The Merchant of Paris
Spoilers through Season Two.
Note: This is a sequel to Resident Expert, and fits in the same universe as Fanboy and Cosplay Contest. It's advisable that those are read first.
Story order for this series:
2. Cosplay Contest
3. Resident Expert
4. The Merchant of Paris
Additionally, Gabriel does NOT know that Adrien is Chat Noir. I know what has occurred in season two thus far, and while it may or may not conflict with canon, Gabriel NOT knowing works better for this story.
"A what?" Gabriel stepped back and attempted to read the words on the piece of paper Adrien waved in his face. He reached out and grabbed it, scanning over the contents.
"A booth!" his son exclaimed. His eyes glowed in excitement and he bounced on his feet, pointing to the relevant section. "The deadline for submitting the application to reserve a booth in the Ladybug and Chat Noir convention in two months is tomorrow."
So he had heard correctly the first time. "And why would you want to reserve a booth?"
"To sell stuff," Adrien replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Gabriel closed his eyes, willing the impending headache to hold off for a few moments longer. "Why would you need to sell stuff?" His eyes snapped open as a surge of fatherly instinct shot through him. "Do you need money? Are you in some kind of trouble?" His alter ego would handle it if Adrien was being threatened or coerced or -
"No, nothing like that," Adrien replied. He fiddled with his fingers for a bit. "I just wanted to see if we could maybe do something different at this convention."
"I am not selling my company's merchandise through an outside vendor, Adrien," Gabriel said, shutting his son down immediately. It would be a PR nightmare if word got out that he was selling Gabriel clothes through unofficial sources. It would only encourage more counterfeiters and make it that much harder to maintain the quality of his brand.
"No, no, no," the younger blond cut in, "I wouldn't ask you to do that. I was thinking of selling... other stuff. Something new. I could help you with the designs and we could sell them together."
Okay, more questions and even less answers. Time to start being a bit more forceful.
"Adrien, tell me the truth. Why do you want to sell things in this booth?" He leveled his sternest expression at his son.
Another shuffle. More fidgeting. Gabriel held out. At last, Adrien sighed. "Alya said there's a rumor that Ladybug and Chat Noir might appear at this convention. I thought maybe if we had something unique to show them, she- er, they might stop by."
He held up a hand to stop Adrien from rambling and his son trailed off. The boy had him at "Ladybug and Chat Noir might appear." Still, he couldn't help the faint amusement ghosting across his face at his son's obvious infatuation toward Ladybug (even if she was his enemy). He nodded. "Fine," he agreed, and Adrien visibly perked up. "But," he added and Adrien deflated slightly, "while I will design the merchandise and be at the convention to supervise, you will be the one to sell the products. Agreed?"
The younger blond flung himself at Gabriel and swung his arms around Gabriel's midsection, startling the older designer. "Thank you, Father!" he exclaimed, squeezing him tight. Gabriel rested his hands upon his son's shoulders.
"I'll allow you to bring one friend to help," he added, knowing that having a friend could successfully distract Adrien and possibly allow Gabriel to slip around and look for his goal. Embarrassing memories of past events came to mind and he shoved them back with ruthless savagery. After all, as long as he avoided any of the cosplay contests or panel talks, he wouldn't have anything to regret this time, right?
He ignored the prickling sensation across the back of his neck.
"What were you thinking of selling?" he asked.
Adrien pulled back and launched into a long list of items – scarves, hats, gloves, purses and wallets, and maybe a few keychains. Wow.
"Accessories then," Gabriel summarized. Adrien nodded. "Why those?"
"There are plenty of vendors who sell common things like T-shirts, mugs, and even artwork. I know that we can create something that's a bit classier. Stuff that, while fan merchandise, could be used in everyday situations."
"A more adult version of fanservice?" Gabriel clarified.
Adrien nodded. "Yes, exactly!"
He thought on that for a moment. The merchandise he had seen at previous fairs and conventions certainly fell into the "cheap and gaudy" category, even if that didn't dissuade his son from collecting a closet full of the stuff. Some tasteful contributions to the fandom merchandise line would definitely be a boon. Gabriel reached into his desk and withdrew a fresh pad. Best to keep these sketches separate from his brand's line. "Do you have any ideas for designs?"
And once again, Adrien bombarded him with descriptions of various inspirations. Gabriel scribbled furiously to keep up with his son's excited rambling.
"I think this might be enough, Adrien," Gabriel halted the stream of consciousness as he scanned over nearly a full page of notes. "I'm not sure I'll have enough time to get all of this together."
Adrien frowned a moment, biting his lip. "I... hmm, okay, Father," he said. Gabriel's hand stilled at that. What was he going to say? He almost called his son out on it, but Adrien backed away quickly with a "I'll let you get to work" and disappeared before Gabriel could reply. Shrugging, Gabriel returned to his sketchbook, starting to form a more coherent picture of Adrien's vision.
It turned out, he didn't have to wait much longer to figure out what Adrien was going to say. The next afternoon, there was a flurry of noise in the foyer. Curiosity overtaking him, he headed out to investigate the sounds. He discovered Adrien standing in the expansive entryway with a girl who tugged at his memory banks, but couldn't quite place. His eyes narrowed.
"Trust me, Marinette, it'll be fine," his son was saying. "My father told me I could have someone to help out. Nino flat-out refused instantly."
There was an unintelligible mumble in response before Adrien continued. "I know Alya is taking the opportunity to attend with Nino. She kind of pushed you into this, so I guess if you don't want to..." Adrien trailed off.
The girl – Marinette – beside him waved her hands and this time her voice carried up to Gabriel. "No, no, it's not that at all," she said. "I just don't know... your father is okay with this? I mean, I understand helping out with selling his designs, but I really don't know if I'm good enough to assist him beforehand."
Adrien scoffed and Gabriel was struck with a sudden vivid image of his son falling for this girl – this girl who was decidedly not Ladybug. A perfect distraction so he wouldn't have to grind his teeth with the thought that his son was dating his archenemy. "Don't be ridiculous, Marinette," he replied. "Father liked your hat design and he complimented your workmanship. I'm not asking you to present your own designs to him, but he said he wouldn't have enough time to make everything, so you could help him with the labor part of it."
Marinette still looked unconvinced. "Maybe you should clear this with your father first. I don't want to get on his bad side. He has really high standards. I don't know if I'm up to those standards. He might not want some kid ruining his brand's image."
Gabriel wondered when the opportune time would be to clear his throat and join in the conversation without making it appear he had been eavesdropping the entire time. Bits of memories were coming back to him the longer he stood there listening. A feathered derby hat. A fiery defense. Adrien sneezing. A hyperactive 'admirer' returning his prized book. His head spinning with the onslaught of rushed explanations for its disappearance. Questions and answers. His own cordial responses.
One thing was crystal clear: this girl was no mere child. If his memories correctly aligned with the image in front of him, then she would make a passable assistant for doing the grunt work for Adrien's little pet project. And perhaps he could nudge them together. Subtly, of course. Kill two birds with one stone.
The two had continued their back and forth arguing, oblivious to his towering figure on the stairs. Well, he had tuned them the last few minutes, so this might be a good time to feign ignorance and announce his presence since he had lost track of their conversation anyway.
"Good afternoon," he said, shuffling a few steps to appear as if he just walked out of his office. The two teenagers jumped at the sound of his voice. "Adrien didn't tell me he was bringing a friend over."
Both of their heads whipped over. The girl paled. Adrien stepped forward. "Father," he began, "this is Marinette. She's my good friend from class." Gabriel's eyes flickered over to her for a second as Adrien powered through the introduction. She flushed. His attention was drawn back to his son. "Marinette agreed to help me sell the stuff at the convention. And she also agreed to help you out making the merchandise. You said you couldn't get everything done on time, but now maybe you can."
"I see," Gabriel said, if only to say something to break the endless babble. "I'm not certain I need any assistance, however, and if I did I think I could reallocate one of my own designers."
"And take away from your upcoming line?" Adrien shot back. Gabriel almost stepped backward in surprise. This was interesting. Had his son actually planned for this argument? The corners of his eyes crinkled as he attempted to suppress a smile. He failed.
"You have a fair point," he conceded.
Adrien doubled down, stepping forward with a determined glint in his eyes that sent a shiver of familiarity through Gabriel. "Marinette's good enough to be recognized by you, even if you don't remember. You praised her craftsmanship a few months back."
Gabriel opened his mouth to inform Adrien that he in fact, did remember, when Adrien pointed to Marinette's pink purse. "She made that herself," he added. "Go on, you can examine it closer if you want. This should prove that she's good enough to help with our accessories."
His eyes averted naturally to follow the focal point of the conversation – the purse – but he found himself staring into an ashen expression instead. Marinette stepped back out of Adrien's reach and clutched her purse to her chest, startling both father and son as she cradled it, suddenly terrified.
"N-not this purse," she stammered, her eyes wide and her breathing ragged.
"Marinette?" Adrien asked.
She inhaled slowly, and the caged animal fright gradually seeped out of her. "I'm sorry," she apologized at last, meek and contrite. "This purse is special to me. I can demonstrate my skills should you so desire, Mr. Agreste, but I would rather you not examine this purse."
With how ferociously his wife used to guard her own purse and the contents within, he could relate to that at least. "That won't be necessary, Miss Marinette," he said, making a mental note to have a talk with his son on personal boundaries. "I am in agreement with my son. If you would like to assist me, I would not object."
"Really?" she breathed out.
"Indeed. It would be quite unfair to ask you to devote every afternoon to this commitment, especially at the behest of my son, so I would not be remiss to coordinating a schedule with you that works around your schooling and various after-school activities." Plus, he still needed valuable akumatizing time and he couldn't very well do that with an overeager teenager underfoot for the next eight or so weeks before the convention. "Let's start with two or three times weekly and adjust accordingly?" he suggested and she immediately nodded her head in agreement. He figured three times a week would be his upper limit to dealing with stammery teenagers anyway.
It turned out he set the bar way too low with Marinette. Not only was she coherent and succinct around him, but her work was flawless and swift. And once he coaxed her out of her shell, she provided more than a few suggestions and ideas to add to their collection. Adrien's collection. Why was he thinking it was his effort too? It was all Adrien's idea. He wanted nothing to do with the heroes.
When she first started, Adrien used to stop by the room to peek his head in and ask how things were going. He probably hoped to act as a buffer between the two of them. It admittedly took Gabriel a few times to notice that Marinette's stammers and flustered actions came about not as a result of being in his presence, but rather Adrien's. He allowed it, more out of amusement at watching the two of them interact (even if Marinette tended to get startled when he first walked in). The two kids soon fell into a quiet routine as Adrien tended to linger longer and longer, asking what he could do to help. Gabriel was surprised that his son was so eager to assist when he often had expressed his dislike towards that side of the business in years past. Marinette took the opportunity to teach Adrien some basic skills – and soon Gabriel had him sewing tiny buttons on gloves as she sat beside him and beaded a matching hat.
Despite his irritation at the event in general, he found himself looking forward to the interactions of his son and his talented "good friend". Maybe, just maybe Adrien would soon forget about the red hero of Paris and focus on a more tangible relationship. As the deadline approached, he found himself increasing the amount of time put into this annoyance of a project, and Marinette spent every afternoon the last week in his atelier, carefully sewing under his strict guidance with Adrien dutifully by her side.
He took the opportunity to try to figure out the exact relationship between her and his son on the days Adrien was at fencing practice or Chinese lessons. "Friends" his oblivious child claimed, but her squeaks and blushes indicated at least infatuation on her part. And not just the blasé "admirer" that she attempted to pass off when she returned his book, either. He felt a slight twinge of camaraderie that he only felt with one other person – ironically, his nemesis when she gazed in blissful awe at his son's modeling pictures. At least he didn't feel an equally powerful surge of hatred toward Marinette as he did the black-spotted thorn-in-his-side.
Now if only he could get his son to stop being so stubborn. He was still kicking himself for letting it slip that Ladybug was enamored with him. He seriously debated creating an akuma that would lock Adrien and Marinette in a bubble of some kind together. Then he recalled his last encounter with a bubble-creating akuma and immediately banished that thought to the back of his mind.
He always had better luck with the love-struck akumas anyway.
Speaking of which, this little side project of his had severely cut into his Miraculous-stealing attempts. Because his afternoons were filled with stuttery teenagers and his mornings were taken up with running his actual business, that left only the evenings to attempt to create akumas. And there weren't that many volatile emotions available in the twilight hours in Paris at this time of year. So he only got to akumatize maybe one person a week.
He wondered if he could distract Marinette with something Adrien related and sneak away to his lair. She could be willfully ignorant of her surroundings whenever his son entered the picture. Would she even notice if he abruptly vanished into his lair?
After this whole event was over, he would definitely make up for lost time.
But at long last (and many missed weeks of akuma opportunities) the day was upon them. The event coordinators instructed all vendors to sign in on Friday evening and set up so they could iron out any bugs. Reluctantly, and with an excited pair of teenagers in tow, Gabriel instructed his driver to head over to the enormous Paris Convention Centre on the southern end of the city and they piled out, both Adrien and Marinette eagerly gushing over the booth. Gabriel noted how Marinette lost all trace of nervousness around his son whenever she was successfully distracted by something. Was that perhaps the key? To keep her from thinking that she's with Adrien and instead distract her into thinking he's just another friend?
They found the end of the queue and navigated through the lines. Gabriel refrained from grinding his teeth at the saturation of Ladybug and Chat Noir merchandise surrounding him, but he couldn't help but sniff at a few nearby vendors once he was actually shown his spot. His icy blue eyes swept around the room. Honestly, did those people actually think that cheap plastic would hold up under any considerable amount of use? And just look at the color combination, how gaudy. He heard a chuckle beside him and turned to discover Adrien and Marinette watching him. Adrien had a smarmy grin plastered on his face as if he could read Gabriel's thoughts while Marinette seemed more fascinated than worried.
"If this is our competition," Gabriel said, attempting to explain himself, "then we have nothing to fear. Do they actually sell those things?" His eyes slid back over to the pile of crumpled... cat's ears? Ugh. He was so glad Adrien decided on some tasteful merchandise. He didn't think he could pretend to gush over tacky decisions if his son had decided to go that route, no matter how much his cover depended upon it.
He focused on examining the space provided to him. One table and two awkward folding chairs. No outlets. Hmm. His mind whirled, already documenting things he would need to bring the next day. He was grateful he had actually decided to come out the day before. At least one other chair, and preferably not one that would leave him cursing more than usual at the end of the weekend because of a sore back.
Marinette tilted her head in critical examination, too. "Uhm, how were you planning on handling the sales?" she asked and Gabriel turned to her in surprise. "My parents have a metal cashbox that they use when selling their stuff outside of the shop. I can borrow it."
"Thank you, that would be nice," Gabriel replied, not bothering to point out that his company probably had several similar items at the main branch. If she wanted to feel useful, he wasn't going to shoot her down for it.
"Do you have a credit card reader?" she continued. "You might need..." she trailed off and scanned the area. "Yeah, you're probably going to need a mobile hotspot to ensure that the transactions don't lag. Competing with all the other vendors for online sale transactions will just slow things down."
Adrien stared at her in open admiration as she rattled off practical considerations to their space. Gabriel, however, quirked a grin. "Thank you, Miss Marinette," he said. "I can acquire all of these items. You have quite the sensible head with regards to business," he praised and she flushed.
"It's from my parents," she explained sheepishly, as if she just remembered that he also ran a successful business. He took out his phone and began to compose a message to Nathalie to have her gather the required items for tomorrow.
They left, and Gabriel had his driver drop Marinette off at her home before continuing onward, silently noting the comfortable chatter that flowed between the teenagers. Everything was coming together nicely.
Author's Note: This will be a four chapter story (I didn't mean to make it so long!) Since the individual chapters are somewhat short, I'll be posting on a Wednesday/Sunday schedule so you won't have to wait too long between chapters.
Special thank you to Silvanon of the Orchard for the idea of Gabriel running a booth.
Also special thank you to PerditaAlottachocolate for beta reading this and brainstorming the various plotlines and details with me. Check out her works, she's been doing amazing stuff for Adrienette April and Adrien Appreciation Week!