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Reconstructing Chameleon: Lies We Tell (Ourselves)

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I’ve read my fair share of Chameleon fics, and more notably, Chameleon salt fics. They were impossible to avoid in the months after Chameleon aired, and even now, a year after it originally aired, it’s still extremely common to see fics pop up taking down Lila and often the entire rest of the class with her.

In Chameleon itself Marinette had a bad day. Her classmates didn’t consider that she might be upset about her seat being changed to be alone at the back without asking. They fell for Lila’s INSANELY stupid lies in the cafeteria. Lila threatened her with making her lose all of her friends, leaving her alone and isolated. And to top it off, Adrien gave some advice that while well-intentioned, was based off of the assumption that Lila wasn’t actively malicious. Since she was, it was counterproductive.

But at the end of the day, everything’s okay. Marinette’s still friends with everyone, all of her friends still like her and think highly of her, that’s it. Lila barely even comes up for the rest of the season, being relegated to cameos except for Oni-chan and Ladybug. Marinette doesn’t bare any grudge against her classmates for falling for Lila’s lies and her classmates still care for her and try to support her. The major negative impact from Chameleon is highly localized to that one episode.

In come the Chameleon salt fics which deconstruct the episode, showing the full effects of those actions on Marinette. The bullying Lila puts Marinette through is exaggerated, and the callousness of the class moreso. They often show the full feelings of betrayal from being dismissed and passed over in favor of a liar, and how they would affect Marinette moving forwards.

A lot of the time the characters are exaggerated and warped in the process. Adrien becomes a victim-blamer who takes Lila’s side and tries to defend her even when she’s obviously and maliciously hurting Marinette, or just doesn’t do a thing to help her when Lila’s targeting her. Alya ignores Marinette’s pleas to listen to her, dismissing her as simply being jealous and thinking that she’s just targeting poor, innocent Lila who’s done nothing wrong. The rest of the class just generally kick Marinette to the curb, completely forgetting their previous strong bonds and simply believing every awful thing that Lila might say or imply about Marinette without question, and lashing out at her when she attacks their new awesome friend.

Marinette arguably gets hit with this worst of all, since there’s really not much basis for the way her character can become warped. She becomes bitter and hostile, setting up situations or taking advantage of whatever situation she finds herself in to take down Lila - but taking the class down with her, often including Adrien and Alya. Marinette even intentionally and deliberately sets up circumstances SPECIFICALLY to hurt her (former) friends, reveling in their pain.

At first it seems like Lies We Tell (Ourselves) may be treading familiar Chameleon salt territory. Marinette’s stopped trying to poke holes in Lila’s lies, following Adrien’s advice. But she’s paranoid, afraid of what Lila may do to try and drive her friends away. Then when she finally gets the courage to confess her feelings to Adrien he turns her down immediately.

In a regular salt fic Adrien would be made out to be a horrible person for this. He’d be twisted into a caricature of himself, becoming someone who will gladly try to silence Marinette when she’s hurting and caring nothing for her feelings when he rejects her. MiniMinou doesn’t do that. He feels TERRIBLE about needing to turn Marinette down, knows that he COULD fall for her, but... he’s in love with Ladybug, and he can’t just change targets. Especially since it would be unfair to Marinette to return her affections when he’s still in love with someone else. He tries to tell Marinette this, that it really isn’t her, it’s him, but she’s still upset and heartbroken. But she doesn’t think any worse of Adrien for it. She can’t stand to see him or be near him for awhile, but she doesn’t think he actually did something wrong.

As for Adrien’s advice about Lila? He honestly has no idea that her lies are having a negative impact on people, much less that she’s maliciously trying to harm anyone. When she tries to manipulate Nino into DJing her party for free a second time by dangling the possibility that XY might show up and recognize his musical talent, Adrien starts to see that something’s up. That Lila’s lies aren’t as harmless as he originally thought.

It’s not unusual for a saltfic to have Adrien find out that Lila’s lies are harmful. But MiniMinou reconstructs this by showing WHY Adrien thought that simply lying wasn’t that bad. Because he’s a liar himself. 

He has to lie to protect his secret identity of course, but it goes deeper than that. Adrien has to lie in order to spend time with His Lady. In order to spend time with his friends. The whole persona he puts on as Chat is a mask he wears, one that he enjoys wearing, but - there’s still an element of it being an act. Sometimes he can almost convince himself that yes, this is who he really is, but then his father says or does something that shatters all the bravado he’s built up as Chat. Not that being Adrien is any LESS of an act. He has to be the perfect son in order to get any scrap of love thrown his way. If he fails the act, not only will Gabriel not give him even that, but he’ll pull him from school and the few people in his life who DO give him affection and care consistently. The only one he can’t be isolated from is Ladybug, and even then he has to lie to his father, Nathalie, really everyone in his household about what he’s doing, often setting up music to make it sound like he’s practicing the piano.

Like Lila, he lies often and pervasively and doesn’t feel bad about it because it’s the only way to get any of the love he’s so starved of. He believes that Lila’s the same way, as he never saw her use her lies to hurt others until the incident with Nino. At that point he thinks of speaking up, though it proves unnecessary since Nino has it handled. But the seed was planted. Even earlier when Ladybug was describing the situation with Lila to him (in general terms of course) he was FURIOUS with Lila. Not so much for lying - he’d be a hypocrite if that was his reason - but for deliberately hurting the person he cares for most.

That’s the thing about MiniMinou’s reconstructions - her versions of the characters engage in some of the same things that the salt versions do, but it’s explained WHY they believe and do those things, and it’s never malicious. They’re not perfect people of course, they can make mistakes and sometimes they just don’t realize how they’re hurting others, but they’re ultimately good people and good friends who want to comfort and protect each other, even when mad. They just come at the situation from different viewpoints and with partial knowledge which can lead them to say or do things that end up hurting others in their ignorance, even when they think they’re helping.

Alya’s the starkest example. In Chameleon salt fics she tends to get hit hardest and most frequently with the ‘become a terrible person’ stick. MiniMinou’s Alya starts off with the same basic knowledge and premises that Saltya usually does. She believes Lila’s lies and thinks that Marinette’s hatred towards her is due to jealousy. She tries to push for a reconciliation between the two of them, even asking for Marinette to invite Lila to her group gatherings, so long as Lila does the same.

The differences are, Alya actually has good REASON for believing Lila, and that ultimately Alya doesn’t abandon Marinette, even when she thinks she’s wrong. It’s revealed that Lila told her that Rena Rouge was the reason half the Miraculous team got akumatized on Heroes Day, something that Lila couldn’t have known unless she was there or asked someone who WAS there. And since Lila was supposed to be in Achu and there weren’t any civilians or cameras around to watch the scene and possibly tell Lila that information (well, in MiniMinou’s version. In canon Prime Queen was streaming the whole thing), then logically it made the most sense that Lila was telling the truth and that Ladybug had told her that information. Especially since it matched up with how Ladybug seemed to be mad at her, avoiding her whenever they crossed paths. Making Lila, Ladybug’s supposed BFF, mad didn’t seem like a good idea, especially if she ever wanted a chance to be Rena Rouge again. Not to mention she just doesn’t want Ladybug to be mad at her. She looks up to Ladybug greatly, she’s her idol and her hero! She wants Ladybug to like her.

While her motives here are slightly selfish, Minou never portrays her as a terrible person for it. Her priorities can be slightly skewed, but it’s not a bad thing to want to be a superhero or to enjoy being a superhero, so long as it’s ultimately for good reasons. 

And still, Alya stays with Marinette. She comforts Marinette when Adrien rejects her. When Marinette lashes out at Lila for asking her whether she wants to switch seats to get away from Adrien, Alya follows her, even though she’s unhappy with the way Marinette had just treated Lila. When Lila invites everyone to a party except Marinette, Alya elects not to go because it would hurt Marinette. Alya’s caught between two friends who are fighting for reasons she doesn’t understand and tries to do right by both of them; but when push comes to shove, she chooses Marinette. She makes mistakes mostly due to lack of knowledge and some slight tunnel vision rather than any malice, and tries to do the right thing as best she can. It’s just not always clear what the right thing IS.

Lastly there’s Marinette. She too has some characteristics typical of her salt version. She’s bitter and feels betrayed that no one believes that Lila’s awful and that Adrien advised her not to keep trying to expose Lila. She wants someone who’s completely in her corner, like Chat Noir is. Add on being rejected by the love of her life, and it’s not long before butterflies start chasing her.

So like in saltfics, Marinette is DONE. She can’t afford to be akumatized. But unlike with many of those fics, she doesn’t try to take it out on others. She just... retreats. She can’t afford to feel angry or bitter or sad or even too stressed, so she suppresses her feelings and tries to emotionally isolate herself from the situation, at least when she can’t be certain of getting the support she needs, of having people who will fight for her. Unfortunately, that includes Alya. She can see Alya’s perspective on the Lila situation for the most part, but she can’t make herself emotionally vulnerable enough to truly empathize with her position and figure out how to turn things around. She can’t AFFORD to make herself vulnerable right now. 

But she never tries to hurt Alya or to wish harm on her, and when Alya’s at the end of her rope after her akumatization, with Nino, Ladybug, AND Chat Noir all seemingly angry at her, Marinette reaches out and throws a movie night to comfort her, like Alya had been comforting her after being rejected by Adrien not long ago. She even pushes through her own discomfort to invite Adrien to the movie night. Marinette’s a bit bitter and feels betrayed, but Alya’s still her friend and she wants the best for her. Marinette just doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be understanding about the Lila situation right now. 

Marinette does, luckily, have an outlet. An escape from the heartbreak of Adrien’s rejection and Lila’s machinations. She lets herself be Ladybug for fun, playing tag with Chat, pulling tricks, and just talking and hanging out with him more, even setting up a special texting app so they can message each other as civilians without blowing their identities. And Chat has her back completely, and she has his. She knows that he’ll fight for her, though he can’t really help her against Lila, he can give her the level and kind of emotional support she’s been craving, and she in turn gives him emotional support that she didn’t even know he needed.

Marinette’s tendency to give and give and GIVE of herself to others to her own detriment also comes up, with Lila spreading a rumor that Marinette was working on new costumes for Kitty Section, setting Marinette up to either disappoint her classmates when she doesn’t deliver on a promise she never made, or to work herself to the point of exhaustion in order to make them, also conveniently taking up all of Marinette’s free time so she couldn’t think about Lila, much less have time to try and do anything about her. But Marinette puts her foot down - gently, but firmly. She tells Rose that that was a mistake. She resolves to put herself first instead of giving so much of herself to other people that she has nothing left. Especially since her classmates seem to take her for granted a bit.

But the bitterness doesn’t fester. She’s putting herself first, but she’s not dragging anyone else down to do so. And while Rose is disappointed that the rumor wasn’t true, no one tries to guilt trip Marinette into making them anyway. She said she had no plans to do so, that it wasn’t true, and that was that. Marinette still feels a compulsion to help everyone and guilty when she doesn’t do more, but she clamps down on it, helping others so long as it doesn’t mean hurting herself.

Minou took some of the bits from Marinette’s typical salt versions - her bitterness, her feelings of betrayal, her desire to escape to people who will be completely in her corner - and tempered them. She’s bitter and feels betrayed but still cares and values her friends and classmates. She wants to escape and be given total emotional support, and she succeeds, but it’s provided by her partner and not OCs or minor characters made prominent by the story. Ultimately however distressed Marinette is she never intentionally sets out to hurt others, and doesn’t believe that anyone’s a bad person besides Lila and Hawkmoth.

MiniMinou’s “Lies We Tell (Ourselves)” is a breath of fresh air after the deluge of Chameleon Salt that started flooding the internet a year ago. It acknowledges the problems and consequences that would logically spring from that episode if the themes carried forward into consequent episodes more, while not warping any of the characters and providing good reasons for their actions. Even when the characters DON’T act 100% altruistically or logically, their actions and mindset remain relatable and make sense from an emotional point of view. It rebuilds what the Chameleon salt tore down, acknowledging the problems and trying to fix them.

And really, that’s what “Lies We Tell (Ourselves)” is at heart; a fix-it fic, aiming to fix the mess that both canon and fanon have been left with, finally rebuilding and repairing what was damaged by canon and destroyed by fanon.