How long had she stood on the sidelines, watching, waiting, listening and following orders? How long had it been before she got further roped into this than needed? But of course, he was good at that. He was always good at making her feel that whatever he asked her to do, whatever she accomplished in his name was worth it. She felt worthy the brief moments he would look at her, the ice in his eyes melting just a little bit. The payoff was far worth the risk, the reward far more valuable than how most would see it. Because most people didn’t spend as much time with him as she did.
Days came, then they went. And then came the weeks, months, they were now going on years. Only two, but for him that was two too many. She saw how the despair at each continual failure began to eat at him. It incensed him, motivated him and yet defeated him at the same time. Him, the most confident and ruthless and capable man she’d ever met- this ordeal shot at the knees of such confidence, leaving him to wallow in the blood of self-doubt as it pooled around him. He wanted her back, and truth be told Nathalie did too. But what good would it do to change the past the way her boss wanted? Nathalie was a firm believer in that there was a consequence to every action, a sacrifice -however small- that would need to be made in order to achieve the desired ends. Magic this powerful, what would it take in order to make it work? What would the sacrifice be?
It was over time she began to think that she would be the sacrifice. She was the one doing ostensibly more work after all. For him she sacrificed her time, her energy, her sanity, and eventually her body. She never should have allowed it, she was above sleeping her way to the top. But then he had come to her, drunk, something she’d never seen him stoop to before. She was so deeply involved now that it was impossible to remain impartial. Besides, she had justified to herself as she lay in his arms during the aftermath, it would only be once.
But once had a funny way of devolving rather quickly. Nathalie harbored no illusions, this was not love, this was only tangentially lust. No, this was a way of working through his frustrations. His own little way of assuring himself he was capable, he had what it took to accomplish what he set out to do. And how did she know this? It was quite rare the times he sought her out before being defeated by Paris’ superheroes. Gabriel Agreste reserved all his affection and all his love for his missing spouse. Whatever remained he spent selfishly on Nathalie.
It shouldn’t have bothered her. But she couldn’t help the feeling of betrayal, the immense wave of guilt that came over her every time she keened out his name. She was betraying Madame, she was betraying Adrien, the one she had been tasked with protecting. Late at night, when she was alone with her thoughts in a way no normal person would want to be, she would despair over her actions.
And yet, nothing could make her stop. Every time he reached for her, she couldn’t resist. And those feelings of guilt prodded like a thorn in her side each time she saw Madame’s portrait somewhere in the house, or when she had to deal with Adrien. The golden boy with a bit of a rebellious streak. His mother would be so proud of how he was coming into his own. No thanks to the adults around him. Nathalie had always thought herself too capable to become the willing victim like this. How wrong she had been.
But the feelings that fluttered behind her breast had nothing to do with love, not in the sense that most people thought of it as. She wanted to see some of Gabriel’s affection put on his son. She remembered how different he had been, when Madame had been around. The transformation had not been a gradual thing. Entirely spurred on by grief it was less a transformation to her and more a dropping of a mask that had never fit him properly anyways. He had been warmer to the ones he loved when she was around. But then, Madame had been the sun to him. Without her to melt him he remained cold, closed, and untouchable. Much like how Nathalie had been perceived -to the point where it was how she had perceived herself.
How wrong she had been. She was a Sancoeur, she was supposed to be heartless. But every time she saw Adrien’s innocent smile, completely unaware of the betrayal brought on by some of the only people he had left for him. Nathalie wanted to cry. But what good would tears do? She was inextricably caught. She couldn’t tell him anything, and she couldn’t run away.
For whatever reason, Gabriel called her to his lair when he wanted to prove to himself and assuage his own doubts. The only witnesses to their trysts the uncorrupted butterflies. Nathalie was trying to slow her breathing as she sought out her clothes. Her boss was never considerate when in this state. He was wholly and unabashedly selfish, and the way he scattered her clothes as he tore them from her person only confirmed it. Her hair had been retwisted and repinned into its usual bun, but that was about the only put together part of her right now. She was sweat-slicked from exertion, skin flushed and chest heaving. He didn’t look at her as she hurried to right her appearance. He never did.
Nathalie sometimes wondered if he felt as she did. Guilty at his own betrayal, the sin that recurred again, and again, and again. She wondered if it even occurred to him what they were were doing was wrong. Again, she felt that spike of guilt and wrongdoing lodge itself into her heart. What he was doing wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair to anyone; least of all himself. She knelt there, in the middle of the great empty room as the butterflies congregated on the walls. Her arms were wrapped around her, providing comfort where there was none else to be had. The weight of what they had done, what they continued to do rested heavily on her. She felt far older and more world weary than she was. She was ready to climb into a coffin and just be done with it. She thought of Madame, who had never said an unkind word to her, who had accepted Gabriel’s need for a woman close to him that wasn’t his spouse with far more grace, poise, and elegance than Nathalie might have thought possible from someone so open with their emotions. She thought of Adrien, who had precious few in the world as it was, and how she was complicit in working against him, even if Gabriel said it was for the boy’s own good. And she thought of Gabriel himself, how he had so expertly twisted the threads around her until it was too late to notice the trap she’d let herself fall into.
The tears rushed through her ducts, welling in her eyes and threatening to leak down her face. Nathalie sunk further into the floor. She wished it would swallow her up, never to be seen again. The silence was deafening. Metaphorically speaking. The room itself was quiet, stirred by the noises of the insects as they folded and unfolded their wings, by their own hushed breathing as they licked their wounds within the confines of their own minds. To any outsider, the tension, the precipice would have been noticed. But they were far too close to the issue to see. Something had to be said, but the words would break everything.
“Sometimes,” Nathalie said, very quietly, “I think you break my heart a little bit.”
“Sometimes,” came the reply, “I almost believe you actually have one.”
Snap. The round reverberated off the cavernous walls of the room. The sunlight poured through the window which allowed his influence to spread and corrupt. She could clearly see the outline of his silhouette as the shadow fell across the floor. She saw the curved bars of the window panes as they too cast themselves onto the floor. And she saw herself. Her own opaque form in the middle of it all. Trapped, she was trapped. And that snapping sound? It was the sound of her heart as it cleft in twain and crumbled to dust beneath his indifference. It was in that moment that Nathalie came to the rationale for why she had allowed things to progress so far. Nathalie Sancoeur was in love with her boss. And he no longer had a heart to give.
Almost mechanically she rose from the floor. Taking this as the signal that all was right with the world once more -as well as it could be considering the circumstances- Gabriel strode forth and began to give her orders. He was close, too close, and the hurt was too fresh. Without even thinking… Acting on instinct... Relying on her emotions was something Nathalie never did. She had seen how emotions could tear everything apart. But wasn’t that what had happened anyways? Suppression had been a failure, so what was the harm in listening to them? If he fired her then that was fine. Even if the job market was terrible she had a bit of savings to fall back on in the interim. And being fired would mean being freed.
Snap. Crunch. Those were the sounds of breaking, of crumbling, of hateful emotion. Nathalie Sancoeur punched Gabriel in the face. And then, she ran.
Between the pain and the shock of the blow Nathalie knew she had a bit of time before her employer came running after her. If he even did at all. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that he wouldn’t. But either way, Nathalie couldn’t stay. She caught the gaze of the gilded portrait as she came back through the floor. Those eyes, which before had always seemed so gentle and kind were now condemnable. She was dammed. As she was hurrying out the front door another straw had to be added to the pile atop her back. She ran into Adrien.
“Nathalie? Where are you going?” Adrien knew his father well enough that Nathalie was often kept incredibly late, helping to organize things, and to even tell his father when to take a break. Adrien often attributed seeing his father at all to the capable assistant who’d fallen into the role of caretaker since his mother’s disappearance. “Did Father send you out on an errand?”
Nathalie couldn’t speak. She tried frantically to shut her feelings down, to deal with the boy as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. To give some excuse and get out of there before it became too difficult.
Unfortunately, Adrien was not as emotionally resigned as his father was. And as such he noticed immediately that something was wrong, “Nathalie? Is something the matter?”
The words couldn’t be held back after that. She couldn’t lie to him any longer, “Your Father and I are having an affair and he’s Hawkmoth!” she broke down.
Adrien stood numb and unresponsive as she collapsed into him, sobbing out her apologies. For there was no explaining. But Adrien, ever the people pleaser, patted her back with a gentle hand as she held him tight. All she could do was tell him how sorry she was. Over and over again she plead for his forgiveness, for the forgiveness from his mother. He was so like her, if he granted her pennance, perhaps Madame could too.
At least, that’s what Nathalie imagined might happen if she allowed herself to do so. But she couldn’t. Despite how the truth screamed to be set free, to set her free she couldn’t do it. She was like a fly in the spider’s web. Caught, utterly. Open, close. Open, close. Nathalie gaped like a fish as she struggled to say something, anything to reassure him she was alright. But then she heard the footsteps as they drew closer and closer and suddenly there wasn’t time for words. With a contrite shake of her head Nathalie brushed past Adrien and out the door. She ran for the chauffeur and instructed him to take her home. Wordlessly he agreed, and they exited the grounds just in time to see Gabriel Agreste standing at the stoop, watching her with an inscrutable expression. Adrien had likely been sent elsewhere.
Arriving at her apartment she told the driver that she needed some time alone to think, and that under no circumstances were either of the Agrestes to be driven there. At all. The driver nodded and pulled back into traffic. In the safety of her own apartment Nathalie decided to take a shower and try and wash all the negative feelings down the drain. When that didn’t work Nathalie dried and dressed herself in comfortable clothes, clothes she would never let anyone see her in. loungewear was truly perfect for wallowing in self-pity and sadness. On autopilot Nathalie made herself a cup of tea. Halfway through the cup she realized she needed something stronger. The tannin was quickly switched out for hard liquor.
Over one glass of red wine Nathalie lamented her lack of foresight in getting involved in all this. Over two she lamented her inability to put a stop to it before now. Over the third she mourned her stupidity for falling in love with a man who had committed himself utterly to someone else. And before she could take the first sip of a freshly poured fourth there came a tapping at her window. Odd, she mused through the haze of an alcohol induced buzz, usually it was the door or the doorbell that alerted her to another’s presence. But as she saw the glowing green eyes of one half of Paris’ superduo it all made sense. She undid the latch and looked at the feline as he hung upside down from his staff.
“Chat Noir, to what do I owe the pleasure of the visit?” Nathalie asked.
“Mind if I come in Miss Sancoeur?” Chat asked in response, “As fun as it is, I’m not sure I want to hold an entire conversation upside down. The blood rush, you know.”
“Of course,” Nathalie shook her head with a small smile. She moved out of the way, “Please, come in.”
The superhero landed without losing his balance and looked around the place as though taking in every detail. Nathalie closed the window and returned to her spot on her couch, cradling the glass of wine in her hands and taking a fortifying sip. Savoring the sweet, acrid taste of the fermented grape juice she looked at Chat Noir from over the rims of her glasses. He was standing there, suddenly unsure of himself.
“Please, sit,” she threw a hand at an armchair situated across from her. When he did so she continued, setting the wineglass on the coffee table, “Now, what can I do for you?”
“I,” he looked at the ground, taking a moment to compose himself, “I was out on patrol tonight. But before I go out I tend to check the Ladyblog, the girl who runs it set up a request section. Ladybug and I try to check in on anyone who’s had a hard day and might face akumatization. Adrien Agreste, the son of your employer, he mentioned you having a bit of a bad day and since he couldn’t go out himself he wanted one of us to check in on you. Seeing as it’s my turn to patrol tonight I decided to take up the request.”
“I see,” Nathalie replied evenly, “And how, may I ask, did you get my address?”
“Adrien,” Chat Noir replied.
“That may well be the case, but how would you know the window you knocked on belonged to me? Was that a hit and miss? How many people know you’re here?”
“I- um- well you see-” he fumbled for words and Nathalie decided to take pity on him.
“Relax Adrien, I know it’s you.”
He froze, stock still. Nathalie was certain that if he had fur it would have been standing on end, “I’m sorry,” he tried to deflect, “But I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not as sneaky as you think you are,” Nathalie shot him a look, “And if you recall your home has a state of the art security system, which I am in charge of monitoring.”
“Oh,” he slumped forward, ears drooping, “So does Father know as well?”
“No,” Nathalie shook her head. That got him to look at her with incredulity. Nathalie was incredibly loyal to his father, to the point where something like this would never have been ignored.
“Believe it or not Chat Noir,” she made certain to use his super name to make him a bit more comfortable, “I was your age once too. And I had a few secrets of my own.” she still did, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.
“Oh,” was all the hero could say.
“I’m proud of you,” Nathalie told him, “I think you’re doing something incredibly noble, and I think that if your father were aware he would agree with my assessment,” it wasn’t a total lie. If Gabriel knew his own son was one of his adversaries he would likely be impressed with how well Adrien was able to hold his own against some of his most fearsome akumas. He would also just as likely be incredibly irritated that his own son was continuously getting in his way, but that was something that didn’t need to be said, “Though,” Nathalie added, “I do wish you weren’t as reckless sometimes.”
“I have enhanced speed, strength, and endurance,” Chat told her, “I can take just about anything an Akuma throws at me, when I’m transformed I mean,” he scratched his head and smiled sheepishly, “But we’re not here to talk about me. I came to talk to you, about you. What happened today? Are you alright?”
“I am,” a betrayer, an adultress, someone not worthy of all her accomplishments, “Fine.” she said, as she always said. Because if she said it enough times she would believe it, and it would become true.
“Hawkmoth didn’t sent an akuma after you?” Chat Noir was understandably skeptical. It wasn’t often that Hawkmoth refrained from sending out more than one akuma a day. Not if the fodder was there. And given that Nathalie had been ruffled enough for it to be visible, it was highly unlikely that Hawkmoth would have missed it. Especially since there had been only a relatively weak akuma earlier.
“He hasn’t yet,” Nathalie laughed bitterly, recalling Gabriel’s earlier words, “But that might be because I don’t have a heart to blacken. At least, I didn’t think I did until today.”
“I-” can’t tell you, telling you would break you. But I don’t want to hide the truth from you anymore either, “I found out that… someone I had been rather… involved with had a different outlook on what exactly we were.”
“You got your heart broken?” Chat Noir surmised.
“I suppose you could frame it like that, yes,” Nathalie took a large sip of her wine.
“You must have really been in love with him for it to hurt like that.”
“I was, I am,” Nathalie agreed, “But what can I do? There was more than just he and I involved. I don’t hate him for saying what he said, but it hurt all the same.”
“And you’re alright now?” Chat Noir tilted his head at her.
“I am, still standing.” Nathalie answered honestly, “I was never the type to let something like this consume me. And clearly Hawkmoth knows that as well, since a butterfly hasn’t come my way before now. I doubt it will since it hasn't already.”
“Alright.” Chat accepted, “Say, do you know what happened to Father earlier today? He came out of his office clutching his nose, like he’d hurt it.”
“I try not to involve myself in your father’s private affairs,” and look where that had gotten her, “If he has become injured the best I can do is schedule an appointment to have it looked at. Unless it’s something that requires immediate attention?”
“No, he’s fine now,” Chat replied, “I just thought you might know something about it is all.”
Nathalie sighed, “Even if you wanted to check on me, if you really do have patrol tonight that should be your priority. I’ll see you in the morning, alright?”
“Yes Nathalie,” Chat nodded and rose.
“And do try to get to bed at a reasonable hour,” Nathalie added as she walked him to the window, “All the rescheduling in the world can’t help if you don’t make an effort to take care of yourself as well.”
“Will do,” Chat saluted. He crouched on the sill and extended his baton downward. Vaulting out the window he rose into the Parisian skyline and ran off into the night.
Apparently opening her home to one Miraculous user somehow meant that it was open access to anyone who possessed a piece of magical jewelry. At least, that was what she felt when she opened her eyes to see the ominous shadow at the foot of her bed. Her first instinct had been, naturally, to scream. But even as she opened her mouth the figure moved and then there was a gloved hand at her face.
“Quiet,” a low voice whispered, “I came to talk to you.”
Of course, why wouldn’t he?
“What? Is my house now a meeting place for superheroes and supervillains?” Nathalie spat as soon as he removed his hand from her.
She waved him off, “Nevermind. What is it you want at this time of night?”
“I figured I would give you sufficient time to get ahold of yourself before I tried to talk to you again.” Hawkmoth replied, and she could sense the shrug that he’d likely done in his voice.
“Really?” Nathalie quirked a brow as she reached for her glasses. They wouldn’t do much good in the near encompassing darkness, but every little bit of clarity helped, “And here I thought your modus operandi when someone was upset was to send a corrupted butterfly after them and use them as a means to your own ends.”
“That was a cheap shot, even for you,” Hawkmoth replied, “If that’s the way you’re going to behave I’m not so inclined to talk anymore.”
“How fortunate,” Nathalie retorted, “Because when it comes to supervillains I can’t say I’m so inclined to listen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“If you want to say something to me, then you’ll have to say it face to face.”
“That’s why I’m here,”
“No, that’s why Hawkmoth is here. But my issues isn’t with Hawkmoth, now is it?”
There was a moment of terse silence in which Nathalie crossed her arms over her chest. Finally, he let out a sigh. A flash of purple light briefly lit up the room as he released the transformation. Nathalie heard the swirling sound as his kwami spiraled out of the brooch.
“If you’re hungry I’m sure you can find something to eat in the kitchen Nooroo,” Nathalie told the tiny god.
“Thank you Nathalie,” Nooroo replied as he flew out quickly, and left the two of them alone.
Gabriel Agreste stood at the edge of his assistant’s bed, and for the first time since she'd joined his employ Nathalie saw him look unsure of himself. Which was odd in and of itself. Gabriel Agreste just didn't do unsure. Uncertainty was what toppled empires, just as much as overconfidence. His self doubts in his abilities to regain his lost spouse were not so much a result of something he himself did, but rather the result from constant outside interference.
But this, it had been all him. He had been the cause behind all of this. And now he didn't know what to do. The question was did he even realize what he'd done? Probably not. That had been a fault of his from even before Madame had gone missing. He was blunt and brusque and if you didn’t like it then you just had to deal with it. Because an apology from Gabriel Agreste was rarer than the rarest gemstone on the planet. And that was because he rarely ever considered what he’d done wrong, either as a problem or at all.
“Well?” she asked him.
“What do you want me to say?”
Ah, another classic line from before the Madame had vanished with nary a trace. When Gabriel was in the doghouse with his wife it was often this line which calmed the storm. The Madame had been the one to get so deep into her emotions they became nigh incomprehensible. Meanwhile Gabriel had been the one almost completely out of touch with his own emotions. That line had turned the boil of a fight down to a mere simmer, something easily rectified through communication. But Nathalie had always seen those words for what they really were; a way to slip out of culpability through ignorance, feigned or real. And she wasn’t about to let him get away with it.
“While that line might work on certain other parties,” Nathalie ground out through her teeth, “It does not work on me. You know what you did, and if you don’t then you need to learn to be more cognizant. You’re an empath for god’s sake!”
“Empathy is neither sympathy nor compassion,” Gabriel countered, “Just because I can feel your emotions keenly doesn’t mean I understand them.”
Nathalie pinched the space between his brows, “Sit,” she ordered. He sat down by her knees.
“Do you truly have no idea why I’m upset?”
“I can hazard a guess. But I don’t understand why you would be so upset by it. It isn’t as though I’m the first one to call you heartless.”
So he knew what had caused her to be so upset, but he didn’t understand the emotional ramifications of his words. Nathalie should have known. She herself hadn’t realized how deep the words would cut until they did. She didn’t realize the emotion that had existed behind her complacency.
“I suppose you’re right,” she sighed. It wasn’t worth arguing with him. Doing so would only bring out uncomfortable truths. Things were bad enough as they were, “Are you sorry?”
“Do you want me to be?”
“What I want has no bearing on the matter, as you’ve so clearly established.”
“No sir, it’s done. We’re moving on. Now, unless you have anything else you want to discuss I will thank you to leave my apartment the same way you came in.”
“Actually, I do.” He leaned closer to her, “What was that earlier remark about superheroes and villains meeting up in your home?”
“Nothing you need worry about.”
“Nathalie,” the warning in his voice was clear. But to punctuate it he shifted until he was crouching over her.
“Adrien submitted a request to the Ladyblog for one of the superheroes to check in on me. Apparently he was worried that I might be corrupted. Chat Noir stopped by and we had a chat, then he left and I went to bed and well,” she shrugged as she lay against her pillows, “here we are now.”
“And you didn’t relieve him of his miraculous because?” Gabriel pressed.
“I am off the clock, and therefore not subject to your whims,” Nathalie countered, “Furthermore it would have been quite difficult to explain my desire to take the ring without the convenient excuse of akumatization, connecting me to Hawkmoth and forgive me if my strength and speed aren’t quite up to par with that of a magically enhanced superhero sir.”
“My apologies for not sending a butterfly your way then,” Gabriel murmured.
“Speaking of, why didn’t you?”
“You were upset enough at me, the last thing I wanted to do was add fuel to the fire. Besides, I find that Jackady was enough of a hassle and he didn’t even know my secret identity. You probably would have told Ladybug and Chat Noir simply to spite me.”
“Your faith in my character is very flattering,” Nathalie drawled humorlessly. She shifted and found he was still hovering over her, “Sir, you’ve made your point. Go home now.”
“Mmm,” he sounded thoughtful, “No, I don’t think so.”
His fingers ghosted over her face, plucking the spectacles off of it and placing them on the nightstand. A second click alerted her to the presence of his own joining them.
“Sir, what are you doing?”
“My dear assistant,” Gabriel murmured as he dropped a languid kiss to her neck, “I thought that would have been obvious.”
A hand began to creep over her, taking the edge of her blanket and drawing it to the side.
“But you, we-ah! It’s late,” she protested weakly.
“It is,” he agreed, “But they say the best way to get rest is to exhaust yourself. And it seems I have all this energy in need of expending. Are you saying you can’t say the same?”
It was futile to argue. She would give in. He would get his way. And they both knew it. That was the dynamic of this aspect of their relationship. And even if she already knew how this was going to end, that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the ride, right? The threads tightened around her even more as clothes, sheets, and inhibitions were discarded to the floor. Nathalie Sancoeur was utterly caught, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.