In all the years he remembered, Adrien had never slept better than today. The bed was soft and comfy. The air warm yet fresh, with a slight hint of Marinette's perfume still floating around. There was also a sweet realization that years of misery were over at last. He was finally able to hold her close again. He could love her. He could stay by her side. He, not some other mystery man, could make her happy. Marinette wasn't pushing him away again, she agreed to give them another go and this time they would work on it and-
Someone's fingers brushed his hair. "Daddy?"
Adrien's nose twitched as something poked it.
"Daaaddddy?" the voice whispered, following a few more pokes. This time to his cheek. Adrien wrinkled his nose and shrugged the annoyance away. Someone tried to force open his eyes as a result. Left with no more options Adrien turned around and hid under the comforter.
"Dadddyyyy?" the voice persisted and someone's little hands snuck under the blankets to tickle his back. Adrien groaned and turned back to face the offender.
"See, Mommy? He isn't sleeping!" Emma, lying between him and Marinette, grinned. Of course, Adrien sleepily smiled. How could he forget?
"Shhhh," Marinette murmured without opening her eyes and wrapped her arms tighter around the squirming girl. "Pillows don't talk and don't move, Emma."
"I want to cuddle Daddy too."
One of Marinette's eyes popped open. She lifted her head to scan his messy mop and a little bit confused expression and smiled. "I suppose we can let him in in our sacred ceremony."
"Sacred ceremony?" Adrien yawned and glanced at the clock. 6:15 am. Not too early for him, he supposed. Actually, he would consider it a sleep in on regular days.
"The Dupain-Cheng cuddle ceremony," Marinette explained. "We don't get out of this bed until 6:30 and until then we have to cuddle to prevent the evil spoiling our mood for the day."
Adrien chuckled. An unexpected but actually a really sweet tradition, nothing like he had ever heard of or experienced before, nothing he wouldn't love to partake in. Who would in their sane mind refuse fifteen or even more minutes of cuddling with his girls?
"May I?" he asked, making sure not to move until the permitting nod was received. Once the approval was given he swiftly wrapped his arms around both girls at once and squeezed.
"Daddy!" Emma laughed. Marinette giggled and scooped a little closer, sandwiching Emma between them.
"I like this sacred ceremony of yours," Adrien whispered and placed a soft kiss on the top of Emma's hair. "Though I suspect it was put in place more because someone didn't want to get up sooner than they needed."
"Shhhh!" Marinette glared. "No need to give away my secrets or you'll be banned from partaking the next time."
"Silent as a fish," Adrien yawned and closed his eyes, spending all the time before the alarm clock went off enjoying the cuddles of his two ladies.
Once the time to get up arrived, he proposed to make a breakfast and was quickly shoved out the door and sent downstairs while the ladies got ready to face the day. In about ten minutes Emma skipped down the stairs. Marinette followed another ten minutes later, just enough time for him to make a simple breakfast of sausage, scrambled eggs, and croissants.
"Smells delicious," Marinette noted, settling behind the kitchen table where Emma was already devouring her portion. "I didn't know you could cook. You always had chefs in the mansion, didn't you?"
"I did," Adrien shrugged. "Not in New York, though. There I had to learn and to be honest, found myself enjoying it quite a lot."
"Hmmm." Marinette bit into her croissant. "A man that has the looks and can cook? You drive a hard bargain, Agreste. I might decide to keep you after all."
"My Lady," Adrien smirked. "May I add to your dilemma and prove my worth tonight with a dinner that'll make you forget all the doubts you've ever had?"
"Surprise me." Marinette winked and glanced at the clock.
"In a rush?"
"Nope. I still have another fifteen minutes or so before Emma goes to her babysitter. My work starts at eight so plenty of time to get downtown."
"Is that how your days usually work?" Adrien settled across Marinette with his own plate. "You go to work and Emma to her babysitter every day?"
"Pretty much," Marinette nodded. "When there is school, Mlle Bella takes her there and brings her back home but during breaks she spends her days at her house. Emma likes her a lot so that isn't really a problem and on weekends we always do something fun together so she wouldn't feel abandoned. Sometimes my parents would take her for a day or two. Alya uses her Auntie privileges once or twice a month. Emma seems to enjoy it. I know that, maybe, this isn't ideal-"
"No, this is good," Adrien interrupted, seeing the guilt rising in Marinette's eyes. "This is actually much better than what I had so don't worry. Emma looks very loved and cared for. From what I've seen you are an incredible mom, Marinette. You support yourself and still manage to do so much for Emma. Amazing, really."
"Thanks," Marinette smiled. "I try to give her what I had myself – unconditional love and acceptance but with a sprinkle of discipline because let me tell you—" she playfully pointed into Emma's direction, who by that time was already colouring something in the living room, "—that little angel over there has so much Chat Noir's mischief in her that sometimes it's hard to contain."
"Pfft," Adrien huffed. "It's not like her mother was a model girl herself, sneaking out of her bedroom all the time, getting in fights with akumas on almost daily basis and may I notice, without her parents' consent or knowledge! I wouldn't be surprised if she even had—" he leaned in and grinned, "—a secret boyfriend. I also wonder if there might be a few secrets not even I know?"
Marinette nervously chuckled, shifting her eyes away, remembering a few cases, involving a couple of certain stolen cell phones. "Let's not deliberate."
"Hmmmm," Adrien cockled his head to the side. "Do I want to know?"
"Nope. Nothing important but let's remember me young and innocent."
They both laughed and finished their meals, the rest of the conversation flowing effortlessly, memories of prior times and friends coming to mind and just as Marinette was about to stand up Adrien added.
"Do you think I can look after Emma today?"
"You don't have anything to do?"
"Not really." He shrugged his shoulders. "I have a few calls to make to deal with my move back to Paris and I think I need to visit Father. That's about it."
"You going to tell him about Emma?"
"I think I should," Adrien replied with no obvious enthusiasm. "Better I tell him myself than someone else will and if I'm staying here, believe me, he will find out."
For a short while, Marinette observed Adrien in silence. He seemed to be so cheerful yet peaceful this morning. Carefree. Happy. Not anymore. The smile was gone, shoulders hung low and the eyes shifted to Emma as he fidgeted with his own fingers.
"If I could," he continued quietly. "I'd keep her away from him, to be honest."
"Why?" Marinette's eyebrows knitted in a surprised frown. Everyone knew his father was strict but it couldn't be that bad. Surely, he was more loving towards his family than his employees. And even if not, his attitude had changed a lot in the last few years. Gabriel Agreste was not the same man she was hired by. These days, working for him was somewhat enjoyable.
"He—" Adrien glanced at Marinette before darting his eyes back to Emma, "—my father has a talent for making you feel self-conscious and miserable; for making you feeling like there has to be something wrong with you because you could never satisfy his expectations; for feeling like a failure and a disappointment because you were never enough. Sometimes I doubt he even likes me-"
Adrien stopped as soon as he felt a pair of delicate arms wrap around him. A familiar scent filled the air around him and the pleasant warmth enveloped in an embrace. Pulling him close, Marinette whispered, "He does love you, Adrien. I know he does. In all the time I've worked for him, he had never said a bad word about you. Maybe he's just not very good at expressing his feelings?"
"I don't know what's the reason," Adrien sighed. "But I don't want Emma to feel the same way I did growing up. I want her loved and appreciated. I want her to have a real family, not an empty shell for the good of the public image."
"Well," Marinette placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. "You'll be actually surprised but Gabriel really likes Emma."
"Father knows Emma?" The surprise resonated in his voice.
"He does," Marinette let him go and leaned against the table to explain. "They've met about two years ago and ever since then he exhibits unusual, I'd say, amount of affection towards her. He always stops to talk when she is around, sometimes asks me how Emma is doing and showers her with presents on every possible holiday and sometimes even random days, like the start of a summer or only ten days left till Christmas. It's ridiculous, really. Even Alya took notice of that and would never let me live it down."
"Are we talking about my father now?" Adrien's eyes seemed to be uncommonly round. "The man who gave me the same pen a few years in a row on my birthday and never spent any time with me even on holidays unless he had absolutely nothing else to do? And even then, I would get no more than five minutes of his time."
"Pretty sure," Marinette giggled at the completely perplexed expression Adrien adopted. "Don't look at me like that. I was surprised myself. He is your father. You should know what's going on, not me because I'm absolutely clueless. Anyway, I have to run." Marinette came closer and quickly kissed still frozen in confusion Adrien. "I'll let Mlle Bella know that Emma will be with you today. Good luck with the talk. Love you," she whispered and went to say goodbye to Emma.
In mere minutes Marinette was out the door but Adrien was still astonished. His father liked Emma and according to Marinette and Alya from what he could remember now, had been showering her with attention and presents. What in the world was going on? Why would he do that? Why would he show more affection towards a daughter of a random-to-him employee than his own son?
He is your father. You should know what's going on…
His father saw Emma and more probable than not had the same reaction he did. For Adrien, Lilian Agreste was a mother. For Gabriel, she was the love of his love, the woman he was still unable to let go years after she left them. Of course, he would notice Emma's remarkable resemblance to his late wife. No doubt, he knew Marinette's biography and her connections to his son. Unquestionably, he had the resources and ways to check any suspicions he might have had.
"Of course," Adrien murmured under his breath. Gabriel knew. How could he even think that his father wouldn't know, having Emma and Marinette so close to him? He was a smart man; the compliment was due where it belonged. Surprisingly to him, though, Gabriel seemed to like Emma instead of ignoring her existence like he did with Adrien. That baffled him for a second or two before he dismissed the thought away. The reasons and motives didn't matter. The main point was that Emma deserved to be treated much better than he ever was. That seemed to be the case and Gabriel Agreste seemingly had been a much better grandfather than he ever was a father.
The sole question remained – why didn't he tell him?
Adrien visited this office multiple times and every single one of them wasn't exactly pleasant to say the least. Today, however, there was a special feeling of suspense in the air when two men greeted each other with a polite, somewhat detached "Good morning". Adrien proceeded to sit in a chair across from his father's desk and looked around, not really knowing how to start a conversation like this one.
"The New York office called me an hour ago, Adrien," Gabriel stated with his usual air of coldness, almost glaring at the man in front of him. "Care to explain why did you suddenly decide to stay in Paris, abandoning your responsibilities? I thought you were an adult, Adrien, not a reckless teenager anymore."
The strictness and the coldness of Gabriel's voice were hard to miss. No slightest concern for or even minimal signs of affection towards his own son. Just demands, discontent and calculations.
Adrien sadly chuckled to himself. Ever since their talk this morning he had secretly harbored a tiny hope that maybe Marinette was right and his father just hadn't been very good at expressing his love for him. Judging by the way he treated Emma, Adrien was hoping that maybe, just maybe, his father was learning and would be more welcoming and loving. In vain, it looked, because looking at him now, that hope vanished. Gabriel Agreste seemed to be perfectly able to express his emotions. It was written on his face. It was evident in his stiff posture. It resonated in his voice. Gabriel didn't express his love for his son because he didn't feel any. For his father, Adrien was still only a huge disappointment and that was a treatment he was getting.
Briefly, Adrien was considering leaving without saying anything but then he recalled everything Marinette had said and his own conclusions. Most likely, Gabriel knew already. For some yet incomprehensible to him reasons, he seemed to care about Emma a lot. Might as well clear this up, not beating about the bush, and make it official. He would need to tell him sooner or later so why not now? He might just be lucky enough to get the answers to his own questions.
"How long did you know, Father?"
Gabriel's eyes narrowed as he looked back at his estranged son. "I clearly said they called me an hour-"
"How long did you know about Emma, Father?" Adrien interrupted, something he had never done before. Not with his father, at least. "And why didn't you tell me? Was Emma not that important of a detail? Not worth discussing or even mentioning?" Adrien could feel his blood boiling with every word, just as much as he saw his father tense in front of him. He never openly disobeyed, never spoke back but now that he started, he found it hard to stop. "Oh, wait. No!" he continued, straightening up in his chair. "From what I've heard, you obviously took a liking to my daughter." Adrien stood up, placing his hands on the edge of the table and leaning over. "You certainly pay more attention to her than you ever did to me so I would guess she isn't that unimportant to you after all. Then why? Why have you never said anything? Do you hate me that much, Father? Am I such an enormous disappointment to you that you can't even treat me as a normal human being?"
Without words, Gabriel stared back at Adrien. He had never seen him disobeying or shouting back. He had never seen him taking a stand for himself, moreover snapping like he did now. All those last years, Gabriel was on a brick of considering his son to be a spineless, irresponsible weakling who ran away from his problems and refused to answer for his actions. That outburst just added to his already ruined opinion on his offspring. However, Adrien's shocking lack of manners was not the point right now.
Because how dare he, a pathetic excuse for a human being who left his precious, little granddaughter alone and fatherless, to demand anything from him right now? How dare he to expect even the slightest of respect from Gabriel when he himself had decided to abandon Emma before she was even born? He wanted to be loved? Wanted to be respected? How about loving others himself! How about treating others like fellow humans and taking responsibility for his actions?! How about being decent enough to let his father know about the baby he didn't care the slightest for? He, Gabriel, should be the one asking questions now, not him!
Gabriel stopped short of growling because right there and then he was beyond disgusted and ashamed of his son. Clenching his teeth together, his lips in a thin, tight line, he stood up as silently as he could and walked to his window, as far away as he possible from the disappointment of a century. Turning his back to Adrien and, trying to control the anger that boiled hot inside of him, Gabriel finally replied.
"I found out two years ago and why would you blame me for not saying anything, Adrien?" He turned back and glared at his son, "It's not my duty to remind you about taking responsibility for your actions anymore! You are an adult, Adrien, and were an adult when you made her. Or at least you were supposed to be one! You should've been the one to mention the baby to me years ago but you didn't. Clearly, you wanted nothing to do with her so why would I bring it up?"
"I didn't say anything because I didn't know, Father!" Adrien took care to say every word clearly. "I had absolutely no clue. Do you really think that I would've left if I knew?! Do you really think that after years of neglect you put me through I would throw away a chance at having a real family for once? Do you?! I loved Marinette, I would've never left if I knew!"
"Oh, please!" Gabriel turned back to the window with an annoyed look on his face. "If you are finding excuses, at least make them believable! You and Mlle Dupain-Cheng knew each other for years. You were certainly close enough to make a baby so do not tell me you didn't know! If, as you say, you loved her then it's even harder to believe you've never spoken after you left. Don't you have the same friends? Pregnancy is hard to hide, Adrien, especially with shared friends. They would've told you even if she didn't."
This little aspect took Adrien a little back. He never really thought about that with all the craziness going around but really, how come Nino never mentioned anything? How did it happen that they had rarely spoken of Marinette over the years and even when they did Emma was never mentioned? The only thing Nino always told him was that Marinette was fine, she was accepted into the school she wanted, she graduated, got a job; she bought a house, she was out with Alya or Alya was at her place. Neither pregnancy nor the baby had ever made it into their conversations and Adrien refused to believe that those were so insignificant to his best friend that he'd simply forgotten. Nino loved Marinette and Emma. He would never keep such secrets… unless he was asked to keep quiet. But why? Were they trying to spare Marinette's feelings? Upkeep her reputation with him? This was insane.
However, whatever the reasons were, he'd deal with them later. Now, no matter how angry he was, he had to face the reality. And it was saying that from his father's point of view Adrien did get Marinette pregnant and dumped her, escaping to the USA. Gabriel was right, with shared friends and their presumably "relationship", no matter what Marinette wouldn't keep her pregnancy a secret from him. Gabriel didn't have the full story. He didn't know Marinette couldn't possibly tell him because she didn't know who he was. A full disclosure was not an option for now but something had to be said. Something that would explain everything in a rational, believable way. At least to Gabriel.
"We parted our ways after a huge fight before either of us knew." Adrien straightened up, crossing his arms over his chest. "For reasons, I would rather keep private, we didn't talk after that for six years. I don't know why my friends hadn't said anything but yes, Father, as astonishing as it might sound, I didn't know that Marinette was pregnant and I didn't know that Emma existed. I would've never abandoned them otherwise. I would've come back the moment I knew."
"Some friends you have there, Adrien," Gabriel scoffed. "Really trustful and respectful, I see. But then I would lie if I'd say I'm surprised. I did tell you from the first day that boy was a bad influence, didn't I? Yet even with that kind of friends, it's still hard to believe that anyone would keep a baby a secret from its father, Adrien. Especially, a rich and famous one like yourself. If not for a ring then a nice child support-"
"Marinette would never!" Adrien snapped right back. "She isn't like that. She would never use a baby to get to me or get money. Fine," he sighed. It looked like being vague about it hadn't worked and a good reason was still needed. Something Gabriel could believe. Something that could explain all of the issues here. Or at least most of them. "If you must know, there might have been a misunderstanding and as a result, Marinette didn't want to contact me or have me anywhere near Emma. Happy? I've been a disappointment not only to you, Father, but to her as well."
"You cheated on her?"
"No!" Adrien rushed to assure. "And before you ask something else, this stays between Marinette and me but I'm sure you can understand her better now. No one wants a disappointment in their life. She didn't either."
An awkward, tense silence fell between them as both, father and son, tried to sort out their feelings. Gabriel blankly stared out the window, his lips pressed into a thin line as he started to realize that he might have rushed a little in his conclusions about Adrien's knowledge. And while he couldn't say he was surprised that he managed to mess up his personal life so badly, in a way, pity started to rise in his heart. He was his son after all and seeing him suffering a personal shipwreck wasn't what he wanted for him at all.
Disappointment… When and why did he become that, Gabriel wondered? Was it because of his mother's disappearance? Was it because, drowned in his own sorrow, Gabriel had no one else to blame and couldn't help transferring some of the bitterness onto Adrien? Only because he was her son? Because her blood ran in his veins? Because his eyes were the same color? Because she gave him his name or because he loved to laugh just as much? Because sometimes he thought she loved their little boy more than she loved Gabriel?
Gabriel didn't know the reasons anymore but now, after a few years with Emma, he suddenly could feel the wrongness of his ways. Why? He couldn't say but that girl had something in her to melt his heart and make him see the other side of the issue. Adrien was hurt just as much as was he if not more. And what did he do? What did the father of a boy did when his mother disappeared? He made him an orphan with a living parent. He made him a company asset instead of a son. He judged Adrien the first chance he got without a concrete evidence and his own say in it. That might have been a tiny bit harsh.
"So why did she finally tell you?" Gabriel managed to ask.
"She didn't," Adrien sighed. "I found out on my own."
Gabriel looked back at Adrien, his eyebrow quirked up. "Is that so? And how?"
"Do I really need to explain, Father?" Adrien huffed. "You've seen Emma for yourself. You should know."
Gabriel silently walked back to his desk and pulled out the red folder that changed his life two years ago. On the first page was Emma's and his wife's toddler pictures, followed by a DNA test results and Marinette's profile. Adrien flipped through the pages and smirked sadly to himself as he took out of his wallet his own copy of his mother picture, almost identical to the one his father had.
"The DNA test was a little bit extra in my opinion."
"Maybe for you it would've been but not for me. How would I know who've you slept with and who you hadn't?"
"I wasn't sleeping around," Adrien seethed through his teeth. "Marinette was the only woman I've ever been with."
"Well I couldn't possibly know that, now could I? But if I was going to disinherit my own son—" Gabriel looked at him strictly but already in a slightly different way. Something had changed in his sight. Something new was present there that Adrien didn't see before. Was it a hint of understanding? Maybe even a little bit of affection? It was too early to tell but something had definitely shifted, "—I needed to make sure she was my granddaughter for certain."
"You were going to do what?"
An older man returned to his position near the window, looking away in a distance. "I assumed," he stated. "That you bailed on them and didn't want to take your responsibility so I decided to take it for you. Mlle Dupain-Cheng was promoted to a well-paid position and Emma's name was written into my will. She will officially inherit half of my estate. The other half is still yours."
Adrien looked in bewilderment at the man standing a couple of meters away. "You promoted Marinette only because of Emma?"
"Yes and no." Gabriel shrugged his shoulders, his back is still to Adrien, eyes focused on something beyond that window. The reasons he was still avoiding an eye contact was vague even to him. He couldn't say he felt disgusted at that moment anymore but embarrassment and uncertainty of how to proceed were there for sure. How do you repair a relationship stained by false, unjust assumptions and broken for years? He didn't know yet. That thought, however, would certainly need some deliberation and careful consideration in a near future.
"Even before this whole ordeal happened, I was considering Mlle Dupain-Cheng for an impending promotion," Gabriel continued. "She is talented, hardworking and has proven herself to be a highly qualified professional on multiple occasions. The girl definitely deserved that promotion. However, I would lie if I would say that my newfound knowledge about Emma didn't speed things up and didn't give her a better deal salary-wise."
"Father-" Adrien's voice grew closer but Gabriel ignored that.
"Someone had to take care of them, Adrien, and since I thought you-"
His speech had seized abruptly so shocked the man was to suddenly feel his son's arms around him. Neither of them remembered the last time they touched each other, moreover, the last time they hugged. So this gesture completely knocked Gabriel off his feet. Startled and confused, he froze in place, seemingly lost in what to do or even how to feel about this.
Their contact lasted only a split moment and Adrien pulled back, a bit embarrassed himself. He didn't plan on hugging the man he was arguing with just a moment ago. It just happened. Gabriel wasn't the best father in the world. Far from it. He rarely treated Adrien with love and affection he craved so much. But Gabriel stepped up and took care of what really mattered to him when he couldn't. That alone deserved at least some gratitude and respect.
"Thank you, Father," Adrien said. "Thank you for taking care of them when I couldn't."
The words echoed through the room for what seemed like an eternity as they stood and watched each other, not a single muscle on either of their faces moving. Finally, Gabriel closed his eyes and exhaled heavily as a hint of a smile tugged at Adrien's lips. Something had been broken at last. In both of their hearts.
"You really didn't know?"
"You raised me, Father," Adrien replied, placing his hand on Gabriel's shoulder. "You of all people would know that I would've never left if I knew. Even if I wouldn't want to be with Marinette, I would've stayed for Emma."
"Then," Gabriel cleared his throat as he finally turned to face his son. "I believe I owe you an apology."
"Thank you," Adrien smiled in reply and beckoned them to get back to the table.
"What are you planning to do next?" Gabriel asked as soon as they settled in. "I hope you realize that simply dropping everything in NYC will be quite unprofessional and will bring a blow to the company's reputation."
"Don't worry," Adrien answered. "I spoke with Claude already. He's working on reordering my commitments as we speak so I can fulfill them as soon as possible and hopefully be back here in a few weeks to stay."
"And your office duties?"
"That's even easier since I was only starting to get involved. They already have a replacement in mind and all I have to do is to brief them in which shouldn't take more than a few days."
"Alright," Gabriel faintly smiled. "I see you aren't as irresponsible as I thought you were."
"I'm twenty-six, Father," Adrien chuckled. "The days where I could ditch Gorilla and sneak away whenever I wanted to see a movie are pretty much gone. Unfortunately," he sighed dramatically. "I have to adult these days."
"Right," Gabriel chuckled, to much of Adrien's amazement. He hadn't seen one of those in a long time. "I assume you would work here after relocating?"
"Might as well if you want me. Just know that I was already cutting back on my modeling over the years so I'll appreciate if you could place me by my specialization. I didn't earn Masters in Business Management for good looks. People actually say I'm quite good at it."
"So I've heard," Gabriel remarked. "Alright. What about Emma?"
"I think the first thing to be dealt with should be getting my parenthood legally recognized but the aspects I'll be discussing with Marinette. I don't think she'll object to putting my name on the birth certificate and adding Emma to my will."
"What about Emma's last name?" Gabriel raised his eyebrow. "Technically she is an Agreste."
"I'll leave this up to Marinette," Adrien shrugged. "I did nothing so far in bringing Emma up so it should be her decision, won't you agree?"
"And Mlle Dupain-Cheng herself?" Gabriel leaned back in his chair yet the stiffness of his posture was hard to miss. "Have you resolved the misunderstanding? Will you co-parent? Getting back together?"
"We made up," Adrien couldn't hold a smile back. "I can't guarantee anything yet but we might be getting back together."
"Oh," Gabriel picked up a pen and started to fidget with it. "Do you actually want to be in a relationship with her or is it just because you have a child together?"
"Father," Adrien grinned. "I wanted to marry Marinette six years ago. In fact, I was planning on proposing the night we had the argument. I haven't changed my mind. I still love her and I know she still loves me. Emma's just a lovely addition, not the reason."
"Alright," Gabriel let go of his withheld breath. "But let me give you a little bit of an advice Adrien." He paused for a moment before locking his eyes with the man in front of him. "Don't mess this up this time. She is a nice, talented and decent girl. Look around, Adrien. You can hardly find girls like this anymore so you screw this one again and you may never find another like that. Understood?"
"Yup," Adrien chuckled with an amazement.
"Just a little warning but if you do screw this one up, you'll find yourself with a new sister."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"Of course not. The brand must stay in the family," Gabriel proclaimed with a hint of a smirk but in a moment his face obtained a thoughtful look as he added. "On a more serious note, I think you should know that I've been considering training her as my successor since from all of my designers, Mlle Dupain-Cheng seems to really get what this brand is all about."
"You've been her idol ever since she was thirteen, Father," Adrien laughed. "Marinette had your designs plastered all over her wall. Of course, she'll know what your brand is all about."
"My designs modeled by you?" This time he definitely smirked. "The boy she had a crush on?"
"They are still your designs and she loved them no matter who modeled them." Adrien found an escape. "Marinette loves your work so I'm not surprised you are considering her. She'll do you justice."
"Right. I hope so too." Gabriel cleared his throat. "As for Emma- don't think that being a father is an easy business," he continued. "I failed at it miserably, as you know," his voice cracked at that. "But you have the potential to be better than I was, Adrien. Your mom was amazing with kids and you have so much of her in you. You should be fine as long as you take it seriously. Just remember that you've got to commit to make it work."
"Of course," Adrien barely spoke. Was he speaking to his Father? Where did the cold, indifferent man go and who was this, dared he to say, caring grandfather? "I didn't realize you liked her so much."
"Emma?" Gabriel looked to the side. "Let's just say that I haven't realized just how lonely the house would be once you left. I suspect that this along with the age I found myself at might have made me a little more sentimental than necessary and Emma- She looks so much like your mother… Not just looks, she has her flare, her vigor, her love of life and enthusiasm." A faint smile graced Gabriel's lips. "She's like a second breath, a second chance in life-"
"Do you want to tell her?" Adrien stood up from his chair.
"Tell whom what?" Gabriel frowned.
"Tell Emma that you are her grandfather."
For the first time in his life, Adrien saw his father look somewhat nervous, as he pressed back into his seat and looked away, his fingers searching for a place to hide. "I don't think that's a good time."
"Well, I think that's a perfect time," Adrien protested. "Unless you can name me any legitimate excuses why it wouldn't be?"
Gabriel blinked once. Twice. Three times. "Well-"
"She is just outside with Nathalie." Adrien chuckled. "Let me go get her."
Quickly, before his Father could protest, Adrien walked out the office and found Emma sitting behind the desk, too immersed in her coloring to notice his arrival. To her justification, he did walk in rather quietly. So quietly that even Nathalie didn't stop helping Emma with her project.
"Thank you for looking after her, Nathalie," Adrien let himself be discovered.
"Um, not a problem," the woman replied, quickly hiding away the piece of paper she'd been doodling on under the other sheets and stashing the blue crayon in the box.
"Daddy!" Emma took her picture and proudly showed it to him. "Look that's me and you and Mommy and Mme Nathalie drew you and Mommy as kids. She said she knew you both when you were small so I asked her to draw you so I too could see- Show him, Mme Nathalie."
"That would be a bad idea," the woman stated, quickly turning her attention back to her computer.
"I'm sure it looks amazing," Adrien grinned, coming closer. "Can I see?"
"Oh, please, Mme Nathalie!" Emma begged. "Please, please, please! It looks really nice."
With little hope, the woman looked at Adrien but not finding compassion in his face pulled out a paper and pushed it towards the man. On it a smiling Marinette (he figured by the pigtails) was giving Adrien (who else could've had a blond mop and green eyes?) the blue scarf his father once presented him with. The drawing was nice, the skills, though, a little better than his daughter's.
"That's a really nice picture," Adrien smiled at Natalie. "A few of my favorite memories in one. Looks amazing but—" he turned to Emma, "—we need to go now, Emma. I have someone very important for you to meet."
"Oooooh! Who is it, Daddy?"
"You'll see," he smiled and took her by the hand, not forgetting to take both hers and Nathalie's art along. "Say thank you and goodbye to Mme Nathalie for playing with you?"
"Thank you, Mme Nathalie," Emma parroted. "I really liked to color with you. Have a nice day."
"Have a nice day, Emma," Nathalie replied with a smile of her own. "Good day, Adrien."
"Good afternoon, M. Agreste," Emma greeted politely as soon as they entered.
"Good afternoon, Emma." Adrien had never seen his Father looking more pleased or prouder. "How are you doing today?"
"I'm good," Emma replied standing almost like a soldier and Adrien wondered how long did Marinette spend to train a little girl to be so polite and composed? But then again it wasn't hard to be scared into politeness in front of a man like Gabriel Agreste despite the smile that was lurking on his lips. "How do you do, M Agreste?"
"I'm good. Thank you for asking, Emma," Gabriel played along. "How is your collection doing? Any new additions?"
And that was the moment everything shook and fell down as Emma grinned and almost burst with details on her collection of thirty-something black cats, paying a special attention to the one Adrien bought her yesterday at the Disneyland. Adrien glanced at his Father and was surprised to see him smile openly as he attentively listened to the little girl's chatter.
When in about five minutes he understood that neither Emma was going to stop gushing about this and that nor his Father was going to tell her the main thing they were here for, Adrien crouched down and caught Emma's attention.
"Emma, I wanted to tell you something."
Gabriel nervously sighed in the background.
"You know like Mommy has her own Daddy and he is your grandfather?"
"Grandpapi Tom?" Emma blinked in confusion.
"Yes, Grandpapi Tom," Adrien nodded and glanced over to his father. "So, you see, I have a father too and he is your grandfather as well, just like Grandpapi Tom and—" he pointed to Gabriel, "—here he is."
Emma looked at the man in front of her for a few moments before frowning. "No, Daddy," she protested. "I already have a Grandpapi. This is M. Agreste, Mommy's boss."
"Emma," Adrien tried to explain again. "You have one grandfather from Mommy, Grandpapi Tom, and one from me," he paused for a moment glancing over at his father, "Grandpapi Gabriel. You have two grandfathers. Everyone does."
"I have two Grandpapis!?" Emma echoed as her eyes grew big. "Do I get two grandmamas?"
"Yes, you do, Emma," Gabriel interceded when Adrien delayed answering. "Do you want to see a picture?"
"Yes!" The girl ran up to the table where Gabriel was already taking out a photo album from one of his shelves. He sat the little girl in a chair and opened the book.
"Look here, this is your Grandmother Lilian. Unfortunately, she can't come here anymore but I have lots of pictures and videos if you'd like to see them."
"She is pretty," Emma said in amazement, turning pages of the book filled with the youthful pictures of Adrien's mother.
"She was," Gabriel echoed and sat beside Emma. "Just like you, Emma."
For the next ten or so minutes Adrien silently observed his Father showing Emma the pictures and telling her stories of his mother. He couldn't help but smile. Just this morning he was still estranged from this man. A few hours prior he had more questions than he needed. Even just half an hour ago he would've never imagined to see what he was observing right now or to hope that his own relationship with his father could ever be repaired. Yet now it all seemed possible and it looked like he had his daughter to thank for it.
When all the stories were told and all the arrangements were agreed on and even a family dinner at the first possible opportunity was promised, Adrien and Emma walked out of Gabriel's office hand in hand.
"Want to go visit Mommy before we go home, Emma?"
"Yes!" the girl grinned as she skipped through the halls, still holding Adrien's hand. "I want to tell her I have two Grandpapis now!"
Adrien chuckled and headed to Marinette's office. He had his own news to tell. Though, his might have wait until they were somewhere more private with no chances of little girls or random colleagues interrupting.
"What do you mean he knew already?"
"For at least two years," Adrien pointed out, settling on the couch. "Gabriel Agreste didn't build his empire on his designs alone, Mari, so we shouldn't really be surprised. He is a smart man."
He silently petted the place beside himself for Marinette to sit down but she continued to gawk at him in amazement. The news that his father was perfectly aware of Emma's relation to him for the most part of their acquaintance was certainly not what Marinette had expected to hear and seeing her reaction, Adrien was glad they decided to wait until they were home and their daughter was safely in bed to have this conversation.
When Marinette first asked, Adrien simply said that everything went well and let them enjoy a delicious dinner, which he insisted Emma prepared all by herself (he was just a helper) in peace. Next, he took a part in the bedtime routine for the first time, reading Emma her favorite book and only after the house was clean and quiet Adrien let the bomb drop.
"But how? How could he know if neither of us did?" Marinette mumbled under her breath. "Does he also know about our Chat Noir and Ladybug identities?"
"If he knew I'm pretty sure he would've mentioned something," Adrien shrugged. "Instead he was dead sure that his irresponsible, idiotic son dumped his pregnant girlfriend and ran away to hide in the States instead of answering for his actions."
"Ouch indeed," Adrien chuckled. "Even I didn't expect that."
"I'm sorry," Marinette sadly smiled and sat down at last. "I never meant to ruin your father's opinion of you."
"It isn't your fault," Adrien protested. "Father's opinion of me wasn't stellar for a long time, actually. If not that, he'd found something else to dislike me for. But—"Adrien smiled reassuringly, more to himself than Marinette, "—we agreed to work on that so, hopefully, it'll get better."
"If I can help somehow, please, tell me, okay?"
"Will do." This time his smile was only for her. "Thanks."
"So," Marinette continued. "How did he find out?"
"Simple," Adrien chuckled. "He saw Emma. I don't know if I've told you already but she resembles my mother rather incredibly. The first time I saw her, I seriously thought my mind was playing tricks on me. At least until Nino was kind enough to reveal my Lady's identity."
"You can't be serious," Marinette's mouth gaped, her eyebrows knitting into a frown. "There are, probably, tons of little blonde, green-eyed girls who look similar to your mother, Adrien. A slight resemblance couldn't possibly be a reason to conclude a relation."
"Maybe so, but," Adrien emphasized. "Not a lot of little blonde, green-eyed girls who incredibly resemble my mother are born to my friends and former classmates. He saw Emma, remembered who you are, had an idea and might have decided to check it with a DNA testing."
"Excuse me? When and how?"
"A man like him has his ways, Mari."
"I highly doubt that's legal to do that kind of testing without the person's consent."
"Not in the slightest," Adrien sighed, his lips sadly twitching. "He probably just wanted to check it discreetly in case his suspicions would've proven to be false."
"Still," Marinette huffed. "That's not an excuse. And here I thought him asking me the name of Emma's father was invasive-"
Adrien sat up straight instantly. "He asked you that?"
"He did." Marinette nodded. "A few years back when he was considering me for a promotion." She paused for a moment, rebuilding the chain of events in her mind. "That was after he'd met Emma, though. Quite some time after," she added. "If he knew her father's name already why did he bother asking me?"
"What did you tell him?" Adrien completely ignored the question, his curiosity taking the best of him.
"What could I tell him, Adrien?" Marinette shrugged. "M. Agreste, I would have you know that my daughter's father is none other than vanished a few years back Chat Noir," she mocked. "That would've been fun."
"That would've certainly been very interesting," Adrien laughed. "Okay, then there are, probably, two possibilities. He might not have known at that time and decided to ask you straightforward, hoping to scare you into an honest answer or he already knew and was testing you."
"For gold-digger tendencies?"
"What else?" he chuckled. "And since you were promoted, I suppose you passed with flying colors."
"Geez," Marinette rolled her eyes. "What did I get myself into with your family?"
"Well, I guess we are…" Adrien paused, thought for a moment and added, "Let's say a little bit dramatic and just a tiny bit extra sometimes but—" he leaned towards Marinette, his eyes locking with hers "—we love wholeheartedly and will move mountains to make our better halves the happiest people on Earth."
"Dork," Marinette poked his nose, pushing his face away.
"My Lady," Adrien leaned right back, the look of a kicked kitten in a full swing. "Don't shove away your humble knight so cruelly. I've been waiting for you for so long-"
"And I'm sure you can wait for a few more minutes," Marinette scooped back with a chuckle. "We need to talk serious matters before you can unleash your charms."
"About?" Adrien pouted and followed Marinette, stopping only when their faces almost touched.
"About how this is going to work."
Marinette felt silent as Adrien's pout disappeared, replaced by mischief in his eyes. A moment later he leaned down and meeting no resistance from her, nuzzled her neck. The only sound that escaped her lips when his pressed against her collarbone area was that of longing and desire.
"Adrien, please, behave." Reluctantly, Marinette shoved him away again. "Business first, everything else later."
"Alright, alright," Adrien pulled back and sulked. "You win but it looks like working with my father has influenced you already. Work first- Silent!" Adrien imitated zipped lips under Marinette's glare. "Listening and obeying, my Lady."
"Good," Marinette laughed and ruffling his hair, leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Sorry but this really needs to be done first."
"Fine." The pout could still be heard in his voice. "So what's up?"
"I don't even know," Marinette groaned. "There is so much to discuss I have no idea where to start."
"How about we start with the easiest then? Legal stuff?"
"Sure. Alright. So what's first in the legal department?"
"Well," Adrien cleared his throat. "I believe, my name in Emma's birth certificate would be justified?"
"I suppose so." Marinette nodded.
"I also will be adding her name to my will and just so you know she's been in my father's for years. She's getting half of his estate."
Even before Adrien finished his sentence Marinette closed her eyes, pressing her lips into a thin line right after an escaping exasperated sigh. Adrien chuckled.
"Don't laugh," she scolded. "I'm trying to not be surprised." In a few moments and after a few deep breaths in, Marinette opened her eyes only to glare at the blond. "Why would he do that?"
"That's actually very sweet of him," Adrien smiled. "I was pleasantly surprised Father went so far and took care of you two."
"Listen," Adrien scooted closer again. "I must agree here with him. We don't know what'll happen in the future. Neither of us has any idea if we'd be together or not, if we'd live for years or die tomorrow but in any case, both he and I want Emma to be provided for. She is my daughter and his grandchild, Marinette. That's the least we can do for her."
"Please, don't tell me he promoted me only because of Emma?"
"No," Adrien shook his head with the most soothing smile ever on his lips. "I asked him that too but he denied it. Father really respects and appreciates you and said you were in a line for a promotion long before he knew about Emma."
"Hey," Adrien straightened up and took one of Marinette's hand in his. "My father is a lot of things but he would never put his company's reputation and the quality of his product at risk for anyone, even for his family. If you are where you are today, Marinette, that's only because you earned it. Trust me on this."
He smiled again and lightly squeezed her hands, reassuring her of his sincerity.
"Okay," Marinette sighed reluctantly. "But only because I know how hard I worked my butt off for this job. I deserved it."
"You certainly did," Adrien brought her hand up and gently kissed her knuckles.
"What's next?" Marinette asked to hide her blush.
"Father mentioned her last name."
"Emma's last name?"
"Yeah," Adrien sighed. "He wants her to be Agreste but at the end, we agreed that the choice should be yours. You raised her so far alone so I don't feel like it's any of our place to decide on that."
"It hadn't really occurred to me yet," Marinette confessed. "Emma Agreste…"
"No pressure, Marinette. Really." Adrien looked her straight into the eyes, his voice obtaining the most serious tone yet. "If you want to keep Dupain-Cheng I'll be completely fine with that and so will my father. Because while Agreste name may seem to come with a few impressive perks, in reality, it also has a few rather annoying flaws and Father knows it. So if you decide to keep Dupain-Cheng, he might rumble but he'll accept it. In fact, Dupain-Cheng might be a better choice for a normal childhood. So just think about what you want for Emma and we'll go from there, okay?"
"Okay." Marinette smiled and squeezed Adrien's hands back. "Thanks."
"Also," Adrien shifted in his seat, suddenly losing all of his smugness and seriousness, donned just a second ago. "Umm- Well, since I was away for so long- and missed- missed a lot of Emma's life- so- I'd like to spend as much time with her as I can now. Is that okay?"
"That's fine," Marinette smiled. "As long as it doesn't disturb her schedule."
"Right, yes- so," he continued. "I also would like to see more of you. Will that be okay?"
Marinette giggled. Adrien was cute but he rarely was so adorable as he was now. "I think I can squeeze you in my schedule as well."
"Good," he grinned yet still anxiously. "So since I have a permission to spend all of my free time with both of you- well- Do you think maybe I can move in then? I can even stay in the guest room if you want," he rushed to add. "I'll pay you rent! And cook and clean and do whatever you want me to."
Marinette laughed. "I see you really want to move in."
"A little obvious?"
"Just a tiny bit," she chuckled. "Alright, let's see. Half of the dinners are on you and you help us keep the house clean."
"Deal," Adrien grinned. "Want to split utility bills as well?"
"Why not?" Marinette winked "Since if I remember correctly, someone harbors an extensive love for showering."
"I didn't shower!" Adrien groaned. "I've suffered through this injustice enough from Nino already. It was just a cover-up to protect my secret identity!"
"Of course, it was."
"Mari, honestly!" Adrien pleaded. "I'm a normally showering person! No extensive love harbored."
"Of course," Marinette chuckled. "I believe you."
"You don't," he moped.
"I do, Adrien. Really. And even if you did love to shower a little bit too much—" this was Marinette's time to lean over and tease, "—who said I won't appreciate the freshness?"
"In that case," Adrien grinned. "Maybe I even have a shot at not living in the guest room?"
"I don't think Emma's bed will be big enough for you," Marinette retorted. "And this couch isn't as comfortable as it may seem. You'll feel your back in a few hours."
"But," Adrien winced. "There is one more bed in this house, my Lady. I tried it. It's really comfy and I fit in perfectly."
"Don't push your luck, Kitty."
"I was also told I'm a good cuddler. Warm and snuggly. You'll love me, Princess."
"We'll see about that once I'll get back from Milan. Oh, by the way—" Marinette suddenly jolted up, "—I need to return you something while I remember. Wait here."
Without any explanation, Marinette quickly ran upstairs and came back a few minutes later with a small black box Adrien knew way too well not to recognize immediately. He instantly stood up to see it better.
"I found it after you left and kept it safe in case you'll ever come back." She carefully lay the box on Adrien's hand. He opened it slowly and stared in disbelief at the item he thought was lost forever - a gorgeous white gold ring with an array of smaller pink stones surrounding the main radiant-cut diamond, the one he was going to propose to Ladybug with.
"That's my mother's engagement ring," Adrien's quiet voice echoed through the room. "I thought I'd never see it again." For a few more silent moments he looked at the stone before lifting his eyes to Marinette. "Thanks."
"No need for that," Marinette smiled and quickly changed the topic. The ring question was too delicate to discuss now. "Any other Emma related aspects we need to discuss?"
"Not that I can remember now." Adrien closed the lid and slipped the box into his pocket. "I'll call my lawyers tomorrow to start on the legal side. Though, I suspect they'll need your signature so I'll ask them to reach you through Nathalie since she'll be with you in Milan and hopefully this will be all dealt with before I come back."
Marinette frowned. "Come back from where? I thought you wanted to go with us?"
Adrien's hand jolted back behind his neck as said almost guiltily. "I might be going back to the States instead."
No amount of acting training could've hidden the surprise and sadness on Marinette's face. Her figure tensed as she stared back at him with a slightly ajar mouth. A short while later Marinette let go of the breath she was holding and looked down. "I see."
"Marinette," Adrien stepped closer, taking her hand in his. "I need to go. I swear, I don't want to but I can't just abandon my responsibilities as well. I did, however—" he gently squeezed her hands, searching to catch her sight, "—Marinette, I did arrange all of my commitments in a way that I can fulfill them one after another and be back here for good as soon as possible."
"And how long is that?"
"Four weeks?" Adrien sighed and frowned at his own words. "And one fashion show in the early December. That couldn't be moved, unfortunately."
He could practically see the disappointment reflect on her face. "I'm sorry, Marinette. Please don't be mad at me-"
"No, don't worry," Marinette interrupted. "I'm not mad at you, not at all."
"You look like you are about to cry, Mari. I've let you down again-"
"No!" Marinette she persisted. "You didn't. You are right. You can't just dump everything and go away. I completely understand that. I just…" her voice trembled before she could continue, her sight falling back to the ground. Without any words, Adrien gently wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
"I forgot to consider it," Marinette whispered into his chest. "You did nothing wrong. I just should've not forgotten- should've not assumed- I'll be alright, don't worry. We'll wait for you."
"I'm sorry," Adrien held her tighter. Marinette's arms weaved themselves around his torso as she pressed closer. "I'll call you every day," he promised. "Every free moment I'll have I'll be searching you out. I'll get Emma her own personal device so she can video call me anytime she wants. I don't want her to think I've abandoned her."
"That's a good idea," Marinette murmured. "But really, don't worry about us, Adrien. We'll be fine." Her voice cracked. "We've been alone before. We can wait a few more weeks. Really. No big deal."
"I love you," Adrien whispered into her hair, tightening his grip as soon as he felt his shirt getting wet. "I may be going away but my heart stays with you and Emma."
"I love you too." He barely heard the weak, trembling voice of a woman in his arms, the woman he loved too much to disappoint again. Knowing Marinette, Adrien knew she understood. He knew she didn't blame him but only herself. Blamed for getting lost in her sudden happiness too much to consider that life was still going on and that responsibilities were something they now had to oblige. They both understood. They did. She was just heartbroken to be torn apart again after only a few blissful days together. It killed him too, devastated, especially because it was him who was going away again. Him who was leaving her behind for the second time.
Adrien closed his eyes and thought. There had to be something he could do to make Marinette feel better, to stop this from feeling like a repeat of a history. Something that would tell her how much he dreaded going away, how much he wanted to stay and be by her side every day. Something to show Marinette just how much she meant to him, how much committed he was. Something to assure her he'd come back as soon as he could…
Adrien carefully pulled away just enough to bring the little black box out of his pocket. "Marinette," he whispered. "I want you to keep this and I want you to remember every time you look at this ring how much I love you, how much I miss you and how hard I wish to come back and be with you."
"Adrien, no. I don't need-"
"No, Mari, listen." He carefully wiped her lingering tears away. "I need you to know how much you mean to me. I don't want you to have the slightest doubt. I don't want you to wake up tomorrow and wonder if those few days we spent together were just a dream so, please, take this ring as a reminder."
"It's your family's heirloom, Adrien. I couldn't possibly take it away from you again."
The corners of his lips twitched into a gentle smile. "Don't worry about it. It'll be yours soon anyway if you'd have me."
He couldn't help but chuckle as Marinette's startled eyes locked on him.
"I haven't changed my mind in proposing to you," he added, leaning forward to place a soft kiss on her lips. "I love you, Marinette. Always had and always will. I want to wake up every morning for your sacred cuddling ceremony. I want to cook you the most delicious food I can. I want to protect you and to be by your side when you sweep the fashion world by storm. I want to walk Emma to school. I want to scare away her boyfriends and walk her down the aisle one day. I want to spend my life with you. I want to have a family with you. I want to make you happy. I want to be happy with you. I wanted that six years ago and I hadn't changed my mind about any of that. But I also want you to be absolutely sure about me and taking into consideration everything that happened and how much time we spent apart I think I shouldn't rush with a proposal."
"That's—" Adrien closed his eyes, leaning forward to let their forehead touch, "—is the only reason I'm not down on my knee right now."
"I don't deserve you," Marinette barely breathed and kissed his lips. "Sometimes I think you must be fictional because no one can be this perfect."
"I'm not perfect. I have a scar behind my ear and a severe case of obliviousness. Who knows what else," Adrien chuckled. He paused for a moment lingering his sight on the lovely face he loved and added. "You deserve much more than what I am offering you now, Marinette. So, please, take this ring as a symbol of my love and devotion. However—" he winced, "—it would be fair to warn you that I will propose soon and I will keep proposing until you will be able to answer me without a doubt in your mind."
"What if it would take years?" Marinette giggled.
"Even if it'd take you a lifetime." Adrien leaned again to nuzzle her nose. "I'm willing to wait but you've been warned, Princess." Marinette chuckled as Adrien repeated his assault, this time placing a soft kiss on her lips. "Am I forgiven for going away?"
"You'd better call us often." She buried herself in his chest again. "I'll miss you terribly."
"I'm missing you already." Adrien pressed her closer. "Very much."
I love to communicate with my readers so feel free to rant in the comment's area.
Please note: English is a strange and wonderful language where many words have multiple meanings and slang can change depending on your country of origin. It is my third language so while I will do my very best, there may be mistakes made along the way.