Nathalie didn’t hate her job, but sometimes she did want to just… crawl into bed for five years and sleep off the stress.
Adrien cringed, looking away. “I, uh, I’m Chat Noir.”
Nathalie closed her eyes and took a tired breath. “And you are telling me this now, as opposed to any other time… why?”
Adrien pointed down at the cast on his foot.
Nathalie’s mouth pursed. Yes. That. “Ladybug…”
“Can’t fix it if it didn’t happen in a way that was connected to an Akuma fight,” he rushed out. “And, listen, Ladybug is good, and she can totally take down Akuma on her own if she has to, but she works better with backup and—”
“No.” Nathalie denied the request before Adrien had even finished saying it. “I have a job, Adrien.”
“I can cover for you!” Adrien insisted. “Or, I don’t know, maybe this will heal quicker than it would for most people, so it won’t even be for that long! Plagg says it’s going to heal pretty quickly, and then I can start doing my job as Chat Noir again and—”
“I am not entirely convinced I shouldn’t tell your father about your nightly activities anyway,” Nathalie said, arching one brow at the ring on Adrien’s hand.
He lurched backwards, cast clunking awkwardly and heavily against the floor. “You can’t!”
“And why not?”
“He’d never let me out of the house again, Nathalie, you know that! I’d be… I’d be trapped again and—” Adrien breathed heavily, bringing one hand up to his shirt, clutching at it, the other one wrapping around his abdomen and oh.
The boy was hyperventilating.
Nathalie hesitated, because calming a teenager down from his panic attack wasn’t actually anywhere in her list of duties, but she tried. She led Adrien carefully over to his bed and took a seat next to him, rubbing circles into his back.
“Nathalie, you can’t tell him!”
“Adrien, going to school is one thing, but you are regularly risking your life as Chat Noir. That’s something you cannot fault me for worrying about. You already could have died, and I can remember more than one instance where your free will was taken from you.”
“I know, I know, but…” Adrien hugged himself around the midsection, and there were tears on his face. “I can’t stop, Nathalie. Somebody needs to fight Hawk Moth, and Ladybug can’t do it alone. I don’t know why I was chosen, but it’s got to be me.”
“Except now, for extenuating circumstances,” Adrien agreed. “Please? Just for a few weeks?”
Nathalie pursed her lips again. “Alright, but we will be talking about this later.”
“Right, so, I broke my leg,” Adrien said, talking directly into the staff he carried as Chat Noir. Nathalie hadn’t known that it was more than just a staff, but she was sure she’d be learning a lot now that she was going to, however temporarily, be Chat Noir herself.
Knowing what to look for, Nathalie could see Adrien’s face behind Chat Noir’s mask. The hair was off by a shade, and the eyes were all green instead of just the iris, in a shade so bright that it wasn’t human, but the shape was the same, and so was the shape of his face, the tenor of his voice, the way he moved…
Well, Nathalie had attended enough fencing matches and such in Gabriel’s stead that she knew how his son moved, how his voice changed if he had to inhabit a role for a shoot, and so on.
It had to be some sort of magic in the masks, Nathalie thought. There had to be a reason she hadn’t recognized that the boy she’d practically raised was the one behind the mask.
“Yeah, so, uh… please don’t be mad, but I’m asking someone else to take over for me for a while. I’d trust her with my life—”
That’s a terrible thing to trust me with, Nathalie thought.
“—and she promised not to tell anyone about me, and besides, Plagg was the one who insisted she’d do the job well.”
“…if Plagg said so, then I guess we’ll just have to work with it.” Ladybug sighed from the other side. “I’ll meet her… hm. On top of the Eiffel Tower in an hour?”
“How about two hours, and… the school that Hawk Moth keeps attacking?”
“Works for me. I’ll see her then. Get well soon, okay, chatton?”
“Anything for you, my lady!”
The call ended, and Adrien let the transformation go. He smiled at Nathalie, a little awkward. “So, uh… I’m going to run you through the basics of how to use this stuff. First off, this is Plagg.”
He brought out a small black creature that looked like a horrifyingly disproportionate cat, which proceeded to look her up and down, nod, and ask for cheese.
“…I’ll see about getting some delivered from the kitchens.”
She could already feel a headache building.
Green. The transformation had changed the stripe in her hair to green.
“I think it still suits you?” Adrien offered. “I mean, given the rest of the outfit, it fits? You look more high-tech than I usually do. Or, oooh, kind of steampunk? Dieselpunk? That’s a thing, right?”
Nathalie nodded minutely, looking down at the steel staff in her hands. She very carefully did not let either end point at her face or other sensitive things. “I’ve no experience with combat.”
“Neither did Ladybug, and she manages pretty well,” Adrien said. He’d straddled his desk chair and was slowly swiveling from side to side. “I mean, I’m not saying you’re going to be a perfect fighter from the start, but I think the transformation gives you a lot of leeway in terms of speed and strength and stuff like that. Definitely some fun stuff with inertia going on; the falls you’re going to be able to take without injury while transformed are kind of ridiculous.”
“I’ve seen the videos, Adrien.”
Nathalie examined herself in the mirror again. Her suit looked more like her daily outfit than like Adrien’s Chat Noir supersuit. There were lapels and a high collar and… well, they weren’t quite her glasses, but they made sure she could see and weren’t going to slip off, so they were what they were.
“These ears are ridiculous.”
“They’re more than cosmetic, though!” Adrien looked excited. “No, I’m serious, just close your eyes and focus.”
Nathalie indulged him, and found that he was entirely right. She could hear the refrigerators in the basement kitchen humming, Gabriel on the phone in his office, and the low buzzing of a fly trapped between the window glass and the screen in a room two… no, three doors down.
“I’m impressed,” she said, opening her eyes again. “So, enhanced senses and physical abilities, reduced inertia, higher durability…what else?”
“Cataclysm,” Adrien said, a little more seriously than anything he’d said so far. “It’s the… the destructive thing I use sometimes. Destroys anything it touches. Rots wood, crumbles stone, rusts through metals, anything. And once you use it, you only have five minutes until you change back. Each minute that passes, one of the lights on the ring will blink out with a beeping noise. Make sure you’re out of sight, and then feed Plagg a lot of cheese so he can get his energy back if you need to get back into the fight. I mean, feed him anyway, because he needs to eat, but you can’t fight again until he’s regained his energy.”
“I understand,” Nathalie said, taking a look at the ring. The more she heard about the way the battles were fought from Adrien’s perspective, the less she approved.
“Okay, I’m gonna run you through some of Ladybug’s powers too, and then you can practice using the staff for a bit so you can travel across the city without too much trouble… and not hit yourself in the face with it. That happened to me once. It wasn’t fun.”
Nathalie held back a sigh and nodded.
Ladybug asked the question within two minutes of meeting Nathalie.
“So like… are you Chat Noir’s mom or…?”
“Y—no. I mean… sort of. Probably.” She reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s complicated. I’ve helped raise him, yes, but I am not his mother.”
“So like a nanny or an aunt or something?”
“Or something,” Nathalie said. “Let’s go with aunt. It makes things less difficult for everyone.”
“Okay, then…” Ladybug rubbed the back of her neck and sighed. “Look, I’m not totally comfortable with Chat bringing in another person to this, even if you only know his identity, but if the Kwami have said that there’s no way around it, then I’m going along with it.”
“He didn’t give your identity away, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Nathalie tried to assure her.
“Of course not.” Ladybug blinked at her in what might have been surprise. “He doesn’t know it.”
Nathalie’s brain stalled out a bit. “Neither of you—”
“It’s too dangerous,” Ladybug cut her off. “Look, Mrs.… whatever your name is. We’ve gone this long without revealing ourselves to anyone except our Kwami and the man who chose us. We’ve been doing this for almost a year. We know what we’re doing.”
“That’s the trouble…” Nathalie said under her breath. She shook her head to dispel the thoughts. Children. They were only children, the both of them, and how had she noticed that before? Magic, of course, but it made her feel so stupid. “I believe Chat Noir indicated that it would be prudent to get some practice in before we attempted to battle an Akuma, so that we could get a feel for each other’s movements and strategies and such.”
“Yeah, that sounds goo—”
And that was the moment at which they were alerted to the presence of an Akuma.
Nathalie wasn’t quite as surprised as she maybe should have been to find that the Akuma was attacking the Agreste Manor. They’d had their fair of impassioned, angry people turning into Akuma and coming for Gabriel, for a variety of reasons. Nathalie thanked her lucky stars that Gabriel, at least, wasn’t deliberately irritating people to the point of becoming Akuma, but simply doing so as a result of his influence, most of the time. People whose designs had been rejected, suppliers who had been replaced, reporters who had been offended that Gabriel had left on time instead of staying an extra five minutes… generally speaking, the manner in which Nathalie’s employer handled these people and their problems could have smoothed over a number of ruffled feathers, but…
Well, he was no Chloe Bourgeois. Pettiness and offense was not a direct goal, just a side effect of the frank and uncompromising way in which Gabriel ran his life.
If he’d been trying to be a petty, mean, and vindictive person, the manor would have likely been demolished several times by now. As it was, it was still standing, and without the help of Ladybug’s powers.
Cards again, Nathalie noted. These appeared to have a tendency to explode, though. She sorted through what she knew of Gabriel’s recent activities. Ah yes, the theater owner that had wanted Gabriel to design the costumes for some Alice in Wonderland production. He hadn’t been able to pay nearly enough, and Gabriel’s disdainful rejection had left the man storming out in a huff. Nathalie hadn’t had time to tide over the problem by trying to redirect the man to one of the other designers that did commission work through the company. A starlet had arrived at that moment to speak with Gabriel concerning an upcoming red carpet appearance, and Nathalie had gotten immediately swept up in that, and then Adrien had asked for her to come speak with him in regards to… well. The current situation.
She had Gabriel in one arm, her other hand wrapped tightly around the staff that had extended with remarkable speed to take them skywards and away from Ladybug and Maddest Hatter.
“Tell me, Ladybug, do you know how a raven is like a writing desk?”
“Nah, never had time for philosophy.”
“Funny,” the man said, grinning and pulling his coat open. “Neither did I.”
A murder of ravens flurried out of his coat from places they couldn’t have possibly fit.
Nathalie focused on the man in her arms that was clinging to her, red-faced. She was glad to see that she was keeping her own composure much better than he was. “Everything alright Monsieur Agreste?”
“Just peachy,” he ground out, and Nathalie leaned to the side, just enough for them to start tilting and falling towards the balcony floor. His arms tightened around her, but the suit really did give her a cat’s balance; she stepped onto the balcony like she was gliding across water, and deposited Gabriel there.
And then, because even she could admit she was petty on occasion, she tapped the end of his nose and ordered, “Stay.”
She jumped backwards off of the balcony in the entrance hall, and down to the floor to help Ladybug.
Nathalie grinned as she landed on her feet with ease. Alright, maybe she could see, at least a little, why Adrien seemed addicted to this.
“Enough,” Nathalie snapped, after the battle was over and everything was fixed, watching Ladybug and Adrien blush and stammer at each other for thirty seconds straight. “Ladybug, I thought you and Chat had both insisted that you had to leave and… recharge after using certain abilities?”
Adrien’s eyes widened in sudden realization, and Ladybug went so far as to make an “eep!” noise. “Right! Sorry! I, um, got a little caught up with, I mean, I’ll just… it was nice to see you again, Adrien?”
“Likewise,” Adrien laughed, a blush on his face and a hand on the back of his head, looking at the floor to the side.
How did the boy keep his composure when he had to actually work with Ladybug?
Nathalie rolled her eyes and looped one arm under Ladybug’s midsection, ignoring the girl’s surprised yelp at being picked up like a stuffed animal, and activated her staff again. She landed on the top floor and turned to look coolly into Gabriel’s eyes. “Monsieur Agreste. A word?”
Adrien stood on the lower level, eyes visibly widening as Nathalie glanced down at him. She shook her head minutely; she’d promised not to tell, and she wouldn’t. Not yet.
Nathalie palmed a handful of plastic-wrapped sweets of some sort from a bowl by the door and handed them off to Ladybug. “Is there a bathroom nearby? Or something equally private?”
“One door down,” Gabriel said, gesturing. “Do you not—”
“I’ll be fine,” Nathalie said. She’d had no need of Cataclysm in this fight. She still had time. “I would like to speak with you regarding the frequency with which these Akuma attack you.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Do you know what causes an Akuma, Monsieur Agreste?” Nathalie asked, taking a step forward. She imagined Gabriel as one of the many, many employees that Nathalie herself frequently ordered about, the ones who flinched when she said their names because there was always a chance that she was there to deliver an order of termination from Gabriel himself.
It made it easier to remain calm and unruffled when he replied.
“Do you?” He asked. “You are not the Chat Noir that Paris knows.”
“No, but I know him,” she said. “I’ve been given all the information necessary to do this job. Now, Monsieur Agreste, let me ask again: do you know what causes an Akuma?”
“Interference from Hawk Moth, I’ve been told.”
“And negative emotions, frequently dissatisfaction with the lack of fairness in the world. While I do not expect you to change your ways completely, I will advise that you at least attempt to avoid hurting people in this manner in the future. You cannot prevent Hawk Moth from attacking people, of course, but if you refrain from aggravating people and putting them at risk of possession, then you could at least minimize the number of Akuma that make you their target.” Nathalie put all the cold disdain that she could into her voice, and for a moment sounded more like Gabriel than herself.
“I’m back!” Ladybug shouted, bursting into the room. “I think we’re good to go! Good job, uh… Chat Noir’s mom.”
Nathalie resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she took a large step back from Gabriel and turned, ready to leave.
“Wait!” Gabriel said, grabbing her wrist, and Nathalie stuffed down the sudden urge to turn and rake her claws down his face. That was not a human instinct. That was not something that was acceptable in polite company. That was not something she should do. Okay. “Do we know each other? You seem… familiar.”
“I’m sorry sir,” Nathalie said, eager to get moving again so she could debrief with Ladybug and then get back to her actual paying job in this same building. “You must be confusing me with someone els—”
Then he brought her hand up to his lips, what the fuck and said, “…is there a chance we can meet again, then?”
OHGODNO. Nathalie felt her face grow red and her eyes grow wide. She was sure that Ladybug was going to be mocking her when they got outside, in revenge for how Nathalie had handled the girl’s discussion with Adrien.
“I-I m-maybe—I don’t know I really don—I must go.” She wrenched her hand out of Gabriel’s and headed for the small balcony outside the glass doors, jumping the railing and disappearing to the side to stand on the belt course. Ladybug appeared a second later.
She stared at Nathalie with a massive shit-eating grin on her face for a second, and then said. “Wow. Smooth.”
Nathalie pushed her off the ledge.
“So, the press has already come up with a name for you,” Adrien said as Nathalie finally got around to visiting his room again several hours later. “And you’re going to hate it.”
Nathalie gave him a very dirty look. Seeing as she had just spent several hours at her actual job, trying to run damage control for the company in the face of yet another attack, she felt that this was a fairly reasonable reaction to the announcement.
“Yeah?” Plagg asked, jumping off of Nathalie’s head and floating down to hover in front of Adrien. “What did they come up with? And do you have any Camembert?”
Adrien pulled out a box and opened it, letting Plagg dive in immediately. There was no hesitation, as though he’d done this countless times before… which he had. Nathalie kept forgetting that. “So, my dad apparently told them that you’re, uh… well, people think that your superhero identity is my superhero identity’s mother. So.”
“Ladybug assumed. I explained that I was not, but when she couldn’t think of something to call me during my discussion with your father after the battle, she fumbled and referred to me as such anyway.” Nathalie reached up with one hand to push up her glasses and rub at her temple. The other hand stayed resting in the crook of her elbow. “Well, let’s hear it.”
Adrien shrugged. “You didn’t come up with a name, so they made one up and ran with it. Too late to change now.”
“…you really should have come up with a name, Nathalie.”
“The kid’s right!” Plagg said, floating up in front of her and wiggling a little as he swallowed a piece of Camembert whole. “Superhero names are important!”
“I suppose I could correct them… retroactively… when I next go out,” Nathalie said. “How does Panthère sound?”
“I like it,” Adrien decided. “Kind of follows the whole pattern so far, right? It’s not like you can call yourself Ch—”
“Stop,” Nathalie ordered, shooting him another dark look. “Don’t go there.”
Adrien put his hands up, conceding the point. “Okay. Not going there. Instead… how was it, working with Ladybug?”
“Well, I certainly don’t like her as much as you do,” Nathalie said, watching Adrien turn red. “She’s fine. Her heart is clearly in the right place, and she’s skilled at the work you two do, and willing to put her life on the line to protect people. I don’t approve of it, considering how young you both are, but I can respect and admire you for it.”
“…you admire me?” Adrien said, voice small.
Nathalie felt a knot of tension in her back loosen. Plagg settled onto her head, and Nathalie sighed, taking a few steps forward and putting a hand on Adrien’s back. “You have been putting the city’s well-being ahead of your own for nearly a year, Adrien. That is no small feat. I wish you didn’t have to do it, but I can certainly appreciate the effort you have put into it, especially considering how many other obligations you have.”
“And now you’re going to be doing it, too.”
“…unfortunately, yes.” Nathalie rubbed at her temples again. “I am going to lose my job for this.”
“Nah,” Adrien said, grinning. “I’m pretty sure dad is going to be too distracted by Panthère to notice that Nathalie is gone.”
Ladybug was a professional in the field, and very competent at her work.
She was also a bit of a brat.
…Nathalie was dealing. Barely.