Ever since Miracle Queen's akumatization, Gabriel Agreste had been feeling pretty optimistic about his now-improved chances of defeating the superheroes. While he had lost the box of Miraculous because of his poorly-thought-through gamble with Miracle Queen, he had made other gains.

He knew who Ladybug's backup teammates had been, and could use that against them should they show up again. He had gotten the digital copy of the Grimoire, which was- well, maybe it was only partially translated, and some things still seemed to be in code, but it had some pretty interesting information in it, like what powers the other Miraculous- the ones that he hadn't seen in action yet- had. And best of all, because of the Grimoire, he had gotten the Peacock Miraculous fixed and now Nathalie could join him on a much more regular basis without putting her own health at risk. He had figured that that should be enough for them to secure a victory within a week, or at most a month, if things went really badly.

It had been five months and the superheroes weren't giving any ground, standing solid as they fought akumas and sentimonsters alike. It. Was. Infuriating. And for a man like Gabriel, who wasn't particularly patient to start with...

Well, some days it felt like anything could set him off. They should have won by now, darn it. They were two adults up against two kids. Getting their Miraculous should have been like taking candy from a baby... and yet it wasn't.

Across the room, Nathalie coughed, pulling his attention away from the grimoire and the hints for the potion ingredients that still seemed to be listed in some sort of ridiculous code. Gabriel glanced over at her, and Nathalie gave him an apologetic grimace before returning to her work.

She had had this dratted cold for at least two months now, and no, it wasn't just him exaggerating out of annoyance. It had started small- just a small cough here and there and the occasional sneeze, or the need for her to finish a day early because she wasn't feeling well- and gotten gradually worse. He had hoped that she might have recovered at least a bit over the weekend, but instead she had come to work looking substantially worse than before.

While he had tolerated her coughing before- after all, she was helping him out with his mission and previously getting sick because of it- coughing from a common cold was simply annoying. It was grating and disruptive and kept pulling him out of his concentration. He hadn't said anything about it yet, of course- it was not, after all, Nathalie's fault, she didn't want to be sick- but it was annoying nonetheless.

Gabriel reached across the desk for his phone and ordered a large ginger-honey tea and a bag of cough drops for Nathalie. Maybe that would help quell her coughing.

Now, back to the grimoire... what on earth could they mean by tears of joy...?

Seven minutes later, the tea and cough drops arrived and were promptly delivered to Nathalie's desk. She murmured a quiet thank you. The chef nodded, then retreated from the room at once. As soon as the office door swung shut behind him, Gabriel could feel Nathalie's gaze slide to him.

"I take it you're annoyed by my coughing, sir?"

"It is a bit disruptive, you have to admit," Gabriel told her, finally deciding to put a flag on the potion ingredients section (really, he could only puzzle out about half of them, it was ridiculous and Nooroo apparently had no idea what the infernal clues were referring to either) and move on. He was severely behind on his design work, so perhaps he would do that for a while. "So I came up with a potential solution for it. Is that a problem?"

"No." Nathalie considered her tea, then took a small sip and made a face. "Though I might have preferred to order my own tea. This one...is not a favorite of mine."

"It is what many people recommend online for a sore throat. I thought it would be best, considering how long this cough seems to be lingering."

Nathalie opened her mouth like she was going to comment on that, then clearly decided against it. A moment later, she smothered a yawn. "I suppose that makes sense."

Gabriel frowned. "Is your cold still not getting any better? It's been months."

"Not particularly. I haven't been congested, which is a relief. But-" She yawned widely again, then frowned. "And I've been sleeping fine! I don't know what the issue is."

"Well, maybe you should finish what you're doing and then take off for the day," Gabriel suggested, both because he was tired of the coughing and, well, if Nathalie was feeling poorly and coughing that much, then the smart thing for her to do would be to go home and not infect the rest of the house. If that was even possible, considering how long she had been feeling under the weather. "Get some rest, and come back when you're feeling better."

"And if there's an akuma attack?" Nathalie asked, straightening and frowning at him. "I don't want to be the reason you miss out on winning, simply because there wasn't a sentimonster there to assist."

"If you're awake and able to take a break to help from home, then that would be much appreciated," Gabriel decided after a moment's consideration. "Thank you."

"Of course, sir." Nathalie glanced back at her screen, did a few quick clicks, and then downed her entire cup of tea in one go. "I've come to a decent stopping point. Anything else can be finished at home."

"You're meant to be resting," Gabriel reminded her. "The work can wait. And the company does have plenty of secretaries, we can always assign some of your work to them. Actually- yes, if you're feeling up to it, it would be nice to get a list of what can be done by others. Then I can reassign those things right away and get them checked off before we get too far behind."

"I'll have an initial list done by the evening." Nathalie did a couple more clicks, then shut her computer and started gathering up her things. "Text me if you're going to akumatize someone, and what their powers are going to be. Then I can come up with a complimentary sentimonster. I can set up an alert on my phone so I won't miss it."

"Thank you." Gabriel watched as Nathalie packed up her computer, then rose to open the door for her. "Keep me updated on how you're feeling, okay? And don't push yourself too hard to come back early. You do better work when you're not ill."

"Of course." Nathalie nodded to him, then headed out the door. Gabriel watched her go for a moment, then turned and headed back to his work.

Maybe he really should spend the rest of the day focusing on his designing. After all, if Nathalie was sick, it was probably only a matter of time before he got ill as well. And Gabriel no longer designed when he was unwell, for- well, for a multitude of reasons.

(He had only just managed to get fully out from the shadow of the infamous Cold Medicine Dress of '02 recently. Misstepping and having a repeat of that particular incident would not reflect well on the company.)

Actually, now that he was thinking about it, it was better to be safe than sorry. Reaching for his phone again, Gabriel ordered an array of multivitamins for himself, plus a bottle of hand sanitizer for his desk. He also requested that the maid to come in early and wipe down Nathalie's work area, just in case.

Some might call it overkill. Gabriel was simply of the opinion that it was better to be proactive than reactive.

Five days later, and Nathalie was still feeling under the weather. She had even fainted later in the week, she admitted to Gabriel when he called to check in on her. And she swore that she had been resting properly and getting plenty of sleep.

"It's been really odd," she told him two days later, after dropping into the mansion to collect a few more things to work on from home. "I've not been congested or had a runny nose at all, and that- that's a hallmark of cold and flus, right? And there's not been a fever at all." She frowned, clearly reluctant to continue, but she forged on anyway. "It almost feels like- like a slow onset of- no, that can't be it. It's impossible, I shouldn't even think about it."

Gabriel frowned for a moment, about to snap at her to just spit it out, and then it hit him like a train. Tiredness, weakness, fainting, feeling sick but not congested or snotty at all- those were all things that they had seen before.

Like a slow onset of using the Peacock when it was broken.

He wouldn't want to say that out loud, either. That sort of possibility...

But he had fixed it!

"Nathalie, do you think..." Gabriel started, then trailed off, entirely unsure of what he wanted to say. The Peacock causing the problems should have been an impossibility, but- well, how were they meant to test that? Because they had to test it, before Nathalie got any sicker. "Perhaps we should hold off on any further involvement from the Peacock for the time being, and return the brooch to the safe? Just in case."

"But Ladybug and Chat Noir!" Nathalie protested. "And this could be a cold, but there was just some damage still from using the Peacock before and it's gotten snarled up in the cold? Or maybe it's just lingering effects that are rearing their head. Because you fixed the Peacock, it should be perfectly safe to use."

"I know, but we should test it." Gabriel didn't like the idea, either, considering that it meant no sentimonsters assisting him. He would double-wield, but Nooroo had told him that it wasn't the best idea. Besides, if something had gone wrong in the fixing, he didn't exactly want to risk his own health. Particularly if he was going to be going out to assist his akumas to try to tip the scales in his favor. "I wonder if a couple weeks without using the Peacock would be enough for us to draw a conclusion about if that's at the root of the problem, or if we might need longer."

Nathalie was frowning. "But sir, if we just go back to akuma-only attacks- right now, we still have the advantage. Ladybug and Chat Noir haven't managed to fully rebuild and retrain a backup team yet because we've kept up the pressure on them. If we let up on the pressure, that could let them catch back up. We have to keep up on the attacks."

"And I'll do that, with the akumas." Gabriel's mind was made up now. He couldn't risk having Nathalie getting sicker. Besides, what if it was something more serious, like- well, perhaps like cancer? He wasn't sure what signs of cancer were, really, but those kinds of symptoms seemed like the sort of thing that cancer would maybe cause. At this point, he honestly wasn't sure what was the worse option, cancer or the Peacock somehow malfunctioning again. "And I want you to go to the doctor and get tests run. We want to come at this from all angles. Maybe it is just a cold, but we want to be sure."

"I can have the tests run without giving up the Miraculous," Nathalie protested. "Wouldn't it make sense to at least check and see if there's something else going on before we jump the gun and take the Peacock off of the battlefield? And what if it's just a cold and I coincidentally get better after I'm not wearing it? There's no real way to test anything."

That was fair enough, Gabriel supposed. He tapped his lips, considering.

They could, of course, just go off of whether or not Nathalie got sick again once she resumed using the Peacock- assuming, of course, that her health improved after she took it off. But that would be putting her at risk again, and he didn't particularly want to do that. If they had another ally, they could always have that person use the Peacock while Nathalie recovered. If it made them ill, then he would simply have to lock it away, or attempt to do another fix on it.

Except- oh. He had almost forgotten, but technically they did have another person on their side! She wouldn't be his first choice in most circumstances, but the number of people who would actually go along with Hawkmoth's plans was limited and he couldn't be too picky.

"We can have our other ally test it," Gabriel announced grandly, quite pleased with himself for coming up with the plan. "Then I'll continue to have a Peacock by my side, and if they get sick, too, we'll know what the problem is."

Nathalie frowned, puzzled. "Another ally? Who? The Gorilla?"

"No, no, of course not!" Gabriel snapped, somewhat exasperated that she hadn't immediately caught on. Adrien's bodyguard was loyal to the family, sure, but not that loyal. He'd turn them into the authorities in a second if he found out about Gabriel and Nathalie being the city's supervillains. "Are you crazy? He would never support this. Think harder- the only person besides us who has willingly been akumatized!"

Nathalie only had to think for a moment, and then her eyes went wide. "Lila Rossi? But sir, isn't she, ah..." She tilted her head to the side, considering how to word her concerns. Gabriel chuckled.

"Spiteful? Petty? Childish? Perhaps. But she's also hell-bent on revenge against Ladybug at the moment, has no moral compass, and is very easy to manipulate. She wouldn't think twice about taking on a Miraculous and using it regularly." Gabriel was liking the idea more and more, really. If Lila got sick, it was really no skin off of his nose. Her use to him in her civilian form was starting to wear thin, and she was regularly gumming up the works in the photoshoots that she took part in. Her no longer being allowed to model due to health reasons would be a bonus, not a concern. "I would know who she is, she wouldn't know who I am, and if she tries to step out of line, I know who her mom is." He had an entire file folder on Mrs. Rossi and her ex-husband, plus some information on Lila's extended family. If she tried to take the Miraculous and run... well, he knew exactly where to look. "A few well-placed threats, and she would fall right back in line. She could take over the Peacock's duties for a month or two to give us the chance to figure out if your health has anything to do with the Miraculous."

"It seems risky," Nathalie commented after a moment. "I mean, I don't doubt that you'd be able to control her, at least in the long term. But what if she goes out and joins the fight? She's ruled by her emotions, it seems, and she might not think through the possible consequences." She snorted. "Actually, never mind might- she won't think through the consequences. Add in the fact that she'll only be able to be out for five minutes after she creates a sentimonster..."

"It's not ideal," Gabriel acknowledged. "But your health is important. This will allow us to ensure that the Peacock is safe to use going forward, while still providing me with some degree of backup."

Nathalie sighed, then very quickly slid into a nearby chair before she could collapse after her legs wobbled. "I suppose. I want to say that I'm just being paranoid, but this is just a little too similar for my comfort."

"It is. It's not just you." Gabriel tapped his fingers against his leg, trying to consider everything. He would bring the Miraculous over that evening, once dark had fallen. "Anything else to consider? You've dealt with Ms. Rossi more than I have."

"Just that she thinks that she's a master manipulator and will probably think that she's capable of tricking you," Nathalie warned after a minute's consideration. "Every time I talk with her, she has this look on her face that just screams that she thinks we're dancing to her tune. Something like that could be a liability. She could think that she can get away with more, unless you're very clear with her about how she doesn't fool you one bit from the start."

"True." Her delusions had to be very thoroughly stomped out. Perhaps he should record their entire interaction when he gave her the Peacock, just for blackmail purposes. One foot out of line, and he could get her in quite a lot of trouble. Working with a supervillain would not be taken lightly. "I'll do that. And if she decides to act out and cross Hawkmoth... well, she'll regret it."

Just like he had suspected, Lila had been all too willing to take over the Peacock duties. He hadn't told her why, other than Mayura was temporarily unavailable and unable to fight, but that wasn't information that she had to have. Perhaps she would have accepted despite the potential risks- Lila seemed hotheaded enough for that to be a very real possibility- but he wasn't willing to risk her turning him down.

Gabriel smiled to himself as he tucked away a copy of the recording of his visit to Lila away in a safe spot. He had her right where he wanted her, and if his read on her emotions was anything to go off of- which it was, his magic emotion detector was very reliable- then she wouldn't be acting out or attempting to double-cross him. Lila had promised to make it to every akuma battle that she could- she was very interested in seeing Ladybug's downfall, after all- and to exercise some common sense about what she could and couldn't handle, since Hawkmoth would be very displeased with her if she lost the Peacock... and besides, being unmasked as a supervillain in that way wouldn't go well for her, either. Being defeated and unmasked as an akuma didn't ever get anyone in trouble, but if she had had a Miraculous...

Lila had turned sheet-white at that thought. Clearly even she wasn't cocky enough to think that she would be able to get away with something like that.

All in all, it had gone pretty well, Gabriel thought. Soon enough, they should know if using the Peacock was still a problem, or if Nathalie could reclaim it. If it went well, and if they ever managed to get their hands on another Miraculous- one of the ones that the superheroes always pulled out as their backups- then they would have a third team member trained and waiting in the wings.

He truly hoped that it would go well. If it went really, really poorly... well, he might just end up regretting this whole thing.

a/n: ...can't see where anything might go wrong there, nope. Not at all.

New multi-chapter story! There will be multiple POVs in the story. Not all of them will be the POVs of unpleasant people, but...well, most will be. It's actually quite fun to write from the perspective or terrible people, sometimes. (Not sure what that says about me, lol)

As always, comments make my day! :)