"I just don't know what to do, Tikki."
"It's not a decision you need to make right now. Maybe just give it some time..."
"It's been over a year and a half. God, almost two years. I met Chat only two months after I became the slayer. Isn't that long enough?" Marinette's query was met with silence. When she rolled over to look at her kwami, all Tikki could do was shrug helplessly. Marinette groaned, collapsed back onto her bed and pulled a pillow over her face so she could scream without alarming her parents. Things were bad enough between them and her that she didn't need that on top of everything else.
"Everything will be okay, Marinette," Tikki said finally.
"Will it? Will it?" Marinette sat up, slamming the pillow into her lap. "I’ve gone from being a straight A student to barely pulling Cs. My parents are so mad at me that they've taken away my laptop, and I can't even explain to them why I keep showing up with mysterious bruises, or why my schoolwork has taken a dive, or why I never have time to help in the bakery anymore.” She leaned forward aggressively.
“Plus, Master Fu is telling me that I need to start training even more because stronger enemies are coming our way. But at the same time, he keeps harping about me and Chat; he wants to take away the one good thing about my life right now. And on top of all that, I had to stake my history teacher last night! So please tell me what about all that is okay?!"
Tikki just stared at her and blinked.
"That's what I thought. I hate this so much." Marinette put her hands over her face, trying to remember how to breathe. When Master Fu had first approached her almost twenty-three months ago, on the day after her sixteenth birthday, she'd thought that being the slayer would be cool. The only girl in all the world chosen to kick ass and take names? Hell yeah!
But he'd neglected to tell her how much other relationships would suffer. He hadn't told her how hard this would all be. Probably because, to Master Fu, none of that mattered. Marinette was the slayer and he was her watcher, which meant that it was his duty to make sure that she did her duty. The problem was, as a watcher Master Fu got to take a backseat to everything. He didn't have to do anything beyond some research and making sure she was outfitted with weapons. It was Marinette who bore the full responsibility for everything.
That was proving to be a lot of weight for a seventeen-year-old.
Thank god for her friends, that was all Marinette could say. Alya, Nino and, to some extent, Chloé were literal saviors as far as she was concerned. They'd helped to keep her from feeling like she was losing her mind. But even they could only do so much. Alya was just starting to dabble in magic, but she couldn't even lift a pencil yet. Nino was more interested in the research side of things, but it turned out that knowing how to do research, particularly the kind of research Marinette's job required, was very much a learned skill. And Chloé... well, she was Chloé, always armed with a snarky comment.
Then there was Chat. Some of the doubt eased as Marinette thought about her boyfriend. Chat had saved her life countless times now. She could still remember the first time she'd seen him in action, fearlessly leaping into the middle of three-against-one vampire fight. Marinette had been outnumbered and losing before Chat showed up. She'd gotten the shock of her life when she turned around to see a handsome blond man fearlessly kicking vampire ass, moving with such dexterity and agility that it had taken her breath away.
She'd been stunned to find out he was a vampire too. But a good vampire. Or at least, that was what Chat and his kwami Plagg said. Master Fu was the one who claimed otherwise, telling Marinette repeatedly that vampires were always a danger and that it didn't matter whether she thought she could trust Chat. He believed Chat would absolutely turn on her someday, and that she was making a huge mistake. His disapproval was yet another heavy weight for Marinette to bear, and that wasn't even counting his reaction to finding out she and Chat were dating. Master Fu had made it clear how very disappointed he was in her.
But she didn't really understand why, and perhaps that was part of what drove her back into Chat's arms time and again. Master Fu told her Chat couldn't be trusted, but he never said why. He never explained why Chat wasn't a mindless, snarling beast like other vampires. He never explained why Chat could kiss Marinette's lips and then lavish kisses down her throat but never once nip at her veins no matter how hungry he might have been. He never explained why Chat would risk his life for the slayer over and over again, without asking for anything in return but her affection.
"I just can't believe that Chat is a bad person," Marinette whispered, wrapping both arms around the pillow and hugging it to her chest. She wished it was Chat. Running her hands through his hair was always comforting.
Tikki sighed. "Master Fu has his heart in the right place," she said carefully. "But he... he can't always see the full picture."
"What does that mean?" Marinette asked, looking up at her. How could she forget about Tikki? She was more than grateful for her kwami. It had been really weird at first having a tiny red demon basically following her around, but Tikki had rapidly become her confident. Marinette couldn't imagine only having Master Fu to deal with. Tikki was so much kinder and friendlier.
"I know Plagg. He wouldn't be with someone who wasn't fundamentally good at their core," said Tikki. "We know Chat pretty well by now, and I would agree with Plagg's judgment in this case."
"Why doesn't Master Fu feel that way?"
"I'm not sure Master Fu is aware that Plagg is with Chat. I know because Plagg... he used to be my partner. We mentored slayers together."
Marinette sat up straight. "You never told me that!"
"It's painful for me to talk about," Tikki said softly. "Plagg and I were meant to be together. We're two halves of a whole. But towards the end, he became very disillusioned. It's hard to bond with slayers and then watch them die, sometimes for no reason. Sometimes because they just can’t handle it anymore. Sometimes because they just made a mistake.” She sighed. “Plagg couldn't handle it anymore. He left."
Marinette had known, of course, that the other slayers before her had died, because otherwise she wouldn't be a slayer now. But knowing it and seeing the anguish in Tikki's eyes were two very different things. She was chilled to her core, and unconsciously clutched the pillow tighter as she stared at her kwami in silence.
"He asked me to leave with him, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. The slayers... you're all so young. And if my fortune can extend your lives by even a little bit, I want to be able to do that," Tikki said. "Sometimes, though... I missed Plagg so very much. I've longed to see him again over the years. So to see him again with Chat Noir, and be able to spend time with him, well... perhaps I'm biased, Marinette. I don't want to sway your heart one way or the other."
"Tikki..." Marinette whispered.
Tikki looked at her with a small smile. "I understand where Master Fu is coming from, probably better than you do. In other circumstance, he would be right to be concerned about your involvement with Chat. Everything would probably end in heartbreak at best. But because of what I know, I'm not worried. If you love Chat, you should be with him."
"I... I don't know what I feel," Marinette admitted. "Can you tell me why Master Fu is so worried?"
No sooner had Tikki opened her mouth than Marinette's phone chirped with a familiar sound. She dropped the pillow and made a literal dive for her phone. A warm, tingly sensation rushed through her when she saw that the text was from Chat. He knew she wasn't going to be patrolling tonight, but he wanted to know whether she was interested in going for a walk. Marinette didn't hesitate. She typed back an affirmation and told her partner to meet her at the Eiffel Towel in twenty minutes.
When she glanced up, Tikki was beaming at her. "I guess that answers how you feel," she said slyly. Marinette blushed.
"I can't just leave him hanging," she said defensively, quickly standing up. She grabbed the clothing she always wore when on patrol: sleek black leggings and a fitted, dark red top that was dotted with black spots. It had earned her the nickname of Ladybug, and, to the demonic underworld, that was the only title she was known by. Not even Chat knew her real name, though she was thinking of telling him. After almost two years, she trusted him to know who she was.
She dressed quickly, dreaming of the day when she and Chat would be able to go on a date and Marinette could wear a pretty red dress instead of her slayer clothing. For now, her finishing touch was black, steel-toe combat boots and a black jacket that fit her frame like a glove. She tied her hair back in a braided bun, securing it with the sharp wooden hairpins Chat had given her for her seventeenth birthday, then grabbed her bag of weapons and climbed back up the ladder. The easiest way out of her bedroom was to go out through the window and onto her balcony, then shimmy down the drainage pipe that ran down the length of the building. And that's just what Marinette did.
"You're getting much faster," Tikki said, flying down to join her.
Marinette grinned. "I should hope so. Let's go, Tikki!"
Running through Paris at night had quickly grown to be one of Marinette's favorite things to do. There was just something magical about the city when the moon was out. Yellow streetlights guided her way towards the Tower. She set a light jog; it was well after midnight, so there weren't many people around to impede her progress. She made it to her destination in less than fifteen minutes and quickly spotted the dark-clothed figure waiting for her on a bench. Like her, Chat was wearing his patrol clothing: tight-fitting black jeans, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a black leather jacket.
She stealthily snuck up behind him and covered his eyes. "Good evening, mon minou," she breathed in his ear.
"Good morning, My Lady," Chat replied.
Marinette grinned. "Has it been good?"
"Any time I get to spend with you is good," Chat said, and her heart thumped extra hard at the gentle affection in his voice. She let him pull her hands away. He looked up at her, green eyes twinkling.
"You're such a flirt," Marinette said, bending down to kiss him. She loved the feel of his lips. He always tasted like mint; she suspected he took care to brush his teeth before he saw her, just in case. His mouth parted for her tongue and he sighed against her.
"The morning just got upgraded to excellent," he murmured against her lips.
She laughed, straightening up and wiping her chin. An upside-down kiss wasn't very sexy, no matter how romantic Spider-Man and Mary Jane made it seem. "You think that was excellent?" she asked coyly. "I bet I can make it amazing."
"Color me intrigued," Chat said, turning around and looking at her like she was the only thing in the world. It made her feel special, and for once it had nothing to do with being a slayer. Because Chat had met other slayers before. He and Plagg talked about them sometimes. She'd asked him once if he'd ever dated any of them, and she believed him when he said he hadn't. No, Chat liked her for her and he was never shy about saying as much to her face.
"Let's walk," Marinette said, holding a hand out to him. The eagerness with which he leapt up and took her hand made her inwardly melt. How could Master Fu see anything wrong with this beautiful, lonely boy? In the time since she'd met Chat, Marinette had come to realize that he just wanted to be loved. That was literally all that Chat wanted. He enjoyed the casual scraps of affection that Chloé, Nino and Alya tossed in his direction, but he lived for Marinette. For her touches, her kisses, her hugs. And the more he blossomed from her affection, the more she wanted to give to him.
Master Fu was wrong. That was all there was to it. Chat meant too much to her for her to even think about giving him up now, no matter what happened.