Hello again everyone and welcome back. Man, this chapter gave me so much trouble. I wasn't feeling too well when I wrote it and my laptop kept freezing as I was writing which was annoying as hell. Hopefully this hasn't hindered the quality of the chapter. Thank you so much for all your amazing reviews. This was actually going to be a story that I updated once in a blue moon, but because your support has been so overwhelming, I decided to update it on the regular. The power of reviewing for ya.
Just a little heads up, there's some pretty grotesque imagery in this chapter.
Chapter 3: The Truest Reflection
The sun was just beginning to peak over the buildings of Paris when Chat Noir landed on all fours in the front garden of the Agreste mansion. If one was to look at the beautiful mansion now, you never would have thought that this had been the site of something tragic four years ago. The mansion had been repaired down to the last detail, while also eliminated all traces of his father. It held so many bad memories, yet, Chat Noir could never bring himself to move out. This was the last place he had seen his lady alive and well, it was the closest he could get to her.
After looking around to make sure nobody had seen him, Chat Noir released his transformation. Without waiting for Plagg to compose himself, Adrien Agreste walked straight back inside, unable to be out in the open like that as Adrien, the son of Gabriel.
The son of Hawkmoth.
Recoiling at the thought, Adrien slammed the front double doors behind him, the loud bang echoed throughout the large empty mansion. Plagg phased through the door, not saying a word as Adrien dragged himself up the stairs towards his room. His footsteps echoed loudly, and he kept his eyes downcast, completely engulfed by thoughts of her and…Marinette.
Growling to himself and shaking his head, he pulled some camembert out of his pocket and handed it to Plagg who was floating along next to him. The black kwami snatched the cheese off him, offering no hint of gratitude as he scoffed his cheese in angry silence.
Adrien frowned at his kwami. Plagg had been this way since…since it became accepted that she…was dead. Before, they had both been there for each other, waiting, praying and hoping that Ladybug and her kwami would show up alive somewhere.
As the days ticked by though, they both grew less and less hopeful and became more and more withdrawn. It was just after the funeral that Chat Noir had attacked his first criminal. He had been laying low as Chat Noir for weeks, but Adrien couldn't take it anymore. He had to destroy something, hurt someone, anything that would help him feel again.
Plagg quietly let Adrien do what he did as Chat Noir, never once protesting, but never once agreeing either. It was rare to get two words out of him these days, and Adrien just accepted that fact. He never really felt like talking anyway. Their relationship was tense now to say the least.
With tired eyes, he watched his kwami eat and for once, Adrien found himself wanting to know what was going on inside his kwami's head.
Plagg finished his cheese and turned away as if he was pretending that he hadn't heard Adrien say his name, but Adrien was sure that his little kwami had heard him.
"You blame me for what happened, don't you?" Adrien sighed, staring sadly out his window.
Again, Plagg remained quiet.
"Don't worry though," Adrien continued, "You can't blame me as much as I blame myself."
Finally, Plagg sighed. "All I know…is that your actions are what resulted in the ladybug miraculous – Tikki – going missing."
Adrien glared at his kwami. "At least that's something that can maybe be recovered one day. L-Ladybug on the other hand…she's gone forever."
Plagg glared back at him, narrowing his green cat-like eyes before looking away again.
"And I'll…I'll never get her back…and it's all my fault," Adrien choked as he began neurotically pacing his room. "And I have to live with that for the rest of my life…AND HOW DARE MARINETTE BRING THAT UP TO ME! Do I not get tortured enough by my own thoughts and memories?! I don't need other people reminding me of what I did! That stupid stupid stupid girl!"
Plagg cringed away slightly before his eyes widened. "Did you just say Marinette? That girl who went to your school?"
"Yes, why?!" Adrien turned around to snarl at his kwami.
Plagg merely smirked vengefully. "No reason."
Despite how much his old friend had angered him tonight, he just couldn't seem to get her face out of his head. She looked so much like his lady, it was almost striking. How vulnerable she had looked when she had collapsed…it pained him. It pained him to threaten her like he did when she too was clearly suffering on a level that seemed almost close to his own.
He couldn't help it though. Any mention of her name set him off. Especially when they dared to bring up what happened that night. And Marinette had crossed both of those lines. He didn't care how cute and vulnerable she seemed, no one got away with doing that.
Adrien stopped pacing and stood before his wall length mirror simply staring at himself…at what he had become. There were large, dark circles under his lifeless, bloodshot eyes, his hair was a thick mess and he was starting to lose a lot of weight again. He looked so much like his mother, but there was just enough of his father in him to send a haunted chill down his spine.
In that moment, all Adrien would do was see his father in the mirror before him, smirking at him, whispering empty promises, crazed ramblings and continuous excuses for all of those years of cold-hearted neglect.
With a loud, angry shriek, Adrien pulled his fist back before throwing it forward again, punching the mirror as hard as he could. The mirror cracked under the force, small shards broke off and feel the floor. His hands began bleeding profusely, but Adrien didn't care. He was too tired to even attempt to care. Ignoring the mess and the pain in his hand, Adrien made his way over to his bed before collapsing onto it, allowing the usual nightmares to engulf him once again.
Nothing but a deep burning betrayal that scalded her more than the flames that surrounded her.
How could he?
How could he do this to everyone? To Paris? To her?
The look of horror in his green eyes was the last thing she saw as her back painfully collided with the large round window. The glass shattered into millions of pieces upon impact, impaling her skin and painfully stabbing her. Ladybug barely had any energy to cry out.
It was all too much.
Chat's betrayal swirled around in her head, a dizzying whirlpool of emotion: hurt, anger, confusion. Blood trickled down her skin, but in that moment, Ladybug couldn't bring herself to care.
She had failed.
Hawkmoth smiled sadistically at her, still clutching her yo-yo in his hand, waving at her, mocking her with the one tool that would save in her life in that moment. Everything felt like it was happening in slow motion. Maybe it was. Maybe all of this was just a dream. One horrible nightmare and at any moment, Ladybug would wake up. Everything would be normal.
This was real.
Making peace with that thought, Ladybug closed her eyes. This was it. This was how it was going to end for her. She was about to die. Perhaps it was better this way. This way, she would never have to face up to her failings. Hawkmoth had won, and she would attone for that with her death.
The wind whipped through her hair as she fell, and hot ash clung to her skin as she fell, burning her – a taste of what was to come. The air around her grew hotter and hotter as she fell towards the raging inferno below. Wanting to make this as quick and painless as possible, Ladybug rotated herself as she fell, making sure her head would be the first to hit the ground. There was nothing on the wall for her to grab and stop herself from falling.
This truly was it.
The faces of her loved ones flashed across her mind…her mother, her father, Alya…Adrien.
She would never get the chance to tell him how she really felt about him. But in this moment, she could at least pretend. As the air continued to grow hotter, she imagined it was Adrien's warm embrace as he wrapped his arms around her, admitting that he loved her too. A small smile crept onto Ladybug's face as she imagined his lips pressed against hers, her whole body igniting under his very touch.
"Adrien…" Ladybug whispered.
The world around her blurred, morphing into dizzying swirls, making Ladybug's head spin faster and faster. Her head pounded, and intense heat surrounded her, burning her skin, scolding every inch of her body as her flesh sizzled like meat on a barbeque. It felt like needles were dancing across her skin and her lungs began to scream at her.
There was no air. Only thick smoke which polluted her lungs, choking her. Was this death? It was more painful than Ladybug could have ever imagined.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Ladybug slowly opened her eyes which were heavy and stubborn. Above her was a vast darkness. How strange. Ladybug was sure she should have been looking up at the Agreste mansion right now.
Despite the intense pain shooting through every inch of her body, Ladybug forced herself to sit up. Her skin still felt like it was on fire, and Ladybug couldn't help but whimper and hold back loud cries of pain every time she moved even the slightest.
Finally managing to sit up properly, Ladybug gasped in fright at the sight of what was surrounding her. Large mirrors circled her, forcing her to look at herself. She wasn't Ladybug anymore. She was Marinette. Her superhero suit was gone, replaced by her torn, dirty civilian clothes that had all been practically burnt away from her body. Her earrings beeped loudly in her ears continuously, and Marinette's wide blue eyes could not help but be glued to the sight of her own body in the mirror.
She was Marinette, but she did not look like Marinette. Her skin was bright red and yellow, most of it completely burnt off. Blood and pus oozed out and dribbled down what was left of her skin. Her beautiful thick, dark hair was nearly singed off completely, smoke dancing off the few strands that were left clinging to her head. Her face had remained almost untouched apart from a few deep cuts with chunks of glass sticking out, sparking like crystals in the reflection of the mirror. It was still hot. Unbearably hot.
Upon seeing her reflection, Marinette let out a blood-curdling scream that echoed through the dark void around her. The mirrors that surrounded her cracked before shattering completely, and pieces of glass began floating all around her.
She was falling. Falling down, down, down…
"AHHHHHH!" Marinette screamed as she awoke with a violent jolt. Sweat dripped down her skin as she looked frantically around, her eyes wide and terrified.
She was in her room.
It was all just a dream.
However, that thought failed to calm Marinette down. She was still incredibly hot. Was she on fire again?
Panicking, Marinette looked down at her body, running her hands across it, checking every inch of herself. No. She wasn't on fire again. She was safe in her room. So why was it so hot? Her heart began beating erratically in her chest. Was something in her room on fire?
Her eyes darted around her room, looking for any sign of smoke or an ominous glow. She had to find the fire. She had to put it out.
Marinette was focusing so hard on finding the source of the fire that it made her jump when three gentle knocks echoed from behind her trapdoor and into her bedroom.
"Marinette, sweety?" Her mother's voice called, unsure. "Is it okay if I come in?"
"Y-yeah," Marinette called back, still searching. She barely registered her mother opening the door and climbing inside, though she immediately felt her mother's eyes watching her every move. Sabine stayed standing by the door, always remaining cautious and staring at her daughter as if she was a stranger, as if she was made of the most fragile glass where one wrong word or movement could break her forever.
"Something's on fire, mom," Marinette gasped out in panic causing Sabine to blink in confusion.
"What do you mean, dear?"
"It's really hot, why is it so hot?" Marinette demanded, turning to glare at her mother. Marinette then gasped as the realisation hit her. "You put the heating on, didn't you?"
"Marinette, it's really cold today, I'm sorry, I thought you wouldn't notice."
Marinette growled and pulled at her hair in frustration. "I told you not to do that." Marinette then stormed past her mother and down the stairs into the living room. She barely registered the sight of Alya and her father talking amongst themselves who both looked up at her, deep concern on their features as they watched her every movement. Sabine frantically followed her daughter down the stairs, but Marinette only had eyes for the thermostat. She dashed towards it and turned the heat down.
"Mari, are you alright?" Alya asked, starting to sound alarmed.
"It's too hot," Marinette complained.
"If you're too hot, maybe you should try taking your jacket off, sweetheart," her father cautiously suggested.
Marinette frowned and wrapped her jacket tighter around herself. "No, I'm good."
The three of them all exchanged glances which Marinette ignored. She was used to them treating her like this by now. Looking at each other, whispering as if she was a toddler who couldn't understand what they were all talking about, what they were all thinking. She just didn't like it being too hot. There was nothing weird or strange about that. They were the ones who started treating her like she was some sort of alien creature when she got back from…well, when she got back.
"Anyway," Sabine said after a few minutes of awkward silence, "I came up to tell you that Alya is here to see you."
"Right," Marinette responded flatly.
Alya sighed, looking down at her feet as she headed up the stairs to Marinette's attic room. Wordlessly, Marinette followed before closing her door behind her. She then stood and waited, her eyes glued to her feet, waiting for Alya to speak. When her best friend said nothing, Marinette sighed, deciding to break the awkward silence.
"I went outside yesterday," she announced, her tone completely flat.
Alya looked at her in excitement. "You did? That's fantastic, Marinette!"
Marinette ignored her praise. "I went looking for you, but you weren't at home. I waited and waited but you never came back."
"Oh…well…I…" Alya stuttered, and Marinette found herself smirking slightly. "There was this thing…I was at Nino's. You should've called me."
"I did," Marinette explained, walking back over to sit at her desk which was piled high with paperwork. "I wanted to return that manuscript you asked me to read."
"You mean the book I'm writing on Ladybug?" Alya walked over to stand next to her.
"Yeah, that." Marinette sighed as she handed Alya her work back.
"So…what did you think of it then?" Alya asked when Marinette said nothing else.
Marinette forced a smile. "It was really good. You certainly were L-Ladybug's number one fan."
Alya sighed. "I just don't want her memory to be forgotten. She gave her life to protect the city and I want to make sure her sacrifice wasn't in vain; that everyone remembers what she did. She was the most amazing and kind person to ever exist."
"I wouldn't go that far," Marinette mumbled low enough to keep Alya from hearing before she pressed her lips into a tight, thin line. Her blue eyes darted towards the top drawer of her desk before she went back to staring blankly out the window.
"I was wondering, if it wasn't too much to ask…" Alya asked nervously, "could you maybe, design the cover for the book?"
Marinette blinked in shock. Another life time ago, she would have been honoured and thrilled at the idea of doing such a thing. But now…the thought of designing the cover for Ladybug's biography…it made her feel physically sick. Part of her wanted to admit everything. Ladybug wasn't really dead, she was sitting right here. Alive and…alive.
Because that's all Marinette felt like she was doing right now: existing.
Even that could be a challenge sometimes. Every morning she woke up in this reality after living the painful memories of what happened in her nightmares. There was no relief when she woke up. The nightmares never ended because she lived through them both day and night.
There was no escape.
This was Marinette's world now.
A world of never ending pain.
A world of just existing; forcing herself to live a normal life.
She worried everyone, she knew that. But how could she go back to truly having a normal life and being normal after everything? It was impossible. She thought she had been making progress yesterday. She forced herself to go outside and face the world.
But then she saw him.
The one person in her life whom she never wanted to see again for as long as she lived. He had done this to her. He had the nerve to threaten her last night at the mention of her own name. A name that was stolen from her by him.
Feeling her fists clench in a fiery anger, Marinette forced herself to calm down when she could once again feel Alya's hazel eyes watching her, waiting for her to reply. She knew she would never be able to bring herself to do it. She hadn't even read Alya's book like she said she had. Anything that reminded her of her old life, Marinette couldn't bear. So she left the manuscript on her desk for days, just collecting dust until a feasible time arrived for her to hand it back to make it look like she had read it. And look where that had gotten her. Face to face with…him.
"I…I don't know," Marinette finally responded, "I'm not really inspired right now."
"Oh come on, girl," Alya begged, "that's what you've been saying for years. You need to start drawing and designing again otherwise how are you going to get into university? They're going to want to see some recent stuff, not just the stuff you made years ago."
Marinette frowned, leaning back miserably in her chair. "I'll sort something out."
"Mari," Alya sighed sadly as she crouched down next to Marinette, putting a comforting hand on her knee. "I don't understand what happened to you, and I know you don't like to talk about it, but…you need to snap out of it, girl. You can't keep living your life like this."
Marinette said nothing, continuing to stare straight ahead.
"Look…I'm sorry for shouting at you. You know I'll always be here for you, but…I need the old Marinette back."
"No you don't!" Marinette abruptly snapped, pushing Alya's hand away before standing up so fast, she knocked her chair backwards before she began pacing her room. "Nobody really cares about the real old Marinette. You all make out that she was some innocent little angel who succeeded at everything when she didn't!"
Alya's eyes widened. "Mari, what on earth are you talking about?"
"N-nothing," Marinette stuttered, feeling herself on the verge of tears. "Thanks for coming over, but you can leave now."
"I said, you can leave now."
"Oh girl, come on I –"
"Please, just go!" Marinette screamed, startling Alya who immediately began darting towards the door.
"Okay, okay," She quickly muttered, hoping to maybe keep Marinette calm.
They didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to each other as Marinette loudly slammed the door behind Alya the second she was out of the way. Wrapping her arms around herself, Marinette wasn't surprised to hear Alya and her parents begin muttering to each other in the kitchen below – most likely about her. This caused Marinette to let out a cry of frustration and pain. She felt like she was a volcano, ready to erupt at any second, leaving nothing but devastation in her wake.
Every day, everything she kept bottled up inside of her became harder and harder to contain. The feeling of Chat Noir's fingers stroking her skin invaded her mind. His eyes…so familiar, yet so dead. This was his fault. If she hadn't run into him last night, then she wouldn't be feeling like this right now. He had even caused her to suffer a flashback right in front of him. Once again, he brought nothing but devastation into her life.
For years she had done her best to ignore him. She kept away from the news, desiring to hear nothing of him in the hopes of pretending that he didn't exist. Marinette knew that went against the plan, but she couldn't bring herself to care anymore. She didn't care what happened to her old partner. Rena Rouge, Queen Bee and Carapace would catch him eventually and end it like she had failed to do. Those thoughts washed over her like a great tidal wave and Marinette found herself sinking towards the floor with her head in her hands.
Crouching down, Marinette rocked back and forth, gripping her hair as tightly as possible, pulling on the now shorter strands. She had failed everyone. She couldn't even keep her own partner on side. Paris had three new heroes now. Three new heroes who would do a better job than she ever could.
Marinette wasn't sure how long she remained crouched on the ground, rocking backwards and forwards, but by the time she managed to calm down enough to look up again, the sun was beginning to set. With a sigh, Marinette heaved herself up from the floor and stood over her desk gazing down at her university application forms. Most of them she hadn't even begun to fill out yet.
All her dreams were laid out in front of her. Ever since she was a little girl, Marinette had dreamed of attending university to study fashion. Maybe even work for Gabriel's company one day. But that dream was dead now. The Gabriel brand hung in limbo after he had been arrested upon the discovery that he was Hawkmoth.
Marinette wasn't too sure what had happened. All that she could gather was that Chat Noir must have turned on him at some point. That felt even more like a stab to the heart. His betrayal…had been for nothing.
As she stared at her now blank bedroom walls, Marinette remember all of the photos of Adrien that she used to have hanging up. She hadn't seen Adrien since just before the final battle. She couldn't imagine how hard for him it must have been to find out his father was Hawkmoth. Nino said he never left his house now; he had eternally locked himself away.
Not that Marinette could bring herself to see him. She couldn't really bring herself to face anyone. Over the years her feelings for Adrien became deeply submerged to the point of not existing anymore. The only person from the outside world Adrien would occasional see, was Nino, and that was only if Nino met up with him inside his house. Marinette couldn't help but wonder what Adrien looked like now; how much had he changed?
The sound of her phone vibrating made her jump and Marinette picked her phone up to see that it was a message from Alya.
Sorry about earlier xoxoxo
Shaking her head sadly, Marinette placed her phone back down and continued to stare at her application papers. Alya was right. Marinette had nothing new to offer them. In fact she had nothing to offer to them at all. Marinette hadn't sewn or drawn anything in years now. So what was the point in applying to a course that wasn't even something she could bring herself to do anymore? Her life was ruined and would likely remain ruined. They probably wouldn't even accept her applications anyway.
With that thought, Marinette picked up one of her papers, staring at the words on the page but not reading them. Frowning, Marinette then gripped two corners beneath her fingers and tore the application in two, followed by another and then another, until all of the application papers had been torn up. With a fake smile on her face, Marinette then threw the shredded pieces of paper into the air, watching them rain back down to the floor like confetti.
Her eyes were once again drawn towards the top drawer of her desk, and Marinette could feel herself beginning to lose her mind. She needed to get out. She needed some fresh air. She didn't care that it was dark outside now, she just needed to be able to breathe again. If Chat Noir found her and killed her then so be it. In fact, he'd be doing her a favour for once. To kill her would be an act of kindness after everything else he had done to her.
Pulling her jacket tighter around her, Marinette grabbed her keys before climbing down her stairs and into the lower floor of the apartment she shared with her parents. The kitchen and living room were empty. Thankfully, it seemed her parents had headed into their bedroom and called it a night which meant they wouldn't be around to stop her.
Marinette quickly left through the front door and climbed down the stairs, exiting through the main entrance of the bakery. By the time Marinette had made it outside, the sun had set over the horizon and stars were beginning to twinkle in the night sky. The peacefulness of the night seemed to be mocking Marinette over her inner turmoil.
However, Marinette froze when she caught sight of the park across the street from her house. Displayed near the entrance, was a life-sized statue of Ladybug, situated there to eternally taunt her. Turning away in disgust, Marinette began making her way down the now deserted streets of Paris, freezing as she passed by some road works near the bottom of her street.
Marinette stared at the large sledgehammer that had been left near a pile of cones, clearly having been left there in the builders' haste to get back home before night fell. Without thinking, Marinette picked up the heavy sledgehammer with both hands and began storming back towards the park.
The bronze statue came back into view and shone dimly in the moonlight. The sight of her old self made her freeze again before she stared down at the hammer in her hands. A single tear cascaded down her cheek, trickling off her face, dropping down onto the wooden handle of the hammer, splattering into separate smaller pieces. Gripping the hammer tighter in her hands, Marinette continued walking with purpose, now letting the tears flow freely down her cheek.
Stopping just in front of the statue, Marinette stared at it, examining its detailed features that captured every inch of Ladybug's essence. It was like looking into a mirror. A mirror reflecting a time long forgotten.
Ladybug was gone.
Everyone had made sure of that, including herself.
How dare the city of Paris erect this statue! How dare people make presumptions about her! How dare Chat Noir have the nerve to lecture her and threaten her over Ladybug when he was the one who had caused her demise in the first place!
That last thought caused Marinette to see red.
With an angry huff, Marinette swung the sledgehammer around, violently hitting it against the statue. She didn't pay attention to where she hit, all she wanted to do was cause its destruction. Within two swings she had managed to knock the head off, sending it crashing to the ground. The smiling face and blank eyes of the statue stared back up at her, causing Marinette to let out a loud growl before she swung the hammer again and smashed it against Ladybug's face. In doing so, Marinette felt like a great pressure was being released from her chest. It felt like she could almost breathe normally again after having a crushing weight balanced on her chest for so long.
Marinette swung the hammer until she had no energy left in her anymore. By the time she was finished, the statue was in pieces, lying scattered on the ground around her. Her chest heaved with her laboured breathing and she finally lowered the hammer, gripping it loosely as she stared at the mess she had created around her.
Although she felt like a pressure had been lifted, Marinette was sure that doing what she did didn't make her feel overall better at all. If anything, seeing a statue of herself, abused and broken into pieces on the ground, only reminded her current state. Like that statue, she too was in pieces. Broken beyond repair. Damaged goods. A lost cause. Hawkmoth and Chat Noir had made sure of that.
Without thinking, Marinette reached up to stroke her earlobes…her now bare earlobes. Her earrings were long gone. She hadn't worn them in years but every now and then, Marinette found herself reaching up to touch the place where they once were.
Oh Tikki…Marinette thought to herself as she looked up into the sky, what would you think of me now?
However, Marinette was brought out of her deep thoughts by the sound of something landing on the ground directly behind her. Marinette instantly went rigid and tightened her grip on the hammer.
Footsteps strode towards her from behind, and a shiver ran down her spine at the feeling of fingers delicately brushing strands of her hair out of the way. She felt him lean in close to her face, his lips almost pressed up against her ear as he sinisterly whispered, "and just what do you think you're doing, purrincess?"
I swear this chapter was jinxed. I had so many issues while writing it, so I really hope that it has turned out okay despite everything. Oh wait, it's Friday the 13th isn't it? Damn, that must be why then. Hope you guys have had better luck than me today. As always, feel free to leave a review. I read and appreciate every single one of them and they're always incredibly helpful. See you soon.