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Set Fire to the Rain

Chapter Text

The proud vigilante of Gotham City just returned from patrol. He dropped his Robin, Carrie Kelley, at her girlfriend's after a night out, the Dynamic Duo successfully watched over their beloved bad-to-the-bones town. Nell Little and Carrie deserve to enjoy some privileged shared time outside strictly vigilante duties, Bruce gave Robin the weekend off.

By now, he planned a relaxing evening at Wayne Manor with his husband and the kids who currently reside in his house.

As soon as he pulled up the roof of the Batmobile cabin and exited his iconic vehicle however, he understood he'll have to face a setback: his husband was sitting on the main leather wheeled desk chair in front of the control board. He detached his light green eyes from the massive computer screens to address Bruce an, albeit tired, sweet smile.

"What happened?" The Dark Knight asked right away.

Always the straightforward type, the Bat is generally unwilling to beat around the bush.

"Bruce, I... don't know how to tell you that. Something came up."

Batman frowned.

He removed his trademark cowl prolonged by pointy bat-ears, letting it dangle loosely on the back of his neck like a peculiar, smooth black hood.

Protective, he instinctively placed a kiss on the top of the private detective's head, as he walked closer and stopped next to him. It always amazes Bruce how responsive Eddie is even to the lightest of touches coming from him: right now he purred delicately, like an adorable kitten pleased to receive attention.

"Someone needs you," Edward Wayne broached the concerning topic at last. "And this 'someone' is none other than... your daughter."

Bruce arched an eyebrow.

"Is Cassandra...?"

"Nothing wrong with Cass. Or with Helena. Or with Alina. It's about someone else."

The ginger pointed to the photograph of a teenager, displayed on one of the open files on his screens.

Bruce quickly, methodically analyzed her features.

He never saw this girl before.

"Who is she?"

"Your daughter," Edward restated in a soft though firm voice. "The one you abandoned in Paris fourteen years ago. She is in trouble, and she needs your help."

 

Chapter Text

Lost in thoughts, Marinette nonchalantly put her elbows on the metal railing; she gazed down at the illuminated capital city of France.

December is by far one of her favorite periods of the year. The way Paris wraps herself in vivid shades of mainly red, yellow, green, white and blue is a spectacle that never gets old.

The lights placed everywhere across the streets and public spaces are shaped to imitate firs, crowns, oversized mistletoes, bouquets of holly leaves garnished with their small red balls, square gifts wrapped thanks to a neat thick knot, colorful sparkles, tinsels, shooting stars, Santa Claus sitting on his sled towed by flying reindeers... as well as an impressive amount of other Christmas-inspired decorations. Those also include artistic abstract representations such as flowing lines and arabesques tied to the lamp streets, the front of supermarkets and the plane trees whose large trunks flank most alleys across the country's towns, like silent bodyguards patiently watching over.

 

A small smile stretched on her lips, Marinette admired this entertaining view she loves to contemplate since her youngest age. She will never get tired of being in awe of Paris.

When she was a child, the first visit organized by her elementary school at the Eiffel tower had been a revelation.

"When I grow up, I want to live here!" She recalled her younger self shouting with enthusiasm during the school trip, what profundly amused her teacher.

The second time, she paid for a ticket to climb the inside of the tower on her own. With money borrowed –stolen– from the matron's desk when she wasn't watching. Nathalie Mayura, renamed 'Mrs Sancœur' by Marinette, never even pretended to like her, the teen wouldn't be kind with her in return.

The third time, she went by climbing, at night... using the exterior facade for support, up to the first plateform of the tower, where she is currently taking a break. This evolved into her personal space, the location where she can... let go of the tension, forget about the pain, evade the dull and grim daily life.

If she was caught at night on the tower, she could get in trouble.

In the mean time... she took another bite of the almond croissant she held, admiring the beautiful surroundings.

The food product is sweet and tasty, she bought it at the Dupain-Cheng's bakery. She loves it there, the little family seems charming, their establishment is cozy, welcoming and their pastries are to die for.

Their two kids, a seven years old boy and a five years old girl she sees from time to time when they help their parents, are lucky to live there.

As for her... well, if she appreciated the place where she lives, Marinette wouldn't escape in the evening, buy pastries just before the Dupain-Cheng's closing hour, then climb the Eiffel tower on her own at night. Hidden by the shadows, she waited the opportune moment when people could no longer see her.

The orphanage made the call.

In a way, even though Marinette expressly asked Gabriel Agreste, the director of the institution where she resides since she is a baby, to contact her biological father, she... couldn't bring herself to plan a future featuring her birther. She couldn't imagine what life might feel like by his side on the other side of the Earth...

Without a doubt, things will become complicated. Marinette finished her croissant; she brushed off the icing sugar that stained the front of her coat. The teenager was in no hurry to go back to the orphanage, have another talk with Mr Agreste, learn what her birther answered, if he accepted to meet her, if he remembered something about her, if he even... knew anything about her existence before this fateful phone call.

Too much stress, to many problems in the making.

The fourteen years old quickly wiped the lonely, traitorous tear that escaped from her eyelashes and rolled down her left cheek. Crying is out of the question. Crying is for the weak, she learned it at her expense. Crying is... the opposite of what her mentor taught her, and to disappoint Gabriel Agreste is the worst thing she could do.

Marinette's fingers instinctively balled into fists.

She won't disappoint him. She is not weak. She is strong. She will not cry.

Yet no matter what, a part of Marinette apprehended what will follow. Does she truly want to get to the bottom of this affair? Does she... really wish to meet the rich man who abandoned her all those years ago?

She cast these unsolvable concerns aside for the time being. There is no rush tonight. Not reflecting upon the rest, she can stay here a little while longer, on her plateform on the Eiffel tower, enjoy the vision of her town wearing its Christmas colors.

The cold never bothered her anyway.

 

Chapter Text

"You'd better be back for Christmas," Stephanie Brown muttered, pouting like a moody child whilst she hugged her big brother / sorta-parent figure since she is eight years old / best buddy / favorite-person-in-the-whole-universe.

"I'll try," Edward Wayne-formerly-'Nygma' promised, he put a kiss on her temple before they parted from the loving embrace.

Proving to Bruce that this novelty is not a trap had been a hardship. It took the private investigator over a week of relentlessly arguing and being persuasive to coax his husband: they must undertake a trip to France. Ed is the one who intercepted the fateful call, but he has no legal rights over this 'Marinette'. No more than Bruce's children. Only the Bat can intervene, to take the girl out of the orphanage where she grew up. To do so, first thing he needs to be present.

The Bat finally agreed, a couple of days prior Christmas. Eddie underlined the destination: Paris is a romantic place, they can reserve moments for themselves before reaching the orphanage. Bruce went on with this very reluctantly.

Steph wished them good luck, this morning as they were about to leave Wayne Manor.

"Nell and Carrie handle Gotham, big guy," she winked at Bruce, anticipating his traditional speech of 'I can't leave, my city needs me'. "They can count on Jason to give a hand if required."

"As long as you are not out playing antihero who jumps on the rooftops and fights baddies, it'll be alright," Eddie warned.

He may be joking, Stephie is well aware this is a deadly serious topic.

"Worry not," the iconic Batgirl, who passed on her mantle to Nell Little over November, reassured him.

She placed a protective hand on the modest bump of her belly, barely discernible under her comfortable purple sweater.

"I would not put this little one in danger."

Eddie and Stephie hugged anew.

She merely entered her fourth month, she could stay 'active'... if it was not for doctors in their line of 'work', who have been crystal clear during previous appointments: no vigilante duty until post-delivery if she doesn't want to lose the baby. The missions she signed for while a few weeks pregnant could have ended a disaster due to physical overexertion, she won't risk her unborn child's safety again.

It seemed logical to let twenty-two years old Nell carry on the legacy after this.

Alfred, Steph, Alina and Helena waved at the car when it departed: Jason drove Bruce and Edward to the airport.

The bats shared a smile.

They were seven persons to permanently live in the manor house lately: Alfred, Bruce, Edward, Stephanie, Jason Todd, Alina Shelley and Helena Wayne. Carrie Kelley often resides with them, even if she shares her time between Nell's rented apartment and the mansion.

Damian and Jonathan Samuel Kent have their own flat in town; they moved to Smallville this month, they will enjoy December plus the New Year at Martha and Jonathan Kent's farm alongside Clark and Lois. Dami strengthens his bonds with the Kent family, it's to be expected he spends more time with them.

The married couple Kon-El and Cassandra, with their four years old son Bruce, should stop by the Kents' for Christmas Eve and stay with them over the festivities. For now their family took holidays in China, they alternate between stays in United States and Hong Kong.

As for Barbara and Dick Grayson, they retired from the vigilante occupation years ago. Dick to be a father full-time, he considered Chloe and James 'Jimmy' Grayson need a parent home with them. Babs to be a mother then to dedicate her talents to the 'official' aspect of the fight.

The Batfam congratulates her for her second year as Mayor of Gotham.

Plus the teens who grew up with them and joined the family as honorary members. Lucy Quinzel, 'Red Queen' who became Damian and Samuel Kent's best friend. Lonnie Machin, 'Anarky' who moved from his villain position to be an antihero with his girlfriend Kitrina Falcone, former 'Catgirl' now the Second Spoiler. Dear old Klarion'n Teekl who come and go.

Stephanie smiled. To say the least, the Batfamily extended over those past years.

And apparently, it'll win another member with this French teen her Eddie and Bruce were about to meet and (maybe?) bring home with them.

 

¤••●••¤

 

"This was not urgent," Bruce grumbled at some point during the flight. "We could have delayed our trip to France."

He avoided the slippery slope the first two hours in the jet, he preferably let his husband entertain him and resolutely focused on other distractions.

He finally broached the issue later on, when they were both nested on a comfy sofa in front of a movie to which none paid acute attention. Eddie's head rested on his partner's thighs, the feeling of callous fingers brushing through his pumpkin orange hair having an appeasing power, like a soothing massage that slowly but surely lulled him to sleep. Bruce's next sentences however provoked the impact of a vigorous punch:

"I never visited her orphanage in fourteen years, there was no reason to cancel our plans and travel to meet her. I regret I let you drive me into this... mess."

Edward raised from his half-curled half-lying position to sit on the couch next to him.

He shot Batman a stern glance.

"Do. Not. Start," Eddie let out through gritted teeth. "It took over a week to convince you, you can't say you 'hurried' to jump in a plane. She is your daughter, it's your responsibility to be there for her from the moment you learned about her. You have no idea how done I am with you behaving like a jerk, having kids with women left and right and discovering their existence years after their birth!"

"That only happened twice," the Knight defended himself. "And you have no lesson to give regarding that subject."

"... It was different in my case."

Bruce didn't counter when he saw his lover's clenched jaw and heard the dryness in his tone. Until-then-unknown relatives who reveal themselves to be secret biological children is a sensitive ground for both of them.

"I want to talk to her first," Edward concluded in an attempt to relax. "Before you ruin everything with this girl by being rude, obnoxious and / or your creepy usual self. Deal?"

That earned Ed a smile from the Bat, who approved:

"Deal."

 

Edward silently exited the warmth of the bed.

He closed the door of the bathroom behind him, in their lavish hotel suite that includes an impressive view on the Eiffel tower from the large bay window leading to a semi-arched terrace.

Marrying billionaire Bruce Wayne meant living surrounded by luxury, yet a part of him –probably the scared little boy who barely got enough to eat at his parents', or the street pre-teen who survived alone, constantly starving and freezing outside– will... never totally get used to this ostentatious lifestyle.

He turned on the lights, crossed his tired green gaze in the elegantly shaped mirror.

He pretended the situation was... normal, or at least easy to keep under control.

It was not. It was far from normal, and far from easy.

Eddie splashed lukewarm water on his face, working on assuaging his raising anxiety.

The phone call impacted him more than he let on in front of Bruce, Alfred and Jason. Even with Stephanie, he didn't share his nervousness.

"Bruce Thomas Wayne?" A masculine tone interrogated, unsure.

Eddie frowned. He was alone in the Batcave, browsing through the results of his previous closed case when an emergency communication directly linked to the main control board activated. He picked up; a grey background popped up on one of the screens, he augmented the volume of the voice.

"This is a private, highly secured line," he retorted in his collected 'report voice', the one he has recourse to over serious moments with clients in his detective agency. "Who are you and who gave you this number?"

"My name is Gabriel Agreste," the man responded with a discernible European accent –Belgian? French? Dutch perhaps?–. "Founder of the Miraculous Orphanage. In Paris."

So, French.

"I... opened a box Miss Silver Saint Cloud gave me over fourteen years ago when bringing her newborn to my establishment. I concede it must seem... extremely strange to you, but... I am not faking it. The box contained a phone number, your name and evidences including blood tests to demonstrate you are... the father of one of the residents who lives in my orphanage. I would love to... properly meet you."

The conversation hadn't pursued much longer after this, enough for Edward to be certain this was not some sick joke or a trap elaborated by an enemy. From what he isolated, this man, Agreste, respected Saint Cloud's last wishes: waiting the baby's fourteenth birthday to open the sealed wooden box she brought her child with. Gabriel hid the capsule, making it disappear all these years. He somehow resurrected it by opening it at last a few days before he called, after he shared with the teenager his freshly-acquired knowledge and the breaking news of her having a known father.

Eddie introduced himself as Bruce's husband, he assured he'll transmit the message.

Did he exaggerate the whole 'your daughter is in mortal trouble' to push Bruce, for him to consider the issue? Absolutely. This being said... he effortlessly detected the despair in Gabriel Agreste's intonation. Ed always identifies the typical I-am-worried-but-I-can't-admit-it-so-please-come-and-see-for-yourself. Anyone who cared for a child who went through a bad or painful phase knows about this feeling.

Thus... what is wrong with 'Marinette'? What is she suffering from? Why does she live in an orphanage? How come she was never adopted? Did Silver, an ex-girlfriend of Bruce's, tell him she got pregnant from him? Is this a trickery? Why did she abandon Bruce and her's newborn? How come Bruce never evoked a baby left at an orphanage in France? Is he saying the truth when he states he never knew about her?

Who is this girl, really?

A million thoughts jostled inside Edward's brain, keeping him awake as he slipped back under the blankets and cuddled his husband's muscular frame, cautious not to disturb his slumber.

Some of his questions will soon be answered: tomorrow they'll meet Bruce's biological daughter.

 

Chapter Text

"Silver was murdered over ten years ago," Bruce stated in a voluntarily indifferent tone. "She was a collateral victim during a terrorist attack led by 'Onomatopeia', a Gothamite villain who targeted a charity gala at Wayne Manor. I organized the event, yet I had to... leave due to an urgent affair elsewhere. He slit her throat with a butcher knife and let her bleed out on the Persian carpet in my reception hall."

Hearing that, Edward barely resisted the urge to bang his head against the desk. No matter how socially incompetent Batman is, this is not a way to respond to Gabriel Agreste's legitimate inquiry: he wondered if they contacted the mother of this 'Marinette' teen.

The middle-aged French man blinked, apparently far from expecting these informations, and even less having them uttered in such a... crude manner.

This beginning of afternoon, Bruce and Ed reached the Miraculous Orphanage; they were welcomed by the director and ushered to his office. While they crossed the courtyard, Bruce looked up to see a small frame at a window, spying from the third floor. The kid startled and closed the red curtains, scared when their gazes met. Nobody beats the Bat at stalking.

Edward didn't notice, he rather engaged in the 'official' aspect, aka the greetings plus polite conversation with the owner of the place.

Ed and Bruce sat in two comfy chairs, Agreste's large desk separating them from the equally sitting director. Bruce sort of 'woke up' when Gabriel placed an heavy wooden box on the desk in his office, opened it and unveiled evidences linking Marinette and him, including DNA tests and detailed data. Everything may be written in French, Bruce and Edward isolated the essential. That's when Agreste asked if they have a way to speak to Mrs Saint Cloud, since nothing aside from her name was mentioned among the documents she left him.

"My apologizes, I... didn't know she died, even less in such circumstances. My sincere condolences."

Bruce didn't bother to reply. Damian just became Robin at the time, the Dynamic Duo left the reception to handle a scheme by Penguin and Mister Freeze. While they were out, some bloodthirsty C-lister attacked their home, frightened the guests and murdered Bruce's girlfriend.

Silver and him nurtured a rocky relationship: initially, they were happy, a long while ago, during the era starring Tim Drake's Robin and Cassandra Cain's Batgirl. They were in love, Bruce never felt anything so strong for a romantic partner before. She broke up after finding out he is Batman, arguing she will never be able to build something with a man who risks his life and his young sidekicks' safety every night by fighting crime.

She disappeared nearly a whole year post-breakup, Bruce vaguely heard she returned to France where she effectuated her studies back in the days. He met her again months later, engaged to Evan Gregory, a Gothamite senator... whom died of his wounds after fighting the Joker by himself when the clown ruined his ongoing dubious business by exposing his connections to the mob. Gregory tried to double-cross the Prince of Crime by not taking into account his demands, and paid it with his life. A rookie mistake that killed multiple newbies in the Underworld: Joker loves to make people 'laugh' when he decides to put on a show, but he loathes being taken for a fool when he discusses business.

They were 'together again', more an experiment than properly dating, when Bruce comforted her after the loss of her fiancé. Silver confessed she never stopped loving him and that maybe, if given more time, she will... accept the Batman side of him too. Tragedy struck before they explored this possibility further.

Not that Gabriel Agreste needed to know these details. Given the dates, Silver was pregnant when she disappeared. The most plausible explanation is that she realized she carried a life after she broke up with him, and couldn't bring herself to neither come back to tell him nor to abort, so... she took the third option: vanishing, abandoning the child post-delivery, then returning after she covered her tracks. As if she... hid something shameful, as if her pregnancy was a dirty secret. Moreover, by leaving the kid in Paris in place of Gotham, there was practically zero chance someone makes the link between this newborn and Bruce Wayne.

"Why waiting so long?" Edward interrogated, what drifted Bruce's attention away from his memories and back to the present.

The vigilante looked up from a picture showing a younger version of himself with Silver, during their two weeks-long romantic vacations at the private island owned by her family. She freshly inherited from the paradisiac location, away from the 'job', from Gotham's gloomy ambiance, from the crushing decisions he takes every day, from the endless war he fights, from... everything. Just Silver and him, living it up like enamored teens. Has Marinette been conceived during these two weeks? The dates match... perfectly.

How tragically ironic, that Bruce accidentally knocked up his girlfriend during a trip she planned for them to take a break from problems and responsibilities.

"When I give my word, I respect it," Gabriel declared, with a dignity reminiscent of Alfred's. "I didn't know Mrs Saint Cloud's name before I opened this box, she arrived at night while everyone was sleeping in the orphanage, with the rightful procedures fulfilled, including proofs that she was the newborn's biological mother, but zero informations concerning the father or... anyone else. She handed her baby over to me, and gave me this sealed package. She considered that one day, her daughter could be... curious, and she deserved to know the truth. She gave me her conditions: if her child hadn't been adopted, and was still living in my orphanage when she turned fourteen years old, then I shall reveal her origins. She hoped her baby will be taken in at a young age, that I will never have to do this, but... she insisted for me to observe her directive if Marinette reached her teenage years here. She turned fourteen in November, I opened the box, told her about it a couple days later and we... decided together to contact you. I wouldn't have called if Marinette refused to meet you."

"... You went on with this?" Batman inferred with disbelief, severely judging the other man. "You never opened this box before, you never tried to discover more about your boarder?!"

"This is not my role," Gabriel refuted in a surprisingly collected intonation. "I am here to help, provide and care for the children who live in my orphanage until they are adopted. I am no detective charged to connect the dots in order to find out who their birthers are."

Ed's right hand instinctively placed over Bruce's left thigh, a silent communication to ask him to stay put: getting mad at this man won't change or improve anything.

The private investigator privileged a practical approach:

"Is Bruce... Marinette's legal guardian?"

"I am," Agreste opposed. "I'm legally responsible for each child who lives here as long as they reside under my roof, and I pass on my role to their new family when they are adopted. Sometimes, kids dropped off here have a parent who reclaims them eventually; depending on the case, unless this adult has been deprived of their custody rights after a trial, they possess a priority over the adoption of their child. Although this is not exactly what's happening for Marinette, the procedure remains similar: she has no adoption dossier in progress, but if she had, since you are her biological father Mr Wayne, and you haven't been judged in court unable to raise a child, you take precedence over anyone else who would ask to adopt your daughter."

"I demand a blood test," Bruce announced flatly; Ed's hand clutched his pant leg to express his disapproval. "These documents may appear authentic, they are fourteen years old, and they imply Silver kept... something to identify me. It doesn't seem credible."

"A simple drop suffices," Gabriel reminded, his grey eyes gradually reflecting more and more animosity. "Perhaps Mrs St. Cloud kept a cloth you bled on, or a strand of your hair... Partners who gift locks of each other's hair or other body fragments that contain their DNA is not uncommon. This being said, if you need, blood testing our residents is a frequent practice when we need to verify hypotheses. The doctor in charge of the children's medical follow-up does it upon request, it won't be complicated to set it up."

Bruce went back at browsing through the content of the box, displaying an evident grumpiness.

Edward resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"When can we see Marinette?" He inquired, his enthusiastic tone and willing attitude a striking contrast against Bruce's annoying bad mood. "And... does she speak English? I have enough notions in French to hold a basic conversation, but... that'd be about it."

"She speaks," Gabriel assured, more gentle: talking with the redhead is much more sympathetic than conversing with this block of aggressivity who unfortunatley shares genetics with his favorite kid. "She is fluent in English, like many boarders. I prioritize my children's free access to the world's number one language above other second languages: they benefit from English courses since they're very young; they choose a third language at eleven years old when they enter middle school. Marinette is talented in many areas. She is a... quick study."

Eddie smiled: he perceived the fondness buried in Gabriel's tone when talking about this girl. No doubt, even if he keeps a 'distant' facade on, he genuinely cares about his residents.

"Marinette knows we meet in my office today," the director anticipated Ed's next question. "She must be waiting in her bedroom right now, she is... at the same time excited and distraught to meet you. What is normal given the context. You need to be patient, keep in mind she is a teen, this is a difficult situation for her. You can't... hurry things up. You'd scare her."

"Which is exactly why I would like to meet her first, without the moody company over there," Ed flashed Gabriel his best 'worry-not-I-handle-the-case' smile, and pointed to Bruce, the 'moody company' with his thumb after he let go of his thigh. "We are not related, but Bruce won't adopt her alone: we will build a file to obtain shared custody. I know how that procedure works, I'm already half-responsible for his other biological daughters, who have no kinship ties with me."

Gabriel frowned at the last part of his explanation.

"May I ask... how many daughters do you have, Mr Wayne?"

"Four. My eldest is thirty, my second seventeen and the younger ones who live in my house are eight and three years old. Edward is legally responsible for the latest two with me."

"Long story leading to a big happy patched-up family!" Eddie smirked at Agreste's expected surprise. "At least growing up in an orphanage means Marinette won't feel out-of-place surrounded by children."

"... Indeed..."

Gabriel started to regret he made this phone call.

 

It's standard to have a private chat with each person who will adopt a child, Ed left Gabriel to clear things with Bruce for the individual part of the encounter.

While the director didn't admit it out loud, he was relieved this one will adopt Marinette too: if Wayne seemed anything but trustworthy, at least the P.I. played nice, responsible adult.

Poor Agreste. Edward hoped he won't change his mind when digging into his history.

 

¤••●••¤

 

Despite her will to keep her cool, Marinette stiffened when someone knocked softly, three times, at her bedroom's door.

"You may come in!" She shouted, her throat painfully tightened by apprehension.

A stranger pushed the wooden panel.

Not Bruce Thomas Wayne, but the other man who traveled with him: much shorter, with mid-long ginger hair, a smug smile that seemed permanently printed on his lower face, dressed in a... green suit with purple stripes.

"Pleasure meeting you, Marinette," he addressed her a little nod of acknowledgement. "My name is Edward, I'm Bruce's partner."

"Mr Agreste told me you're the one who... received his call," she pointed out, awfully stressed and not knowing where to start. "I... imagine it must have been... very weird..."

"I live in Gotham since I am eleven years old," he chuckled; the priority is to reassure this child. "I've seen weirder. Now, I may love being the center of attention, the spotlight should not be directed at me. How are you?"

She was not expecting the tenderness in this usual question.

"... I feel at a loss," she exposed quietly: no need to lie when her facial expression must reflect a sheer confusion. "But... Mr Agreste said I have... no reason to worry about this... meeting."

"And I thought Mr Agreste is a man of sense!" Edward exclaimed dramatically, forever the theatre kid who comically overexaggerates. "Silly me, looks like I've been fooled: you have every reason to worry! It's not every day you learn your father is a famous billionaire who lives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and you realize you'll encounter him shortly after discovering his existence!  If I were you, I'd be completely freaked out."

"... I am completely freaked out."

"Finally an appropriate, mature way to handle it! Your father should take example: on his side he deals with his feelings by resembling a disgruntled cave bear on purpose. Don't worry, he is not always like that, the rest of the time he pretends to be a... dumb playboy with no skill whatsoever at an edifying conversation. In hindsight, I'm not sure which one I prefer."

Mari felt the smile on her lips, provoked by this... anything but conventional introduction. She is aware joking with kids is a grown-up tactic to soothe the atmosphere, still, this is... super welcomed.

"Is this yours?" Edward pointed to an object near her desk.

The teen felt grateful: it is much better to speak about a creation than about... herself. This man visibly knows what to say to prevent awkward silences. Plus it's easier to open up with one person than it would have been with the two Americans at once.

"I finished it yesterday," she nodded, both watching the painting on its easel.

The canvas sported a realistic view of the Eiffel tower under a colorful sunset.

"I'm truly impressed! This is beautiful."

"... Merci..."

A light blush materialized on Marinette's cheekbones. People who see her drawings find these pretty, but truth be told no one really... pays attention to what she creates. Gabriel shows his approval by buying canvas, paint brushes and material when she runs out of stock, nevertheless he rarely compliments her.

"I love to... draw," she pursued since the redhead seemed interested: he examined from afar the pages pinned on her bedroom's walls and the few canvas on display. "I know it is not... a serious activity, but drawing and practicing sports are my... favorite pastimes, I... enjoy these."

"... Who defines what's 'serious' and what's not? Besides, why would something need to be 'serious' to be enjoyable? If you like drawing and practicing physical activities, then these are valid."

Alright, this time Marinette could sincerely say this man makes her feel... good.

"I am not an artist, I just have a few notebooks filled with doodles and riddles. But Bruce is, he draws like a professional. Apparently, you inherited this from him."

"Oh?"

Her heart beat faster: the fear had left by now, replaced by curiosity and genuine willingness to learn more.

"And... since when are you married to my father?"

Eddie's smile enlarged at the precise instant the girl relaxed.

"May I?"

Mindful not to invade her private space not to make her uncomfortable, until then he stayed... at the doorframe. Marinette nodded vigorously, and Edward fully stepped in.

 

"This one is from a school trip we made to Normandie. Hu... I don't know the English names for French regions."

"It's alright; anyway if you don't show me on a map, I probably won't know where are these regions."

Things went smooth. They were talking about her drawings; as whenever he converses with a kid, Eddie tends to lose perception of time and to forget he is the adult in the room: he speaks more like an enthusiastic kiddo in awe of her drawings than a thirty-nine years old who traveled to her country to adopt her.

Marinette introduced her notebook of last year, when she drew landscapes featuring a week of educational trip organized by her middle school for pupils her age.

The door opened again when she was laughing after Ed narrated his latest trip to France, at a city of the South three years ago, when he apparently followed a suspect for an investigation and ended up... running in an alley at night, chasing a group of wannabe teen thugs, screaming freshly-memorized insults in French to signify his intense displeasure. She couldn't tell whether the anecdote was true or not, but one thing certain is that this man is skilled at bringing out positiveness.

The teenager swiftly stood up from her bed, she had sat on the mattress while Eddie squatted the wheeled chair in front of her small desk.

Gabriel and her... father, entered. Talking with Edward, she... almost forgot the meaning of today.

"Marinette, let me introduce your father Bruce Wayne," Agreste announced.

"Monsieur," she greeted, anxious all of sudden.

Ed shot Bruce a warning glance translatable by "be nice or you'll regret it", what Marinette missed but Gabriel immediately noted.

"Marinette," Bruce said in a neutral –not threatening– voice. "I am glad to meet you."

"Likewise..."

Too many people, too much to say... Marinette already felt overwhelmed. The three men noticed, Eddie was the one to react, by highlighting the practical aspect:

"We reserved an hotel room for the week, and we can prolong our stay as much as necessary. There is no rush, how about we stagger our visits? The day has been full of... novelties already."

Gabriel nodded, Marinette hardly restrained a relieved sound, Ed seemed satisfied and Bruce looked... completely indifferent.

"Let's return to my office," Agreste proposed; knowing his girl he is aware she could use alone time... and will climb on the establishment's roof the second they leave her bedroom. "We'll check the last administrative formalities and decide of a schedule for the incoming days."

"Fine by me!" Edward approved. "See ya, little artist!" He waved at Marinette before leaving.

The teenager smiled, appreciating this guy's thoughtfulness while he is... technically not the one concerned by this whole 'family reveal' twist. She sighed when the tall scary man, the funny redhead and her mentor exited the room. Less than a minute later, she opened her window, stood on the windowsill and silently made it to the rooftop by the exterior facade of the orphanage.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette assumed she'll see the Wayne couple one day or two later, to complement the official procedure. She grew up at Miraculous, she knows how it works; custody is far easier to earn for birthers, cases starring parents who reclaim their biological children (aside from specific conditions, mainly if the adults were... physically abusive) are way more rapid to fulfill than other types of adoptions. Hence, there is a strong possibility they adopt her on time to be back home for Christmas.

As if she was no more than a... last-time errand to execute before the holiday. Chop-chop!

On the tomorrow morning after the Americans' initial visit, Gabriel commanded her to make a stop at the infirmary before breakfast, for a blood test. She bit her lower lip. Couldn't her mentor warn her in advance?!

Even if... well, it's not like Wang Fu ever asked questions. Not necessary to waste makeup on the swollen purple or blue areas on her skin or foundation to tentatively cover the lines on her forearms with the old Chinese man. Whereas the doctor doesn't reside permanently in the orphanage, he is the one who regularly patches her up after 'training'. Gabriel takes it too far more often than Marinette was willing to admit, Fu never bothered or dared to make a remark when he cleaned up then bandaged her bruises. He never commented on the cuts, even if these caused a deep frown to map his wrinkled forehead the first time he saw razor-thin red lines newly branded on her flesh.

He didn't judge today either, Marinette looked away when he inserted the pointy tip of a needle in the sensitive crook of her left elbow.

She returned from the canteen after breakfast –alone: even being the oldest resident, she is not one to make friends or even... try a contact with the children who live here– when she met the Americans again.

Edward granted her a large smile alongside a dynamic "Hello Marinette!", Bruce nodded in a vaguely interested manner to signify he recognizes her.

She returned an, albeit shy, warm greeting.

"I got the permission to kidnap you today," Eddie announced excitedly, like a teen who recruits a pal to prepare some mischievous trick outside. "While Bruce takes care of paperworks, how about we visit Paris together? I concede it won't be original for you, but on my side it's the first time I travel to your town, I want to explore the city center!"

She sneaked a peek at Agreste next to them, who gave his approval via a small movement of the chin. Gabriel won't share his opinion, still he found it amiable from Edward, to try getting along with his soon-to-be-daughter instead of waiting for his husband and him to bring her to their home to share moments with her.

 

The next days followed this pattern: Edward showed up on the morning and brought Marinette back to the orphanage around late afternoon after a day outside, visiting and shopping here and there. He was a nice company, soon enough Marinette felt like she hanged out with a friend, what for her is... a grand novelty. Mari isn't sure what Bruce Wayne does during this time, but one thing certain is that he is not involved enough to join.

She didn't want to know why his partner alone made efforts with her. Being told bluntly that her father doesn't want her wouldn't be a discovery –she's been abandoned after all– but she... preferred to avoid the question, in order to spare the resistance of her poor nerves. For the time being, she resolutely tossed aside her apprehension concerning her birther.

Thanks to Ed, she could focus on something else and she... actually had fun, playing tour guide and passing for a tourist in her own home town.

It felt different from the group excursions organized every now and then by Nathalie Mayura for the orphans to 'take a breath of fresh air'. Marinette hated each trip, whenever her name popped up on the list she pled Gabriel to keep her indoors: she may love to browse the city, she can't stand doing it in the middle of a flock of noisy children supervised by Nathalie's shrilling, disagreeable voice. This caused her high rate of anxiety to surge horribly every time.

It felt different as well from the outside trainings with Gabriel, in spaces where they isolate from the crowd: into nature or in huge gymnasiums he reserved for hours, for the two of them to practice sports until she pushed the boundaries of physical exhaustion.

Different at last, from her frequent nights alone, walking the streets or jumping on the rooftops of Paris, like a silent cat dissimulated by the shadows, who sees everything but is seen by none.

 

Their funniest escapade had to be the visit of Paris' massive Christmas market.

"You must find presents," Eddie belabored as they progressed through open-air alleys of chalets displaying various shiny handmade things, typical items related to the season or good-looking objects that could be either useful or enjoyable to decorate one's living room.

Or both. Marinette mostly paid attention to the items that are pretty and practical. Some come from other parts of the world, a flag of their country of origin hung on the stalls offering them. Plus the traditional food products, chocolates, nougats, pastries and sweets.

"I... can't ask you to buy 'Christmas presents' for me," Mari blinked. "Even the previous years, I just... watched stuff at the market because I like the ambiance, I don't... celebrate otherwise. We cook a dinner with turkey at the orphanage, sometimes teachers plan something the last day of classes in December. Nothing more, and no gifts exchange. Ever since his family died, Mr Agreste doesn't... appreciate celebrations."

Edward's eyes narrowed.

"You mean you never... celebrated Christmas?!"

The girl looked down, ashamed though she wasn't sure why she felt embarrassed all of a sudden.

"... It's alright," Eddie comforted, understanding he was making her uncomfortable. "I didn't properly celebrate Christmas before I was a young adult myself, I get the feeling. Now however..."

His smile widened.

"You are in for the full traditional holiday and everything it implies, Milady. Therefore, I insist, gotta select your Christmas presents! But first of all... how about we grab a piece to eat? Tell me what typically French dish you like and they propose here, I wanna try it!"

"With pleasure," she smiled slightly.

They spotted a free bench to settle once they bought two plastic bowls of Savoyard fondue and its small pieces of bread. No glass of alcohol, even if it's appreciated by teenagers Ed decided against ordering goblets of spiced hot red wine. Making a fourteen-year-old he'll soon be responsible of drink wouldn't be the... most mature thing to do.

"That is typically French," the orphan-who-freshly-found-relatives introduced with a cute sentiment of pride. "And I'd say the face you make is typical of people who... think we feed on odd stuff."

"... You snails-eaters have a thing for weird consistencies, don't you?" Eddie eyed his dish suspiciously.

He plunged a third piece of bread with his plastic fork into the hot mixture, after having sadly lost the previous two, gobbled by the blend of cheeses.

Marinette laughed at the merciless death glare plus curses he cast at the yellow meal, because his third piece of bread espaced and miserably drowned into the fondue.

 

The sole trip they effectuated with Bruce Wayne was a snacking at the Ponts des Arts. Marinette and Edward returned from their visit at the Louvre museum, they met the dark-haired American on this pedestrian bridge.

On one hand, Bruce's imposing presence made the teenage girl feel a tad anxious. On the other hand... she got to see a softer side of him today.

At the Christmas market yesterday, Eddie bought a stylish lock completed by its key. His partner shook his head with a fond exasperation when Ed explained, enthusiastic, the tradition attached to this location Marinette evoked with him previously: if you place a lock on the grids of the bridge then throw the key in the river below, the Seine that crosses the capital city, it shall bring luck to your romance and prosperity to your couple.

There's a reason why this place is commonly renamed 'the lovers bridge'.

It had been amusing to observe them practice this cliché: Bruce turned himself the key in the lock then the two men chucked the tiny object in the river. Wayne put a kiss on Edward's temple at some point, when the redhead adjusted his green and purple beanie with his equally green gloves. They seem... complementary. Bruce looks almost... sweet, when he interacts with Eddie.

What is... rather normal in itself, once Mari thought of it: they are married, and as Ed let her foresee, they raise children together. For sure it means they are... in love, whatever that truly means. As someone who never even had a friend and grew up without a family, Marinette doesn't consider herself a person able to define 'love'.

She is reassured however, not to be their first time taking a girl in, not to be Bruce Wayne's unique biological child. It's better to be one among others, instead of having everything directed exclusively at her.

 

Ed wanted to finish by the most emblematic monument of the town. Marinette will climb the Eiffel tower one last time on her own the ultimate night she spends in her birth country, but she had a great time taking the role of a dedicated guide gushing precise historical data and anecdotes about one of her favorite topics. The sparse residents with whom she occasionally converses at the orphanage invariably yawn or dismissively call her a 'nerd' when she goes on with her 'boring infodumps'.

Either Edward is too polite to do the same or he is a nerd himself: for the first time she spoke to someone who seemed genuinely interested and eager to learn more.

Marinette was smiling broadly at the end of the day. While she didn't share... anything with her blood father so far, she believes her life could be pleasant, with a legal guardian like Edward Wayne.

Since the two men will share equivalent responsibilities over her, Eddie confirmed it when she inquired, she won't have to worry about Bruce: even not the one related to her, his husband will be... her father too. And from what she witnessed over the past days, he is the kind of cool dad most children would be overjoyed to have.

 

¤••●••¤

 

"Make an effort, Bruce! I am not even asking you to get interested, just to... smile! At least try to resurrect the 'dumb playboy Bruce Wayne' mask, that worked very well for over thirty years, it'll be much better than your new... creepy, grumpy, moody bat boy. This kid doesn't have to suffer the pathetic spectacle of you going through an adolescent crisis!"

Bruce shook his head no to contest his husband's claim.

They were at their hotel room tonight, their 'last night' here before adopting Marinette. They'll return to United States tomorrow, them plus the teen will arrive around late afternoon for Christmas Eve. Although Edward was ready to adapt their schedule due to adoption delays, he would have regretted missing the dinner with his family.

Turned out he won't, they'll be home on time.

With the new girl.

Last thing Ed needs to take care of is... Bruce.

"It doesn't matter that I am not kind with her," the older one shrugged. "On the contrary, it is much better, for her own safety, if she thinks of me as a jerk. With a bit of luck, that will keep her away from the 'business'."

Eddie arched a skeptical orange eyebrow.

"Really? You believe your blood daughter will 'stay away'?! Geez, it's like you never learned anything with your other kids. Or with me. In matter of temper Marinette is just like you, just like Damian, just like Jason, just like my Stephie: she is a hothead, who is dying to prove her worth and make a difference. Even if on the outside she resembles a young Cassandra due to her autism, her personality is more of a mix between your reckless Robins'. Don't tell me you didn't notice," he scoffed when Bruce was about to object the 'autistic' evaluation. "I'd even say she is closer to my position on the spectrum than to yours, I'll have to verify a few things to validate my theories. Which... makes us something in common!"

Bruce didn't retort: Edward is very good at figuring out these characteristics, and he spent more time with Marinette. As a result... his early diagnosis is probably true.

"It's nice of you to try to bond with Marinette, but... you have no obligation towards her," the Knight affirmed, sitting on the edge of the mellow mattress of their king-sized bed.

"... I made a promise, remember? I intend to keep it, with or without your help."

Bruce addressed Ed a tired, nearly defeated glance.

"Your 'promise' implied watching over Helena, and so far, you are doing an amazing job of it," he reminded him, unwilling to dig further into the, painful for them both, ground.

"Not just Helena," Eddie countered, stubborn. "I swore I'll be there to protect you and your family. While this girl wasn't part of the... plan, she is your daughter. Like it or not, she fits within. And I will care for her the same way I care for our other children."

"... It was not your fault."

Edward tensed. Of course Bruce would say something like that. It was... unavoidable given the topic.

"You could repeat this for again the rest of my life, that would never be enough. Leave it be, Bruce. I will never forgive myself, and neither will you. You can pretend you moved on as much as you want, you being constantly angry and no longer able to spend time with your children outside strictly vigilantism duties is not an healthy coping mechanism."

Bruce didn't even try to disabuse him.

"She will do like the others," he let out at last, emotion discernible in his tone for the first time since this whole 'French girl adoption' deal. "It's always the same old story: she will come home, she will find out about Batman, she will ask to be trained, she will suit up a costume, then she will be outside fighting crime by my side. And if I try to push her aside, she will make herself a costume and be outside fighting crime on her own, which, against all odds, is even worse than with... me. I know this will happen, but I don't want this. I don't want to lead to their death another member of my family. The longer she stays away from me, the longer she will stay alive, so... try to keep her by your side, please. She'll be safer with you."

Eddie sat next to him, he curled up on his left like an affectionate kitten once Batman put an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer. He nested his ginger head on the crook of Bruce's neck. They showered over half an hour ago, Bruce's skin smelled of the delicious scent of the peony flower soap furnished by the five stars hotel. Eddie closed his eyes, breathing the refreshing fragrance. As ever, the presence of his lover appeased him, like an anchor grounding him into reality.

"I told Marinette we are married for over a year and a half."

"As far as I'm concerned, we are," the Bat smiled. "Let me guess..." he anticipated, "we serve her the 'official' version?"

"She is fourteen and she seems smart... she will figure it out," Ed's eyes opened lazily. "But yes, we stick to the 'we were in love and we married'... just because of 'love'."

Bruce produced a vaguely approving... noise.

Eddie shifted; he moved to face his 'husband', his light green eyes plunged into the metallic blue gaze.

"It is... not completely a lie, you know. I mean... despite everything, there's a part of me who has always been and... will always be, in love with you."

Bruce's smile turned fond, like when he is... reassuring one of his children.

Because despite everything, on Batman's side, even as they had one-night stands during his time as the Riddler, then gave a try to dating shortly after he reformed, and now they were together, since long past a platonic relationship, Bruce will forever see... the too-energetic pre-teen wearing a flashy green spandex who spurted an endless flow of riddles, the immature young man who became best buddy with Jason Todd as Robin, the... eternal child of the Rogues Gallery he must look out for like one of his Batkids.

Batman placed a tender kiss on the former Riddler's forehead.

"I like you too, Eddie."

'Like'. Not... love.

In public, Bruce uses the term 'love' to refer to him. In private, even though Ed told him he loves him, Bruce never... returned the confession.

Edward pretended he... doesn't mind. That it doesn't hurt.

They didn't reflection further upon their 'arrangement', Marinette and everything about to happen this Christmas; they cuddled under the thick comfy blankets.

Their facade is convincing. It is an established fact Edward will watch over the new girl more than Bruce, as this is... what he does already with Bruce's younger children. Things may be complicated, they work out. Even if they involve... cheating a bit with reality.

They were lying, of course.

But do they have a choice?

 

"So... you go on with this?"

"Yes."

She forced herself to flash an almost-genuine smile to her mentor. What, given his facial expression, was... not the slightest coaxing. Marinette spent her last evening at the Miraculous Orphanage in Gabriel Agreste's office, clearing up the ultimate aspects of her forthcoming... life.

She hoped the director will go for a celebration. Even if he proved to be against traditions, she wished he'd make an effort just for her. She is his 'special resident', the one he trains, the one he spends the more time with, the one he... loves? A little bit? Even if he never confessed anything approaching the feeling, sometimes Marinette wished Gabriel saw in her the offspring he could have had. His wife died while five months pregnant, he never became the father he was supposed to be.

He founded Miraculous with his remaining fortune two years after Emilie and their unborn child's death, to give orphans the chance at life his son never had.

Even if she knows she shouldn't expect more from him than everything he already did for her, Marinette... imagined what their last shared moments might feel like. She dreamed he will be... friendly, prepare an heartfelt speech, attest he... cares for her, tell her she matters to him, after raising her over the past fourteen years.

He did none of that. He merely... checked on her, nothing more, and kept, as ever, his feelings bottled.

"I am... happy to go with them, Mr Agreste," she concluded, trying (and failing) to hide her disillusion. "I really want to try anew as... Marinette Wayne."

A part of her legitimately wants to travel to the other side of the world with Edward and Bruce, live this life with them and their children, discover what it feels like to have a family. This being said... she is more afraid than willing to begin this brand-new experience. She is brave, she will... pretend to be content to leave her home town, pretend to be pleased to abandon everything she knows, pretend she... can tackle such a nebulous future.

She was lying, of course.

But does she have a choice?

 

Chapter Text

Marinette sincerely believed it would be... easier.

Yet closing the door of her bedroom at Miraculous felt like leaving a part of her behind.

She got her own private space in the establishment at ten years old, until then she shared a room with one or two girls. Most young orphans are paired with kids their gender and age; for residents who expressly make the demand or grow older than other boarders without being adopted, the matron Nathalie reserves an individual bedroom.

The dark-haired teenager doesn't possess much: the books she reads are borrowed at her school's library or belong to the orphanage, just like most toys, board games, decorative objects and... everything else the residents have at constant disposal in both the common rooms and their dorms.

Once she sifted everything she owns and that is exclusively hers, her meagre belongings fit in a suitcase, her pink and black backpack she uses for school and an assorted pink small purse she secured on her left side thanks to its thin shoulder strap. Mari leaves here most of her painted canvas, as a... present for Gabriel.

She hopes he won't toss them in the trash the day of her departure.

It feels like her fourteen years of life can simply be... stored in a modest luggage. Not lingering on the rather vain undertone of this despondent thought, Marinette sent one last affectionate glance to her room. The bed on which she bounced, exhausted but proud of herself after hours of training with Gabriel. The desk on which she worked on her courses and drew or painted. The window by which she escaped at least twice every week to relax outside, alone at night.

Everything in her little universe was about to change. Radically.

And she is not sure to be ready for it.

 

"Take your time," Edward addressed her a patient, comprehensive gaze after the taxi driver made her baggage disappear in the back of his car. "Our plane takes off when we want to, there's no rush. We'll be waiting for you."

Gratefulness reflected in Marinette's metallic blue eyes –Bruce's metallic blue eyes–.

Ed and Bruce sat in the taxi, likely to give her privacy over her last moments with the persons she knows since her birth.

No Miraculous residents came to tell her goodbye on the parking lot. While she spoke to kids at sparse occasions, she bonded with none and anyway, no one but her stayed that long in the orphanage. The new children inevitably find it... puzzling, to discover there's a teenager here who has never been taken in. Whereas they never unearth the full story, they ask themselves questions about... what's up with her. Why didn't anyone want this girl? In comparison, Miraculous hosted traumatized kids with very difficult backgrounds sometimes, and all of them found loving families. So why couldn't Marinette?

Today, Nathalie Mayura wished her good luck, what from the severe woman is... a whole step forward. In fact, this is the nicest she ever behaved with the girl.

Gabriel Agreste eyed her over with... something the teen couldn't identify. Melancholy? Deception to let her go? An ounce of pride she finally found parents, perhaps?

"I wish you the best," the director murmured, in French, in his most affectionate tone (what didn't sound very sentimental, but Mari knows that's the best he can do). "Those years spent with you, teaching you were... a privilege. My privilege. Now, I hope you will finally discover... what it means to have a family. You deserve to be happy, Marinette."

A luminous smile lighted up her features. She fought with herself not to tear up, Gabriel made it clear repeatedly: he doesn't like to see her cry, crying is 'for the weak', no matter the context.

"Thank you, Mr Agreste," she responded in her first language, her voice brimming with affection. "Being your student is the... best thing that happened to me."

"Believe me," he disabused her gently, the ghost of a smile on his thin lips. "You can, and you will, encounter far better from now on."

From the back seat of the taxi, by the rear window, Mari looked at the front grids of the Miraculous Orphanage, her eyes riveted on the tall, silver-haired masculine silhouette until her mentor wasn't on sight anymore.

 

She stayed quiet during the drive; not that the adults expected her to suddenly morph into a chatterbox. It's an emotional moment for her, neither Edward nor Bruce would bother her whilst she internally says goodbye to the place where she grew up.

Eddie babbled softly, (like a toddler craving attention, he just can't keep his mouth shut...), Bruce answered via half-words and Marinette disconnected, watching the known Parisian landscape one last time as they reach the capital city's airport.

Things went on once they left the taxi: Bruce complained Edward didn't have to take such a huge suitcase for their trip (the older American ended up the one in charge of the luggages...), Eddie dragged Mari to airport boutiques selling food and stereotypical items. She laughed when he declared solemnly he must buy miniatures of the Eiffel tower or objects sporting the thick vertical blue, white and red stripes of the French flag, like a tourist who indulges in last-minute purchases.

"See this French perfume?" Ed pointed to a poster behind the vitrine of another shop of the airport. "La Petite Robe Noire is what I wear daily. It smells heavenly, so obviously it's made for me. You are allowed to judge I put... too much of it sometimes, Bruce mocks me for 'making up for the years I couldn't afford expensive fragrances' by 'emptying bottles twice faster than a normal human being'."

Mari smiled, amused, a snowglobe that contained a tiny Eiffel tower between her hands.

She likes the fact Eddie seems... open about his past. She wouldn't bluntly ask him to talk about his childhood and teenage years, but the allusions he lets out at not being from the high society are reassuring: that and the fact Wayne adopts left and right, prove Bruce isn't regarding of the background of people he gets involved with.

When Ed finished his shopping and they had free access to the airport runway, Marinette... opened her mouth like a fish suffocating in the air.

"Wait, you... came to France in a private jet?!"

"Well yes. Of course," Bruce responded, laconic. "Why would we travel with a public airline company when I can rent a jet?"

"Welcome to the Wayne side of life!" Eddie grinned widely, proud of the effect this caused on the girl. "Believe my experience, being surrounded by luxury makes your head spin at first, but... you get used to it."

"You are still not used to it," his husband betrayed him right away in a factual tone of voice. "You remain in awe of fabrics and furnitures in my house, you don't understand there's no need to empty perfume bottles: if they're expensive, it means it's quality, it would smell the same if you put a reasonable quantity. And I don't know how many times I'll have to repeat there's no need to lick your plate clean after dinner as if you fear you won't get your next meal in days."

"Yeah go ahead, make fun of me Mister I-always-had-it-all," Edward pouted alongside casting his partner a parodied batglare. "You know how much I love you passing me for a puerile kiddo."

A cute chuckle escaped Marinette's throat at the bickering. Bruce is funny when he teases and converses with Edward.

 

¤••●••¤

 

"Not scared of travels in planes, are you?"

Mari blushed slightly.

"I wouldn't say 'scared', only... not accustomed," she dithered. "I took a plane twice, for a outward and return school trip to Italy two years ago. That's it in matter of... aerial experience."

"Italy my beloved!" Edward rejoiced; Marinette was struck again by this man's... childish demeanor. "The things I did when in Rome..."

Evidently, there's an hidden reference related to the way he mentioned this place of the world.

The inside of the jet is akin to what the French teen caught in TV shows starring billionaires' lives. She couldn't realize this will be... her life now. They sat on oversized armchairs for the take-off, Eddie reassured her while the plane started moving.

Marinette partially relaxed when the private jet was flying high in the airs, at his cruising speed.

Notwithstanding the plane is large enough to offer different spaces, Mari knows she can't nest in front of one of the screens and watch a movie. Ignoring the adults, even to take a break, wouldn't be polite.

Yet... that's precisely what Bruce did: maybe not the 'movie', but he sat at a table to work on a laptop, not paying attention to the other occupants.

 

"This is super cool," Marinette commented, what earned her cheerful remarks from the pilots.

They didn't spend all week in Paris, them and two flight attendants made the return trip to escort the Wayne couple plus the latest Wayne child to Gotham.

Edward dragging her along to visit the cockpit had been unexpectedly pleasant.

The pilots introduced her to 'how to steer a plane', one of them let her sit on his chair to play copilot for a bit. One of the flight attendants showed her the food they stock for the travel, joking about never seeing as much champagne as when she embarks with the Waynes for their, apparently frequent, travels.

Marinette laughed; she felt... good, there again.

Those people are nice with her without being overwhelming.

This is very appreciable.

 

"And that's... Stephanie Brown."

Marinette sent Ed a quizzical glance.

The ginger proposed to present pictures of the family; they sat on a too-comfy-to-be-in-a-plane couch and he seized a photo book he brought with him on purpose to show her recent images of everyone before they arrive, to help her visualize the persons she will meet in a few hours.

The attention touched her.

"Who is she? The way you said her name, she seems... important. Like, different than the others you introduced so far."

Mari watched a picture taken earlier this year –probably during summer, since Ed and Stephanie wear shorts, sleeveless assorted green and eggplant Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and sunglasses– of a blonde woman and Edward on a beach.

"Nice catch Milady," Eddie winked at her. "Be careful, if you make clever deductions based on a perspicacious analysis of people's speech, I will try to hire you in my detective agency."

"... I would actually love that..."

Eddie giggled like a kid and Marinette smiled, feeling... more at ease than she had ever been with anyone aside from Gabriel. Even there... not sure 'at ease' is the correct term to define her attitude during Agreste and her's interactions.

"Stephanie is my... everything," he confessed; he will have to lie to Marinette about many subjects, he can at least be sincere regarding his relationships with the people waiting at Wayne Manor. "She is at the same time my daughter figure, even if we only have ten years of age difference; my little sister, she behaves like a supportive sibling; my best friend, she... helped me through for a long while. She is... the only person in my life who never let me down, I try my best to never fail her in return."

There was so much fondness in Ed's tone when he evoked this 'Stephanie', for sure she means... a lot for him.

Marinette dreamed someone would speak of her like that one day.

"There are... those people, you know," he wondered. "You meet them, and they... change something in your life. At first you don't get it, you don't necessarily pinpoint when they became so important to you. One day you realize they are all you think about, day and night, and just seeing them makes you... happy. Those people for whom you would do anything. I had the chance to cross paths with some of those. Stephanie. Jason Todd. Bruce. Plus... friends of mine you'll probably hear about sooner than later."

"... I never met anyone who would have done that for me."

"It's alright. You are young, you have time and as I said, sometimes you don't realize at first. It took me a couple of years to comprehend Steph is the... one who matters to me. I followed her once I finally understood."

"You... followed her? What does that mean?"

"... That I gave up on my old way of life for her. With no going back."

What he didn't say there is: I signed for a reformation program at Arkham Asylum and an ultimate trial when she asked me to, and Bruce took her in as Robin once I definitely agreed to go on with the Riddler's reform.

Without a doubt, Marinette will discover the truth about the vigilantism sphere, she'll complete their backstories once she finds out her father cosplays a flying ninja vampire to punch baddies all nights long.

A powerful warmth of an unknown kind blossomed in Mari's heart.

She doesn't 'know' Edward Wayne, she barely spent days in his company, but every time she unveils something about him, she feels... thrilled. And welcomed.

It's one thing to joke with her to make her at ease. It's something else to open up and evoke... his life. It's very thoughtful of him, to... include her like that. To let her in.

"How old is she?"

"Twenty-nine. We met when she was eight years old and I eighteen, a lifetime ago that remains so... fresh in my memory. I tend to forget I'm close to my forties, when in truth I... feel forever stuck at a much younger age. Bruce argues it's because I am an immature brat and I must say that sometimes, it's true."

Marinette laughed. From his spot of the jet with his back turned to them, Bruce didn't say anything but he was smiling too.

Being a child himself, Eddie has always been great with kids.

"She lives at Wayne Manor, with Bruce, I..."

Eddie showed her a family picture, naming each member:

"... Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce's butler who raised him and is everyone's grandfather in the family, Jason Todd, my second best buddy and sibling of heart who also happens to be Bruce's ward, Carrie Kelley, another of Bruce's adopted wards who resides part-time at his home, part-time at someone else's, Alina Shelley-Wayne and Helena Wayne, Bruce's biological daughters. Your little sisters."

Marinette watched the faces.

Edward mentioned the names already, and she discussed with Agreste about the various members of the extended Wayne family: apparently, Bruce collects a bunch of children.

She paid closer attention to the people she will, therefore, meet before the others.

"Why are you... living together? I understand for Miss Kelley, Miss Shelley-Wayne and the youngest Miss Wayne since they are minors, but I don't get why Mrs Brown and Mr Todd... stay under the same roof?"

She realized after asking how disrespectful her question sounded.

The teenager blushed crimson. Edward was going to think of her as an ungrateful kid, he will get mad, or disappointed, and...

"Marinette?"

The genuine concern almost drove her to tears. You are a stupid girl, Mari, she blamed herself internally in her first language. A stupid, pathetic girl who can't even handle basic human decency. He will think you're crazy, stop acting like a freak!

"It's fine. You have every right to ask questions..."

Ed initiated a... movement, as if he wanted to press her shoulders but stopped mid-way, deciding against it when he realized it could be interpreted as an intrusive gesture.

"Take a deep breath. One, two..."

She did as she was told.

"I... I swear I am not... not weird, it's just... Je ne sais pas ce qui m'arrive... Je suis juste un peu... un peu déboussolée..."

As long as she stays at "I don't know what's happening to me... I am just a little... a little bewildered...", Edward can grasp the easy-to-translate sense.

"Tout va bien," he replied, Marinette smiled at his attempt to comfort her with what are probably some of the sole French words he learned at random. "Ne t'inquiète pas." [Don't worry]

And, precautions or not, Eddie is a tactile person, he forgot it could be taken poorly: he put both hands on her shoulders.

Marinette tensed at the physical contact.

"Since today, I legally have three daughters, even if I watched out for and bonded with more children over the years," he exposed in an appeasing intonation. "I am far from perfect, but I... try to be a better person. And I promise you, Marinette Wayne, I will do my best to be a good father for you."

Ed restrained himself from giving her a hug: she may not be 'afraid', it's clear given her reaction that having someone touching her in a friendly manner is an unknown ground for her. Better let her take the first step when she feels like it.

 

"What is this?"

Marinette blushed. Hard.

"Oh, hu... nothing."

Edward returned from the bathroom at the bottom of the jet to see Bruce who managed, over the minutes he left them, to make his child uncomfortable.

Congrats, emo Dracula.

"Mr Agreste is a fan of... butterflies, and I love to... draw, to sew sometimes, when I... can get my hands on material. So I... hu... I did a little toy..."

She hadn't noticed her small purse she left on the couch had opened and... revealed the two tiny plush figures it contained.

The one Bruce noticed first is the lilac creature with a swirl of a darker purple shade on its forehead and velvet equally lilac wings spread on its back. Now that he focused, he also glimpsed the red and black cuddly toy half-hanging from the purse.

Batman unceremoniously picked up the butterfly-inspired creature.

"You made this?" Edward asked.

"Y-yes..."

Marinette felt so embarrassed.

"This is adorable! I'm in love, does this li'l fellow have a name?"

Mari blinked, not knowing if Eddie was mocking her or...

He snatched the stuffed toy from his husband's hands and studied it like he would with a precious stone.

This guy really is... something.

"I... call him 'Papillombre'. It's a... word game between papillon butterfly and ombre shadow," she answered timidly. "It's a male, he... is vaguely inspired from... Mr Agreste. He loves butterflies and purple, I was... thinking about him when I made Papillombre."

The blush hadn't left her cheeks, however she felt less nervous after Ed complimented the creative object.

"This is Tikki," she extracted the second plush, inspired by a ladybug, from her purse. "I made her years ago. She became my... friend. I carry her everywhere I go."

"Hello then, Tikki!" Edward greeted the tiny toy as if it was alive. "I hope you enjoy the flight, and that you'll appreciate your new home!"

The teen chuckled, reassured the adults don't make fun of her for her hobby to sew cuddly toys.

Although Bruce didn't actively participate, he listened to her when she conjured up the things she creates: mainly drawings featuring trendy clothes, but also handmade representations of nature, of plants, of animals, of bugs...

Gabriel composed an impressive collection of insects tacked under glass panels in his private quarters at the orphanage. Mari saw it more often than other residents; with him she memorized the names of bugs, mainly butterflies her mentor has a fascination for.

She admitted her favorite insects are ladybugs, hence the existence of Tikki.

When she placed back Papillombre and Tikki inside her purse, the flight attendants announced they'll soon begin their descent toward the Gotham airport.

Marinette will land in United States for the first time, with her... fathers, then she will meet her relatives, her family members who currently live at Wayne Manor.

 

Chapter Text

"Don't worry," Edward restated when he felt the legitimate apprehension bleeding out of every pore of the teenager's body when their fancy car passed the grids of the Wayne property. "Everything will go just fine. The family is waiting for you, I made sure everyone observes the main directive of not bothering you or straight-up harassing you with questions. Not even the kids will do that at the beginning. Everyone will let you the time you need to adjust without rushing things, it will go smooth. I promise."

Mari nodded timidly, and addressed the redhead a genuine smile.

"It's... alright," she tried to convince herself by enunciating a fact: "I trust you."

Eddie returned a luminous smile, sitting with her on the rear of the vehicle. Bruce drove this time, his relatives agreed not to wait for them at the airport. It's a joint decision, they convened meeting Marinette at Wayne Manor will feel less 'official' and therefore, less stressful for her, than being there at the Gotham airport.

Crossing the crowd of journalists who, nobody knows how, learned Bruce Wayne went to Europe collect another child almost gave the teen a panic attack. Luckily Bruce and Ed are used to the continuous pressure from paparazzi, they split the flock of cameras, micros and flooding questions seamlessly to reach the nearest parking lot where Alfred left a grey Porsche for them yesterday, in prevision of their arrival on the 24 of December.

Mari couldn't control her raising anxiety, knowing she only had left the time of the car trip before arriving in... her new home.

Ed behaved as supportive and joyful as ever, his sustained amicable presence had a powerful reassuring impact. Reflecting upon it, what she voiced out loud is the sole authentic veracity she currently relies on: she may doubt it will be 'easy' to blend in as a Wayne heir while she freshly debarks from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, she sincerely trusts Edward.

Why wouldn't she? He has been nothing but friendly, patient and much more devoted than what is to be expected from the partner of her biological father. If anything, when learning Bruce is married, she bet his husband will be... distant with her, like the typical step-parent from fairytales who never tolerates a child who doesn't share genetics with them and is the living proof of their lover having dirty secrets and a life before them.

Over similar cases she followed at the orphanage, that's how the second parent reacted: by being mad for this huge setback and / or being pissed by the mere view of this child they see as incoming troubles. The worst in that, is Marinette always found it hard to blame the partner in this situation. After all, they are not the one who discovered an unknown kid they never knew about and consequently, never raised is their flesh and blood. It's a lot to handle, no wonder some people don't react 'positively' to that type of breaking news.

Maybe this unspoken rule of automatic rejection doesn't apply in the Wayne sphere, given the number of adopted or non-officially adopted relatives gravitating around Bruce. Surely people who get involved with the Waynes care less about blood ties than in a more 'conventional' family pattern.

Talking about conventional... Bruce's absolute lack of attempts at even smiling to her made Marinette regret things didn't happen reversal: she would have been honored if Edward was the one directly concerned by this whole 'kinship reveal' instead of being the partner. Then maybe she would have felt like her bio dad cares about her.

It would have been a nice feeling.

 

¤••●••¤

 

"Stephiiiiie! They're heeeeere!"

As soon as Bruce parked the Porsche in the space reserved for visitors' vehicles in front of his impressive mansion, a tiny silhouette materialized on top of the large stairs leading to the massive, open wooden entry doors.

A black-haired child with curly hair, wrapped in a thick purple coat, ran from the grey stones of the stairs to the outside gravel driveway and... directly collided with Edward, who barely had the time to bend the knee before he received a tornado jumping in his arms at its full speed. The cheerful adult miraculously managed not to lose his balance and returned the hug, laughing as much as the dynamic kiddo.

"Hey there Corazón! I missed you too."

Eddie stood up, the bouncy toddler in his arms: gotta take advantage of the period she remains small, in a couple years this gesture won't be performed as easily as it is while she is three years old and a half.

"Hi daddy!" The girl waved at Bruce as well, who acknowledged her via... a brief nod.

Wait, what? That's... it?! A vague movement of the chin, not a word and nothing looking like an ounce of normal fatherly reaction when greeting a girl happy to see her parents?!

Marinette was beginning to think Bruce's voluntary distance with her is just the way he acts with his biological children.

"Mari, let me introduce Helena Wayne," Edward did the presentations, addressing the teen another reassuring smile of his when seeing she stayed... behind him, not knowing how to interact with the happy toddler. "Helena, this is Marinette."

"Good afternoon, Helena," Mari felt how her heartbeat increased significantly, drumming against her ribcage. "Nice to... meet you."

"Hello!" The little girl rejoiced, with this typical enthusiasm children convey over anything that's happening. "I looooooove your haircut! Your pigtails are soooooooo pretty!"

"Hu... thank you," Marinette blushed slightly, not expecting that comment to embody her first contact with a Wayne child.

Edward smiled, and was about to reply when his entire attention got caught by the second girl –well, woman– who gave him a hug. Still holding Helena, he leaned to the side when Stephanie Brown put a noisy kiss on his left cheek.

"Heya Kitten," she smirked, Eddie mirrored their iconic grin. "Good to see you back."

"You know me: I wouldn't have missed an occasion to criticize Alfred's Christmas Eve dinner."

He returned a kiss on her forehead even if they are the same height (Steph even seemed to be one or two centimeters taller than him, while Mari was at it).

The woman granted her a welcoming gaze. She may be a blue-eyed blonde with a peach complexion, physically nothing alike Ed's light green gaze, pumpkin orange hair and milky skin lightly freckled mostly on his cheekbones, Marinette was struck by how similar they look, in their way to smile, in how they hold others' gaze and in their... general way to be, this radiated from both of them like a vibrant energy.

If Marinette believed in soulmates, she would have sworn she met two persons sharing this bond for the first time and that indeed, it is startling.

"Welcome to Gotham, Marinette," she greeted her warmly. "I am Stephanie Brown, I believe Eddie told you I am the greatest person you will ever meet. If he didn't, then where are his good manners? I am an exceptional human being, as you will realize sooner than later."

Alright, Mari wasn't expecting a chuckle to escape her throat so soon. Notwithstanding Mrs Brown probably exaggerated her demonstrative personality to amuse her, this remains... super nice. Ed and her clearly have this 'joking technic' in common to make kids at ease; they are right to use it since it's working.

"That's my girl," Eddie boasted, looking at the blonde with an adoration Marinette is certain she never caught in the eyes of anyone else before.

Stephie winked playfully, then asked a more standard question:

"The flight went well?"

"... Yes," Marinette answered softly. "I am... just a bit tired."

"That's perfectly normal!" Steph approved. "Unless you are a Terminator or Bruce Wayne, what is... basically a synonym nowadays, doing hours-long travel is tiring. Come in girl, we'll make you a hot chocolate!"

Edward placed Helena on the ground, the child looked up to Marinette, a broad smile on her lips.

She has beautiful emerald green eyes with visible, tiny golden veins inside her gemstones-like irises. If Mari didn't know better, she would say this shade of green only exists in a cat's gaze.

"I'll show you 'round!" The youngest claimed proudly. "Would you like dat?"

"I... would appreciate," the fourteen years old sneaked a peek at Ed, who anticipated her unease if he were to suddenly leave:

"I'm staying right there beside you," he reassured her, his confident smile backed-up by Stephanie's identical one next to him. "Don't worry, I am not going anywhere."

Marinette nodded feebly, then hesitantly took Helena's hand when the toddler raised her right arm.

The small group advanced toward the giant house. Wayne Manor counts in the list of Gotham's unavoidable, iconic places, although the luxurious gothic villa and the immense garden surrounding it are strictly private, you can't visit or stop by uninvited.

Marinette understood why the imposing habitation deserves to be famous. It is literally... the most magnificent house she ever saw.

Just the thought that she will live here, and that this property entirely belongs to her father made her dizzy.

By the way... where did 'her father' go?

At this instant she noticed Bruce had disappeared from the 'family reunion scene' a while ago, probably even before Stephanie barged in.

 

"I like French people. They make the best bread. I have a weak spot for baguettes."

That's how Marinette met Jason Todd, whom announced this weird anecdote after he greeted her, tranquil, as if the whole deal was normal and she was someone who often shows up in his kitchen.

Mari blinked rapidly.

"I... do love pastries. I never gave... much thoughts about bread itself," she uttered, hesitant. "But... it's good, too! A lot. I mean... not a lot, but... good! As good as... bread..."

Eddie interrupted her partly incoherent babbling on purpose, by serving her a steaming mug of hot chocolate and asking if she wants marshmallows in it.

She answered that would be with pleasure, grateful he saved her from choking too much on her own words. This starts to feel like she is surrounded by too many people, whereas she encountered a reduced fraction of the Wayne clan.

This Christmas Eve is special: welcoming a new family member for Christmas doesn't happen every year, even in a family as extended as Bruce Wayne's. They decided to keep it simple, anyway, as Edward informed her, they didn't plan a big meeting this year, the rest of the family celebrates at other places where they reside, with other branches of the relatives'n friends.

This is more than fine by Mari. The less humans she meets all at once, the farther she stays from an autistic breakdown that would end up with her crying, locked in a bathroom, her brain attacked by too many aggressive sensory informations that assault her psyche.

For the time being, she focused on her present surroundings. Contrary to what she feared when seeing him on pictures, Jason, nearly as tall as Bruce and built-up as strongly as he is, doesn't appear... intimidating. While she wouldn't dare highlighting it right away, she loves his white streak of hair on the top of his forehead, striking among the nest of his black hair. He has the most mesmerizing eyes she ever saw. Mismatched, of two very different shades of blue: his right one is turquoise and dotted with lighter cyan sequins, his left one is colored of a profund, darker ocean blue.

The fact he is wearing a pink apron on top of an ugly red Christmas sweater with a reindeer drawn on it helps not seeing him as a menacing figure.

 

Edward followed an established goal: having his new teenage daughter meeting people in the Manor progressively. He wasn't sure whether or not Carrie will stop by for the evening with them; Steph reported Batgirl and her will spend Christmas with Nell's family: her aunts and their kids visit at Gotham, Carrie will have dinner in Nell's mother's to meet everyone.

Steph had Batgirl on the phone earlier, teasing Nell about introducing Carrie to her aunts. What made the twenty-two years old laugh the most is to project her relatives' expression when telling them her girlfriend celebrates Hanukkah. Nell's mother being one of the most tolerant persons Stephie met and given how she loves Carrie, no doubt the rest of the Littles will accept the seventeen years old in the family.

Nevertheless, Nell specified they keep the other reveals for later: no one shall know Carrie and her are Robin and Batgirl, and... no need to dig into personal fields, the gender issues will be broached later. For now they intended to enjoy Christmas, Steph wished her successor a great evening.

Therefore, they should be eight tonight: Bruce, Edward, Stephanie, Jason, Alfred, Alina, Helena and Marinette.

After a snack made of hot cocoa and Christmas-themed homebaked biscuits, Mari discovered her quarters. Edward introduced the space she could settle in, he added she is free to pick any unoccupied room she prefers, but before she makes a definitive choice she can reside in this one.

No way she asks for another bedroom, she had been stunned by the suite: oversized, with a large bed, a sort of 'living room' space furnished with armchairs and a low table, a desk against the wall and a bay window leading to her own balcony accessible from her room. A door at the bottom of the suite led to a private bathroom elegantly conceived, her walk-in wardrobe was so deep she had no idea how many clothes it would take to fill it.

"You'll decorate it how you want if you keep this bedroom," Eddie placed her suitcase next to the bed.

"I keep it!" Mari exclaimed, then blushed when her father laughed, glad to see her enthusiasm. "I... I love it," she justified feebly. "This is... more than I ever thought I'd own, I... hu..."

"It's alright," Eddie smiled, that protective glimmer shining in his gaze. "I told you being a Wayne gets you spinning around, same goes inside the Manor. Do you want help to unpack? You're not forced to store everything right now if you're tired, but I advise you take out at least your pajamas for later and put them on your bed."

"I'll do it," she agreed. "I... don't need help, thank you. I think I will... get used to all of that..."

"Take your time," Edward effortlessly inferred she wants alone time but is too polite to ask for it. "I'll be in the kitchen with the lovely folks you met, and Alfred and Alina shouldn't be long to arrive. If you need anything, do not hesitate! And if you get lost in the corridors because that house is too damn big, scream: everyone here has a scarily developed hearing sense, we'll come to the rescue."

Marinette laughed sweetly. She carefully remembered the path between the kitchen and her room in order to, precisely, not have to do that.

The detective left her afterwards, Marinette took a warm shower and changed from her clothes of the plane travel to a fresh outfit.

It felt good to take a moment off, she evacuated the pressure by reminding herself things are easier than what she feared.

 

Mari met the latest two Manor residents this evening when she descended back to the kitchen. The butler and the last little girl had returned from what appeared to be a last-minute grocerie shopping.

"Miss Wayne. I hope the travel went alright."

"It did. It's... nice to be here," Mari answered, a tad more confident.

"Hello Marinette," the nine year old smiled at her. "I'm Alina, glad to meet you!"

"Likewise."

It felt funny and odd to shake hands with a child.

Marinette frowned mildly when she entered the kitchen: Alfred Pennyworth and Edward Wayne were... obviously 'fighting', according to the old man's pinched expression and her... father's frustrated attitude, whose right foot tapped hysterically against the kitchen's black and white cement tiles what artistically mix floral and geometrical motifs.

"Mari, you are in to witness a recurring sight," Stephie pointed to the cooks with her thumb. "Let me enlighten you: when preparing a delicious dinner, having one chef in charge works. When you have two chefs with divergent methods and opinions on everything albeit in the end, they follow the same recipe? That's hilarious, Jay and I regularly record them, we should post our videos on YouTube some day."

Jason nodded solemnly. Alina perched on a stool next to Helena to enjoy the show, used to see those two's friendly quarrels.

"That's it, go ahead: make fun of us!" Ed exclaimed dramatically. "This oaf disrespects my version of a Christmas Eve dinner and questions my cooking capacities! It's a scandal, I demand you remedy the outrage I suffer."

"I made an observation about a sauce," the butler minimized, exasperated. "How come your ego can't swallow this?"

"You also panned my mushroom filling!" Edward cried out. "You unjustly accused its components not to be at a proportionate enough quantity! Poor thing is young and innocent, it's intolerable it underwent such insults!"

"Terrific," Jason jeered, what Ed took at its proper sense so he supplemented:

"Exactly! I can't believe my undisputable talents are unfairly decried!"

Then he snapped back at Jaybird who shook his head, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

"Wait, that 'terrific' was sarcasm, right?"

"Wow, Ginger. I'm impressed, how did you find that out?"

"Everyone is against me!", he whined pitifully, this caused an understandable wave of laughters.

Cheerful from Helena, Alina and Steph, calm but warm from Jason, collected from Alfred. Marinette chuckled at the bickering.

Having recourse to the contrary of a mature reaction, Eddie crossed his arms on his chest and pouted. His high ponytail bounced when he turned his head to the side, vexed; before they finalized the dinner making, smiling in the friendly atmosphere.

A luck it'll be a dinner for eight persons, not... twenty or more, otherwise given the time they wasted in petty arguments, they wouldn't have managed to fulfill the making although Steph, Jason, Alina and Alfred prepared most of it on the morning.

The two self-proclaimed –and as wholeheartedly attested by their relatives– awesome cooks eventually settled for compromises over the making of the traditional meals, they spent a sympathetic end of afternoon which turned slightly chaotic in the fun sense of the term.

"I guess you must feel like it's a lot to handle, but I assure you: we are the greatest people you will ever meet," Jason told her, later, after Mari has been gifted with her own version of the ugly Christmas sweater and they were ready to enjoy the evening.

"... That's what Mrs Brown said earlier."

"I bet she said she is the greatest person you will ever meet, didn't she? That's her style to constantly forget she is part of a team."

Marinette laughed.

Alright, things were... good, so far. The encounter with everyone who permanently lodges in Wayne Manor fueled her with positiveness, those people seem super friendly and they make her feel... at ease.

She appreciated everything about this Christmas Eve in her new home.

 

Chapter Text

If Marinette was being completely honest, she must admit the upgrades, the evolutions in her situation were going smooth and were appreciable.

Everything was... objectively speaking alright. Better than 'alright': she met charming individuals in the rich house where she resides now (who cares that Bruce Wayne is not one of them? He may be a broody grown-up, his husband plus the other persons who lodge under his roof are endearing people), she lives in a famous mansion of Gotham City, since recently she wears the surname of one of the most wealthy men in the world. For a girl born orphaned and abandoned, who never owned anything antecedent to her fourteenth birthday, who ended up coaxed no one will ever want her or love her due to successive disastrous experiences with the rare couples who took interest in her and almost adopted her before systematically choosing a less 'problematic', less 'disturbed' kid, her present status constitute a major improvement.

She should feel at minimum thrilled, satisfied and obliged.

Maybe she could even be... happy with what is happening? Why hadn't bliss and pure joy visited her? Wouldn't any girl in a smiliar context be over the moon, content and jubilant? Is she that much of a lost cause she cannot ever feel elation?

Mari hugged herself, her back slightly arched, her skinny thighs pressed against her small chest, her chin resting on her raised-up knees and her arms wrapped around her legs.

Faithful to her habits, she climbed on the edge of the the balcony accessible from her bedroom in order to reach the massive roof of the house and sit on the slates covering the top of the Wayne property, alone at night in the chilling air of these first days of January.

She tucked Tikki in her left pants pocket. The presence of her plush friend with her didn't suffice to appease her troubled mind. The worst in this, is that if somebody asked her, Mari would be compelled to recognize out loud she has no reason to be overwhelmed and to feel critically insecure in this environment, given how welcoming practically everyone she encountered has been with her over the past days. This rational fact aside, it remains... a lot to process. Despite the Manor inhabitants' heartwarming determination to make her feel at home, she couldn't exempt herself from the ever-lasting nasty feeling to be a misfit who doesn't belong.

Even after their great time during Christmas.

Even after unwrapping presents she had no idea they bought for her.

Even after playing in the Wayne park surrounding the habitation after it snowed, after a thick white blanket covered the ground, the grass and the trees. They had so much fun. They built an army of snowmen, fought divided in two teams: Ed, Steph and Mari versus Jay, Alina and Helena to throw snowballs at their opponents, they made snow angels, rolled in the powdery material. At some point, Jason buried Helena and Alina under a mound of snow and ruffled Marinette's hair with a handful of chilly yet soft snow. They concluded this grand day by gathering together in front of a lit up fireplace, hot chocolate mugs between their hands and homebaked cookies spread on the low table. Marinette felt like... a child. She enjoyed those delightful hours, she laughed more in a day than she usually does over a whole year.

Even after visiting meaningful Gothamite locations, the family organized a targeted tour guide to show her their favorite places in the city, home town for all Wayne Manor residents minus Edward, who informed her he is born in the countryside inside the same State and moved to the giant agglomeration rather young.

Even after Stephanie Brown's hilarious stories and bright, flamboyant personality that strangely would make anyone at ease, Jason Todd's anecdotes and glorification of the French population especially for their dishes, Alina Shelley's delicate attentions and how the eight-year-old tried to bond with her by bringing up various activities they can practice, Helena Wayne's adorable, perky comments and bouncy behaviors typical from toddlers... to what adds up everything about Edward Wayne, who proves daily he cares for her like she is a real family member.

Alfred Pennyworth is too collected for Mari to establish a contact with him, Bruce Wayne too distant to share anything with and Carrie Kelley too absent, busy elsewhere to properly count her in the picture for the time being. Even without the latest three, she should be cheerful and joyous the previous five let her in, that they try their best for her to feel loved. How come that was not enough?

Why couldn't she feel sated with what she has, which is more than she ever possessed?!

What is... wrong with her...?

Her forehead against her knees, drowning in a dreadful self-blaming, the teenager wept silently on the slate roof, her frail body rocked by virulent tremors whilst, like at the orphanage, she tried her best not to make a sound.

Marinette startled when a weight suddenly dropped on her shoulders, she urgently looked to the side, ready to fight off whoever...

"It's fine," Edward raised both hands in the air in a typical 'I surrender' display. "It's only me. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. You shouldn't stay out at this hour in just your pajamas; with these temperatures, you'll catch an illness in no time."

She wiped the tears that flooded on her face, stunned she registered neither noises when he likely walked on the roof behind her nor the gesture of him sitting on her right. Like a cat, he visibly masters the art of going unnoticed.

"Th-thank y-y-you..."

The girl snuggled in the warm blanket Ed, who definitely relies on mother hen tendencies, placed over her shoulders.

"Going out at night and perching on rooftops is a family custom," Eddie smiled, not an ounce of judgement surfacing in his intonation.

Mari felt grateful he didn't ask why she cries or lecture her for being technically outside so late.

"Everyone here practiced it before meeting Bruce," he pursued, "and it tends to... develop further once you move at the mansion."

"... You perched on your previous house's roof too?"

"I did so at my parents' during my childhood, and I've done it repeatedly after I arrived in Gotham, long before I engaged in a relationship with Bruce. Stephanie climbed to the roof of her parents' home when she was little," he specified, his gaze riveted on the mesmerizing starry sky above their head. "We spent countless hours sharing astronomy lessons when she introduced me to this habit of hers."

"You lived at her home?"

"Regularly. I teamed-up with her father for... business."

Eddie smiled to himself. So much happened between the distant era Riddler and Cluemaster worked together on schemes and dear old Arthur Brown, desperate to please him, hopelessly in love with him, let him in under his roof. A lifetime ago.

Regarding the evocation of Arthur himself, Steph has no problem mentioning him every now and then. Her dad sucked and didn't act like a decent parent, but he was... not 'terrible'. Albeit he never expressed it like a normal person, he cared about his daughter. He went mad with sorrow and rage when she 'died' at seventeen years old, what was revealed afterwards a temporary condition.

While Steph hadn't shed a tear after his death, definitive as for it, that occurred during her Batgirl run over six years ago, she considered she made her peace with the rocky relationship they nurtured over the years. She is an optimist, who had it harder than most people she crossed paths with yet forever looked at the upside. She forgave her mother for being a drug addict and for being absent her entire childhood plus teenage years, waking up and starting to bond with her since a young adult Steph became Batgirl. It fits her kind-hearted personality she forgave her father as well.

Not that Marinette needed a detailed paper on the complicated relations inside the Brown family.

"I like to stroll on rooftops," Mari confessed, shy whereas she felt like she could... share this information Ed presented like something 'expected' according to the Waynes. "I followed... a sort of routine with Mr Agreste at Miraculous, he... taught me how to defend myself. His courses included working on my agility, and moving on the Parisian roofs was a fine training to improve my capacities. I am not sensible to vertigo and I walk with swagger when I focus. What may seem... paradoxical, 'cause I am a bit of a disaster otherwise. When I evolve in a potentially dangerous space, where I need to be hyper concentrated, I am... in control of my every moves."

"It's not paradoxical. Many people I know share these similarities, and I am one of them. It is less striking now, but when I was younger I was more on the 'clumsy' side for random activities, opposed to when I focused on a mission I deemed important: there I entirely absorbed into the task at hand, and I appeared far more... skillful."

This is a common facet of Asperger's syndrome. Be that as it may, it is specified nowhere in the girl's file she is autistic, so he wouldn't straight-up announce it like that. The day she wonders about her attitudes and seeks for a medical analysis, Ed will enlighten what comes from this syndrome and is, therefore, a normal characteristic of hers.

"Edward?"

"Yes?"

"I have... a question. It may be... dumb..."

"I assure you there are no 'dumb' questions."

He addressed her a reassuring smile.

"Go ahead: I am a genius, I know all the answers."

She smiled too, then... leaned against him.

She did that one night with Gabriel when they took a break and were watching the stars. The ambiance felt safe and wholesome, she didn't... think it through. The simple memory of the punishment she suffered afterwards for her daring move is painful enough to bring tears to her eyes. Agreste made it crystal clear during the next training session she is not allowed that kind of 'intimate contact' and shall be reprimanded for it.

Hence... this was somehow a test to see how Edward would take it. She was scared, her heart was beating fast inside her ribcage, she feared the outcome...

Ed reacted to this like he does for the rest: like an affectionate adult. He wrapped an arm around her smaller frame tucked under the blanket to bring her closer, only performing this gesture when he didn't meet an adverse recoil. Being hugged like that felt so... authentic, it nearly made her sob again.

Marinette queried a weak:

"Does Bruce... hate me?"

Eddie tensed against her.

Given how cold her father acted over the holidays, of course that poor child would assume he dislikes her.

"I promise he doesn't."

"Then... why is he mad to see me in his house...?"

"It has nothing to do with you, Mari. Do not blame yourself or think he reacts like that to your presence."

Marinette wanted to trust Ed when he swore she is not responsible for her biological dad's terrible mood, yet it was... hard to believe.

"He has... things on his mind," Eddie pursued, nostalgia perceptible in his voice as he tried his best to soothe her anxiety. "Many unsolved issues that need to be fixed. I won't defend his lack of investment with you, I deem he could make an effort regardless. But I'm afraid it was... far from an ideal moment to meet your father. He is... currently going through a lot."

"And you are not? I mean... you two are married, don't couples... share that kind of 'issues' when they come up?"

"We do. I am affected by it too, though not to... the same extent," he picked his words prudently, unwilling to unveil too much at once. "Besides, at least one of us needs to stay afloat for the other Manor residents. Try not to be too angry at him, please. He... will catch up with you when he feels better."

"I am not angry," she disabused him gently. "I just... wished I could do something for that my father doesn't see me as a... burden..."

"I promise you Bruce doesn't see you that way."

Eddie pledged she is a family member and that although she hadn't met the rest of the clan, everyone appreciates her company and is happy to count her in the circle. Mari cuddled closer to him. She wasn't sure she fully believed him, but she truly wanted to.

They spent the following hour talking about the stars, Edward pointed to discernible constellations, he narrated amusing and entertaining stories linked to ancient beliefs starring the Milky Way.

 

¤••●••¤

 

Marinette tugged the fabric of her skirt that covered her legs past knees level, shifting umcomfortably on the leather chair facing a large wooden desk.

The uniform itself doesn't bother her; for girls it is composed of a white shirt, a green tie, a dark green and silver blazer, a checkered dark green and grey skirt, completed by thick grey tights during winter. The boys' is identical on the upper side, with dark green trousers on the lower half of the body. As for the sports uniforms, they were the same for both genders: a grey and green jogging during the cold months, a grey tee-shirt and a green short for the warm weather at the beginning and the end of the school year. 

"Pleasure welcoming you as one of my students, Miss Wayne," Mrs Madison, the director of the high school she has been enrolled in, rounded her presentation off.

Edward and her were sitting in the principal's office on Monday morning, the first day post-holidays. Ed registered her in the same high school as Carrie Kelley, a private establishment benefitting from an excellent reputation. Mari should be in last year of middle school, she skipped a grade during her schooling in Paris. Steph and him asked her if she preferred to follow an education with kids her age or if she was okay in the middle of teens one year older than her.

She opted for the second version.

Thus, she got a reserved place in a class of high schoolers one year older than her, whose schedule begins at 9 AM on Monday. The principal gave Eddie and her an appointment an hour earlier.

Yesterday at dinner, Edward told her Julie Madison is a friend, she was a client in his detective agency, he helped her frame her former boss who harassed her before becoming director in this private high school. They maintained a good relation afterwards. They greeted each other warmly, wishing one another a happy new year; Ed asked how are her husband and her two years old son, the atmosphere felt light and it is reassuring to know the director of her school nurtures a positive bond with her... father.

Mrs Madison even took the time for a tour guide, the teachers have been warned of the arrival of a new student who comes from another country.

Marinette was a tad worried nonetheless she didn't feel too stressed, at least not over the hour Julie showed her the school. That Edward stood by her side helped, he assured he'll be there at the end of the day to pick her up and proposed to do the same during noon break if she didn't feel like eating at the canteen on her first day.

Scared it would feel like she imposes her own rules, Mari said she'll go to the canteen. Moreover she printed Carrie's school time schedule, in case she'd want company outside her classmates'.

When the alarm rung to mark the end of the first hour and the beginning of Marinette's day, her knees felt like cotton and her stomach constricted in tight knots.

"It's alright. I... will manage," she tentatively persuaded herself when Edward hinted he can stay during her introduction to her first teacher.

Even without precise notions of what 'standards' correspond to, she deduced it won't be encouraging for her reputation to be first seen entering the classroom with her father holding her hand as if she was in kindergarten.

"Such a sweet girl," Julie Madison evaluated once they let Mari in the corridor in front of her class and returned to her office to fulfill the registration. "Who figures in the list of Bruce Wayne's unknown-until-then bio children. How do you cope with him bringing home another offspring sharing his genetics?"

"She may not be my blood, she is legally my child too," Ed discarded any negative thought. "And it's not like Bruce 'cheated' on me: she is fourteen years old. I was... a very different person at the era she was conceived."

Julie nodded quietly.

She doesn't have an actual opinion on Bruce Wayne, just on Carrie she sees in her high school for the fourth year now and on Edward who helped her through when she had no one else to turn to. She stayed on good terms with the detective, met his work partner Stephanie Brown, and developed a friendly relation with them.

She promised Eddie she will keep an eye on his new daughter to verify if she doesn't feel homesick, while knowing the devoted parent he is will also follow closely the progression of her schooling.

 

School was 'not that bad'.

This is the most elaborate response Edward obtained from Marinette at the end of her first week.

'Not that bad' because she was proud to keep up in English, and kept a dictionary plus the use of a translator on her phone if necessary over the courses.

'Not that bad' because her classmates didn't pay too much attention to her. They were curious to welcome an European student, they asked questions, some seemed charmed by the fact she is a Parisian, they have a romantic image of the capital city of France. This being a private school for the Gothamite elite though, many kids have their own fascinating stories to tell. They traveled and visited impressive places, it's not like Mari was the sole person in the class who put a foot in Europe.

'Not that bad' because her teachers were considerate. In all likelihood, her family name plays a part in the patient, dedicated way they treat her: from Dick Grayson to Marinette Wayne, every ward taken in by Bruce learned in this high school over their teenage years, the most reputed of the city. With so many children, Bruce injected the most money in this establishment and everyone, older teachers like new ones, has anecdotes to relate about at least one of the Waynes.

'Not that bad' because the canteen and recreation time didn't feel awkward. She expected to sit alone at a table, eat the plate on her tray and find a tranquil area until the alarm heralded the beginning of the afternoon courses. Turned out she didn't have to. The first day, two boys of her class proposed she eats with them. She accepted, they didn't mind her being timid. On Tuesday she ate with a bigger group of teens from her class, on Thursday she only had two hours on the morning from 8 AM to 10 AM, Eddie picked her up and returned her to the school for her afternoon courses starting at 1 past 30 PM. On Friday at last, she ate with Carrie and three of the seventeen years old's buddies, who longed to meet their pal's newest little sister.

Overall... not that bad.

Not that exceptional either.

Carrie Kelley behaves friendly at school, but as soon as they switch to the private sphere, she... disconnects, as if, just like Bruce, she has no desire whatsoever to spend time with Marinette.

For the rest, school is... well, school.

Mari hates being forced into a group of passably stupid strangers to socialize instead of learning what she finds interesting on her own or with a specialized teacher.

In spite of the stress, Marinette kept a determined facade on.

She finally relaxed on Saturday morning. She woke up, descended to the main rooms, stepped in the kitchen and came across... a typically French breakfast: bread, butter, jam, croissants, chocolate croissants, refined little cakes...

"I let you give a grade to the croissants, the strawberry charlotte and the praline Paris-Brest," Edward said smugly with a –hilarious– voluntarily cliché French accent. "Are they as good as what you ate in Paris?"

Those people are sweethearts: Ed and Jason woke up early this morning to... bake a breakfast that will make her feel at home. Marinette judged everything delicious, and chuckled when Helena shouted they should eat more 'made in France' desserts, their pastries are a marvel.

Alfred the cat (it apparently started as a joke, then they kept this name for the black and white feline who lives in Wayne Manor) jumped on the breakfast table and accidentally put his front paws in the apricot jam, making everyone laugh.

Alina showed them a picture she finished yesterday, an imaginary landscape in pastel colors. Another pleasant discovery: this girl is talented and shares her passion for drawing. Blood daughters of Bruce Wayne have this characteristic in common.

 

¤••●••¤

 

Marinette expected things to maintain this sort of 'status quo': Ed, Steph, Jay, Alina and Helena being super nice with her, Alfred very British in his collected line of conduct, Carrie cool at school albeit distant at home and Bruce absent from her daily life.

It prolonged for a couple days, before problems occurred on Friday afternoon the second school week, at sports. By principle, Mari hates this course: no way she undresses in the cloakrooms with other people, so far she avoided remarks as she changed from her skirt and shirt to the grey uniform jogging by locking herself in the toilets, but without a doubt someday a classmate or her teacher will underline this weird habit and ask her why she refuses to change with the girls. She will have to justify herself, embarrassed, and it risks to be relayed to her fathers.

She didn't want to confront Edward about these insecurities. At least not yet, not before she grows closer to her family members.

Notwithstanding this, the setback that happened during the course had no link with her issues. While she waited her group's turn to participate to the tennis exchanges, clutching her racket in her left hand, her teacher told her someone wants to talk to her, she can step aside to meet the man who entered the gymnasium reserved by the school for indoor sports. He waited for her at the main entry.

She shyly walked toward him.

"Marinette Wayne?"

"And you are...?"

She didn't appreciate how the man gestured for her to come closer. Why did her teacher let a stranger discuss to a student during class?!

Surely because you are a Wayne, her rational inside voice clarified. Bruce's children are likely never refused a thing, even less a talk with a well-dressed man in a suit who could be working at his company.

He introduced himself as Alvin Draper, a social worker alerted by the school of her situation.

"Why were you... alerted?" She blinked, afraid. "Did I... misbehave?"

The adult's smile broadened. A shiver ran down her spine.

"Nothing like this, worry not."

To her surprise, he switched to French, with an accent that indicates he is a native American who learned the language, not the other way around. His speech rolled at a fluid pace:

"You haven't done anything wrong, but perhaps your 'parents' did? It is unconventional, to be ripped from the country and the town where you grew up, forced to move to the other side of the Earth and to land in a town where you know no one."

"I'm alright," she uttered firmly, in French since the man initiated a dialog in her first language. "And my parents are nice, caring people. Thank you for your concern, I..."

"Nice and caring you say?" He quoted, evidently knowing more than he lets on. "Even Bruce Wayne? Let me guess, he barely acknowledges you and pretends he doesn't recognize you when you see him in the corridors of this oversized, creepy house of his?"

She frowned.

Until then, at her demand they delayed an interview with journalists curious to interrogate the new Wayne heir. This will be set up when she feels ready, not before, Edward wouldn't pressure her to do something she was uncomfortable with. However, with the way this man spoke of her birther it is limpid he... knows him, though she couldn't decipher to what extent or what kind of relationship they share. Or shared, past tense.

"Mr Draper, if you don't mind, I am... at school," she stated, her throat dry, her instinct screaming at her to get away from this man. "I will return to my class. If you want to talk to my father you should address to him directly, not to... me."

"I talk to Bruce whenever I feel like it," he smirked mockingly. "But you see, my favorite manner to send him a message is by touching his dear boring relatives. Just to remind him not because he erased me from the family tree means I don't have a word to say regarding his questionable additions to our household. I mean look at that. Look at you. What could possibly interest the old man in a pathetic, scared baby girl like you? Anyway, I find extremely rude I haven't been introduced to the latest underdog he dragged to the nest, so... let's correct this injustice, shall we?"

Too swiftly for her to react on time, Mari felt the prick of a needle piercing the tender flesh on her neck.

"Don't worry, insignificant little bug," the man in his late twenties / early thirties whispered in a suave voice that froze her to the bones. "You are Bruce's child, I take good care of the Wayne family members."

A young woman with pumpkin orange hair appeared in her field of vision, likely the person who... injected her with sedative?!

Where were... her class... her teacher...

Sneaking a peek above her shoulder, Marinette realized she wasn't in sight from the inside of the gymnasium. She took a couple steps outside the entry of the gym to speak with this 'social worker', she hadn't noticed he directed her to a dead angle in case anyone spied on them. Who is this guy...?

She vaguely registered the man supporting her weight, until he probably scooped her unresponsive form up when she passed out between his arms.

Her ultimate awake thought is that he smells like cologne, an aroma reminiscent of Gabriel's only with a more spicy scent buried beneath his fragrance.