It had been seven whole days since anyone had seen hide or hair of an akuma. The rest of Paris had gotten over the tenseness and seemed to take this as a pleasant break, happily going about their lives with relief and hope.
"Seriously, maybe he just took a vacation," Plagg said lazily to a pacing Adrien. He should be working on his homework, but instead he was pacing around his room, running his hand through his hair and trying not to let this horrible waiting get to him. "Or maybe we're really lucky and he's stopped."
"You don't believe that any more than I do," Adrien grumbled. Plagg didn't deny it, instead stuffing more cheese down his throat.
"Or maybe he moved out of Paris."
Adrien froze, eyes widening as a lump of ice formed in his stomach.
"What if he has?" he asked suddenly. "How could we get somewhere else to fight an akuma?"
Plagg shrugged. "You could ask your dad. With how everything is going lately, he just might take you where you need to go."
Adrien glared down at him. "Ha, ha. You're hilarious."
The kwami stretched and floated in front of Adrien. "I doubt Hawk Moth has left. He's after the ring and the earrings. He's not just about to leave them behind."
Well, that was a relief at least. Adrien let out a breath of air. But that didn't stop the fact that they still didn't know what was going on with Hawk Moth. Perhaps Ladybug had a point and they needed to figure out a way to not react all the time but be proactive. He went back to pacing, running both hands through his hair this time.
A knock on his door caused him to pause and turn. "Yes?"
Nathalie walked in. "It's time."
Adrien didn't know whether to groan or shift nervously. "Already?" His father, determined as he seemed to be, had scheduled another hour this evening. Really, Adrien had seen his father more in the last week than in the last 3 months. Surreal seemed like a good word to describe it all. And he really felt like at any given moment, he'd wake up to find it all a dream.
He just... couldn't trust it.
He wasn't sure he wanted to.
Sure, he could change and adapt to act in the moment, and he knew his father was trying (for once, although he still wasn't sure how long that would last) but then he got back to his room and it was like he returned to real life, where his father saw him as an employee and he would have to learn to just deal with the hand he'd been dealt.
It was a roller coaster he really didn't want to continue on anymore. At one point, he'd either give back into that hope (most likely only to have it stolen from him) or he'd be able to leave all of this behind.
He knew which one was safer... but, deep down, no matter what he told himself, he also knew which one he preferred.
And he still hated himself for it.
They were back in the sitting room of doom (as Adrien had named it in his mind). Trying to repress his weariness, he followed Nathalie through the door to see his father sitting in the same chair he had been in before, tapping on a tablet.
When Adrien was shown to the seat opposite of his father, he noticed the tea that had been set on the table as well and a nearby tray with the kettle on it and a vegetable array. Of course. No cookies in this household.
Despite everything, Adrien squared his shoulders as he sat and waited patiently for his father.
"Nathalie, you may leave."
"Yes, sir," she said with a bow before turning and walking out of the room.
"So, what will we be discussing today, father?" Adrien hoped his voice didn't sound as dead as he felt.
"I was actually looking up the rules to a game."
That caused Adrien to blink. "A game?"
Gabriel nodded. "I believe it is called UNO?" He reached over and held up a deck of new cards from behind the tray where they hadn't been visible to Adrien.
He just stared at his father. "Seriously?" he finally asked.
His father shrugged ever so slightly. "It is either that, or go fish."
Adrien blinked again. He was doing that a lot lately.
"Deal it out," he said.
The phrases 'cut throat' and 'card game' had never been particularly related in Adrien's mind until he played with his father.
It took him a minimum of three games and several interesting looks from the older Agreste (ranging from disappointed to amused, although he never said a single thing) before Adrien stepped up his game and actually won a round. He thought the level of competition kind of ridiculous. It was just a card game. Of course, that didn't stop him and his father from destroying each others' chances to win and thwarting their opponents' supposed attacks simultaneously.
It was brutal.
He wasn't quite sure exactly how he felt about it all when he left to go finish his homework. He supposed that how his father treated such games said a lot about who he was. The man went into things playing for keeps. He always had. That was probably what he'd had to do to be successful in his business. Adrien supposed that after so long, the kind of discipline necessary for something like that would leak over into his daily life. No wonder he'd always been so busy and...
Then he realized his thought process and shook his head harshly. That was how he'd thought before. Giving his father excuses and reasons and passes. That didn't stop the fact that he'd hurt Adrien and it wasn't any different now. It didn't excuse him from locking his son away from the rest of the world and somehow thinking he could build meaningful relationships in the future without ever having had the practice before.
He clenched his fists as he walked to his room and closed the door, knowing very well that he would most likely go out as Chat Noir earlier than usual that night.
Nathalie knew that Gabriel was considering these meetings a success. She didn't quite have the heart or the bravery to tell him how much this change of events was getting to Adrien... and not necessarily in a good way. Oh, she firmly believed that Adrien would come around eventually, but right now he looked (and acted) more conflicted than ever and it worried her.
She sighed as she put the newest video she'd recorded, one of Adrien and Gabriel playing that match of war (it wasn't Uno, no Uno game was supposed to be that subtly violent), into the new folder she'd created. It already had a fair amount of files.
For a few seconds, she just sat there staring at the electronic folder before sighing. Why was she doing this? Neither Gabriel nor Adrien would really appreciate it... at least not now. And yet, she couldn't really let the opportunity pass by either.
Maybe she'd keep this secret from both of them... for a long, long time to come...
Adrien woke up that Saturday morning at the usual time of 6:00. It was the first time in a long time he slapped the alarm off and practically flew out of bed. By the time 6:30 came around, he had showered and dressed. By the time he was supposed to leave, at 7, he'd slicked back his hair and put makeup on. He was going to do his best to make sure Marinette's costume contest went wonderfully.
Nathalie and the Gorilla both eyed him as he got into his car to head over to Marinette's but neither said anything.
When Marinette threw open the side door that led into her parents' apartment, though, he almost had a heart attack. She'd obviously gotten up far earlier than he had because she was already in her costume. Something she seemed to realize very quickly as her face went red.
Adrien didn't know what to say because that was the freaking cutest Chat Noire outfit he'd ever seen. She'd only made a few changes from his actual suit, and yet it seemed like a completely different outfit on her.
The fact that she pulled the suit off far better than even he, a model, ever could had nothing to do with it.
"A-adrien!" she squeaked out and then smiled as she stepped aside. The smile looked a little forced, but huge nonetheless. It was, he supposed, an improvement. "Inside come," she said. Then realized her slip up. "Come inside!"
He smiled reassuringly at her, trying to keep his gaze on her face. It wasn't that difficult with her eyes. She'd even gotten green, slitted contacts that covered her sclera! The green didn't completely hide her blue underneath, but it still looked amazing. When this girl put her mind to it, she really went all out. He wondered if his eyes really looked like that when he transformed.
He also wondered what she would say if she knew the real Chat Noir was standing in front of her.
Right about then, he realized he'd been staring for a little too long and looked away.
"Y-you look great," he managed to get out.
"T-thank you," she replied. "A-alya's stairs up. Upstairs! Sh-she's already in her costume and w-w-was just about t-t-to put on her makeup."
"I'm way ahead of you," he said, perking up to that. "I already have makeup on."
"I tell can. I can tell!"
"Did you get me a wig?" He asked, excitedly heading up the stairs.
"Y-yes. I-it's short. Is that okay?"
He glanced over his shoulder and grinned widely at her. "It's your vision for Crossplay Ladybug. If you think a short wig works best, then I'm all for it."
Her cheeks somehow went redder. "O-okay."
"Where is it? I want to change into it asap!"
Marinette just stared at him for several seconds, and he wondered if he'd said or done something wrong. Then she smiled and giggled a little. "I'm glad you're so into this," she said without stuttering once. Then she motioned towards her room. "This way."
Grinning happily, he followed her up and glanced around to see Alya standing in her Lady Wifi costume in front of the mirror on the back of Marinette's bureau. She didn't have her mask on and that was one of the only things that stopped Adrien from outright attacking her. The costume was way too close to the real thing for comfort.
"There you are, pretty boy," she said teasingly – which, admittedly helped with the whole 'don't attack her' thing. "Your costume's over there and the bathroom is free. Marinette can put on her wig while you're changing."
"Right," Adrien said with a nod and a grin before grabbing the pile of red-spotted material and heading into the bathroom.
He didn't like taking off the ring, but she'd made his suit full-on spandex, down to the gloved hands and he put the ring right back on afterward. He felt a little exposed in the costume, but it fit him well and wasn't so tight as to be indecent. Marinette had even made red-spotted, zip-up boots. After checking himself out in the bathroom mirror (and rather liking what he saw, maybe he could suggest he and Ladybug switch miraculous... just once? Would that be unprofessional?), he shoved his clothes into his bag, then turned to Plagg.
"Let me guess, I'm going to be stuck in your smelly backpack all day," Plagg said, arms crossed and expression deadpan.
Adrien just rolled his eyes. "Unless you have a better option."
Plagg grumbled and floated over to the bag. "For the record, you look better as a cat," he said.
Adrien grinned, but didn't say anything before zipping up the bag and walking out.
Marinette had managed to get her blond wig on. She'd obviously spent time styling it as it hung in almost spiky layers down just past her shoulders. It looked good on her. He couldn't help but wonder exactly what his Lady would look like in his costume and if she'd pull it off as well as Marinette did.
Of course, she took one look at him, squeaked and tripped, nearly falling flat on her face.
"Marinette," he said worriedly, rushing forward. "Are you alright?"
She managed to shoot a thumbs up at him. "Y-y-yeah, I'm hot – fine! You're fine. I mean, I'm good, thank you."
Next to them, Alya snickered. "It's par for the course when it comes to Mari," she said with a shake of her head as she turned to finish putting the final touches on her otherwise natural-looking makeup.
"You should be more careful," Adrien said to Marinette. Everyone knew how clumsy she was. That didn't mean he wanted to see her trip and accidentally injure herself.
An awkward silence fell over the room as Adrien stood up.
"So, mask or wig first?"
"Oh, right!" Marinette said, turning towards the chaise and grabbing the red-spotted mask. "I r-really hope this f-f-fits."
He smiled. "I'm sure it will well enough." It wouldn't' be the first time he'd had to wear something uncomfortable if it didn't. He'd deal.
"W-we're using eyelash g-glue to put the masks on our face. D-d-don't tear it off without getting r-remover first."
Adrien's eyes widened. Eyelash glue could take off skin. He'd have to be pretty careful, but he had to admit, it was better than a rubber band or something like that.
"A-alright," she said. Uncapping the glue and putting a few dots around the edges of the mask. Then she waited for it to get tacky and stuck it onto his face. It didn't fit him perfectly, but it wasn't anything he couldn't put up with either.
He held that on for about a minute while Marinette helped Alya do the same thing. When he moved his hand away, the mask stuck. It wasn't nearly as comfortable as his transformed mask, but it didn't feel like it was about to fall off either. Quietly, he sneaked a peek at himself in the mirror and couldn't help but pose for a second because he may not look as good as his Lady, but he didn't exactly look bad either. And the red and black somehow made him feel empowered. No wonder his Lady was so confident.
"Um, Adrien?" he stopped posing and whirled around to see Alya and Marinette staring at him. He rubbed his head sheepishly. "What are you doing?"
"Uh... just... looking. You know."
The girls exchanged glances and then smiles.
"You do make that look good," Alya said. "Maybe even better than Ladybug."
He returned her grin. "Not a chance."
"Y-you need your wig," Marinette said shyly. Adrien grinned and took the black, synthetic thing she'd also, obviously styled into a nice, slicked back style that really did somehow remind him of Ladybug. She also had a hair net. He put the black hairnet on and then the wig and looked in the mirror again. He didn't look like himself at all. No one would be able to tell it was Adrien Agreste under this mask. Admittedly, he didn't have a glamor in this, but he looked different enough that even if his father did see him (perish the thought) Adrien would have a solid defense of 'no one would recognize me'.
"This looks so great, Marinette," he said, turning to her again and unable to hide his huge grin. "It's incredible. I can't even... just..."
"Calm down there, puppy," Alya laughed. "It looks like we're all done. Which is good. We can go pick up Nino and get there early.
"Puppy?" Adrien asked in mock offense. "I'm part of the dynamic duo of Paris! And right now I am Ladybug! Lordbug? Hmm... name's in progress. Hope that doesn't bug you."
Both girls stared at him in horror.
"No," Marinette suddenly said. "No, no! Ladybug does not pun! Ever."
"Aw, come on, kitten," Adrien said to her, unable to keep his more Chat side back. Maybe it had something to do with the masks?
Marinette's eyes flew wide and she squeaked again. "K-k-kitten?"
And that quickly, he realized he must have made her uncomfortable and he backed off immediately.
"S-sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"N-no, it's o-o-okay," she started, but Alya cut in.
"She's right, though," she said to Adrien before turning to her best friend. "Girl, it's up to you to pun and flirt today. Meanwhile, M. Ladybug, you are supposed to be confident, smooth and serious."
"Ladybug isn't always serious," Marinette muttered.
Alya just rolled her eyes.
"Alright, come on you two. We want to get there early. The costume contest isn't until later this morning, but we can get to the dealer's room and artist alley before everyone else! The Ladyblog will love this!"
With that, the girl ushered her two friends out of the room, although not before they grabbed their bags.
Okay, so a pretty big list of people who have helped out/written for this story: Cute Kurby, Lecordonbleu28, Texas Variety Katie-bug, Sherlick Holmews, Animation Adventures, and Chibi Horsewoman. If I've missed anyone, please let me know!