Chat Noir’s identity stopped being a secret with the worst possible timing; sort of like his puns. Marinette blinked at the oblivious boy, trotting away from behind an advert pole with his own face on it, and her heart cracked for the second time in as many weeks.
Alya never noticed, not when the first wound from Valentine’s day was still fresh. Marinette had never mentioned her alter-ego, as not only was this Alya, but she had in no way wished the other girl’s wrath onto Adrien. Even if he didn’t like Marinette, and only had a crush on a superhero he didn’t know (after all, half the class did, and that was alright), it was fairly normal for a teenage boy.
And at first, after the second shot at her heart, Marinette had thought it was a good thing. Adrien didn’t just have a simple case of celebrity crush, after all, didn’t he? If he was Chat, that meant he’d spent time with her, and knew her - Ladybug her - and so his crush was a lot more genuine. Tikki had rejoiced at her better mood, and encouraged her to try to speak to Adrien again.
He’d approached her, the day after Valentine’s, because of course he would. He wanted to let her down gently, be the gentleman she knew he was. She hadn’t really allowed it to go well; Alya hadn’t left her side (Alya had been witness to Marinette the Sobbing Mess, so there was no way in hell she was leaving Marinette Alone with Adrien), and Marinette had forestalled anything the boy had wanted to say by admitting she knew he didn’t like her, it was ok, hoping they could stay friends, and then running away. It could have been called a success, except that Marinette had kept running away every time she saw Adrien even try to attempt to look in her direction. To say their friendship was strained at this point was like saying her papa’s eclairs were … good.
So Marinette had been determined that night, as she went to bed, to speak to Adrien the following morning, properly. She’d even smiled a little, and just as they were about to fall asleep, Tikki had dropped - what she probably thought was a good thing - the fact that now, as half the secret was out, it was safer for Marinette to actually share her identity with him, as it was always safer when the black cat and ladybird were on the same page.
Burning hot anxiety and ice-cold dread had seized Marinette in the same instant, her half-closed eyes snapping open. She could hardly breathe, she couldn’t move, and she stared unseeing at the ceiling of her room as tears gathered in her eyes. As she heard Tikki fall asleep beside her, unaware of the havoc she’d just wreaked on Marinette’s mind, Marinette re-lived with mounting dread the moment Adrien had read her signed valentine, then imagined Chat looking at her with the same eyes, saying ‘what? No, Marinette, it’s you?’ with the same disappointed tone, and her heart cracked in a new, unexpectedly devastating way.
People did say tragedies came in threes. She supposed she should have expected it; the same boy broke her heart three times.
The thought of her partner, her best friend and the person Marinette had always, unconsciously, considered a second half of her brain - he just, understood her so well! She didn’t even have to speak sometimes! - being disappointed to find her behind the mask… it was a pain she hadn’t anticipated. It took her unawares, mercilessly culling her heart and leaving her feeling hollow.
Because she already knew what his reaction was going to be. She had seen his reaction, his face dropping as Marinette appeared where Ladybug should have been, at least in his mind. The person who knew her best, who - he said - loved her most, was disappointed in her. Found her … wanting. Lacking. A bit of a let-down, really. If he didn’t want her, who would?
Tikki must have been shocked, the following morning, to find the joyous, hopeful Marinette who she’d gone to sleep with had transformed into a girl in a worse state than even the one after Valentine’s day. She didn’t cry this time - really, what was there to cry about anymore? - but she silently went about her day, smiling only when appropriate, nodding at people. Marinette sunk into her work with a determination and a silent drive that almost scared the tiny goddess. And when Tikki dared to propose they go speak to Adrien, as they had planned, her charge had, for the first time in their acquaintance, told her summarily to shut up. Marinette had never ordered Tikki. And Tikki, being a slave to anyone holding her Miraculous, could do nothing but obey, retreating into her bag with tears prickling her eyes as she realised, belatedly, that something had gone wrong inside Marinette, and that Tikki hadn’t noticed in time.
And then the Surete came looking.
The Mayor of Paris, they said, may be content to let two dangerously powerful Vigilante roam Paris’ streets and rooftops. The central Government of France - not to mention the European Parliament - had other opinions.
It was frightening how quickly they zeroed in on the 12th Arrondissement. The Mayor had never wanted the Heroes to stop doing their job - it brought Paris notoriety, publicity, and Ladybug fixing everything at the end meant no monetary costs for anyone, so that kept insurance companies happy and gave people peace of mind. He had never ordered a police investigation, therefore, and the Heroes were only children. It hadn’t occurred to them that Paris was covered in security cameras. Some belonged to the police, some belonged to banks, some to random citizens or shop owners, all just trying to protect their properties. The Surete had jurisdiction over them all.
Chat Noir blended into the background more easily. They had traced his retreats to one of the richer areas of Paris, then routinely lost him. Ladybug, however, in her bright red suit, was a lot harder to miss. The school Marinette went to had cameras as well, and a bank just down the street caught her several times. Even if Marinette was cautious enough to take round-about routes home every time, it didn’t change the fact that eventually, she had to go home. Sabrina had no idea, when she was excitedly reporting the news her dad passed her surrounded by a gaggle of people and enjoying her moment of fame, that she was making Marinette’s stomach drop and her breakfast try to make a second coming every morning.
And then another complication occurred. Chat Noir, quite innocently, had begun visiting Marinette Dupain-Cheng. He’d noticed, he said, that she looked sad and paler than usual when he’d caught sight of her during patrol - Marinette wasn’t sure which patrols he meant, but she knew he patrolled alone sometimes, and perhaps he’d just noticed it at school. So he’d begun dropping by, bringing gifts, trying to cheer her up. It had been flattering at first, had made her hopes rise a little, until the Surete investigation had dropped on them like a bomb.
Marinette had tried to drop hints subtly at first, gently and slowly trying to tell him that it was too foolish and dangerous for him to come to her so often. She didn’t want her kitty to think he wasn’t welcome, or wasn’t loved - dieu was that wrong in so many ways - but he wasn’t taking the hint. Whether he was willfully ignoring them, she wasn’t sure, but it drove home the possibility that their ability to understand one another on the battlefield was magical, and therefore not at all what Marinette had thought it in the first place. It wasn’t a deep interpersonal connection that they shared as two people. Only a side-effect of a magic suit. Slowly, slowly, without even realising it, Adrien began to chip away at all the certainties Marinette had built during her year as Ladybug, making her feel like she had returned to the quiet, shy, lonely girl Chloe bullied constantly before she met Alya and Tikki.
The final blow came when Marinette was putting up new posters one night. Her pictures of Adrien had come down the week after Valentine’s, and her wall had remained pointedly blank since then. One picture of Chat Noir had gone up, the Ladybug side folded so that it faced the wall underneath, and she’d endured his teasing for it with a good face. Today, though, she’d decided she was tired of the blank wall, and was putting up some more pictures - pictures of a better time, she told herself. Her old class, Alya and her in a few selfies. That one time they’d taken an improvised photo session for Juleka last year. Nino and Adrien - though she made sure another photo of Juleka and Rose ‘accidently’ hid the blond’s face.
When Chat Noir coo-cooed through the sky light, and then made himself at her home on her chaise as she finished putting pictures up (the last a large poster related to Fashion Week), she ignored his nagging at first. It had been the same each week, when he dropped by; why was the Ladybug part of that poster hidden? Come on, he and his Lady were a team. He was flattered, but it wasn’t fair that she didn’t unfold the other half of the poster and hung it up properly. How sad Ladybug must be, with her face against the wall like that-
Marinette had snapped, at last. Even when he came all the way to her house to see her, putting them both in danger with the ongoing investigation closing in at an alarming rate, all he could speak about when he was in a girl’s bedroom at night was Ladybug.
‘Ladybug doesn’t exist!’ she hissed. She regretted it a moment later when she saw how Chat’s eyes grew large, and his face fell in dismay at her anger. Marinette reigned it in as best she could. ‘Do you think Ladybug is Ladybug right now? No, she’s probably a random girl, doing her homework somewhere. Or, or getting home. Or starting work - no one knows how old she is!’
Honestly, she was trying not to breathe too hard as several things happened inside her at once. Keeping her anger and hurt in check, keeping her identity secret, being apologetic, trying to keep her anxiety in, and trying also to keep her identity straight. But once she started speaking, she couldn’t stop.
‘I, I mean, no one knows her identity, or who she is - which means the same thing, which means, um, I mean. Or how old she is. Or what’s her name. I mean, you don’t either, right? You, you don’t really know her. She could be anyone.’ She swallowed, knowing by the aghast expression on his face that she had said the wrong thing. ‘I mean,’ she tried, screaming in her head even before the words came out. ‘I could be Ladybug! And you would never know!’
The way Chat Noir burst out laughing did something inside her chest she didn’t quite have a name for. It wasn’t heartbreak, because she was quite familiar with that. It wasn’t pleasant, yet it didn’t make her feel drained and hopeless the way she’d been feeling the last few weeks. Anger was another emotion she was familiar with, but this wasn’t exactly that, either. She did feel energised and ablaze as she did when she was angry, but instead of having a hot head and clouded judgement, she almost felt like this was the opposite. Her head felt clear, free of all the emotions and doubts and encumbering problems that had plagued her.
Several things clicked in her brain at once as she watched Chat, her beloved boy and partner, laugh at the possibility that Marinette was Ladybug. This was the solution; this was the solution to all their problems - all her problems too. She almost felt like she did when she was in battle and things in her surroundings lit up in black and red as she held the Lucky Charm.
‘You’re really sweet, and brave and smart,’ Chat said with the last few chuckles, ‘But Ladybug is something else, Princess.’
Marinette smiled, the first honest smile in weeks. She felt lighter, all of a sudden. As the forming idea in her head took more and more body, she felt better than she had felt in nearly two months.
‘Yeah,’ she replied, a giggle of her own escaping her as the buoyant feelings inside her hiccuped, and only rose further up. ‘Ladybug is someone else.’*
Chat Noir didn’t catch her rephrase as he chuckled on with her. Tikki, hidden within the sheets of Marinette’s bed, watched in horror as her charge’s words registered.
Continues an earlier concept which ended in angst,
but I cannot link because I’m not on my laptop and tumblr coders expect me to code for them I googled html coding I haven’t used since my livejournal days. Welp, that website is still better coded than this one. I will edit later with a link at the top. Please have more angst. Another part shall soon follow.
* In French, this phrase would be ‘elle est special’ - Marinette would have changed it to ‘elle est genial’, which CAN mean the same thing, but also tells Tikki that Marinette just had an idea, and seeing her mood, she can guess it’s nothing good. As it is, I’m not happy with the English translation, as it’s too much of a hint. Alas, it is as it is. Alons a la prochien part.
I am also really frustrated with the tumblr app for not taking italics keyboard commands. Dudes. Tablet keyboards are a thing. Dudes.