". . . Whut?"
". . . I was Chat Noir."
". . . Whut?"
"I was- Okay, sit!" Adrien pushed Nino onto his couch and turned to Kagami for help.
"He's in shock," she stated.
Adrien gave her a look. "Well, obviously."
"Give him a minute."
Adrien made a face and turned away from them to glare out his windows. "Why does . . . What's so . . ." Adrien let out a sound of frustration at his inability to articulate his feelings.
"Finding out anyone we know was hiding something so big would be surprising. It's not just about you, it's about everything."
You don't know the half of it.
Before calling Kagami over for moral support he'd told Nino she didn't know about Carapace or Rena Rouge. It was . . . safer this way . . . He really hated secrets.
Would it have been simpler to do this without Kagami there? Probably. Was he in any state to make the attempt? No. No, he was not. His nerves were on edge and Nino had already been quiet longer than Kagami or maybe it just felt longer and he was-
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you." Nino was gazing at him with watery eyes.
Adrien gave him a wide-eyed stare before looking away again. "It wasn't your fault . . . There was nothing you could do."
Nino stood suddenly. "You're my best friend! I knew something was wrong but I . . . I should've tried harder! I should've realized! I-"
Adrien strode toward Nino and seized him by the shoulders. "It. Wasn't. Your. Fault!"
"You died! You died and I wasn't there for you! I . . . I left you alone . . ."
Adrien pulled Nino into an embrace and held tight. "I pushed you away. Not the other way around."
Nino wrapped his own arms around Adrien. "But I let you."
Adrien looked at Kagami. She was turned to the side and glanced at them only briefly out of the corner of her eye. Her body language spoke volumes about how uncomfortable she was. But Adrien couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for putting her in the awkward position of observer, because Kagami's presence steadied him.
"Nino, I'm gonna say something and I need you to listen, okay?"
Nino stepped back and nodded, wipping at his eyes.
"I needed someone who wasn't so involved."
With Ladybug or the Miraculous.
"You're my brother. And that makes you biased." Nino opened his mouth to argue but closed it at Adrien's raised eyebrow, conceading the point. "I needed someone who would be truthful. No, I needed someone I would believe when she told me the truth. I . . . I'm sorry. I should have told you first but . . ."
"But you were afraid," Nino finished for him.
Adrien nodded and took a deep breath. "I've always been afraid . . . of letting people . . . see me. The real me. Even as Chat Noir I felt . . . like I couldn't show anyone . . . Like I couldn't show her any vulnerability. B-b-because if my own father could barely stand to look at me," Nino gripped both of his hands and Kagami set one of her's on his shoulder. "W-why would anyone else . . . Why would anyone else . . ."
Why would anyone else care about me?
They guided him to the couch. Adrien covered his tears with his hands as his shoulders shook. They didn't say anything just yet, mearly held him comfortingly. Nino pressed himself into Adrien's side so there was as little space between them as possible. Kagami poured all her presence into the small points of contact where they touched.
". . . Do you . . . still believe that?" Nino asked, instictively understanding Adrien's incomplete confession. He trembled slightly as he restrained the searing flame of his anger.
"Not . . . Not all the time . . . It's been worse since . . . you know."
"You never told me it had gotten worse. I assumed your father would spend more time with you after the therapist scolded him." Kagami kept careful control of her tone, her displeasure a burning cold.
". . . He took me out of therapy."
"Said people were asking too many questions. That it damaged the Agreste name . . . Or rather, Nathalie said for him but what's the difference at this point, I never see him anyway. This week was my last session."
Adrien glanced between Kagami and Nino, who stared at each other with startled looks. He chuckled at them and covered his mouth to smother his growing laughter.
Nino's brow furrowed in worry. "Uh, is he okay?"
"He gets mood swings," Kagami explained.
"Oh. Is it usually . . . this . . ."
"Sudden? No, but our simultaneous heartfelt loyalty is apparently very amusing."
"S-sorry!" Adrien took deep, slow breaths to calm himself. The emotional whiplash leaving him . . . disoriented. "So, I was Chat Noir."
Nino blinked at the apparent non sequitur. "R-right! Um . . ." A mess of emotions flew across Nino's face: guilt, sorrow, regret, anger . . . determination.
"Thank you. For always being there. For getting back up no matter how many times you're knocked down. For being so . . . self-sacrificing. Thank you, for inspiring me, for being . . . Chat Noir!"
Shame filled Adrien as an old memory resurfaced. "I . . . the Bubbler . . ."
"What, am I supposed to be mad my bro wanted to party?" Nino smiled softly. "Nah, dude."
Adrien wiped at his eyes as he returned the smile. "Sh-should've told you months ago . . ."
". . . How did you know he died?" Both boys turned toward Kagami in surprise. "Adrien never said he'd died."
Nino fidgeted nervously. "Uh, we'll . . . M. Dupain was the last akuma anyone saw Chat Noir at and, uh, from what Alya's managed to drag out of Marinette it seemed, you know, obvious dude."
Plus, Carapace would get a more detailed account from Ladybug and it'd be easy to put the pieces together . . . Please, don't think too hard about it!
Kagami gazed intently at Nino for a moment before she nodded. "I'm glad Adrien has someone else to confide in," she smiled.
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Adrien grumbled, masking his relief. "And I have Plagg."
"Plagg is busy and unpredictable."
"Who's Plagg?" Nino asked.
"The Black Cat kwami," Kagami replied.
"Isn't he with Panthera?" Nino looked at Adrien.
He shrugged. "Yeah, but Plagg isn't big on following rules."
"That's an understatement," Kagami muttered.
"Oh." Nino gazed at Adrien.
"About your kwami . . ."
"Wayzz? The little dude's right here! Did you want to meet hi-"
"He's not invited."
"What? But . . . I . . ."
"I don't know him."
"He's my friend, bro!"
"I know. But he's not my friend."
". . . Okay."
Adrien glanced at Nino's backpack. He could faintly hear music coming from what he assumed was Nino's headphones as they weren't around his friend's neck at the moment . . . Given a kwami's small size he wondered if Wayzz would be able to hear anything for a while.
I should probably explain why I didn't want Wayzz here . . . Later.
"-how are we going to keep this a secret from your nosy girlfriend?" Kagami's question refocused Adrien's attention on the present.
"Alya isn't nosy, dude!"
"From your curious and persistent girlfriend, then"
"Better. And I have no clue."
". . . We could tell her about my death. Leave Chat Noir out of it."
"That's good of you bro, but it doesn't explain why you're not talking to Marinette . . . Oh. Oh."
Adrien's lips twitched. "Just figuring it out now?"
"I was a bit distracted!"
"He has a point Adrien," Kagami said. "Telling Alya a half-truth is a stop gap measure. Especially when the other half is about Marinette."
". . . What if I . . . started talking to her again? . . . Marinette, I mean."
Kagami and Nino exchanged glances. "Are you sure you're ready for that, bro?"
"It's taken you this long to open up to Nino."
"Yeah, but now I have you backing me up in there," he told Nino. "You're a big help, Kagami, but you're not in the same class as us."
As much as you want to protect me, you can only do so much if I don't tell you about the three (and a half) superheroes I sit next to.
"Besides, I'm not going to tell Marinette everything. I'm just going to talk to her. 'Hello, how are you?' You know, baby steps."
And maybe have a long overdue conversation with my former partner. Not that she'll realize that . . .
Adrien felt his heart accelerate at the thought of speaking to Ladybug again. Their last talk hadn't gone so well.
"Or we could, and I'm just spit-balling here dudes, tell Alya everything?"
"No. We are not telling the aspiring intrepid reporter about Adrien!"
Nino bristled in indignation. "Alya would never betray Adrien's trust like that!"
"Regardless, it's a risk we don't have to take and-"
"Kagami. We talked about this," Adrien interrupted.
She blinked for a bit as she remembered what he meant. "Sorry . . ."
Adrien nodded. Kagami wasn't supposed to speak for him unless he was really out of it. "Nino's right, Alya would never do that."
"See, dude? Now all we gotta do is-"
"Nino. Kagami has a point, too. It's a risk. One I'm not going to take." Adrien gave him a pointed look.
Rena Rouge is very close to Ladybug, Carapace.
Nino caught his meaning. "Yeah, okay bro."
"Right. Nino will provide Alya with the non-superhero version of the story when she inevitably deman- asks for the details of your conversations with Adrien. Meanwhile, Adrien will forestall any of her questions by initiating small talk with Marinette . . . Adrien?"
"It's been five months. I think it's about time I tried, at least."
Nino gave him twin thumbs up. "I'll be there for you, bro."
"Good. So, are we going to discuse Gabriel Agreste risking your mental health because of a few paparazzi!?"
Nino's eyes widened. "Didn't think of it like that! What're you gonna do?"
"I'd prefer not to." Adrien told Kagami as he pulled out a business card. "And I've got it covered."
"Your therapist?" Kagami asked.
"Yup. I have this, a bodyguard-chauffeur who won't sell me out, a caretaker who doesn't watch me very closely, and an allowance that'll cover all the expenses."
Nino whistled. "Must be some allowance."
"It's actually quite stringent by our standards," Kagami commented. "Impressive planning, though."
Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "Thanks."
Nino slumped suddenly with his head thrown back.
"My best friend was Chat Noir."
Adrien raised an eyebrow.
Well my best friend is Carapace!
"You're not going into shock again are you?"
"C'mere!" Nino grabbed Adrien's head and cradled it to his chest, running his fingers through the blond's locks.
". . . Stop that." Adrien made no move to pull away.
Kagami sat still for a moment. "Didn't see that coming."
"Ha, ha. Very funny." Without moving his head Adrien reached back and pulled her into a second group hug.
Kagami relaxed her posture as he shifted to accommodate her. Nino removed his glasses so they wouldn't get squished again. Adrien set aside his worries about Alya, his father, Ladybug, and focused on this moment.
Surrounded by friends.