Adrien Agreste. Age twenty-six. A successful international supermodel, currently changing his career to a CEO of a fashion empire. Was born and raised in Paris; had moved to the USA six years ago; came back for a visit. Rich and kind, handsome but lonely. Had experienced a lot, had seen even more. Had nothing left that could surprise him anymore.
Except, maybe, this - a small, blonde girl, with emerald eyes and freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose – the spitting image of his mother Emilie Agreste, excluding, perhaps, the freckles. Adrien didn't remember his mother very well. She died when he was still a tween, but he spent hours staring at every single picture they had of her and knew every detail of her face, every peculiarity, every gorgeous feature, the way she smiled, the way her eyes sparkled, the way they loved. Now with his own eyes wide open, Adrien observed her little copy playing with her dolls at the park and couldn't believe his sight. Even less he could believe his ears.
Her name was Emma. Emma Dupain-Cheng, to be exact.
Six years ago, without warning, at the age of twenty Adrien had left Paris. One morning his father had offered him a chance of a lifetime career move, but there was a catch - pack a bag and catch a plane in two hours. Adrien agreed without thinking twice.
Of course, he regretted leaving his Lady behind, but that was probably for the best. After all, the last time they had seen each other, they’d had a huge fight, and she had told him that she wished she'd never met him. He interfered with her feelings, she’d said, confused her, made her fall in love with him, made it impossible for her and that mysterious boy she was always pining after to be together. His Lady had wept, shivered and looked absolutely miserable on his account. She was mad at Chat Noir for that night, a single night they spent together. Adrien wished he could regret it the way she did, but he just couldn't. It was too perfect not to treasure it forever.
They had been celebrating her 20th birthday. He had invited her to dinner. It had gone so well, they’d had so much fun, their easy friendship slowly slipping into dangerous territory. In the end, neither of them could resist the romantic spell they were plunged into, or maybe it was only Ladybug who couldn't, because Chat Noir had never hidden how he felt about his partner and how much he always wanted their relationship to more than platonic. That night Ladybug had allowed him to go the lengths he could only dream of. She had agreed to be his girlfriend and had made the first move. He’d thought that everything was perfect, but when he’d woken up the next day, she was gone.
Then came the fight. A few days later when they had met up again, Ladybug was an emotional mess. She’d said she had thought a lot about what had happened and had admitted that she loved him but also insisted that she couldn't be with him because she loved that other boy as well. She claimed that it wouldn't be fair to either of them so she would rather stay alone than hurt anyone by half-loving them. Chat tried to reason with her, to say that he'd accept what she was willing to give him and it would be more than enough but, in the end, they had just fought harder. Always so determined and stubborn, Ladybug told him that her mind was made up – she would rather live a miserable life than give him only a half of her heart and always look over her shoulder for that other guy. He deserved so much more. He needed someone who could love him with all their heart, she’d said. Chat tried to protest, but pushed to her edge Ladybug didn't listen.
“I wish, I'd never met you!” were the words that finally broke him. The anger and desperation, mixed with tears and shivers all over her body made it clear that Ladybug meant every word.
“As you wish,” Chat bowed down and disappeared into the night. He also had his limits, and despite regretting it later, at that precise moment he couldn't fight her anymore. She wanted him gone? He would obey. He was a loyal partner after all.
So, when Adrien heard about the job in New York City the next morning, he didn't think twice. To leave and let Ladybug be happy with that other man had sounded like a sensible solution at the time. He didn't want to stand in the way of his Lady's happiness anymore. He'd had enough of being a problem for those he loved. Because if not for him, he figured, and his dumb, stubborn attempts to win her over, she'd be free to be with that other man already. She'd be happy by now. Chat Noir had gotten his chance with Ladybug, and it wasn't “it” for the girl of his dreams, so he had to step back and leave. Once free of him, his stupidity and his foolish feelings, without him confusing her, Ladybug would have a chance to be happy with that other lucky man. He could live with that. He loved Ladybug too much to continue ruining her life and it looked like his love was just as destructive as his cataclysm.
Maybe, there was an underlying reason he was chosen to be Chat Noir in the first place? Was it possible that Plagg and him were a match made in Heaven? Both lovable dorks. Both able to destroy with a single touch.
The truly devastating consequence, however, had been Plagg's announcement that Adrien had to give up his miraculous. It had to stay in Paris, Plagg had explained, and if Adrien were to leave, he would have to give up the ring to a new wielder. Adrien hadn’t even needed to consider; there were matters much bigger and more important than his desire to jump across the rooftops of Paris. Hawkmoth was gone, and Adrien wasn't needed anymore. Heartbroken but determined, Adrien had removed his ring and given it back to Plagg. He’d also given him enough Camembert to last a month as a parting present. In silence, though clearly upset, Plagg had left his life. He remained in his heart forever.
Adrien didn't call anyone from the airport. Goodbyes were either unnecessary or too painful. Explaining why he was abruptly leaving was the last thing he wanted to do now. He'd call everyone later, after he was safely across the ocean. That included Nino, his best friend.
Six years later, never forgetting his Lady, never loving anyone else, and never feeling at home anywhere, Adrien had finally come back to attend Nino's wedding. His best friend was marrying his school sweetheart Alya Césaire, that crazy reporter who had always chased after him and Ladybug. She wasn't that crazy anymore, though. Alya was a respected journalist with a successful career and was about to make his best friend happy. That was an occasion deserving the risk of coming back and running into Ladybug, though Adrien thought it highly unlikely. He still didn't know her civilian identity, and he doubted she knew his, so even if they did meet, neither would probably realize it. In any case, Adrien didn't plan to stay long. One week - a few days before, a few days after the wedding and he'd be back in his bachelor pad across the ocean, not ruining anyone's life. Before that, though, Adrien had planned to spend his visit as low-key as possible, see a few friends and avoid his father. He wasn't prepared to be knocked off his rails by a carbon copy of his mother messing around in the sandbox of a local park.
This particular afternoon Adrien had planned to surprise Nino. He had arrived the previous day but didn't let anyone know just so he could sneak up on his friend and scare the living daylight out of him - an innocent prank to lift his mood, remember the old times and add just a bit of fun he desperately needed in his life right now. Everything was going perfectly. An hour ago Adrien had called Nino, said he was at the airport, waiting for a departure and casually asked him what he was up too. Nino informed him that he was at a nearby park, doing a favour for a friend. The park was easy to find. Nino shrieked with terror when Adrien jumped out on him but loved the surprise nevertheless.
Imagine, however, Adrien's astonishment when he learned that Nino's favour was two hours of babysitting Marinette's five-year-old daughter. The same Marinette Dupain-Cheng who had been excessively shy and never entirely gotten over her stutter around him; that girl who had always been a mystery to him; the only girl that Adrien had ever had a crush on apart from Ladybug. A secret, tiny, minuscule crush he’d never let anyone know about and had worked hard to get over because he’d had his Lady. He couldn't afford to stray away. He had been confident that his loyalty would pay off and it had. Only not in the way he had hoped and not without ruining Ladybug's life in the process. At least Marinette seemed to have hers all set up. That was good to know. Who knows what would've happened if Adrien let his destructive love ruin her dreams as well?
“… she had to go to an important meeting—” Nino's voice broke his train of thought, “—and her usual babysitter is sick. Alya couldn't do it, Tom and Sabine are away, and it's not like Emma would go to just anyone anyway,” he added. “So, it was either me or no one.”
Nino continued to say something about this little girl's character and something about time and impossible to find. Adrien couldn't distinguish words anymore. The sentences had stopped making sense. It all mixed up in his head like white noise as he continued just to stand there, staring at a little girl bearing a striking similarity to his mother and wonder if there was something wrong with his head, or eyes, or maybe it was exhaustion, or perhaps a combination of everything above.
Then came the most stunning detail.
“You know, bro,” Nino whispered conspiratorially. “Although Marinette won't admit it, we think that Emma's father is Chat Noir.”
That statement quickly brought Adrien's attention back to Nino as he almost choked on thin air. He immediately remembered that the girl was around five years old plus nine months of pregnancy- Adrien felt his insides freeze because six years ago, Chat Noir was him, and if everything was correct, he was this little girl's father.
Adrien frowned in confusion. How could that be if he was pretty sure that he had never been intimate with Marinette at any point of their acquaintance? Apart from that little crush fluke, he had never really known her very well. In fact, because of his love for Ladybug and his innate loyalty, which he wasn't sure was a benefit or liability anymore, he had never even attempted to be with anyone else. He just wasn't interested anymore. He believed there were even rumours that he wasn't into girls in the circles he lived amongst in the US due to that little peculiarity of his.
“And how do you know that, Nino?” Adrien asked, trying not to sound too interested.
“Well, it's not a secret anymore, but you should keep it to yourself anyway, just in case.” Nino smirked at him with a knowing smile. “Our sweet little Marinette used to be Ladybug up until about six years ago.”
Adrien paled, but Nino didn't seem to notice, too excited to finally be able to spill the beans to his best friend.
“I swear I wanted to tell you before, but Alya wanted to keep it a secret,” he smiled apologetically. “And I wanted to stay in her good graces, for quite obvious reasons. Now, however, seeing as she is engaged to me, I think, it's safer to tell? Keep it to yourself, though. If my woman finds out that I told you, she- Just don't tell her, bro, ok?”
Adrien turned to Nino. “I won’t, but you have to tell me how you know all of that.”
“Well, right about the time you left—” Nino started, “—in a matter of a few days or maybe weeks, can't remember now, we had a new Chat Noir. You could tell right away he was a newbie - a brown-haired teenager with no sick skills and quite serious, at that. Nothing like the cool dude we had before. A couple of days later,” Nino sighed. “Our old Ladybug suddenly swung by Alya’s apartment and told her that she had to give up being Ladybug to a new girl due to some complications and because there was a new, younger Chat Noir and he needed a new, younger Ladybug. Before that, however, she wanted to let Alya know who she was and to apologize. Alya freaked out at first, but when Marinette appeared in Ladybug's place, it all made sense.”
Nino paused for a moment. He crossed his arms over his chest looking at the small girl currently climbing into a swing. “Then,” he said in a much quieter voice. “Marinette took off her earrings and gave them to a small, red creature she called Tikki. They cried for like an hour or two, and it left. Later we found out that her so-called ‘complication' was her pregnancy.”
Nino paused again. This time Adrien looked at his face, surprised to find a range of emotions there. It was obvious Nino cared for Marinette. The mix of warmth and sadness when he looked at her daughter spoke volumes.
“She went through so much, man,” Nino whispered, anger spiking in his eyes. “That bastard- Left her alone and miserable- If only I could get my hands on him-”
“Anyway,” he sighed and turned to look at Adrien after a moment of composing himself back to his cheerful self. “We all helped her as much as we could and here we are. Emma is like our shared daughter, and Marinette landed an awesome job, so she is back on her feet.”
“Did she tell you Emma's father was Chat Noir?” Adrien asked. As much as he needed to think this through, he couldn't. His mind was frazzled and confused by all the questions and doubts flooding him. He was a father??? To a five-year-old girl??? He left his Lady pregnant and alone??? Where was that other man??? Was he so low that he didn’t want to care for someone else’s child? Why had no one tried to contact him? He would've jumped on the first plane back the moment he found out-
“Nah,” Nino interrupted his thoughts again. “No matter how hard we tried to make Marinette name the father, she refused. The closest Alya got from her sounded something like ‘I don't know who he is, I wish I knew, but I don't.' But when Emma was born, we all just knew. I mean, man, can you look at her – blond hair, green eyes, she even likes puns at her age – and deny it? How could she not be Chat Noir's daughter? No offence, bro-” a smirk surfaced on Nino's lips, “-but I even considered you as a possibility because, you know, Marinette had a huge crush on you for like forever. Though, I had to give up that thought after Alya told me that Marinette hadn't seen you in like ages.”
By this point, Adrien's head was not only throbbing but also spinning. That little detail about Marinette having had a crush on him was, maybe, just a little bit too much. He had to sit down.
“Hey, are you alright?” Nino eyed him suspiciously.
“Yeah,” Adrien murmured in return. “Just a bit tired. Jetlag, long flight, time changes, stuff like that.”
“Okay,” Nino frowned and pointed to a nearby bench. “Wanna go sit down?”
“Sure.” Adrien followed his friend to the bench. For the next few minutes, watching his newfound daughter and completely blocking out Nino's chatter, all he could do was wonder what he was going to do. Did he need to do anything? Nino said Marinette was finally feeling fine. Did he want to wreck her life again? And how did he feel about Ladybug being Marinette? True, he’d had a crush on his shy, cute, stuttering classmate but he’d never gotten to know her very well. Well, he knew Ladybug very well but why hadn't he recognized her in Marinette? It couldn't be just because her behaviour was drastically different around him, could it?
Adrien closed his eyes, trying to remember. Everyone seemed to like Marinette back in school; some were even in love with her. He respected her a lot for her talent and her bravery but he had never really gotten to know her really well. Mostly because she always seemed to freeze around him, leading him to believe that she didn't like him, and as such giving him even more motivation to squash that damned crush before it had a chance to develop any further. Graduation and separate colleges had certainly helped.
But now Nino revealed that Marinette didn't hate him at all. Quite the contrary, she was in love with him and if she was his Ladybug that meant he was that mysterious boy she wanted to be with. And that meant that when he had removed himself from the equation so she could be happy with that other boy, he had actually left her alone with “the consequences” of that one night. He, Adrien Agreste, was that bastard Nino wanted to get his hands on.
Feeling like his head was about to explode, Adrien pushed all thoughts aside and walked straight up to the girl. He crouched beside her and smiled.
“Hello, Emma. My name is Adrien. How are you?”
The girl scanned him from head to toe with narrowed eyes and smirked. “I don't speak with strangers,” she said. “My mama told me not to. And don't even think—” she pouted, “—that if you give me candy, I'll follow you to your car so you can kidnap me! My mama will find you and kick your butt.”
Satisfied with herself, little Emma turned around and went on to play with her dolls leaving a rather stunned Adrien behind. Appearing out of nowhere, Nino chuckled having observed the whole interaction. “She is Chat Noir's daughter, I tell you. Just as fiery and feisty, isn't she?”
More like her mother, Adrien thought.
“Wait till you try to put her down to bed,” Nino continued.
Adrien looked at him with apparent interest. “What happens then?”
“She jumps around for an hour fighting akumas,” Nino smiled fondly as Adrien's heart stung. His friend was here to put his -Adrien’s- child to bed. He wasn't. “Then she sneaks out of her room and tries to climb to the roof. Marinette even had to block all the ways up in her house.” Nino's face turned abruptly downcast. “But that is more sad than funny, though.”
“Why is that?” Adrien asked.
“Emma always says that she is looking for her daddy and for some reason, she thinks he will wait for her on the roof.”