The legal proceedings were tedious but necessary. Good thing Adrien was just expected to sign a 'few' forms instead of dealing with the state's . . . Prosecutor? Was that the term?
Regardless, the Gorilla was officially recognized as his legal guardian until he came of age. His assets would be held in trust until then. Adrien was surprised at the sheer amount that he would inherit even with the millions of euros in damages that were paid to la Ville de Paris.
Guess it came with being rich. Even after everything, they wouldn't take his money. At least not all of it.
The board was scrambling to separate themselves from Gabriel. Starting by renaming the company something besides Gabriel. That hasn't stopped the massive loss in profit and several boycotts, though. It would be a long time before they could recover. If they ever did.
Perhaps Adrien could bring himself to care in time but at present he was more than happy to let them do what they will. It's not like they could cheat him out of his inheritance. Nathalie had seen to that.
Incarcerated she may be, but Nathalie knew more about their finances than anyone short of the accountants. She'd made sure Adrien's trust was fraud proof years ago. And continued doing so right now.
Certainly their lawyers thought she was being extremely cooperative.
Adrien's emotions twisted and turned at the thought of his 'caretaker'. Nathalie had always done what Gabriel asked. Only taking Adrien's side when she thought Agreste senior wouldn't find out.
She convinced him to let me go to school.
Right. There was that . . . And nothing else of any significance.
Gabriel himself remained a mystery to Adrien. He refused to see that . . . man. But he heard of Gabriel from those that had. Apparently, losing everything had finally cracked that stubborn pride.
The legal proceedings were tedious, but they would end. Adrien would give his testimony at the trial. (Everyone should know what they were dealing with.) And that would be the last time Adrien would have to deal with Gabriel Agreste.
"I wanted to thank the both of you," Adrien said. Looking Max and Markov in the eye. "Especially you, Markov. You were amazing."
"It was my pleasure, Adrien. I'm glad we were able to provide assistance," Markov replied. His face screen showing various expressions which conveyed his subdued joy.
Max gazed with pride at his creation. "If you need help with anything just ask," he offered Adrien.
Adrien smiled warmly at them. They didn't mention the trial or Gabriel. Max probably having instructed Markov not to beforehand. Adrien was grateful for that. Grateful for a lot of things, really.
"It's important to maintain contact with friends after the loss of a loved one," Markov said.
Adrien blinked in surprise as his cheeks colored. He looked at Max and raised an eyebrow in question.
Max fidgeted nervously. "He thought it'd be a good idea to download information on types of loss . . ."
Markov glanced between them confused. "Is that not appropriate counsel in this instance?"
Adrien thought of his Maman. "No, it- Ahem. That's not it. Thank you, Markov. I will," Adrien promised.
Adrien started as Max suddenly hugged him. He returned the gesture. Markov leaned his head against their shoulders, careful not to let his propeller graze them.
"Everyone from school sent their greetings and well wishes, too!" Markov informed him. "They wanted to come but it is a school day."
"Oh? Then how come you're here?" Adrien asked, pulling his head up to better look at the robot.
"Mme. Kante gave her express permission!" Markov replied.
"Really? Even though I'm . . ."
Max let go of Adrien to adjust his glasses. "Maman does not hold the innocent accountable for the actions of others."
Adrien blinked back the tears that still came far too easily. It was such a simple thing to get so worked up about. "She must trust you."
Max smiled wobbly. "She knows I wouldn't be friends with someone who doesn't deserve it."
Before that could push Adrien's watery eyes into full-blown crying Markov interrupted. "And she knows I will notify Max if he is mistaken!"
Max blushed, turning away. "It was only once . . . But, yeah."
A short laugh slipped past Adrien's lips. How odd that a teenage genius and an intelligent robot would be a part of his definition of 'normal'. Then again, he'd gotten used to Plagg.
Adrien waved his hand in front of the older boy's face. "Luka?" The musician stared vacantly ahead. Adrien turned to Nooroo and Plagg. "Please tell me I didn't break Marinette's boyfriend."
The kwamis shrugged. "He's buffering, kid. Give him a sec," Plagg suggested.
"You little trolls!" Adrien jumped at Luka's shout. "You knew! You knew and it was so obvious! No one carries that much Camembert around!"
"Actually, trolls are very polite creatures . . . Unless, you try to take their gold," Nooroo corrected.
"We need to catch you up on modern terms," Luka observed before turning back to Adrien. "How long did it take for you to find out?"
"Well . . ." Adrien drew out. "Immediately. I could tell right away."
Luka facepalmed. Adrien tried not to enjoy it too much. Plagg held no such reservations and chuckled openly.
Nooroo floated forward and patted the blue haired boy's head. "There's actually a lot of precedence. Wielders who were given different Miraculous by the Guardians for whatever reason are the best at seeing through their teammates' disguises. Especially, if they're using a Miraculous previously held by said wielder."
Luka gave Nooroo a grateful smile. "Guess there was no way around it, huh?"
"Well, you could've had a mask that actually covered your face or you could've gotten rid of the hair dye," Plagg pointed out.
"I have no control over that!" Luka protested.
"At least, not consciously," Adrien teased, not pointing out that dye needs to be reapplied.
Luka glanced between the two of them. "So, that's how you put up with this bottomless pit for so long."
"Hey!" Plagg protested.
Adrien grinned, amused. "He's a handful isn't he."
"I thought my patience was better than average. Turns out I just never came across anyone who could get my strings so out of tune," Luka lamented.
Nooroo tapped his chin thoughtfully. "It helped when we only saw each other every million years or so."
"Is that the thanks I get for taking your side instead of Tikki's!" Plagg huffed, crossing his arms.
"That was three hundred million years ago!" Nooroo protested.
"Nino's pretty good at helping people Chill, if you're interested," Adrien told the musician over the kwamis' bickering.
Luka gave him an odd look. "You're not . . . going to take him back?"
The kwamis stilled.
Adrien stared at Luka, uncomprehending. ". . . Take him . . . back?"
"Plagg." Luka glanced away. "You had him longer than I did. I thought-"
A black blur shot at Luka's face, pausing just short of colliding. "What do you think you're doing!" Plagg snapped.
"What do you mean? I thought you'd be happy! You get to go back to Chat Noir! Isn't that what you wanted? You were always going after him! You missed him!" Luka practically shouted.
"Of course, I missed him! I miss all my Chosen!" Plagg shot back. "But that doesn't change anything!"
Adrien ran a finger behind Plagg's ears, which drooped low. He held Plagg in a gentle gaze for a moment before turning towards Luka. "There's no going back to how things were."
". . . You said the Ladybug and Black Cat are Chosen in tandem, right?" Luka asked Plagg. "One for the other? So, that means Adrien was Chosen for Ladybug!"
"Yes. Unfortunately, you will have to overcome the inherent inequality in your partnership," Nooroo said softly.
"Or, I could just give him back the ring!" Luka countered.
". . . Luka . . . my . . . relationship, with Ladybug . . . It's broken. We just started putting the pieces back together. They won't go back to how they used to be . . . And I don't want them to," Adrien admitted.
". . . You could try," Luka insisted.
Adrien shook his head. "When Panthera first appeared, I hated you. But you hadn't done anything wrong. I just wanted my Miraculous back. I wanted Plagg back. That thought stayed with me for a while. That you had something, someone, that was mine."
Adrien looked at Plagg, he scratched the kwami's cheek and the Black Cat leaned into it. Plagg knew from day one that they weren't going to be a team anymore. That's why he flew to Adrien every chance he got. And somewhere along the way Adrien started to know it too.
"But the ring doesn't belong to me. Not anymore. I wouldn't be doing right by you," Adrien told him.
"That's . . . That isn't fair!" Luka said.
Adrien smiled sadly at his friend. Luka was so willing to part with a piece of himself for Adrien's sake. "Most things aren't," he admitted. "But I'm not doing this just for you, I'm doing what's best for me."
Luka stared at him for a moment. "You've grown," he said.
Adrien raised an eyebrow. "You sound surprised."
The musician sighed as his shoulders slumped. He'd obviously been preparing himself to lose Plagg. Only to be told that wasn't going to happen. The emotional whiplash must've been almost as bad as what Adrien was going through.
"I . . . I don't know what to say," Luka admitted finally.
"You don't have to say anything to me," Adrien replied pointing at Plagg. "Him on the other hand . . ."
Luka's gaze softened as the kwami turned away from him. "Plagg." He reached for his partner.
"Going backwards doesn't solve anything!" Plagg snapped dodging his holder's grasp. "Trying just makes more problems!"
"I'm sorry," Luka apologized earnestly, he held out his palm.
Plagg accepted the offered hand, sinking into it with a huff. "Stupid human!" Plagg accused with a thick voice as Luka cradled him.
Adrien felt a pang of nostalgia at the sight. He looked away to give them at least the illusion of privacy. His throat constricted as his heart pounded in his chest.
Adrien started at a small touch on his hand. Nooroo looked up at him with big, understanding eyes. The Butterfly didn't say anything, didn't have to. He brought Nooroo up to his face and cradled him.
This is what was best for everyone. What was best for Adrien. That didn't mean it would be easy. Plagg would undoubtedly insist on visiting. Luka would have to be told who he was dating. The web of secrets needed to be untangled.
Good thing Adrien had practice.
Kagami and Nino waited patiently while Adrien collected his thoughts. His endurance for these interactions was still quite low after the arrest. They sat across from him as he fidgeted with the brooch. Nooroo and Wayzz held their own conversation on a nearby coffee table.
"I guess . . . you want to know why I didn't tell either of you anything?" Adrien asked even though he already knew the answer.
"Yes," Kagami acknowledged. Her body language displayed concern more than anything else.
"Yeah, bro. Why'd you feel like you couldn't talk to us?" Nino added. He wasn't quite as patient as Kagami. The past week likely leaving him with little Chill to spare.
Adrien took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I needed to do this myself. You two would've tried to talk me out of it."
Nino tried to protest but Kagami cut him off with a simple: "Of course."
Nino gave her an accusing look.
"What? We would have tried to talk him out of it. And after that didn't work we'd have tied him up or something. You're very stubborn." This Kagami directed at Adrien.
"I don't- Okay, fine! We might have. But, dude, we also could've helped you." Nino's tired gaze held many unvoiced questions.
". . . This was a family matter." Kagami offered. "That isn't shared lightly. Even with the people you trust most. Remember what you told me about your first day as Carapace?"
Adrien gave her a grateful look.
Nino frowned. "I remember needing help."
"I had help, bro." Adrien said gently. "And you needed to stay focused on the fight. It was bad enough that Ladybug knew what I was doing."
Nino and Kagami were silent as they thought back to the battle. Adrien had seen the shaky videos taken by bystanders. Ladybug was stunning as always but even through the terrible quality of the image he could tell she was agitated.
Letting your un-powered friend face your archenemy for you would do that to a person.
Nino sighed. "I get it, bro. I don't like it but I understand. That fight was tough! We needed all the help we could get." He smiled at Adrien. "And you pulled it off, dude!"
Adrien gave a small smile in return.
Nino sagged into the couch, leaning his head back. ". . . I think all the craziness is finally catching up with me, dudes."
Kagami furrowed her brow in confusion. "It's been over a week."
"Yeah! A week making sure nobody accused my best bro of conspiring with the enemy! And a bunch of public appearances as Carapace 'cause dumb politics. And that conversation with Ladybug about secret identities. I've barely gotten any sleep, let alone time to get my head on straight!"
Apparently realizing something, Nino sat bolt upright. "How've you been sleeping?"
Oh, right. That.
Nino had avoided asking before. There was only so many times Adrien could answer 'How are you?' honestly. But this was Nino so Adrien would forgive his exploitation of loopholes.
"About as well as I can expect. Considering." At their worried looks Adrien elaborated. "Plagg's volunteered his holder for sleepovers once I'm up for it. I'm not against the idea. Nooroo's been a big help too. And my therapist was really insistent about letting me know that she was still willing to help if I wanted to keep seeing her . . . I'm thinking of telling her everything." Adrien whispered that last part.
Nino's eyes went wide while Kagami straightened. "Are you sure that's the wisest course of action?" she asked. "What about the others' identities?"
"I'll leave those out," Adrien replied, not voicing the 'obviously' on the tip of his tongue. He was pretty sure she heard it anyway.
"And you're willing to trust her with this?" Kagami wore that scrutinizing expression she used to detect weaknesses in his conviction. "It would place you in a terribly exposed position."
"Yeah, bro. You can't take something like that back." Nino's features displayed his apprehension.
"I know . . . I think it's the wisest course of action," Adrien said, repeating Kagami's words.
Kagami and Nino exchanged glances. Coming to a silent agreement they stood up and walked towards him. Apparently, something in Adrien's face projected his need for comfort.
"Alright, bro," Nino accepted as he made his way to Adrien's left.
"It is your decision to make," Kagami agreed as she took his right.
"But Ladybug's gonna want to know, dudes," Nino pointed out.
"I'll tell her . . ." Adrien wasn't sure how something like that would go over. Hopefully it went as well as last time.
". . . And if you're having sleepovers I've got first dibs! It's in the best friend code." Nino stated matter-of-factly as he wrapped an arm around Adrien's shoulders.
Kagami followed his lead. "We're here for you if you need us."
"I know. Thank you . . . Am I that obvious?" Adrien was pretty sure he was. His emotional exhaustion must be written all over him.
They both nodded. Adrien's lips twitched and, wrapping his own arms around their shoulders, pulled them closer. Ignoring Nino's cry of "Glasses!" he held them tight.
Kagami had grown used to Adrien's embraces. She nestled comfortably at his side.
Nino was just as physically affectionate as Adrien. So, after grumbling about how expensive his eyesight was, he stopped struggling.
Adrien's eyes drifted closed as he listened to his friends breathing. His loyal brother and brave sister. If either of them noticed his slight trembling they kept quiet. He would never be able to repay them for everything they'd done for him. But then they didn't ask him to.
All that time he wasted on wishing for a family again. When he had one right here. Waiting for him to come home. Well, he was home. And he was there to stay.
How much do you trust this 'Master'?
"I trust him to do what he thinks is best." Adrien replied.
Best for who?
"For the kwamis." Adrien gestured to Nooroo. And that was the only thing Adrien would say on the subject, no matter how the Gorilla phrased it.
What do you think? The Gorilla asked Nooroo.
"I have not interacted with a member of the Order since it's fall," Nooroo explained regretfully. "I cannot say. But I do know that no other Miraculous has been lost in that time."
You're saying his methods are effective. His bodyguard, er, guardian stated.
That's one way to put it.
Nooroo nodded. "You know you have to speak with him, right Adrien?"
"Yes. We have to decide what to do with the Butterfly," Adrien agreed.
The Gorilla's glower deepened. He could tell that Adrien wasn't looking forward to speaking with the Great Guardian. But this wasn't about personal grievances.
Adrien gazed thoughtfully at Nooroo. ". . . What do you want to do?"
Nooroo blinked at him in surprise. "Me?"
"It's your Miraculous. You should get a voice in what's done with it. What do you want to do?" Adrien repeated.
Nooroo looked as though he'd never been asked that before. ". . . I've spent almost two centuries in your family's hands."
Adrien looked down in shame, his hands forming the signs slowly. "I'm sorry."
"No, Adrien! It wasn't all bad. Many of them used my power for good . . . Even Gabriel before he fell."
Adrien couldn't look at him.
Warm arms encircled Adrien and he looked up at his guardian's gentle expression in surprise. His guardian. Certainly the only person with an obligation to guard him that had actually fulfilled the duties of his role.
I never made it easy for you, did I?
Nooroo gently caressed Adrien's cheek. "I have a complicated history with your family, yes. But that isn't your fault, Adrien . . . I would be honored if you were the next Butterfly."
". . . Nooroo," Adrien breathed, his eyes watering.
Did he want that? Nooroo didn't blame him for the Agreste family's crimes but he still felt a sense of responsibility. A kinship with the caring kwami from the moment they'd met. Adrien had only ever felt something like that with Plagg.
". . . If Master Fu thinks it's wise . . . I'd gladly be your wielder." Adrien gave a bittersweet smile as he cradled Nooroo. ". . . And what do you think about all this?" Adrien asked his true guardian, giving the big man room to sign.
If you're using the Butterfly Miraculous it's less likely you'll be in danger. It may even protect you better than I could. The big man gave the look he used whenever he expected Adrien to be responsible with a concession.
Adrien wiped at his tears as he nodded. "H-he still has to agree to it. He might say no."
"Then I'm glad I got the chance to meet you properly, Adrien." Nooroo released his hold to look into Adrien's eyes. "From the moment you were born I watched you grow. I could feel all the love you and Emilie had for each other. Even now that you have such deep scars you have so much love left!"
Adrien squeezed his eyes shut as the tears burned down his face. He'd avoided thinking about her even as he visited every day. Avoided thinking about the uncertainty of her future. Avoided thinking about the will he'd read that Gabriel had explicitly ignored! The will where his Maman laid out, in no uncertain terms, what she expected to be done with her body in this situation.
Maman doesn't want to sleep forever.
"C-can you . . . Can you tell me about her? What secrets she kept? How she used the Peacock? Why they didn't tell me about the Miraculous and kwamis?" Adrien didn't know his Maman as well as he thought. He should change that.
Nooroo and Adrien's guardian smiled softly. It would be our pleasure, Adrien.
Taking the first turn Nooroo settled into Adrien's outstretched hands and cleared his throat, preparing himself for a long story. The big man pulled Adrien into a side hug; he was just as curious about what the kwami would reveal.
Adrien breathed deeply to calm himself. After years of hoping he'd finally have answers to the questions that haunted him. Questions no one else could or would answer. Adrien trembled in anticipation and suspense as Nooroo began:
"The first time Emilie used the Peacock . . ."