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Throwing Up These Butterflies

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There's no escaping from you,

When I think about you.

Every time I close my eyes,

I get dizzier inside.

Make it stop, make it stop,

I can't stop.

—  Stela Cole, Throwing Up Butterflies 🦋 


 

 

“Nathalie!”

Papillon manages to bite back the name that threatens to burst from his throat, but it echoes inside his head, thrumming rhythmically with his frantic heart as a reminder of his grave near-mistake.

He is typically a careful, intelligent man, but all it takes for him to nearly let Mayura’s identity slip, (and by extension, his own) is one stray akuma.

It’s a terrible, useless akuma, which is why Gabriel had caved when Nathalie asked to appear as Mayura in order to give them some chance at success. He obliged, only after Nathalie promised to stay away from the actual fight.

He’s not worried about his akuma harming Mayura, but Ladybug and Chat Noir are formidable opponents. The akuma Rapunzeler, on the other hand, is just a frustrated child who is causing no more damage than cursing her victims with long, flowing hair. Although Ladybug found herself tripping over her own drooping pigtails, and Chat Noir got tangled up in his new mane, the unusually straightforward Lucky Charm — a spotted pair of scissors — quickly freed them. 

It was then that Mayura had stubbornly decided to join the fray face-to-face, leaving Papillion to rush out of his lair in panicked pursuit. Mayura had failed to find an appropriate target for an amok, but her presence was enough to distract Ladybug and Chat Noir from defeating Rapunzeler right away.

If Papillon had been in a calmer state, he might have recognized the brilliance of Mayura’s arrival. The previously hopeless akuma was now a decent foe with Mayura to back her up. As Papillon drew closer, bounding over rooftops, he could see how Mayura kept the heroes on their toes enough that they continued to be hit by Rapunzeler. They were run ragged, having to defend against Mayura while tossing the scissors between them in order to hack off their hair after each blast from the akuma. And since they’d both used their powers, it was only a matter of time before their transformations fell, leaving them defenseless.

All this information, however, was a blip in the back of Papillon’s mind. The risk to Mayura — to Nathalie — was too great. She had only just begun to recover, and now, she was putting herself in harm’s way more directly than she ever had before. And although she hadn’t created an amok, she’d been transformed for a very long time. There was no knowing what condition she’d be in later.

Some of Papillon’s tension had melted off as he sprung up to the rooftop and landed at her side. As long as he had the power to protect her, there was some scrap of comfort. However, this relief had not lasted long. A mistimed blast by Rapunzeler had been easily dodged by Chat Noir, hitting Mayura square in the face instead.

And here they are.

“Nathalie!” he almost cries. His breath catches in shock at how easily such a fatal error is almost made, over an “attack” that will not even hurt his partner in the slightest. It’s somehow enough to make him freeze up.

But time doesn’t stop for his alarm. Within seconds, the silky blue tresses of Mayura’s hair begin to grow and grow and grow, tangling around her arms as she stumbles back. And just as quick, Papillon is hit by Rapunzeler, too.

Determined not to misstep again, he dashes forward to catch Mayura before she can even hit the ground. Luckily, his full mask is able to hold up most of his own rapidly growing hair, the ends barely spilling out to tickle the back of his neck. He turns back to give the heroes nothing more than a snarl over his shoulder before leaping away, Mayura safe in his arms.

Once there is some distance between them and the heroes, Papillon glimpses down at Mayura. She’s looking at him with a stupefied expression, and it’s only now that he realizes that with her miraculous, Mayura can sense his horror at the close call. She, of course, doesn’t know exactly what went on in his mind, but she can sense the emotion behind it. Papillon himself can feel a spike of adrenaline within her, as well as some confusion, despite the fact that Mayura keeps her emotions well guarded in both villain and civilian form.

Ever the professional, Mayura doesn’t ask. But she does raise a questioning eyebrow up at him.

He grimaces. “Later,” he concedes. He glances back to make sure they are not being pursued. The Paris skyline is clear as far as he can see, so he takes a moment to catch his breath and reposition Mayura in his arms.

Not a moment later, there is a pink, sparkling burst on the horizon, and the sky is washed with the cure of the Ladybug miraculous.

It takes a good moment for Papillon to realize that something is amiss. “Nathalie!” he exclaims, this time for real. He shakes his head at his foolishness. “Mayura,” he corrects, though his heart isn’t in it.

“Sir?” she questions. She looks down at herself and notices the very thing that had surprised him. “Oh,” she remarks, grabbing a hold of her hair, which remains meters long. She looks up at the sky, still fading from its glittery restoration. “I thought that was the Ladybug cure.”

Papillon reaches up to feel the back of his neck. The prickly ends of lengthened hair are gone. “It was.” He frowns and states the obvious, “It didn’t work for you.”

“Apparently not.”

He lets out a thoughtful grumble and continues back to the mansion.

“Perhaps…” Mayura hesitates.

“Yes?”

She sighs. “I don’t want to dissuade you from using Mayura, but perhaps the miraculous being in ... less than prime condition makes me immune to the cure.”

Papillon leaps up onto the roof of the Agreste mansion.

“Sir?” Mayura asks again. “We’re on the roof.”

“We are.” He edges along towards the observatory.

“I just thought — well, we usually detransform and go through the front.”

“There will be questions if people see you, as Nathalie, with your hair still affected by the akuma.” He stops and sets Mayura onto her feet for a moment and guides her arms up and around his neck. “Hold onto me,” he instructs. He jumps up the wall and scrambles through the window, struggling from the effort of maneuvering with Mayura pressed against his front.

Mayura is quiet as he sets her back on her feet. It’s odd how she can hide so much from him. As Papillon, he can sense almost any emotion, but Nathalie’s are always carefully hidden from him. Sometimes, he finds it absolutely infuriating.

“Stay here,” he orders. He offers her a hint of a smile. “It’s fortunate for you that I spent some time as a hairdresser early in my career.”

“If I had known, sir, I’d have you dye it for me. It’d save me a decent salon bill,” she deadpans.

He smirks in acknowledgment. “Dark wings, fall.” Purple light washes over him, stripping Papillon away so that Gabriel can exit to his office, Nooroo in tow.

Although it’s been many years since Gabriel did hair, he still has his supplies stored away. It doesn’t take long to find his scissors, brush, comb, clips, and a spray bottle, which he fills. He notes — with some amusement — foil, dye brushes, and tubes of old dye in the corner of his bag. Perhaps he will do Nathalie’s signature red streak for her the next time it needs to be touched up. He was always excellent with color.

“Wow, master, I didn’t know you were a real hairdresser!” Nooroo exclaims.

“All artists have survival jobs, Nooroo. At least starting out.”

Gabriel gathers his supplies, as well as a stool for Nathalie to sit on. He is slightly irked to find her to be still transformed as Mayura up in the observatory. “My apologies, miss,” he says sarcastically. “I don’t take walk-ins. My only appointment today is one Nathalie Sancœur.”

Mayura, for her part, scowls at him before dropping her transformation. “Duusu, fall my feathers.”

“Woo woo wooooo, Miss Nathalie!” Duusu exclaims. “Your hair!” The kwami rushes into Nathalie’s long hair, burrowing herself in the red streak. “So soft!”

“Duusu,” Nathalie scolds, a slight blush dusting her cheek that Gabriel wouldn’t have noticed if he wasn’t scrutinizing her, making certain that the use of the Peacock miraculous hadn’t worn her out to the point of collapse again. But for her part, Nathalie seems to be just fine. She pulls back her hair as much as she can in an easy gesture, and Gabriel realizes that this is the first time he’s ever seen his assistant without her typical no-nonsense bun.

The long hair, however impractical, is quite flattering on her, especially down as it is. But it wouldn’t be like Nathalie to keep such a high-maintenance length.

“Sit,” Gabriel invites.

She does, before noticing the brush in his hands. “Is that necessary, sir?”

“It’s gotten horribly tangled from our escape, Nathalie. Let me deal with the worst of it before I go chopping away at it.”

She scoffs. “Must you always be so dramatic?”

“It’s in my nature,” he responds lightly.

He kneels down to brush out the ends of her hair, which drape heavily on the floor, and the kwamis go fluttering off. He hits a particularly nasty snag, eliciting a sharp gasp from Nathalie. Guiltily, he makes an effort to be more gentle.

Nathalie’s hair is soft and healthy, and it doesn’t take very long for him to work his way up. Before long, he’s running the brush through the hair at her scalp. She lets out a pleased hum, and he can’t help but smile at the reaction.

“Your hair suits you like this, Nathalie. You should try wearing it down once in a while.”

A flash of emotion radiates out from her, faster than he can catch. Suddenly, she hunches over, coughing horribly.

“Nathalie.” He drops the brush and hurries to kneel in front of her. He grips her arms, attempting to steady her as she totters. “You said you were better.”

“I am,” she rasps through fits of coughing. “I was,” she corrects. She manages to catch her breath after a few short wheezes. “I fully recovered from my first few uses of the miraculous. This is not a result of cumulative damage. It’s the normal wear and tear of using the Peacock.”

Gabriel frowns, unconvinced. He holds out his hand, silently pleading for her to give him the brooch.

Nathalie leans back and away from him, covering the miraculous. “I’m fine, sir. Really.”

He pulls his hand back, but is unable to stop himself from reminding her, “You said the same thing the last time you were Catalyst, and look what happened.”

“That was different. I haven’t used the miraculous in months now.”

Gabriel decides to drop the subject for now, sensing that he’ll get nowhere. He stands and tries not to appear too overbearing, lest she shut him out completely. “How long was your hair? Where do I need to cut to?”

Nathalie indicates a length about two inches beyond her shoulders. Gabriel drapes a cape around her shoulders, grabs the spray bottle, and wets her hair before beginning to trim.

He allows himself some artistic liberties. He finds cutting hair relaxing and, dare he say it, fun after all this time. Rather than giving Nathalie the simple, blunt cut he’s almost certain she had previously, he gives her an extra two inches of length than what she had before and decides to put in some layers.

“I felt your fear at the battle today,” Nathalie interjects as he trims, “though I wasn’t sure about the cause. Care to share, sir?”

Gabriel winces. “It was a reaction to seeing you get hit,” he lies.

“By Rapunzeler. A hair akuma,” she says, and leaves it at that.

He shakes his head. Other people would pry further and continue to question him, but Nathalie knows that a single dry remark followed by silence is the best way to wear him down. “I almost said your name,” he admits. “Your civilian name.”

“Sir!” she exclaims, whipping her head around to glare at him.

“Careful, Nathalie,” he says, attempting to appear nonchalant. “That almost turned into a pixie cut.”

“Do you have any idea—?” she sputters, though she obediently turns back around to let him finish cutting. “It wouldn’t be difficult for them to connect the dots. They could’ve discovered your identity.”

Gabriel slows in his movements. “They could’ve discovered yours. In fact, it’s almost certain.” He shakes his head and resumes trimming. “It was careless. I apologize.”

“I’m serious, Gabriel, a slip-up like that could ruin everything for you. Please be more careful next time.”

Gabriel pauses, frustration growing within him. “There will be no ‘next time,’ Nathalie. I cannot allow you to go out as Mayura again.”

“But, sir!”

“It’s too dangerous. Especially now that we know the cure won’t work on you.”

“I can handle it,” she insists.

“What if the akuma had been a serious threat to you?” Now that he’s thinking about it, it’s difficult not to picture all the ways that today could have gone totally wrong. “Can you imagine if it had been something like Sandboy? Reflekta? Style Queen?”

“Then control them better!” Nathalie snaps.

Gabriel stops completely, totally stunned at the first outburst he had ever witnessed from his assistant.

“I, uh…” Nathalie stammers, turning to face him with pink cheeks. For once, he can read her feelings, and she’s giving off waves of guilt and embarrassment. “Forgive me.”

Gabriel looks down, finding it difficult to meet her eyes when her emotions are so brazenly on display. “You’re right, to a certain degree. I should get a better hold on my akumas. But I worry about you regardless, Nathalie. What the Peacock can do to its holder is no laughing matter.”

“I appreciate the concern, sir,” she says demurely, turning back around so he can finish cutting. “But I worry for you, as well. I want to be able to help. If you are putting everything on the line, I want to do the same. I cannot just stand by any longer.”

Gabriel finishes cutting. Nathalie’s words dig deep, but he is unsure of how to respond. Thankfully, Nathalie knows not to wait on words from her introverted boss.

“May I see?” she asks, referring to her hair.

“Of course,” Gabriel says before retrieving a handheld mirror.

Nathalie regards her reflection with a little smile, which drops to a frown as she looks closer at her ends. “That’s not how it was before.”

“Really?” Gabriel asks, feigning ignorance.

She simply rolls her eyes. “Yes, and I’m sure you’re well aware.”

“I think it looks wonderful, Miss Nathalie!” Duusu pipes up from her perch in the window.

“It’ll do.” She retrieves a hairtie from the pocket of her blazer and wraps her hair into a bun. “It’s not as if anyone will see it down.”

“It’s not as if anyone has seen it down before,” Gabriel counters, his words stilling her hands from their task.

Nathalie gazes at him for a moment, as if she’s actually considering his suggestion to wear it out of its usual style. “Perhaps another day,” she decides, finishing up her bun. She takes the mirror from Gabriel and fixes her flyaways. “It’s too damp, anyway.”

“Let me dry it for you.”

She looks at him from the corner of her eye. “Now that, sir, is excessive.” She checks her watch. “Let’s hurry. You have lunch scheduled with Adrien and we’re running late.”

“I fail to see how that’s my fault,” Gabriel says.

“I fail to see how Rapunzeler was meant to be an effective akuma without my involvement,” she retorts. “With all due respect, that was almost as bad as the akumatized baby.”

“Gigantitan. Don’t remind me,” he groans. They continue their walk down to the dining room in comfortable silence.

Adrien is already sitting at his end of the table. “Father,” he says, sounding pleasantly surprised.

“Good afternoon, Adrien,” Gabriel greets stiffly. “Nathalie will give you this afternoon’s schedule before we eat.”

He watches Nathalie go to Adrien, still keeping a careful eye on her to make sure she doesn’t wobble. But aside from the small coughing fit from earlier, the Peacock seems not to have affected her as poorly as before. She is steady on her feet and showing no signs of sickness.

“You have Chinese as usual this evening, Adrien,” she says, pointing to it on her tablet. “However, since your photoshoot from this morning was disrupted,” she continues, daring to shoot a glance at Gabriel, “it’ll be moved to your usual fencing time.”

“Yes, Nathalie,” Adrien answers. He looks up at her and furrows his brows. “Your hair is wet.”

She freezes, just for a second. “It’s very humid today,” she covers up. “I had to smooth it down. It was becoming unruly.” She frowns and pushes back his bangs. “You may want to do the same.”

Adrien laughs at that, and Nathalie smiles gently back. The smile drops once she turns back to Gabriel. She narrows her eyes at him as he gives her the tiniest “I told you so” smirk.

“How is your schooling, Adrien?” Gabriel asks, once their meal is brought to them and they are left alone.

His son instantly brightens. “It’s wonderful, Father! I’m learning a lot, and I’m becoming a lot closer with my new friends.”

“Ah, yes, the delinquent DJ. Of course,” Gabriel scolds lightly. For the life of him, he will never understand why his son chooses to associate with such riff raff. Collège Françoise Dupont has some of the best and brightest in the country — Gabriel had made sure of it before caving to Adrien’s request to attend school — but Adrien has somehow latched onto one of the school’s few disappointments.

Adrien’s face falls, enough that Gabriel almost regrets his comment, however true it is. Adrien defends, “Nino is a really good guy, if you gave him the chance to show you. Besides, he’s not the only one I hang out with. There’s Alya, too; she’s super smart! She runs the Ladyblog; she’s a really good reporter!”

“Hmm,” Gabriel says, delicately picking up another forkful of food. He’s looked at the Ladyblog many times, and he finds the young reporter’s work to be inconsistent, at best. While the writing style is engaging and grammatically correct, the blog is full of unchecked facts, spitball theories, and far too much opinion for his taste.

“And Marinette,” Adrien continues. “You know, the one who won your fashion design contest? She’s so talented, but she never lets it go to her head. She’s one of the nicest people I know. She’s really amazing, Father.”

“Yes, I do remember Miss Dupain-Cheng.”

In fact, he’s thought about the young designer quite a bit. Aside from the incident involving his Grimoire many months ago, Gabriel is quite impressed with the girl. She clearly has natural skill and a good work ethic. Gabriel could easily see her interning at his company after graduation. On top of that, she possesses a strong willpower. She had been impossible to akumatize until their botched attempt with Catalyst, and even then, Gabriel isn’t entirely sure that he’d have been able to maintain his hold on her.

From Gabriel’s view as a parent looking for acquaintances for his son, Marinette Dupain-Cheng is a gift. From his view as the villain of Paris, she’s an endless source of frustration.

Lila Rossi would surely disagree with his assessment, but lately, Gabriel has had his doubts about the young villainess. She’d not proven as useful as he’d hoped, as either Lila or Volpina, and the more he observed her behavior, the less he wanted her near his son. Furthermore, Adrien seemed to want nothing to do with her, a fact that she regularly disrespected.

Yes, Marinette Dupain-Cheng was a better influence for Adrien.

Decision made, Gabriel says, “She seems to be an acceptable companion. Perhaps we can arrange for her to visit the house sometime soon.”

“Really, Father?” Adrien exclaims, his eyes shining bright. “Thank you! I’d love to have a friend over, even if just to study.”

“Talk to Nathalie later; let her know you have my permission. I’m sure it can be arranged.”

Not much later, Nathalie reenters the dining room. “Adrien, it’s time to go back to school. You’ll be late to afternoon classes.”

Adrien gulps down the rest of his food, leaving Gabriel to wince at his manners. “Okay,” he says, setting down his fork and grabbing his backpack. Before he leaves, he turns back to Gabriel. “You know, Father, the one thing I don’t like about school is getting to see you so much less.”

Gabriel can only blink in surprise.

“Thanks for having lunch with me today.”

“Of course, Adrien,” he manages. “Now go,” he urges, nodding towards the door. “Your bodyguard is waiting.”

He sits in silence for a moment, taking in Adrien’s words. They cut deeper than he would like to admit.

Emilie was always the better parent. Emilie was the doting one. Emilie was the one who invented fun games, planned the best outings, and always had the right thing to say.

The best Gabriel could do was bring her back.

But lately, his regret has been growing stronger than his grief. Over a year has wasted away, and Gabriel realizes that even more distance has grown between he and Adrien.

His son has expressed the desire for more closeness before, but lately, it’s been harder to deny Adrien’s requests. Especially since he’s been spending less time as Papillon in order to dissuade Nathalie from becoming Mayura so often so she can heal.

He may be trying to bring back the boy’s mother, but he doesn’t want to completely destroy his own strained relationship with Adrien in the process.

“Sir?” Nathalie asks, hovering over him. “Are you alright?”

Gabriel clears his throat. “Yes. Nathalie. If you can, I’d like to schedule more meals with Adrien.”

Her expression brightens for a moment, so quickly that he’s almost sure he’s imagined it. “Of course, sir. Which meals did you have in mind?”

“All of them.”

Nathalie nearly drops her stylus. “All?”

Gabriel’s hand shoots out to steady her tablet. “Would that be overdoing it?”

Nathalie struggles to answer, taking a moment to reposition the tablet in her arms. “While the effort is commendable, sir, that’s a rather big change in a short amount of time. May I suggest once per day?”

He lets out a mild chuckle. “Perhaps I am too eager. No breakfast, then. Neither of us is happy that early in the day, anyway. I’ll alternate lunch and dinner. What do you think?”

“I think Adrien will be very happy, sir.” She shares a rare, warm look with him.

However, the moment is quickly broken as she doubles over, coughing. Gabriel takes the tablet and stylus from her, placing them out of the way so he can carefully rub her back. She struggles to catch her breath, gripping his arm as she forces herself upright once more.

“This is only the second time in an hour,” she chokes out. “Much better than the first time as Mayura.”

That much is true, but it’s not enough to stop Gabriel’s worry. “All the same, you should rest. Come.” He guides her through the short walk to the sitting room.

Nathalie manages to catch her breath before they reach their destination. Gabriel can already anticipate what she’s going to suggest.

“No,” he says, causing her own words to die on her lips. “Rest, Nathalie.”

She shakes her head annoyedly, but sits down anyway. “Can I at least have my tablet, sir?”

“That wouldn’t be very restful, would it?” He asks, earning a scowl. “In fact…” He deftly plucks her glasses off and sets them aside.

“Gabriel!” she protests.

“Lay back and get a proper rest. You are of no use to me if you are sick and worn out, Nathalie.”

This seems to be the winning argument. Nathalie lays back in the chair and lets her lids fall. She cracks an eye open at him. “No more than an hour,” she warns.

But for all Nathalie’s stubbornness, it doesn’t take long for her to succumb to sleep. Gabriel carefully watches from his own chair as his assistant’s breathing slows and deepens. Duusu pokes her head in, and with a reminder to be quiet from Gabriel, she settles in silently on Nathalie’s shoulder.

Gingerly, he moves forward to check on her. He bends down and delicately removes her shoes, so as not to wake her. Standing, he gives one last look and brushes her hair back from her eyes, and he’s surprised by the burst of affection that courses through him.

He scoffs at himself internally. That won’t do at all.

Gabriel Agreste may have become careless, but he certainly refuses to add “sentimental” to the list.