emma begged. “Please, please, please! It looks really nice.”

With hopeful eyes, the woman looked at Adrien, but not finding compassion in his face pulled out her drawing and pushed it towards the man. On it a smiling Marinette – he figured by the pigtails – was giving Adrien – who else could’ve had a blond mop and green eyes – the blue scarf his father once gifted him. The drawing was nice, the skills, though, a little better than his daughter's.

“That's a really nice picture,” Adrien smiled at Natalie. “A few of my favourite memories in one. Looks amazing. Now—” he turned to his daughter, “—we need to go, Emma. I have someone very important for you to meet.”

“Oooooh! Who is it, Daddy?”

“You’ll see,” he smiled and took her by the hand, not forgetting to take both hers and Nathalie’s art along. “Say thank you and goodbye to Mme Nathalie for playing with you.”

“Thank you, Mme Nathalie,” Emma parroted. “I really liked to colour with you. Have a nice day.”

“Have a nice day, Emma,” Nathalie replied with a smile of her own. “Good day, Adrien.”

*       *       *

“Good afternoon, M Agreste,” Emma greeted politely as soon as they entered.

“Good afternoon, Emma,” his father replied, and Adrien had to take a double look because never in his life had he seen his father looking more pleased or proud. “How are you doing today?”

“I’m good. Thank you.” Emma said, standing almost like a soldier, and Adrien wondered how much time did Marinette spend training their little girl to be so polite and composed? But then again it wasn’t hard to be scared into politeness in front of a man like Gabriel Agreste despite the smile that was lurking on his lips. “How do you do, M Agreste?”

“I’m good as well. Thank you for asking, Emma,” Gabriel played along. “How is your collection doing? Any new additions?”

And that was the moment everything shook and fell down as Emma grinned and exploded with chatter about all of her thirty-something black cats, paying particular attention to the one Daddy had bought her yesterday at the Disneyland. Adrien looked at Gabriel and held his breath in awe – not only his estranged father was openly smiling at Emma, but he also attentively listened to every detail of the little girl’s babbling. Five minutes later, neither of the duo seemed to pay him any attention or talk about the main issue at hand, as Gabriel kept asking unrelated questions and Emma replying with tiniest details. Adrien shook his head and smiling, crouched down beside his daughter.

“Emma, I wanted to tell you something.”

Gabriel nervously sighed in the background.

“Yes, Daddy?”

“You know like Mommy has her own Daddy and he is your grandfather?”

Emma blinked with a frown. “Grandpapi Tom?”

“Yes, Grandpapi Tom.” Adrien nodded and glanced over to his father. “So, you see, I have a father too, and he is your grandfather as well, just like Grandpapi Tom and—” he pointed to Gabriel, “—here he is.”

Emma looked at the man in front of her for a few moments before knitting her eyebrows together into a frown. “No, Daddy,” she protested. “I already have a Grandpapi. This is M Agreste, Mommy’s boss.”

“Emma,” Adrien tried to explain again. “You have one grandfather from Mommy, Grandpapi Tom, and one from me,” he paused for a moment glancing over at his father, “Grandpapi Gabriel. You have two grandfathers. Everyone does.”

“I have two Grandpapis!?” Emma echoed as her eyes grew big. “Do I get two Grandmamas?”

“Um- “

“Yes, you do, Emma,” Gabriel interceded when Adrien delayed answering. “Do you want to see a picture?”

“Yes!” The girl ran up to the table where Gabriel was already taking out a photo album from one of his shelves. He sat the little girl in a chair and opened the book.

“Look here, this is your Grandmother Emilie. Unfortunately, she can’t come here anymore, but I have lots of pictures and videos if you’d like to see them. She even starred in a movie once.”

“She is so pretty,” with her eyes wide, Emma whispered in amazement, turning pages filled with the youthful pictures of Adrien’s mother.

“She was,” Gabriel echoed. “Just like you, Emma.”

Silently, Adrien observed his Father showing Emma the pictures and telling her stories of his mother for the next ten minutes. He couldn’t help but smile. Just this morning he was still estranged from this man. A few hours prior he had more questions than he wanted. Even just half an hour ago when they fought, Adrien could’ve never imagined to see what he was observing right now or to hope that his own relationship with his father could ever be repaired. But now it all seemed possible – in the future and one step at a time but still possible – and it looked like he had his daughter to thank for it.

When all the stories were told, all the arrangements were agreed upon, and even a family dinner at the first possible opportunity was promised, Adrien and Emma walked out of Gabriel's office hand in hand. 

“Want to go visit Mommy before we go home, Emma?”

“Yes!” the girl grinned as she skipped through the halls, still holding Adrien’s hand. “I want to tell her I have two Grandpapis now!”

Adrien chuckled and headed to Marinette’s office. He had his own news to tell, though, his might have to wait until they were somewhere more private with no chances of little girls or random colleagues interrupting.

*       *       *

“What do you mean he knew already?”

“For at least two years,” Adrien pointed out, settling on the couch. “Gabriel Agreste didn’t build his empire on his designs alone, Mari, so we shouldn’t really be surprised. He’s a smart man.”

Adrien petted the place beside himself for Marinette to sit down, but she continued to gawk at him in amazement. The news that his father was perfectly aware of Emma’s relation to him for the most part of their acquaintance was certainly not what Marinette had expected to hear. When she asked him about it at the office, Adrien said that everything went well, and he’d tell her the details at home. Once there, he first let them enjoy a delicious dinner, which he insisted Emma prepared all by herself - he was just a helper. Next, Adrien took part in the bedtime routine for the first time, reading Emma her favourite book, and only after the house was clean and quiet, he let the bomb drop.

“But how? How could he know if neither of us did?” Marinette mumbled under her breath. “Does he also know about our Chat Noir and Ladybug identities?”

“If he knew, I’m pretty sure he would’ve mentioned something,” Adrien shrugged. “Instead he was dead sure that his idiotic weakling of a son dumped his pregnant girlfriend and ran away to hide in the States instead of taking responsibility.”

“Ouch.”

Adrien chuckled. “Even I didn’t expect that.”

“I’m sorry,” Marinette sadly smiled and sat down at last. “I never meant to ruin your father’s opinion of you.”

“It isn’t your fault,” Adrien protested. “Father’s opinion of me wasn’t stellar in the first place for a long time already. If not that, he’d found something else to dislike me for. But—” Adrien smiled reassuringly, more to himself than Marinette, “—we agreed to work on that, so hopefully, it’ll get better.”

“If I can help somehow, please, let me know, okay?”

“Will do.” This time his smile was only for her. “Thanks.”

“So,” Marinette continued. “How did he find out?”

 “Simple,” Adrien chuckled. “He saw Emma. I don’t know if I’ve told you already, but she resembles my mother rather incredibly. The first time Isaw her, I seriously thought my mind was playing tricks on me. At least until Nino was kind enough to reveal my Lady’s identity.”

“You can’t be serious.” Marinette’s eyebrows knitted into a frown. “There are, probably, tons of little blonde, green-eyed girls who look similar to your mother, Adrien. A slight resemblance couldn’t possibly be a reason to conclude a relation.”

“Maybe so, but,” Adrien emphasized. “Not a lot of little blonde, green-eyed girls who incredibly resemble my mother are born to my friends and former classmates. He saw Emma, remembered who you are, had an idea and might have decided to check it with a DNA testing.”

“Excuse me? When and how?”

“A man like him has his ways, Mari.”

“I highly doubt that’s legal to do without the person’s consent.”

“Not in the slightest,” Adrien sighed, his lips sadly twitching. “He probably just wanted to check it discreetly in case his suspicions would’ve proven to be false.”

“Still,” Marinette huffed. “That’s not an excuse. And here I thought him asking me the name of Emma’s father was invasive-”

Adrien sat up straight instantly. “He asked you that?”

“He did.” Marinette nodded. “A few years back when he was considering me for a promotion.” She paused for a moment, rebuilding the chain of events in her mind. “That was after he'd met Emma, though. Quite sometime after,” she added. “If by that time he knew her father’s name already why did he bother asking me?”

“What did you tell him?” Adrien completely ignored the question, his curiosity taking the best of him.

“What could I tell him, Adrien?” Marinette shrugged. “M Agreste, I would have you know that my daughter’s father is none other than vanished a few years back Chat Noir,” she mocked. “That would’ve been fun.”

“That would’ve certainly been very interesting,” Adrien laughed. “Okay, then there are, probably, two possibilities. He might not have known at that time yet and decided to ask you straightforward, hoping to scare you into an honest answer, or he already knew and was testing you.”

“For gold-digger tendencies?”

“What else?” he chuckled. “And since you were promoted, I suppose you passed with flying colours.”

“Geez,” Marinette rolled her eyes. “What did I get myself into with your family?”

“Well, I guess we are-” Adrien paused, thought for a moment and added, “Let’s say a little bit dramatic and just a tiny bit extra sometimes, but—” he leaned towards Marinette, his eyes locking with hers “—we love wholeheartedly and will move mountains to make our better halves the happiest people on Earth.”

“Dork,” Marinette poked his nose, pushing his face away.

“My Lady,” Adrien leaned right back, the look of a kicked kitten in full swing on his face. “Don’t shove away your humble knight so cruelly. I’ve been waiting for you for so long-”

“And I’m sure you can wait for a few more minutes,” Marinette scooped back with a chuckle. “We need to talk serious matters before you can unleash your charms.”

“About?” Adrien pouted but still followed Marinette, stopping only when their faces almost touched.

“About how this is going to work.”

Marinette felt silent as Adrien’s pout disappeared, replaced by mischief in his eyes. A moment later he leaned down and meeting no resistance from her, nuzzled her neck. The only sound that escaped her lips when his pressed against her collarbone area was that of longing and desire.

“Adrien, please, behave.” Reluctantly, Marinette shoved him away again. “Business first, everything else later.”

“Alright, alright,” Adrien pulled back and sulked. “You win, but looks like working with my father has influenced you already. Work first- Silent.” Adrien imitated zipped lips under Marinette’s glare. “Listening and obeying, my Lady.”

“Good,” Marinette laughed and ruffling his hair, leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Sorry but this really needs to be done first.”

“Fine.” The pout could still be heard in his voice. “So what’s first?”

“I don't even know,” Marinette groaned. “There is so much to discuss. I have no idea where to start.”

“How about we start with the easiest then? Legal stuff?”

“Sure. Alright. What do we have there?”

“Well,” Adrien cleared his throat. “I believe, my name in Emma’s birth certificate would be justified?”

“I suppose so.” Marinette nodded.

“I also will be adding her name to my will and just so you know she’s been in my father’s for years. She’s getting half of his estate.”

Even before Adrien finished his sentence, Marinette closed her eyes, pressing her lips into a thin line right after an exasperated sigh escaped. Adrien chuckled.

“Don’t laugh,” she scolded. “I’m trying to not be surprised.” In a few moments and after a few deep breaths in, Marinette opened her eyes only to glare at the blond. “Why would he do that?”

“That’s actually very sweet of him,” Adrien smiled. “I was pleasantly surprised Father went so far and took care of you two.”

“But Adrien-”

“Listen,” Adrien scooted closer again. “I must agree here with him. We don’t know what’ll happen in the future. Neither of us has any idea if we’d be together or not, if we’d live for years or die tomorrow but in any case, both he and I want Emma to be provided for. She is my daughter and his grandchild, Marinette. That’s the least we can do for her.”

“Please, don’t tell me he promoted me only because of Emma?”

“No,” Adrien shook his head with the most soothing smile ever on his lips. “I asked him the same question, but he denied it. Father really respects and appreciates you and said you were in a line for a promotion long before he knew about Emma.”

“Still-”

“Hey.” Adrien straightened up and took one of Marinette's hand in his. “My father is a lot of things, but he would never put his company's reputation and the quality of his product at risk for anyone, even for his family. If you are where you are today, Marinette, that's only because you earned it. Trust me on this.”

He smiled, lightly squeezing her hands for reassuring.

“Okay,” Marinette sighed reluctantly. “But only because I know how hard I worked my butt off for this job. I deserved it.”

“You certainly did,” Adrien brought her hand up and gently kissed her knuckles.

“What’s next?” Marinette asked to hide her blush.

“Father mentioned her last name.”

“Emma’s last name?”

“Yeah,” Adrien sighed. “He wants her to be Agreste, but at the end, we agreed that the choice should be yours. You’ve been raising her alone until now, so I don't feel like it's any of our places to decide on that.”

“It hadn’t really occurred to me yet,” Marinette confessed. “Emma Agreste…”

“No pressure, Marinette. Really.” Adrien looked her straight into the eyes, his voice obtaining the most serious tone yet. “If you want to keep Dupain-Cheng, I’ll be completely fine with that, and so will my father. Because while Agreste name may seem to come with a few impressive perks, in reality, it also has a few rather annoying flaws, and Father knows it. So, if you decide to keep Dupain-Cheng, he might rumble, but he’ll accept it. In fact, I think that Dupain-Cheng might be a better choice for a normal childhood. So just think about what you want for Emma, and we'll go from there, okay?”

“Okay.” Marinette smiled and squeezed Adrien’s hands back. “Thanks.”

“Also,” Adrien shifted in his seat, suddenly losing all of his smugness and seriousness, donned just a second ago. “Umm- Well, since I was away for so long- and missed- missed a lot of Emma’s life- so- I’d like to spend as much time with her as I can now. Is that okay?”

“That’s fine,” Marinette smiled. “As long as it doesn’t disturb her schedule.”

“Right, yes- so,” he continued. “I also would like to see more of you. Will that be okay?”

Marinette giggled. Adrien was cute, but he rarely was so adorable as he was now. “I think I can squeeze you in my schedule as well.”

“Good,” he grinned anxiously. “So, since I have permission to spend all of my free time with both of you- well- Do you think maybe I can move in? I can stay in the guest room if you want,” he rushed to add. “And I’ll pay you rent. And cook and clean and do whatever you want me to do.”

Marinette laughed. “I see you really want to move in.”

“A little obvious?”

“Just a tiny bit,” she chuckled. “Alright, let's see. Half of the dinners are on you, and you help us keep the house clean.”

“Deal,” Adrien grinned. “Want to split utility bills as well?”

“Why not?” Marinette winked “Since if I remember correctly, someone harbours an extensive love for showering.”

“I didn’t shower!” Adrien groaned. “I’ve suffered through this injustice long enough from Nino already. It was just a cover-up to protect my secret identity!”

“Of course, it was.”

“Mari, honestly!” Adrien pleaded. “I’m a normally showering person! No extensive love of any kind secretly harboured.”

“Of course,” Marinette chuckled. “I believe you.”

“You don’t,” he moped.

“I do, Adrien. Really. And even if you did love to shower a little bit too much—” this was Marinette’s time to lean over and tease, “—who said I won’t appreciate the freshness?”

“In that case,” Adrien grinned. “Maybe I even have a shot at not living in the guest room?”

“I don’t think Emma’s bed will be big enough for you,” Marinette retorted. “And this couch isn’t as comfortable as it may seem. You’ll feel your back in a few hours.”

“But,” Adrien winked. “There is one more bed in this house, my Lady. I tried it. It’s really comfy and I fit in perfectly.”

“Don’t push your luck, Kitty.”

“I was also told I’m a good cuddler. Warm and snuggly. You’ll love me, Princess.”

“We’ll see about that once I’ll get back from Milan. Oh, by the way—” Marinette suddenly jolted up, “—I need to return you something while I remember. Wait here.”

Without any further explanation, Marinette quickly ran upstairs and came back a few minutes later with a small black box Adrien knew way too well not to recognize immediately. He instantly stood up to see it better.

“I found it after you left and kept it safe in case you'll ever come back.” She carefully lay the box on Adrien's hand. He opened it slowly and stared in disbelief at the item he thought was lost forever - a gorgeous white gold ring with an array of small pink stones surrounding the central radiant-cut diamond, the one he was going to propose to Ladybug with.

“That’s my mother’s engagement ring,” Adrien’s quiet voice echoed through the room. “I thought I’d never see it again.” For a few more silent moments he looked at the stone before lifting his eyes to Marinette. “Thank you.”

“No need for that,” Marinette smiled and quickly changed the topic. The ring question was too delicate to discuss now. “Any other Emma-related aspects we need to discuss?”

“Not that I can remember now.” Adrien closed the lid and slipped the box into his pocket. “I’ll call my lawyers tomorrow to start on the legal side. Though, I suspect they’ll need your signature, so I’ll ask them to reach you through Nathalie since she’ll be with you in Milan. Hopefully, this will be all dealt with before I come back.”

Marinette frowned. “Come back from where? I thought you wanted to go with us?”

Adrien’s hand jolted back behind his neck as he said almost guiltily. “I might be going back to the States instead.”

No amount of acting training could've hidden the surprise and sadness on Marinette's face. Her figure tensed as she stared back at him with slightly open lips. A short while later Marinette let go of the breath she was holding and looked down. “I see.”

“Marinette,” Adrien stepped closer, taking her hand in his. “I need to go. I swear, I don’t want to, but I can’t just abandon my responsibilities as well. I did, however—” he gently squeezed her hands, searching to catch her sight, “—Marinette, I did arrange all of my commitments in a way that I can fulfill them one after another, and be back here for good as soon as possible.”

“And how long is that?”

“Four weeks?” Adrien sighed and frowned at his own words. “And one fashion show in the early December. That couldn't be moved, unfortunately.”

He could practically see the disappointment reflect on her face. “I’m sorry, Marinette. Please don't be mad at me-”

“No, don’t worry,” Marinette interrupted. “I’m not mad at you, not at all.”

“You look like you are about to cry, Mari. I’ve let you down again.”

“No.” Marinette persisted. “You didn’t. You are right. You can’t just dump everything and go away. I completely understand that. I just…” her voice trembled before she could continue, her sight falling back to the ground. Without any words, Adrien gently wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.

“I forgot to consider it,” Marinette whispered into his chest. “You did nothing wrong. I just should’ve not forgotten- should’ve not assumed- I’ll be alright, don’t worry. We’ll wait for you.”

“I’m so sorry,” Adrien held her tighter. Marinette’s arms weaved themselves around his torso as she pressed closer. “I’ll call you every day,” he promised. “Every free moment I’ll have, I’ll be searching you out. I’ll get Emma her own personal device so she can video call me anytime she wants. I don’t want her to think I’ve abandoned her.”

“That’s a good idea,” Marinette murmured. “But really, don’t worry about us, Adrien. We’ll be fine.” Her voice cracked. “We’ve been alone before. We can wait a few more weeks. Really. No big deal.”

“I love you,” Adrien whispered into her hair, tightening his grip as soon as he felt his shirt getting wet. “I may be going away, but my heart stays with you and Emma.”

“I love you too.” He barely heard the weak, trembling voice of a woman in his arms, the woman he loved too much for his own sake. Knowing Marinette, Adrien knew she understood. He knew she didn’t blame him. Instead, she was, most likely, blaming herself for getting lost in her sudden happiness so much, she forgot to consider that life was still going on and that responsibilities were something they now had to oblige. They both understood. They did. She was just heartbroken to be torn apart again after only a few blissful days together. It killed him too, devastated, especially because it was he who was going away again. Him who was leaving her behind for the second time.

Adrien closed his eyes and thought. There had to be something he could do to make Marinette feel better, to stop this from feeling like a repeat of history. Something that would tell her how much he dreaded going away, how much he wanted to stay and be by her side every day. Something to show Marinette just how much she meant to him, how committed he was. Something to assure her he’d come back as soon as he could… 

Adrien carefully pulled away just enough to bring the little black box out of his pocket. “Marinette,” he whispered. “I want you to keep this, and I want you to remember every time you look at this ring that I love you, and I miss you, and I wish to come back and be with you as soon as possible.”

“Adrien, no. I don’t need-”

“No, Mari, listen.” He carefully wiped away her lingering tears. “I need you to know how much you mean to me. I don’t want you to have the slightest doubt. I don’t want you to wake up tomorrow and wonder if those few days we’ve spent together were just a dream, so, please, take this ring as a reminder.”

“It’s your family’s heirloom, Adrien. I couldn’t possibly take it away from you again.”

The corners of his lips twitched into a gentle smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be yours soon enough if you’d have me.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle as Marinette’s startled eyes locked on him.

“I haven’t changed my mind about proposing to you,” he added, leaning forward to place a soft kiss on her lips. “I love you, Marinette. Always had and always will. I want to wake up every morning to your sacred cuddling ceremony. I want to cook you the most delicious food I can. I want to protect you and to be by your side when you sweep the fashion world by storm. I want to walk Emma to school. I want to scare away her boyfriends and walk her down the aisle one day. I want to spend my life with you. I want to have a family with you. I want to make you happy and be happy with you. I wanted that six years ago, and I hadn't changed my mind about any of that. But I also want you to be absolutely sure about me, and taking into consideration everything that happened and how much time we spent apart, I think I shouldn't rush with a proposal.”

“That’s—” Adrien closed his eyes, leaning forward to let their forehead touch, “—that is the only reason I’m not down on my knee right now.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Marinette barely breathed. “Sometimes I think you must be fictional because no one can be this perfect.”

“I’m not perfect,” Adrien chuckled. “I have a scar behind my ear and a severe case of obliviousness. Who knows what else.” He paused for a moment, his eyes lingering on the beautiful face he loved. “You deserve much more than what I’m offering you now, Marinette. So, please, take this ring as a symbol of my love and devotion, and remember that I’m serious about you and about us. In fact,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “—I think it would be fair to warn you that I will propose soon, and I will keep proposing until you will be able to answer me positively without a doubt in your mind.”

“What if it would take years?” Marinette giggled.

“Even if it'd take you a lifetime.” Adrien leaned again to nuzzle her nose. “I’m willing to wait however long it takes, but you’ve been warned, Princess.” Marinette chuckled as Adrien repeated his assault, this time placing a soft kiss on her lips. “Am I forgiven for going away?”

“You’d better call us often.” She buried herself in his chest. “I’ll miss you terribly.”

“I’m missing you already.” Adrien pressed her closer. “Very much.”

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, the Milan trip was a massive success. Despite Emma’s presence, Marinette managed to fulfil the only request Gabriel asked of her – to keep the show running smoothly – with grace and precision. Last minute fixes, a few glitches, a couple of loose seams, and a lost model suffering from a hangover in a nearby washroom weren’t a match for a professional like Marinette. It was nothing new or unusual. Nothing she hadn’t handled before in Paris.

The first meeting with Gabriel after learning just how much he had known for years, though a little awkward, didn't surprise Marinette either. Due to their own incompetence, Adrien and Marinette showed up at the airport with just a few minutes to spare. Natalie raised her eyebrow, Gabriel cleared his throat, and most likely it was Gorilla who whistled. No wonder, though, considering how the two of them looked - Adrien rocked a masterfully styled bedhead and was sporting a highly mismatched outfit; Emma snoozed in his arms in her pink pyjamas, tightly hugging a black cat stuffy to her chest; and Marinette- let's just say, Marinette was lucky that most of her clothes could be easily coordinated between each other, while her hair was silky enough to look decent even if not brushed. Only Mme. Bella looked picture perfect.

“Interesting choices,” Gabriel remarked, scrutinizing them from head to toes. “Not what I'd expect from either of you, but young people these days have their own peculiar sense of style. I do, however, hope that you packed more suitable outfits for the trip, Mlle Dupain-Cheng.”

“I did, M Agreste,” Marinette tried to assure him before Adrien interrupted with an explanation about their alarms that for some reason did not go off.

“We’re lucky Mme Bella woke us up just in time to get here before the departure.”

“Next time, go to bed earlier and try the thing called ‘turning the alarms on’,” Gabriel retorted as professionally and almost as indifferently as always. Though, even he couldn’t hold back a chuckle when the deep crimson spread on both of the young people’s faces. “Since you are rather late,” he added. “I don’t think we have much time for goodbyes. I hope you’ll have a safe trip back to the States, Adrien, but it’s time for us to go.”

“Right,” Adrien murmured and carefully transferred Emma into Gorilla’s care. He shook his father’s hand and wrapped Marinette in a hug. Kissing her goodbye, he whispered into her ear, “Love you, Princess.”

Marinette left soon after that, but, turning back just before entering the security check, noticed that Adrien continued to stand in his place, watching her with a sad smile on his lips and clenched fists by his side. Her heart tightened. She wasn’t surprised, though. She was on the verge of tears herself. 

Marinette might have been a little surprised that they had managed to keep Emma’s lineage under wraps during the whole trip, especially since the girl made it her mission to appear at every possible event and meet as many people as she could. She explored the hotel with her nanny and often visited the backstage alongside her Mama. She dined in the room packed with celebrities and shared the swimming pool with their children. She even managed to sneak out once and walk the red carpet. Her excursion, though, was too brief for any of the press to notice before Mme. Bella pulled her away, but she got there nevertheless. Thankfully and quite surprisingly, no breaking news made the tabloids.

A little of Marinette's fascination was reserved for the fact that Gabriel hadn't once brought up the subject himself. His behaviour and attitude toward her continued to be extremely professional and polite. She did, however, caught him a few times conversing with Emma when no one was looking; never before she had seen Gabriel looking so peaceful and delighted. Did she dare even to say proud? Marinette didn’t want to spoil the trip with her awkward explanations, and if the man himself didn’t think it was necessary to talk about everything now, it could certainly wait until they were back in Paris.

However, amongst everything else, there was one thing that really surprised even her. “Astonished” would probably be a better word choice because the degree of just how much she was missing Adrien was something Marinette could’ve never predicted. She was used to not seeing him for years; they reconnected only a little over a week ago and spent just a few days together, so why-why was her longing to be with him so intense it physically hurt?

Adrien’s frequent calls weren’t helping at all. Identical yearning in his voice clawed straight into her heart; however, it was his gorgeous but tired face on the screen, his sincere yet slightly dejected smile, and that matching sadness in his eyes that made Marinette wish she could just drop everything and flee to him, rush into his arms and never leave again. She even debated once if it’d be easier if Adrien would stop calling. That thought, however, was most terrifying of all.

Funny. When Marinette had walked away from him in that airport, she was confident that a return to her previous Adrien-less life she would be easy. She'd lived like this for years; a couple of days with him shouldn’t have changed her that much. Yet, here she was, staring at her cell phone again, counting how late it was in New York City and wondering if Adrien would ever forgive her for waking him up at four in the morning just because she wanted to hear him say, “Don’t worry, Princess. I have it on good authority that your parents absolutely adore you. They wouldn’t murder you for telling them about me, but so you know – my offer to ditch everything, jump on the next plane and accompany you tonight still stands.”

A few moments later Marinette put her phone away. Working himself to the bone just so he could come home a little sooner, Adrien looked more and more exhausted every single day as it was. She shouldn’t take away what little rest he managed to squeeze in just because she was terrified of finally speaking to her parents about the recent developments. Instead, she should make the best of the remaining hours and bake them something. After all, it would be kind of rude to show up at their house empty-handed after they’d been away for a month.

“Emma, want to help me bake some cookies for Grandpapi?” Marinette shouted to get her daughter’s attention. “I’ll let you lick the spoon if you do!” A minute later the sound of little feet running down the stairs echoed through the kitchen.

“Do I also get the first cookie?”

“As always, kitten,” Marinette smiled and started to pull out the ingredients.

*       *       *

“You can do it, Marinette,” Alya reassured her for the umptieth time. “Just remember to breathe, and everything will be alright. Believe me, girl. Your parents are cool. They'll understand.”

“Yes. Yes, I know,” Marinette murmured into the phone crossing the street in front of her childhood home while trying to balance a plate of cookies, hold an umbrella over her head and talk with Alya on her cell phone at the same time. “That doesn’t mean I can’t still be nervous about it. It's not like I'm opening a decade-long secret to them every day, you know.”

“You’ll compensate the ugly with a hunk of a boyfriend as Emma’s father, though.”

“Please, stop reminding me, Alya,” Marinette groaned. “I'm more nervous about the Adrien part than the Ladybug bits, and you aren't helping.”

“Oh, come on! What is there to be nervous about? Just say ‘Maman, Papa, I’ve started dating a handsome, rich guy who is still crazy about me after I ditched him for him years ago because both of us were too dumb to recognize the other under the mask. As a bonus, he also happens to be my daughter’s father. There. Easy. Simple and understandable. It doesn't sound that strange at all. Regular, everyday stuff.”

“Exactly,” Marinette nervously chuckled into her phone. “Okay, I’m here. Wish me luck!”

“Please, girl! You of all people don’t need it, but - Good luck!”

“Thanks, Alya. See you soon.” Marinette hung up. She paused for a couple of seconds in front of the door, deeply inhaled and pushed it open a moment later.

“Maman? Papa?”

“There you are, sweetheart.” Sabine rushed out from the kitchen. “Ah, I missed you so much, dear.” She stopped in her tracks a little short of a hug. “You’re alone? Where is my little pumpkin?”

“Sorry, Maman.” Marinette smiled, struggling to close up her dripping with rain umbrella and not to drop the treats on a floor. “Emma’s at Alya’s. She’ll bring her in an hour or so, but forget that- look at you! I love this new cheongsam. It brings out your eyes quite nicely. And this fit- it looks especially flattering on your figure. Let me see it at the back.”

Sabine laughed and turned around. “Why am I not surprised that the first time you see your mother in a month, you notice the outfit before you give her a kiss?”

“Sorry, but to be fair, you asked for Emma before greeting me as well.” Marinette chuckled and quickly planted a kiss on her cheek. “Missed you very much, Maman,” she added wrapping her arm around Sabine’s shoulders.

“I missed you too, dear,” Sabine hugged back. She pulled away a moment later. “Give me those and come into the kitchen. Your father’s finally gotten back to his stove and has been cooking up the storm in there.”

“How did he survive without cooking for a whole month?”

“I have no idea,” Sabine chuckled, heading inside the apartment.

“You look great, by the way, Maman,” Marinette added, following her into the kitchen. “That vacation did you good.”

“Told you, Sabine!” Tom laughed, standing at the stove in his apron. “Being back in China took at least ten years off you. I should, probably, take you back there more often.”

“You aren’t looking bad yourself, Papa.” Marinette gave her father a welcoming kiss and looked over his shoulders. “Mmmm! Soupe à l’oignon. My favourite. You're going all out today.”

“Everything for my favourite girls,” Tom smiled back at her. “Though, I see you came without Emma and brought me a culinary bribe. Do I sense a serious talk?”

“I'm not that subtle, am I?” Marinette nervously laughed.

“Not in the slightest,” Sabine said, already putting a teapot on a stove. “I’ll make us some tea to go with the conversation.”

“Thank you, Maman. I was wondering if we could talk before Emma gets here, and leave dinner until we're all together?”

“Of course, dear.” Sabine gently patted her shoulder.

“Sounds good to me, sweetheart,” Tom replied. “Just give me a few minutes to finish this up.”

The rain continued to pound the roof when three cups of steaming tea along with the plate of cookies Marinette had brought were settled on the table. A delicate aroma of Tom’s cooking floated through the air as banter and smiles of her parents warmed Marinette’s soul – a perfect set-up for one of their customary evenings. No matter was what going on in their lives, despite the situations or the mood, get-togethers like this one were frequent and always filled with love, support, and respect for each other. Marinette was lucky. Her family was always close, ready to understand and accept her, despite how badly she could’ve failed. They might be disappointed; they might not approve of her actions, but they would never judge too harshly and if possible, would always help her fix the mess. Her parents were indeed a perfect mix of love, support, and discipline. Alya was right - Marinette shouldn't be nervous at all. Yet, as all eyes focused on her, she was still having troubles of letting her anxiety go.

On the other side of the table, both Tom and Sabine were no less nervous because Marinette had rarely come to them so visibly distressed as now. Neither of them knew what to expect, but both were unwillingly reminded of the evening when their twenty-year-old daughter announced that she was pregnant and was planning to raise the baby on her own because the father was “unavailable.” She later admitted she didn't know who he was in the first place but refused to give any more details.

“I hope you are not sick, dear,” Sabine broke the silence when it became apparent that Marinette was still gathering the courage to begin.

“Don’t say such nonsense, Sabine,” Tom protested. “Look at her. Our daughter is an epitome of health and beauty.”

“Is Emma alright?” Sabine asked again.

“Emma is fine, Maman, and no, I’m not sick.”

“Did you lose your job, dear-”

“My job is also fine,” Marinette tried to smile. “I’m sorry- Sorry- It’s just- a little bit of a sensitive topic-” She paused just for a moment before her eyes filled with determination, then deeply inhaled and for the first time opened her Ladybug secret to anyone other than Alya or Nino.

Marinette spoke about the day she first helped Master Fu to dodge a car, about the terror she felt when Ivan was akumatized and about the little box she found on her table. She tried to explain what a kwami was and how miraculous worked. She admitted to frequent sneaking away and extensively lying in order to keep the secret and continue saving Paris. Marinette remarked on how being a Ladybug helped to bring her innate bravery and creativity out and helped to form her into a person she was now. She hadn’t touched the subject of Chat Noir yet.

To her amazement and relief, neither Tom nor Sabine were particularly surprised. At first, Tom was taken aback a little, but then loudly laughed as Sabine facepalmed and counted how many things this particular information could explain. Then followed a ton of questions and even a request to draw “Tikki.” Unsurprisingly, both Tom and Sabine admitted to seeing this little creature more than once, but they had always assumed that it was one of Marinette’s handmade dolls.

“I was always so annoyed when would you leave it behind in the kitchen, especially at night, dear,” Sabine confessed.

“Pfft,” Tom chuckled. “I often wondered how you were able to eat so many sweets and remain perfectly slim. Should’ve suspected that the bottomless pit with a sweet tooth wasn’t my Marinette at all.”

“I'm so happy you aren't angry with me,” Marinette smiled. “I’m sorry. Really, really sorry I had to sneak away and lie to you for years, but Tikki said no one must know for safety reasons, so I kept it a secret.”

“Don’t worry, Marinette,” Tom gently patted her shoulder. “I must admit, I am a little disappointed in all the lying and that you haven’t told us before, but I also understand your reasons. Quite frankly, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t tell you as well if it were me saving Paris in a skin-tight, polka-dot suit.”

“That would’ve been quite a view, dear.” Sabine wiggled her eyebrows, and they all erupted into another round of laughs.

“I’ll have you to know, I would’ve been a great superhero,” Tom pouted.

“I’m sure of it, Papa. You’d do an amazing job.”

“Exactly,” he chuckled and put his strong hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “But seriously, despite all the less than pleasant moments, I’m just glad you are safe and healthy and were able to help so many people in your time, Marinette.”

“Thank you, Papa,” Marinette smiled at him. “That means a lot.”

“You know we always have your back, Marinette,” Sabine added before finally asking the important question. “I’m curious, though - why did you decide to tell us your secret now?”

All the noise but her own heartbeat had vanished from the room as the time stood still. Marinette was pretty sure it was just the anxiety, but breathing had suddenly become a chore she dreaded to do. The thickness of the air had made it even harder, but she continued nevertheless. Her parents reacted so well to her Ladybug secret. They were bound to take the Adrien news just as well. At least she hoped so.

“Do you remember I told you that I didn’t know who Emma’s father was?”

Instantly Tom visibly tensed and Sabine stilled. Both nodded but remained silent. Marinette internally prayed because when she said it was a sensitive topic for them, she wasn’t exaggerating. Her parents had accepted her pregnancy and did everything possible to help her, but not knowing the whole story, neither of them ever forgave the nameless man who knocked their daughter up and left her alone. In any case, that was what Marinette had gathered from a few conversations she unintentionally overheard early on when she was still living with them. That was precisely the reason why she had finally agreed to let them in on her Ladybug secret. Alya was right - no excuses could justify Adrien in their eyes so well as the truth could. And to justify him was what Marinette wanted more than anything.

“The reason I didn’t know his name was because Chat Noir and I had never found out each other identities.”

“Wait,” Tom’s frown deepened as confusion hit his face. “Emma’s father is Chat Noir? Not that Agreste kid?”

Marinette froze dumbfounded. The breath hitched in her chest as every single nerve ending tingled throughout her body. She couldn’t even blink as she stared at her father in astonishment.

“But-” she uttered after a while when the gift of speech returned. “Why? I mean how- why- Why did you think it was Adrien?”

“Dear, you've been crushing on that boy your whole life,” Sabine explained. “So when Emma started to resemble him rather incredibly we couldn’t help but wonder.”

“We weren’t certain, of course,” Tom added. “I must admit, I hated the mystery guy at first, but when Sabine first proposed the idea of Adrien, I became a little bit apprehensive. I mean, the boy we knew always seemed to be quite nice, and I couldn’t imagine why he would abandon you, or anyone else for that matter, pregnant and alone. Since then it’s been a rather confusing topic for me.”

“We just couldn't believe that Adrien would do something like that despite being the most likely candidate,” Sabine added. “And since you refused to tell us who Emma’s father was, we left it at that.”

“Whatever happened between you and that guy, Adrien or Chat Noir, not having him in Emma’s life seemed to be your choice, sweetheart, and we’ve respected it. Though, it looks like we were a little bit off with our conclusions,” Tom finished.

“No,” Marinette murmured, continuing to watch them in shock. “You weren’t wrong at all. Adrien is Emma's father, but neither of us knew that until about a week ago.”

“But- Haven't you just said that Chat Noir- Wait a second.” Tom frowned. “Adrien Agreste is Chat Noir?”

“Was,” Marinette corrected. “He gave up his miraculous a short time before me, but yes he was Chat Noir.”

“And you didn’t know?”

“Neither of us knew, Papa,” Marinette defended. “We found out just a little over a week ago. Adrien came back to Paris for the first time in years to attend the wedding and Nino couldn’t help but mention about me being Ladybug once upon a time. Then he saw Emma and figured out the rest for himself. But before that, neither of us knew. We had to keep secrets even from each other, and we did too good of a job.”

“But- I- I mean how?” Tom could conceive the idea. “You were with Adrien in the same class for years. You should’ve known him pretty well, and from what I know Chat Noir and Ladybug were close as well? I mean you had to notice similarities?”

“Hush, you,” Sabine interrupted. “She is our daughter, Tom, and we saw Ladybug up close in our own house multiple times. Did either of us suspect a thing? No. What do you want from them?”

“I don’t know how to explain it, Papa,” Marinette said. “But I think it’s a part of the whole magic – inability to recognize a person behind the mask even if there are not a lot of changes.”

“Fine. I might not understand it, but I can accept the whole ‘magic' concept,” Tom agreed. “But what about the time you two made Emma?”

“Tom!”

“What? We are all adults here, and it's a rational question. They had to take the costumes off to make a baby, and we had all seen Lady Wi-Fi proving that those things were pretty much glued on.”

“I-” Marinette bit her lip, looking at her parents with uncertainty.

“Ignore your father, Marinette,” Sabine scooped closer and hugged her daughter. “You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to.”

“I think I should,” Marinette quietly replied. She seemed to be thinking about something for just a few seconds but soon continued. “We met when I was thirteen, both as Adrien and Marinette and as Chat Noir and Ladybug. As you are well aware, I'd been crushing on Adrien ever since then, but he had never considered me as anything more than a friend because as Chat Noir he was in love with Ladybug from the very start.”

“In return, I didn’t pay much attention to Chat Noir,” she continued. “At least not before Adrien and I parted ways and hadn't seen each other in years. By then I was nearly twenty and feeling lonely, and Chat was there, so I decided to give him a chance.”

“Understandable,” Tom couldn't help but remark. “I remember that very well - you were such a lovely young lady and all alone. Your mother and I couldn’t wait for you to bring home a handsome boy, but you seemed to be dead set on-” Tom stopped under a stern gaze of his wife. “I’m sorry, Marinette. Please, continue.”

“Thanks,” Marinette smiled at her father. “By that time, I liked Chat quite a lot so agreeing to a date with him wasn’t just because I was lonely. He was always respectful and supportive of me. A dork, but a trustworthy dork. I knew I could always rely on him even if he were angry with me. I even liked his lame puns, and—” Marinette paused for a second, her gaze dropping on the table. “—he loved me so much. It was quite evident. I thought we had a genuine chance to be happy together.”

“Our first date coincided with my birthday,” Marinette continued, not being able to stop a smile from lighting up her face as she remembered that evening. “That was the best date any girl could’ve wished for. Chat went all out despite me stubbornly refusing to remove the masks until I was certain about us. He managed so well, though. It was romantic and exciting, and super private, and he never pushed for anything I wouldn’t want. The intimacy- I initiated it. I-”

Tom cleared his throat. “I think we don’t need the details, sweetheart. We got it.”

“Sorry.” Marinette became crimson. “I just wanted to explain that it wasn’t even his idea.”

“We completely understand, Marinette,” Sabine assured her. “We all were young once. Though, I wish you’d been more careful.”

“We were, Maman. Honestly, we used protection. I’m not sure why it didn’t work, but-”

“As I said before—” Tom cleared his throat again. “—what’s done is done. Lesson learned. Let’s not elaborate.”

“Yes. Sorry. Anyway,” Marinette continued. “I- after- I mean the next morning- I don’t have the right words to explain it fully, but the next morning- despite every single thing being absolutely perfect, I- I regretted it. I-” Marinette bit her lip hard, her breathing visibly getting more laboured than before. “I was still in love with Adrien and sleeping with Chat felt like cheating. When I opened my eyes and remembered everything, I felt so sick to my stomach that I ran away as fast as I could, and I never looked back at his face. He hadn’t seen mine either because he was still asleep. The next few days were agonizing.”

Marinette paused. Sabine reassuringly took her hand in hers and squeezed it. “If that’s too much to-”

“No,” Marinette protested. “You need to know. I have to tell you. I want you to understand. I felt broken. I felt miserable. I felt like I'd betrayed the love of my love and I hated myself for that. And at the same time, I knew this feeling was illogical and baseless, and I just couldn't make sense of anything anymore. It was just so, so messed up, so when I saw Chat again- the next time we've met I yelled at him and told him I wished we'd never met.” The words seized for a few moments as tears started to gather in her eyes. “I told him I was still in love with another man, and that by loving me he ruined my life. I don't remember what else I said, only me screaming and yelling my hurting heart out, and his absolutely shocked face. In the end, I hurt him so badly that he couldn’t even fight back.”

Marinette stopped talking, letting tears freely flow down her face. Without any words either, Sabine scooted closer and took her daughter into a tight embrace.

“I told him to go away, and he complied. I told him I wished we’ve never met, and he made sure I wouldn’t see him anymore. He left his family and friends and moved across the ocean only because the stupid girl he loved so much implied that it would make her happy.”

“After he left,” Marinette added quietly, “I found an engagement ring that fell from his pocket. That shook me even more. The next few days I spent searching the deepest corners of my heart and realized that while the affection for Adrien was still there, I couldn't imagine my life without Chat Noir anymore. I just had to give it some time because it was naïve of me to think that years of affection would go away after just one date with another man. So, I decided to beg Chat for forgiveness, but no matter how hard I’ve searched, I couldn’t find him anymore.”

“Then,” Marinette sighed dejectedly. “A new Chat Noir appeared, and I found out that I'd have to give up my miraculous because my Chat Noir had left the city, and the new one had to have his own Ladybug, one more suitable to his age. I was heartbroken and—” she clenched her fists, “—had no one to blame, but myself. I had ruined my own life, and I still haven't forgiven myself for this. Not for this, and especially not for what I did to Chat. That's why I kept Emma. She was like a little angel sent to me from the heavens, a parting gift from the man I loved so much but was stupid enough to neither realize it sooner nor let go of an old crush for our sake.”

As a new wave of tears bursts from Marinette’s eyes, Tom finally stood up and, walking to his wife, and crying daughter wrapped his arms around them.

“I’m sorry, Papa,” Marinette whispered. “I’m so, so sorry, Maman. I messed up so badly and-”

“Shhh,” Sabine tried to calm her down. “Don't be so hard on yourself, sweetheart. We all made mistakes, and we know you. Our Marinette might be clumsy sometimes with her actions, but she isn't cruel. I'm sure you didn't want to hurt that boy on purpose. It sounds like you were hurting and lost and confused and didn't express yourself in the best way.”

“I didn't. I didn't want to hurt him, Maman. I loved him. I was just-”

“I know, dear,” Sabine squeezing Marinette tighter. “I know.”

They spent the new few moments comforting each other tangled in the embrace. Under her parents' affection, Marinette's tears slowly ceased just as rays of the setting sun broke through the clouds and seethed through the windows. The room filled with warmth flowing through the air, touching everyone present just as Marinette finally felt a burden fall off her chest. Adrien had already shattered it previously, but it was her parents who had thrown the remains out of the window with whispered words of love, support and acceptance, allowing her to finally make the first steps towards forgiveness and healing.

“So, what’s the plan now?” Tom asked, pulling away first. “I understand that Adrien is back and now you both know everything, right?”

“Yes,” Marinette smiled truly liberated for the first time in a long time. “Now Adrien is moving back to Paris and moving in with us.”

“He’s moving in with you straight away?” Sabine echoed. “Are you sure you want to go this road so soon?” 

“I do.” Marinette nodded, wiping away the remainder of her tears. “We both do. Adrien wants to be there for Emma as much as he can and, if possible, compensate for his earlier absence. Plus, despite the years of separation, we still love each other, so we just thought to take it slow and see if we could make it work this time.”

“Moving in together right away isn't exactly slow, Marinette,” Tom remarked. “Have you considered that Adrien was away for six years? He had a life there; his character, his habits, everything about him might have changed. For all we know, he might be in a relationship with someone, and you just don't know it. You need to consider it thoughtfully, Marinette, because to think that Adrien you see now is the same Adrien you knew six years ago would be quite naïve.”

“I know it's naive,” Marinette replied. “But we talked about it, and he told me everything I wanted to know, and I believe him. He wouldn't lie to me, Papa. You'll see it for yourself when you meet him. And I wish I could say that I thought hard about it—” Marinette failed to keep a smile at bay. “—but the truth is - I haven't. When he asked if he could move in as a roommate, it- it just felt right, you know? Like pieces of a puzzle were finally starting to get put back together in the place that they belong in.”

“If you say so,” Tom sighed. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again, sweetheart, so if you’re going to try it again with Adrien, make sure you really want it this time because it will take a lot of work to fix the mess you’ve created.”

“I love him, Papa,” Marinette responded. “And if he is willing to give me another chance after everything I’ve put him through, I'd be a fool not to take it.”

“Then we will cheer you on every step of the way.” Tom smiled and ruffled Marinette’s hair. “All we want is for you to be happy.”

“Thank you.” Marinette smiled at him as tears threatened to spill from her eyes again. She then turned to Sabine, who was still holding her in her arms, tightened her hold on the woman and leaning over, planted a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you, Maman,” she whispered before pulling away only to lean over to her father and kiss him on his cheek as well. “Thank you, Papa.”

“I love you so much,” Marinette added, hugging her parents at the same time.

“We love you too, sweetheart,” Sabine replied barely audible, fighting her own tears. “Your happiness is all we want so whoever you choose, we’ll always support you.”

“Thank you.”

“Anyone’s home?” Alya’s voice suddenly split the quiet of the room, followed by the sound of a shutting door and excited chatter of a little girl.

“Grandpapi! Grandmama! I have a Daddy!” Emma announced barely entering the room. “Look! Here he is!” She held up her brand-new iPhone, showcasing an array of pictures. “Isn't he cool, Grandpapi? Look he has hair just like mine, and his eyes are also green! Mama's blue, but Daddy's and mine are green. And he bought me this phone so I can call him any time I want. I can even call him now! Do you want to call my Daddy, Grandmama?”

“Please, act surprised,” Marinette practically begged. “She wanted to tell you herself.”

“On it,” Tom winked and turned to greet the little girl. “Here is my little monkey!” He caught running to him Emma, threw her high in the air and caught her back in his arms. “A Daddy you say? Can this Daddy of yours make you fly like Grandpapa Tom?” he teased.

“Yes, he can!” Emma squealed right before being thrown up again.

“Good evening, Aunt Sabine,” Alya greeted the woman with a cheek kiss. “You look absolutely amazing after your vacation.”

“You look quite radiant yourself, dear,” Sabine smiled back at Alya. “How is married life treating you?”

“Married life is waiting at home with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix on pause,” Alya replied with a chuckle. “I should go back to it, but let me hug you first.”

“Hello, Alya,” Tom came closer, Emma safely perched on his broad shoulders. “How is it going?”

“So far so good, Uncle Tom.”

“Nino’s behaving, I hope?”

“Nothing to complain about so far,” Alya giggled. “How are you? I suspect Marinette told you quite a story, huh?”

“You don’t say,” Tom chuckled. “Not only did she dump the poor boy in the worst way possible, but she also did it because she was in love with him. I mean, the other him, but it’s still him, so still counts. Unbelievable,” he scoffed playfully. “She needs to bring him over soon, so we can show him a proper Dupain-Cheng treatment, not whatever it is he’s been getting so far from Marinette. Right, Emma?” he shook the girl’s legs lightly, just enough to get her to laugh and grab what hair he had left on the top of his head. “Will you bring your Daddy over to play some games with Grandpapa Tom?”

“I will!” Emma shouted through her laugh. “We’ll play together, and I’ll win!”

“Of course, you will, little monkey!” Tom chuckled and ran away to give his granddaughter another ride around the room.

“I'm glad everything seems to be working out, and I'd love to chat about it, but I really have to go now,” Alya apologized. “Do you mind, though, if I steal this mess of yours for a few minutes, Aunt Sabine?”

“Go ahead, dear.” Sabine laughed. “Say hello to Nino for us.”

“Will do. Thank you.” Alya pulled a handkerchief as soon as Sabine left and started to wipe away the running mascara under her friend’s eyes. “I see everything went well?”

“Everything went fine,” Marinette confirmed. “Thank you for taking care of Emma for me.”

“No problem, girl. Told you that you had nothing to worry about? Now go powder your nose and enjoy your evening. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch, and I expect all the deets. Sounds good?”

“Sure,” Marinette giggled. “See you tomorrow.”

She hugged Alya and let her out of the apartment, but before going back into the room, Marinette checked her cellphone. A glance at the screen quickly confirmed that muting the device before coming over was the right choice to make if she wanted to avoid any possible distractions. Natalie called her thrice, and both she and Adrien had sent her text messages.

[Adrien: It’ll go splendidly so don’t you worry. Call me any time if you need to talk]

[Adrien: Actually, call me even if you don’t need to talk. I can do all the talking. Love you. <3]

[Adrien: Look what I got for Emma. Do you think she’ll like it?]

[Adrien: I got us a matching pair as well]

Marinette chuckled, looking at the picture of a ladybug charm. It wasn't the first Ladybug-themed purchase Adrien had made for Emma, and while Marinette tried to resist at the start, secretly she was flattered that he tried to sway their daughter's affection from Chat Noir's to Ladybug's side. Not that Emma didn't like Ladybug. She did, but her preference for Chat Noir was overwhelming. As soon as Adrien had realized that, he deemed it to be unfair and vowed to make Emma a fellow Ladybug fan in less than a few months. So far, he'd had little luck.

Opening the next message, Marinette groaned.

[Natalie: Mlle Dupain-Cheng, M Agreste is requesting your presence at his home office tomorrow at nine o’clock. RSVP would be appreciated.]

Marinette mentally whined - tomorrow was Sunday. But if the boss wants to see her on Sunday, she'd better go on Sunday, not to mention that he might be calling her for in the talk both of them had avoided for at least a week. She only hoped it won't take a lot of time, so she could still make it to lunch with Alya.

Quickly replying back to Natalie and sending a short message to Adrien, Marinette peeked into the living room. Neither her parents nor Emma seemed to be missing her much so, following Alya’s advice, Marinette headed to the bathroom to make herself presentable. She wanted to enjoy the rest of their evening looking her best because for being amazing parents, Tom and Sabine deserved a daughter who was capable of putting it back together, starting from her make-up and hopefully, ending with her relationship.

*       *       *

Despite all of the emotions of the previous day, Marinette had the most sound and relaxing sleep in years, and now, standing in front of Gabriel’s office, she looked her absolute best, refreshed and peaceful, a far cry of what was going on inside her. Because deep down under the smile, Marinette was panicking. Gabriel had never called for her on the weekends without a really good reason before, and as far as she could guess, there was only one right now - her relationship with his son. That or she was in trouble at work. Maybe, she had performed less than acceptable in Milan? Or was it possible that Emma had managed to create a problem and she hadn't noticed in time and therefore didn't fix? Or maybe- Marinette closed her eyes and inhaled.

“Calm down. Everything’s going to be alright,” she whispered under her breath and knocked, entering the room at precisely nine o'clock. She knew Adrien's father liked meticulousness in everything, starting from his schedules to his designs and especially when it came to the work ethic of his employees. That was one of the reasons why Marinette had to fight her own nature and learn to always be on time when she was first hired. Of course, there were still minor mishaps, but those were rare and usually not her fault.

“Good morning, M Agreste,” she greeted with a smile.

“Mlle Dupain-Cheng. Come in, please.” The older man stood up to address her, motioning to a chair in front of his desk. “Please, have a seat. We have a few things to discuss.”

When she settled, Gabriel passed Marinette a dark blue folder and continued. “I think we'll start with these. Our lawyers began to deal with Adrien's parentage claims, and your signature is needed on a couple of documents. Please, review them and if everything is to your satisfaction, sign in the places indicated.”

Marinette breathed out with relief as she opened the folder. There were a few forms she quickly scanned and signed in the appropriate places. The last application, however, took her by surprise.

“Adrien has informed me that you hadn't decided yet on either you want his daughter to have his last name, Mlle Dupain-Cheng,” Gabriel answered before Marinette could ask, placing the stress in all the right places to get his point across. “I took the liberty of preparing the necessary documentation in case you’ve made up your mind already.” Pausing, Gabriel observing Marinette for a few seconds before continuing. “If that is not the case, however, and you are still deliberating, then I would suggest taking those forms with you and return them later.”

Marinette felt lost for words. Even though Adrien had warned her about his father eagerness for Emma to become an Agreste, such bold actions still surprised her, and especially, after Adrien had assured her multiple times that the final decision would be hers and that Gabriel agreed to comply even if it wasn't to his liking. However, Adrien wasn't here now. She was alone. Arguing with Gabriel about the issue was the last thing Marinette wanted, but being forced to do something she hadn't quite decided on yet, was not an option either.

“In this case, I’ll be taking them with me,” she answered and returned the rest of the signed applications in the folder.

“I see,” Gabriel echoed and leaned back in his chair. “I’ll be honest, Mlle Dupain-Cheng - from what I’ve gathered from you over the years, I understand it that you like to walk to your own accord, aren’t you?”

“I think that’s what all people should do,” she replied calmly. Complying with Gabriel’s demands at the workplace was something she had done for years. Her family, however, was a different matter. “If I’m the one living my life, I don’t see why I should give up control over it to anyone other than myself. I prefer to shape my own future.”

“What if that someone else knows better?” Gabriel picked up a pen, slowly rotating it with his fingers while looking Marinette straight in the eyes. “Let’s say they are more experienced? Wiser? Or simply have the resources to build a pretty nice life for you and your family if you would just listen to them?”

“So far I’ve supported myself just fine,” Marinette responded. “And I’m sure I would still be able to support myself if I were, to say, lose my current job. There are other companies out there, other industries, even my parents' bakery if it comes to it. I have everything I need, so I'll pass on the resources. Experience, however, I will respect and will certainly listen to the advice, but if I take it, it would still be my choice.”

“With wise advice, you could avoid a lot of mistakes, Mlle Dupain-Cheng.” Gabriel started to beat a monotonic rhythm with his pencil against the table. “And by avoiding them, you could be a lot farther in your life in a shorter period.”

“I'm not in a hurry,” Marinette shrugged her shoulders, “And I'm not afraid of making mistakes. I've already made quite a lot. I still do all the time, and I'm sure I'll continue this way, but at least those are my mistakes, and I learn from them. I never wanted to be a bird in a gilded cage, M Agreste. Freedom is something I highly value and making mistakes is a part of that freedom. In every aspect of the word.”

“I see.” Gabriel raised an eyebrow and fell quiet for a couple of minutes as his eyes shifted to a window. The beat of the pencil slowed down until it vanished completely and he turned back to the young lady in front of him. “Alright. I might not agree on all of the points in your argument, Mlle Dupain-Cheng, but I can respect an opinion of such a strong-minded lady as yourself.”

“Thank you, M Agreste.”

“I do hope, though, that you can at least agree that there are a lot of benefits that come with the Agreste's last name.”

“Only if you can admit that it isn’t issue-free as well, M Agreste.”

Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her, but a barely-there smile that didn't escape Marinette's attention briefly surfaced on his face. “I’m leaving it to your consideration then, Mlle Dupain-Cheng, and I hope you’ll make a wise decision.”

“I will certainly give it serious thought, M Agreste.”

“Good,” he nodded and leaning back in his chair continued. “The other issue I wanted to discuss with you is your week-long business trip to New York City.”

“My week long-”

“If you allow me to explain,” Gabriel interrupted, pointing to the same folder Marinette was holding a few minutes earlier. “I need you to deliver these documents to my son and oversee that he signs them properly.”

“Additionally,” he continued, completely ignoring Marinette's surprised face, “I want you, as the representative from the main office, to supervise that he properly transfers his responsibilities to a new manager and fulfills all of his modelling contacts before coming back to Paris. A week should be long enough for that, and as usual, the company would take care of all your expenses.”

“But Adrien is coming back in a week,” Marinette blurted out absentmindedly. He’d been away for three long, lonely ones and had promised her just this morning that he would finish everything by the end of the coming week and be home by Sunday evening.

“I am aware of that,” Gabriel responded. “Natalie had already booked you on the same flight back. Oh, I would request one thing of you, though,” he added, picking up the sheets he was working on before Marinette came in, looking at them while continuing to speak. “I know we have special arrangements concerning Emma in your contract, but I think in this particular case, it would be beneficial for all parties involved if she would remain in Paris. You two could use some alone time.”

Gabriel barely whispered the last sentence, but Marinette still heard it. Astonished, she stared at her usually cold and indifferent employer and wondered what was going on.

“I thought you had other people to handle such matters,” she uttered without thinking, regretting it the moment the first word slipped her lips.

“My other people are busy,” Gabriel responded with a renewed air of disinterest she'd always known. Nevertheless, he looked away from his papers, pulled out an envelope and placed it in front of Marinette. “Here is an airplane ticket for tonight and a couple of instructions for you to do once in New York City. Take it or leave it, Mlle Dupain-Cheng. I can always find someone else who would love the chance to spend a week in my son’s close proximity.”

Marinette hesitated only for a moment, and only because her mind was busy thinking who would be willing to host Emma for a week. Her parents were asking to have their annual sleepover before the school started up again in a few weeks. They wouldn’t mind to extend it a few days longer, would they?

“I’ll take it. Thank you, M Agreste,” Marinette answered and took the envelope.

“I hope you realize it isn't a vacation,” Gabriel replied. “You will be required to work at the American branch on specific tasks I noted in the instructions.”

“I’ll do my best, M Agreste.”

She might have imagined it, but that tiny smile appeared again. “I don't doubt it,” Gabriel added, forwarding her the folder. “Natalie will provide you with everything else you'll need. That will be all.”

“Thank you again, M Agreste,” Marinette said, standing up. She made her way out of the room but stopped shy of exiting.

“M Agreste?” Gabriel raised his head to look at her. “I just wanted you to know that I do love Adrien. I'm not in this for his connections, fame or money. Emma was not a calculated act of a gold-digger. She was born out of love, and despite years apart and all of the mistakes we've made, I still love him. I want to make him happy. I want us to be happy. At least, I’ll try my best for that to happen. Just wanted you to know this, M Agreste.”

“You shouldn’t worry, Mlle Dupain-Cheng,” Gabriel replied, reclining back in his chair. “I had my time to observe and evaluate you over the last few years even before I found out whose daughter Emma was. You aren’t the gold-digger type - otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do.”

“Of course.” Marinette smiled. “Have a nice day, M Agreste.”

Breathing and hardly believing her luck, Marinette left the room. Tonight, she would board a plane and would fly to the States to visit Adrien. Not merely visit either - she'd stay with him for a week, and if she understood correctly, they would return to Paris together. Marinette couldn't contain a grin, as she clutched the blue folder and a white envelope to her chest.

As she exited the house, there might have been a barely audible squeak of excitement, slipping from Marinette’s lips. There definitely was a quiet sigh and a three-word conclusion coming from Gabriel’s, as he observed her from a window.

“Just like Emilie.”

Chapter Text

A little past midnight New York City was more awake than Marinette had expected. Bursting with noise, the streets drowned in lights, displays and billboards, roads - plagued with cars, sidewalks - with people rushing about as an array of their voices filled the night. Life was buzzing around and seemingly no one was planning to retire for the day.

Marinette couldn’t either.

Somewhere across the ocean, Paris was waking up. Emma was probably already helping her grandfather bake a fresh bunch of croissants for the morning crowd. Her colleagues most likely were battling through the morning traffic on their way to work, soon to fill the offices of Gabriel and start creating. She, on the other hand, stood by the John F. Kennedy International Airport’s front door and looked around for a chauffeur that Nathalie had said would be waiting for her.

“Mlle Dupain-Cheng?” a man in a black suit and a picture in his hand approached her in a minute. When she nodded, he smiled. “Welcome to New York City. My name is Thomas and I’ll be your driver for this visit. Please, follow me.”

Taking her luggage, the man led Marinette to a black car parked nearby.

“Where to?” he asked her once they settled in, and Marinette couldn’t help but bite into her lip. Adrien was so close. She could practically feel him. Right there. In the same city as her. Once she arrived at her hotel, they’d be on the same street. Just a few buildings away and all she had to do to see his gorgeous, sleepy face was to tell Thomas Adrien’s address. So incredibly tempting…

“Here,” she sighed and passed him a card Nathalie had given her. As appealing as seeing Adrien right away was, that was something that Marinette had firmly decided not to do. First of all, she wanted to surprise him but that wasn’t the main reason for her decision. During the past few weeks, Adrien had constantly been exhausting himself day after day, trying to shorten his stay in NYC. When he wasn’t modelling, he was working in the office, and when he was done with that, he attended meetings he’d committed to. What little free time he had he spent chatting with her and Emma on their phones. He needed those few extra hours of sleep to function, and if she were to come around, she doubted there would be any sleep at all. Adrien was so close, but Marinette had already waited for weeks. Another few hours shouldn’t be a problem, especially because after a stressful day and a long time, she could use some rest as well.

The next morning, Marinette could hardly find it in herself to regret it. Check-In at an upscale hotel was almost effortless, and soon she was already peacefully snoozing in a king-sized bed. The heavy sun-blocking curtains ensured she hadn’t woken up until almost noon, but the much-needed rest had made an enormous difference. Marinette felt rested and uplifted. Gone were the fuzziness in her head and dark circles from under her eyes. A shower erased all the evidence of a long journey; breakfast renewed her physical strength. Marinette put on one of her best outfits - a knee-length dress, fitted at the top and flared at the bottom in a colour she knew Adrien would appreciate – Ladybug red. It was simple but sophisticated, subtly emphasizing her best features. A slightly messy lower bun hair-do and a few simple accessories, including a pair of her favourite sandals, and Marinette was ready to knock Adrien off his feet. The only obstacle between them remaining was a twenty-minute ride to the location of his photoshoot.

As a fashion designer, Marinette had frequently visited photoshoots. This particular one took place at a building similar to many in Paris. Nothing inside, apart from the language used, seemed to be really different from her usual experiences – people running around, carrying clothes, equipment, coffee cups and folders, models lingering sparingly here and there, make-up artists and seamstresses making last-minute adjustments. Nothing out of the ordinary for her. Nevertheless, Marinette felt like she was about to faint, hardly able to breathe as she walked the hallways. She persisted, ignoring the jitters relentlessly quivering in the pit of her stomach and soon reached her destination.

As usual, the lights were turned off on the perimeter of the room, with only the center being brightly lit. Marinette’s eyes darted there immediately in search of the one who enticed her. She thought she knew how much she’d missed him. At that very moment, she understood how wrong she was.

“Adrien!” A male voice speaking in French somewhere closer to the center of the room caught her attention. “Sensual. Do you know what that means, my boy? Look at me. Imagine I’m a hot, sexy girl, and you want me. Unleash your inner man. Where is that wild predator in you? You want to devour me, to take me away and kiss me senseless-”

Heartfelt laughter filled through the room and even Marinette giggled, watching an ageing man at the front trying to seduce the model she couldn’t see yet.

“Come on, Adrien!” the man continued. “I know you are at the end of your stick, but I need you to handle a few more shots for me. Okay? You want to go back to Paris at the end of the week, don’t you? So, work for it!”

“I’m sorry, Richard—” her heart skipped a bit at the sound of loved and very much missed voice sounding so close, “—but it’s kind of hard for me to think of you as a hot girl.”

“Okay, fine!” the man grumbled. “If I’m not sexy enough for you, do it for your other love - Lucia will cook you your favourite dish if you cooperate.”

The man lifted his camera and started to shoot. Marinette moved closer.

Just a few more steps.

Just one more…

There he was – standing in the middle of a lighted scene, clothed in all white Adrien seemed to glow. A few of his locks strayed away and fell onto his forehead, but it only made him look that much more handsome. Mischief played in his smile, echoed in the lights of his eyes as Adrien chuckled at a man in front of him and his hand reached out behind his neck in a painfully familiar gesture.

“Oh, come on,” the photographer frowned. “Don’t tell me that even my Lucia’s food doesn’t do it for you anymore.”

Adrien apologetically shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Sorry.”

“Okay, fine! Then imagine that girl you won’t shut up about. What’s her name? Mary something?”

“Marinette. Her name-” Adrien shifted his sight to the side just as Marinette stepped into the light. Stopping in her place, she waved him hello. Barely breathing if any at all, Adrien froze, his eyes widened as he stared at her dumbfoundingly. Slowly, his lips melted into a soft smile, and without any words Adrien left his place to wrap her into his arms a moment later, his hold soft but firm as he pulled her to himself.

“Hi,” Marinette whispered into his chest, melting against him.

“Hi.” Adrien barely breathed out. He clutched her tighter for a few moments before leaning back a tiny bit. Lingering tears in his eyes, he let her name quietly slipped from his lips before capturing hers into a kiss. Everything around them - sounds, people, lights and colours - everything ceased to exist. Only them and only this moment and only their kiss. Just the feeling of finally being together. Their touch and the warmth of being close. Marinette couldn’t remember if she had ever felt so enraptured with only Adrien’s arms anchoring her to reality and keeping her standing on her feet as a single desire overwhelmed her mind – let this moment last forever; let her be in his arms for eternity; let him kiss her every second she had left. Let them never be apart again.

Drowning.

Yes, Marinette was drowning when Adrien pulled back to catch a breath.

“I was afraid it was just my imagination,” he whispered against her lips, slowly leaning his forehead forward to rest it against hers. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too,” Marinette whispered back before Adrien pulled her in again, capturing her lips once more. This time much gentler and softer. Much shorter also, because the man with that same French voice that was just ordering Adrien around a few moments ago intruded into their little bubble.

“And here I thought you were a lost cause, kid,” Richard loudly laughed, striking Adrien’s shoulder so hard, Marinette felt the impact on her body. The tremor brought her back to the reality, though, and with horror she realized that they weren’t as alone as it felt just a second ago - the lights were on them, people were shamelessly staring and echoes of excitement, clapping and whistles were going around the room. Adrien’s photographer was tapping on his shoulder and smiling widely at her. “He isn’t half bad, huh?” he winked. “May I assume that this is the legendary Marinette?”

“Legendary?”

“Of course,” the man laughed. “A person who could make our saint Adrien give up his chastity vows is bound to be a legend around here - partly a reality, partly a fairy tale.”

“Richard.” Adrien glared at the man, trying to sound annoyed but failing to suppress a smile. He pulled Marinette closer to himself, protectively shielding her on his chest. “I’m no saint and have told you a million times Marinette’s real.”

“I suppose then your little daughter isn’t fake as well?”

A chuckle and a puff of air escaped Marinette as Adrien frowned at the photographer. “We aren’t doing this again, and I’ll take a ten-minute break if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, but I do mind.” Richard’s mouth slowly spread into a grin. “Excuse me, Mlle Marinette, but this is a golden opportunity for me and as a highly qualified professional I simply cannot afford to miss it. Adrien—” he turned to face the young man. “—back on the stage. Now.”

“What? No!” Adrien protested. “Give me ten minutes and I’ll do everything you want.”

“Nah-nah,” Richard shook his head. “On the stage now or I’m cancelling the shoot because obviously ten minutes won’t be enough for you and after those ten minutes you, most likely, will be in no shape for modelling so there won’t be any point in continuing, not to mention there would probably be marks and we would have to redo the make-up, and, as a result, you’ll be stuck here for an extra day- oh wait- an extra week because I won’t have an opening to redo this shit until the following Friday.” Richard stopped, inhaled and slyly smiled. “Your choice, kid.”

Adrien tensed, a low growl rumbling through his chest as he tightened his arms around Marinette.

“Should I count or will you obey willingly?”

Marinette felt Adrien go slack against her as he murmured something into the crook of her neck.

“That’s okay, Adrien,” she whispered back. “I’ll be here waiting for you.”

Hesitantly, Adrien sighed an apology and a promise to be done as soon as he could before placing another kiss on her cheek and letting go. Glaring at Richard, he shuffled back to the scene of the photo shoot.

“I’m really sorry to cut you reunion short, Mlle Marinette,” Richard said quietly, escorting her up front right after Adrien and showing her to a chair. “But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’m a desperate man in a desperate need of your heavenly-sent assistance. Would you mind helping me a little?”

“Not at all. What can I do?”

“Not much at all. Just sit here, be fabulous and look at that idiot over there—” Richard pointed to Adrien, “—in such a way that he would lose his mind and drool all over that floor. Can you manage that for me?”

“I can certainly try,” Marinette glanced back at Adrien and his misery-stricken face. “Not sure how effective my help would be, though.”

“Oh, believe me,” Richard chuckled. “From what I’ve seen and know about him just your presence will do miracles, and miracles are precisely what we need right now. Just sit back, relax and enjoy.”

“Alright,” Marinette nodded and settled in, putting one of her legs over the other.

“Perfect.” Richard’s smile vanished as soon as he turned back to Adrien. “Let’s continue, people. Break’s over.”

The next hour or so she would never forget. Overly polite towards her, Richard’s compliments for Marinette didn't cease as he was continually assuring her that she was immensely helping everyone. He also, depending on where he wanted Adrien to look, kept moving Marinette around the room all while mercilessly teasing the hell out of the model, shamelessly using his affection for her to his advantage.

“Look at her, Adrien,” he would croon. “Look at your woman. So beautiful. So gorgeous. So close, yet so far. Just look. She is all dolled up for you. For you, Adrien. All you have to do is to give me what I want and you can have her. And I want to see a desire in your eyes, Adrien. Yes! Just like that. Good. Desire and desperation, all in the same gaze. Nice! Now, let's move Mlle Marinette over there. Yup. Perfect. Now, Adrien, I need you-”

After the initial, short-lived resentment and a pouting period, Adrien fought back, bantering with Richard just as much as the man did with him, their chat – if you could call it that – soon resembling more a playful quarrel between a pair of old friends than a professional conversation between a photographer and his model.

Much to Marinette’s surprise, Adrien seemed to be enjoying the whole thing just as much Richard. Not only did he play along with his teasing and demands, but Adrien made sure to model so excessively dramatic that even Marinette wanted to dump a bucket of cold water over his head, mostly because she was the one on the receiving end of his antics. Teasing glances, playful winks, longing looks and sighs, seductive poses and knowing smirks - Marinette had to repeatedly remind herself that as a grown woman she should be able to keep her jaw off the floor and her drooling in control. Jumping his bones right there and then wasn’t a viable option either.

However, the attention that Adrien and Richard were lavishing her with wasn’t the only benefit Marinette was getting. As weird as it sounded, but during that photoshoot she was being reacquainted with Adrien all over again, and that was way more important to her than any flirting ever could; because regardless of what Marinette had told her parents, she was thinking about their relationship seriously, and she wanted to get to know this new Adrien better before committing to anything serious. This trip seemed like the perfect opportunity for that, mainly because the only “instructions” Gabriel had given her in that letter were to remain by his son's side and see to his emotional and physical well-being… just worded in a much more official language. This photoshoot provided her with the first opportunity to glimpse into this new Adrien in a situation familiar to him with people who, judging by their interaction, knew him very well.

So far, Marinette loved what she saw – Adrien was just as fun, kind, generous and sweet as she had remembered him. She clearly saw her partner Chat Noir. Her former classmate and friend Adrien Agreste was there as well. There were a lot of familiar qualities in this man, but there was also something new, something she'd have to explore later-

“That was an absolute pleasure, Mlle Marinette,” Richard’s voice cut through her train of thought. “You may not realize it, but you’ve saved us all today.” Dramatically, he bowed down before her and taking her hand placed a kiss on the top of her hand. “I’m simply obliged now to repay you somehow-”

“I wonder what Lucia will say about that.” Adrien chuckled, coming closer.

“She would wholly agree with me,” Richard retorted. “You were insufferable today, Adrien. In fact, you were absolutely useless for the last couple of shoots. I was asking for longing, desire, sensuality and what were you handling me? Sadness. Misery. Impatience to get out of the studio! If not for Mlle Marinette appearance, we’d all be stuck here for who knows how long. We absolutely must thank her somehow. She just shortened our work day by a few hours at least.”

“In that case, I’ll think of something,” Adrien said, hugging Marinette from behind and placing his chin on her shoulder. Tilting his head slightly, he kissed her earlobe and with his eyes half-lidded and focused on her added. “I know of a few things she likes. Right, Princess?”

“Geez.” Richard made a face and shooed Adrien away. “I’m too old and prudish for this stuff, boy. Go turn back into a pumpkin and we’ll see if she still wants you then.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m a gorgeous pumpkin, and Marinette loves me even in my pumpkin shape,” Adrien teased but obeyed. He quickly planted another kiss on Marinette and walked away, promising to be back soon.

“I apologize, I might appear a little rude at times, but that kid is such a doofus I can't talk to him normally,” Richard chuckled. “We love him anyway, Lucia and I. Oh—” he settled in a nearby chair and faced Marinette. “Speaking of doofuses, I have the most amazing collection of Adrien’s super-secret Model Mishaps pictures. Want to see?”

Eagerly, Marinette nodded and for the next ten- or fifteen-minutes Richard proudly showcased Adrien’s less than graceful moments on his laptop that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Adrien’s sneezing, Adrien’s making faces, eyes-half-open Adrien, slack-mouthed Adrien, pouting and grumbling Adrien - there seemed to be no bounds to the awful shoots of Adrien this man had been about to capture. He even sent Marinette a few of her favourites for her newly-formed, proposed by Richard, “Blackmail Adrien” folder.

Most of the pictures weren’t made at a studio, though and quite a few featured a young man and a woman about their age.

“Ed and Sofie,” Richard proudly explained. “My kids, your doofus’ unofficial siblings. You are a bit of a legend to them, Mlle Marinette. Heck, you are to all of us because any girl who could finally manage to capture our Adrien’s heart and make him happy would-”

“Why do I feel like I need to save my Princess from a dragon who would soon bore her to death with his tales?” Adrien interfered, coming up from behind, protectively wrapping his arms around Marinette and kissing the top of her hair. “Has he told you his whole life story yet?”

“Is that what you think about me?” the man chuckled. “For your information, I focused only on embarrassing you this time.”

“Uh-oh,” Adrien faked the scare. “Then I guess, I’ll be stealing Marinette away from you right about now before you scare her away from me.” He reached for Marinette’s hand, walking over to her side. “Shall we go, my Lady?”

“Of course,” Marinette smiled, standing up. “It was a pleasure meeting you, M François.”

“Call me Richard and the pleasure is all my, Mlle Marinette.” The man smiled at her and turned to Adrien. “I’ll see you on Wednesday, kid, right? The last shoot.”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

“If Mademoiselle is still around, don’t forget to bring her,” Richard winked at Adrien. “We might save ourselves a few hours again.”

“I’ll be staying until the end of the week,” Marinette answered. “I’d love to see another of Adrien’s photoshoots.”

“Then you also absolutely must come with Adrien to our house on Friday,” Richard said with poorly-hidden eagerness just as Adrien seemed to tense by her side. “We’re throwing him a ‘Farewell, Bon Voyage’ party.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Adrien murmured.

“C’ mon.” Richard laughed. “We’ll behave. I promise.” Turning his attention to Marinette he added, “My family would be absolutely delighted to meet you, Mlle Marinette. Don’t listen to this kid - we might be loud and lack filter at times, but we have fun and don’t bite. Do come to the party. We’d love to have you with us.”

“I’d be honoured to attend,” Marinette replied with a smile. “Thank you.”

Adrien sighed but couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, now, if you don’t mind, Richard-”

“Of course, of course.” Richard nodded. “Go away already and enjoy your day, kid, but, Adrien?” he waited until the blond model looked at him and only then whispered, “No marks, please, or at least reserve them for the places I can’t see.”

Her cheeks flooding with crimson, Marinette barely suppressed a squeak, while Adrien quite calmly replied with a smug look on his face. “I’ve been saving you that trouble for long six years, Richard. I think I deserve for you to finally put all of those make-up artists to work. See you Wednesday. Say hello to Lucia for me.”

“Will do,” the man responded with a proud smile. “By the way, I suggest you take the back stairs and sprint as fast as you can away from here.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“Well, if you must know - the internet broke about an hour ago when someone tweeted your PDA moment from earlier. I’m pretty sure there a few paparazzi downstairs already, eager to get a glimpse of the mysterious woman who has finally conquered your cold, bachelor heart, Agreste. The images trending are blurry, so if you want to save Mlle Marinette some trouble, I suggest to hurry and make your escape through the back exit.”

Adrien swore under his breath and narrowed his eyes on Richard immediately. “You wouldn’t.”

“I totally would.” Richard laughed. “But I’d wait until I get the HD versions from my camera. Why would I publicly tweet blurry blobs, Adrien? I’m a professional; I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Ugh,” Adrien groaned. “Why did you even take pictures of that? Can’t a man kiss a woman in peace without everyone going crazy and breaking the internet over it?”

“I’m a photographer-” Richard shrugged, “-taking pictures is my first instinct, and yeah, a man maybe can kiss whoever he wants, all he wants, in all the peace he wants. You, unfortunately, can’t. Not in NYC, at least.”

“I am a man. Why can’t I?”

“You are a somewhat decent-looking saint bachelor from a famous family and with a fortune in your pocket who somehow managed to remain single for years at the time when other people of your age dated the heck out of everyone, got married and had kids in the city that never sleeps. Your head has had a bounty on it for a long while now, Adrien, so no, there was absolutely no way for you to kiss anyone in a middle of a room filled with people and cameras and avoid the consequences.”

“I hate it when you are right,” Adrien blurted with a pout. “At least do me a favour and don’t post your HD pictures until we are back in France?”

“That I can do,” Richard nodded. “Now go - save your princess.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Adrien replied and quickly led Marinette out of the room. They found the staircase and headed downstairs, Adrien continuingly murmuring scattered apologies along the way. “I’m so sorry, Marinette. The paparazzi are horrible here.”

“I see we’ve come back to keeping our identities a secret. Just like good, old days. Please, don’t tell me I have to wear a paper bag over my head every time I step outside.”

“No,” Adrien laughed. “It’s not that serious. I just want you to enjoy your visit without a crowd following you around, and that’ll be hard to do if they would know who you are and how much I love you.”

“Then I guess I’d better stay by your side at all times,” Marinette replied squeezing his hand. “You’ll protect me like you always did, won’t you?”

“With pleasure, My Lady,” Adrien purred, stopping as they reached the bottom of the stairs. His eyes lingered on her for a few moments as he lifted her hand and barely brush his lips against her knuckles before opening the door they were standing by and letting her go in first. “After you, my Lady.”

“He’s quite a character,” Marinette remarked, walking into an underground garage full of cars. “Your photographer.”

“Richard?” Adrien chuckled, one of the warmest smiles Marinette had ever seen on his face, as he continued to lead her forward. “Yeah, he is quite a character - arrogant and annoying, but with a heart of gold and the most caring soul out there. Except maybe for his wife? She is the sweetest lady in the universe- when you aren’t crossing her.”

“You seem to like them a lot.”

“They’ve basically adopted me almost from the start so yeah, I do like them, especially since Richard reminds me of Plagg so much.”

“Your kwami?”

Adrien nodded. “The only difference is that Plagg had a tail and was a Camembert glutton. Richard lacks an extra appendage and is just a glutton. Period. With all the food he eats I have no idea how he manages to keep his weight under control.” They both chuckled and Adrien added, “But enough about me – why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Not that I’m not glad because I am- I’m so, so happy to see you, but I could’ve prepared, you know, picked you up at the airport and-”

Marinette laughed. “I found out I was coming myself just yesterday morning so I thought I’d surprise you, give you a heart attack or two.”

“And here I was worrying sick you weren’t picking up my morning calls.”

am surprised Emma didn’t spill the secret.”

“Hm,” Adrien concentrated thinking. “She did seem anxious and jumpy today, but I assumed that’s because she was staying over at your parents’ and was excited about all the pastries available there.”

They soon reached his car - a black Mercedes of some kind that looked absolutely amazing.

“Nice car,” Marinette noted.

“It does the job,” Adrien shrugged, opening the door for her. “By the way, where are your things?” he added settling in the driver’s seat.

“At my hotel room.”

“What do you mean in your hotel room?” Adrien frowned. “You aren’t staying with me?”

“I don’t know,” Marinette cocked her head to a side. “Your father booked me a really nice suite at an upscale hotel and since I didn't receive any other options, the choice was rather obvious.”

“Not fair,” Adrien pouted. “As I said - I didn’t know you were coming, but-” he leaned closer and whispered. “I can always steal you away and imprison you in my castle for my own selfish pleasures.”

“Oh no!” Marinette fake-gasped. “So scandalous! Much evil! What shall I do?”

“Enjoy my hospitality, my Lady.” Adrien chuckled, bringing her hand to his lips once again for a kiss on the inside of her wrist. “My place is much better anyway than anything my father would have gotten you. It even has a name I think you’d like.”

“Really?” Marinette tilted her head to a side. “Do tell.”

“‘Chat Noir’s Lair’,” he grinned.

“Hm.” Marinette made a show of thinking hard. “The name does sound intriguing.”

“Wanna see it?”

She paused for a few moments just to tease him. “Maybe? A look wouldn’t hurt, now would it?”

Adrien placed another kiss on her fingers, not taking his eyes off her. “You won’t regret it. I promise.”

“I see you are working hard on convincing me. Must be a really great place.”

Gently, he threaded their fingers together. “It’ll be even more amazing with you in it. Now tell me which hotel are you at so we can pick up your stuff.”

Pulling away, Marinette rumbled through her purse and showed him her hotel access card.

“I see Father spared no expense. Admirable. I’ll need to thank him.”

“I was told it’s on the same street as your place?”

“Yup,” Adrien responded, starting up the car. “Practically next door.” He was about to depart but then paused, stared ahead for a moment before turning to Marinette and whispering with the reverent look on his face. “I still can’t believe you are here. It’s like a dream come true.”

Marinette giggled. “I hope that’s a good dream?”

“The best.” Adrien grinned, shifting to Drive. “The very best one.”

They easily escaped the paparazzi camping outside the front door of Richard’s Studio, and no one was there at Marinette’s hotel. A couple of photographers spotted them at Adrien's apartment complex as they were driving into the underground garage, but being warned beforehand, Marinette covered her face, turning away. Their trip took a little over an hour altogether – a bit longer than expected due to heavy traffic – but to them it felt like a short while as neither seemed to be having enough of each other’s company, carelessly chatting about everything and nothing in particular. A few times, Marinette had caught herself back in her teen days, as she blushed and stuttered under his heavy flirting, and, opening the door to his apartment, Adrien had never before resembled such an overly excited puppy to her as now.

“Welcome to the ‘Chat Noir’s Lair’, my Lady,” he proclaimed, bowing down and letting her in first. At first glance, the apartment screamed wealth and looked like it belonged on a cover of an interior design magazine – pristine, spacious, two-tier, featuring ceiling to wall windows and decorated with a minimalist style in mind. The living room contained a few couches, a large TV in a wall unit and a couple of side tables. She noticed a large dining table around the corner and sneaked a peak of the kitchen to her left, both looking absolutely amazing. But, despite the bare minimum and clear-cut lines of the design, the place somehow felt homely and cozy. Lived-in even. A few live plants might have helped with that. Fluffy throws and pillows on the couches and a soft carpet on the floor. Photos and art on the walls. Little details here and there softened the look and gave the room warmth. Marinette couldn’t help but comment on that.

“My father hired a designer to decorate it,” Adrien explained. “But I didn’t really like what he’d done with the place. It felt cold and bare, so since I was the one spending most of the time here, I brought in a few accessories to make it comfier.”

“You definitely succeeded, Chaton.”

“Thank you, My Lady. Now let me show you around.”

He barely waited for Marinette to remove her shoes before taking her by the hand and pulling her into the living room.

“As you can see,” Adrien began the tour. “'The Chat Noir’s Lair' is offering a spacious living room, a high-end kitchen and a separate dining room, three washrooms, an office, a workout room and a balcony-”

The next few minutes Adrien was trying his hardest to impress Marinette with his home. He showed off the best features and offered to try things out. He sat her down on the couches and dining chairs so she would be assured that they were soft and comfortable. He pointed out that plants were watered and his fridge well stocked. The fact that appliances looked as if they were used daily Marinette noticed herself. Adrien proudly displayed his office’s built-in library. His gym inspired workouts just by peeking inside. The view from the balcony was mesmerizing.

“I should let you redecorate my house,” she concluded when they exited the last room on the first level. “You’re good at it.”

“Thank you,” Adrien grinned. “With your permission, I'm looking forward to decorating our house as well, but for now - allow me to show you to your room.”

A trip up the stairs revealed that the whole second level of the apartment was dedicated to a single room which looked suspiciously like a master bedroom. It seemed less designer-y and more Adrien than the rest of the apartment. One of the walls was made entirely of glass windows, reminding her of his home in Paris. The only difference was the sheer curtains Adrien incorporated that diminished the “prison” effect and made the whole room seemed softer. A huge bed in the middle with nightstands beside it and a bed bench at the end. Soft carpeting under her feet and a couple of doors leading to his bathroom and a closet. It was simple and cozy, something that Marinette would’ve loved to call her own.

“Um, Adrien? Isn’t this your room?”

“And now it’s yours too,” Adrien replied. “Comes complete with a top-quality king bed, four-piece en-suite with a separate shower and a bathtub, a walk-in closet and a free cuddler, body warmer and personal butler as a bonus.”

“Oh? And where is that cuddler, body warmer and personal butler of yours?”

“You’re looking at him.” Adrien bowed with a smile on his lips. “I’m at your service, my Lady.”

Marinette chuckled, scrunched her nose and teased, clasping her arms behind her back. “I don’t know. This room maybe looks better than the one in my hotel suite, but nothing can rival the bed in there. It was one of the best I’ve ever-”

“You doubt the comfort of my bed?” Adrien fake gasped and sweeping Marinette of her feet into his arms, added, “Then I guess I have no choice but to prove you wrong, my Lady.” Quickly but gently he brought Marinette over and laid her on the bed, instantly settling by her side. “So?” Adrien carefully brushed away Marinette’s hair from her forehead. “How does it feel?”

Turning to face him, Marinette said, “It certainly does feel comfy, but something is missing.”

“I apologize.” Adrien gently cupped her cheek and pulled her closer. “Where are my manners and hospitality?” His lips touched hers in the gentlest of a kiss. “How is it now? Better?”

“A little,” Marinette whispered.

“Then I should add more services,” Adrien smiled and kissed her cheek. He moved to the forehead, then her nose, another cheek and lips again, peppering her whole face with light butterfly kisses, asking every time if Marinette liked his bedroom better than the hotel one. There was not a spot left un-kissed at least twice or trice on her face when Marinette finally gave in and kissed Adrien back.

“Alright,” she said pulling away. “You’ve convinced me.” Her sight fell on a nightstand behind Adrien and she smiled mischievously. “After all, how can I refuse to stay in the room that has my baby, my roommate, and my photo by its bed.”

“Is that I am all to you?” Adrien tried to fake gasped but his voice was quiet and his eyes worried. Marinette’s breath hitched. They agreed to take it slow and to think carefully before diving in deeper, and she was trying to follow that. Marinette was thinking about it but the more she did, the less she wanted to take it slow.

“Well, maybe also a friend?” she added hesitantly.

“We definitely do stuff that friends don’t do,” Adrien replied. “I have a kid and you in my arms at this very moment to prove my point.”

He was right – neither of them was able to keep their hands off each other ever since they reconnected despite all the agreements to take it slow. Neither complained or wanted to stop.

“Unless you mean friends with benefits,” Adrien added with a frown. “But I don’t think I’d like that very much.”

“Hm, why not?”

“It doesn’t reflect the truth about my feelings to you,” he said, brushing her hair gently. “While you are my friend, it isn’t just the benefits I want from you or what I'm willing to give back. I want so much more and I’m ready to give you my all.”

Marinette nibbled at her lip. She wanted more as well. She yearned for it, but she couldn't just blindly jump in now. She had Emma to consider.

Emma…?

Marinette’s eyes widened as a thought hit her. One of the biggest reasons she was holding off all this time was to protect Emma if anything were to go wrong with her relationship but- but Adrien wasn't just someone pretending to the role of Emma's father to get to Marinette and who could walk out of their lives at any moment if anything were to go awry between them. He was Emma’s father and that wasn’t something anyone could change. Adrien promised that no matter what he would remain in Emma’s life; even if they didn’t work out, he swore he would be there for Emma, and Marinette believed him. From what little interaction they’d had, she could clearly see how much he already loved Emma and her little girl reciprocated his affection. Of course, there were always risks, but nothing major as Marinette was afraid of until now. It was Adrien after all - the kindest and the most loyal man she'd ever known.

Then what was it? What was holding her back? Why while she wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms the minute they discuss labels she would hesitate? She knew she couldn’t care less for the opinions of others on the matter. Then what? Her own insecurities? Her fear to make it official and spoil everything again? The last time it didn't go well for her, but the last time there were, as she thought, two men. Now there was only him.

Closing her eyes, Marinette inhaled and tried to think rationally. Yes, based on her experience, she was afraid, but the time had passed and she’d learned from her mistakes. She liked to believe she’d matured and Adrien seemed to as well – the way he’d dealt with their little arguments back in Paris was the proof of that. He didn’t run at the slightest disagreement anymore but stayed and they’d talked and resolved the issue. He was still her loyal partner; he was still her kind friend. He was still the man she was deeply in love with, but from what she could already see, he was also a changed man, changed for the better. So maybe, just maybe they could make it work this time?

“Hey,” Adrien reached to lift her chin to him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. If it’s not something you want to discuss now, we could always do this later. I don’t even know why it came up,” he nervously chuckled. “Do you want to eat something? I can go make us something really quick-”

“Adrien?” Marinette caught his face in her hands, cupping his cheeks before he could escape, and locked her eyes on him. His eyes… His eyes were full of love and reverence and kindness and worry, and for a moment Marinette forgot why she was afraid in the first place. He was her Adrien. Scooting closer, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest.

“Do you want to know what I was secretly afraid would happen once I’ve arrived here?” she murmured against his rapidly beating heart as he returned her embrace.

“Being eaten by a Godzilla?”

Marinette chuckled. He was always a dork. “Nope. Something even worse.”

“What could be worse than being eaten alive by Godzilla?”

“Being left at a hotel? Or being shown the guest room?”

“Oh.” She could feel Adrien tense, his arms around her tightening.

“Adrien, if you don’t want to be just roommates or friends with benefits, what do you want us to be?”

He remained silent for a few moments before asking quietly. “Do you want me to answer that honestly or do you want me to tell you what I think you’re ready to hear?”

“I want your honesty even if I might not be ready for it yet.”

“Alright,” Adrien replied, his hand starting to gently draw circles on her back. “I've never wanted to be ‘co-parenting roommates' in the first place unless that was the best I could get.”

“Hey, wasn’t you who offered it?” Marinette poked his chest with a finger.

“I did,” Adrien chuckled “But again only because I thought that was the best I could get at the time.”

“What about now?”

“Now, as you can see I’m already challenging that label.”

“So you think you can get something better now?”

“I think,” he pulled away just enough to gently kiss her lips. “I think I’m getting more already. Just need to make it official.”

“Fair enough.”

“But getting back to your original question,” Adrien continued after sliding down so he could look at Marinette face to face. “It’s rather simple - I want to be with you. I want to wake up to your cuddling ceremony and prepare you breakfast. I want to spend my evenings with you and fall asleep in your arms. I want my daily missions to be supporting you in your struggles and share your victories. I want you in mine. I want to see our daughter grow up together and I might have been wondering what it would be like having more children with you eventually. I want a family and a home, Marinette, somewhere where you’ll be waiting for me.” He stopped for a second to catch his breath. “I just want to be with you and not to worry about the labels.”  

“Adrien-” Marinette’s voice was failing as tears started to gather in her eyes.

“If it were up to me,” he continued. “I’d marry you here and now because what is a marriage, Marinette? It’s a commitment, right?”

Marinette nodded but remained silent so Adrien could continue. “And I had committed myself to you a long time ago. That’s the only label I care about – ‘Committed to my Princess’. Marinette, I’ve been in love with you for more than ten years now, my feelings and my desire to marry you survived a six-year exile and I don’t see a reason why we should wait anymore. However, I do realize that others might not understand and judge us and say we are rushing things and that you might have your own thoughts on the matter and your own pace. So as long as I’m allowed to be by your side, I don’t care what label we use. I’ll leave it up to you to choose. Your pace. Your timing. Your choice of label.”

“What if in those six years, I’ve changed and you won’t like me anymore?”

Adrien puffed. “Please, my Lady. I saw you at your worst. I think I can manage whatever surprises you have in store for me. Plus, from what I’ve seen so far, I can assume already that you’ve changed for the better. You’re more mature now, you’re open to communication and you are infinitely more gorgeous-” His eyes widened at a realization of this own words. “Not that you weren't gorgeous before- you were- but now even more so-”

Marinette laughed. “Don’t worry, Chaton. I get it. You’ve grown up quite nicely yourself.”

“Thank you, my Lady. I’m flattered.”

“Can I be honest too then?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t want anything else.”

“I do understand what you are saying, and I do agree that we've lost enough time and I do want to be with you so badly, Adrien but-” she paused nibbling at her lower lip. “I’ll be honest – I don’t think I’m ready for marriage yet. I’m still anxious and unsure about this whole thing, and it’s just- Ugh. I just need a little bit more time to get used to this. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Adrien smiled at her. “I know. That’s why I’m not proposing to you yet, so don’t worry about that now.” Adrien leaned in for another lingering kiss, holding her close. “And when I do propose to you, promise me to answer honestly? Even if that would be a ‘No’, or a ‘Not yet’? I won’t die. I’ll step back and wait and try again later. Okay?”

“Okay.” Marinette nodded.

“And if at some point, you ever end up not wanting me at all, please, tell me. I’ll respect your wish and will step away and remain there as Emma’s father and your friend only. Promise me?”

It took Marinette a few seconds to reply. She had never realized how well Adrien understood her. She wanted more, and she wanted it desperately, but just as she'd hesitated to accept her miraculous a while back, she was anxious to accept him now. She needed to take it one step at a time, no matter how short-lived they were and how hard she wanted to just get it over with and say “Yes”. His understanding and acceptance meant the world.

“Alright.” She nodded. “But for now, may I suggest for us to be another kind of friends?” Marinette reached out and settling her hand at the nape of his neck, fiddled with his hair. “You’re my friend but you are also happened to be a boy, so since you’re a boy and a friend, how does a “boyfriend” sound?”

Instantly Adrien grinned. “And may I assume that since you a girl and a friend I can call you my girlfriend?”

“Absolutely.”

“With everything it entitles me to?”

“Yup.”

“We still get to live together, though, right?”

“If you still want that.”

“More than anything,” Adrien whispered and leaned over to kiss her. “Can I do this and not worry about crossing any boundaries?”

“Of course.”

“How about this?” He left a trail of delicate kisses on her neck.

“You’d better.” Marinette swallowed, her breath hitching in her chest. “As often as you’d like.”

“What if I would want to worship your whole body?” he breathed against her collarbone, his hand already roaming around her stomach.

“I won’t stand in your way,” Marinette replied barely audible, letting a moan slip when Adrien gently sucked at her skin.

“I might need to remove your dress for that,” he whispered against the swell of her breasts, nuzzling the hem of her dress’ neckline.

“Alright,” Marinette smirked, sliding her hand down his chest. “But only if I get to watch you remove your clothes slowly moving in time with the music.”

Pulling back, Adrien looked at her with his eyes wide.

Marinette laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m joking.”

He blinked.

Marinette leaned closer to him and whispered, “Or am I?”

Adrien swallowed, blush rapidly covering his face. “I-”

She erupted with a fit of giggles before pulling him to her and pecking his lips. “I’m joking, Adrien, but if you do plan to get me naked, you’d better follow suit and lose your clothes as well.”

“Oh, absolutely,” He suddenly purred, grinning. “It’s rather hot here anyway. We should undress, and I might just have the perfect playlist in mind for that.” Suddenly he stilled, remembering something. Closing his eyes, Adrien added apologetically, “I must confess, though - since you’re the only one I’ve ever been interested in, I’ve never kept “stuff” on hand, and I didn't expect you here tonight, so I’m not exactly prepared for-”

Marinette silenced him with her finger to his lips. “Then it’s good that I brought you a present. You might want to get it now, though. Pink suitcase, side pocket on the inside.”

Adrien grinned. “Looks like someone had a plan.”

“Someone missed you more than you can imagine.”

“I missed you too,” Adrien whispered, kissing her cheek. “And I love you so much.” His lips brushed her ear. “Thank you for giving me a chance, Marinette. You won’t regret it. I promise.”

Leaning down, he captured her lips. Kissing her slowly and gently, Adrien whispered the words of love, lavishing every inch of her body with his affection. Fingers and lips desperately dancing against her skin and, her head spinning, Marinette was blissfully drowning under his touch, his gentle caresses on every inch of her skin. She felt burning, completely and utterly enthralled in the fire he’d ignited, cool air providing little relief even after her dress was dealt with.

She needed more.

Marinette yearned for all of him; those few minutes that Adrien was gone picking up his present felt longer than weeks she’d waited for him in Paris. There was little doubt in her mind when he resumed his ministrations - she belonged with him, Marinette belonged in Adrien’s arms, they were meant to walk this life together, side by his side, supporting, accepting and making each other happy. They were meant to be.

Chapter Text

Marinette could get used to the view - barely covered by a blanket Adrien sprawled on his bed in the perfect cuddling position. She scooted closer. His chiselled-by-workouts body, his gorgeous face, peaceful and calm in his slumber, messy hair splattered all over his pillow, the perfect, slightly open lips… Gently, she ran her fingers across his evenly rising and falling chest just as the first rays of sun peeked through the curtains. Adrien wriggled his nose and scrunched his face. The muscles on his chest twitched and murmuring under his breath, he twisted in his sleep, curling away from her and the sunlight. Marinette giggled. Yup, she could definitely get used to the view - gorgeous, but still adorable and dorky. She shifted closer again and rested her head on Adrien’s back, thanking the universe for the time zones - still living on the Parisian time was the sole reason Marinette was awake before six in the morning in NYC.

A beeping sound suddenly shattered the silence. Adrien groaned, his hand acting on its own as he shut the alarm off. Without opening his eyes, he turned back to Marinette and wrapped her in a hug.

“Morning,” he whispered, his voice deep and rusty from the slumber.

“It’s still fifteen minutes to six,” Marinette replied. “Didn’t you say you don’t have to wake up before six?”

“Yup.” Adrien yawned. “Get up at six. Fifteen minutes before- cuddle ceremony.” He pulled her closer, burying his face into the crook of her neck. “Mhhhh, you smell nice.”

Adrien’s hair tickling her skin, Marinette giggled as she wrapped her hands around him, placing a kiss on a top of his head. “Sounds perfect.”

They lingered in each other’s arms for a few minutes before Marinette asked. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Office. You. Escape the paparazzi.”

Another sound shrieked through the room, and Adrien groaned again, moving closer to Marinette. “Too early. I’m busy. Make it stop.”

“I would,” Marinette laughed. “But I’m currently being immobilized by a cuddle monster. Can’t move. You should’ve put your phone on Do Not Disturb.”

“It is on Do Not Disturb,” Adrien replied, opening his eyes. “Except Emma and you have an override privilege.” Pulling away, he reached for the device. “Yup. That’s her. Give me a few.” With a soft smile, Adrien picked up the call. “Morning, sweetheart. How are you? Me? Yes, of course, I'm already up- Momma? Yup. Right here- Okay.”

Adrien pressed the speaker mode and Emma’s chipper voice immediately filled the room as she dived straight away in telling them everything she’d done since her last call, starting with a new book Grandma Sabine had read her yesterday, finishing with exciting additions to the bakery’s breakfast menu she’d helped Grandpapi Tom to choose just now. Then it was Marinette and Adrien’s turn to explain what the two of them were planning to do today and when they heard Sabine call Emma’s name in the background, Adrien’s cell phone alarm went off again.

“I adore Emma to pieces,” Adrien admitted, wrapping Marinette into a hug as soon as Emma hung up. “But I’d love to have you all to myself from time to time.”

“Possessive, aren’t we?” Marinette teased. Laughing at his pout, she added. “Not judging you, though – I might be feeling the same way. Emma’s had my undivided attention for five years. I think it’s about time she learned to share.”

“Let’s hope she’s a good learner.”

“She is. That’s one of the things I love about her.”

“And I love you,” Adrien whispered, leaning closer for a lingering kiss, his hands cupping Marinette’s face. “Did you know you’re the best thing that had ever happened to me?”

“And you to me,” Marinette replied, pressing her lips to his collarbone. “Love you too.”

They shared a few more kisses and tender moments before Adrien glanced at the clock. “As heartbroken as I am but it’s time to get up, Princess,” he sighed. “However, since we’ve missed the ceremony, what would you say about an evening equivalent?”

“Sounds perfect,” Marinette replied with a chuckle, running her fingers through Adrien’s hair. “Now, let’s pretty you up, so you can finish this thing in style.”

Adrien smiled, pulling Marinette in. “You, on the other hand, look perfect already.”

“Flatterer.”

“Just an honest person.”

Swamped by everyday routine, their morning flew by fast. They’d helped each other with the wardrobe choices and cooked their breakfast together, all while deliberating the ways to keep the paparazzi off their track. Adrien departed for the office right after the meal, leaving Marinette to wait for Thomas, the company's driver. About an hour after he'd gone, the paparazzi at the front door largely vanished and Thomas, donning civilian clothes, came by to pick up Marinette in a less suspicious car than the company’s limousine. Per Adrien’s suggestion, he’d also brought her a disguise - a wig of rich brown waves with red highlights and the biggest pair of sunglasses Marinette had ever seen. Feeling playful, she styled the wig into her signature low ponytails, dressed in the brand-new pair of boyfriend jeans she had bought specifically for this trip and rummaged Adrien’s closet for a t-shirt that would fit her.

The effect it had on Adrien was worth the trouble. As he caught her sight of entering the office, his eyes instantly widened. Mouth slack and frozen in his place, Adrien swallowed before saying something to the person he’d been conversing with and leaving them without looking back.

“If you’re trying to kill me, you’ve succeeded,” he quietly said into her ear, giving her a welcome cheek kiss.

“Baseless accusations,” Marinette whispered back. “Just dressing according to my “Adrien’s girlfriend” mood.”

“I thought we were trying to hide you.”

“From paparazzi.” She shrugged. “As far as I know every employee at Gabriel's offices are under a non-disclosure agreement or am I wrong? Plus, don’t forget that I’m wearing a wig so even if someone will give me away, all I have to do is to wear a different wig tomorrow.”

Adrien chuckled, shaking his head. “That’s why you were Ladybug. Always thinking a step ahead.” Turning to face the people curiously staring at them from all over the room, he added, “Everyone, this is Marinette Dupain-Cheng - one of the head designers at the main office, bursting with ideas, fearless, kind, gorgeous and simply an amazing person. If I get my way, my future wife, so, please, make her feel welcome and keep her identity under the wraps. I want her to enjoy NYC paparazzi-free.”

“Adrien,” Marinette yelped, feeling much hotter than just a second ago.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Just acting according to my ‘I’ve moved a few steps closer to my goal’ mood.”

“Dork,” she puffed.

“Yours,” he grinned. “Now, come on. Let me introduce you to the people Father mentioned in your ‘instructions’.”

The rest of the day went relatively smoothly. While they spent most of it together, there were a few moments where Marinette explored the office by herself, devoting most time to the designer department, observing, giving advice, taking notes and sketching the new ideas in her sketchbook. To avoid the media, Adrien asked Thomas, their driver, to get their food delivered to the office. When the evening came, he offered her a choice.

“I’ve got three days left of work at the office - today, Thursday, and half a day on Friday; but since you are here, I can cram in a few extra hours today and on Thursday. That’ll leave all of Friday free for us. What do you think?”

“What about Wednesday?”

“Photoshoot. Would take most of the day, though. It’s a final one - they’ll squeeze whatever they can out from me.”

“And Saturday?”

“Nothing really. It was left as a backup day in case I need extra time, but it doesn’t look this way as of now.”

“So technically we can have two days to ourselves before our Sunday’s flight back, right?”

“Yup.” Adrien nodded.

“I think the choice is obvious. Why are you even asking me?”

“Because,” Adrien wrapped Marinette in a hug, settling beside her on a very comfortable loveseat she’d occupied for the last hour in his office. “Cramming in a few more hours would mean staying here those few more hours, and you've just dozed off for what I suspect was not the first time.”

“Sorry,” Marinette smiled apologetically. “It’s late in Paris and I’m still on their time.”

“Then why don’t you go home and rest. I’ll come when I’m done.”

“But-”

“No buts, Marinette,” Adrien gently scolded. “We were supposed to go home separately anyway, and Thomas’ workday will be over soon, so go and rest.”

“I wanted to spend all of the time I can with you.”

Adrien nuzzled her nose. “Sleeping in an awkward position on a couch while I'm working can hardly be considered spending time together. You should rest, Marinette. We’ll have some time alone tomorrow after the shoot. I might even take you out to one of my favourite places here.”

Marinette stayed silent for a second but then failed to suppress a yawn. “You honestly wouldn’t mind me leaving you?”

“I insist,” Adrien said before a smirk split his lips. “Unless you allow me to ravish you right here, right now-”

“Adrien,” Marinette squeaked. “There are people still in the office. You said it yourself - Thomas is waiting to drive me home.”

“Risk makes it all more interesting,” Adrien leaned down and slowly kissed her neck. “So, what do you say, Princess? May I?”

“I say the most you’ll get right now are cuddles,” Marinette responded, shoving him away a bit. “But if you manage to finish the work and still catch me awake at home, then I might consider your offer.”

“Perfect,” Adrien purred, weaving his arms around her back. They stayed like that for a few minutes before Adrien pulled away, saying that Thomas’ workday would end in half an hour, so it probably was a good time to call for him. Riding home, Marinette caught herself dozing off a few more times, and once she exited the shower, she crawled under the blankets and blacked out. She didn’t hear Adrien coming in a few hours later, but she still snuggled onto him when he pulled her into a hug, giving her a goodnight kiss.

*       *       *

On Wednesday, Marinette saved Richard another few hours of shooting. Inspired by her presence, Adrien did a fantastic job in record time and earned just enough free time to take Marinette out to Central Park. Since both of them were wearing disguises, the pair managed to avoid unnecessary attention and spent an evening quietly strolling along the lesser known paths of the park. They talked about the past, remembering the good times, and discussed their plans for the future. Marinette admitted to wanting to put her own spin on Gabriel’s style for a while now. After hearing her ideas, Adrien thought she should’ve done that a long time ago.

“Father loves this kind of stuff,” he beamed. “You’re brilliant, Marinette. I guarantee, he’ll give you your own line if he sees these ideas.”

“You think so?”

“I know so!”

“Alright. I might as well try it. What about you?”

“Hm, well, for me there’ll be no more catwalks that’s for sure. The December show will be my last one. Maybe some random photoshoots for fun in the future, but I’ll be moving towards managing the business side of Gabriel.”

“Getting too old for the pictures?” she teased. “Don’t worry, Chaton, you’ll always be handsome for me.”

“Thank you, my Lady.” Adrien chuckled and winked at her. “I’m glad to know the most gorgeous woman on this planet thinks I’m handsome.”

Marinette laughed. “You do know you are an incorrigible dork, right?”

“I don’t think you mind, though.”

“I don’t.”

“Then I don’t care,” Adrien smiled and lifted her hand for inner wrist kiss. “Love you, Mari.”

“Love you too, Chaton.”

He didn’t let her hand go once until they got into his car to go home, and even then, Adrien reached for it as often as he could, finishing the day holding Marinette in his arms. She loved every moment of it.

Thursday was spent almost identically to her previous day at Gabriel’s office, the only difference being Marinette staying awake until the very end. Adrien managed to finish his work a little earlier and was pleasantly surprised by a goodbye party his coworkers organized. They got home late, not even bothering to take two separate cars because even if the paparazzi were to camp at Adrien’s place or his office doorsteps, the darkness and the disguise hid Marinette’s identity quite well. Still, the fact that her name hadn’t made it into the papers yet was astonishing. Though, they did go to extremes to protect her. There were even rumours floating around about how harshly Richard himself dealt with the person who’d leaked her pictures after personally tracking them down.

“He’s vicious,” Marinette noted when Adrien had confirmed that someone did turn up at his office to beg for forgiveness.

“Only when someone wrongs the people he loves,” Adrien shrugged. “Otherwise, he’s an old softie in disguise.”

On Friday they slept in, and then spend the afternoon strolling along the streets scattered with multitudes of little shops and vendors, buying presents for friends and family. It was a bit trickier to stay undetected in a highly populated area in daylight, so Marinette changed her wig to long blonde hair while Adrien “forgot” to shave and wore a black hair wig of his own. He added a hat, and both wore sunglasses.

“I’ve never had so much fun,” Adrien kept whispering from time to time. “I feel like a kid again.”

“And a very handsome one at that,” Marinette said, brushing his jawline with her fingers. “I think I like that stubble look on you. Do that often once we’re home.”

“Absolutely,” he purred. “What about a beard? I once grew it out and let me tell you - rocked it too.”

Marinette laughed. “I don’t think I’m there yet, but we’ll see. Let’s start with a random stubble for now.”

“As my Lady wishes,” Adrien bowed his head and pulled her towards a hot dog stand on the side of the walkway. He swore she'd love those.

Friday’s visit to the François family in the evening of that day, however, was the event that Marinette considered the most interesting of the whole trip. She’d never expected it to be more than a farewell party from Adrien’s closest friends in NYC. It turned out to be an insight into the character of Adrien Agreste of six years after.

They arrived a few minutes before the appointed time.

“Everything will be alright.” Adrien squeezed Marinette’s hand reassuringly. “They might be a bit unconventional, but they’re really cool. You’ll like them. I promise.”

“I’m sure I will-” Marinette didn’t finish the sentence when the door was swung open and the pair was pulled inside by the host.

“Bonsoir, bonsoir, my dears!” Richard greeted them with a broad smile as the other members of the family eagerly encircled Marinette. He briefly introduced everyone: his wife Lucia, their children Sofia and Edward with their spouses Peter and Megan, as well as their four grandchildren: twin five-years-old boys, a toddler girl and a four-month-old baby Antoine.

A bit overwhelmed by all of the commotions around her, Marinette could do little but smile and greet everyone while focusing on Adrien’s arm around her waist... at least, until even that anchor was taken away by Lucia dragging Adrien into the kitchen a few minutes later.

“You are so much better with Bolognese, Adrien,” Lucia practically pleaded. “I am really sorry but, please, do me a favour and finish the damn sauce. Last time, I promise.”

“Alright, alright.” Adrien chuckled and turned to Marinette, to see if she wanted to go with him since most already dispersed back into the apartment.

“She’ll stay with me, won’t you?” Sofia rushed to interfere, looping her arm around Marinette’s. “I didn’t gather a whole bunch of stories about you for nothing, Agreste. I simply must share. She has to know just what kind of person she’s gotten herself involved with.”

“I’m pretty sure she knows me,” Adrien retorted.

“Oh, but does she know what you’ve been up to all these years in NYC?” Sofia wiggled her eyebrows. “Shoo, Agreste. Let the women gossip about their men.”

Adrien seemed to hesitate and, intrigued by Sofia’s proposal, Marinette assured that she would be fine waiting for him with Sofia.

“Okay,” Adrien smiled. “I’ll be quick and—” he glared at the other girl, “—do not embarrass me, Sofia.”

The girl puffed. “Please, with what? No offence, Agreste, but you’re one of the most boring people I’ve ever met. Can you believe—” she turned to Marinette, “—he lived in the city that never sleeps and still managed to spend all of his time at work or home? Boring! Bland and tedious.”

“Don’t believe her, Marinette,” Adrien pouted. “I did tons of fun stuff.”

“Sure, you did,” Sofia deadpanned. “Like learning to cook with Mama who spent more time teaching you than her own daughter. So much fun.”

“My daughter hates cooking,” Lucia shouted from the kitchen. “And this nice, young man was starving and willing to learn. Don’t blame me for your own choices!”

“I didn’t!” Sofia retorted. “Just pointing out that Adrien had lots of fun here. Also, oh my gosh, Marinette, you won’t believe but he used to read all the time. All those huge, boring books-”

“Those were for my school. I did get a Master’s degree, you know.”

Sofia shrugged. “That doesn’t excuse them being lacklustre. However,” she added with a smug smirk. “Even youve had your moments, Agreste, so I can’t promise you anything. There might be one or two stories Marinette would love to hear.”

Adrien narrowed his eyes at her. Marinette couldn’t hold back a smile. So that’s how it felt to have a sibling? Even if not an official one, but the thought of Adrien having had someone to care for him those years in the States was heartwarming, and these people, the whole family, seemed to love him as one of their own.

“Oh! I know!” Sofia suddenly stirred up, turning to Marinette with a wiggle of eyebrows and a sly smile on her lips. “I’ll tell you about the time Dad was trying to set us up and how much Agreste was dying to get out of it. You should’ve seen him, Marinette. He was like a deer caught in headlights. ‘I respect you, sir, and Sofia is beautiful and smart and amazing, but she like a sister to me. I could never date her.’ That was hilarious.”

“Please,” Adrien puffed. “You wanted out even more than I did.”

“Duh! You’re like a brother. Like, ewww? No way. Plus, Peter and I were a thing already—” she glanced across the room at a man holding a baby, “—I just hadn’t told the folks about him yet.”

“They got married a year later,” Adrien added. “Almost eloped, but we managed to talk her out of it.”

“Edward did,” Sofia laughed. “You were a picture of misery the whole time.”

“I was not!”

“Yup, you were,” Edward chuckled, walking closer.

“Hey, I was happy for you, guys!” Adrien pouted.

“Of course, you were happy for our little troublemaker,” Edward laughed, hugging Adrien’s shoulder. “No one denies that. But you were also not so successfully trying to hold back tears at her wedding.”

“From happiness!”

“And every time Edward’s wife had a baby?”

“That’s-”

“Oh, please, Adrien,” Sofia rolled her eyes. “Deny it all you want, but you wear your heart on your sleeve, you know. Yes, you were happy for us, but you were also sad and miserable and refused to tell us why.”

“The most I got out of him,” Edward added, “was that there was someone who he was in love with for years, but whose life he’d ruined, and now that person didn’t want anything to do with him and he still loved them and couldn’t move on. Though, I had to get him really, really drunk for that confession to come out.”

 “I hate you guys,” Adrien huffed and glared at the two. “The one and only time I let you take me out to a bar-”

“Sofia! Ed! Leave the poor boy alone!” their mother shouted from the kitchen. “You’re going to scare Marinette away with your nonsense. Come here, Adrien. Bring Marinette with you and leave those heathens behind.” A wave of chuckles and giggles filled the room. Adrien straightened up.

“Thank you, Aunt Lucia,” he shouted before offering his hand to Marinette. “Would you join me in the kitchen, my Lady? Those insensitive individuals did not deserve your company.”

“Aw, come on!” Sofia whined. “We were just having fun. Leave her with us.”

“Too late,” Adrien pulled Marinette to himself and stuck his tongue out. “She is all mine and I don’t share with bullies.”

“We love you, Adrien,” Sofia retorted, stepping away herself to check up on her husband who seemed to be having troubles with getting their baby to sleep. Edward got distracted by one of his kids as well, so the pair effortlessly sneaked away.

“Adrien is a nice boy, don’t listen to them,” Lucia mumbled under her breath as soon as they entered the kitchen. “He's kind and smart, hard-working and an amazing cook. Those tactless kids of mine just like to tease him, and he is too nice to play their games. That’s their father’s doing. I told Richard to stop doing that because the kids would learn it, but does he ever listen to me? Here—” she passed a bowl full of ingredients to Adrien. “If you don’t mind, dear. Your Bolognese is the best and we’ll retaliate by not sharing.”

Adrien chuckled and headed to the stove.

“They weren’t so bad,” Marinette said. “I can tell they love Adrien- in their own special way. Plus, I got to learn something new about him.”

“Want to learn more?” Sofia peaked through the door. “I have tons of stories left.”

“Shoo, you evil child!” Lucia cried out. “Go set the table if you have nothing better to do. I’m almost done with dinner.”

“I can help,” Marinette offered, seeing as she wasn’t going to be very useful at the kitchen with Adrien and the older woman seemingly having everything under control.

“See? She wants the stories, Mama! Come with me, girl. I’ll tell you all of his secrets,” Sofia quickly pulled Marinette out of the room to Lucia’s discontent huffing and Adrien’s laugh. Marinette giggled herself. It was chaotic. Overwhelming even, but undeniably those people cared a lot about each other and about Adrien. It could be felt in the air. She could see it in their eyes. It must have been such a contrast for Adrien to get into this family after his lonely childhood life.

The table setting didn’t take long, seeing as Megan, Edward’s wife, had finally managed to escape from her kids and lend them a hand. Together, they told Marinette about Adrien’s life in the States, starting from the time their father dragged the depressed, lonely model into their house, and ending with him surprising them with the news of Emma and Marinette. There wasn’t much in between - just a few silly NYC adventures when they practically forced Adrien out. 

“He liked to stay at home when he didn't work or study,” Sofia said. “We tried to get him out but the stubborn ass would usually refuse, and even if he did go out with us, he'd just sit there with that look on his face.”

“I always hated it,” Megan added. “He looked like a kicked puppy. There was always that sadness in his eyes, you know?”

“Especially when Dad tried to set him up those few times. Poor guy looked even more depressed after a date than before it and never went on a second one. We gave up on that pretty soon. I think he suffered through three?”

Megan shook her head. “Nope. Two. You were supposed to be the third one, remember?”

“Oh right,” Sofia sighed. “Well, we’re sure glad it's in the past and he has you now, Marinette,” Sofia smiled and out of the blue wrapped her arms around Marinette. “Thank you so much. I know it might sound strange coming from a complete stranger, but Adrien means a lot to us, and we are very thankful you appeared in his life. He looks happy. Really happy. Genuinely so. Please, be kind to him.”

“I will,” Marinette whispered, holding back tears. “I’ll do my best.”

The rest of the evening went pretty smoothly. Adrien got free from the kitchen pretty soon but was snatched up by a horde of kids who insisted that Uncle Adrien was to play with them. As soon as he complied, the level of laughs and squeals in the house rose significantly. Marinette could hardly keep her eyes off Adrien as he wrestled and carried the kids around on his shoulders. The children loved him and he was terrific with them. No wonder he was so good with Emma; he had a lot of practice here. It explained perfectly why he was so happy and eager to be a father as well.

Then followed the loudest dinner Marinette had ever attended, yet in a fun and wholehearted way. Adrien seemed to be right at home, even if the stories about him never ended and more than one of those were told with the sole purpose to tease him. He quickly retaliated, though, telling Marinette his own tales about the people around the table, causing the whole room to erupt with laughs. By the end of the evening, Marinette, in a way, felt a little guilty taking him away from them, but they approved. Adrien was loved here and his happiness stood above their own wishes.

They left late evening and Marinette felt as much a part of their family as was Adrien. Sofia proclaimed her to be her new sister. Richard and Lucia invited them over whenever they would be on this side of the Atlantic. Edward shook Adrien’s hand and wished him well as an older brother would. Everyone hugged, and from the corner of her eye, Marinette noticed lingering tears in more than one pair of eyes.

“I see you weren’t as lonely as you’ve told me,” Marinette teased him as soon as they left. “They’re great people, Adrien. I really enjoyed this evening.”

“They are awesome,” Adrien replied with a bittersweet smile on his face. “But... over the years… looking at them- it was just- you know when you see your friends- family almost,” he corrected. “When you see them fall in love, date, get engaged, get married, when you hold their newborns in your hands and help them choose the right name, when you help cook and share those amazing evening together… all while knowing that you most likely will never get to experience that with the woman you love… that you perhaps will never have a family of your own… That—” he lightly squeezed Marinette's hand, not making eye contact, “—that was the lonely and miserable part.”

“I’m sorry,” Marinette whispered and stopping, wrapped her arms around him.

“I'm sorry too,” Adrien whispered back, returning the embrace. “I can imagine it wasn't any easier for you.”

“I had Emma. And my parents. I had Alya, and Nino. I was still back home with lots of friends and even your father. He helped us too. You were all alone over here in a foreign country. And while Richard and his family are amazing — and I’m so, so glad they took you in — but if I understand correctly, they were your only friends here?”

Adrien nodded silently.

“I’m so sorry, Adrien,” Marinette whispered burying her face into his chest. “All because of me. Me and my stupid mistake.”

“I thought we agreed that it was my mistake too.”

“But-”

“No ‘buts’ Marinette. I’m not lonely anymore. I have you and Emma. We have each other. That’s all that matters.”

“No, it’s not,” Marinette protested, pulling away and catching his gaze. “It’s been years, Adrien. Because of me-”

“Because of you,” Adrien stopped her speech, gently placing a finger to her lips. “I’m not lonely anymore. I have a family now and feel like the luckiest man alive. Because of what had happened we’ve become people we’re now. We’ve learned; we’ve matured. We’ve both messed up, Marinette. Not just you or me. We both did, and there is nothing we can do about it now.” A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he continued to gaze upon her. “We’re together and happy now. We know what we should work on, so let’s leave the past in the past and focus on the future. Okay?”

Marinette’s eyes filled with tears. Was there a limit to how much Adrien loved her? She didn’t know, but when he leaned closer and put his forehead to hers her heart fluttered.

“I love you,” Adrien whispered. “And I don’t want you blaming yourself for the rest of your life for something we both did.”

“I love you too, Adrien,” she barely breathed out, loud enough only for his ears. “With all my heart.”

“That's all that matters,” Adrien smiled at her and let his lips brushed against hers in a gentle touch. “Let's go home,” he added. “I need to show you just how much I love you.”

“Same,” Marinette replied quietly.

*      *       *

Saturday morning Marinette met with a smile on her lips. There wasn’t much planned for today: some last-minute packing, maybe a lunch out somewhere nearby and perhaps another walk at Central Park. The evening was reserved for a movie, cuddles and early bedtime since their plane was leaving first thing Sunday morning. So, not rushing to open her eyes, Marinette cuddled closer to Adrien, still flying somewhere between reality and dreamland as she relished in the warmth of being close. In response, Adrien wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her closer.

This. This felt nice. Marinette hummed satisfactory under her breath. This felt like something she’d really enjoy for the rest of her life. The whole last week was something she’d love to have for the rest of her life. Waking up cuddling to Adrien, spending their days in close proximity, working together, sharing their meals, relaxing in the evening watching a movie or just talking, falling asleep in his arms… It only needed Emma added in, and it would be perfect. Perfect enough for her to eagerly anticipate his promised proposal to come.

Adrien’s arms suddenly tightened around her as he whispered her name. He must have awoken already, but Marinette didn't rush to turn around to wish him good morning - the way he held her right now was way too comfortable for that.

“I love you- love you so much.” He tugged her closer.

“Love you too, Adrien,” Marinette replied quietly, softly stroking one of his hands on her stomach.

“You are my everything, Marinette,” Adrien murmured against her skin. “You and Emma- everything-”

This time she wanted to respond, but Adrien continued to whisper.

“Love you so much… Can’t live without you… Marinette… I’ll make you happy… I promise… Marry me…”

The breath in her chest hitched for just a moment, a smile splitting her lips. They really were meant to be. Otherwise, how could Adrien read her mind and know one of her greatest desires a few minutes after she’d wished for it?

“Marinette,” Adrien murmured against her bare skin, his voice raspy and deep. “My Lady… My Princess… I love you...”

“I love you too,” Marinette finally replied, swirling around, “Of course, I’ll marry you, Chaton, you silly kittyThere is nothing I want more right now than this.”

With that, she pulled Adrien to herself and kissed him. Kissed him slowly and tenderly, lingering in the sweetness of his lips, lavishing in the warmth of his embrace.

She pulled away a few moments later to meet Adrien’s bewildered eyes, as he blinked before letting a sleepy smile stretch on his lips. Ignoring his dumbfounded expression, Marinette leaned in again for another kiss. This time he responded.

“Didn’t know the cuddling ceremony was replaced by a kissing one,” Adrien purred once they parted. “Not complaining, though. I might even prefer this one. You have the best ideas, Princess.”

“Well, isn’t it what you do after you get proposed to?” Marinette said, her eyes half-lidded and dreamy. “You kiss your fiancée.”

Adrien pulled back. “I proposed to you?”

“Yup.” Marinette’s grin stretched wider. “You did.”

He blinked. “When?”

“Just now?”

A silent whimper escaped Adrien’s lips as he stared back at her in disbelief. After a short while, he said barely audible. “Marinette, I woke up being kissed. I don’t remember anything before that.”

They stared at each other in silence before Marinette gave in, snorted and erupted with laughter. “Really?”

“Yes,” Adrien whined, closing his eyes.

“You’ve missed your own proposal?” Marinette continued to giggle.

“That’s not funny, Princess.” He flopped back on the bed, a sad puppy look on his face. “Weeks of practice down the drain.”

“Awww. I almost feel sorry for you, Chaton, but I’ll let you know that you were very cuddly and sweet. A swoon-worthy proposal for sure. I couldn't refuse you even if I wanted to.”

Adrien chuckled. Raising himself over her on one elbow, he tucked away some stray hairs behind her ear with his other hand. “Then maybe, you’ll allow me to ask you again? It would’ve been nice to remember you saying Yes to me.”

“Sure.” Marinette nodded. “But I’ll agree again only if you can beat the Sleep Adrien’s proposal.”

“I see. So, I’ve got my work cut out for me?”

“Undeniably.”

“Well then—” still raised on one elbow he leaned down and nuzzled her jaw, whispering in her ear. “Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I love you. Will you marry me?”

“That's it?” she chuckled when Adrien refrained from adding anything else. “No big words and promises to beat your rival?”

“I’m sure Sleep Adrien already said all the words and promised you everything,” Adrien said, his voice husky as he traced the line of her jaw with his fingers, following the trail with his eyes. “But in the weeks that I’ve spent practicing my proposal speech, I’ve noticed that the simpler words are, the more effective and sincerer they are as well.”

“I suppose,” Marinette replied with a smile, placing her hand atop of his. “But you’ll need something extra to top Sleep Adrien because let me tell you - he was fantastic.”

“Of course, my Lady,” Adrien replied bringing her hand to his lips. “I’m sure he was great telling you things, but did he do something like this?” He let his lips brush against the inside of her wrist.

Marinette shook her hand.

“How about this?” Leaning down, Adrien peppered the curve of her jaw with tender butterfly kisses before moving on to her neck, gently sucking at her exposed skin.

Closing her eyes, Marinette let a sigh out. “No.”

“And this?” Adrien nibbled at her earlobe. “I’m sure Sleep Adrien was big on words, but I offer you my actions. So, what will you say, Marinette? Will you marry me?”

“Tempting,” Marinette whispered, locking her gaze on him. “You drive a hard deal, Chaton.”

The corner of his lips curved as Adrien’s eyes fell to her lips. Watching them for a short while, he caught her eyes again and added. “I have a lot more to offer to Mme Adrien Agreste, though. Would you like to become her, Marinette?”

“Yes,” Marinette whispered, tugging him closer. “And very much so.”

“Excellent,” Adrien smiled and capture her lips with his.

*       *       *

It had been well over a year since his son came back from the States. Sixteen months since Adrien had discovered he was a father and cleared all of the misunderstandings not only between Marinette and himself but between them as well. About fourteen months, Gabriel would guess, since the duo came back engaged from NYC - of no surprise to anyone and just as he'd predicted. Exactly a year since their wedding. Unnecessary delay where Gabriel’s opinion was considered, but Adrien and Marinette had insisted on enjoying the engagement stage for at least a few months, which, to be fair, that did give him the time to create a custom wedding dress for Marinette and allowed their friends to arrange some time off work to attend their tropical wedding gateway. Sunset beach ceremony wasn't what he personally would've chosen, but Emma was happy and so was Gabriel. In the end, his preferences aside, the fact that Marinette had decided to take Adrien’s last name and change Emma’s in the process as well, was most pleasing of all.

Emma Agreste sounded perfect.

Emma Agreste had too much of a hold on his heart, and he acknowledged it without shame. Even now, as Gabriel carefully inspected her drawings, he couldn't hold back a smile. Emma clearly inherited his fantastic fashion sense.

“Father?” Adrien’s voice split the silence of the room. Gabriel lifted his head, confused as for why he hadn’t heard the door opening.

“Oh, you are back. I assume the date went well?”

“Yes, it was amazing,” Adrien smiled, pulling Marinette into the office. “Where’s Emma?”

“She went to her room ten minutes ago.”

“You mean my old room?” Adrien teased. “I still can’t believe you removed my zip line because it suddenly isn't safe anymore.”

“We already discussed it, Adrien,” Gabriel replied nonchalantly. “Whoever visits more gets the room. Emma wins by a long run and if you want that zip line so badly, install it in your own house and stop bothering me.”

“I’ve been robbed,” Adrien mock pouted. “Stripped of the place I’ve spent most of life in.”

Gabriel sighed. Marinette giggled.

“We appreciate it, M Agreste,” she said, putting a hand on Adrien’s shoulder. “And Emma loves it. She’s still ecstatic about the princess treehouse and the royal carriage bed you put in for her. Even started bugging Adrien to buy her a similar one for her room at home.”

“I see,” Gabriel smirked in satisfaction, looking at Adrien. “So, remodelling the room to suit her particular tastes wasn't that unnecessary after all.”

“My climbing wall is still her favourite feature, though,” Adrien countered. “You can’t deny that.”

Gabriel sighed. “I suppose I can’t. She is your daughter after all.”

“She is,” Adrien grinned proudly. “And as unbelievable as it sounds, she takes a lot after me.”

“Maybe, but she undoubtedly inherited her mother’s fashion talent,” Gabriel added. “You can't deny that.”

“I suppose I can’t,” Adrien chuckled and looked at Marinette. “And I don’t mind in the slightest.”

“Speaking of which,” Gabriel leaned back into his chair and looked at Marinette. “Would you to bring her to the office next week? I want to start with that line I promised her. She has some interesting ideas already.”

“Wait.” Adrien frowned. “I thought co-creating a line with Emma was a joke.”

“I don't joke about such matters,” Gabriel replied. “Emma has a talent, and she is at the age when her imagination has no bounds. I want to explore that. She has a bright future if we nurture her from early on.”

Adrien glanced at Marinette. “We’ll discuss it over the dinner on Friday. We need to consider everything before we agree or decline anything.”

“Fair enough.” Gabriel nodded. “Now, should I call for Emma? It’s getting close to her bedtime, and you still need to get home.”

Adrien suddenly grinned and grabbed Marinette’s hand. “Not yet. First, we wanted to tell you some exciting news-”

“Oh. Did Marinette finally tell you she is pregnant?” Gabriel cut in, his face calm as he watched Marinette’s eyes widen and Adrien’s jaw drop to the floor.

“Wha- But- How? How do you know?”

The man let out an amused chuckle. “Can you guess what is one of the perks of being your boss, Marinette?”

The woman shook her head.

“I get to hear all the rumours about you early on,” he continued. “You are an Agreste now, Marinette, and people pay special attention to everything you do. When they notice stuff, they gossip, and every gossip about any member of my family makes its way to my office sooner or later. I suspected a pregnancy a few weeks ago when you were spotted feeling sick in the bathroom three days in a row, constantly seemed tired for a while and started consuming an impressive number of salty snacks.”

Adrien chuckled to himself and looked at Marinette.

“Then, of course, your father called me a week ago because he couldn’t congratulate Adrien yet, but he was eager to share the news with at least someone.”

“You father knew?” Adrien turned to Marinette.

“And Maman,” Marinette said apologetically. “She noticed the symptoms when I was over a few weeks ago and asked me. I couldn’t lie, but they promised not to tell anyone until I surprised you.”

“Unbelievable,” Adrien pouted. “Why am I always the last one to find out things in this family?”

“You should’ve been the first one to notice something was up,” Gabriel quirked an eyebrow. “Seeing how she is your wife and you live in the same house, and you—” he addressed Marinette with a stern look, “—you should’ve made it short days if you weren’t feeling well. We don’t want my grandchild to be born prematurely.”

“That’s why you kept sending me home early?” Marinette smiled. “Thank you. That was very thoughtful and very much appreciated.”

“Left behind,” Adrien whined and dramatically plopped on a chair. “Again. By my own father and my beloved wife. How could this happen to me?”

“Awww.” Marinette smiled, lightly ruffling Adrien’s hair. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to tell you in a special way and our anniversary seemed like the perfect day to do so, but here—” she leaned over and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Feeling better?

“A little,” Adrien pouted. “One more?”

“Don’t be such a drama queen, Adrien,” Gabriel huffed, standing up. “I’ll go get Emma.”

“You won’t call Nathalie to bring her as usual?” Adrien asked.

“It seems you two need a few minutes alone,” Gabriel said with a straight face, heading for the door. “We’ll be back in a few minutes, settle everything by then.”

He closed the door to the pair’s stifled laughs and Adrien’s unmistakable “Come here, Princess” and walked up the stairs. Soon Gabriel stood in front of Adrien’s former bedroom. A soft knock on the door gave him no response. He tried again and entered the room, calling out his granddaughter’s name. The room looked empty, the lights dimmed and no one answered him no matter how many times he called. Just for a moment, his mind stirred with worry, but then his eyes fell on a sleeping girl in the extravagant treehouse he made for her. Snoozing peacefully amongst the countless pillows and plushies, she was hugging a Chat Noir doll Marinette had made for her, swaddled in a ladybug-themed blanket Adrien had insisted was a must in this room.

Gabriel smiled. Emma was a surprise. For her mother. For her father. For him. Unexpected and bewildering. She looked mind-blowingly similar to his late wife, but that wasn't the most surprising thing about her. How much she’d accomplished in her seven years was astonishing. She inspired him every day and brought smiles to everyone around her. She’d gotten her parents together, something they were too childish to do themselves. She’d managed to melt his heart and prompted a reconciliation between him and his long-estranged son, something that just a little over a year ago Gabriel had never thought it possible. That was more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. Unexpected? Surprising? Not really. She was an Agreste, after all. Emma Agreste to be precise.