Disclaimer: I do not own Miraculous Ladybug.
By: Princess Kitty1
Marinette couldn't breathe. She tried, but her heart seemed to have tripled in size, crushing her lungs, beating so hard that it hurt. Shivers racked her body.
Adrien. Adrien. Adrien.
He was alive.
His eyes widened. He released the door handle and limped quickly to her side, and Marinette snapped out of her stupor long enough to notice that he was using a cane. "Are you all right?" His voice, deeper than she remembered—of course, they'd only been kids then—spoke in their native French. "I apologize. My fiancé warned me that you were acquainted with my late cousin. I thought she had spoken to you…"
Fiancé? Late cousin? What was he talking about?
Marinette looked at him. Really looked at him. He was Adrien. Older to be sure, but… something was different. More stern. Tired. No trace of the shy, amiable new student, or the happy-go-lucky superhero.
Her confusion must have shown on her face. He took a step back once he seemed satisfied that she wouldn't faint and stared her straight in the eye. "I am Felix Agreste," he said. "Adrien Agreste was my cousin."
Marinette almost laughed in his face and told him he wasn't. But the longer she looked at him, the more she began to doubt herself. She couldn't deny the resemblance. Nor could she deny the differences. The way he carried himself was all wrong. Too exact. Too perfect. Even the way he spoke, the inflections were nothing at all like Adrien's. And when she looked down at his right hand, there was no ring. No Miraculous. Not even a shadow of where a ring might have been. "I'm…" She found her voice at last. "I'm sorry, I…"
He gestured to the chair across from his desk. "Please sit. You are still too pale. Would you like a glass of water?"
Marinette nodded. Felix—not Adrien—called his secretary in and asked her to bring water for Ms. Dupain-Cheng. Marinette closed her eyes and focused on collecting herself. Humiliation made her itch under the skin. This was her boss, for goodness's sake. "I'm so embarrassed," she said.
"There is nothing to be embarrassed about." Felix took the glass of water from his secretary and handed it to Marinette. "If I thought I saw a departed friend come back to life again, I would be shocked as well." His tone offered no real reassurance. He didn't smile. "I was under the impression Lila had spoken to you about this already, or else I wouldn't have called you in today."
Marinette's mind reeled. How many hours had she spent hanging out with Lila in the last couple of days? And she hadn't bothered to tell her, "Oh, by the way, I'm engaged to Adrien's cousin, who could easily pass as his twin?" Anger flickered dimly in the midst of her shock as she took a sip of water.
Felix sat behind his desk. "You've regained some of your color. How do you feel?"
Like the universe had played a terrible joke on her and she wanted nothing more than to bury her face in a pillow and scream. "I'm better now, thank you," she said. Better? What was better? Not this. Anything but this.
He gave her a cautious look. "Would you like to postpone this meeting? We can talk another time."
Marinette shook her head. "Now is fine." She put down her glass of water and forced herself to her feet and Felix, evidently raised like a gentleman, stood as well. She held her hand out to him. "It's good to meet you at last, Monsieur Agreste. I am Marinette Dupain-Cheng, and I'll be collaborating with your design team this season."
Felix grasped her hand firmly. "I've heard great things about you, Ms. Dupain-Cheng, both from my employees and my fiancé. The team is confident that with your help, they will put out an excellent collection."
"I won't let them down," Marinette said. All business. Make a good impression. Show confidence without being boastful.
Don't fall apart in front of the man who looked just like Adrien, but wasn't Adrien.
They sat down again. "What do you think of New York so far?" Felix asked. "Have you experienced any culture shock?"
She'd experienced some kind of shock, that was for sure. "It's a beautiful city. I think I might still be too new to my surroundings to be taken aback by cultural differences, but I'm bound to feel it at some point."
Felix nodded at that. "I was in Paris recently on a business trip—you met with Lila while we were there, I believe. Despite my French upbringing, I had never traveled to France before, so the cultural differences took me by surprise."
He'd been in Paris. Marinette fought back another wave of dizziness. Had Felix been the person she'd seen the night of her engagement party, the one she'd chased halfway across the city? He must have been. Only a man who looked so much like Adrien could have inspired that reaction in her. "Did you like Paris?" she asked.
"I loved Paris," Felix said, his tone filled with genuine warmth. "I'd like to go back again very soon."
They spoke for another few minutes about general topics and the work that was expected to go into the design collaboration. Marinette maintained her cool on the outside, but inside, her mind was in chaos. Adrien's cousin. Lila's fiancé. She thanked the situation for the chance to look him straight in the face, because otherwise she wouldn't have been able to take her eyes off him.
Similar, so very similar, but different. Felix didn't smile often, and when he did, it was the smile of someone who wasn't used to smiling. His manner was polite, but distant. He wore his hair longer than Adrien, and combed neatly, not boyishly swept off in every direction.
And then there was the cane.
He was in this awful accident when he was younger that left him with a bad leg.
It had to have been a coincidence. Or wishful thinking. Adrien had died in the building collapse. His father had confirmed it, his secretary had confirmed it, the doctors had confirmed it, the news media had confirmed it, Marinette's schoolteachers had confirmed it. And no one had ever stepped forward to claim otherwise.
At the end of the brief interview, Felix grabbed his cane and escorted Marinette to the door of the office. "I apologize again for the scare you must have had," he said. "I don't know what Lila was thinking."
Marinette gave him her best reassuring smile. "It's all right. She probably just forgot in the excitement of showing me around the city," she said. Fat chance, she thought.
Lila may have moved away from Paris after Adrien's death, but she'd stuck around long enough to see how it had affected Marinette. She hadn't told her about Felix on purpose. What her motives could have been for omitting that information, Marinette couldn't guess, but Lila would have to talk to her again eventually, and she wouldn't be able to avoid the subject then.
Marinette didn't know how she made it through the work day after that. She couldn't remember half of it by the time she got home. Her thoughts were consumed by Felix Agreste, her body numb as she realized, for the thousandth time in the past twelve years, that her kitty cat was never coming back.
And the cruelty of having him alive for those few mistaken minutes, only to be snatched away from her again, was more painful than anything she had ever experienced.
Felix Agreste was not what anyone would call an emotional person. He had emotions, to be sure, but if there existed such a thing as the art of rational emotion, Felix had mastered it. His feelings were more like visitors than permanent residents of his body. When they came by, he could examine them from a safe distance, process them, and take the proper course of action before sending them on their way. He experienced every emotion like this. Even love.
As a consequence, Felix had a difficult time dealing with other people. It seemed as if the entire world experienced and reacted to their emotions without thinking twice about them or questioning whether such feelings should guide their behaviors. He couldn't stand being around children. Dogs made him uncomfortable. And in the face of emotional outbursts, he was completely useless.
It was one of the many things that made him so grateful for Lila Rossi. She not only understood him in a way that others couldn't, but always took his side and explained his behavior when people became offended by it. She was his champion. His interpreter. His patient and loving partner.
And she'd let him down.
Felix returned to his desk after Marinette Dupain-Cheng left his office and stared at his blank computer screen. He wasn't ignorant. He knew that he bore a striking resemblance to his late cousin Adrien, a resemblance so strong that when he'd first seen Lila twelve years ago, she'd stared at him exactly the same way Ms. Dupain-Cheng had: like he'd just crawled out of his own grave.
He'd asked Lila more than once to tell her friend, to prepare her so that he wouldn't have to deal with a perfect stranger's intense emotions.
He shifted his gaze to the empty chair across from his desk, Ms. Dupain-Cheng's expression seared into his memory. A potent mixture of fear, disbelief, and sorrow. Wasn't there a word for that? Stricken. She'd looked stricken. As if the very sight of him had broken her heart.
He shook his head. It wasn't his fault. He couldn't help the resemblance anymore than he could help the pain that gripped his leg every time it rained or snowed.
In any case, he'd talk to Lila about it that evening. The sooner he addressed it, the sooner he could put his anger away and forgive her.
He turned his computer on. Tapped his fingers against the keyboard while he waited for the login screen to appear. Ms. Dupain-Cheng's stricken face flashed through his memory again, and he sighed through his nose.
It bothered him. That brief glimpse into the fathomless depths of her sorrow bothered him, and he didn't know why.
"Did he really look that much like Adrien?"
Marinette and Tikki sat in the living room with a box of pizza open on the coffee table. Tikki was already on her second slice, but Marinette still held the half-eaten remains of her first, wishing she had the appetite for it. "You should have seen him," she said. "It was like…" She laid the pizza slice down on a napkin. "You know those missing persons posters, how they do a computer mock-up of how someone might look after several years?" Tikki nodded. "He's a computer mock-up of Adrien."
Tikki swallowed the bite she'd been chewing. "But he didn't have Chat Noir's Miraculous."
"And he said he's Adrien's cousin, so it's plausible that they could look alike."
Marinette didn't respond to that. She had no response that wouldn't make her sound crazy. So what if she doubted any two cousins could resemble each other so much? If Felix was Adrien, what reason would he have to hide his identity from her?
But they were too different. A ten-minute meeting had been enough to assure her of that. Felix Agreste, resemblance aside, was nothing like Adrien.
Tikki flew up and sat on Marinette's shoulder. "Are you okay?" she asked.
Marinette's first instinct was to say yes, but she hesitated. Was she okay? Was it normal for her to be reacting like this? "I don't know," she said. "I'm confused and hurt and upset. For a minute there, I thought my wildest dreams had come true… but then I have to ask myself why getting Adrien back is still so important to me after all this time."
"That's silly, Marinette. You shouldn't feel bad for wishing someone hadn't died."
"Suppose he hadn't died, then. What would I do?" She held up her left hand to stare at her engagement ring.
Tikki put a paw on her cheek. "Maybe you should figure that out before you marry Nathanael," she said.
Marinette shook her head. They were crazy thoughts, plain and simple. If Adrien hadn't died, she wouldn't be with Nathanael at all. But Adrien was dead. That wasn't an option for her. To dump her fiancé for the memory of a love she could have had was not what healthy people did. Living in the past was not what healthy people did.
"…coming to you with breaking news. An akuma is attacking Times Square. Police are urging everyone to avoid the area until…"
Marinette looked at the television. Outside, she heard sirens and the distant drone of a news helicopter. An akuma attack. The perfect distraction.
"Hey Tikki, are you in the mood for some after-dinner exercise?" she asked.
Tikki flew in front of her face with an eager smile. "Let's go!"
A minute later, Ladybug took a running leap off her apartment building and set out for Times Square. A steady rain fell, soaking her through in no time at all. Down below, the flow of pedestrian traffic moved in the opposite direction, a river of people carrying the occasional umbrella along like debris. Abandoned vehicles clogged the streets. Police officers guided citizens towards safety and set up blockades to keep anyone from wandering into the akuma's range.
The rain and darkness of the evening kept Marinette from being noticed as she swung from building to building. But once she reached Times Square, lights illuminated her red suit, making her impossible to miss. She surveyed the area and spotted several news crews crouched behind overturned cars. They waved at her. Where was the akuma? A helicopter pointed a searchlight directly at her and she winced against the brightness.
"How dare you steal the spotlight from me, you little insect?" a voice shouted over the roar of the helicopter's blades.
Marinette looked up and saw a man dressed in a suit made up of several different costumes, his face hidden behind a frowning mask. He floated in front of a giant television screen with a gloved hand pressed to his forehead in a dramatic swoon.
"Even now, no one wants to acknowledge me as the star—me, The Showman, the greatest performer who ever lived!" he cried.
"Every memorable performance needs an excellent leading Lady, don't you think?" Marinette yelled up at him, and dipped into a bow.
The Showman's mask morphed into a hideous smile. "You? Oh, please." He stretched out his arm and stage props appeared around him. "I am a one-man show!"
Marinette shrugged. "It was worth a shot." Then she did several backflips to avoid getting hit in the face with fake trees and hand-painted storefronts. A curtain appeared in front of The Showman, snapped shut, and disappeared, taking him with it.
He reappeared inside the helicopter's searchlight and preened in front of an imaginary audience. "You there!" he said to the reporters on the ground. "Are you capturing my good side?"
Marinette cast her yoyo to try and restrain him, but the props he'd thrown at her arranged themselves into a backdrop, and her yoyo bounced harmlessly off the wood.
"Talk about an attention hog," a voice said beside Marinette, and she turned to find Loba, rain-soaked and grinning. "Need a claw?"
Marinette smiled back. "I'd love one," she said.
Loba sprang into action without another word. She leapt higher into the air than Marinette could have done even with her superpowers, and aimed a kick at The Showman's backdrop. The wood splintered under the force of the blow with a loud crack.
And suddenly, Marinette was back in the condemned building.
A crack. A groan. A crescendo of destruction.
Chat Noir, his face bloodless.
She had to run, she had to run, she had to—
Times Square returned in the blink of an eye. Huntsman stood in front of her, his hand outstretched as if he'd meant to shake her. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Marinette trembled all over. She looked past him and saw Loba clawing and kicking her way through an army of stage props. "I'm fine," she said, though her heart beat way too fast. "We have to help Loba."
The rest of the fight went by in a blur. One Lucky Charm and some well-coordinated teamwork later, the butterfly was purified and The Showman, an aspiring Broadway actor, sat in the middle of Times Square with a confused look on his face. Marinette threw her Lucky Charm into the air and a wave of magic swept over the area. Broken screens were fixed. The streets repaved themselves. Overturned cars were set back on their tires. Loba and Huntsman watched in amazement as Ladybug's power did what theirs couldn't, and when it was over, they showered her with compliments.
But Marinette could hardly focus on their praise. She was cold. It felt to her as if the rain and darkness had worked their way into her cells, and at any moment she would become rain and darkness herself. She wanted to get away. She wanted to disappear. For one desperate second, she wished the collapsing building had crushed her, too.
Then the reporters arrived, shoving cameras and microphones and lights into her face, and she had to be Ladybug again. Strong, heroic Ladybug, who had survived this long without her partner. Who would continue to survive without her partner.
She arrived back at her apartment almost half an hour later and went straight to the bathroom. She released her transformation, filled the tub with hot water, stripped off her work clothes, and sank into the scalding bath, desperate for warmth.
Tikki sat near her, but she didn't speak. Her blue eyes were wide with concern.
After some time, Marinette sat back and rested her head against the edge of the tub. "All right," she said, "I admit it. I need psychological help."
She'd never seen a therapist before. She'd been too afraid that she would let slip her superhero identity, so she'd dealt with the nightmares and the flashbacks and the survivor's guilt on her own—and clearly, she hadn't made very much progress.
If she was going to survive her time in New York working for a man who looked like Adrien, a man who was engaged to her only civilian friend and could therefore not be avoided forever, she would have to deal with her grief as aggressively as possible. For her sake. For the sake of her future marriage.
Once she'd warmed up, she got out of the tub and sent Nathanael an email telling him that she was exhausted and would talk to him in the morning. Then she crawled into bed and listened to the rain until oblivion came for her.
To Be Continued
A/N: If you're suffering from post-traumatic stress, including flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks, please get professional help. You don't have to fight it alone.
Next time, we see what Lila's up to.
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