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Does Anybody Have a Map?

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Chapter 1: Does Anybody Have a Map?

 

"Hugo, come on, we have to get going!" Marinette called down the hall.

At twenty-four, Marinette had changed a lot since her teenaged years. She had grown out her hair and now wore it in a ponytail most of the time. She was constantly on the move between meetings with possible investors for her fashion start-up, designing, and sewing her own fashion line. But the biggest change in her life was the new addition.

Her son, Hugo.

Hugo wasn't actually her son, but she had adopted him right after he was born so it was close enough. She would never forget how it had occurred. She had overheard her mom on the phone with her dad's sister. Her aunt had been explaining how Marinette's seventeen year old cousin had gotten pregnant and wasn't handling it well.

"Her boyfriend wants nothing to do with her and has left her to deal with it all on her own. She told her mom she doesn't think she can keep the baby. She doesn't think she can be a good mother when she feels like the baby is a part of something negative for her," Sabine had explained.

Marinette had gone to bed feeling horribly concerned for her cousin and the unborn child. It hadn't been a far leap for her to tell her mom what she wanted to do. So six months later, when her cousin was still feeling the same about the situation, Marinette had driven the seven hours to Toulouse to be there for the baby just hours after he had been born.

It hadn't been an easy adjustment, adopting a baby at the age of nineteen, but it had been made easier by having her parents' and Alya's support.

Now, nearly five years later, Hugo was the center of Marinette's world.

Hugo poked his head out of his room, sandy blond hair and green eyes peeking out at her. "But, Mama, I'm not done playing yet!" he complained.

Marinette tapped her foot impatiently. "Come on, Hugo. You know I have my meeting. I can't be late." She gave him a smile, "Besides, aren't you looking forward to spending time with Aunt Alya?"

Hugo's eyes lit up at Alya's name. "Auntie Alya? She's babysitting?"

Marinette could only nod. Then she watched amusedly as her son ran through the apartment in a whirlwind to put on his socks and shoes.

"I'm ready!" he announced not five minutes later.

She pulled his backpack onto her shoulder before grabbing her purse and heading toward the door.

"Marinette!" Tikki called from within her purse, "Don't forget your folder."

Marinette spun on her heel and grabbed a light pink folder from the counter. "Thanks, Tikki!"

"Thanks, Tikki!" Hugo repeated, grinning at the kwami.

Marinette had figured out early on that with Hawkmoth still very active in Paris, and Chat Noir out of the country for the last few years, there was really no hope in keeping Ladybug a secret from Hugo. Luckily, Tikki and Hugo had become fast friends after a few shared chocolate chip cookies.

The bluenette drove down the street in her car before parking outside of Alya's apartment building. She got Hugo out and they made their way to the correct flat.

Alya opened the door only a moment after their knock and scooped Hugo into her arms. "Hey, Half-pint!" she said, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

He laughed and Marinette felt a warmth spread through her at the thought of how close the pair had become. Alya had helped her so much in the beginning. Babysitting when Marinette had exams to study for, staying up to listen to her worry over her parenting decisions, and of course, she'd been a huge help with potty training the previous year. And now, Alya was one of his favorite people.

Marinette dropped Hugo's backpack just inside the door and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "Thanks again, Alya! I'll be back around one, and I'll bring you guys lunch."

She turned and hurried out of the building, not hearing when Alya called after her.

Alya sighed, stepping back into the apartment with Hugo. "Guess I'll have to save Mama's surprise for later."

Hugo jumped up and down excitedly. "Mama is getting a surprise! What kind of surprise?"

Alya chuckled to herself as she grabbed her own car keys. "You'll see soon enough, Half-pint. We have an errand to run."


Adrien Agreste stood awkwardly in the middle of the baggage claim at the Orly Airport. He was trying to simultaneously search the crowd for Alya and remain inconspicuous.

He checked his phone again. No messages. "C'mon, Alya. If you were just gonna be late then I wouldn't have argued about my dad sending the Gorilla," he muttered.

"Stop your whining, rich boy. I'm here," came Alya's voice from behind him.

He spun around in surprise to see his friend grinning at him. He pulled her into a hug, excited to see a familiar face after nearly six years abroad.

Alya laughed. "Save the hugging for Nino," she teased, pushing him away gently.

And that was when Adrien had spotted the little boy hiding behind Alya's legs. He didn't look anything like Alya or Nino and he was pretty sure they hadn't mentioned anything about adopting a kid while he was away. Although, to be honest he hadn't been very good about keeping in touch.

No, he had been too focused on being perfect while studying abroad, knowing that the first toe out of line could send him on a red-eye flight back to Paris all too soon.

"Who's this?" he asked giving a small wave to the boy peeking out from around Alya.

Alya glanced down at the child. "Oh, this is Hugo." She ruffled the boy's hair as she guided him out in front of her. "Say, 'Hi', Hugo."

Hugo looked down shyly.

Adrien crouched in front of him and waved again. "Hi, Hugo. I'm Adrien." He held out his hand for a high five and grinned when the small boy obliged.

"You got your bags?" Alya asked as Adrien stood again.

"Yeah," he held up a backpack and pointed to a rolling suitcase behind him. "Everything else was shipped last week. I figured I had the space in my old room to store most of it for now."

"At least your huge room is finally proving useful," Alya teased.

The group then began heading for Alya's car. It wasn't until Hugo was in his car seat and Adrien was placing his bags in the trunk that he thought to comment, "I didn't think you had a kid."

Alya laughed. "Oh, Hugo isn't my kid. He's Marinette's."

Adrien paused for a moment, his hand frozen on the door handle. Then he pasted his model smile back on his face and nodded. "Well, he's a sweet kid."

It was an awkward drive as Adrien waited for them to get to the apartment where Alya and Nino lived. He had decided staying with them until he found a place would be less suffocating than staying at his family home. They arrived and he unloaded all his things inside.

Alya gave him space to get settled while she read a story to Hugo. Adrien wasn't sure he really wanted the space as it meant thinking about everything he had missed during the time he'd been abroad. The most perplexing thing was the fact that Marinette had a child.

He knew she hadn't been seeing anyone before he'd moved, but…

Hugo is four or five I'd guess. Which means Marinette must've started seeing someone fairly soon after I left. But, then why didn't she tell me?

There was a knock on the door and Adrien quickly opened it to see Alya holding out a can of soda and plate with a sandwich. "Thought you might be hungry after your flight."

He smiled and followed her back out to the kitchen so he could talk to her while he ate. He noticed Hugo laying on the floor before the television playing with some toy cars. Adrien was halfway through his sandwich when Alya's phone rang.

"This is Alya." She hummed in response to something said on the other end of the line. "What? No, that wasn't supposed to be due until next week."

After a few more minutes of heated discussion, Alya hung up with a frustrated groan.

"What was that about?" Adrien asked.

Alya's eyes drifted over to him and a mischievous grin lit her face.

"Whatever you're thinking, no."

She rolled her eyes, huffing in response. "C'mon, Agreste. That call was my boss, they need an article from me today that wasn't supposed to be due until next week. I have to go in and take care of it. Can you watch Hugo until Mari gets back?" She watched as his gaze moved over Hugo. "She'll be back in about an hour."

Adrien hadn't answered yet when Alya began gathering her things. "I don't know, Alya. I'm not sure if Marinette would be okay with it."

Alya laughed, "Of course she won't mind. She trusts you."

Adrien watched as Alya gave Hugo a hug, "I have to go into work for a bit. Adrien is going to watch you until Mama gets back. Okay?"

Hugo looked up at Adrien through curious green eyes before nodding.

"See you boys later!"

And with that, Alya was gone and Adrien was all too aware of the fact that he had never not once babysat a kid before.

Time passed, and Adrien was surprised at how easy it seemed to be to watch Hugo. The little boy was content to watch television and play with the pile of toys he had dumped from his little red and black backpack.

Adrien grinned as he observed the pack. "Is this a Ladybug backpack?" he asked.

Hugo nodded, "Ladybug is my…" he paused a moment, the words he had been going to say pausing on his lips. "My favorite superhero!" he said excitedly.

Well, at least we have something in common.

"You know, Hugo? Ladybug is my favorite superhero too." Adrien watched the boy's eyes light up at this piece of information.

Hugo dug around in the backpack and pulled out something very familiar to Adrien. Handmade Ladybug and Chat Noir plush dolls, along with a few of the akumas they'd fought in the past. He couldn't help but get a little emotional at the thought of his partner.

Ladybug had been very understanding when he had told of her of his opportunity to travel and not the least bit bitter that due to her duties as Ladybug she couldn't do the same. Paris could do without Chat Noir, but not Ladybug.

Hugo saw how Adrien looked down at the Chat Noir doll and he quickly picked it up and handed it to him. "Here, you can be Chat Noir!"

Adrien quickly accepted. He'd always be willing to be Chat Noir.


Marinette sped down the street like there was an akuma on her tail. Not that she had a tail, that would only be her partner.

Her meeting had run long and even with the promise of food, she doubted Alya would be so forgiving of the fact that it was nearly two o'clock.

"Almost an hour late," she groaned, "Way to go, Marinette." She parked the car and hurried up to the apartment, purse and lunch in hand. She opted to use her key instead of ringing the doorbell in case Hugo was asleep.

As she pushed her way through the door, she dug through her purse for her phone that she had neglected for the last few hours.

"Hey, Alya. Sorry, I'm late. Like really super so-" her words cut off as she took in the sight on the living room floor. Hugo had toys strewn everywhere and was currently holding the Lady Wi-Fi and Dust Storm akuma dolls in the air. But what caught her eye was the fact that the person acting as Ladybug and Chat Noir was not her best friend. Instead it was her long-time crush. The one who she hadn't seen in nearly six years, and oh gosh, how did just seeing him make her heart stop.

Adrien jumped up quickly, brushing himself off in the process. "Hi, Marinette," he greeted with a wave.

Marinette waved back, phone in hand. "H-hi, Adrien."

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Could This Be Anymore Awkward?

 

"Hi, Marinette," Adrien greeted with a wave.

Marinette waved back, phone in hand. "H-hi, Adrien."

Hugo dropped his toys to the floor and ran to Marinette, hugging her legs tightly. "Mama!" he yelled excitedly.

Her gaze was ripped away from her former crush to rest on her son. "Hey, Hugo." She held out the bag of food to him. "Can you set this on the table?"

He nodded and quickly took the bag, loving the chance to help his mom. Once he had moved away from them, the awkwardness of the situation washed over both of the adults.

"What are you-? I mean, where's Alya?" she finally blurted out, hating that she was a mess at talking again.

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "Alya had to go into the office for something and she picked me up from the airport so she asked me to watch Hugo. I hope you don't mind."

"No, I mean, of course I don't mind. I just," she brushed her bangs to the side, "I didn't know you were coming back to Paris. Last I knew you were in London."

He groaned, "Alya said she would tell you. It was a kind of a quick decision and Alya and Nino offered to let me stay with them until I find my own place."

I am going to kill Alya, Marinette thought. "Well, welcome back." She shifted her feet, unsure if she should hug him or not. It had been six years since she'd seen him.

Adrien grinned at her. "Thanks," he said before moving forward and giving her a quick hug.

Marinette enjoyed the moment, feeling her heart stutter much like it always had as a teen, before pulling back.

"Mama!" came Hugo's voice, "I'm hungry. Can we eat?"

Marinette chuckled. "Sure, Sweetie. Let me set up." She stepped over to the table and began pulling out boxes of Chinese food. "There's plenty of food if you're hungry. I don't think Alya deserves any since she neglected to tell me you were coming."

Adrien laughed at that. "Thanks, Marinette. That would be great."

The three of them sat down moments later and began eating their late lunch. Marinette made sure to remind Hugo to actually chew his food since he was so excited that Mama had brought his favorite. Nevertheless, Hugo managed to finish eating before either of them were halfway done.

"Can I go play, Mama?" he had asked with green eyes wide in a pleading gaze.

Marinette tried her best not to smile as she tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Were you a good boy while I was gone?"

Hugo nodded enthusiastically.

"Then okay. And maybe when we get home we can make some more cookies."

Hugo grinned and hurried back into the living room.

Marinette's focus returned to her plate for a minute as she moved around some of her food. "So, how long are you going to be in Paris?" she asked finally.

"I think it'll be for good this time. Six years traveling the world kind of makes you want to come back home. Mostly just because I missed seeing my friends." He watched her thoughtfully, trying to decide if it was appropriate to ask her about her child and her… boyfriend? Husband?

Unfortunately, his thinking caused him to miss his chance.

"What are you going to do now that you're back?" Marinette asked, watching him. "Are you going to be working with your dad or something else?"

Adrien couldn't stop the grin that overtook his face. "Technically, I will be working with my father for a little while, but not modeling."

Marinette raised an eyebrow in question. "Then what?"

"Photography. I'm going to be on the other side of the camera this time around."

"When did that happen?" Marinette asked with a laugh. It was cute seeing how excited Adrien was about this. She had forgotten how it could make her heart hammer in her chest.

"Well, initially when I left I was just supposed to be touring for a year doing photo shoots in different countries. By the time I finished, I had become really close with the photographer, and he started teaching me." He shrugged, "After that, he took me on as an apprentice and I spent another year with him, learning. Then I finished up my degree in London for photography."

"Wow! Adrien, that's amazing!" she exclaimed, watching him with admiration. "So, you're going to be photographing models? Funny how things change." She took a long drink of her tea and Adrien found his opportunity again.

"And what have you been up to? Still working in fashion, I hope," he asked. "I remember how amazing your designs were."

Marinette fought to keep a blush from overtaking her face. "Yes, I am still working in fashion I suppose."

"Have you started your own line yet? I assumed someone would've told me if you had but considering…" he gestured to Alya's apartment and Marinette laughed.

"I am fairly certain she would have told you if I had been that successful. But no," she sighed. "Still just doing commissions. I have been meeting with investors though. Trying to see if someone likes my designs enough to help me at least get something really started."

Adrien nodded, he was honestly surprised that no one had jumped at the chance to support someone with so much passion and talent. "And," he glanced down at his coffee, unsure as to why he couldn't meet her eyes while asking, "you got married?"

"What?" Marinette asked, confused. "What do you mean? I- oh." Her voice had gone quiet and Adrien looked up then. Marinette didn't look sad, so he hoped he hadn't touched on a sensitive topic.

"I forgot you probably never heard about everything from Alya or Nino." She smiled as she spoke, "Hugo is my adopted son. He is technically my cousin's son, on my father's side. His mother wasn't in a position to raise him when he was born, so I offered to do it."

Adrien's heart skipped. The idea that Marinette had done something so kind and selfless as to take in and raise someone else's child amazed him. "That is a wonderful thing you did then," he told her.

She shook her head. "No, I just didn't really see how I could do anything else. He needed a mother." She looked over to where Hugo sat playing. "I love him more than anything in the world."

Adrien was certain that he had never seen anyone look more beautiful than Marinette did in that moment. His princess was a mother and she loved it. He felt a pang in his chest at the thought that he might never have a proper family but pushed it down, burying it.

After they finished eating and had cleaned up from lunch, Marinette checked her phone. "It looks like Alya won't be back for another hour at least. I'm sorry to just leave, but I have to get home."

Adrien shook his head, "Don't worry about it. I'm glad I got to see you again."

"Yeah, you too." She zipped up Hugo's backpack and swung it over her shoulder before scooping up the sleeping preschooler. "And thanks again for looking after Hugo earlier."

"No problem. He's a really great kid." He held the door open for her as she stepped through and Marinette waved good-bye before heading to her car with her son.

The drive back to her own apartment was quiet. With Hugo asleep, Marinette was left alone with her thoughts. She couldn't believe Adrien Agreste was back in Paris. Her school crush of so many years was back in her life and, from the sound of it, available.

"Not that you have the time or energy to spend focused on a relationship right now," she muttered to herself.

Tikki peaked out of Marinette's purse. "I'm sure you could at least find the time to hang out with Adrien as friends, Marinette. It seems like he really missed you."

She shook her head, "I don't know, Tikki. What if I start getting all nervous around him again." She groaned. "Can you imagine me, at twenty-four years old, becoming a stammering blabbering mess in front of one of my oldest friends?"

Tikki couldn't help but giggle, "Are you sure you want me to answer that?"

Marinette shot her a glare. "No cookies for you tonight."

This threat just sent the kwami into another fit of giggles.

That night as Marinette helped Hugo get ready for bed, Marinette took in her son's appearance. With his hair and eyes, he could almost pass for Adrien's relative. She stopped herself from thinking the word son. No point in getting those kind of ideas in her head. She hadn't bothered dating much after she took in Hugo. She was busy and most guys her age weren't ready to have kids yet. And the ones who were, didn't want to take on a kid that wasn't theirs.

She wouldn't assume Adrien would, just because he was so kind. It wasn't like he had ever shown an interest in her to begin with. Add onto that the fact that she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet while trying to follow her dream… yeah, she wouldn't hold her breath that her dream guy would suddenly come to her rescue.

She gently tucked Hugo into bed and pulled the covers up. She sat down next to him and her hand trailed through his hair.

"Did you have a good day today, Hugo?"

Her son yawned before nodding. "Yeah, Mama. And the person was really fun."

Marinette laughed, "The person from today, do you know his name?"

He shook his head.

"That's," she paused trying to decide what Hugo should call Adrien. "That's M. Adrien. And I'm glad you had fun with him."

"Yeah. He was really cool. He told me he liked my Ladybug backpack."

Her hand froze for a moment as panic coursed through her. Surely, if Hugo had said something to reveal her, Adrien would've said something, right? "Oh, yeah?"

Hugo nodded, "He said Ladybug is his favorite superhero too."

Marinette's fear was replaced with elation. "Really?" She waited for a response but only heard silence. She looked down and saw that Hugo's eyes had closed and his breathing slowed. She leaned down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Good night, sweetheart. Love you."

When Marinette reached her living room, she dropped onto the couch and flipped on the tv, scrolling through Netflix for something interesting. Before she could decide, she heard her phone ding and swiped open the screen. There was a message from Alya in response to Marinette's earlier message.

Marinette: Tell me when I can call you. I need answers. _

Alya: Go ahead, girl. I'm ready.

Marinette rolled her eyes and clicked to video call her best friend. The phone rang twice before the image came on the screen. Alya appeared, seated at her dining table with a laptop present. She waved, "Hey, girl. What's up?"

Marinette didn't miss the mischievous glint in Alya's eyes. "Oh, I don't know. Nothing much. Just put Hugo to bed." She answered with fake calmness. "What about you? How was your day?"

"Pretty good. I had to run into the office because they are moving up deadlines, thus the reason I'm working on this right now." She gestured to the laptop. "How was your day?" Alya smirked at her and Marinette bit back a groan.

"You are horrible you know that," she started.

Alya laughed, "Marinette."

"No, you listen. You totally didn't tell me he was coming back, on purpose."

"Sorry, girl. I didn't plan on forcing him to babysit his first day back. I had planned to be here for the happy reunion."

"I am actually surprised you didn't plan the whole work thing just as one of your many schemes. It's been six years! Why do you think anything would happen now, that didn't back then?" Marinette ranted.

Alya held up a hand, "Mari-"

"And you just totally sprung him on me! What if I had started stuttering again? That would make for a great first impression after all this time."

Alya's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry. I really did have the best intentions. You were supposed to get back and I'd be here to act as a buffer. I didn't mean to do that to you."

Marinette sighed, "No, it's okay. I know you wouldn't purposely put me in that situation." She waved her hands to show she wasn't mad, "Just promise, next time my crush from lycee is gonna suddenly be somewhere with me, try and give me some warning?"

Alya couldn't help but laugh, "Sure, girl. I promise."

Marinette yawned then. "I'd better go. Long day tomorrow."

"Good night, M. I'll pick up Hugo at ten tomorrow. Want me to drop him off when you get back too?"

"That would be great, Alya. You're the best. Good night!"

Marinette smiled down at her blank phone. She hadn't really been mad at Alya, just a little hurt that her friend hadn't considered her feelings. She stretched and stood to head into her room. "You coming, Tikki?" Marinette called to her kwami who was finishing off a freshly baked cookie on the kitchen counter.

Tikki nodded, "Yep! I'm tired too!" she zipped across the room to Marinette's side. "I'm glad you worked things out with Alya."

"Me too. Hopefully, this means no more surprises."


Alya closed her phone and pushed back her chair to get a refill on her cup of coffee. But as she turned to step into the kitchen, she saw Adrien standing frozen in the hallway. When green eyes met hazel, he jumped back to life.

"I am so sorry. I didn't mean to overhear anything. I was just coming for something to snack on." He held up the empty bowl of what had previously been popcorn. "I'm really sorry."

Alya rubbed her forehead. "Damn it. Not your fault. I didn't anticipate a private conversation happening." She stepped over and poured coffee into her cup. "So how much did you hear?"

Adrien rubbed at the back of his neck. "Everything after you promised Marinette to warn her next time she has to see me."

Alya sighed, "You can't ever tell her you overheard us."

"Done." He set the bowl on the counter and reached into a cabinet for another bag of popcorn. "But, just one thing," he glanced back at her, eyes wide with uncertainty. "Did Marinette really used to have a crush on me?"

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 3: Did That Really Just Happen?

 

"Did Marinette really used to have a crush on me?" Adrien asked.

Alya choked on a sip of her fresh cup of coffee. "I never said that."

"You might not have, but I'm pretty sure that's what it sounded like Marinette said," he countered.

"Oh god, she is going to kill me," she sighed, setting her cup down on the counter. She looked at him over the top of her glasses, "But seriously, how did you never notice?"

Adrien blushed, "What do you mean? It's not like it was obvious."

She laughed at that. "How can someone really be this oblivious? Think back on all of our school years."

He did as instructed. His mind thought back to all of the awkward stuttering, the inability to hold a conversation with him for many years, all the pictures she had of him… He let out a groan. "How did I never notice?"

"Simple, you were a teenage boy."

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "Does she still have a crush on me?"

Alya picked up her coffee and shook a finger at him. "Nuh uh. You would have to ask her that yourself. And honestly," she looked back at him over her shoulder. "I don't know what she feels anymore. She hasn't seen you in six years, but she also hasn't really dated anyone since getting Hugo." She gave him a knowing look. "So, you might have a chance."

"No, that's not why I was-" he watched hopelessly as she headed to the living room, ignoring him, "Asking."


The next morning, Adrien ate breakfast before heading to his childhood home. He had had most of his belongings shipped there over the last few weeks to store until he got his own place. Now that he had arrived in Paris himself he had discovered there was enough room in his bedroom at Alya and Nino's to bring some more of his things.

He pressed the buzzer on the front gate and waited for the security camera to come to life.

"Who's there?" Nathalie's voice came through the speaker. The camera moved until it was directed at his face. He raised his hand to wave.

"Hi, Nathalie."

There was no response aside from the camera returning to its place and the buzz of the gate being opened. He walked up the drive, unsure if he should be enjoying the nostalgia he was feeling. His home held many bad memories but there were still quite a few good ones as well. By the time he reached the front door, Nathalie was standing in front of it. The six years had treated her well. She still stood tall and stern, though her hair had begun to gray in some spots.

"Good morning, Adrien. I didn't realize you would be stopping by this morning," she greeted.

Adrien grinned. "Good morning, Nathalie."

She allowed a controlled smile to grace her features before leading Adrien inside the house.

He took in the foyer which still held an air of familiarity. Not much had changed. Some of the pictures that hung along the walls had been replaced with ones from his most recent photo shoots, though even those were outdated by several years. Even the portrait hanging at the top of the stairs was the same. He wondered if he could convince his father to take a new one seeing as this one was more than ten years old.

"Your father is very busy today. I'll check if he has a few minutes to speak with you in between meetings."

Adrien turned to look at Nathalie. He nodded, he hadn't expected his dad to drop everything when he arrived. Maybe that's why he hadn't bothered calling ahead. It certainly lessened the disappointment.

"Sounds good. Thanks, Nathalie. I'll be in my old room." He didn't wait for an answer before heading up the stairs.

Inside his room was much the same as the rest of the house. It felt like stepping back in time. It still held his foosball table and CD collection. There was still the skateboard ramp, rock climbing wall, and basketball hoop- all still in close to pristine condition. Boxes lined the room now, and he began to search through them for some things he wanted.

He found some clothes he had packed away that he still liked because they were part of his "I bought these myself" collection. As well as, some framed pictures of him and his friends, his mom, and him in special places on his travels. He picked up one that was beneath the others and saw a picture of him standing next to a pretty young woman with long dark brown hair. They were standing together in front of a tree full of flowers and he had his arms wrapped around her.

Adrien winced and shoved the picture back down into the box. Still not ready to deal with that then.

Several more minutes passed before there was a knock on the door. "Come in!" he called.

The door opened and Nathalie stepped inside, tablet in hand. "Adrien, your father would like to talk to you." She held out the tablet to him and he saw his father was already present on the screen.

"Good morning, Father," Adrien said.

Gabriel Agreste gave him a once over as he sat behind his desk. "You look well, son."

Adrien fought back a smile. His time abroad had helped to ease the resentment toward his father and now that he had the freedom he had always craved, he found his father's coldness a little amusing. "Thank you. You do too."

"Have you reconsidered your decision to live with your… friends yet?" Gabriel asked coolly.

"I'm happy at their apartment. It's very nice," he answered.

His father had not been happy when Adrien had said he was coming back to Paris but would not be returning home, but Adrien had not left the decision up to discussion. He had gained independence while away and would not lose it now. "That reminds me, when am I scheduled to photograph my first shoot?"

Gabriel sighed, "If you are certain you would rather do photography than modeling, you can assist with a shoot this afternoon. It's a group shoot and the photographer's assistant is unavailable. Meet at the Place des Vosges at one o'clock."

Adrien beamed. "Of course! I won't be late. Thank you, Father."

"And I'll have Nathalie send your bodyguard to pick you up beforehand."

"Father, I can take a taxi or an uber-"

"This isn't about transportation, Adrien. It's about your safety."

It was Adrien's turn to sigh. "I don't need my bodyguard any more. I'll be perfectly safe."

Gabriel opened his mouth to argue but Adrien didn't give him time.

"I have to get going now. I'll set up with Nathalie for us to have dinner. Bye," he said before clicking the end call button at the bottom of the screen.

Nathalie stared at him with wide eyes. He held the tablet out to her. "If you could set up that dinner? As of right now, I'm available all week."

"Of course, Adrien." Nathalie took the tablet, giving him an approving nod. "I'll let you know once I've arranged it." She made her way to the door, pausing just before exiting. "I don't think I've ever seen someone hang up on Gabriel Agreste."

When the door closed behind Nathalie, Adrien stared after her for several moments trying to determine if her comment had been a compliment or not.


As Marinette rode the metro from her home, she thought over her and Alya's conversation from earlier that morning.

The doorbell rang announcing that Alya had arrived to pick up Hugo. Marinette hurried across the room and pulled open the door. "Hey, Alya!" she called behind her as she hurried back down the hall. The apartment was a mess and she knew it. Clothes and toys strewn everywhere. Plates were still set out on the dining table from breakfast and the sink in the kitchen was running.

"Why are you still rushing around?" Alya asked, raising her voice so Marinette could hear her.

Marinette leaned out of her bedroom. "My mom surprised us with breakfast. She only just left." She hurried back down the hall, tucking a white button up shirt into her navy skirt.

"Girl, don't you think you should just tell them you're a tour guide? It's been seven months." Alya beckoned to Hugo who had just stepped into the hall from his room. "Come on, Half-pint. Let's get your shoes on."

He skipped to where Alya was and gave her a hug.

"You know why I can't tell them. It's too embarrassing. Things were going so well with my commissions before, that's why I moved here. They'd want to help, and I can't take anymore of their money." Marinette pulled on her navy vest and began to fix her red ascot into place. She sighed and turned to look at Alya. "I know it's ridiculous to not tell them, but I don't want them to know yet."

Alya shrugged. "It's up to you. But if they knew, I'm sure they'd babysit so you could pick up some more shifts."

Marinette rolled her eyes as she placed the red beret atop her head. "The goal is to work there less, Alya. Not more."

Marinette stepped off the train when she reached her stop. Alya had pestered her constantly to tell her parents when she'd had to take a new job to make ends meet, but she knew she couldn't. It was bad enough she'd been living off of her parents until she was twenty-two. She couldn't go back to asking them for help.

When she entered the guided tours office, Marinette saw her supervisor, M. Legrand, speaking with some of the other guides. He looked up at her entrance. "Ah, Marinette! Just the girl I wanted to see."

"What can I do for you, sir?" she asked.

He held out a plastic button to her. "Please fix this to your vest before today's tours. We just got these in last night."

She took it and read the bright red writing across the white background. Ask me anything! I'm here to help! She forced a smile. "Of course, sir. Looks great!"

He grinned and turned to speak with another guide. Marinette walked to the backroom where the schedule would be posted, the smile sliding off her face as she attached the button. She read her assignments. First one of the day was a full tour of students from the states. She groaned, I hate my job.


Adrien was pretty sure he loved his new job. Sure, he had done some photography assisting while traveling and he had taken some jobs while finishing school, but this – this was a full on Gabriel Agreste fashion shoot. There were eight models and this was the first official fall shoot. However, no one was too excited because today was still the middle of June which meant it was far too warm to be wearing sweaters and long sleeves.

He tried to make the best of it though by being friendly when meeting the models, none of whom he'd met before since they were all about eight to ten years younger than him. The real problems started when he met the photographer.

Bastian DeFranc was in his late thirties to early forties, he was short with thinning black hair and a permanent scowl attached to his face. He had looked less than interested in Adrien when they'd been introduced but Adrien at first assumed he was just all-business. He was wrong.

Thirty minutes after set-up, the first problem appeared. Adrien was fixing the shades to make sure they had the proper tone of a fall afternoon, when he heard the photographer yell, "You have got to be kidding me!"

He set down the shade and hurried over to where the photographer was glaring at one of the female models. She was staring up at him, eyes wide with confusion.

"What? What did I do? I'm not even modeling yet," she asked. She glanced at another model she had been talking to. "We were just waiting for our turn."

The photographer scoffed and grabbed hold of her wrist. She let out a cry of surprise as he held out her arm. "You rolled the sleeves of a Gabriel sweater. What did you think you were doing? It will wrinkle."

Adrien jumped in then, placing a hand on Bastian's upper arm. "M. DeFranc, please."

Bastian huffed and released her arm. "I apologize," he muttered, though his tone conveyed he was anything but apologetic . "I did not realize you were an amateur and didn't know not to do something so stupid."

The other model standing nearby spoke up. "Hey! You know she's only been modelling for a few months. It's not like she did it on purpose." The girl put her arm around the amateur model and led her away while fixing the sleeves.

Bastian rolled his eyes and stomped back to his camera, where he had left a model waiting. Adrien rubbed at his temples. Hopefully, things would cool down from here. He may have been out of Paris for several years, but according the Ladyblog, Hawkmoth was still as active as ever.

They were two hours into the photo shoot and Adrien couldn't wait for it to be over. So far, he'd heard Bastian berate a model for being too tall – calling him an awkward baby giraffe, demanded make up artists to conceal even the slightest freckles across one of the model's arms, ordered a model to go get his hair cut before they could photograph him, and told the design assistant to stuff the top of a sweater dress to "show off the design" better.

There was only an hour left to the shoot and then they'd be out of here. He was debating on offering to buy the models some smoothies after to combat any negative emotions, when the final straw landed.

The models had all lined up for some group shots and Bastian had asked each of them for a different type of look. However, Maya (the amateur model) seemed to be having trouble perfecting her look and posture.

"No! You are too stiff. You are supposed to look happy and carefree. If you keep frowning you will give yourself wrinkles before you're twenty," Bastian lectured.

Maya stared at the ground fists clenched at her sides. It was impossible to miss the tears that began to fall and splash the ground.

Bastian let out a cry of frustration. "And now we will have to do more make up! Kristin, if you please?"

A sob erupted from Maya's throat and she ran to one of the changing tents. Adrien prepared to follow after her, to ensure she wouldn't be akumatized when someone else grabbed the photographer's arm.

"You can't talk to her like that!" it was one of the male models, named Sean. "We're people too. You can't just yell at her. How can she fake being happy if she's trying not to cry because you're a jerk."

The photographer glared up at the teen before brushing away his hand. "Get off the shoot. I'll be letting Gabriel know we don't need unprofessional teens who can't control their emotions."

Sean turned and stormed away, leaving everyone else in shock.

Adrien stepped away a little and looked into his messenger bag. "Hey, Plagg." He waited a moment and then poked the black cat kwami. "Hey, wake up."

Plagg stretched before opening an eye. "What is it?"

"I think someone's going to get akumatized. What do you think I should do?" he asked.

Plagg groaned. "I don't know. I've been out of practice for a while. Either way, if someone is gonna be akumatized, there's nothing we can do about it."

Adrien ran a hand through his hair. "I guess that's true. But maybe I can transform and head it off."

"And it won't be at all suspicious that Adrien Agreste just got back to Paris last night and today Chat Noir is out saving the city?" Plagg asked.

Adrien paused, Plagg's words washing over him. "You're right. I can't even do anything. I'm useless."

Plagg pinched Adrien's hand.

"Ow! What was that for?" Adrien rubbed at the red mark on his hand.

"Just because you can't transform, doesn't mean you can't help keep people safe. You should know that by now."

Adrien smiled, "Right again. Thanks, Plagg." Just then screams broke out on the other side of the park. "Looks like that's my signal. Come on, Plagg!"


Marinette dropped into a chair in the break room of the tour guide office. She had just finished her fourth tour of the day and her feet were aching. Finally, a chance to relax and get off my feet. She pulled off a Mary Jane and rubbed her foot through the stocking.

Just as she leaned her head back against the chair, an alarm went off on her phone. She picked it up.

AKUMA ALERT: NEAR PLACE DES VOSGES. MAINTAIN DISTANCE UNTIL LADYBUG ARRIVES.

She groaned and slid her foot back into her shoe. "Of course. Right when I get a break." She grabbed her purse out of the locker and peered inside. "You ready, Tikki?"

Tikki pushed the last bit of a macaroon into her mouth. "Ready as always, Marinette!"

It only took a few minutes to swing from the guided tours office near the Eiffel Tower to the park and even less time to locate the akuma. Ladybug spotted him shrinking people all across the park and the nearby streets and businesses.

"Wonder what his problem is?" she muttered aloud. Over the years without Chat Noir by her side, she had taken to voicing her thoughts out loud to make up for the silence.

She swung towards the akuma when she caught sight of some civilians hiding behind some cars. Good, at least no one's trying to record it and putting themselves in danger.

Just as she let out a breath of relief, her eyes landed on a man crouching and running back into the park. Straight towards the akuma.

Ladybug dropped to a nearby lamppost and somersaulted through the air to land near him. "It's dangerous over here," she said sternly. Then her eyes took in the man before her: blond hair, green eyes, dashing good looks. Adrien?

He looked just as startled by her sudden appearance. "M- Ladybug?! What're you doing here?" he blurted out.

Ladybug bit her lip to hold back a laugh. "Um, there's an akuma." She pointed to the akuma that was attacking people a few hundred feet away.

He blushed. She had made Adrien Agreste blush! "Right. But what are you doing over here?"

She rolled her eyes. "Removing civilians from danger," she replied matter-of-factly. Then in one swift movement, she picked him up in her arms and carried him to safety.

He was fighting a smile when she dropped him off a block away from the danger. "Thank you, Ladybug, but I was trying to find one of the model's from my father's photo shoot. She was in one of the dressing tents last I saw her."

Ladybug nodded as she backed away. "All right, then I'll go check for her. And next time, M. Agreste, leave the saving to the heroes." She gave him a flirty wink and threw her yo-yo behind her without looking before being pulled away into the sky.

When she landed on a building across from the park she felt as if her face was on fire. Oh my gosh, she thought, when did I turn into Chat?

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4: Am I Dreaming Right Now?

 

Adrien stared at where Ladybug had disappeared behind a building. "Did she really just wink at me?" he asked.

Plagg popped out of his relocated hiding place in Adrien's shirt. "Yeah. Dang, I thought Tikki would be better at controlling her chosen. Guess without us around she slacked off."

Adrien rolled his eyes but couldn't quite get rid of the smile on his face. He wished he could transform and go see her right now. Would she be as happy to see Chat as his friends had been to see him? She seemed to be doing pretty good on her own and six years had treated her well. He wasn't sure he'd still look half as good after doing all that work alone.

Right now, he wanted to chase after her and tell her how much he missed her. To hug her. To make sure she still needed him. But Plagg was right. For Chat Noir to show up only a day after Adrien arrived back in Paris, would be like putting a "Hi my name is Chat Noir" sticker on his designer shirt.

For now he'd have to settle for trying to help get civilians to safety. Then maybe he could check on the models from the shoot and make sure they were still safe.

In total the akuma battle lasted close to twenty minutes before Adrien saw the ladybugs swarm through Paris and realized Ladybug had successfully defeated the akuma. He made it back to the park and noticed that most of the set up had been packed away and the photographer was nowhere to be found. The models however were grouped around the fountain, with Sean at the center, head in his hands.

"Really, Sean, it's not your fault. It's mine. You wouldn't have had to defend me if I hadn't kept messing up," Maya told him. She was sitting next to him, staring at the ground.

"It's not on either of you that our photographer was such a jerk," one of the other models threw in.

"Yeah." The models all seemed to be in agreement.

Adrien stepped up next to them. "Actually, I think I should apologize."

The teens stared at him, surprised by his sudden appearance. "Wha-why?" Sean asked, finally looking up.

Adrien clapped his hands together. "Well, as the photographer's assistant and one of the adults here, I should've jumped in sooner. I'm sorry."

Sean shot to his feet. "Nah, man. You did what you could."

Maya nodded, "Yeah, you were the only one holding it together."

"Are you going to be doing more photo shoots?" one of the models asked.

Adrien blushed at the praise. He really didn't think he'd done much, if anything, yet they still seemed to like him. "If I have anything to say about it, I definitely will."


Marinette was exhausted by the time she landed back in the empty alley behind her office. She transformed back quickly and leaned against the wall adjusting her hat.

"Are you okay, Marinette? You're usually lucky enough to not have akuma attacks happen in the middle of work," Tikki said, helping to fix her chosen's ascot.

She took a breath, "Yeah, I'm fine. It's just been a long week." She stepped back inside of the office through a back door and headed for the break room. "I'll be fine after I rest a bit. I should have a few more-"

Another guide rushed into the hall, "Marinette, thank God! I was wondering where you were. Boss needs you on the next tour." The girl disappeared through a door.

"-minutes." She sighed, "Or I'll go straight back to work."

Marinette felt her foot twinge as she took another step in her ill-fitting shoes. If only being Ladybug was a paid job.

By the time four o'clock rolled around Marinette was sweaty and irritable as she climbed onto her train home. She hated how her job took her all across Paris whilst having to fake being cheery and listening to tourists who seemed to think she didn't understand them. True, sometimes she didn't, but after time she had started to pick up bits and pieces of common sayings. Especially the insults. For some reason, a lot of people seemed to assume she was pretty but stupid. She kindly gave those people ridiculous directions to their next activity that would cause them to walk twice as far as was actually needed.

Her co-workers were another reason she didn't enjoy her job. She grimaced as she thought of the nickname she had earned early on. Unlucky Mari. She was always the one asked to take the most unruly tours, to stay late, the one to get rained on frequently, and the only guide to be notorious for never getting to see Ladybug while on tours.

"Of course, I wouldn't get to see her when I am her," she grumbled as she stepped off at her stop.

Tikki peaked out of Marinette's bag and gave her a hopeful smile. "At least work is done for today. Now you can relax with Hugo."

"Yeah, you're right. I just need to make the decision that the rest of the day is going to be good." Marinette hit the button at the stoplight and waited for the sign to change so she could cross. It changed and just as she went to take a step, someone sped by and a splattering of muddy water covered her. She let out a groan. How was it that Chat Noir leaving seemed to give her his bad luck? She stared up at the sky. Six years without her partner had taken its toll on her.

Will he ever come back?


*Three days later*

As Adrien sat down at his traditional seat at the family dining table he was struck by how nothing in the dining room had really changed. Not that he had expected it to, seeing as how the rest of the mansion had stayed the same. He had only been seated for about five minutes when the doors opened and his father stepped inside. Adrien rose from his seat.

"Father," he greeted, taking a step forward.

"Adrien," his father responded. He enveloped Adrien into a hug that the younger man hadn't expected. "I missed you."

"I missed you too." He allowed himself to grip onto his father's jacket for a moment, enjoying the familial touch he had so rarely received after his mother's disappearance.

"Let's sit. Sorry to have kept you waiting," Gabriel said as they parted. He gestured to the table and they each took their seat.

Adrien settled in for what he was sure would be another silent dinner. He debated pulling out his phone to play that new game Plagg had downloaded. That was as far as he got though before a voice gained his attention.

"Would you care to tell me about your experiences while you were travelling?" Gabriel asked.

The younger man's mouth dropped open. "You want to know about that?"

A small smile appeared on his father's face. "Given that we haven't seen each other in several years, I assume it is normal to want to know how you occupied your time."

Adrien nodded, his own smile breaking through. "Of course!"

He began with his time modeling in various countries and continued until he reached his schooling in London. Adrien was amazed. Not only was his father listening to him talk about his life but he was actually engaged in the conversation. He was asking questions and most surprising of all, wasn't criticizing Adrien's decisions.

Could I possibly be dreaming? Maybe I slept through my dinner plans? He wondered as their dinner plates were replaced with dessert and coffee.

"And what did you think of the photo shoot you assisted with on Thursday?" Gabriel asked.

"All the models were really great. I enjoyed getting to work with them as a photographer," he answered warmly.

Gabriel hummed in response. "I'm glad to hear that, especially since they spoke so highly of you."

Adrien beamed. He had been complimented at work and his father had acknowledged it. That was something that certainly didn't happen very often.

"Also, we fired the photographer you worked with that day. The models and other staff complained about his behavior and mistreatment."

Adrien nodded, he knew how strict his father was with those types of things. "Do you have a replacement yet?" he asked, wondering who he'd be working with next time.

Gabriel nodded, "Yes, as a matter of fact. We will need you first thing tomorrow morning."

"Me?" Adrien sputtered.

"Yes, you will be taking care of all of Bastian's scheduled shoots and after that we will begin scheduling your own." Gabriel watched him, waiting for a reaction.

"I'd be happy to, Father. I won't let you down."

Gabriel touched his hand. "I didn't think you would."


Sunday evening found Marinette in the kitchen of her small apartment. She had gotten Hugo tucked into bed and after three bedtime stories, he was finally asleep. She sneaked out of his bedroom and back into the kitchen before pulling out a tray of double chocolate brownies Hugo had helped her bake earlier that day.

Tikki watched as Marinette set four brownies on a plate. "What should we watch tonight, Marinette?" she asked.

Marinette set two glasses on the counter. "I was thinking maybe something light. There's that new comedy on Netflix that I saved."

The kwami nodded, sneaking a bite of her treat. Marinette poured milk into the first glass before moving on to the second. "It looked cute with that girl who falls for her co-worker."

"Woohoo!"

Marinette's head jerked up toward the window in front of her and Tikki zoomed up to see through it as well. The sudden whooping had come from outside. But where?

Their answer came mere seconds later as a blur of black flew through the sky guided only by a silver streak that seemed to propel it. The figure let out another whoop. Marinette stared after him as he disappeared from view.

"Marinette! The milk."

She startled, lifting the carton to see a puddle of milk spreading across the gray counter top. "Sorry, Tikki." She threw down a dishtowel to cover her mess. "We have to go. That had to be Chat!" She moved to a clear space and stood still. "Tikki, Spots-"

"Wait!" Tikki yelled. Marinette froze, realizing what she had been about to do. For a second, she hadn't been Marinette the twenty-four year old single mom with grown-up responsibilities. For that second she had been Ladybug, the fourteen year old teenager who had been without her best friend for what felt like forever.

"I can't go anywhere." She let out a shaky breath and moved to sit on her couch. "Sorry, Tikki. I guess I just got a little ahead of myself."

Tikki nuzzled her cheek. "That's okay, Marinette. It's perfectly understandable. You haven't seen Chat in years and now when you do, you can't run to see him."

"Yeah. It's been pretty lonely out there." She hugged herself tightly, straining her ears for anymore whooping sounds from her partner.

Tikki thought for a moment, then flew in front of Marinette's face. "What about your next patrol night? Your parents will have Hugo. You can go looking for him then. I'm sure if he sees you out he'd transform too."

Marinette looked at her, insecurity filling her eyes. "He probably hasn't been back very long, right? He would've tried to find me if he'd been here longer."

Tikki hugged Marinette as best she could. "You know he would. You two are partners."

Marinette nodded. She stared out the window another moment before jumping up. If she sat on that couch any longer she would just get depressed again. She couldn't allow that now. Not now when she had Hugo to take care of. Hugo, who would be completely aware at four years old if his mom stayed in bed for a week straight.

She grabbed her and Tikki's brownies from the counter and flipped on the tv. "Let's celebrate." She bumped her glass of milk against Tikki's. "To the return of our partners and best friends."

Tikki grinned, even as the start of tears began to spill from her eyes. "To the return of Chat Noir and Plagg."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Can Time Change People?

 

Adrien detransformed a block away from Alya and Nino’s apartment. He hadn’t returned home yet since his dinner with his father, feeling too excited to walk home the normal way. Instead, he had opted to transform once out of view of the Agreste security cameras. He swung through the city feeling a freedom he hadn’t gotten to truly enjoy since he had left Paris.

During his time abroad, he had restrained himself and only transformed into Chat Noir a few times. All during the first year he had been away from home. He had had to be especially careful not to let anyone see him. He knew how quickly suspicions would spread if Chat Noir was seen abroad only weeks after Adrien had left.

 


 

Adrien sunk down onto the bed in his hotel room. His hair was still soaking wet from a long shower that had followed a full day of photoshoots. Some days he wondered if he had made a mistake agreeing to travel for a year. He missed his friends, even Chloe. But mostly, he missed Ladybug.

Plagg watched him from nearby, happily devouring the cheese platter Adrien had ordered him from room service. He watched as Adrien rubbed at his face with a fluffy white towel. Even without paying close attention, he could tell that the wetness on Adrien’s face was from crying not from the shower.

“Hey, kid. If you’re worried about things back home, you could always transform and call Ladybug. She might even be transformed,” he suggested.

Adrien draped the towel over the back of his neck. “I can?”

Plagg rolled his eyes. “Of course, you can. Even if I said I didn’t have the energy right now,” he smirked, “when has that ever stopped you before?”

A low chuckle bubbled up from Adrien’s throat. “All right then. Let me get dressed and you finish your dinner, then we’ll try calling.”

After getting dressed into his pajamas, he called on his transformation. He pressed the button on his baton and selected Ladybug’s picture. There were several rings before it went to voicemail.

“Hey, Kitty. Sorry, I missed your call. Leave me a message.”

He let out a breath, feeling a little relieved that he didn’t have to talk to her directly right now. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to tell he’d been crying through voicemail. “Hi, LB. I- I just wanted to check in and see how things are going since I’ve been gone a few weeks.” He paused. Did that sound like he thought she was incompetent? “Not that I think things wouldn’t be great. I mean, you are probably doing an excellent job. Even without me.” He sighed, this was a train wreck. “I just called to ask if you miss me yet,” he nearly shouted into his baton. “Bye!” He ended the call quickly and detransformed in case she called him back right away.

Plagg cackled at his chosen. “Really smooth.”

Adrien groaned. “What does it matter? It’s not like I’m trying to win her heart still. That ship sailed a long time ago. Even I know this cat doesn’t have a chance with her.”

 

That knowledge didn’t stop him from transforming the following evening to check if she had called him back. Which she had, and he was able to return her call and talk to her directly. An hour conversation had been plenty of time for Adrien to feel happy again. His homesickness had come back full force the moment the call had ended. The next time they talked, he chose to let her know he couldn’t transform anymore due to his surroundings, which of course she had understood.

He had instead, thrown himself fully into texting Nino and Chloe (thought usually only if Nino was busy). Nino was able to help break through some of the homesickness and eventually, he had decided to stay abroad longer.

Transforming felt different now. He had forgotten the adrenaline that rushed through his veins as he propelled himself through the Paris sky. Had he been disappointed he hadn’t run into Ladybug? Of course. But his adventure had been worth it all the same.

He unlocked the apartment door with a smile on his face and stepped into a darkened apartment.

“Welcome home, dude,” Nino called over softly from the couch. He was sitting in a nearly dark living room with the tv set on low as he gamed.

“Thanks, man.” Adrien stepped into the room, leaving his shoes next to the door. He dropped onto the couch next to his best friend. “Where’s Alya?”

“She’s asleep. She has an early morning meeting with her boss.” Nino tossed him an extra controller. “So, how was dinner with your dad?”

Adrien selected his character in screen and realized with a start that for the first time in over a decade, he could smile while answering that question. “It was good. Really good.”

Beside him, his phone buzzed and the screen lit up. He opened it and selected the message icon that now had a red number one next to it.

Chloe: Hi Adrikins! Just wanted to let you know that I booked us a table for brunch tomorrow morning at daddy’s hotel. Meet me there at 10. xoxo

“What is it?” Nino asked.

Adrien sent off a quick “okay” before turning back to Nino. “Nothing much. I just found out I have plans tomorrow morning.”

 


 

Chloe Bourgeois tapped away at her phone nervously. Her blue eyes flickered back and forth from the screen to the lobby, behind her sunglasses. She knew Adrien would be on time. He would never keep her waiting long. She reached up and patted her hair. Surely, it still had to be perfect. Right? She hadn’t stepped outside or anything.

Her attention snapped to the entry the second the doors were opened. She caught sight immediately of Adrien stepping into the lobby. He was wearing jeans and a dark blue shirt. His light blue scarf was draped around his neck perfectly and his hair was windswept at just the right-

“Hey, Chlo.”

She jumped. Not that she would ever admit it later. “Adrikins!” she cried out before throwing her arms around him. “It’s been so long!”

He laughed and patted her back. “I know. It really has been.” He guided her back gently. “Are we ready to sit down?” he asked.

Chloe nodded, “Yes. Of course, we wouldn’t have to wait like common people.” She snapped her fingers and a waiter appeared.

“Take us to our table now,” she commanded. She bit her lip contemplating for only a moment before adding, “Please?”

The waiter nodded and began to lead them through the doors into the large dining room.

“The hotel seems to be doing really well,” Adrien commented, glancing around

Chloe flipped her blonde ponytail with a smile. “Well, what else would you expect. Daddy keeps only the best employees and the richest guests.”

“Your table, Mademoiselle,” the waiter announced, gesturing to a table in secluded balcony area. There were fresh flowers in a vase and glasses set out for water on a clear glass tabletop.

Chloe sat down with a muttered “Thank you” before waving away the waiter. She turned to look at Adrien. “I already set up the brunch for us with all of your favorite things. They’ll bring them out in a minute.”

He beamed at her and she could feel her heart melting. She had missed her best friend so much while he was gone. “Thanks, Chloe. That’s really sweet of you.”

 


 

“Another coffee?”

Marinette looked up from her sketchpad to see that the waitress had returned to their part of the counter. She was carrying with her a tray with a pot of fresh coffee and a fresh cup of hot chocolate complete with whipped cream. Marinette forced a smile despite feeling too tired for it. “Thanks, Lina,” she said, holding up her mug.

Lina gave her a kind smile and filled the cup before looking at Hugo who was equally entranced with his coloring page. “Hugo, sweetie? Did you want some more hot cocoa?”

His head shot up at the offer and he grinned. “Yes, please, Mlle. Lina!”

Lina laughed. She was a good ten years older than Marinette but had been in their lives since right after Hugo had been born. The diner Lina worked for had become a staple in Marinette’s life during college. She had frequently come to the 24-hour restaurant on nights when Alya or her parents had babysat Hugo. And then she had started bringing him just to show him off and enjoy the judgment free place she had found. (Too many people had mistaken her for a teen mom and treated her badly because of it.)

“You are too cute,” Lina gushed. She set the fresh cup in front of him. “How’s your food?”

Hugo looked at the plate of blueberry waffles and eggs. He took a big bite and then gave her a thumbs up.

Both women laughed. “Everything’s great, Lina.” Marinette took a drink of her coffee, enjoying the warmth it filled her with.

“Wow.” Lina said, watching the television above the counter. “So, Adrien Agreste is back in Paris?”

Marinette coughed, surprised by the sudden change of topic. She looked up and saw that the tv showed footage of Adrien stepping out of a cab in front of the Grand Paris Hotel. He waved at the camera before walking through the doors. She couldn’t help but notice the blue scarf draped around her friend’s neck as he entered the hotel. The scarf she had made him.

Lina wiped down the back part of the counter. “I wonder if he’s going to marry the Mayor’s daughter now that he’s back.”

“What?!” Marinette blurted out.

Lina laughed as a blush worked its way up the younger girl’s face.

“Sorry,” Marinette said softly into her cup. “But why do you think he’d marry her?”

Lina shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re old friends, aren’t they? And he came to see her right after getting back.”

“Not right after.” Marinette stabbed her fork into a piece of waffle. “Adrien’s been back for nearly a week already.”

“That’s right. You went to school with him, didn’t you?” Lina watched Marinette with an amused twinkle in her eyes. “And you’ve already seen him?” She let out a laugh. “Maybe he’ll marry you then.”

Marinette’s eyes darted to Hugo, despite the fact that the teasing comment had been whispered for only her ears. Hugo had regained a deep interest in his coloring and was none the wiser to the embarrassment his mom was feeling.

“It’s not like that. He and I are just friends.” She tried her hardest to keep any bitterness out of her voice. She and Adrien were friends. And nothing was going to change that now, for better or worse.

 


 

Adrien was feeling much better about seeing Chloe again. She seemed to have matured over the last few years. Maybe not entirely, but her attitude and actions towards others had improved since lycée. She had even mentioned that she wanted to throw him a welcome back party, and when he had suggested bringing Alya and Nino, she had agreed since he was staying with them.

“So, now that we’ve taken care of the small talk,” Chloe began, and Adrien felt nervous of where the conversation could be heading. “When would you like to publicly announce our relationship?”

Adrien choked on a bite of crepe. He swallowed hard, even though his body refused to obey, and drank some of his water before answering. “Relationship?”

Chloe’s cheeks turned pink under his gaze. She shrugged it off with a haughty flip of her ponytail. “Well, it is obviously the next step for both of us. Neither of us are married yet, and we’ve been best friends since we were babies. The next step would be to announce our relationship and then plan for an engagement and wedding.”

“Chloe, I don’t think I’m reall-”

She held up a finger and pressed it to his mouth, silencing him. “Look, I know it’s a big step, but what else are we supposed to do?” She pulled her hand back and sighed, causing her bangs to blow upwards. “My mother is already talking about having your father design my dress. She said that since you’ve ‘sewed your wild oats’ or something, we need to make these kind of decisions.”

Adrien tugged at the scarf that suddenly felt too tight. “Chlo, look. It’s not that you aren’t great. It’s just,” he bit the inside of his cheek hard and tasted blood. He had to say this right or else he could wind up really upsetting Chloe. “I don’t think I’m the right person for you.”

Chloe opened her mouth looking like she was prepared to jump into a long argument about why he was exactly the right person. But then she surprised him yet again, and closed her mouth without saying anything. She picked up her Bellini and drained the remaining half of the glass. Once it was back on the table securely, she smiled at him. “How does Friday night work for the party?”

 


 

“Hey, Adrien! I have the shades set up over here. Do you think three will be enough?”

Adrien looked up from where he was sorting through his camera supplies and found his assistant standing in front of him. He glanced past her and saw the shades she had mentioned, laying nearby on the grass. He smiled, “Yeah, Margo. I think that’ll be fine.”

She nodded, her dark brown curls bobbing as she did. “What else do you want me to take care of?”

Adrien checked his phone. It was nearly time to get started. “Can you check if we’ve heard from our child model? He should’ve been here by now.”

“Will do!” She turned and hurried back to the tent that had been set up for wardrobe and make up.

As Adrien prepared his camera, his mind drifted back to Chloe. She had seemed so determined to get him to agree to the relationship thing that it had caught him completely off guard when she backed down. Maybe she’s changed more than I thought.

“Adrien, we have a problem,” Margo called over, sticking her head out from the tent.

He jogged over to her. “What is it?”

She pointed to her phone. “I just tried calling Dante’s mom.”

“What did she say? Are they on their way?”

She shook her head. “He’s not coming. She had to take him to the hospital because he was throwing up all night.” Margo tugged at one of her curls. “What should we do? It’s supposed to be a family shoot. We can’t do it without him.”

Adrien rubbed a hand over his face. Of course, something big would go wrong at his first solo shoot. Nothing could ever go perfect. That would be too easy. He looked up from the ground and his eyes wandered over the crowds of people walking nearby. Crossing the street, running errands, families enjoying a day out. Then his eyes landed on a solution. One wearing a red and black backpack.

He turned back to Margo. “Get everything ready. I’ll be right back!”

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He flashed her a smile that could win awards. “I’m going to get us a model.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Can You Help Me Out?

 

“So, what else did you want to do together on our special day off?” Marinette asked, watching Hugo as he swung their clasped hands back and forth while they walked. The weather out was nice for their walk and it was one of her and Hugo’s rare days together. They had already enjoyed sleeping in and eating a leisurely brunch at their favorite diner.

Hugo’s eyebrows bunched together over serious green eyes as he thought over her question. He was silent long enough that Marinette opened her mouth to start suggesting some of his favorite activities, when her phone rang.

“Just a second, honey,” she said, guiding them to stop on the side of the walkway. Hugo nodded, and Marinette pulled out her phone from her pocket. Normally, on her day out with Hugo, she wouldn’t answer unless it was her parents or Alya. This time, the number came in under a name she hadn’t expected.

Incoming Call: Adrien Agreste

That’s strange, she thought. She tapped the answer icon and placed the phone to her ear, throwing out a hand to grab the strap of Hugo’s backpack to prevent him from wandering after a bird that was hopping along the sidewalk.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Hey, Marinette, it’s Adrien,” his voice came through clearly, though he seemed to be breathing hard. “Sorry to bother you on your day off.”

She smiled, “No problem. Everything okay?”

“Yea- well, actually no. I’m at a photoshoot and we have an issue. Our child model got sick and can’t make it. Do you think there would be any chance I could convince you to let Hugo fill in?”

Marinette looked down at her son. Adrien wanted Hugo to model? Her mind filled with images of her son wearing Gabriel fashions in front of a camera. Well, he was certainly cute enough. And it would only be a one time thing. “I don’t see that it would be a problem as long as he’s up for it.” She paused. “But do you think we can make it with enough time?”

She heard footsteps coming up quick behind her and moved to step further out of the way.

“I think you could make it.” She turned as she realized the voice had sounded through the phone, but had also echoed behind her. There stood Adrien, his hair windswept from apparently jogging over to meet her. She couldn’t help but appreciate how handsome he looked.

She laughed. “Where are you set up?” she asked.

Adrien grinned and pointed to the park behind him. “Just over there near the fountain. It’s a family type shoot but we just got word our child model won’t be there. He’s about the same age as Hugo so I thought he might be a good fit.”

“Well,” Marinette crouched down next to Hugo and Adrien eagerly did the same. “Hugo, what do you think about helping out M. Adrien with some pictures he needs to take?”

Hugo glanced back and forth between them. “Do I get to try on lots of clothes?” he asked, eyes wide.

Adrien nodded. “Yeah, there’s quite a few different outfits you could wear.”

A grin broke out across the young boy’s face. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do today!”

 


 

Once the trio had made it to the photoshoot set up, Adrien introduced his new model to Margo.

“Marinette, Hugo, this is my assistant, Margo. She’ll help you guys get set up.” He gestured toward the tent set up nearby. “That’s the changing tent,” he explained before turning his attention to his assistant. “If you could show them the first outfit, I’ll go let our other models know we’ll be starting in fifteen minutes.” He patted Hugo’s head and crouched down in front of him. “Thanks again, buddy. I really appreciate the help.”

Marinette watched and could feel her heart quickly turning to mush. She loved how Adrien was treating Hugo. He was so gentle. Not that she would ever expect anything less from her school crush. Adrien rose again and gave her a smile before heading off to where she could see several other people waiting.

“All right then!” the sudden sound startled her and she jumped. “Your name was Hugo, right?”

Marinette turned her attention to where Hugo was nodding to Margo. Margo looked back to Marinette. “Ready, Mme.?”

“Oh! Of course.” She followed behind Margo (who had offered to hold Hugo’s hand) and entered the dressing tent. They stepped through the entry into a private area with a mirror and several small outfits hanging along the wall.

“Here is the first outfit. If you could dress him, I’ll help with his hair and make-up after,” Margo said before stepping out through the flap. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Marinette looked at the outfit then back at her son with a grin. He smiled back and they both burst into giggles. “Look at that, now you get to model clothes for a real photo shoot instead of just the ones I make at home.” She helped him out of his shirt and pants before holding out the dark gray jeans to him. “Can you put these on yourself?”

He nodded and sat down to pull them on. Marinette was thrilled that things had worked out like this. Hugo had always loved modeling clothes for her when she made them or embellished store-bought ones. This was a dream come true for her son.

“All done!” Hugo announced, standing up and pointing to the pants, which fit perfectly.

Marinette laughed and helped him slip on the off-white button-down shirt. Once it was buttoned securely, she pulled the olive green sweater over his head and then helped him with his socks and shoes. Hugo turned in front of the mirror, admiring the way the outfit looked with his hair and eyes. He looked up at his mom. “What do you think?”

She bit back a laugh, and nodded. “You look super duper handsome, sweetheart.”

He gave her a thumbs up and then stepped out through the curtain. Marinette followed behind slowly after collecting and folding up his clothes from before. When she stepped out of the changing room though she was overwhelmed by nostalgia. Despite the age difference between Hugo and the Adrien of her collège days, she could not ignore the way her son looked so much like him. She wondered if this was how Adrien had looked when he was a child. Had he modeled back then? Marinette couldn’t honestly remember if she had ever asked. She stood nearby as she watched Margo fix Hugo’s hair and brush on some powder to help against the outdoor lighting.  

There was a rustling sound as the outer tent curtain was pushed aside and Adrien poked his head in. “How are we doing in here?” he asked.

Margo turned Hugo’s chair with a flourish and helped him down. “Just finished.”

Adrien beamed at the sight. “Perfect! Let’s go then.”

Marinette stepped out of the tent and watched as Adrien and Hugo talked animatedly with each other on their walk to where the camera was set up. Margo stepped up next to her and watched after the two. “Your son says you design clothes as well,” Margo commented.

Marinette nodded, “I used to do a lot more. But…” she let her voice trail off and looked back toward Hugo.

The assistant laughed. “I understand completely. I have a little one too.” She pulled out her phone and clicked a button to light up the screen. The phone lit up to reveal a candid picture of a little girl with a head covered in brown curls and a face covered in birthday cake. “Her name’s Janine. She just turned two last month.”

“She looks just like you,” Marinette replied with a smile.

Margo opened her mouth to reply, but then her eyes sparkled as she noticed that the shoot had started. “I think you might want to go check on your little model over there.”

Marinette walked in the direction of the shoot. Adrien was positioning his models, a man and woman (the parents) and a little girl who looked to be two or three years older than Hugo. She watched with pride as Hugo followed his instructions carefully and a moment later Adrien hurried behind his camera and began taking pictures. She watched in between shots as the “big sister” interacted with Hugo, the two of them giggling and making faces at each other. Something akin to a sharp pain shot through her as she watched Adrien snap pictures. That was what a real family was like, wasn’t it? It was what she had had. Her parents had been there to look after her and play games with her. She hadn’t had any siblings, but she had made plenty of friends in school.

She frowned wondering if she would ever be able to give Hugo a proper family. A moment later his eyes were on her and she waved, forcing a smile back on. You are being ridiculous. You know plenty of kids who grew up with only one parent. They all turned out fine. Just because you don’t have a picture perfect one, doesn’t mean yours is any less beautiful, she scolded herself. Hugo was all the family she needed. Hugo and Tikki and her parents… Alya and Nino… and Chat Noir?

“Marinette?”

Adrien’s voice cut through her thoughts. She turned to him immediately. “Yes?”

He grinned at her. “Thank you so much for letting Hugo help out. The pictures are turning out great.” He flipped through some of the pictures on the camera, showing her the work so far. “He’s a natural.”

Marinette felt proud as she looked at the pictures of her son. He really was good at this. “He loves doing things like this: trying on clothes and putting on fashion shows at home,” she told him.

“How cute,” Adrien said softly. He too was looking at the pictures and Marinette wondered what thoughts were running through his head. Did he want to get married and have a family like the one in those pictures? Adrien would make a great dad.

 


 

An hour and a half later, Marinette stood with Hugo as they said good-bye to the other models from the photoshoot. Hugo was still dressed in the last outfit, a pair of black jeans, a long-sleeved red shirt with black horizontal stripes, and a red beanie. Adrien had been kind enough to tell him he could keep it if he wanted and Hugo had nearly knocked him down with a hug.

“All right, Hugo,” Marinette said once the other models had left. “Are you ready to go?”

Hugo nodded, but gave an uncertain glance back toward where Adrien was fiddling with his camera.

Adrien looked up and Marinette’s eyes found his. He lowered his camera and made his way over to them. “Thanks again for all the help,” he said.

“It wasn’t a problem. And thank you for letting Hugo keep the outfit.”

“Yeah, thank you!” Hugo agreed, his head bobbing in excitement.

Adrien laughed, then his eyes lit up. “Hey, Marinette,” he started slowly.

Marinette felt her pulse speed up and tugged at the hem of her shirt. “Yes?”

“How would you feel about an impromptu photo shoot for you and Hugo?” Adrien held up his camera. “It would help me repay you for your help and I could get the pictures printed for you too.”

Marinette took an instinctive step back. Her hands waved in front of her as she answered, “Oh, no, I don’t know if I could,” she said. After all, she was a designer, not a model.

Hugo caught her hand in his. “Please, Mama. It would be fun!”

Marinette reached up and touched her ponytail with her free hand. “I don’t know. I didn’t do my hair or anything…” her voice trailed off in a forced excuse but she sighed when she saw the look Hugo was giving her. One of big green eyes and a pushed out bottom lip.

“All right. I guess we can,” she conceded.

Adrien clapped his hands. “Great! Margo can help you get set up.” He turned Marinette around and she found herself being pulled into the tent by his assistant. The last thing she heard was Adrien’s voice, “Where do you think we should take your pictures, buddy?”