Marinette doesn't like to look in the mirror.
It's not her reflection that startles her. Pale face, clear eyes, dark hair. Her reflection hasn't changed, except perhaps the addition of the scars, the muscles grown from necessity and the bags of exhaustion lurking beneath her eyes. What she hates the most about mirrors are the ghosts who stand behind her.
She noticed the occurrence soon after accepting the earrings and taking up the mantle of Ladybug. Entwining Tikki in her life brought so much joy and happiness, a freedom and a strength of will beyond her own. A sense of purpose and a passion and a partner, and she wouldn't give it up for anything.
Being able to dance across the starlight rooftops at nice and laugh with the alley cat who has fast become her best friend was something she would never give up. Not ever. Not willingly.
Except, perhaps, to stop the shadows that haunt her reflection. If she'd known about them when Tikki offered her the earrings, there might have been a moment's pause, a hesitance before accepting. But she didn't know. How could she know?
How could she have known the past lives of Ladybug would plague her through the mirror?
Shadows with endless tendrils stretching out, binding her to them. Shadows with names and voices, hopes and dreams that will never come to pass because they are long gone.
If she holds up a mirror behind her and gazes upon the reflection within a reflection, they bleed colour. Not shadows, but something more. She can see their face. If she watches one long enough, they will speak to her. Tell her their name. Their year of birth. They'll tell her a bit about their lives. They'll tell her about their partner. Their Chat Noirs or Black Cats or Onyx Panther or whatever name was chosen in the moments of rebirth. The longing in their voices breaks her heart every time.
They're trapped in her mirror. Bound and bidden, their experiences and skills aid her in battle. But they can't touch and feel. Forever trapped because she's the one alive and they are not.
There was a time she was curious about them. The Ladybugs and Scarlet Beetles. The Red Scarab and the Ladybird.
If she stares long enough, she can see the way they died.
Such violence. Such devastation.
Ladybug embodies creation, so when one of them dies, they take the fabric of life with them.
It scares her. She doesn't want to become a reflection.
Ladybug has protected the world and Marinette is just the latest in a long, long line.
She stays away from mirrors. She tears them down, breaks them. She stays away from water, from the bathrooms at school. She removes the mirror in the bathroom at home. She learns to do her make-up blind. Anything and everything to spare herself from the pain.
Sometimes, in the darkness of the night, as she looks upon her starry-eyed companion, she wonders if he can see them too.
Adrien hated mirrors.
He doesn't like his reflection, he never has.
'Perfect' his father calls him and for a long time Adrien wondered what perfection really was. A straight nose? Green eyes? Clear skin? The angle of his cheekbones? Was it his mother shining out of his eyes? Was it his hair? Was it everything? A strange combination of genetics and personal preference which somehow combined to produce him.
He was older when he figured out perfection was a tool. A weapon, if you would, to wield. A shield even. He was 'perfect' in his father's eyes and that somehow made him inanimate. Ornamental. The only time his father spent with him was to view Adrien's pictures. Still, unmoving, caught in an eternal moment.
So his father never noticed when Adrien became less than perfect. A picture can be doctored. Bags removed. Eyes made to shine. Bruises covered by make-up. A reflection cannot change.
Now, his reflection tells the truth.
Truth and a lie. Opportunities lost. Time changed and battles surrendered.
Mistakes are the secrets the mirror tells him and Adrien listens. And he learns.
'This was mine,' it says. 'Don't make it again.'
It's a history of mistakes. Of moments that cost. Slipped feet and lost grips. Screams in the night and tears shed onto pillows. Of assurances that it wouldn't happen again.
'This was mine,' it says. 'This is when our world ended. Don't let it change yours.'
The make-up artist dusts his face with powder and the shadows behind him smiles. 'Here is my mistake,' one offers and Adrien listens.
The hairdresser runs gel through Adrien's locks and the shadows move closer. 'Here is mine. Beware.'
On the rare occasions where the mirrors multiply and surround him, the shadows become more. Real people with real faces and lives. He gets to watch them act out their lives, and death, and has to sit in the chair and witness.
And he does. He does so he won't repeat their mistakes.
He can't escape the past. Can't escape the knowledge of how those other Chat Noirs died. And who they were protecting.
Because she is everything. And he would give his life for hers in a heartbeat.
Her name was Claire. She lived in Italy. She died in America, alone and afraid.
His name was Izem. He lived in Africa. He died with no one holding his hand. Alone and afraid.
Her name was Reia. She lived in Nepal. She died in his arms, not alone, but very afraid.
His name was Raoul. He loved in Italy and followed his love to America. He watched her smile and kiss children goodnight. He died taking the blow that would have ended her too soon. He doesn't regret a moment of it.
Her name was Adowa. She lived in Africa. She saved him from a hippo but could not save herself. She died, holding his hand.
His name Nikkon. He fell from the mountains and she came to rescue him and slipped. Too late, too late, but they got to say goodbye.
Sometimes it hurts Ladybug to look at Chat Noir.
It hurts to see so many of her predecessors forsaken by his. Alone and scared, their stories in the mirror speak of tragedy. Of great sadness. Of terror and silence and she wonders so much.
Did his predecessors mean to leave? Or did they do go first and left hers alone to face their death?
Would he go before her?
He threw himself into danger too much, protected her at a cost to himself. She knew. She always knew.
She doesn't want to become a reflection, but she'll be damned if she lets him become one first.
He loves her so much.
She is the earth and the stars and the sky all at once. She is the morning song and the evening light. She is the first who doesn't think he's perfect. The first who finds fault and then expects him to get better. She is the first to laugh at his jokes, freely and wholeheartedly and without politeness he associates with his father's staff.
She is his everything.
And it hurts that she doesn't believe him.
He flirts. She rebuffs. He flirts some more, socially awkward, it's the only thing he really knows how to do. Maybe this time she'll flirt back a little and he'll love her harder for it. He saves her life, time and time again, and her terror breaks his heart.
Ladybug huddles against a wall, her eyes avoiding the puddles of water collecting rain. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see a shadow trying to get her attention. A voice which wants to speak, but she ignores it. This one has been trying to get her attention for a while. Following her through windows of shops or haunting her through a sudden reflection of a car windscreen. Now it lurks in a puddle.
There is no way she wants to double the reflection and listen to the words.
An umbrella is lifted above her head, the sound of the rain changing to a dull thudding instead of a plink. Black moves closer, sharing the shelter.
She is tired. So tired. Tired of running from ghosts. Tired of loving a boy on a pedestal she can never have because the cat has earned his way into her heart. Their fates are so eternally entwined, she can never escape it. She wanted to. Wanted to love the boy with kind eyes, who gave her an umbrella in the rain. And now, as she looks up at another boy with kind eyes, sharing an umbrella, sharing a fate, she feels her heart flutter.
She rests her head on his shoulder and the rain hides her tears.
She lets him kiss her, hidden in the shadows beneath the umbrella, caught in the rain.
A whispered confirmation and a gentle linger and it's over.
It's over and it's beginning all in one.
Chat Noir's heart sings.
"Do you see them?"
Chat Noir turns his head to look at her in confusion. "See what?"
She loses her nerve. "Nothing."
He frowns in concern. "My lady, if something's wrong—"
"I don't want you to die."
His cat ears flatten on his head. He hunkers down as he stares at her.
"And I don't want to die," she continues. "It's a cycle we can't break. They keep showing me and showing me and all I can see is how you're not there at the end. You're not."
"I won't leave you."
She clutches at her head. "I can't live like this."
"Ladybug—" he began, stalled by a sharp crack in his voice.
She knows she scares him with her words but she can't bring herself to stop. "I want to love you. I do. I want it."
"But I can't because all they show me is how alone they are and I can't bear that. I can't do it."
"If I love you, you will die. I can't do that. Not to you."
The paleness in his face isn't from the dim moonlight.
There is a change.
Marinette isn't happy. She doesn't smile. She doesn't sing. There's no spring in her step. But she's not sad either. Just… reserved. Aged. The weight of the world is on her shoulders and she is burdened. Her parents compliment on her maturity. Her teachers commend her for her responsibility.
Alya is worried. Nino is concerned.
Adrien doesn't know what to think. Something is wrong. Something is wrong with Marinette and something is wrong with Ladybug and he can't help but wonder if the two might be connected.
The shadows whisper louder.
The shadows chase her dreams. Deep claws dig gouges in her soul. They have voices, they must have voices. They scream and yell, wanting to be heard, wanting to tell her all that needs to be said. She just had to look.
They are a part of her and she hates it. So scared of her own reflection, she can't see that if she gives up, she's already on her way to becoming one.
Tikki watches with a heavy heart. Often it takes her bugs this way. She can't stop the shadows, she's a part of each and every one of them. A reminder and a remembrance and a solemn promise to the first. Learn from their experiences. It is immortality and it is all Tikki can offer, but they are shadows of their former selves.
Each bug will take to the shadows in their own way. Some will ignore them. Some will listen to their lessons. Some, like Plagg says his wielder has done, will embrace them.
Others will run.
If Marinette starts running, she will never stop.
An elevator dings. The doors slide open and Marinette can't step inside. She knows what's going to happen if she does. Three walls of mirrors, designed to give the impression of space. But she doesn't want to see. Can't do, it, won't do it and nothing can make her and—
With a smile, Adrien holds the elevator open for her. "Are you coming?"
The old flutter tickles her chest. She'd thought it gone and lost and given to Chat, then taken away again because she needs him safe and he's not safe with her. But there it is. In all its old glory. A tickle and a flutter.
He talks as he pushes the button. Because he's Adrien and he likes to fill silence with words and chatter and Marinette listens because she envies. He's so carefree.
She wishes she could be.
She misses Chat. More and more, she misses her Chat. She's been avoiding him. Hurting and pushing and she hates herself for it.
But it's a necessity. So he won't die. So he can't die.
The elevator doors close without her.
"I miss you."
Ladybug doesn't reply. She remained braced, stiff and still, as though his every word could break her.
"I miss you," Chat Noir repeats. "I miss my friend. My partner. Please."
She doesn't answer.
"I don't have many friends and you are so precious to me. We don't even… I won't kiss you again," he promises. "But please. Please talk to me. Let me help, I can listen."
He cuts his heart from his chest and offers it to her. She can't even look at him.
There is another change.
Adrien stop smiling and Marinette thinks that's sad. She wishes she could help, but she can barely help herself. She makes an effort to plaster a smile on her face and hopes it helps him. For a while, it seems to.
Chat Noir stops smiling and Ladybug thinks it's the worst thing in the world. It's her fault. She hates herself and she hates that the shadows scream silently at her in the mirror.
The elevator doors open and this time Marinette steps in. She keeps her eyes fixed on the blue carpet fixed to the floor. She twists her fingers painfully, reminding herself not to look up. Don't look in the mirror. Don't see. Don't hear.
Shoes join her. Orange, beneath blue jeans. They face the door. His back is to her. She watches as one shoe scratches the back on a leg with its toe. "Hey Marinette."
She nods. "Hi Adrien." Her stomach drops when the elevator starts moving and her whole world feels askew. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he says, sounding confused. "Why?"
Her eyes stay on his shoes. "You seem sad."
He offers her silence.
"If you need it, please talk to me. Let me help, I can—"
"You're one to talk."
"I can tell when people fake smiles, you know," he mutters. "Had plenty of experience with that."
"I'm not faking—"
The shoes turn. "Yeah, right, you can't even look at—" With a strangled sound, his voice dies.
Marinette jerks her head up.
Adrien is pale and staring at the mirrored walls and Marinette can't stop herself from looking.
Shadows. So many shadows, slowly bleeding into colour. Reflections of lives already in the past. Loves that were lost and lives that were ruined. They're running, running, running.
Some are hers. Some are his.
Outstretched hands and faces lit up in greeting. Joy and love and happiness. The shadows come alive with light and colour and so much love. It takes her breath away.
There's Claire and she's crying and holding a man so very tight and Marinette can read the whisper of love on her lips. There's Izam and he's picked up a younger woman to spin her around. There's Reia, happy and healthy and whole with love shining from her face as she hugs the man whose hand she held when she died. So many, so many of them.
Finding their partners. Becoming whole again.
Chat Noir and Ladybug reunited in reflection.
Marinette understands. Tears fall from her eyes and cascade down her cheeks but she can't close them. Can't look away. Doesn't want to anymore.
Heart pounding, she stretches out her hand only to find his hand is already reaching for hers. Marinette hooks her littlest finger around Adrien's and they stay there, watching.
The smile from his reflection means everything to her.
Author's Note: This came about from a prompt someone left in my tumblr inbox, I did something very quick but it wouldn't leave me alone, so I had to do more.
If you want the original prompt, go to kryallaorchid. tumblrdotcom/ post/144586767175/you-know-that-thing-where-you-put-two-mirrors-in