Looking at the laptop, never did I regret not having Tattletale more. I wasn’t bad at math or ferreting out information, but I’d been running a small territory in a city without a huge number of people in it.
This man handled a good chunk of the black market and illegal transactions for Paris and a good chunk of France.
And what was worse, even most of the transactions here were perfectly legal. No doubt they were used to hide various illegal transactions, but they’d been set up in such a way that even someone holding these files couldn’t immediately find information about criminal activity.
Lisa could look at it and find the patterns. Maybe a detective with a background in the field could do the same, though he’d take longer.
Me? I was lost. My bugs buzzing around me, running dozens of translation routines, and I still hadn’t gotten more than 50 pages into it. Worse, some of the language was colloquial, and the translation systems weren’t good with that.
Maybe Ladybug could find someone to do it, but I bet that none of her team could do any better than I could. I’d done a lot of things, they had done a lot of things, but none of us were experienced detectives who could unravel something like this.
Maybe if I’d spoken with her, I could have used my insects to get probable cause—after all, there would have been no akuma involved. But I hadn’t.
I stared at the lines of numbers, data entries, transactions, and resisted the temptation to smash the computer.
My insects buzzed a little louder. I’d caused a possibly permanent breach with the people I needed and worst of all, it looked like it was for nothing. I could have sat down with them and talked to them about what they had done to find Hawkmoth. I couldn’t imagine that they had been completely reactive.
Working together we—The phone beeped and I read the message.
Need to talk. Alone. When & Where?
Ladybug. A trap? Her friends had held her back. Maybe she wanted to deal with me alone?
Than why give me the choice of place and time? She wasn’t stupid, she knew about my bugs, and yet she was giving me the opportunity to prepare the ground. It wouldn’t make things certain, but even so…
I had a problem with her. She had a problem with me, and she was the leader of her team. Until we worked it out, my very presence would make things difficult, make it harder to find a way back home or deal with Hawkmoth. We couldn’t move forward until we hashed things out between ourselves.
I named a park, one with access to the sewers where I would move enough insects to protect myself. But I wouldn’t bring them out. Not unless I was ambushed.
I’ll be there.
I stared at the phone, then back at the useless data I’d gotten. If it had been useful, maybe the price would have been worth it— a family’s fear for ending a war. But this…
It left a bad taste in my mouth. I had assumed the tactics I’d used in the Bay, the tactics that I’d used with a team that included Lisa, would work here.
It was time to talk about some new tactics.
Presuming Ladybug wasn’t just going to try to punch me out again.
Marinette sat in her house, Tikki floating by her. Her parents were long asleep, would be until morning.
I messed up. The meeting had broken up, and as leader, she was the one who was going to be setting up the meeting with Skitter. She trusted them, they were her friends, even Chloe, though Chloe could be a work in progress, but…
None of them had really agreed with her. They’d thought she’d overreacted, especially when they read the kind of place Skitter came from. And even when Marinette was thinking of trying to mend fences…
Not just to watch her… Her words repeated in her mind. Marinette had been the one pushing filter masks and goggles. She’d been the one warning that they might be attacked at any moment. It made sense, was perfectly logical but…
Why should Skitter trust them, work with them, or take them at their word?
“I read the files,” she said, running her fingers through her hair. “Of course she’d be scary, she comes from a scary world.”
And yet she hadn’t attacked them at all, save for the time in the alley and she’d just come out of a fight, to see two people she didn’t recognize diving down on her.
Siberian. Crawler. There were others, but if Skitter was a normal human under those clothes, and from the way she’d reacted to Marinette’s punch, Marinette bet she was, then she was just as vulnerable as a normal human.
Which meant that half the things on her world could kill her without even slowing down once they got within arms reach. It hadn’t been a malicious attack, it had been someone desperately trying to keep her and Chat from getting close to her.
After that, she hadn’t attacked anyone. She hadn’t stayed hidden until she could use her bugs to kill them unawares. She’d talked to Alya, even if it was a spooky style of talk, she’d set up a meeting…
And at every point, Marinette had acted like Skitter was preparing to attack them, preparing to betray them. She’d called in Kagami to set up a possible way of blindsiding her, and if Skitter found out, why wouldn’t she think Marinette was just preparing to get her somewhere where they could eliminate her advantage?
Her sole advantage over the wielders of the miraculous.
Every time they met her, they were wearing masks and goggles or had them at hand, like they were pointing guns at her. Caution was one thing, but…
“I could have invited her in, we could have talked to her, I could have—ARRRRGGGHHHH. When is Chloe the reasonable one!”
“When Chloe wasn’t almost killed?” Tikki said, her voice soft as the kwami rubbed against Marinette’s cheek. “You could have died, Marinette.”
“Never happened, not like this.” Tikki paused. “You know you’ll die, one day, but…” She floated around to face Marinette. “But it’s natural to be frightened of being helpless, nearly dying and you almost did die at Skitter’s hands.”
“I don’t think she meant to,” Marinette said.
“Did that make the feeling of bees and flies cramming their way into your mouth and nose feel any better?”
Marinette shivered. “No.” I’m… Afraid of her? Marinette was a mess, always late, always flaking, barely able to talk to Adrien without making a fool of herself. People called her their everyday ladybug, but depend on her in a crisis?
Ladybug was everything Marinette wasn’t, decisive, powerful, a confident leader. Even if Hawkmoth sometimes pressed them to their limits, she’d never felt… As helpless. Gagging, coughing, feeling the stings on her face, her mouth, her tongue, insects forcing their way down her throat and every time she gagged, they just kept pushing. Marinette felt bile rise and ran to the trashcan. After a few minutes, she managed to fight the nausea down, then sat back on her bed.
Skitter used fear. She had to on her world, and she’d used it on Marinette, and it had worked. Marinette was afraid of her. She’d never have punched Alya if she’d done something so stupid with her illusions, because she wasn’t afraid of her.
Skitter fucked up, Marinette thought. That was plain. She wasn’t giving her a pass, not at all, for what she’d done. But if Marinette hadn’t kept her at arms reach, had tried… Maybe she would have asked them first.
Maybe if Marinette had focused more on the part about lost girl in an alien world and less terrifying bug controller, she would have yelled and not punched. Or maybe they wouldn’t have had the situation blow up in the first place, because they would be talking more.
She needed to talk to Skitter. She needed to talk to her. Marinette got her phone and sent a message.
Need to talk. Alone. When & Where?
A few moments later, the message came back. A small park, not far from the school. An hour from now.
I’ll be there.