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The two words reverberated in an unwelcome mantra that haunted Marinette’s every thought and action.
Brushing her teeth in the morning, each stroke echoed the rhythm. Every chewing gnash of her teeth, every step on her way to school, every tap-tap, tap-tap of her pencil against paper rang in her ears, ‘he knows, he knows, he knows’.
He knows I'm Ladybug.
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The night that it had happened was another in a string of uneventful patrols. Chat and Ladybug had taken to alternating shifts in the quiet of Hawkmoth’s absence, but more often than not, Chat appeared during her assigned patrols. It had been one of those nights.
She'd teased him for showing up as usual, though they both knew she was grateful to have him along. They didn’t talk much beyond their normal banter, but the otherwise humdrum patrol quickly waxed late into the night as the two lost all track of time in rounds of tag and easy company. She'd even entertained a few of his advances with her own--if more subtle--responses.
He was still on her mind when she returned to her balcony long after midnight. Dropping through the skylight to land on her bed like she'd done countless times before, she might have been a little distracted. Maybe she was still thinking about the cute way Chat had stumbled over his words when he finally caught onto her gentle flirting (even if she'd never admit aloud that that's what it had been, especially to him). In retrospect, it hadn't been her brightest idea. It had been intended as harmless fun, but the way he'd looked at her... The darkness hid her flush, but she could feel it creeping up her cheeks nonetheless. She silently resolved to reestablish those boundaries--and their respective curfews--on the next patrol.
These were the thoughts running through Marinette's mind as her transformation peeled away, and so she didn't even notice him standing there until a loud bang announced his presence.
She nearly fell over the railing of her bed at the sound as she locked wide eyes on him, frozen at her trap door.
"P- papa!" she croaked.
For a moment, she allowed herself to believe that he hadn't seen, that it could be explained away; but that hope quickly faded as she watched the shock on his face give way to horror, and then hurt.
"U- um..." she began, feeling her heart sink as she tried to make sense of the stream of emotions playing across his face. She'd imagined this scenario countless times. In all the fantasies where she revealed her double life to her parents, after the initial shock they were always happy for her. They were proud . But this...
The disappointment was nearly tangible in the thick silence that hung between them, and a tinge of anger slowly seeped into it.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.
She knew her father was an emotional man, passionate and optimistic about everything in his life, but nothing moved him like his devotion to his family. Thinking about it now, it shouldn't have surprised her that he was reacting poorly.
But Marinette couldn't remember the last time her father had been this upset with her. As she watched a nameless emotion flicker behind his eyes, she was suddenly unsure if he’d ever been this upset with her.
"Marinette." His voice made her jump despite the quiet, almost dreamy way he spoke. "You're Ladybug?"
"My daughter is Ladybug," he murmured, and she realized he was talking to himself. She carefully descended the ladder but paused at the bottom, unsure what to do next.
Her father stood rigidly on the steps for a moment longer, then shook his head, running a hand down the side of his face. He finally looked at her with seeing eyes for the first time that night. "I don't think we should discuss this without your mother here," he said at last.
"Uh, b-but..." Her mother wouldn’t be back in town until the next day, and the thought of this suspense hanging over her until then twisted Marinette’s stomach further into knots. “But, Papa-”
"Until then,” he interrupted, “I don't want you doing... that, ” he finished, gesturing vaguely at her. “Understood?"
"But if an akuma-"
"Marinette, no!" he hissed, suddenly raising his voice. She froze, watching him like a deer in headlights .
And suddenly she could see it: in the furrow of his brow, in the haphazard trail of his gaze, in the subtle tremor that his balled fists tried to hide.
He was terrified.
Of her power? No, surely not. More likely he was afraid that his precious daughter was the daring figure he’d cheered on the news so many times. Minutes ago the figure of Ladybug had hardly seemed real, and now he’d discovered that his only child was risking her life daily to protect the city--to protect him. And not only had she been doing it all along, but he’d been none the wiser. She wasn’t even sure which was more shocking to him. It was a small part of the reason she'd never shared her secret with her parents. As she stood inches from a man who suddenly felt miles away, she knew she’d been right to keep it from them.
"Papa, you don't have to worry about me," she said softly, stepping closer and offering a timid smile. "I'm actually really good at what I do, if you haven't noticed. And I'm never alone, you know? Chat Noir-"
Something in his eyes stopped her. They stared at one another wordlessly as Marinette tried to identify the emotion that suddenly swallowed her. But before she could put a finger on it, her father slowly turned and descended the stairs. The trap door clicked softly behind him, leaving an oppressive silence in its wake.
Ah, she thought, defeat washing over her. It was betrayal.
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