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After the Fall

Chapter Text

Exhaustion flooded Adrien's body as Weredad removed his Miraculous. The forceful de-transformation sapped his remaining strength.

 

"You! " Weredad's grip tightened causing Adrien to cry out in pain. "So my daughter wasn't rejected by one of her loves but both of them!"

 

Papillon's mark appeared around the villain's face, "Weredad! Use the Agreste boy as bait! Ladybug is sure to come looking for her partner!"

 

Werdad growled in rage, "I don't think so! Marinette will never know who you were! You won't break my daughter's heart a second time!" He pulled back his arm, Adrien's feeble struggles ineffective. "In fact, you'll never break another heart again! "

 

"NO!" 

 

Papillon sent pain racing through Weredad's body interrupting the villain's throw, but it was too late.

 

Adrien fell. Too exhausted to scream even as his heart hammered painfully in his chest. The wind howling accusations at him.

 

I failed.

 

He had given it his all. His strength, his speed, his experience. Everything. But it hadn't been enough. He couldn't save one person. His friend. Marinette. He hadn't even been able to save himself.

 

I'm sorry, My Lady.

 

The weight of his failure, of his imminent death, finally took what little breath he had left. He was lost amid the rose prison's falling vines. Adrien felt nothing when his body hit the pavement.

  

 

 

 

Being brought back to life was very similar to being freed from mind control . . . or petrification.

 

My other failures.

 

Disorientation and confusion followed by understanding. The ladybugs left him lying in the street where he looked up at the sky without really seeing anything.

 

"Hey, are you okay?"

 

Strangers gathered around him. When he didn't respond their voices became more frantic. Two people helped him to his feet and half dragged him onto the sidewalk. Down the street was the Dupain-Cheng bakery. Adrien's vision blurred. Someone next to him was calling emergency services while others asked him his name.

 

A car pulled up to them and two figures rushed out. Nathalie and his bodyguard. He recognized them even through the tears.

 

"Adrien, your father is very worried about you," Nathalie's voice didn't quite manage her usual monotone.

 

While she convinced the people gathered that, yes they do work for his father, the Gorilla carried him to the car.

 

Adrien didn't reply to any of Nathalie's questions on the short drive back, barely hearing her. Instead he looked out the window and imagined Ladybug swinging across the rooftops after saving the Dupain-Chengs.

 

Good job, My Lady. 

 

His left hand moved up to trace the pale skin where his Miraculous used to be.

 

 

 

 

"Adrien!" Gabriel rushed forward and embraced him. He didn't return the hug. A small part of him was surprised his father showed up in person and didn't comment on his unseemly tear stains or public displays of emotion. He felt heat creep back into his chest.

 

" . . . Where is your ring, son?"

 

Adrien laughed at the nonsensical question. The sound was hysterical and jarring. He saw it on their faces as Gabriel backed away, before the tears started up again. "It's gone! It's all gone!"

 

Plagg's gone.

 

His laughter morphed into a piercing wail as his legs gave out. Papillon took him. His friend. Even if Ladybug got the ring back Chat Noir was compromised. Adrien's desperate sobs echoed through the hollow manor.

 

It was all gone.

 

 


 

 

It was barely a week before Gabriel insisted he got back to a 'normal schedule' as soon as possible. As far as Adrien knew his father was unaware of his . . . death experience. Nathalie suggested he speak to someone, whether or not that would be allowed was unclear. Adrien had turned his phone off; not wanting to see the texts from Chloe and Nino asking questions he didn't know how to respond.

 

He'd insisted on Chinese for that day, when the issue of his lessons was brought up. Adrien's momentary clarity had been all Gabriel needed to excuse himself, stating that he had neglected his duties too long. As though his son's breakdown was nothing more than a momentary lapse. A minor inconvenience. A distraction.

 

There was a knock on his door, he'd been expecting it all morning. Standing up from the couch Adrien turned to find Master Fu standing in the entryway, expression serious.

 

Falling into routine he greeted the Great Guardian in Mandarin, "Morning, Master Fu." He bowed, mostly to avoid looking the elder in the eye.

 

"Adrien, Plagg informed me of what happened on the tower." Master Fu walked forward, his tone gentle but somber.

 

Adrien's eyes snapped up and widened in surprise and relief, "He's okay? And the ring? What-"

 

"Ladybug retrieved the Miraculous of the Black Cat and came to me for guidance," he gestured for Adrien to sit and did the same. "This is a most unfortunate development. Papillon now knows your identity and could exploit this knowledge just as he did with Queen Bee." 

 

Adrien felt his chest constrict, his face burned with shame. Master Fu had entrusted him with one of the two most powerful Miraculous in the world and he'd lost it. He knew what was coming next, he could feel it.

 

Master Fu was looking at him but he didn't meet the Guardian's eye. "Adrien. I have not come to my decision lightly. The Black Cat is needed and . . . the Miraculous is no longer safe in your hands."

 

Shock and betrayal raced through him even though he'd expected nothing less. He couldn't be given the ring every time there was an akuma. That would leave the villain free to rampage across the city for however long it took Ladybug to find him. Papillon could target his father, his friends. He'd be putting them in danger and for what? So he could play at being a hero?

 

Master Fu would find a new Chat Noir. Someone better, someone worthy of being called Ladybug's partner.

 

Someone who wont mess up.

 

It was the smart thing to do.

 

"I . . . I understand. D-do what you think is best."

 

You always do.

 

"Adrien, you performed your duties admirably. If you ever need anything . . ." Master Fu reached for his shoulder.

 

He stood up suddenly and moved away from the stranger offering empty words of comfort. "Thank you, for giving me this opportunity, for letting me meet Plagg. Tell him goodbye for me. I'm sorry I didn't live up to the potential you saw in me."

 

Master Fu moved toward him in shock, "That is not-"

 

Adrien stepped back, "I hope your new charge is a better student than I was. I . . . I think I'll need a new Mandarin teacher." He bowed again. "Goodbye, Master Fu."

 

The Guardian stood in silence for a moment before  finally returning the bow, "Goodbye, Chat Noir."

 

Once Fu was gone he allowed the tears to fall as he slid onto the cold floor. The last spark of hope at seeing Plagg or fighting by his Lady's side snuffed out.

 

Adrien was alone.

Chapter Text

Something was off, she could see it. Adrien hadn't come to school for nearly a month, barely contacting Nino let alone anyone else. When he had come back his ever-present smile was nowhere to be seen. He still made an effort to appear normal for his friends but the cracks in his armor were showing.

 

It wasn't until fencing practice that she realized how serious the problem was. While she won about half of their matches he always made her work for it. The last time she'd beaten him this easily was-

 

His foil fell to the floor. He stood shaking in front of her, his breaths coming in ragged gasps.

 

"Agreste!" D'Argentcourt barked out, clearly displeased with his performance.

 

Adrien bolted for the locker room, ignoring his teacher's calls. Kagami raced after him.

 

The door slammed open as Adrien ripped off his mask and gloves. She saw him sag against the wall gasping for air.

 

Kagami knelt beside him as she grabbed his shoulder, "Adrien."

 

He flinched, ". . . Can't . . . breathe."

 

"Focus on me, drown everything else out." Kagami sounded much calmer than she felt considering she had no idea what she was doing. "Copy me. Listen to my rhythm." She felt him trembling as she slowly started inhaling and exhaling.

 

In, out.

 

In . . . out.

 

In . . .

 

Out.

 

Eventually Adrien's breathing evened out and she removed her hand. He was crying. She hadn't noticed when he started. "Adrien. What happened?"

 

". . . I . . . I lost." His voice broke. "I lost P-" He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I can't win."

 

Kagami felt a great empathy for him in that moment even as his meaning was lost on her "We all lose sometimes." No matter what her mother said.

 

"I lose all the time!" He looked up at her with red-rimmed, watery eyes. "Even when it matters most! She was counting on me! She was c-count-ing o-on m-m-me. And I let her down. I l-let them all down . . ." Adrien hung his head and wrapped his arms around his legs as the sobs he'd been holding back racked his body.

 

Such raw emotion left Kagami at a loss, so she simply pulled him into a hug. She felt every cry, every breath. A fencing teammate may have opened the door and seen them on the floor, she couldn't be sure. It didn't matter as long as everyone stayed away until Adrien got it together.

 

Once he'd quieted down Adrien sat up, wiping at his moist face, "I'm sorry . . . I- I shouldn't . . ." He didn't finish the thought.

 

"Don't apologize, you have nothing to be sorry for. I'm here, I'll listen."

 

Adrien looked at her in surprise . . . and gratitude. "Thank you. Kagami." He took a steadying breath and started out slowly, tentatively, "In . . . In the last akuma attack . . . I . . . I died."

 

Kagami felt her insides go cold.

 

"Only my therapist knows . . . Though she might have told Father by now. It- it made me see things . . . clearly. Everything was put in perspective. Everything I . . ."

 

His voice broke again and he fell silent for a moment before picking up on a different track.

 

"I have a partner. Had a partner. A coworker of sorts. She . . . She was amazing. Is amazing. We would be up against the wall and she'd find a way to turn the tables. To win. It didn't matter what the odds were, I always knew she could pull it off . . . Even when I wasn't there to help her. A-and last time, last time it was just me. It was just me and I failed."

 

Adrien inhaled deeply before continuing in a halting, shaky voice. Kagami felt her chest constrict and could only imagine how he was faring.

 

"She had to come and fix everything . . . Like she always does. Our . . . supervisor, he had to make a decisión . . . He chose to pair her with someone else . . . I thought I was helping! I thought we were chosen because we complimented each other's strengths! B-but I was wrong. I was just holding her back! I was a terrible partner!"

 

Adrien practically screamed the last part as a horrified realization filled his gaze. Kagami feared he'd trigger another panic attack but he merely layed down, flat on the floor, and stared emptily at the cieling.

 

"I was a terrible partner," he whispered hollowly.

 

She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what to say. But Kagami made Adrien a promise then that she'd do everything in her power to help.

 


 

 

The first akumatized victim since Weredad appeared a few days later. For a moment he forgot himself and called for Plagg.

 

. . . Oh.

 

He wiped at the tears and wrestled his emotions into some semblance of control.

 

Nadja Chamak was on the scene. She was saying something about mind control powers.

 

He shivered and-

 

There was a blur of red and black on the screen. 

 

Ladybug . . . And his replacement. 

 

They moved expertly in tandem; hardly any mistakes at all. Adrien realized that the new Black Cat must've been training rigorously with his La- With Ladybug. The superheroine called on her Lucky Charm and in less than five minutes it was over. Both heroes having avoided the mind control beams.

 

Resentment overwhelmed him and then guilt added it's weight. He shouldn't be feeling like this. He shouldn't be wishing mind control onto someone else. He should be happy Ladybug doesn't have to fight her brainwashed partn-

 

The new Black Cat turned toward the camera and Adrien dropped the remote. His hair dye was a shade or two greener than usual, his mask covered a bit more of his face than Chat Noir's, and his eyes had vertical pupils but it was definitely him.

 

It was Luka.

 

The heroes fist bumped and Adrien felt a knife slide into his heart. She was smiling at him. Ladybug was smiling at Luka -no, Panthera, he introduced himself as- like nothing was wrong. As though Chat Noir was-

 

Just.

 

Another.

 

Part.

 

Time.

 

Hero.

 

Adrien shoved the ungracious thought away, knowing Ladybug would never allow herself to be seen as weak. She would never show Paris any cracks in her armor.

 

"Tell us, Ladybug. What happened to Chat Noir?"

"He, uh,  retired! Yeah! His circumstances changed and he had to, um, leave Paris!"

"How does he feel about being replaced by your newest recruit?"

"I, er- He understands that the safety of Paris is our top priority."

"And you? How do you feel about partnering with someone so much more experienced?"

"Ladybug has been very helpful in teaching me about my powers. I'm honored to have been chosen as successor to Chat Noir and hope t-to do justice to his mantle."

"Do you think any complications will arise from this change in dynamic?"

"I'm sure there'll be obstacles we can't see yet but we'll overcome them together. Paris can rest assured that Panthera and I will protect them!"

"Does this mean the other heroes will be around on a more permanent basis?"

"Uh, that'll depend on how things progress from here. Now, we have to get going. Bug out!"

"You heard it here first, folks! Paris has a new cat themed hero stepping in to fill the shoes of Chat Noir! Will he be up to the task? How will the other heroes react t-"

 

Turning off the TV he curled up into a ball and focused on breathing evenly. Taking the knowledge of Panthera's identity and compartmentalizing it, separating his friend from the black-clad hero. Adrien tried to avoid thinking about how easy it was to recognize him or why.

 

He tried to avoid thinking at all.

Chapter Text

"Why are you avoiding her anyway?" Kagami asked suddenly.

 

Adrien looked up from his homework in surprise, "W-what?"

 

 As Adrien had struggled to slowly build a new normal she'd noticed him avoiding the girl currently at the other end of the school library.

 

"Marinette." She was the reason Adrien was here instead of with Nino, whose girlfriend Marinette was best friends with. The three of them had looked  puzzled when Adrien declined their invitation to study together. Kagami, however, had expected it. "Why are you avoiding her?"

 

A shadow passed across Adrien's face as he looked down. " . . . Shame, I guess . . ."

 

"You feel ashamed of yourself in front of your crush? Is that why you started stuttering in front of her?" Kagami waited for him to deny any romantic feelings for Marinette as he did every time it came up . . . But he didn't.

 

Adrien blushed, still avoiding her gaze. "She needed help and I . . . couldn't help her. Every time I look at her the guilt ties my stomach into knots. B-besides, I asked and she said she wasn't interested . . ."

 

Baka.

 

Whether that was directed at Adrien or Marinette she couldn't say. 

 

Wait.

 

"So, Marinette is the mysterious partner you went on about?"

 

Adrien looked up at her with wide eyes. "What? No, she- She's not- I . . ." Confusion clouded his face. "Marinette." He let out a joyless laugh. "I'm such a-"

 

Kagami grabbed both sides of his face as his breathing accelerated. "Adrien Agreste, you look at me. Focus on me." She was not about to let him break down in the middle of school again.

 

As he regained his composure she tried to figure out what exactly had set him off.

 

Marinette?

 

Adrien let out a slow sigh, his gaze softened. "Thank you, Kagami."

 

She swallowed at the vulnerability in his eyes. "You're welcome."

 

"Bro, you okay?"

 

Kagami jerked her hands away from Adrien's face. Nino, Alya, and Marinette were standing beside the bookcase's far corner. The latter giving her an odd look. All three appeared worried.

 

With good reason.

 

Adrien stared at them like he didn't know who they were.

 

Marinette stepped forward. "Adrien, are you alright?"

 

"He's a bit shaken up right now." Kagami stood up. "He should be good in a-"

 

"I can speak for myself," Adrien's soft reprimand surprised her, but she nodded. He stood and turned a shaky smile to his friends. "I'm fine. Just had a- A moment is all."

 

Marinette seemed to deflate a bit at his deflection, "Oh, okay."

 

Nino walked up to Adrien and gave him a brief hug before holding him by the shoulders. Y'know you can talk to me about anything, right? I'm here for you, dude."

 

Adrien's smile became sadder and a touch . . . pained? "I know, Nino. I need some time to sort things out. I . . . Thank you," he turned to take in the others. "All of you."

 

Kagami noted that Nino didn't look convinced.

 

"A-anyway, free period's almost over. We should get back to class." If anyone else noticed Adrien changing the subject they didn't say.

 

"Right, bro. See you after school?"

 

"Father wants me back at the house for another session."

 

"Oh, well, text me when you're done, yeah?"

 

". . . Sure."

 

As they left Kagami briefly caught Alya's eye. She had a calculating look about her. The same look Kagami sees when she's trying to fit seemingly incongruous puzzle pieces together. It's then that Kagami realized she'd been uncharacteristically silent, not saying a word throughout her friends' short exchange.

 

"Of course it's you," Adrien whispered to their backs. 

 

Kagami glanced at him in confusion and wondered if she imagined the bitterness in his voice.

 

 

 


 

 

 

"Plagg? Plagg!"

 

"Hey, kid."

 

Adrien reached out and pulled Plagg to the boy's chest, cradling him.

 

"P-Plagg," the boy's voice broke as tears began to fall. "I- I thought I'd never- I missed you!"

 

Plagg purred as Adrien let out his sorrow in shuddering sobs. The small vibrations lending a familiar comfort to the boy. They stayed that way for a while, simply taking in the other's presence.

 

 

 

 

". . . W-what are you doing here?" Adrien finally asked.

 

"Can't a kwami visit his kid?" Plagg grumbled, flying out of the boy's hands. "You got any cheese?"

 

Adrien smiled at Plagg's singular focus and his body relaxed as though a weight had lifted from his shoulders. "There should still be some in the mini-fridge."

 

Plagg swooped forward with a cry of, "Come to me, my precious Camembert!" Earning another brief smile.

 

Adrien wiped at his eyes as Plagg gorged himself.

 

"It's been so long!" Plagg bemoaned. "Can you believe I only get one wedge of Camembert every day? Oh, the indignity!"

 

"Well, Luka's family isn't as rich as us and that stuff is expensive," Adrien pointed out reasonably.

 

Plagg stopped chewing. "What?"

 

"I'm just saying that the Couffaine's aren't as well off as-"

 

"Not that!" Plagg zoomed to a stop in front of Adrien's face. "Luka! How did you know about Luka?"

 

Adrien blinked at him. "I . . . don't know? The first time I saw Panthera I just . . . recognized him."

 

". . . What happened after Weredad took the ring?"

 

Fear flashed across Adrien's face before he forced his features into an expressionless mask. "I fell off the tower . . . And woke up on the ground."

 

Plagg's ears drooped as he gazed at the boy. "Have you recognized anyone else?"

 

". . . Marinette is Ladybug," Adrien responded softly. "And . . . I know who Rena Rouge and Carapace are . . . Plagg, why didn't- Why can I see them? It's so obvious, so clear."

 

". . . Your system got quite the shock. Basically it jarred certain ideas you held dear. Having the foundation of your core beliefs shaken makes you question things. Previously unthinkable notions become not so unbelievable. Once you had all the evidence your subconscious made the connections."

 

"So anyone can just look at us- Them and-"

 

"No. You have hands on experience with a Miraculous. You know the ring, you know Luka, you know what traits the wielder of Destruction should have."

 

"He's the perfect choice," Adrien bit out bitterly.

 

"No, you were the perfect choice! And I don't care what Fu or Wayzz or you have to say about it!"

 

Adrien shook his head in denial of his words. "It's been three months. Three months of akuma attacks and Panthera hasn't been brainwashed, c-captured, petrified, or . . . or killed. Not even once."

 

"That's because she's being careful!" Plagg shouted. "Much more careful than she ever was with you!"

 

Adrien flinched. "It . . . It doesn't matter. They work well together. She l-likes him, I can tell . . ."

 

". . . She misses you, you know. She won't call Panthera any nicknames and every time you come up she only has good things to say."

 

"Liar," Adrien accused half-heartedly.

 

"Fine. Don't believe me." Plagg crossed his small arms. ". . . How're you dealing with the secret identities thing and finally figuring out Marinette is the 'love of your life', anyway?"

 

Pain flared in the boy's eyes and he breathed thickly. "Not- Not well . . ." Plagg swore he could hear Adrien's heart accelerating as the boy tried to keep the flood of emotions at bay. "I thought knowing who was behind the mask would be freeing, that it would bring us closer. Instead I feel like I never really knew her . . . She said she loved me. But it wasn't true. She was lying. All of it was just a ruse to protect her identity . . . From me! Wh-who does that? Was it really so terrible that I would find out!?"

 

Adrien curled up on his bed and squeezed his eyes shut as the tears started up again. Plagg settled into the boy's hair. "Ladybugs tend to follow the rules to a fault, kid. They can't help themselves. It's got nothing to do with you and everything to do with her."

 

Adrien made no response as Plagg began to purr. They both knew that he would be gone by morning, like a pleasant dream. But Plagg was here now, and for right now, that was enough.

Chapter Text

"Adrien Agreste, this is the Miraculous of the Snake. Which grants the power of-"

 

"No."

 

"I- Sorry?"

 

"I said 'no', Ladybug."

 

"But- But- You could help! We need someone with your strength to wield it! I know you want to help your friends. Don't you want to be a hero? Even if it's just for a day?"

 

More than anything.

 

But he had his chance and blew it. He wasn't going to put himself through that again. He wasn't going to put her team in jeopardy just to satisfy his selfishness. Besides:

 

"I'm sure Nathaniel would be a perfect fit."

 

Not likely, considering how well the artist had taken to the Goat.

 

Ladybug shook her head. "I chose this Miraculous specifically for you. I know you've felt useless lately, but you're not. You protect your friends, you always try to see the best in people, and I think . . . I know you're up for this."

 

Adrien felt something warm bloom in his chest, weakening his resolve. Maybe it would be okay? Maybe he could-

 

Weredad.

 

He flinched and took a step back. "I don't. I don't know that. And I can't take that chance."

 

"It's okay to be unsure, to doubt yourself. The important thing is to try. Let me help you."

 

". . . I'm sorry, Ladybug."

 

Disappointment covered Marinette's masked face. "I see . . . Well, better find a recruit and hope he says 'yes'."

 

Shame and anger surged through Adrien as Ladybug swung away. His fists trembled and it was hard to breathe. How dare she look at him like that!? He didn't owe her anything!

 

Not true.

 

He was being responsible! She was better off with someone else!

 

It's not like I hate her.

 

And it was true . . . mostly. His anger was reserved for three people and she wasn't one of them. She had lied but . . . hadn't he done the same?

 

Still, there was no reason for Marinette to give him such a judgemental look. So he didn't want to make a fool of himself in front of her for the thousandth time, so what? She had the crème de la crème to choose from. Why would-

 

Because she cares about me. She sees me every day at school, she knows how I've been.

 

Which was even more reserved since discovering his closest friends were superheroes. Marinette wanted to help him open up again. Unfortunately, her idea of helping was apparently to shove his trauma in his face. Unintentionally, but still.

 

Adrien's emotions roiled in an ill-defined mess, leaving him confused as his anger faded to a phantom ache. Ladybug was usually the more levelheaded out of the two of them. It's probably why she'd taken to Panthera so quickly. His father had warned Adrien that his emotions could get the best of him and he hadn't listened. Panthera was even cooler under pressure than Ladybug. His father barely let him express anything so of course Chat Noir had gone to the other extreme and expressed everything. Ladybug didn't have any trouble getting Panthera to listen, he was always patient. Something Chat Noir never had enough of.

 

No wonder Ladybug looked at Panthera like that. She had never looked at Chat Noir like that. In fact, the only time Adrien remembered seeing that expression on her is when she was . . . Marinette. And talking to . . . him.

 

 "So my daughter wasn't rejected by one of her loves but both of them!"

 

. . . He was such an idiot.

 

She has a crush on me.

 

Or rather had if he was interpreting their interactions correctly.

 

He expected it to hurt. The lies, the missed opportunities, the laughable situation they found themselves in. And it did. But he had already accepted the fact that neither side of her, Marinette or Ladybug, would ever love him. So, the pain was a distant throb instead of a searing fire. That explained why she'd thought so highly of him. 'Love is blind' and all that. Adrien grasped this new understanding and was surprised at how well it fit into the tangled mess that was his life.

 

Chapter Text

He was improving. Slowly but surely Adrien was opening up to his other friends again. His father even let him out of the manor more often. Kagami was optimistic, but . . .

 

His fencing still troubled her. Adrien's style used to be singularly reckless and, she would often point out, undisciplined. She could feel his will to win in every riposte and parle. He was the only member of the fencing team Kagami wasn't sure she could beat. Not all the time.

 

This wasn't that. This was mechanical and without spirit. Without heart. Technically there was nothing wrong with his form but every move he made carried a certain hesitance that didn't belong on him. At this rate the newbies could wipe the floor with him.

 

That's why they were having a one on one practice session in the school courtyard . . . Not that it seemed to be helping.

 

"You need to move faster!" she rebuked while landing a hit.

 

"S-sorry." They retook their positions and he made a lung she dodged easily.

 

"Don't be sorry, be faster," she scored another hit.

 

He lunged. She parried. "Not like that!" Direct hit, it was getting repetitive.

 

"Sorry . . ."

 

Kagami glared even though he couldn't see her through the mask. "You're doing it again."

 

"Doing what?"

 

"That thing where you tell yourself that you never do anything right." She removed her mask so he could see just what she thought about that.

 

". . . Oh." He removed his own mask and sat on the practice mat. "Is it that obvious?"

 

"I'm serious. You're the second best fencer on the team . . ."

 

His shoulders hunched. "That's generous of you."

 

". . . Is that what this is about? You want to be number one?"

 

Adrien gave her a look. "Don't confuse my issues with yours."

 

Kagami blushed slightly. "It's just that you always took your losses gracefully. But, after the incident, I wondered if maybe you grew tired of it."

 

". . . Before going to school I didn't have anyone to play with. Except Chloe, but anyway. All the games I own said 'Adrien' for the High Score. Then, suddenly, I have friends who're actually allowed to come over and just like that I'm not the only one who's at the top of the scoreboards . . . And I loved it. I loved giving my friends a challenge and pushing each other to improve. I loved being number two 'cause that meant there was someone else besides j-just me."

 

Kagami stared at this sweet, naive, broken boy. He was right, she had seen the similarities between their parents and assumed. The Tsurugi family demanded excellence in all things. Gabriel Agreste was no different. But while Kagami followed her mother's expectations willingly, Adrien felt like he had no choice.

 

It was an odd feeling, knowing your friend understood you better than you understood him.

 

"You love fencing. You said it makes you feel free."

 

". . . It did. Now? It's just a reminder that I wasn't good enough."

 

"Adrien, I want to help. I do. But I can't if you don't let me. Why do you look at Nino like you're angry with him half the time and proud the other half?"

 

"It's a secret," he replied, glancing away.

 

"Why did you quit Rose's band? Officially."

 

"Creative differences."

 

"Unofficially."

 

"Creative! Differences!"

 

"Why does anything to do with Ladybug and Panthera make you block out everything so much we have to snap you out of it?"

 

"I'm getting better!" His eyes widened and he covered his mouth. "I-It's the akumas! I get flashbacks!"

 

She would believe him but in the last akuma attack he had been nothing if not calm and collected. Plus, all his impressive skills in the art of deception flew out the window when he was nervous.

 

"You can trust me."

 

Panic flared in his eyes and he looked down. He fidgeted with the slightly paler band of skin where his ring used to be. She kept quiet as he debated with himself. Hope and fear warring across his features. Finally his hands stilled and he looked up at her in determination.

 

"Okay," he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay."

 

 

 

 

Adrien led her into one of the empty classrooms and, making sure no one was outside, propped a chair in the doorknob.

 

"So, I know this'll sound farfetched and you probably won't believe me. I wouldn't believe me either, it's crazy. But it's the truth. I've never told anyone else but it doesn't matter anymore, so I guess it's okay. What I'm trying to say is . . . I was Chat Noir."

 

Kagami's eyes widened in surprise. It made so much sense. His guilt at not being able to help Marinette, at not being able to save her. His feelings of inadequacy, because who wouldn't feel that way after being replaced so publicly? Chat Noir disappeared the same time Adrien died. All of the puzzle pieces fit, all the inconsistencies resol-

 

Ladybug left him alone.

 

Ladybug, his 'partner', left him alone and he'd never said a word against her.

 

Adrien shifted anxiously. "Kagami, please, say something!"

 

Snapping out of her thoughts Kagami told him what she should have said a long time ago:

 

"Thank you, for saving me."

 

He blushed and looked away. "I wasn't much help. Ladybug did all the important work."

 

"No." Kagami stepped forward. "I've seen the footage. Ladybug didn't stand a chance against Riposte. Not without you."

 

"Y-your just saying that to-"

 

She narrowed her eyes. "Adrien Agreste, when have I ever said anything about someone's capabilities that was vain flattery?"

 

". . . Never."

 

Right, now that that was out of the way:

 

"Who else knows about Chat Noir?"

 

"Just you and F- one other person. But he doesn't matter anymore." His eyes hardened at the memory.

 

"Seems like someone who knows your secret identity-"

 

"Former secret identity."

 

"-would be important."

 

"I don't want to talk about him." Adrien's tone left no room for argument, so she let it slide. For now.

 

"You haven't told Nino? I'd think he'd be the first person you told."

 

"Yeah . . . Except I don't want him to know."

 

"Why would you trust me more than the others? You've known them longer, technically I'm still the new kid."

 

Adrien gave her a confused look. "You've always been honest with me. I thought I should return the favor."

 

Touched if still a bit unsure at his reasoning, Kagami asked what all of Paris had wondered:

 

"Why did Chat Noir leave?"

 

He looked down in shame. ". . . Papillon found out who I was," he whispered so softly Kagami thought she misheard. "Oh, guess that's three people who know."

 

Kagami willed her voice to remain even. "The psychotic, brainwashing supervillain knows who you are? Why are you so calm about this? No, better question: Why hasn't he done anything about it? No offence Adrien, but you haven't exactly been in the best place these last few months. Why haven't you been akumatized yet?"

 

She could see Adrien struggle to pull himself out of the downward spiral his thoughts were taking. "I . . . don't know. Papillon hasn't balked at using every underhanded tactic he could think of. Why would he draw the line at . . . me?"

 

"Do you think he can't akumatize someone with . . . whatever it is you have?" He had never officially told her and the last time she'd brought it up had not ended well.

 

"Um, I don't think it's that. Even if Papillon won't, or can't, akumatize me, all the villains he's sent since Weredad haven't gone anywhere near the school. The only reason we got caught up in the last one was because the villain sent his minions all over the city. Papillon might have decided to test whether I still had the ring. Once Panthera showed up he must've thought I wasn't worth bothering with . . . Kind of reminds me of someone . . ."

 

She mulled that over. "Why would he wait so long? That month was the longest Paris has gone without an akuma attack since this whole mess started. Kicking the heroes while they're down is exactly what Papillon would do. So, why didn't he?"

 

"Maybe he was sick?" Adrien suggested unconvincingly.

 

Kagami stared at him.

 

"What? Supervillains can get sick too!"

 

"I just never thought of him as a person before," she admitted.

 

"He doesn't make a great argument for himself."

 

"Wait. If Ladybug doesn't know who you are, were, how would she get the Miraculous back to you?"

 

He looked away. "I shouldn't say anything, it's risky."

 

"I thought you were going to be honest with me?"

 

". . . Remember when I told you we had a supervisor of sorts?"

 

She nodded then her eyes widened. "That's where Ladybug gets all the other Miraculous!"

 

He straightened in surprise but slumped down quickly. "He's the 'Great Guardian of the Miraculous', the one who chose Ladybug . . . And who decided to replace Chat Noir."

 

"Baka!" Kagami hated the man already and she hadn't even met him. 

 

Yet.

 

Adrien shook his head. "I don't . . . It was the smart thing to do. Chat Noir was c-compromised and . . . And Papillon already succeeded in getting my Miraculous o-o-once. What's stopping him from doing it again? I . . . I was so . . . useless."

 

"You are not useless!!!"  Kagami shouted, heedless of who would hear.

 

"Ha! Years of fencing and martial arts. Months of fighting superpowered villains. None of it mattered! It took Ladybug two days to get as good as she is now! How long did I have to catch up!? Two years!? I'm not on her level! Not even in her league! So is she just that good or am I just that incompetent!?"

 

Tears fell down his face which he wiped at angrily.

 

Kagami focused herself. She was going to get through to this stubborn boy if she had to beat it into him.

 

"I don't know Chat Noir. I don't know Ladybug. Or what it's like to wield a Miraculous. But I know Adrien. He is worth more than any name. He is worth more than some magic jewelry. You are worth more than Chat Noir."

 

There's a fragile hope in his eyes as the tears flowed, so delicate the softest pressure would shatter it. He reached out to her tentatively but paused halfway. So she closed the distance and embraced his lightly shaking form. They stayed that way for a while.

Chapter Text

Why was he here? He shouldn't be here! This was a terrible idea! But Rose had looked so hopeful when she'd asked him, he couldn't say no. Why she had kept Kitty Section going he couldn't say but apparently they needed a keyboardist.

 

Lies.

 

The Couffaine houseboat wasn't quite as crowded as the last time he'd been there but that hadn't stopped him from feeling claustrophobic. Adrien thought he could handle being around Luka, yet there he was, hiding in the bathroom.

 

At least Marinette isn't here.

 

He found it hard enough acting normal-ish around her when she was with Nino and Alya. Seeing her with his replacement would have been too much.

 

There was a knock on the door. "Adrien? You in here?" Of course Luka had followed him after he'd practically run away . . . Oh, it was open.

 

Whatever he saw on Adrien's face made Luka frown in concern. "Juleka said you were working through some things . . ." 

 

Adrien opened his mouth to respond but a glint of silver on Luka's hand caught his eye.

 

"Chat Noir! You know you're irreplaceable."

 

He snapped his jaw shut to stifle the sob growing in his throat. His eyes stung and he braced himself on the sink for support. Luka's eyes widened and he reached out to help. Adrien waved his intrusive hands away but he was still too close. He didn't want to touch the ring. He wanted very much to touch the ring.

 

"Are you alright?" Luka asked, because that's what you did even when the answer was very obviously 'No'.

 

Give me back my kwami you observant little-

 

"Ah, I'll be okay . . ." Adrien shoved his resentment and heartache as far back as they would go. He would not lose control in front of Panthera of all people!

 

Luka didn't seem convinced. "Your song's all over the place. Like it's being rewritten . . ."

 

"Song?"

 

The older boy blushed. "I speak better with music," he reminded Adrien. "And your heart, your feelings, it's . . . like someone took Jagged Stone and XY and rammed them together."

 

"That's . . . pretty much how it feels." The tightness in his chest loosened. "Does Rose actually have the new song ready or is she still working on it? Juleka kind of forgot to say."

 

Luka smiled. "It's ready. This'll be the first time any of us besides Juleka have heard it though."

 

"How's she been?"

 

"She's been good. Really coming into her own. Especially since- Uh, anyway I'm very proud of her."

 

Adrien felt a smirk form against his will as he wondered if he'd been that bad at lying. It was obvious that Panthera had recognized who Ladybug had chosen for the Tiger Miraculous. "Juleka's done a good job. She's been really helpful," he complimented vaguely.

 

Luka smiled fondly. "Yeah . . . What about you? How are you dealing with . . . everything?"

 

He remembered then that Luka was a good friend, not someone who was purposefully trying to hurt him. "I quit fencing. It wasn't as fun as it used to be."

 

"What changed?"

 

"I did, I think . . ."

 

". . . You don't have to be here if you don't want to. I know they used Rose against you."

 

Adrien shrugged. "I've got nothing better to do."

 

Luka looked uncomfortable at what he was about to say. "Adrien. You're not here for the music, are you?"

 

". . . It's not my passion the way it is for you."

 

"You're here for the others" At his nod Luka continued. "That's good, it's . . ." The guitarist made a series of whistles that Adrien found comforting.

 

"Thank you," Adrien said sincerely. ". . . What are the chances that they're eavesdropping on us right now?"

 

"Uh," Luka leaned his head out of the door, there was the sound of shuffling and muffled voices. "Pretty high. They're worried about you."

 

Adrien felt the warmth that was spreading through him grow. "Better go back on deck and reassure them, then." He shooed Luka away. "Go on. I need to wash up first."

 

He gave Luka a reassuring smile as the guitarist went to scold their bandmates. ". . . I hope you've been behaving yourself."

 

"Please! I'm always on my best behavior!" Plagg lied unconvincingly. The kwami settled into his hair. "I see you're doing well with the whole don't-claw-his-eyes-out thing."

 

"I wasn't . . . seriously considering that . . ."

 

"Uh-huh, sure. Got any cheese?"

 

Adrien chuckled and held up a wedge of Camembert. Plagg swallowed it whole, not bothering to savor it at all.

 

"You act like he's starving you," Adrien observed, amused.

 

"A life without Camembert is no life at all! . . . You seem better."

 

". . . I told Kagami about Chat Noir."

 

"That explains it. If anyone can knock some sense into that thick skull of yours it's her."

 

Adrien gave him a half-hearted glare. "Does Luka know you're seeing me behind his back?"

 

"You make it sound so scandalous! You know better than anyone I don't tell my holders everything. Besides, he never notices I'm gone."

 

The sound of rushing feet gave Plagg just enough warning to hide.

 

"Adrien! I, um, forgot something!" Luka clearly didn't trust Plagg not to cause any mischief when left to his own devices. "It shouldn't take long to fi-" His eyes widened at something behind Adrien. "Why don't you get started on, that thing, you were doing, with Ivan . . ."

 

"You sure Luka? I could help you look for it!" Adrien replied innocently. Very deliberately not looking back at the floating kwami that was giving his holder a heart attack.

 

"No . . . That's okay . . . I got it."

 

Despite how amusing it was to see the guitarist all ruffled up, Adrien decided to show Luka mercy and left the kwami to his fate. A smile formed at the thought of all the ways Plagg might mock his holder. Luka's patience would certainly come in handy when dealing with the little troublemaker.

 

He wondered how long it would take Panthera to notice Plagg's occasional disappearances. The kwami didn't want to risk a repeat of the Sandboy incident so their reunions were irregular and way too far apart.

 

Adrien prodded tentatively at the conflicting emotions he felt toward Luka. The anger was gone, replaced by a melancholy acceptance. His resentment was never about Luka at all, he realized. Panthera was simply an easy target. Someone to blame for everything that had gone wrong.

 

And Luka had only ever been kind to Adrien. What he'd told Plagg so long ago was true. He believed every word. Luka was a perfect Black Cat.

 

Adrien smiled at the bittersweet thought as he rejoined his friends.

Chapter Text

"Bro, you can't keep this up! She sits right behind you and you're being a major jerk," Nino stage whispered. Presumably so none of their classmates in the courtyard would overhear.

 

"I'm trying!" Adrien pleaded for his best friend to understand.

 

"What happened, dude? I know you told Kagami, why won't you tell me?"

 

Because you're Carapace and every time I think about telling you my heart tries to hammer it's way out of my chest. Plus, Rena would find out 'cause you're terrible at keeping secrets from your girlfriend. And if that happened then Ladybug would know and I'm not ready for that! She can't know! If I'm acting weird around Marinette now then there's n-

 

"Adrien? Bro, you in there?" Nino's concern snapped him out of his thoughts. "C'mon dude, don't you trust me?"

 

Adrien's eyes narrowed as anger flared unexpectedly in his chest. "Yeah, I do. Do you trust me?"

 

Nino averted his gaze and scratched uneasily at his head. "Of course, I do."

 

"Then trust me when I say I have my reasons." With that Adrien walked away. He knew he wasn't being fair to Nino. But secret identities where inherently unfair, he knew that better than anyone.

 

For so long the only person he could talk to about his problems had been Plagg. But Plagg was . . . Plagg. Even Marinette had "Master" Fu months before he'd met the Guardian. Not that the handful of meetings they'd had were anywhere near as illuminating as he'd hoped. There was Chloe, he supposed, but her identity was public. The risks were obvious but at least she didn't have to lie to the people she cared about. (Not that she let that stop her.) Then there was Alya and Nino, who somehow knew each other's secret identities? How was that fair? How was that-

 

Adrien closed his eyes and breathed deeply before letting it out slowly. He has Kagami now and didn't need to follow stupid rules. Luka was in the same boat he'd been in. Though Panthera was making markedly more progress on the Ladybug front.

 

"Well, if it isn't 'Sunshine'. Feeling a bit cloudy today, I see."

 

"Hello Alya." He turned to regard his not-so-passive aggressive friend. "If you're here to tell me to be nicer to Marinette. Nino beat you to it."

 

"Good!" she crossed her arms. "That means we've got twice the chance to get through that thick head of yours."

 

Why do people keep saying that?

 

"Like I told Nino, I'm trying, okay? I just need time."

 

Alya's calculating look softened slightly. "We're worried about you, y'know? You shut us all out, even Nino! You won't talk to anyone except Kagami and she won't tell anyone what you two-"

 

"You went to Kagami!?" Adrien was indignant at Alya's attempts to intrude on his privacy.

 

"Like I said, we're worried about you. Especially Marinette. That girl can't stop thinking about you."

 

Adrien looked away in discomfort. "In case you haven't noticed she's crushing on someone else now."

 

Shock covered Alya's features. "How did- No, never mind. What I meant was Marinette can't stop worrying about you getting akumatized!"

 

Adrien paled at the reminder. ". . . I'm worried about that too," he admitted.

 

"You and Marinette are the only ones in our class that still haven't been visited by a certain black butterfly. And you're not exactly . . . you right now."

 

How would you know what I'm like? How would any of you know me?

 

"Really? I hadn't noticed. You're quite the sly fox aren't you, Alya. Always so quick to notice what's right in front of you."

 

To her credit she didn't react as obviously to his allusions as Nino. "Okay, I deserved that." And she must've been really upset if she wasn't coming out swinging.

 

Adrien felt the anger drain out of him, leaving him emotionally exhausted. "We all have secrets, Alya," he reminded her gently. "I don't like them but they're not going anywhere."

 

Alya was quiet for a moment before blurting out:

 

"I miss my friends! You're spacing out all the time! Nino can't stop worrying about how you don't really talk to him anymore! Marinette gets all teary whenever I mention that stupid cat! There's something wrong and I can't fix it 'cause I don't know what it is!"

 

He let Alya catch her breath before asking his most pressing question. "Why would Marinette get sad whenever you mention Panthera?"

 

Alya scoffed. "Not him, Chat Noir. Why d'you think I don't mention him at school anymore?"

 

Adrien's eyes went wide.

 

She does?

 

"Thought you'd forgotten him with the rest of Paris."

 

The glare she gave him was one usually reserved for Chloe. "Listen here Agreste! That guy has saved my life more times than I'm comfortable remembering! I am not going to forget about him like he's yesterday's news! Got it!?"

 

"A-Alya . . ." He would not cry. Not here. Not again. No matter how much his eyes stung and his chest burned.

 

"And don't change the subject! We're talkin' about . . . What was I saying?"

 

He gave her a sad smile. "I thought I was getting better. With, you know . . ."

 

Her gaze softened. It seemed he wasn't the only one who was emotionally exhausted. "You are. With everyone else. It's just us three that you're still out of it with."

 

Adrien looked down in shame. "I was cruel to Nino," he said softly. "He was just trying to help and I brushed him off . . ."

 

"Well, then what are you still doing here? Go! Say you're sorry!" She pushed him back in the direction of where he'd left Nino.

 

"Oh! But . . . Aren't you mad?"

 

Alya rolled her eyes. "What, you think I've never argued with my boyfriend before? It doesn't work like that. What you do is apologize, reach some kind of understanding, and try not to do that again."

 

Adrien walked from an encouraging Alya to a distraught Nino.

 

". . . I'm sorry."

 

"No! No, I . . . I shouldn't have pushed you."

 

"Sometimes I need a push . . . You're right. I've been hiding something from you."

 

". . . You're not the only one with secrets, bro."

 

Adrien smiled sadly. "You're friendship means so much to me, Nino. I-I was so afraid of what you'd think of me if you knew that I pushed you away . . . I'm still afraid."

 

"I could never think badly of you! You're my best friend! My brother!"

 

"Y-you're my b-best friend, too. I . . . I'm glad she chose you. Knowing you've got her back is . . . reassuring. You make a pretty great turtle, Nino."

 

". . . Man. First Alya, now you. Is it the goggles or . . . Uh, I mean- Please don't tell her!"

 

"You didn't expect to keep a secret from a fox for long, did you?"

 

Nino's eyes widened. "F-f-fox? Should I feel threatened that you're hitting on my girl?"

 

Instead of answering Adrien reached out and pulled up Nino's wrist. The one with the Turtle Miraculous on it.

 

Nino glanced from it to Adrien. ". . . How? . . ."

 

"Alya's wearing the Fox necklace right n-"

 

Adrien started as Nino suddenly pulled him into a hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he breathed.

 

"N-Nino?"

 

"You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you!"

 

". . . I can imagine." Adrien returned the embrace.

 

"So, this is why you've been acting wierd?" Nino mumbled into his shoulder.

 

"Partly. I . . . I have s-so much to t-tell you," Adrien trembled as what he would have to reveal sunk in.

 

Nino tightened his hold. "Later, dude. Let's just, process and stuff."

 

"I m-might not have the courage. Later," he admitted.

 

"You will," Nino promised. "Or I'll get Alya to beat it into you."

 

That startled a laugh out of him. "Don't tell her."

 

"She'll find out eventually, dude." Adrien heard the frown in Nino's voice.

 

He thought of Marinette and how Alya had yet to find out that particular secret. ". . . I know. But, I don't want her to know just yet." Adrien stepped back to look Nino in the eye. "Promise."

 

"Who d'you take me for?" Nino held out a fist. "Of course I promise!"

 

Adrien smiled and he felt only a twinge of nostalgia as he fist bumped with his best friend.

Chapter Text

". . . 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 . . ."

 

"No."

 

Adrien pulled Nino into an embrace and held tight. "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."

 

"What!?"

 

"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."

 

"He's dead!"

 

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.

 

"Nino?"

"Yeah?"

"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."

"Adrien-"

"Please."

". . . 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."

 

Nino nodded.

 

"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.

 

"Nino?"

 

"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.

Chapter Text

"What're we doing at your sister's school?"

 

Luka glanced down at Plagg's hiding place in his inner pocket. "Weren't you listening at all this week? It's-"

 

"Kind of hard to pay attention to anything over a growling stomach?" Plagg interrupted. "I agree."

 

Luka frowned at him. "I give you enough cheese."

 

"Who told you these lies? You can never have enough cheese!"

 

Luka sighed in resignation. "Just promise you won't cause any trouble."

 

"When've I ever done that?"

 

Luka gave him a look. "You stole Juleka's wrist mirror!"

 

"It was interesting. I wanted a closer look."

 

"She found it in my room!"

 

"You diffused that splendidly, by the way."

 

"Thanks," Luka deadpanned.

 

He breathed deeply and gave Plagg a bland, tasteless thing, unfit to bear the title of cheese. He did that often.

 

"Plagg! You can't take out your frustrations on your holder!"

 

Which was ridiculous, he always treated his new wielders this way. And who else was he supposed to take out his frustrations on?

 

"I know this isn't easy for you but the Guardian has made his decision. It's for the best."

 

That was true, at least. Of all kwamis Tikki understood better than most what it was like to have your Chosen taken away from you. But as for the rest of it? No. No. Plagg didn't believe for a nanosecond Tikki would be as accepting if it had been her kid the Guardian had kicked to the curb.

 

Luka was nice enough. In some ways more patient with him than Adrien had been in the beginning. But that wasn't all there was to it. The Ladybug and Black Cat were chosen in tandem. They were meant to compliment each other. Equals and opposites. Adrien had been chosen to balance Marinette, not Luka. If the relationship between Ladybug and Chat Noir was unbalanced then the relationship between Ladybug and Panthera always will be.

 

But that's not the biggest problem.

 

"Rose! Juleka!"

 

Plagg took advantage of his wielder's distraction to zip away. Good thing humans were terrible at using their eyes. If anyone saw him they'd think he was a trick of the light.

 

Now, where was his kid?

 

 

 

 

No, no, no, ah-ha!

 

Adrien was standing next to the desserts in the cafeteria and he was talking to . . . Marinette?

 

Adrien was talking to Marinette!

 

Plagg hid close enough to overhear . . . Which just so happened to be next to a delicious looking cheesecake.

 

"Alya says you've talked to Nino."

 

"W-well, guess I thought it was overdue."

 

"He was really worried about you . . . I-I was worried, too."

 

"Alya said as much. So did Luka and Max and Rose and Alix and . . . What?"

 

"Everyone really cares about you. We never talk about whatever-it-is anymore but . . . No one forgot. I . . . wondered if you noticed."

 

". . . Have you ever felt alone surrounded by everyone? Like you could scream yourself hoarse and no one would so much as turn their head?"

 

". . . Once."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"I- No- It . . . You helped me with that, actually."

 

"Did I? Well. I've felt lonely . . . isolated, for years. Especially these past few months."

 

"You're not alone Adrien! You have Kagami and Nino and Markov and . . . and me."

 

". . . I know. I know. But sometimes . . . lots of times, I don't feel it . . ."

 

". . . Do you feel like that now?"

 

"No. It helps . . . To talk to Nino again, really talk to him . . . And to you. I . . . wish I could explain."

 

"You don't have to. You don't owe me anything."

 

"Oh, I think we both know that's not true."

 

"Y-you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to!"

 

"Still. That doesn't mean I don't owe you. Everyone owes you so much, Marinette."

 

"Adrien?"

 

". . . Um, n-not to change the subject but . . . I know you had a crush on me."

 

"W-what!? That's ridiculous! N-not that having a crush on you is ridiculous! It's just that I, personally, don't! Anyone in their right mind would be . . . lucky . . . Yes. I did."

 

"I . . . I had a crush on you, too."

 

"You did!? . . . Oh . . . That's, um . . ."

 

"Ironic? Annoying? Frustrating?"

 

"Terrible timing."

 

"Heh, yeah, we managed to slide right past each other, didn't we?"

 

". . . Yeah."

 

". . . Marinette? I didn't bring it up 'cause I wanted . . . I know you have someone else that you . . . y'know. I wanted . . . to be honest about something. To get it off my chest. To say it to you, knowingly and without m- anything in the way."

 

"Of . . . course! You can talk to me about anything! When you're ready. Or if you need anything else just ask. You're my friend, Adrien, and I . . . I don't abandon my friends. Any of them."

 

". . . You really are super, Marinette."

 

Whatever Tikki's girl was going to say in response was cut off by their phones' akuma app going off.

 

"Aargh! Really? Now!?" Marinette glared at her phone as though it was Papillon himself. She looked up at Adrien nervously. "We should head home! I mean, even if it's nowhere near our arrondissement, better safe than sorry! Right?"

 

Adrien smiled. "Of course."

 

Marinette started backtracking to the exit, too distracted to notice Adrien hadn't moved. "Right! Wellstaysafebye!"

 

Plagg floated out of his hiding spot. "Well, you've certainly made progress since the last time I saw you."

 

Adrien raised an eyebrow at him. "Shouldn't you be with your Chosen?"

 

"I am."

 

Adrien narrowed his eyes and pointed determinedly at the door. "Panthera. Now."

 

"You can't tell me what to do!"

 

"Panthera or you're not getting this!" Adrien pulled out two full wheels of Camembert.

 

. . . Knew I should've eaten that cheesecake when I had the chance.

 

"Fine! Sheesh! Hanging out with Kagami has made you so bossy!" Plagg zipped away.

 

Wonder if he realized Marinette was talking to Tikki at the end there.

 

It was an on-again-off-again discussion/argument that he'd caught snippets of here and there. Marinette wanted to know what had happened to Chat Noir and Tikki took the Guardian's side.

 

"He's as safe as any citizen of Paris, Marinette. Until Nooroo's freed it's better if Ladybug doesn't have any interactions with Chat Noir. Papillon could be watching him, waiting for you to show yourself!"

 

Blah, blah, blah, etc, etc. Far as Plagg was concerned, if Papillon was going to use Adrien as bait he would've done it already. Papillon wasn't what you would call a 'patient' villain.

 

. . . It's not that Tikki was wrong exactly. He just had a different reason for wanting to keep Adrien's secret and didn't care much for her's. Namely: Adrien didn't want Ladybug to know. But if he knew his kid, that would change.

 

A mess of agitated cyan-tipped hair pulled Plagg out of his revery.

 

Right. Time to be responsible.

Chapter Text

Panthera wasn't late. Nope. He arrived at the same time as Ladybug 'cause Ladybug waited those twenty-two seconds it took Panthera to catch up. Leaving Carapace and Rena Rouge to confront the akumatized villain themselves. Which they were doing down at street level somewhere.

 

That's how it worked now. Ladybug was adamant that neither of the big two fight a villain without the other. If Panthera arrived first he was supposed to wait and observe.

 

Plagg chuckled at how Ladybug had chewed out Panthera for saving civilians from that music akuma. When Panthera pointed out that they were supposed to help people she went all silent. Next akuma attack had the surprising inclusion of the Fox and Turtle. Not as surprising as Ladybug actually convincing Master Fu to sanction Rena Rouge and Carapace as permanent heroes.

 

I wonder what she said to him.

 

"Panthera!" Despite the circumstances Ladybug's face lit up at the sight of the Black Cat. "The villain has mind-controlled minions. Be careful."

 

"Of course, Ladybug. Aren't I always?" Panthera said it gently, not with the cocky bravado Chat Noir would have.

 

Ugh, they were even more nauseating than their teammates.

 

Plagg heard a flurry of arrows sail toward his charge and Panthera moved to deflect them. But Ladybug positioned herself in front of her 'partner' and shielded them with her yo-yo. She'd been doing a lot of that.

 

Even after millennia Plagg still found it weird to observe things from his holder's viewpoint. He was stuck inside the ring, empty save for the 'screen' that let him see through the Black Cat's eyes. It was a bit like watching a first-person movie. Boring and constantly reminding him that he could do nothing while trapped within the Miraculous.

 

". . . I had that," Panthera stated softly.

 

"Just checking."

 

They launched themselves off the roof to rescue a cornered Fox and Turtle. Who were having a bit of trouble with some knights.

 

Very original.

 

They bulldozered into the grunts. To an outside observer they must have looked like the perfect pair. But Plagg saw the way Ladybug stood too close to Panthera. And the split second hesitation in Panthera's movements. Ladybug took the time to snatch the bow of the elf who'd shot at them.

 

Real elves don't look like that!

 

"Spill," Ladybug commanded once everyone was back in the relative safety of the rooftops.

 

According to Rena the victim was a nerd that turned people into fantasy characters by hitting them with the pointy end of his glow-stick, er, staff. On the bright side the supervillain was super dramatic (even more than usual) and kept shouting what all his different 'classes' could do. Like shoot arrows, apparently.

 

Adrien would love this.

 

He'd be making puns left and right. He'd geek out over getting to fight something new. He'd mock Papillon for not knowing the difference between 'race' and 'class'.

 

He'd get himself brainwashed.

 

. . . Plagg hated this.

 

Hated being away from Adrien. Hated the animosity Luka sensed in him but that wasn't directed at the boy. Hated the way Ladybug treated Panthera like he was made of glass (though it was amusing to see).

 

Plagg did not hate easily. Millennia of experience taught him not to get worked up over the transient burdens of humanity. It was far better to focus on the simple pleasures of life. To forget yesterday and ignore tomorrow in favor of today.

 

And yet . . .

 

And yet Adrien.

 

His wielder.

 

His Chosen.

 

His kid.

 

His friend.

 

Adrien had slowly, steadily, inevitably broken walls Plagg had spent centuries rebuilding. Just by being himself. That was no mean feat.

 

"Mirage!"

 

Plagg was surprised by the fire-breathing dragon raining . . . fire, on a bunch of fleeing dwarves. He squinted at it and decided Trixx's charge made more realistic dragons than Papillon. Panthera turned away from the distraction to follow Ladybug and Carapace. Who in turn followed the akuma. Rena stayed behind to direct her Mirage, as her targets were mobile and therefore unpredictable.

 

Carapace took the lead. He did that now. It was a solid strategy to place an impenetrable shield between you and the brainwashing akumatized villain.

 

Though Plagg thought four Miraculous holders was overkill for one akuma.

 

Carapace went flying. Courtesy of another staff-wielding supervillain. He could tell by the twin butterfly marks around their faces. Apparently Papillon thought four-to-one odds was unfair too.

 

They charged the heroes and Ladybug was too busy with her opponent to protect Panthera. Ladybug had drilled him relentlessly, true, but she had focused on defense and evasion. When they attacked they forced the heroes apart and Panthera lost ground. Luka was no slouch by any stretch of the imagination. But he had not been allowed to grow into his role. This left him on the defensive against an aggressive enemy.

 

And that is our biggest problem.

 

The second villain got a lucky hit with the staff. He felt more than saw the curse cover Panthera. Plagg was surprised he was surprised (it was only a matter of time, after all).

 

And now it was three vs. Ladybug.

 

"Lucky Charm!"

 

It was a mini Eiffel Tower. Of course it was. That place hasn't been destroyed in forever. Papillon was overdue.

 

Panthera launched himself at Ladybug. She lassoed him and swung him into the two akuma. Then she was off, her pursuers not far behind.

 

They reached the Eiffel Tower in no time. There two more staff-wielding villains guarded a game board Plagg assumed was the akumatized object.

 

Well, this seems familiar.

 

Ladybug against four akuma and one brainwashed Black Cat.

 

They moved to surround her but a green blur hit two of them in the head, making an opening. Carapace grabbed his shield out of the air and guarded Ladybug while she planned.

 

"Cataclysm!"

 

Oh.

 

"Shellter!"

 

Turned out to not be the smartest move as Panthera struck Carapace's barrier and it shattered.

 

At least turtle boy still has his shield.

 

"Cataclysm!"

 

. . . Oh. Bye, shield.

 

One of the villains snuck up on Carapace and stabbed him in the back, turning him into . . . some kind of 'Paladin' class.

 

"Shellter!"

 

And now there's an impenetrable barrier around the akumatized object. Great.

 

Rena Rouge's Mirage would vanish any second now and the grunts would swarm to their masters. Carapace and Panthera weren't in their right minds. All four villains could end the fight in one hit.

 

"Cataclysm!"

 

Right. That too.

 

They charged at Ladybug.

 

Ladybug . . . danced. 

 

That was the only way Plagg could describe it.

 

She flowed between her assailants, dodging every attack.

 

The akumatized kept knocking their staffs into each other.

 

Her fluid movement kept her opponents off-balance and the Lucky Charm out of reach.

 

Carapace's shield missed with every throw.

 

The yo-yo tripped and tied and deflected everything else they threw at her.

 

Panthera's Cataclysm hit nothing but air . . .

 

Until Ladybug threw him overhead and he hit the Shellter, shattering it. She brought her yo-yo down onto the game-board and the rest was routine.

 

"Miraculous Ladybug!"

Chapter Text

"Could've used the Bee, dudes."

 

"Queen Bee is on indefinite suspension!"

 

"I think what tall, dark, and green is saying is: Maybe give the comb to someone else?"

 

". . . I'll think about it."

 

"What's there to think about? Chloe caused Stormy Weather! What else does she haveta-"

 

"Uh, babe?" Carapace brought Rena's attention to Panthera, who was being quieter than usual.

 

Real subtle, turtle boy.

 

The heroes were, in Plagg's opinion, rehashing old ground. They had all come to the rendezvous after the reset and everyone recharged. Ladybug insisted on it. If they couldn't meet immediately after an akuma attack, and they usually couldn't, she set another time.

 

"Oh. Right." Rena looked suitably embarrassed, at least. "But we still need to discuss this. Papillon's getting bolder!"

 

More impatient you mean. And you've said that already.

 

Plagg liked Rena Rouge, she was fun. Despite the couple-y-ness she displayed with Carapace. And her persistent questions about Chat Noir which Ladybug couldn't answer anyway. But Rena had taken Adrien's role of occasionally questioning Ladybug's decisions, so that was expected.

 

Ladybug sighed. "Yeah . . . Panthera, what do you think?"

 

"I don't . . . What?"

 

Ladybug gazed at him in concern. ". . . Could you guys give us a minute?"

 

Carapace nudged Rena and pointed at his non-existent watch.

 

"Actually," Rena replied. "We should be heading back. So, you take as much time as you need."

 

Rena launched herself to the next roof over, giving them a wave midair. Carapace followed suit with a subdued "Later, dudes" and a two finger salute.

 

"Hey, is it just me or is this the closest an akuma attack has gotten to our-"

 

There was a whacking sound.

 

"OW! Babe!?"

 

"Not in range of the guy with super-hearing!"

 

Hehe.

 

She needn't have worried. Unlike Adrien, Luka had only a mild curiosity about his teammates identities (except Ladybug). He was like Plagg that way. Plagg knew Carapace and Rena Rouge probably went to Françoise Dupont but that didn't have anything to do with him.

 

"What're you thinking about, Panthera?"

 

"I got hit."

 

Ladybug placed a hand on Panthera's shoulder. "We've all gotten hit by a curse before."

 

Except you've never been brainwashed, so it doesn't really count.

 

"Yeah. I was turned into a knight when Darkblade took City Hall, but . . . it's different this time." Panthera placed his own hand over Ladybug's. ". . . How did Chat Noir deal with it?"

 

Ladybug tensed. "I . . . I don't know. I never asked and he never said . . ."

 

He ignored it. He took your smallest compliments and built a wall around the emotions.

 

"Chat Noir always seemed to bounce back, y'know? Like nothing ever phased him for long."

 

Panthera refrained from asking the question Rena kept circling back to. Ladybug wiped at her watery eyes and Panthera wrapped his arms around her.

 

". . . I took him for granted."

 

"That's the guilt talking."

 

"Every time an akuma got him, and I brought him back, it would make losing him a little less scary . . . Until I took that for granted too."

 

Panthera tightened his hold. "You did everything you could," he reassured, even though he didn't know and didn't understand.

 

But Plagg did. Ladybug and Chat Noir had done the best they knew how. But sometimes your best isn't good enough.

 

"I won't let you get hit again."

 

". . . It's my job to protect you."

 

Ladybug stepped back to better look into Panthera's eyes. "I won't let you get hit again," she promised.

 

"Ladybug . . ." Panthera's voice carried loyalty and dissent. "I don't want to hurt you."

 

"You won't."

 

"How do you know?"

 

"Trust me," she asked softly.

 

". . . Okay, Ladybug." His hand reached up and cupped her face, her gaze softened. "Okay."

 

They leaned into each other and kissed.

Chapter Text

Plagg was annoyed.

 

Not about the kiss (ew) they did that semi-regularly. He never understood romance and Adrien's experience, or lack thereof, was merely the latest in a long list of reasons as to why it was a terrible invention.

 

At least he's over it now . . .

 

Plagg wasn't sure why he was annoyed but that didn't stop him from taking it out on Luka.

 

"So, that's it? One kiss and everything's fine?"

 

Luka had that smile on. The one that reminded Plagg of Adrien's gentle, genuine smiles he rarely showed in public . . . Least of all now.

 

"I know what you're doing, Plagg."

 

Doubtful. Plagg didn't know what he was doing half the time.

 

"I know you miss Chat Noir."

 

He should, with the way Plagg implied very subtly about it.

 

"I know you don't think much of me-"

 

"Don't take it personally. I don't think much of any of my holders."

 

At first.

 

Luka's smile ticked up and Plagg had the rare feeling of being found out. He ignored it.

 

"And I know you don't agree with how Ladybug runs things-"

 

Well, Plagg had been very unsubtle about that so he'd be worried about Luka if the boy hadn't noticed.

 

"-But she knows what she's doing."

 

Debatable!

 

"Debatable!"

 

Luka's expression shifted to one of fond exasperation. Plagg chose to interpret it as the boy's conceding-defeat-look.

 

". . . Where did you run off to when I wasn't looking?"

 

"Kwamis don't run! Silly human!"

 

Luka raised an eyebrow.

 

"If you must know I went in search of the greatest source of Camembert in this school!" Plagg pointed down into the courtyard proper at a certain blond. "That guy!"

 

"Adrien? Why would Adrien carry cheese? . . . Please tell me you didn't steal his cheese!"

 

"Oh, Adrien loves Camembert!" Plagg snickered. "He can't get enough!"

 

Plagg would treasure the memory for millennia.

 

"Hey, kid! You in he- What are you doing."

"Plagg! I was just . . . Uh . . ."

"Were you . . . just eating . . . Camembert!?"

"No! Of course, not! I was just checking the expiration date!"

"You were! Ha! I knew you were just being stubborn!"

"I am not stubborn!"

"Adrien."

". . . It's . . . It's the smell, okay? It . . . It's comforting. Familiar. A-and fine, sometimes I'll eat a piece! There! Are you happy?"

"Prrrr!"

". . . I'm not upset, Plagg. Just embarrassed . . .You can stop purring now."

"You like Camembert!"

". . . Yes, Plagg. I like Camembert."

 

"It'd be weird to just walk up to him and randomly ask for cheese," Luka stated, understanding what Plagg was getting at.

 

"Nah, Adrien'll understand! He's very generous! Now, go down there and get me Camembert!"

 

Luka complied without further comment because he was a kind and merciful soul. Even toward someone who complained as often as Plagg . . . And most of his money was going to cheese, so there was that.

 

"Hey, Adrien."

 

"Oh, hi Luka! You good? Juleka was surprised when she got your call. Since your houseboat is a bit farther than most of our classmates' homes."

 

"Yeah, I talked to her a minute ago in the art room. I, uh, had to help a friend."

 

"Oh? That's what Alya and Nino said, too! Is she a special friend?"

 

". . . She's pretty special, alright."

 

"He admits it! I'm happy for you and your friend."

 

Plagg nipped Luka through his shirt to get him on track. Luka jumped.

 

"Ah, this might sound weird but . . . Do you have any Camembert?"

 

"Camembert? Why, yes, I do have Camembert! Here!"

 

Plagg's mouth watered as the smell hit him.

 

"You don't have to give me all of it!"

 

"I have tons of the stuff at the manor. I insist!"

 

"Well, thanks, Adrien."

 

"Sure! Us Camembert enthusiasts have to stick together! Just ask if you need any more. Nino! Alya! Later, Luka!"

 

"Later."

 

Plagg popped his head out of Luka's pocket to see six wheels of Camembert.

 

Adrien you're an angel!

 

"Gimme!"

 

"Alright, alright!" Luka grinned at Plagg's enthusiasm. ". . . Why do you know so much about Adrien anyway?"

 

"We kwamis are excellent judges of character. With all the time Adrien's spent with the band I've gotten to know him pretty well. Plus, he smells like Camembert."

 

". . . That stunt you pulled had me really worried."

 

". . . Won't happen again." Plagg was surprised Luka hadn't realized that he couldn't.

 

"Plagg, don't do that!"

 

Kwamis could ignore anything phrased as a suggestion or request, but that was an order. Every time Plagg tried to talk to Adrien onboard the Liberty the geas enforced Luka's command. Plagg had been grouchy and Adrien understanding.

 

Luka must've noticed Plagg's droopy ears 'cause the boy handed him more cheese. "At this rate it'll be gone by morning," he joked.

 

"Then you better take Adrien up on his offer and ask for more," Plagg stated pleasantly.

 

"Yeah . . . Did he seem off to you?"

 

"Adrien's been off. Care to elaborate?"

 

"It's like he's a melancholy melody that's trying too hard to be cheerful."

 

Plagg swallowed a mouthful of Camembert before responding. "Might have something to do with the talk he had with Marinette."

 

And me poking at old wounds.

 

"You were eavesdropping? Of course, you were. Wait, Adrien was talking to Marinette? What were they saying?"

 

Plagg gasped. "Luka! Abusing our friendship to spy on your girlfriend! Shameful!"

 

Luka's eyes went wide. "W-what? No! I . . ."

 

Plagg could practically see the boy's train of thought jump onto a different track as his eyes narrowed.

 

"She's not my girlfriend. You know that."

 

Well, she is but you don't know that!

 

"I'm with Ladybug."

 

Plagg made a noncommittal sound.

 

"Anyway you're right, it's none of my business . . . Do you think they'll get together? She'd be good for him."

 

Plagg nearly laughed out loud. "Doubt it . . . Why didn't you ask out Marinette? You were head over heels for her when we first met."

 

Luka blushed. "Yeah, but there was that whole thing with Adrien."

 

"Where she tried to bring him out of his shell and he ran away? For months?"

 

Luka nodded. "And training with Ladybug took up a lot of time."

 

"I remember, once everything settled down you two couldn't take your eyes off each other."

 

Luka smiled as his eyes focused on something, or someone, far away. "She's just so . . ."

 

"Amazing?"

 

Luka nodded again.

 

"How lucky for you."

 

Luka gave him a thoughtful look. ". . . C'mon, it's late. I should get Juleka."

 

Plagg risked a glance at Adrien. The boy was talking to Nino and Alya; he was smiling.

Chapter Text

Plagg waited until Luka was fast asleep before going to Adrien. Their earlier conversation had left him deeply unsatisfied.

 

He phased through the window to find his kid in bed.

 

"Plagg?"

 

But not asleep.

 

"What're you doing up?" Plagg asked, because he was a contrary being.

 

"Can't sleep. C'mere."

 

Plagg floated into Adrien's hair. "So, what brought on your sudden desire to talk to Ladybug?"

 

"I told Nino."

 

"Another one? So, that's why he and Kagami were double-teaming Chloe! Anyone else?"

 

"No, can't risk it."

 

"And the superhero menagerie?"

 

". . . You haven't noticed?"

 

" I make it a point not to, so no."

 

"Huh . . . I'm sorry, about earlier. It was important."

 

"Always is . . . I'm sorry, too."

 

"Who're you and what've you done with Plagg?"

 

"What? What'd I do?"

 

"You never apologize!"

 

Plagg wanted to protest, he really did. Instead he tugged at Adrien's hair and muttered: "First time for everything."

 

"Ow. Yeah, guess that's true . . . . . ."

 

". . . . . . Thanks for the cheese."

 

"Well, I couldn't let you starve now, could I? . . . Do you think Luka noticed all the Camembert I leave in the fridge when I'm over there?"

 

"You mean the Camembert I eat before anyone sees it? No, don't think so."

 

Adrien smiled.

 

". . . How's Marinette?"

 

"You're asking me?"

 

"You've got class with her all day. I get twenty minutes per akuma."

 

"Point . . . She's been better since Panthera kissed her that first time."

 

"Hmm." Plagg decided not to voice his disagreement. "That why you brought up your crush?"

 

Adrien was silent for a moment. ". . . Maybe. I wanted-"

 

"I know," Plagg soothed. It had cost Adrien enough saying it the first time. "I heard. This gonna be a regular thing now?'

 

"Talking to Marinette? I think so? Probably not such heavy topics but I don't want to make it weird."

 

"It's already weird, kid. You know she's Ladybug."

 

"Yeah . . . but if it keeps Alya happy then . . ."

 

"Not sure that's the best reason to start talking to the person you've ignored for half a year."

 

". . . I know. But this is a good thing! I didn't realize . . . how much I missed her."

 

". . . You gonna tell her about Chat Noir?" Adrien tensed and Plagg purred in response. "Too soon, got it."

 

The tension didn't leave the boy. "Plagg?"

 

Well, this can't be good.

 

"A-about earlier. When you were with me instead of Luka . . ."

 

Oh, by the Nine Lords of the Underworld!

 

Plagg floated above Adrien's face to better glare at him. "No."

 

"But-"

 

"I barely get to see you! I am not going to stop visiting!"

 

Adrien sat up and Plagg floated further away. "What if an akuma attacked right now? And Ladybug needed Panthera? What if something like Sandboy happened!?"

 

"Well, considering that she just took on four akuma, and a brainwashed Cat and Turtle, and won; I'd say she can handle it."

 

". . . Carapace was brainwashed?"

 

"Very. And Ladybug took care of it like she always does."

 

Adrien didn't say anything, just sat on his bed.

 

". . . Honestly, I thought you'd focus more on Panthera getting hit than anything else."

 

"Why didn't he say- No, no, she was there. He couldn't . . ."

 

". . . We having the same conversation?"

 

"How were they? Did they seem okay?"

 

Plagg thought about the kiss. "Yeah, they seemed pretty okay. A little too okay."

 

"What?"

 

"So, there's no reason for me to go anywhere! Got it!?"

 

". . . Yeah . . . Yeah, okay."

 

Adrien laid back down and Plagg sat on the boy's forehead with his arms crossed. He pretended not to notice the boy sniffling.

 

Stupid kid!

 

Selflessness was a Black Cat's most endearing quality . . . And the most exasperating.

 

". . . How's Luka?"

 

"I told ya, he's okay."

 

"Yeah, but how is he?"

 

"He gets that same annoying look you did when he thinks of Ladybug."

 

Adrien chuckled. "And?"

 

"He doesn't like lying to his family. He thinks being in the band is good for you. He gets along well with Rena Rouge and Carapace. He's finally stopped asking me about you, er, Chat Noir."

 

"And you?"

 

"What do ya mean? My charming personality speaks for itself!"

 

"Plagg." Adrien raised an eyebrow.

 

". . . He might be under the impression that I don't like Panthera as much as Chat Noir . . ."

 

Adrien's breath hitched and Plagg could practically hear the boy's thoughts wrestling with each other. ". . . Do you?"

 

"I don't self analyze."

 

"Plagg!" Adrien grabbed him and sat up again, holding him in front of the boy's face.

 

"You can't- It's important that- Aahhh!" Adrien cradled Plagg to his chest. "You're impossible!"

 

". . . See, this is why we don't talk about Luka!"

 

Adrien nodded.

 

". . . He thinks Marinette would be a good girlfriend for you."

 

Adrien laughed as he collapsed back onto his bed. Again. "Luka pairing me with his girlfriend! Oh, that's rich! See, this is why secret identities are terrible!" Adrien muffled his laughter with his pillows.

 

Plagg floated above his kid, Adrien having released him, and felt warmth at this genuine mirth. Adrien had laughed before but the occasions were sparse. The boy's shoulders shook as he breathed deeply. An ear to ear grin firmly in place as he settled down.

 

Adrien stretched as a huge yawn escaped him. Plagg pulled the sheets up to Adrien's shoulders. The boy was struggling to stay awake. His eyes drooped closed before fluttering open. Plagg placed an appendage on each eyelid and held them shut.

 

Adrien shook his head slowly trying to dislodge Plagg. "Noooo! Just a little-" He let out a massive yawn. "-longer!"

 

"It's two!" Plagg grumbled. "You're supposed to be the responsible one in this relationship!"

 

Adrien giggled. "The sixteen year-old teenager is more responsible than the universe-old deity!"

 

"Your brain is much more annoying when it lacks sufficient oxygen, ya know that?"

 

Adrien yawned irreverently but settled himself into a comfortable position. Plagg did likewise. It wasn't long before he heard the boy's soft snores.

 

Plagg didn't want to leave but he felt his own eyes drooping. Sleeping here meant Luka, who was an unreasonably early riser, would find him gone. He was on thin ice with his disappearing acts as it was.

 

So, like always Plagg roused himself. Again he noted how peaceful Adrien seemed in sleep.

 

"Goodbye, Adrien," he said more for himself than for the boy. Because last time he didn't get the chance.

 

He won't make that mistake again.

Chapter Text

Alya was confused.

 

She didn't like being confused. Even if the source of her confusion was making her other friends happy. Things should make sense when you put them together. That's not to say she didn't see the pattern.

 

Nino started talking to her about his music again. And more than that, actually sharing it with her. Letting her listen to unfinished mixes and accepting her input.

 

Marinette was having bursts of inspiration Alya hadn't seen in months. And she wasn't ripping out the Chat Noir inspired designs from her sketchbook like she used to, either.

 

Alya knew exactly who was responsible for these positive changes: Adrien Agreste!

 

. . . Okay, so it was probably too convenient for Adrien to be responsible for everything. But he was definitely a major factor!

 

Nino was spending more time with Adrien (and Kagami). Alya was happy Nino wasn't coming to her about Adrien being reserved around him anymore . . . Although, it was a bit weird that Nino wasn't being as forthcoming about his best friend as he used to be.

 

Marinette had the opposite reaction, her girl had so many thoughts they all came out in a jumble. They had talked late into the night about that first conversation after half a year of stuttering and single syllable answers. A conversation Adrien had started.

 

Maybe she was reading too much into this. It was normal to be happy when your friend starts talking to you again . . . But she needed to distract herself from Chat Noir.

 

Ladybug probably regrets telling me about that.

 

Alya was in the unenviable position of wanting to respect Ladybug's privacy and really, really wanting to know what happened to Chat Noir. Even if she'd only asked a handful of times her questions upset Ladybug. And that just wouldn't do.

 

So, without the boys around Rena Rouge had apologized for her behavior. That wasn't something she wanted to repeat anytime soon. Ladybug had enough to deal with as it was.

 

Still. Sometimes Ladybug acted . . . un-Ladybug-like. The guys wouldn't say anything so that left Rena Rouge to tactfully suggest maybe not putting their heavy hitter in the back. Alya understood why; Ladybug already lost one Black Cat, she wasn't about to lose another one.

 

Alya put those thoughts into the back of her mind to better focus on the blond enigma in front of her.

 

Adrien went from being Chloe's friend to her best friend's crush to her boyfriend's best friend. Throughout that first year Alya had spent precious little time actually being Adrien's friend. Instead focusing on Marinette's elaborate . . . she didn't want to say 'schemes'.

 

Alya hadn't noticed until Marinette's plans went from trying to gain Adrien's affection to trying to help Adrien open up.

 

And I thought her romance-oriented plans were out there.

 

. . . Alya really shouldn't be doing this . . . But she wanted to help. She wanted to know. And she wasn't the only one; the whole class wanted to know too.

 

Good thing Alix is here.

 

That girl made sure everyone had their head on straight. Especially Kim. Alix was good at talking Marinette out of some . . . questionable ideas. And keeping the art room from bugging Rose about her bandmate too much.

 

Or she used to. Everyone seemed to have accepted that whatever-it-is would remain a mystery. Adrien was smiling after all. Playing video games with Max, taking part in Kim's silly challenges, giving Nathaniel and Marc constructive criticism (not sure how that happened) on their comics, and basically being more involved with his friends than ever.

 

Maybe she should just let this go? Adrien wasn't the only one that ever died in an akuma attack or the only one to take it this hard. Alya shuddered as she remembered Syren.

 

"Trixx, what do you think?"

 

"I think you've been staring at a guy who isn't your boyfriend longer than socially acceptable," Trixx replied from his hiding place in her hair.

 

Alya blushed. "I have not!"

 

Some of the students in the courtyard turned to give her funny looks. Thankfully Adrien and Kagami were too far away to hear. Alya held her phone a bit higher, pretending to speak into it. No, it wasn't recording. Yet.

 

"Mm, you kind of have though. It's starting to reach Marinette levels," Trixx pointed out.

 

"I'm nowhere near Marinette levels!" Alya whisper-shouted.

 

"True. She never took pictures."

 

Alya groaned. Or maybe it was a growl.

 

"Didn't Nino make it abundantly clear that Adrien doesn't want to tell anyone else whatever-it-is?" Trixx reminded her.

 

"According to the Bro Code it is totally prohibited for me to reveal confidential info without the express permission of said bro . . . Sorry, dude."

 

". . . I wanna be mad at him."

 

"For being as good a friend to Adrien as you are to Marinette?"

 

"Majestia help me. It sounds so terrible when you put it like that."

 

Trixx patted her head. "You're a good Fox. And part of being a good Fox is knowing when to keep a secret."

 

"Even though I don't actually know it?"

 

"Especially then."

 

Alya lowered her phone. "So . . . No more snooping around Adrien?"

 

"What're you asking me for?"

 

"Right," Alya stood straighter and repeated herself with more conviction. "Right! Adrien is my friend who greatly values his privacy and I should respect-"

 

"M. DUPAIN! W-w-what are you doing here!?"

 

Alya looked at Adrien again and standing beside him was indeed Tom Dupain. How had she missed someone so tall? Alya walked toward them.

 

"-seen Marinette?" Tom Dupain asked.

 

"N-n-no." Adrien took a step back. "She m-might be in the art room."

 

Kagami grasped one of his hands tightly and stepped forward. "I'm sure Marinette just forgot to turn her phone back on . . . M. Damocles! M. Dupain is looking for Marinette."

 

Adrien quickly backed away, removing his hand from Kagami's who followed a step behind. Kagami positioned herself between Tom Dupain and Adrien.

 

"-really come to the office first." M. Damocles chastised.

 

"Oh, yes, of course! It's just . . . where is that again?"

 

Alya passed the two adults who didn't notice Adrien curling in on himself.

 

"It wasn't him . . . It wasn't him . . . It wasn't him . . . It wasn't him!"

 

"What- What's going on?" she asked Kagami.

 

Kagami ignored her and reached toward Adrien, who was pressing himself against the wall. "Adrien-"

 

"Don't. Touch. Me."

 

Kagami snatched her hand back. Adrien took deep breaths. Alya restrained herself from asking more questions.

 

Nino zoomed past her. "Adrien! Dude, what-"

 

Kagami jerked him to a stop.

 

"Hey!"

 

"He said no touching," Kagami explained.

 

"Oh . . ." Nino glanced from Adrien to their surroundings, his frown deepened.

 

Alya followed his gaze and realized they were attracting attention.

 

Nino gave Kagami a you-know-what-to-do look. She nodded and turned to glare at the gawkers; suddenly everyone was very interested in something else.

 

"Hey, bro? You wanna, maybe, go somewhere less . . . public?"

 

". . . Don't talk to me like that."

 

". . . You're totally causing a scene and I know you hate that. So get your butt moving, dude!"

 

Adrien's lips twitched. "Okay." He wouldn't meet anyone's eyes as he made his way to the boy's restroom.

 

"Nino!" This time Alya reached out to stop him. "Wait. What . . . What triggered him?"

 

Nino glanced between Alya's expectant face and Adrien's retreating back. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Ah, yeah. Look, dude, Adrien needs me now but, uh . . . Kagami! You explain!"

 

Alya turned to see Kagami's look of surprise and then turned back just in time to see her boyfriend disappear into the boy's room.

 

Why, that little-

 

"Coward!" Kagami exclaimed.

 

I'm the only one allowed to insult my boyfriend!

 

Alya mentally shook the automatic thought away. "So, how 'bout that explanation?"

 

"My honor prevents me from divulging anything without Adrien's consent," Kagami replied neutrally.

 

That sounded suspiciously similar to what Nino had told her . . . Although it wasn't any different from what Kagami had said before. The idea that the three of them had planned specifically for her left Alya feeling  . . . conflicted.

 

"All I want is to know what happened so I can help! Then Adrien won't have to deal with . . . This!" Alya gestured vaguely around them.

 

Kagami's eyes softened. "Today was a special circumstance. I doubt he's encountered this trigger at all since the incident."

 

Alya tried not to feel annoyed at the deflection. "This trigger? What was different today?"

 

Kagami just raised an eyebrow.

 

"Adrien, you, no Nino, no Marinette, M. Dupain . . ." Alya's eyes widened. "Weredad!"

 

"Keep your voice down!"

 

"Of course! The timing matches up! That's why he . . . Oh."

 

"It took you this long to piece that together?"

 

"I was a bit distracted at finding out one of my friends died!" Not turned into a statue or encased in magical ice or . . . Or anything else! Died."

 

Kagami's look shifted. "Is this the first time it's happened to someone close to you?"

 

"No, but . . . It's been a while."

 

"I see." Kagami must've seen that Alya didn't want to talk about that with her. "Have you told Marinette?"

 

"My girl has enough to deal with. I can't just go 'Hey, Marinette! Adrien died half a year ago and didn't tell anyone because reasons!' "

 

"Perhaps you should say that louder so everyone can hear," Kagami said sarcastically.

 

Alya ignored this and barreled on with her rant. "No way! Not doing that! Especially with Weredad involved. She has this weird guilt about that villain! Knowing Adrien got caught up in it will only make her feel worse!"

 

"And how would Adrien feel if I betrayed his trust by telling you something he doesn't want me to?"

 

. . . Well, drat.

 

"That's a fair point but I already figured out Weredad. Isn't there anything you can tell me about what happened?"

 

"Adrien didn't offer specifics and I didn't ask."

 

Alya sighed in defeat. Kagami hadn't budged since this whole affair started. At this point Alya was just questioning Kagami out of habit.

 

"At least I know why Adrien was avoiding my girl now."

 

"Right. That's why he did that."

 

". . . Do you think Nino needs help?"

 

"Boy's bathroom. And no, he's much better at getting Adrien to 'chill' than I am."

 

"You three seem close."

 

"Hasn't Nino provided exposition?"

 

"My boyfriend is suspiciously unforthcoming"

 

Kagami smiled. "He really is terrible at keeping secrets."

 

"Oh, you have no idea."

 

Kagami gave her a thoughtful look. "How is Marinette?"

 

"Well, now that 'Sunshine' is talking to her again Marinette's obs- concern is at an all time low. Thanks for that."

 

Kagami shook her head. "I should be thanking you. I don't think Adrien would have opened up to Nino when he did if you hadn't talked to him. You're a good friend."

 

Gratitude swelled in Alya's chest at the words.

 

"He's had fewer off day's with Nino around," Kagami continued. "Today notwithstanding."

 

"Do you think they'll stay in there all day?" Alya remembered Adrien's previous episodes.

 

"Adrien's stronger than you think," Kagami stated with conviction.

 

As if to prove her point that's when the boys emerged. Nino looked at the girls nervously. Adrien seemed embarrassed but held his head up.

 

Kagami stepped toward them and raised an eyebrow "Well?"

 

Adrien took a deep breath and said, "I need to see M. Dupain again."

 

"What!?" Alya exclaimed.

 

Kagami's other eyebrow rose to meet the first then she narrowed her eyes accusingly at Nino.

 

"Dude, it's not my fault! I tried to talk him out of it! Bro's seriously determined."

 

Kagami looked at Adrien. "You shouldn't push yourself before you're ready. Healing takes time."

 

"I've had time. Now I need to face my demons." Adrien squared his shoulders.

 

"That's great and all," Alya said. "But you faced him ten minutes ago. Didn't turn out so great."

 

"Understatement," Nino agreed.

 

Adrien gave a questioning look to Kagami.

 

"She knows about Weredad," Kagami explained.

 

"Ah." Adrien pushed his surprise aside and looked at them, unwavering. "He took me by surprise. I can do this! . . . If you help me."

 

Well . . . That's just cheating.

 

Kagami stared at him for a moment. Apparently satisfied with what she saw Kagami nodded. "Alright."

 

"What!?" Nino cried out, full of concern. "But . . . Dude . . ."

 

"He says he can do it," Kagami said, giving Nino a meaningful look.

 

Nino glanced between Adrien and Kagami, his worried eyes landed on Alya.

 

"I'm in," Alya said.

 

Adrien gave her a grateful smile.

 

Nino slumped in resignation but quickly straitened and set his cap. "Right dudes! If we're gonna do this someone needs to look out for Marinette and Chloe."

 

Alya understood perfectly. Didn't want Marinette seeing Adrien react badly to her dad. And as for Chloe . . .

 


 

 

"Of course Queen Bee is the best superhero!" Chloe exclaimed. "But at least Panthera is much better than that mangy alley cat who turned tail and ran!"

 

The courtyard was suddenly very quiet except for Marinette's growling beside Alya. Nino and Kagami stood next to a stiff Adrien, shooting daggers at Chloe.

 

"What?" Chloe asked disdainfully. "Anyone with eyes can see it. Ladybug herself told me Chat Noir just up and left! Right?"

 

Sabrina nodded vigorously.

 

Alya wasn't sure who was angrier: her or Nino. That was not what Ladybug told them! Alya opened her mouth to launch verbal barbs at Chloe, but her words were lost in the cacophony of voices.

 

"How dare you!?"

 

"Like you'd know a good superhero-"

 

"Chloe Bourgeois!"

 

"-if he fell on your head!"

 

"Chat Noir was an awesome hero!"

 

"Ladybug would be ashamed of-"

 

"Oh, please!'" Chloe cut them off . "Like you haven't been thinking the same thing! We're all better off without that-"

 

"Shut. Up."

 

Everyone stared at Adrien in varying degrees of shock. He was trembling, eyes down and fists clenched.

 

"A-all you do is i-insult everyone around you. Criticizing e-every flaw l-like you don't have any." Adrien looked up to glare at Chloe who stood frozen. "That- That's not okay! J-just because you're in pain doesn't give you the right to m-make everyone else as miserable as you!"

 

Adrien bolted. Chloe lurched after him. "Adrien, wait!"

 

She didn't get far as Nino blocked her path. "No, you don't, dude!"

 

"Outta my way you-"

 

Kagami walked up to Nino's side "No."

 

Fluttering black wings appeared in the corner of Alya's eye. She whipped her head toward it so fast pain flared in her neck . . . But it was only a white butterfly.

 

Unease filled Alya as she gazed around at her agitated classmates. Alix and Kim glared angrily at Chloe. The blond herself demanded to see Adrien, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes. Rose and Juleka held each other while Luka stood protectively near them. Max was attempting to calm a confused Markov. It was a powder keg.

 

Alya turned to a troubled Marinette who gazed in the direction Adrien fled. "Girl, you gotta do something."

 

Marinette snapped out of her thoughts. "M-me?"

 

"Yes, you!" Alya took in everyone around them with her hands. "This is one black butterfly short of an akuma attack."

 

"Yeah, but . . ."

 

"They'll listen to you, Marinette."

 

Determination filled Marinette"s eyes as she nodded. "Make sure Adrien doesn't get akumatized."

 

"You got it, girl."

 

As Marinette went to pacify a former Bee, a Turtle, and a potential Dragon, Alya searched for Adrien. He wasn't hard to find.

Chapter Text

Tom Dupain walked down the stairs from the second story. Adrien tried not to fidget. Nino stood encouragingly beside him. Kagami basically blocked the library doors to keep Chloe in there. Alya looked down on the boys from her position next to the art room, which was currently occupied by Marinette.

 

Adrien engaged once Tom Dupain reached the base of the stairs. He held one of his arms nervously as the big man talked animatedly.

 

Alya couldn't quite catch what was said from her position. "What's he saying?"

 

Trixx's ears twitched. "Something about going to the bakery . . . Says he hasn't seen Adrien in a while."

 

"I'll bet."

 

Tom Dupain's excitement seemed to physically push at Adrien but Nino placed a hand on his best friend's back, gently holding him in place.

 

Alya felt doubt gnaw at her insides. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

 

"Too late now," Trixx replied.

 

Alya's eyes flicked to Kagami who's intense expression seemed to will Adrien to hold his ground. So, she did the same.

 

Tom Dupain was about to pull the boys' into a bear hug but, in a show of uncharacteristic restraint, limited himself to giving Nino a 'gentle' pat on the shoulder.

 

And just like that it was over. The whole exchange lasting less than five minutes. Nino patted Adrien on the back as they exchanged grins.

 

Then Adrien all but collapsed onto the stairs.

 

Fear spiked inside Alya and she raced to them. How Kagami got there before her could be addressed later.

 

Adrien took deep, calming breaths as Nino rubbed his back.

 

"You did well," Kagami complimented, earning a grin.

 

"Let's not do anything like that soon, 'kay dudes?" Nino pleaded.

 

"It worked, didn't it?" Adrien breathed out.

 

"I'm with handsome on this one." Alya got three blank looks so she rolled her eyes. "Nino. I'm with Nino."

 

Her boyfriend blushed and gave her twin finger guns. "Uh, thanks, babe."

 

Adrien and Kagami's smiles took on a teasing lilt (which Alya found a bit weird on the 'Ice Queen').

 

Nino noticed. "So, uh, what're we doing about Alya?"

 

Alya raised an eyebrow that Nino grinned at sheepishly.

 

Well, someone isn't making out with their girlfriend on the rooftops tonight.

 

Adrien had gotten his breathing under control and was looking at her thoughtfully. "What do you know?"

 

"You were caught up in the Weredad attack and didn't tell anyone except Kagami. Later you realized you had a crush on Marinette and started avoiding her even more than you already were, and by extension us. Then you told Nino and made him promise not to tell me 'cause you didn't want Marinette finding out. That about it?"

 

Adrien blinked, then smirked briefly. "Yeah, just about."

 

Alya narrowed her eyes at Nino again. "Well, someone should've told you that I'm perfectly capable of keeping secrets!"

 

"Hey, I told them that!" Nino defended himself. "It was Adrien's decision, dude!"

 

"It's true," Kagami offered. "He was adamant in his defense of your trustworthiness."

 

Adrien nodded and Alya softened her posture.

 

. . . Okay, maybe he gets one kiss.

 

Nino looked relieved. "I would'a told you, babe."

 

"Yeah, I know," Alya admitted. "It's just . . ."

 

"You wish there didn't need to be secrets between you two," Adrien inferred.

 

Alya nodded and Adrien's eyes sparked with mixed emotions. "Not like you have any secrets of your own though, is it?"

 

Nino shook his head vigorously at this in discouragement while Kagami tried unsuccessfully to hide her amusement.

 

"You know what, Agreste?" Alya glared at him in warning.

 

Adrien's smug look distracted her from the questions in the back of her mind. But before she could give him a fitting retort her stomach growled.

 

Adrien beamed as his stomach answered back. "Shall we postpone this for lunch?"

 

". . . Fine! But you're not off the hook!"

 

"That's my line!" Adrien rose and the four of them made their way to the cafeteria. ". . . Judging by your  insistence I'm guessing you're not going to tell Marinette anything about the incident this time around either?"

 

He needs to hear me say it.

 

"I won't. I promise."

 

Adrien smiled in appreciation and walked ahead of them. Probably to process all of this. Alya knew she needed to so he definitely did. Kagami gave her a rare smile and caught up to Adrien. That left her and Nino trailing behind.

 

"Babe? You mad?"

 

"I'm not mad . . . Okay, I'm a little mad. But . . . I understand. I do . . . Man, being outside the loop stinks."

 

Nino lowered his cap over his eyes. ". . . Yeah."

 

Alya felt a surge of emotion as understanding hit her. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Hey, you're here for him now, yeah?"

 

Nino's eyes widened in wonder at how well she knew him. He smiled, "Yeah."

 

". . . So, Adrien and Chat Noir were the only ones besides Marinette and her parents who were affected by Weredad," Alya thought aloud.

 

Nino stiffened beneath her arm but said nothing.

 

"You're so tense. Do you think Adrien is-"

 

"No!" Nino yelped.

 

"You don't think Adrien is conflating his issues with Chat Noir being gone?"

 

". . . Oh."

 

"Or however you phrase that. Marinette is doing the same thing. Sorta."

 

"Well . . . My bro is a big Chat Noir fan. Me and Kagami are helping him sort through everything."

 

"Kagami and I," Alya corrected absently. "That why he finally blew up at Chloe?"

 

Nino's eyes darkened. "Among other things."

 


 

 

Alya didn't know what she was expecting but this wasn't it.

 

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Adrien cried as he struck his own face.

 

"Hey!" Alya grabbed his hands. He hadn't been hitting himself too hard but that didn't reassure her.

 

"Alya . . ." His face flushed in shame. ". . . How are they?"

 

"Let's focus on you right now." She gently pulled his hands away from his face.

 

"I made things worse, didn't I?" He tugged out of her grasp. "Idiot! I shouldn't have said anything!"

 

"Hey, Chloe was asking for it! She's been even more insufferable since-" Alya quickly changed tactics. "Chloe's hit below the belt before but this is a new low. You didn't say anything that wasn't true."

 

"Then why do I feel like a jerk?"

 

" 'Cause you're too nice."

 

"Ha!"

 

"I'm serious, Adrien. How many second chances have you given her? How many times has she taken advantage of your kindness? Chloe's been getting away with everything for years! Don't you think that's long enough?"

 

". . . Forgiveness shouldn't be a debt to hold over someone."

 

Alya scowled. "No, but it shouldn't be taken as an excuse to do whatever you want either."

 

Adrien grew quiet, his expression thoughtful. "I'm going to apologize."

 

"What!? You shouldn't have to! She doesn't deserve it!"

 

"I feel sick, Alya. I feel physically sick about . . . I should've tried harder."

 

". . . You're not responsible for her actions, Adrien."

 

"She was my only friend. I should've been there for her."

 

". . . Yeah but, see, she should've been there for you, too."

 

". . . I'm going to apologize for yelling at her in front of everyone and then-" Adrien silenced Alya's protests with a glare. "And then. I'm ending it. I'm done. I . . . I can't keep g-going like this!"

 

". . . Then don't. Do what's best for you, Adrien."

 

". . . All those times I told . . . her to be nice to Chloe . . ."

 

"Like I said, you gave her every chance."

 


 

 

"She still trying to win Adrien over?" Alya asked.

 

"Yup."

 

"It gonna work?"

 

Nino scoffed. "Not as long as Adrien is the only reason Chloe's got to be nice, dude. My bro sees right through her!"

 

Alya shook her head in disappointment. "You'd think she would'a put this much effort in before Adrien broke off their friendship."

 

"Yeah. Most of her schemes back then were about getting Kagami away from Adrien rather than getting herself closer to him. Bee's got major priority issues, dude."

 

"Understatement," Alya echoed his phrase from earlier. "She still giving you guy's trouble?"

 

"With Adrien's patented 'How could you disappoint me like this?' look at the ready? She's not that dumb."

 

Suddenly Wayzz lifted Nino's cap a bit so he could peak out. "Don't let your guard down. That Chloe girl rarely makes decisions based on logic."

 

"We're supposed to be hiding," Trixx mock-scolded.

 

"You are hiding. I am meditating," Wayzz corrected.

 

"You mean sleeping?"

 

"That too."

 

"You don't think Chloe'd really try anything do you, little dude?" Nino asked.

 

"Perhaps not, but it would be wise to stay alert. Especially with Adrien's . . . vulnerability."

 

"Makes sense," Alya said. "Don't want any akumatizations happening on our watch."

 

Nino stumbled. "R-right! That'd be very uncool . . ."

 

"Al-ya, your beau needs at-ten-tion!" Trixx sing-songed.

 

Alya rolled her eyes but, making sure Kim wasn't around, she pulled Nino in for a kiss. His surprise melted away and he returned the favor.

 

Then their stomachs growled.

 

"Food?" Alya released Nino's shirt to hold his hand.

 

"Yes. Definitely. Let's do that," Nino replied, a bit flustered. 

 

"Trixx! They're supposed to be discussing important matters!" Wayzz chided.

 

Don't worry, Wayzz. I've got plenty of questions.

 

"I don't see why they can't do that and kiss. Besides, I said Nino needed attention, I didn't say what kind!"

 

Wayzz wisely elected not to respond as Alya and Nino hurried to catch up with their friends.

Chapter Text

"Well? Here to gloat? To say 'I told you so'? Go ahead!"

 

"No."

 

"Why not? Everyone else is going on about how they 'always knew', except you actually did. You always thought you were better than me!"

 

"No. I didn't."

 

"Why are you here? Still trying to 'save' me? You think that after everything that happened you're just going to swoop in and save the day?"

 

". . . There are two kinds of people in the world."

 

"What are you going on ab-"

 

"Shut up! Listen. Two kinds of people. Those who choose to change and those who choose not to. In spite of everything I still think you can change. But it has to be your choice."

 

"You think it's that easy? That you can choose to be a different person just like that? I've been different people! I've been every kind of person I wanted to be!"

 

"I don't mean your facade, I mean you. And there's nothing easy about change."

 

"What do you know about it! You've always had it easy! How could you possibly understand anything!?"

 

"You're not the only one who's died, Lila."

 

". . ."

 

"You're not the only one who's been targeted by a supervillain. You are the only one who thought Papillon cared about you. He doesn't care about anyone but himself."

 

"Don't . . . Don't look at me like that. I don't want it. I will not be pitied b-by a naive . . . broken . . ."

 

"You hurt my friends. You hurt me. You willingly helped a terrorist. You attacked Marinette. And. I. Let. You! I don't pity you Lila. I hate you. But . . . That doesn't matter."

 

"Is th-this the part were you spout nonsense about choice again? Because I d-don't think I've got a ch-choice."

 

"You'd be surprised how much it helps to work on yourself. Goodbye, Lila."

 

"You're 'friends' are going to be mad you t-talked to me."

 

"Thought it was worth the risk."

 

". . . Why?"

 

"Because at this rate you're going to destroy yourself. And that would be a terrible waste."

 

 


 

 

"So, they'er sending her off."

 

"Yeah."

 

"Any idea where?"

 

"Didn't ask."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"Why are you apologizing? I'm the one who should've warned you about her."

 

"I knew what Lila was anyway. I knew. Yet I still overreacted."

 

"You didn't overreact! Lila's good at what she does! It wasn't your fault!"

 

"I stabbed her in the heart. I exposed her on live television and then I stabbed her in the heart!"

 

Adrien reached for her but she stepped back and turned away.

 

"I-I don't want you to see me like this."

 

"You've been there for me through everything. Let me be there for you."

 

Adrien stepped in front of her and cupped Kagami's face between his hands; using his thumbs to wipe at her tears as he searched for what to say. ". . . I thought we agreed that akuma attacks are no one's fault but Papillon's?"

 

Kagami's eyes searched his for any hint of uncertainty. Adrien held her watery gaze; there was no doubt or accusation to be found. Kagami embraced him, she clung at him like a lifeline as she cried.

 

It tore at Adrien's heart to see one of the strongest people he knew break down. Her shaking rocked him as his own eyes watered. She'd been his rock, but . . . could he be her's?

 

 

 

 

Adrien waited until her breathing evened out. ". . . Kagami . . . I won't pretend to understand what you're feeling. My experience is . . . different, than your's. But . . . we're alike in this way: we both repress things . . . Things that hurt."

 

Kagami had lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him as he spoke. "I had a crush on you."

 

Adrien nodded. "I know . . . I had one on you too."

 

"So, where does that leave us?" Kagami asked softly.

 

Adrien sighed. "I . . . like being your friend. I like us."

 

"Really, Adrien? Couldn't you have made that even more confusing?" Some light returned to Kagami's eyes.

 

Adrien blushed. "Sorry. I-"

 

"I get it. I like us as friends, too. The reason I said that was so you'd understand." Kagami stepped out of his embrace and whiped at her drying tears. "I'm not going to hide anything from you. I'm not going to hide from this. I'm not going to hide."

 

Adrien's gut twisted. "Kagami-"

 

She held up a hand to stop him. "Whatever you're not telling me about Nino, I'm sure you have your reasons."

 

Adrien's eyes widened in surprise, then he smiled sadly at her. "Thank you."

 

Kagami turned away. Adrien gazed at her in concern as she held her hands close to her heart. As though she was searching for something.

 

"Kagami? Are you . . . Do you need anything?" That wasn't what he was really asking and she knew it.

 

"I feel a bit numb. Like I've been wrung out. But I'll be okay. I'll get through this." Kagami looked at him, her usual determination shining through the shadows in her eyes. "I will."

 

They both knew it wasn't going to be easy. Adrien understood that much, as he was going through something similar. Yet, he smiled at her, hopeful. "I know you will."

 

 


 

 

"I can't believe you didn't tell me!"

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"We had her as our babysitter!"

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"You knew! You knew and- I called Marinette a liar, dude!"

 

"In your defense, this was after she lied about the . . . picnic . . . thing . . ."

 

Nino glared at him. Adrien shut up. They had never fought before, not really. Adrien didn't like it.

 

"You can't just not tell us these things, dude!"

 

"I'm sorr-"

 

"Stop that!"

 

"Sorry . . ."

 

Nino's hands twitched, like they were itching to do something. "Why? Why didn't you say anything?"

 

Adrien tried to make himself smaller. "I . . . I don't know . . . She seemed . . . lonely. The mask she wore . . . it was like mine. She reminded me . . . of me . . ."

 

Nino startled Adrien by clutching his shirt and pulling him in so they were eye to eye. "You listen to me, bro. You are nothing like her! Alright!? You're not the one who got our friend akumatized!"

 

Adrien stared at him. ". . . You're not really mad at me, are you?"

 

"What? Yeah, I am!"

 

"Well, yes, but . . . This is about Kagami, isn't it?"

 

Nino trembled  as he hung his head. "I-I let her in. I let Lila . . ."

 

Adrien was relieved when Nino didn't struggle against his embrace.

 

"Y-you . . . s-stupid . . . idiot!"

 

"I-I'm sorry."

 

Nino wrapped his arms around Adrien. ". . . I'm still mad at you."

 

"I kn-know."

 

". . . Promise you won't do that again."

 

Nino had never asked anything of Adrien before. ". . . I promise."

 

This crisis had taken so much from him. From all of them. The guilt that twisted his insides clawed at his friends too and he didn't know how to stop it.

 

At least Alya will do better with Marinette.

 

Marinette. His classmates were planning a big apology. Should he apologize? For stopping her the day of Chameleon?

 

. . . No, Adrien decided. Attacking Lila head on would never have worked. But . . . Not trying something else? Leaving Marinette to stand alone and his friends in the dark? He would apologize for that.

 

Adrien tightened his hold on Nino as the tears started. "I promise."

 

 


 

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"N-no! You don't have to apologize!"

 

"No, I really think I do. I'm supposed to have your back. I'm supposed to be your p- friend!"

 

"You have! You are! I . . . I wasn't in any state to confront Lila."

 

". . . You were right about her."

 

". . . It's not enough to be right. Maybe it should be, but it's not."

 

"Then what is?"

 

"I don't know . . . We were looking at something from two different angles. Maybe somewhere in the middle we'll find our answer."

 

"Things are so much simpler when you're a superhero."

 

"Huh?"

 

"I mean! I assume! Supervillain shows up, you stop them, end of story. Right?"

 

". . . Right."

 

"It's just . . . most problems aren't that straight forward."

 

"You mean 'cause every time I tried to expose Lila I came off as the bad guy?"

 

". . . Yeah. Not every villain's as obvious as the akumatized."

 

"Like Chloe's mom?"

 

"Actually, I was thinking of her dad."

 

"What? But he's so . . ."

 

"Corrupt? Inefficient? Spend-millions-of-euros-on-space-dumpsters-without-consulting-scientific-experts-y?"

 

". . .Wow. All that went right over my head the first time."

 

"Mine too. I've had a chance to reflect since then."

 

"So, Rogercop was right."

 

"About Mayor Bourgeois? Sure. About what to do?"

 

"Not even close."

 

"Guess you're right. Being right isn't enough . . . So, do you accept?"

 

"Accept what?"

 

"My apology."

 

"Oh! . . . What exactly are you apologizing for?"

 

"For not helping you find a way."

 

"Then yes."

 

Adrien felt a great weight lifted from his shoulders. "Thank you, Marinette."

 

Marinette looked as though she'd been relieved of a heavy burden too. "Thank you, Adrien."

 

"For what?"

 

"Being my friend."

Chapter Text

"You've improved a lot," Adrien complimented as Max's avatar reduced his to pixels.

 

"Actually, your own skills have declined by twenty-one point four percent!" Markov corrected. "Max, however, has improved by ten point two percent!"

 

"Markov!" Max scolded gently. "We've discussed your honesty parameters towards humans, remember?"

 

Markov drooped, chastised. "Sorry, Max. Sorry, Adrien."

 

Adrien smiled at the floating robot. "It's alright. I prefer it when people are honest with me."

 

Markov perked up immediately. "Your social interactions have improved by an astounding thirty-six point nine percent!"

 

Max gazed at the robot questioningly. "When did you establish those parameters?"

 

"Last night!"

 

Adrien refrained from pointing out that Markov was about as good at 'people' as Max. He observed their exchange in amusement. It reminded him of a kwami's relationship with their holder. Though Markov was much younger than any kwami.

 

He gazed with wonder at Max's creation. Markov was a work of genius. The only person he knew as smart as Max.

 

Which is exactly why I'm here.

 

The thought sobered him. "Max? Markov? There's something I need your help with."

 

"What is it, Adrien?"

 

"I'm certain we could provide invaluable assistance!"

 

Adrien looked both of them in the eye and said with all due gravity. "I need to spy on my father."

 

 


 

 

Adrien was sitting down to dinner. His plate untouched in front of him. His eyes wandered aimlessly across the room when the butterfly motif caught his attention.

 

 It sent his mind back to Ladybug's accusation: that Gabriel Agreste was Papillon. That theory lasted all of twenty seconds after meeting the Collector. After all, a Miraculous holder couldn't use their power on themselves.

 

No, in order to do that they'd need-

 

Nathalie walked in, her brooch catching his eye.

 

-a partner.

 

"Adrien your father is very busy and won't be able to come to dinner," she informed him like she'd done every day since the incident, not bothering to glance up from her tablet.

 

". . . That's alright, Nathalie. I wasn't hungry anyway." He stood up and walked past her. Side-eyeing the peacock themed accessory.

 

"Be sure to practice your piano before bed," Nathalie said from habit, even though he hadn't played the piano in months.

 

When Adrien entered his room he glanced at the untouched instrument but otherwise ignored it. He turned on the TV and switched to a news channel.

 

There was no reason to jump to conclusions because of a few coincidences. Even if every missed meal and last minute interruption for the past two years coincided with an akuma attack . . . Just like this one apparently.

 

The news crew had only just arrived outside the building where the battle was taking place but Adrien wasn't interested in the fight itself. He rushed to his computer and pulled up the Ladyblog's list of akuma attacks, comparing each event to what he knew of his father's schedule . . . Which wasn't much so it led nowhere.

 

Shifting approach Adrien thought of how his father had reacted to them. Or rather, how he hadn't reacted to them. Not once had he threatened to pull Adrien out of school despite all the akuma that seemed to target Francoise Dupont. He hadn't even seemed bothered.

 

It wasn't until he'd found -lost- the Miraculous Grimoire that he'd been pulled from school. That book started the whole Volpina/Collector episode . . .

 

Adrien clenched his fists as he trembled.

 

Riposte tried to cut me in half!

 

The mouse went flying, shattering against the wall.

 

Style Queen turned me into a perfect, pretty statue!

 

The keyboard was ripped away from the monitors and slammed into the ground.

 

Sandboy . . .

 

The chair was lifted overhead and brought crashing down onto the screens.

 

Oni-Chan!

 

Adrien breathed heavily as he leaned against the desk. Looking up he saw the surviving monitor had reverted to his screensaver.

 

Maman.

 

Forcing his mind back on track Adrien realized he was missing something crucial: evidence.

 

He walked over to turn off the TV, which showed the Guardians of Paris helping the de-akumatized victim, and waited.

 

Nathalie burst into his room with the Gorilla a moment later. She took in the destroyed computer station and his expressionless features in silence.

 

"I'll need new equipment," he stated obviously.

 

Something like sorrow passed fleetingly over her face before she nodded once and turned on her heel.

 

That was expected. Nathalie had grown even more distant since the incident. Just like his father. They hadn't even said a word of protest when Adrien simply stopped showing up for his scheduled activities.

 

His mood swings were taken in stride.

 

The Gorilla was still there, watching him in concern. His bodyguard was the only adult in the manor to draw close to Adrien, allowing his stoic exterior to fall for brief moments.

 

The Gorilla gestured to the destruction and grunted a question.

 

Adrien gave him a melancholy smile. "I'm sorry . . . Thank you."

 

Seeing that he wouldn't elaborate further the Gorilla gave him a pointed stare and left, reluctantly.

 

Collapsing onto the floor Adrien exhaled slowly. Turning his foot slightly he glared at the black butterfly on the side of his shoe. The Gabriel logo.

 

. . . Adrien needed proof. And he knew just who to ask for help.

 

 


 

 

 

"Are you sure about this?"

 

"There's a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that we will accomplish our objective."

 

"He meant, am I sure I want to go through with this." Adrien corrected the robot.

 

"Oh . . . Why would you not want to be certain that your theory is correct?" Markov glanced at both of them, puzzled. "If we obtain the evidence we need then stopping Papillon becomes a simple matter of informing the heroes."

 

"Well, yes," Max agreed. "But that wouldn't be the only consequence." He turned his eyes to Adrien.

 

". . . Papillon used our friends as pawns. Used us as pawns. 'Father' kept me prisoner in my own room to 'protect' me from what was out there, when the real threat was in here. He's shown a constant disregard for the lives of the people around him. So, to answer your question, Max. Yes, I'm sure!"

 

Max's wide eyes stared at him for a moment before he pushed his glasses into place and refocused on their task. "Markov," he instructed, determined.

 

"On it!"

 

Markov floated to Adrien's recently repaired computer station where Max was sitting. Together they interfaced his AI systems with the mansion's security network. Markov's face screen showed twin hourglasses.

 

". . . How long will it take to go through the security footage?"

 

"Given the extensive number of cameras, the three year period we're searching through, and Markov's processing power . . . About two minutes and thirty-five seconds."

 

Adrien smiled. "That long?"

 

"We're trying to increase his efficiency but, it's a, secondary priority . . ."

 

". . . What is it, Max?"

 

"You could be wrong. There might be an alternative explanation for all of this."

 

"And the chances of that are?"

 

"Zero point zero one percent . . . Oh."

 

"Did the math beforehand, huh?"

 

"I was . . . concerned."

 

"That's fair."

 

". . . Why do you think he wants the Miraculous for?"

 

Adrien reached over and tapped a key, shifting the image on the right-most monitor.

 

Max gasped softly. "Adrien . . ."

 

"Done!" Markov spun and blinked a few times as though clearing his head. "Most of the footage we need comes from M. Agreste's office."

 

Markov opened several windows on the computer. The monitors showed Gabriel pressing hidden buttons on Emilie's painting and then vanishing into the floor. They showed the Collector rising up. They showed Papillon Escarlate walk out the front door. They showed an unknown akumatized villain, who could only be Nathalie, open the safe and then transform into the one they'd come to know as Mayura.

 

"M. Agreste enters his secret lair and approximately five minutes and forty-nine seconds later a new villain is identified. There are a few deviations from the pattern: Vanisher, Despair Bear, Queen Bee, Heroes' Day, Backwarder-"

 

"Thank you! Markov," Max interrupted. "I think we should-"

 

"Isn't there any footage of him transforming?" Adrien asked.

 

"Yes, actually," Markov replied. "During Animaestro's attack Papillon exits his lair and detransforms in the hall."

 

Adrien moves to enlarge the desired window.

 

"Adrien, wait. Perhaps you should-"

 

"You're worried about me."

 

"Of course! You're my friend! If this revelation is emotionally overwhelming for me then the chances of you having another breakdown-"

 

"Max?"

 

"Y-yes?"

 

"I'm tired, Max. I want this to be over. Just because he hasn't akumatized me yet doesn't mean he never will. I'd like to stop him before that happens."

 

"But you're his son!"

 

". . . Markov, what's the likelihood of me being akumatized within the week?"

 

". . . One hundred percent."

 

"That can't happen, Max. Once this is all over I promise to . . . slow down. But right now we need to show Ladybug what we found."

 

". . . Okay. Markov get that footage into a more user-friendly format, make sure the time stamp is visible for reference. I'll double check our footprint to make sure they won't know we were in the system. Adrien, call Alya, she has the greatest chance of contacting Ladybug quickly."

 

". . . I have a faster way," Adrien pulled out his phone and called Marinette.

Chapter Text

Nathalie walked into Adrien's room to see him gazing out the window, fencing foil in hand. "You wanted to see me?"

 

Her voice betrayed not the slightest hint of unease, despite the raging akuma attack outside. Nor did she let the irritation at not helping Gabriel in this critical moment show.

 

Adrien's grip on his foil tightened, a foil he hadn't touched in months. "I wanted to . . . hear what you had to say," he turned to face her. "Mayura."

 

Her eyes widened slightly but she reigned in the fear that would give her away. "Adrien, I realize the past nine months have been difficult for you but to spout ridiculous accusation like this . . ."

 

He strode toward her and, with his foil, pointed angrily at her chest. "Ridiculous? Then what's that?"

 

Nathalie stepped back from him and placed a protective hand over her Miraculous. "It was a gift from your father." Her tone remained neutral even as her heart thundered in her ears.

 

" 'Father' doesn't give gifts," Adrien sneared. "He has you for that."

 

". . . Adrien, I think we should put you back in therapy."

 

Adrien lowered his foil. "You think?"

 

"Adrien-"

 

"You and 'Father' have been lying to me for years. I think it's time I heard the truth. Don't you?" Adrien's voice broke on the last word, his eyes pleading with her.

 

Nathalie . . . relented. "How much do you know?"

 

"I know he's in his super-secret supervillain lair directing the akuma attack right now."

 

Nathalie's eyes widened much more significantly this time.

 

"It took him forever but he's finally gotten over the Weredad incident, huh?"

 

A chill went down her spine as the realization hit her.

 

He knows. He knows what Gabriel did!

 

"A-Adrien? Everything he's done, everything that's happened, it's all been to bring Emilie back to us."

 

Adrien stiffened and looked down.

 

"It's all been for your mother, Adrien!"

 

He has to understand! He has to!

 

". . . I know." Adrien looked back up at her and Nathalie forced herself not to react to the pain in his eyes. "It doesn't change anything."

 

No. Please, no.

 

"Nathalie . . . The wish he's after . . . It demands a price. The universe must be balanced. If you restore someone you'll also lose someone."

 

"I . . . didn't realize." She glanced at the foil which hung limply in his right hand.

 

"If he gets Maman back he could lose me. He could lose you." Adrien was pleading now.

 

He was too far away.

 

"Nathalie." Adrien held up his left hand, palm up. "Give me your Miraculous. Please."

 

Nathalie didn't move. Her love for Gabriel warred with her love for Adrien. She thought of everything they had done in Emilie's name. Of what their actions had cost the child before her. Of what they had cost her.

 

Slowly, she reached for the brooch. Adrien stepped closer, within striking distance.

 

"Th-thank you." Adrien's eyes flooded with relief.

 

Nathalie struck at his right hand with her tablet while her other hand reached to push him off balance. Her arms went through him and the rest of her followed as she stumbled. She turned to regard Adrien, no, Adrien's holograph, in surprise.

 

Shock was written on his features as he stared at her, then betrayal took its place.

 

"I . . . I see." Adrien's lips moved but his voice didn't come from his image. "Markov."

 

A whirring blur shot toward Nathalie.

 

"Duusu-"

 

Before she could finish the blur pulled her Miraculous away. Nathalie launched herself at it but the robot flew too high.

 

The robot floated in the center of the room with the Peacock in it's appendage. A flash of light accompanied Duusu reentering her brooch. "I have it, Adrien!"

 

"Good job, Markov. Get her to the rendezvous."

 

Markov flew towards the window.

 

"Wait! There's an akuma attack happening outside!" She reasoned, staling for time.

 

"Our projections indicate the participants will be too preoccupied to notice me," Markov replied without looking at her or slowing down. Then he was gone.

 

Nathalie turned to the life-like image of Adrien and walked through him, pulling out her phone.

 

"That won't work."

 

As Nathalie opened the door her path was blocked by Adrien's bodyguard. Her phone remained a blank white screen.

 

"Stand aside," Nathalie commanded the Gorilla.

 

Instead he locked the door behind him and picked her up. Ignoring her protests he set her down on Adrien's couch. Nathalie struck at him but he easily blocked or absorbed the force of her blows.

 

"Adrien! Let me out!" Nathalie demanded.

 

An odd look crossed Adrien's face. "No . . . I can't let you warn him . . ."

 

Nathalie tried reasoning with the Gorilla. "M. Agreste will have you fired! He'll take you away from Adrien and get someone else to protect him!"

 

The Gorrila remained impassive.

 

". . . As strangely satisfying as this is, I have an appointment to keep." Adrien nodded at the Gorilla and vanished.

 

Nathalie was trapped in this gilded cage, the only way out blocked by a man who would sooner die than fail his charge. And for the first time in nearly a year she thought about what Adrien meant to him. And what they meant to Adrien.

Chapter Text

This is a bad idea.

 

I don't care.

 

He'll akumatize you.

 

That's why I'm doing this while he's got an akuma already out.

 

It's reckless.

 

Yes. Yes, it is.

 

It's pretty convoluted.

 

Actually, it's pretty straightforward. And that describes every Ladybug plan ever.

 

You're not Ladybug.

 

No, I'm me.

 

Adrien emerged into a room full of butterflies wearing thick clothing and his arms crossed. The man in front of him stared in shock. Adrien felt too many emotions at seeing the suit he'd only laid eyes on once before to properly feel any of them.

 

"Adrien . . ." Papillon stood frozen.

 

"Le Papillon. I wonder who could be behind that mask?" Adrien asked sarcastically.

 

An explosion thundered from outside. The akumatized villain's laugh echoed unnaturally.

 

Papillon glanced from him to the window. "I . . . I don't . . ."

 

"Don't have time for me? I understand. You're work has always been more important. Why should now be any different?"

 

Papillon's eyes narrowed. "You will not speak to me this way."

 

"I'll talk to Le Papillon any way I want!" Adrien snapped.

 

". . . Very well." The hated butterfly mark appeared around Papillon's mask. "Box them in! Don't let up! I have some . . . urgent business I need to handle."

 

Papillon regarded Adrien for a moment. His too warm clothes, his arms held close to his chest, the accusation in his eyes.

 

"Nooroo, detransformez-moi."

 

A flash of light and Gabriel Agreste stood next to a purple kwami that looked at him with sad eyes. A mouth-less kwami. Adrien felt bile rise up his throat.

 

"Eat," Gabriel commanded dismissively and the kwami floated to a nearby stand to do just that.

 

I'll get you out of here, Nooroo. I swear.

 

"So," Gabriel began. "How did you find out?"

 

Adrien felt disappointment at the question. "Really? With the butterfly symbols you spammed everywhere, the Miraculous Grimoire you akumatized yourself over, the fact that you never once tried to kidnap me after you found out I was Chat Noir."

 

Gabriel flinched.

 

"Or how akuma stayed as far away from me as possible . . . until they didn't. Oh! Let's not forget the first thing you asked me immediately after dying! 'Where is your ring, son?' I'm disgusted I didn't figure it out sooner!" Adrien breathed heavily as he shifted his grip.

 

Gabriel's struggle was written plainly across his features. "It . . . It doesn't have to be this way."

 

Adrien scoffed. "Oh, no?"

 

"No, I . . ." Realization dawned on Gabriel's face "You told her . . . That's why there are so many heroes active. You know who Ladybug is!"

 

A shiver of fear shot through Adrien's body. He kept his face carefully neutral.

 

"How did you know it would be today, though? I could've done it at any time."

 

"After that business with Miraculer? The Bourgeois's anniversary was the only . . . possible . . ."

 

Gabriel grinned at Adrien's unintentional admission. "Tell me who she is! Help me defeat Ladybug! Together we can bring back Emilie! We can make it so none of this ever happened! We can be a family again!"

 

Adrien hated the small part of him that was tempted to accept Fa- Gabriel's outstretched arms. Hated the weakness inside him that would pretend all the pain he'd suffered at the hands of this man had never happened. Hated himself for even considering bringing Maman back by sacrificing someone else.

 

But the rest of him knew better.

 

"I don't want Maman back like this. She wouldn't want it either. Maman would be ashamed of what you've done."

 

Gabriel snarled and took a step towards Adrien. "How would you know what she would want? You think Emilie was some sort of saint!? You're just a child!"

 

". . . I was a child," Adrien admitted heavily. "You killed him."

 

"NO!"

 

Adrien was surprised at the remorse in his father's voi-

 

"Weredad did that! I tried to stop him!"

 

Disgust filled Adrien as even now Gabriel denied any responsibility for what he'd done. "You have the Power of Transmission! That means you empower people with your own emotions! All the rage, all the selfishness, all the apathy, that every one of your akumatized victims have inflicted on this city, all of that comes from you!"

 

"So, you'll turn your back on your family and go running back to Ladybug!?" Gabriel sneered. "You think she'll take you back!? She'll abandon you! Just like she did before!"

 

Marinette's not the one who abandoned me.

 

"And what have you been doing for the past four years?"

 

"DON'T TALK BACK TO ME YOU REBELLIOUS LITTLE INGRATE! I AM YOUR FATHER! I DON'T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MYSELF! IT'S YOUR JOB TO OBEY ME!"

 

Adrien's eyes burned, his heart ached, throat constricting. It did not come naturally to Adrien to confront his sire. His very being rebelled against it. All his life he'd tried his best to make Gabriel proud. To be the perfect son.

 

But Adrien's relationship with Gabriel had been antagonistic for a long time. Whether they understood that or not. He felt the familiar rhythm of the game.

 

Villain and hero.

 

Monster and knight.

 

Father and son.

 

Adrien pushed it up. Forced it out. Something he hadn't said to Gabriel in years.

 

"No."

 

". . . It appears I've been neglecting your discipline," Gabriel said through gritted teeth. "I'll correct that oversight as soon as Ladybug and Panthera's Miraculous are mine."

 

Gabriel turned his back to Adrien, dismissing him. Adrien shifted his grip on the weapon he'd concealed. Nooroo's eyes widened in surprise. Adrien aimed.

 

"Nooroo, transf-"

 

Gabriel jerked and spasmed as electricity coursed through him. Nooroo reentered his Miraculous in a flash. The taser clattered to the floor as Adrien's arms went limp.

 

He stared at Gabriel's immobile, drooling, blurry body. Not quite understanding. There laid Le Papillon, the terror of Paris, invader of minds, Ladybug's archenemy, France's first supervillain in decades . . . And he was beaten by a taser.

 

How mundane.

 

Explosions from outside snapped Adrien out of his trance. Wiping away his tears he turned Gabriel over and there it was. The source of so much sorrow. The Butterfly Miraculous. Adrien removed the brooch and held it in his hand.

 

Besides Ladybug this Miraculous was the only known way of stopping the akumatized victim.

 

I wonder what her powers are that she's giving so many holders this much trouble.

 

All he had to do was put it on and dispel the akuma . . .

 

The Power of Transmission gains its strength from the emotions of its wielder.

 

Adrien's emotions we're not stable.

 

I . . . I don't want this.

 

But this wasn't about him. Adrien put on the Miraculous. Nooroo materialized, with his mouth this time.

 

"Thank you, Master," The kwami said earnestly.

 

Adrien shook his head vigorously. "Adrien . . . please."

 

Nooroo smiled. "Thank you, Adrien."

 

He's so warm. How could anyone do this to him!?

 

Shoving the thoughts away before they overwhelmed him, Adrien focused. "How do I stop the akuma?"

 

"My Miraculous is more intuitive than most. Just transform and concentrate on what you want to do."

 

"R-right . . . Thank you . . ."

 

Adrien could feel it. Even without transforming, the emotions of so many people whispered in the back of his mind. The civilians' fear and hope, the heroes' determination even in the face of fallen comrades, the akumatized victim's single-minded devotion to her ideal. All of Paris in all it's imperfect glory . . . And he understood Gabriel even less.

 

Adrien took a deep breath.

 

"Nooroo, transformez-moi!"

Chapter Text

It was Emilie Agreste that finally broke Adrien's control.

 

Opening the seal Adrien held a trembling hand above her face. Nooroo said she was alive but . . . Her soft breath caressed his palm and he let out a shuddering gasp. His vision blurring he grasped one of his mother's too cold hands, feeling her gentle pulse.

 

"Maman," his voice broke.

 

It was too cold. He was too hot and it was too cold. Adrien shed his jacket and shoved it away. He was shaking now. It'd been so long . . .

 

All this time I thought . . . I missed you!

 

"I missed you so much!" His tears flowed in earnest. "But you were here!"

 

Nooroo hesitantly hugged his cheek, uncaring of the water on his face.

 

He kept me away from you!

 

His legs buckled and he knelt against her vessel.

 

"He kept you for himself!" Adrien bellowed, cradling Nooroo as he cried, his sobs echoing in the cavernous hall.

 

For four years it had eaten away at Adrien, not knowing what happened to his mother. Not knowing if she was alive or dead. Not knowing if she would ever come back, if she even wanted to come back. He had never believed it, but the doubt was there. That she'd left them. That she'd left him.

 

Adrien let out everything he could. He screamed and wailed until his throat was raw. The loneliness and frustration Gabriel had never allowed him to express came pouring out.

 

Nooroo stayed silent, sharing Adrien's grief. He clung to Adrien, fluttering his wings against Adrien's skin in a gesture of comfort. Letting Adrien know that he was not alone in his suffering.

 

Green arms wrapped around him. "I'm sorry, Adrien."

 

Adrien turned and buried his face into Carapace's shoulder. He held on tight to his brother's armored form as his cries subsided and the tears stopped.

 

". . . I-I'm sorry I bro-ke m-my promise," Adrien told him, voice wavering.

 

Carapace mearly held him tighter in response and Adrien returned the sentiment.

 

". . . Oh. H-hey, little dude. Didn't see you there."

 

"Hello, Carapace. I'm Nooroo. . ." The kwami had hidden out of habit, Adrien assumed. Now Nooroo floated at eye level. "Mas- Adrien. We should go back up."

 

It was hard to think. Adrien's thought's were muddled. But he forced himself to focus. ". . . Yeah . . . Okay." Adrien stumbled as he stood, Carapace steadying him.

 

He felt worn out. But looking at Carapace, Adrien saw he wasn't the only one. The fight with Miracle Queen had done a number on his best friend, even after Miraculous Ladybug took away his injuries.

 

He glanced at Nooroo who hovered in front of them. The kwami carried a deep sorrow Adrien could only partially understand. Papillon -Gabriel- hurt many people, but none as much as Nooroo.

 

He can't touch us anymore. And if I have anything to say about it you'll never have to see him again.

 

The kwami glanced at him but said nothing; he was reminded of Nooroo's empathic abilities.

 

Keeping an arm around Carapace's shoulders Adrien looked at his mother once more. Nooroo pressed a button and her seal closed. Turning, he started down the walkway, Carapace and Adrien leaning on each other for support.

 

 

 

 

Kagami rushed at him. Adrien wondered why she was transformed. Her hug nearly crushing his lungs for a second.

 

". . . You're not mad I didn't tell you anything?" Adrien thought they would be.

 

Kagami held him at arm's length and stared intensely into his eyes. "You were victorious, yes?"

 

"Y-yes?" It didn't feel like a victory.

 

"Then that's all that matters." Kagami pulled him back into her embrace.

 

Carapace joined in despite being dead on his feet. A soft weight told him Nooroo was in his hair. Adrien's eyes watered; he thought he'd run dry. But there was relief swirling with his heartache.

 

". . . Whe-re, ahem, where are they?" Adrien asked.

 

They were the only ones in his room. Adrien left Gabriel handcuffed to his desk, still unconscious. Then Nooroo led him to his mother . . . The taser was still on the floor of Papillon's lair. He wondered if Sabrina would get in trouble with Officer Raincomprix for 'borrowing' police equipment.

 

"The police arrested Gabriel and Nathalie a while ago," Kagami replied, pulling back a bit to look at him better. "The Gorilla was brought in for questioning. We asked them to give us a moment."

 

Adrien nodded. He should ask what her hero name was eventually. And possibly what the Dragon's power was.

 

"What was down there?" Kagami asked, she glanced between him and Carapace.

 

"My . . . Maman. M-my Maman!" Adrien squeezed his eyes shut in a futile effort to stop his tears. He wiped at them angrily. Everything was out of focus!

 

Stop it!

 

Kagami shared a worried look with Carapace as Nooroo fluttered anxiously.

 

"Adrien's mother is . . . in a coma?" Carapace asked the kwami.

 

"An enchanted sleep," Nooroo confirmed.

 

Kagami stared at the Butterfly kwami, her expression unreadable.

 

"Can . . . Can the Guardian help her?" Adrien asked Nooroo. He pushed away the mess of resentment and guilt that usually followed thoughts of that man. Turning away from his friends so they wouldn't notice . . . not that it helped.

 

Nooroo gazed at him regretfully. "I'm sorry, Adrien. I don't know how much knowledge was preserved after the fall of the Order. But it's possible!"

 

Adrien trembled. Hope was too much to ask of him. Not now. It was too soon. Too late.

 

Kagami stepped in front of him and squeezed his arms in consolation.

 

". . . I don't want to be here," Adrien realized.

 

This big, empty house full of secrets and lies repulsed him. He wanted out. The more he thought about it the more claustrophobic he felt. Adrien gripped Kagami's arms firmly to ground himself.

 

Kagami registered his growing distress. "Let's go," she lead him by the arm.

 

"Uh, what about the police and Ladybug, dude?" Carapace yawned.

 

"He's in no condition to talk to your girlfriend let alone Ladybug. Tell them I took him with me."

 

". . . You know he's Nino." Adrien's brain supplied.

 

"Took me five seconds after meeting Carapace to figure it out."

 

Carapace, Nino, placed a hand on both of their shoulders to get their attention. He nodded at Nooroo, gave Kagami a reassuring smile and looked Adrien straight in the eye. ". . . I'm proud of you, bro."

 

Adrien could only stare at his brother as he gave a tentative, bittersweet smile and his eyes watered.

 

Then Nino hurried away before his own tears fell.

 

They stood at his window. Adrien gave Kagami a nod and she picked him up. He scanned his room, this gilded cage he used to trap Nathalie, Mayura . . . In spite of everything that still sent a thrill through him.

 

Adrien looked at the kwami and offered his overshirt. "Hide, Nooroo." The little being did just that.

 

"Hold tight," Kagami instructed. The Dragon cleared the manor's walls in a single bound.

 

Adrien saw news vans surrounding the property. Policemen keeping them at bay. More officers entering through the front doors. He caught a glimpse of black and orange and red. His friends in their own uniforms. And there were blurs of brown and cyan on the rooftops.

 

Kagami landed, leaped again and the manor was left behind. She kept quiet, as though sensing his desire for peace.

 

Simply being outside made Adrien feel calmer, the breeze brushing his face and the sun kissing his skin. He remembered the freedom that came with the rush of running across the rooftops of Paris. His worries seemed to fade away up here, as though his problems couldn't catch up with him. He knew better know, but . . .

 

I can pretend for a little while longer, right?

 

With Paris below and the sky all around him Adrien drifted off, safe in the arms of someone he trusted implicitly.

Chapter Text

Adrien stared silently at Ladybug. He'd been crying again and judging by her puffy, red eyes she had too. Nooroo floated at a distance after introducing himself; the Gorilla hovering by the doorway.

 

"Thank you," Adrien signed at him, speaking aloud for Ladybug's benefit. "Why don't you check on the others?"

 

The Gorilla grunted and signed a question at him: Are you sure?

 

Adrien offered his bodyguard a small, grateful smile. "This conversation is long overdue."

 

The Gorilla studied Adrien with his usual stoic demeanor. His eyes softened in understanding as he signed: I'll leave you to it then. Giving Ladybug a last warning glance he left, closing the door behind him.

 

". . . So," Ladybug began awkwardly. "I . . . didn't realize he was mute."

 

Adrien had rarely seen her so nervous, so unsure . . . While she wore the mask, that is. "Gabriel . . . discouraged him from using sign language."

 

The disgust on Ladybug's face vividly expressed her thoughts on denying a man his voice. Then the uncertainty was back. "I don't think he likes me much."

 

"He's just being protective . . ." Adrien rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how to go about this.

 

Nooroo glanced between them. His empathetic abilities meant he could feel everything they did.

 

Adrien looked at the deactivated Miraculous laying on a nearby table. It could help him in this instance, but that would be cheating. And he wasn't in any state to use it, so he focused on the hero before him. "Do you-"

 

"I'm sorry!" Ladybug exclaimed. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you! I'm sorry you had to go through this alone! I- I should have helped you! I should have insisted! I . . . I'm sorry, Chat."

 

 


 

 

". . . Adrien?"

 

". . . Marinette . . ."

 

"Are you alright?"

 

". . . No, but that can wait."

 

"Adrien, talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."

 

". . . I-I-I know who Papillon is."

 

"What!? How do know that!? Are you sure? I mean . . . Who is he?"

 

". . . Gabriel Agreste."

 

"What? But . . . He was akumatized!"

 

"A r-ruse. To throw off suspicion."

 

"It could be something else! It could be-"

 

"Marinette. I've seen him detransform. He should have erased the video."

 

"Adrien . . . You're father . . ."

 

". . . Ladybug sh-should get everyone ready."

 

"What?"

 

"The reserve heroes. Sh-she needs to get them. All of them. He's planning something b-big and . . . and . . ."

 

". . . Why did you call me Adrien?"

 

"I . . . I trust you. Always have. I need you to trust me. Like you used to."

 

"I don't understand."

 

"Ladybug's team will deal with the akumatized villain. Let me deal with Gabriel."

 

"Wouldn't it be better to attack before Papillon makes his move? Catch him by surprise?"

 

"The manor's a fortress. The security system could easily keep a handful of heroes preoccupied while he escapes. Even with reduced staff that's still a dozen people that could get caught in the crossfire . . . Th-then there's Nathalie . . ."

 

"Nathalie . . . is Mayura?"

 

"Y-yes . . ."

 

". . ."

 

". . . He won't suspect me. Nine months he's known who I was and done nothing . . . It has to be me. And it has to be when he can't . . . Use me . . . Please."

 

"I . . . I trust you, Adrien."

 

"Tha- Thank you. Marinette . . . Now. I know who he's going to target . . ."

 

 


 

 

"Marinette . . ." Adrien breathed. He had expected this, had thought about it constantly. Despite months of anticipation he still felt unprepared. Anxiety and guilt squeezed his heart.

 

But Ladybug was far less prepared. Marinette's eyes watered as her emotions overwhelmed her. She couldn't look him in the eye.

 

Marinette understands. The feeling of failure that comes when you can't protect someone you love. She feels it, too.

 

It would be so easy to blame her the way she blamed herself. To blame everyone else, too. If she hadn't lied about her feelings. If Tom Dupain hadn't overreacted. If Sabin Cheng had toned down her husband's antics. If Wang Fu hadn't lost the Butterfly.

 

If, if, IF!

 

And where would it end?

 

". . . I don't blame you." Adrien told her honestly. "I've never blamed you. And you shouldn't either. You were there for me. You tried every day to help me, even when you didn't understand, even when I pushed you away."

 

Ladybug shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself. " I was there for Adrien, I wasn't there for Chat Noir! And I should have been! I should have been better!"

 

It broke Adrien to hear her thoughts mirror his own. After she had given everything, after he had given everything, they still felt the need to give more . . . That would not stand. Adrien strode forward and pulled her hands into his. Ladybug flinched at his touch but didn't pull away.

 

"You," his voice broke. "Were the best. You did the best you knew how." Ladybug's grip shifted and Adrien's watery eyes rose to meet her's. "Whatever debt you think you owe me or Paris or the Fates themselves, you've paid! You've paid in full! They asked the impossible. And you gave it to them! You gave them the impossible, Marinette! . . . They have no right, to ask perfection of you, too!"

 

Ladybug stared intently into his eyes, her own shining with the overflow of her emotions. ". . . Thank you." At his puzzled look she elaborated. "For believing in me. Even when I didn't."

 

"I . . . It's easier to see someone else's strengths than your own . . ." He looked away.

 

"Hey," Marinette said gently. "Look at me." Her gaze held such compassion that his breath caught. "You weren't just talking about me, were you?"

 

Adrien couldn't answer, his throat wouldn't respond, but she seemed to read the affirmation in his eyes anyway. Ladybug hesitated for a moment then wrapped her arms around him, holding Adrien close, her head against his chest. He started at the contact, face burning and heartbeat pounding.

 

"Thank you," she repeated. "Sometimes we need someone else to tell us what we should already know . . . To tell us that we are good for something. To tell us we did well. You did so well, Adrien! Bien joue, Chat Noir."

 

Adrien trembled as he slumped against her and felt Ladybug do the same. The knot in his chest finally loosening even as his tears flowed freely. He was so exhausted, so . . . relieved?

 

"Detransformez-moi."

 

Pink light flowed across Marinette, releasing her kwami. "Nooroo!" The red being tackled her younger brother, sending them spinning. Small tears glistened in their trail, as the Ladybug kwami questioned Nooroo.

 

They turned their heads to witness the exchange without separating. Adrien smiled at the reunion, nearly two centuries overdue. Marinette smiled too, her tears now ones of joy. He gazed at the shine of triumph in her eyes as they shared in the kwamis' rejoicing.

 

Marinette caught him staring out of the corner of her eye and blushed, stepping out of his arms. "I wasn't supposed to say all of that. The first part I mean. You're going through a lot without having to deal with my mess. I'm supposed to be supporting you and-"

 

Adrien placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's our mess, Marinette. We support each other. I'm glad you told me . . . Thank you, for being honest with me. I- I'm sorry I didn't say anything."

 

"That . . . That wasn't you. That was the Guardians' rules. You were just following them."

 

"I told Kagami and Nino," Adrien admitted.

 

". . . Well, that explains so much! I'm glad you told them. I'm glad they were there for you."

 

"I should have been honest with you . . ."

 

"You weren't the only one who decided it was better for me not to know. Besides, Master Fu found out anyway."

 

Adrien's eyes widened in surprise.

 

"I'm not sure which kwami spilled, but about a month ago Master Fu told me Chat Noir knew I was Ladybug. In case you were . . . were . . ."

 

"Akumatized," he finished.

 

Marinette nodded. "By then I'd stopped trying to convince them to let me see you."

 

You wanted to see me?

 

Adrien dismissed the thought as quickly as it formed; Alya had said as much when she told him Marinette missed Chat Noir.

 

"If I'd been more determined . . . Maybe, we'd have found each other sooner . . ."

 

". . . I wasn't ready. I didn't want you to see me. Not yet." Adrien had thought about this constantly. It wasn't romantic the way he used to hope. It wasn't dramatic the way he thought it'd be. Knowing who was behind the mask was messy, awkward. But . . . "I don't mind this." This whole thing was imperfect and weird but it was their's. "And I doubt you lack determination in anything, Marinette."

 

Ladybug's eyes shone with the inner light that he'd always seen in her. She rewarded his verbal stumbling with a smile and he gave her one in return.

 

They stood beside each other, neither speaking. There was so much left unsaid, yet for the moment they could set that aside and simply be.

 

". . . Hello," said a small voice, startling Adrien out of his thoughts. "I'm Tikki."

 

". . . Oh . . . Hello." Adrien greeted.

 

"I wanted to thank you for bringing our brother back to us. You were very brave," Tikki stated earnestly.

 

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "You're welcome."

 

Nooroo floated in front of him and Marinette. "You have a complicated history. Both of you have much work to do. But you also have a strong bond. After everything you've gone through it still holds." He smiled at them. "I think-"

 

"Nooroo!" A black blur shot into Nooroo and wrapped his short arms around the other kwami.

 

"Plagg!" Tikki scolded. "We were in the middle of something! And where's your holder?"

 

"I don't get why we have to go through this circus anymore," Plagg the troublemaker replied. "It's not like Adrien doesn't know Luka is Panthera alread-"

 

"Plagg!" Tikki repeated.

 

"Wh-what!? Luka is Panthera!?" Marinette exclaimed.

 

"Oops," Plagg said in a decidedly unrepentant manner.

 

Nooroo smiled at his older brother's antics. "I missed you, too."

 

"Oh, my goodness! That makes so much sense!" Marinette went on to list all the similarities between her boyfriend and . . . her boyfriend. Tikki attempted to calm her charge.

 

"Plagg," Adrien greeted warmly.

 

"Adrien!" Plagg released Nooroo and hugged Adrien's chest. He smiled at the kwami.

 

"Wait. How did you know who Panthera was?" Marinette directed her question at Adrien.

 

"Oh! Well . . ."

 

"It's 'cause Luka is super obvious!" Plagg stated matter-of-factly.

 

Marinette raised a finger in protest, paused, then lowered it slowly. "Yeah, okay. The hair should've been a dead giveaway."

 

Adrien nodded. "It took me a bit longer to figure out Carapace and Rena Rouge."

 

"What!? You know them to!?"

 

". . . I thought you knew that already?"

 

"No! Do you know who everyone is?"

 

"Uh, if I say 'yes' will you keep freaking out?"

 

Marinette covered her face with her hands and groaned, muttering through them. "Three years keeping everyone's identities safe and I was completely unaware of a walking security breach! No offense."

 

Adrien waved this away as a smile crept it's way upwards. A laugh escaped his lips before he could stop it.

 

Marinette peeked past her fingers."What's so funny?"

 

"Nothing!" he denied, fighting off a smirk. "It's just . . . you're acting like yourself again."

 

"Gee, how flattering!" Marinette replied sarcastically.

 

This time Adrien didn't try to stop the laughter. "See?"

 

Marinette rolled her eyes but she returned his grin. "Looks like I'm not the only one."

 

Adrien's smile softened. She was right, he did feel more like himself.

 

" 'Bout time, too!" Plagg remarked, earning another reprimand from Tikki. "Aw, lighten up, Sugarcube!"

 

Marinette giggled at the nickname.

 

"Don't call me that!" Tikki demanded.

 

Kagami and Nino were miracle workers the past week. They had a lot of experience in . . . Well, in Adrien. But even they didn't know what to do all the time.

 

"Sugarcube?" Marinette asked in amusement.

 

"Marinette Dupain-Cheng, you will not repeat that to anyone outside of this room!"

 

The Gorilla had always protected him and Adrien had never been more grateful. Now that it was less physical and more legal . . . As his guardian. Adrien wasn't sure how he felt about that. There was gratitude, yes, but it came with a confusing mix centered around the word 'father'. And he had almost no time to sort through it all.

 

"Are they always like this?" Marinette asked Nooroo.

 

"More or less. I'm just glad they're not sinking cities again," the Butterfly replied, to Plagg's cackling and Tikki's indignation.

 

The whole class had come in small groups but he hadn't been able to see most of them. Adrien had to be careful about who he met and when, his emotions in flux as they were. But just knowing that they hadn't abandoned him despite his parentage was a soothing balm to his soul.

 

Marinette turned away from the kwamis, who were not acting their age, to look at him. Her brow furrowed in concern at his expression. Tentatively, she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Adrien? Are you okay?"

 

Adrien smiled bittersweetly at the question. Both inadequate and common in these situations. He took in the care she had for him, written plainly on her face. Echoed in the features of the three kwamis. He was struck suddenly with the realization that these immortals cared for them, for him. No more than a blip in their eternal history and yet he mattered to them! He wiped at the tears that fell even as his smile widened.

 

Am I okay?

 

"No," Adrien admitted. "But I will be."

Chapter Text

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 . . ."