A/N: It's St Nicholas' Eve, my children are in bed pretending to go to sleep, their shoes are out waiting in front of the fireplace, and I'm seeing what I can write and edit in an hour and a half. If you're not familiar with the tradition, St Nicholas brings small gifts to children who've been good on December 6 in France and other Western Christian countries. In many of these countries, he has an assistant who helps bring something to the bad children. In France, that assistant is called Le Père Fouettard and there's a wonderfully gory tale about him that of course is in a traditional children's nursery song. My kids aren't old enough to hear that story yet without nightmares...
Le Père Fouettard stalked the city. Stalked its streets with a bundle of wooden switches on his back and a glare on his face, to the half-terrified looks of small children and the amused looks of the adults with them. More than one parent murmured quietly to their child "I'm glad you've been good, my little one" as he passed, and savoured the tightening clasp of hands they got in return. Several looked for an accompanying figure of Saint Nicholas, but when they didn't find one simply shrugged and assumed he was on another street, another block, another elsewhere in the winter lights. No matter, terror and joy were equal contenders for the magic of the night. Their eyes drifted from Le Père Fouettard, yet another performer in the streetside panoply, drifting back to their feet, their shopping, their destination.
He liked it that way.
As he turned into a quieter street, eyes searching, always searching, a purple butterfly mask flitted across his face.
"I thought surely Ladybug and Cat Noir would have been drawn to the reports of you by now."
Le Père Fouettard laughed, an ugly, sinister sound. "Nobody sees me as real. As of any equal worth to them and their glitter. None of them know what true worth is."
"I suppose this was to be expected." There was a pause. "We still have an agreement though. You will have to draw them out."
"They'll come. When I take my justice." He breathed harshly in anger, and then deep in satisfaction. Hawkmoth's mask disappeared, not hearing a muttered repeat of "They'll come".
Adrien restrained a huff of breath. He was over this shoot - but the shoot was finally over. No need to antagonise anyone by displaying impatience or regret. He probably wasn't the only Parisian developing a tight hold on the emotions they displayed in order to avoid aggravating others. But they were doing it to avoid trouble with Hawkmoth. He was doing it to avoid trouble with his father.
Maybe it would be easier if he thought of it as avoiding trouble with Hawkmoth.
He shrugged and put his jacket back on. No matter either way. The shoot was over, he had places to go, people to see... yeah. Right. As if. He thought for a moment about what it would be like to just head over to Nino's place and play games for an hour. If he were anyone else but Adrien Agreste. Outside the window of the warehouse where the sets were built in winter, he saw his limo waiting. Ready to whisk him home, away from the supposed dangers of the cold and dark. Or just from other people who had the temerity to exist in the same world as his father without being worthy. Like that old guy walking across the street, carrying... why on earth would anyone carry a bunch of sticks? Oh wait, St Nicholas' Eve. He was probably pretending to be Le Père Fouettard. Adrien suppressed a laugh this time instead of a huff. If they were in Germany, he could simply transform and run around pretending to be Krampus. He'd probably make a few people laugh, especially if he tried to punish them. Who knows, maybe even Ladybug would play along with his antics. Sadly, black animal demons weren't France's thing. He'd have had the cat in the bag if they were.
His eyes flicked to a high window, looking easily opened but not within easy reach. For anyone not a superhero, that is. He could imagine the holiday vibe on the streets. He didn't have to go for long, but... he did have to go. He glanced to check nobody was looking at him or for him right that second, then slipped behind an unused backdrop.
"Plagg! Claws out!"
The window was as easy to reach as he'd thought, slipping through the shadows at this end of the building. He climbed through it and down the wall, into an alley on the opposite side of the building to the main doors. Once in the alley, he released his transformation. Adrien was free to roam. For just a few minutes, before his bodyguard wondered why he hadn't got into the limo yet. Just long enough to go around the block and see the shop displays and the lit streets up close instead of through a car window. He stepped out of the alley and set off towards the next street over, passing by the old man he'd seen earlier. Just as he passed he felt a stinging crack across his back. He jumped around with near-cat reflexes – but too late. His mind began to go blank. The very last thought to cross it was "My Lady..."
Le Père Fouettard smiled in satisfaction and snapped his fingers in front of the boy's blank face, beckoning him to follow along. He knew who the boy was. Oh, he knew. A rich boy, who should have been in school today but wasn't. Who didn't even care to go to school as often as he should, but the school just nodded in understanding at his rich family's delinquence and ignored it. The boy had a place in a good school, a highly-regarded school, that could have gone to someone else's son, who'd have appreciated it so much more. Who'd have worked hard. Who deserved it, but was turned away. He stowed his magic switch back in the bundle and trudged to the hideaway he'd arranged, the boy following docilely.
The purple butterfly flickered across his face again. "What are you doing?"
Le Père Fouettard pushed the heavy door open and beckoned the boy inside.
"I'm doing what I've always done", he said. "Taking what should be mine. Sit there, you." He gestured the boy to a bench beside a large barrel. "I need three all up. Three rich, loaded brats." There was a gasp, more felt than heard through the purple mask. "Don't worry, Hawkmoth", he added almost kindly. "Ladybug and Chat Noir won't be able to stay away from my little project. They'll come. You'll have your miraculouses very soon. And I'll see my justice. Right here, in this barrel." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "Just wait here. I'll be back with a friend for you very soon."