"Miraculous Ladybug!" Ladybug cried, tossing the red and black-spotted stepladder into the air, summoning the ladybugs to fix everything as always.
"Pound it!" Cat Noir held out his fist, but Ladybug didn't respond. "Uh... Pound it? You all right, Milady?"
"Eh?!" Ladybug started. "Um... pound it," she said, bumping Cat Noir's fist.
"Milady, you seem preoccupied. What's up?"
Was I really so obviously distracted? Maybe Cat can help... "I, uh... you remember Multimouse?"
Marinette? What could possibly be happening between her and Ladybug...? "Uh, yeah, vaguely. Why?"
I can't say too much about my civilian self, but... "I've been... checking in on her occasionally — obviously I can't give her the Mouse Miraculous again, but I still like to make sure she's okay, y'know? But... it kinda seems like she's gotten into some trouble. I'm not exactly sure what's going on..." Ladybug can't just know all the details... "... but I know that it's worrying."
"Hm. You think she could use someone to talk to?"
If he checks in on Marinette, I'll be able to explain the situation without bringing up awkward questions. "Well normally in a case like this I'd encourage her to talk to her friends, but she seems to be having some trouble with them... and I can't talk to her directly about this, on account of..." Ladybug waved her hands vaguely. "Reasons. Long story."
'Reasons'? That implies something interesting. "But if a stray cat were to turn up on her balcony, that wouldn't be a problem?"
"You got it, kitty." Her earrings beeped at her. "I gotta get going before I transform back. Bug out!"
Later that night, Marinette was back in her bedroom, working on a side project to take her mind off her troubles. Bedtime was fast approaching, but she kept an ear out, being fairly sure that it wouldn't be long before...
"Hey there, Marinette! Working late?" The voice of her unknowing partner called from the balcony trapdoor, which she had left open.
"Hey, Cat Noir! Just trying to keep my mind occupied... What brings you here tonight?"
"Oh, y'know, just on the prowl, looking for akumas, and Parisians in need. Happened to be in the neighborhood and remembered that I was chatting with Ladybug earlier, and she mentioned you seemed troubled."
"She did, really?" Marinette asked, feigning surprise. "I didn't think she was..."
"Keeping an eye out for you? That's my lady — always making sure people are safe. So what is it that's troubling you?"
"Well, there's this girl in my class... not naming names,"
... I can't do that. Ugh. "...but she seems to have a bit of a grudge against me. I thought she'd dropped it a while back after she managed to get me suspended on false charges, but... I guess she thinks she's dropped off people's radars."
Lila's going after her again?! How did I not notice that...? "She's going after you again? What's she doing? Have any of your friends noticed?"
"They haven't, no. She's being a lot sneakier this time. I haven't actually caught her saying anything, but every so often I hear someone say something about me that I know isn't true. I'll correct them if I can, but there's only so much I can do like that... I tried asking where they heard these rumors, but by the time any of it actually gets to me, they can't remember." Marinette sighed. "It's not the same level of bad as before, but... I'm dreading the day when she figures out how to get it there."
"And you're sure it's the same girl?" Cat Noir asked.
"Unfortunately, yes. Eventually I managed to catch someone fast enough that they could remember — my friend Alya realized she'd heard it from this girl. Though she seemed to believe that the girl had heard it from someone else first... I guess Alya can't really be sure one way or another, but I just know that girl is behind the whole thing."
"That sounds pretty awful," Cat Noir said. I... don't know how I'd stop something like that, if my threat from earlier isn't holding her anymore... I've never dealt with people like Lila before this year! "Have you asked your friends for help?"
"I did, but most of them don't believe she'd do that, and the only one that does told me to take the high road and let her catch herself!" Marinette exclaimed.
Oh... that was me, wasn't it...? "And that's not going as well as your friend thought it would, huh?"
"Well, I thought she'd given up after she came up with that 'lying disorder' story and stopped saying stuff for a while — but I guess she was just taking time to regroup and come up with a sneakier plot."
"Hmm," Cat Noir hmm'd. "Let's go over the lies she's told so far."
"... well, it looks like most of this can be debunked by... literally just anyone who thinks to factcheck it," Cat Noir said, "and the stuff about my lady would be easy for her to disprove as well. I can see why your friend thought it was a good idea to let the girl ensnare herself — none of her lies seem to have any substance behind them."
"But it didn't work!" Marinette exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air.
"Indeed it didn't, but I can see why he thought it would," Cat Noir said, holding up his hands placatingly. "The girl seems to be sneakier than your friend realized."
"She's so sneaky! What do I do?!"
Cat Noir closed his eyes in thought. Cat Noir doesn't go to Françoise Dupont, so... "I can help with the broad strokes, but I don't think I know enough to help form the details of the plan — you should probably ask your friend about that."
"I dunno, I don't think my friend really understands how bad this girl is..."
"Then you explain it to him," Cat Noir said with a smirk, "over and over if you have to, until he gets it." Though you won't have to. "It sounds like this girl will stop at absolutely nothing to get her way. You need someone on your side — in addition to my purrfectly pawesome but admittedly distant-from-the-situation self."
Marinette snrk'd. "I'll try, I suppose..."
"And hey," Cat Noir said, "if he doesn't listen, I'll knock some sense into him. Gently." His ring started beeping. "Whoa, I've been out that long already? Guess I'd better head off and take a catnap. See you around, Marinette!"
"See you around, kitty."
As Cat Noir nyoomed off, Marinette frowned slightly. Did I... ever actually say that the friend I spoke to was a him? ... Eh, I must have, surely.
"Miraculous Ladybug!" Ladybug tossed the ping-pong ball Lucky Charm into the air to summon the healing ladybugs once more.
"Pound it!" Cat Noir said, holding out his fist and receiving a triumphant bump from Ladybug. "Feline better today, Milady?"
"Definitely," Ladybug said. "You talked to Multimouse, I imagine? She's been a lot less occupied with whatever was bothering her, which is a load off my shoulders for sure."
"Glad I could be of service," Cat Noir said with a theatrical bow. "Turns out there's this girl in her class trying to bully her, only she's being sneaky about it so her classmates don't catch on. I pointed out that the girl's lies are as flimsy as tissue paper and suggested she talk to a friend about it. Repeatedly, if she has to."
Ladybug nodded. "Having a friend on her side will help for sure. As long as he listens to her, anyway." Her earrings beeped. "Whoops, gotta go. See you on patrol tonight, kitty! Bug out!"
Cat Noir waved to Ladybug as she zipped away. ... Wait, did I actually tell her the friend was a him? ... Yeah, I must've, surely.
"... huh, none of these songs seem to fit Lila at all," Alya muttered. "That's weird. You think that was her lying disease too?"
"That would make sense," Marinette said. If 'being a big lying bully jerk' counts as a disease, anyway!
"I can't believe I never thought to go back and fact-check all the stuff she'd said once I heard about the disease," Alya said. "I've been trying to be more skeptical about what she says now, y'know, just in case it's acting up, but I somehow never thought about all the stuff she'd said before. It's so obvious in retrospect, but it... just never occurred to me."
"I can't blame you," Marinette said. "Somehow it didn't occur to me either. Not until — "
A knock knock at the ceiling trapdoor. "Meow meow, local alley cat speaking," Cat Noir said, poking his head into the room. "Oh hey, Alya! Helping Marinette with a project?"
"Mm-hmm," Alya said with a nod. "We're going over Lila's old stories, from before she told us about her lying disease, and confirming which ones are real or not. Say, you've rescued Jagged Stone a few times — does he have a kitten?"
"Well, I never saw one," Cat Noir said with a shrug, "but technically he could have one I just don't know about... except for the fact that he does have an alligator. Alligators and cats do not room well together."
"Well, that definitely explains the lack of gratitude song," Alya grumbled, crossing one item off the list. "Man, are any of these gonna turn out to be real?"
I'd guess definitely not, Marinette tactfully refrained from saying.
"Like, did she at least really help with Prince Ali's charity thing? I feel like she'd have to have admitted it if that one was a lie."
"Rose knows Ali," Marinette pointed out, "we could ask her."
"Ooh, good idea," Alya said, dashing off a quick text.
"Say, Alya," Cat Noir said, marking something down on a sheet of paper. "Is this... the complete list of questionable claims Lila has made? Or, more to the point, who made this list?"
"I did," Alya said. "Marinette wanted to make sure she wasn't biased by her history with Lila."
"And the fact that she's doing this project in the first place isn't concerning?"
"Cat!" Marinette exclaimed, sounding scandalized.
"Hey, I'm not objecting here," Cat Noir said, raising his hands defensively. "I just wanna make sure we're all on the same page."
"Heh, funny, that's the same thing Marinette said," Alya said. "That she's making sure we're all on the same page. Lila made a lot of extraordinary statements that nobody questioned when we didn't know she had that lying disease. So, yeah, I was a little concerned, but she's right — we need to all be on the same page about what's true, otherwise someone could seriously mess some things up."
"Right, of course," Cat Noir said with a grin. "So since we are on the same page... I went through the list and noted down the purpose of every lie — assuming it is in fact a lie — and there seemed to be basically two kinds. The first kind is the kind that makes Lila look better, which makes sense, that's how lying diseases usually work... it's the second kind that worries me. Cause it seems to be all about making Marinette look bad. Only Marinette, not any other person."
"Wait, what?!" Alya exclaimed, snatching the paper from Cat Noir. "... ... ... What the hell, Lila? She really does have a grudge against you, Marinette! And here I thought you were just jealous of her and Adrien—" and Alya's eyes suddenly widened as she spotted one particular "questionable claim" regarding a foxtail necklace, but seeing as neither Marinette nor Cat Noir were supposed to know about her being Rena Rouge, she quickly forced her expression back to something more neutral.
Marinette's jealous of — but she keeps saying — ??!?!?! Cat Noir nearly short-circuited there, but quickly realized that he definitely couldn't address this now, not when neither Alya nor Marinette knew he was Adrien, and managed to force his expression back to something more neutral.
"... Why'd you both go silent suddenly?" Marinette asked, confused.
"No reason!" Cat Noir and Alya said.
"Hey, so, here's a question," Alya said, hastily changing the subject, "what are we gonna do with this information? Like..." She shrugged very loudly. "It's weird that her lying disease is making her act out against you — "
"Um, so, not to be ableist or anything," Cat Noir interrupted, "but is it the lying disease, or is Lila using an excuse to bully Marinette on purpose?" I hadn't heard a thing about Lila having a 'lying disease' til I threatened her to get Marinette unsuspended...
Marinette frowned. It's definitely the second thing. But... "... how do we tell the difference?"
"Do we have to?" Alya asked. "She's got a disease that makes her lie, but does it stop her from saying true things? It might be out of her control that she says these things about Marinette in the first place, but she could clear them up later when the disease calms down, and she's choosing not to — she's been repeatedly choosing not to the entire year since she arrived. It's not ableist to hold people accountable for their actions."
"Right, but hold her accountable how?" Marinette asked.
"Hey, Milady, you're good at forming plans. Given everything I just explained, how would you help out Multimouse?"
"Cat Noir said you needed to speak to me, Alya?"
"Yeah, why does Lila Rossi have a necklace that looks exactly like Rena Rouge's?"
hey dupain-cheng if you're trying to take down rossi you should ask ladybug about this utterly ridiculous magic spell she gave me Attachment: liarla's probably bogus spell.txt
ig it *technically* could be legit but i have a sneaking suspicion it's not
Wait what? Chloé how did you even figure out that we were investigating Lila
i have my ways
fyi we're still not friends but rossi sucks worse than you so
... And I suppose that's all there is to that
"I don't know where that necklace came from. I know Rena Rouge takes good care of her necklace and always knows exactly where it is, so it can't be the same one, but other than that I don't have any ideas. And, uh... the filename is right, that spell is completely bogus. Also, I've never met Lila until she showed up this year — I don't know what that stuff is about being one of my close friends; the whole secret-identity thing means none of the people I'm friends with as a civilian know about my life as Ladybug."
"It's kinda impressive that you got Ladybug herself to give an interview on the subject," Marinette admitted, "but I'm still not sure what we're going to do with all this."
"Everyone at school reads the Ladyblog," Alya said. "If Lila tries anything after this, they'll have their defenses up. You shouldn't be hearing any more of those weird rumors going around."
"That'll be nice. It feels kinda... incomplete, though. As much as I'll be glad to be rid of that, I just... had this feeling like it was building up to something more."
Alya shrugged. "That's real life. This isn't like a story, where there's the whole narrative structure thing. In real life, sometimes stuff just happens."
"Yeah, that makes sense," Marinette admitted.