A Blanc Slate, Chapter 6
OKAY! I'm just ready to see this story done, SO right or wrong, good or bad, we are going to keep chugging along and hope it ends up halfway decently XD.
It had been a revelation that had shaken Ladybug to her core. Chat… was dying?
He stayed silent, waiting for her to speak first.
“Chat…” Any and all words after that died on her tongue.
“That’s why I can’t be your cat anymore,” he said, voice ragged as though he was exhausted. “Because I have to get rid of this ring as soon as possible.”
“Then let’s look for a solution together.”
He shook his head.
“Why not?” she challenged.
“I have to do this on my own. This is my problem—”
“You’re my partner,” she countered. “Your problems are my problems, too.”
He sighed, looking weaker by the second. “I knew you’d say that.”
“Then why don’t you trust me to help you?” she begged, on the verge of tears. “Why are you cutting me out like this?”
He paused, his eyes avoiding hers as he lost himself in thought. “I have my reasons.”
“And they are?”
Oh, dammit, Chat.
“Sorry,” he muttered, still not meeting her eyes. “But it’s better this way.”
“I don’t think it is.”
“I do, though.”
She grit her teeth, the pain in her heart growing the harder Chat drew the line between them.
“Trust me on this, bug,” he said, finally lifting his hazy gray-green gaze to her. “The backlash of my actions will come back to only me, and I don’t want you in the way.”
“I’d be willing to—”
“Oh, I know you would,” he cut in. “And that’s the problem. You…” He sucked in a breath. “You and Marinette both. You care far too much about people who are hurting. It’s not wrong, but… for people hurting to suddenly have safe havens like you is both the biggest relief and biggest weakness. Because if anything happens to that safe haven, we’re left with nothing. Mentally, it’s easier to leave the safe haven so it stays safe instead of watching it fall to ruin. Do you get what I’m saying, bug?”
The whiplash his words gave her made her head spin. She was sure he’d said other things before to that affect but never so clear for her to understand something she really couldn’t comprehend. “But… I can still be your safe haven even if you lean on me. I just help you get through all the other hard things. That’s what friends do, right?”
Chat’s ears fell, his eyes closing as he took a heavy breath. “There’s a limit to what I feel like I can ask you.”
“There’s no limit for me.”
“Maybe not for you, but I can’t cope with pulling you into this.”
Ladybug bit her lip, confused and hurt. He’d said before to Marinette that he loved Ladybug more than anything, so why was he pushing her away? Was he saying that he couldn’t lean on her because he cared for her? Because he couldn’t put that kind of pressure on her even if she was willing to take it?
She just… did not understand.
“Sorry,” he muttered, breaking the silence. “I figured you wouldn’t understand. So just… realize that I need to do this myself and stop trying to butt in to ‘help’. Because it’s not helping.”
There wasn’t anything else she could do. “Okay,” she relented. “Under one condition.”
His brow furrowed, and she watched his guard spring up again. “No. No conditions.”
“Just hear me out.”
“Why don’t you hear me out?”
Silenced, her words died on her tongue.
“I don’t want to pull you into this, and don’t go forcing yourself into my issues, either,” he growled, ears pinned back. “I’m asking one thing of you, and you’re trying to play fix-it by not listening to me. Stay. Out.”
There was no other option for her but to relent. “Understood.”
The edge of Chat’s intensity softened, his ears relaxing so they were no longer pinned at her. “Thank you.”
“This won’t be our last meeting, right?”
Chat quirked a brow at her. “Of course. I’ll have to give the ring back to you.”
Oh… right. “Still. You’re not going to just drop it off with me and run, right? You’ll talk with me? Please?”
He stared at her for a long moment before sighing. “Yeah. Fine.”
“Okay,” she sighed, sad and hurting but hopelessly unable to push forward anymore. “That’s all I ask for. I’ll leave you alone until then.”
“Thank you. Now, you leave first.”
Ladybug quirked a brow at him. “What?”
“I have to apologize to Marinette. And thank her for letting us use the room.”
“Oh,” she muttered.
“I don’t have anything more to say to you now, Ladybug,” he stated. “And I won’t until I finish this last mission. So please, just go.”
Though it hurt, she really didn’t have a choice. He’d said more than she’d expected him to, and he also made it clear the conversation was over. She didn’t want to push and risk pushing him away again. But with this in mind, she knew she’d have to think about how their last meeting would go and what she was willing to give to make him stay in contact with her.
She stood. “Okay. I’ll go tell Marinette you’re awake.”
She went downstairs, detransformed and waited a minute, as though Ladybug was explaining everything to Marinette. It was hard not to immediately go back up to him, but it had to be done for her identity.
But once that thought struck her, she realized that she’d likely know who Chat was very soon. If he was going to give the ring back to her, he’d have to detransform. She’d know what he looked like outside the mask. She’d be willing to beg for his name, as well as for anything he was willing to give her about him. A part of her had always wanted to know the man behind the mask. But she’d never wanted that more than now.
And if she had to give her own identity in exchange, she realized she’d gladly do it.
Eventually, she walked back up to her room and knocked on the door. “Chat?”
She opened the door, and there was Chat, sitting right where he had been, except the smile on his face nearly knocked her off her feet. “It’s your room, you know,” he said, his tone teasing. “You don’t have to knock.”
She shrugged, unable to come up with any other retort. “You had both Ladybug and I really worried, you know.”
That smile of his disappeared. “Sorry, Princess,” he said, letting his eyes close and head fall back to lean against the wall. “I didn’t mean to. And I’m sorry about everything else, too. It’s not like I want you to have to take care of me—”
“I don’t mind,” she cut in, crawling up to her bed and taking a seat beside him, their shoulders touching. “Really, I don’t mind at all.”
He huffed. “You shouldn’t have to be babying this superhero.”
“Again, I don’t mind.”
“You’re not a caretaker,” he said. “And it’s not fair of me to take advantage of you like that.”
She shrugged. “You need help. And I’m happy to assist.”
He sighed, turning down to look at her. “I know I yelled at you before for being Miss Fix-it,” he eventually said. “But one of your best qualities is your willingness to help someone. But then again. Maybe it’s not.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because it makes me worry someone might take advantage of you.”
Marinette tilted her head. “Like… what are you talking about? I’m smarter than to let that happen.”
He huffed, sliver of a grin flashing across his lips before disappearing again. “Nevermind. Just… be careful who you let in your life. You… you’re a pretty amazing girl, babying a guy who can’t even tell right from left. You deserve the best, Princess.”
“You’re a pretty amazing guy, too, Chat,” she said. “Risking your life for Paris’s safety for years and still finding time to make others smile when you could. I want the best for you, too.”
He hummed, but didn’t respond. Instead, he leaned sideways, his head resting on top of hers. “Sorry, Princess,” he muttered. “I just… I really need a minute. And then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Take as much time as you need,” she assured. Out of habit, she reached up, burying her fingers into his white locks right under his cat ear. He stiffened at her touch, but as she slowly scratched circles in his hair, he relaxed. If she was Ladybug, she would use this to start up a purr that amused her so. But she didn’t expect that this time. It was only to put him at ease.
But he ended up purring anyway.
The sound rumbled through her, somehow calming her heart. Oh, kitty.
She stayed like that for a while, long enough for him to fall asleep. And when she eventually realized that, she laid him down on her bed, curling up beside him, and ended up falling asleep herself.
17. Locked in
After that last time she’d met him as Ladybug, Marinette had noticed Chat seemed to be losing himself more and more. She hated watching it, that ring draining him dry. She just wished he’d tell her what he was doing so she, her Ladybug self, could help him. So she could save him.
But she couldn’t. Chat had told her no. And pushing would ruin any chance of saving their partnership.
“You seem to be pushing yourself really hard,” Marinette began, setting a plate of cookies in front of him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“So what if I am?”
She sighed, taking a moment to focus on what she wanted to say and what she could say as Marinette. Which… wasn’t much.
Chat’s icy demeanor thawed. “Sorry. Guess I’m just on edge with everything lately.”
“Is it stress or…?”
He shrugged. “A combination of things.”
“From what I can guess, you’re pushing yourself too hard.”
“I am cleaning up a mess that I alone can deal with,” he said. “And… guess I can say it’s taking a lot out of me.”
Like your life and health. She bit her lip. “How much longer do you think you’ll be at this? Because watching you now is painful.”
He paused, silence lingering a long while once again. “I have one thing I have to get for Ladybug,” he answered. “That’s it. Then I’m done.”
She blinked her surprise, unsure if she was more shocked at his task or him being so forthcoming about it. “My guess is it has something to do with the miraculous?”
He nodded. “I thought it was locked in a… certain place. But it wasn’t. It took a while to hunt down, but I found it.”
“So… are you saying you’ll be done soon?” she asked, hopeful. “And then you’ll be able to rest and recover?”
He stared at her for a moment before reaching out to rest a large, comforting hand on her head. “Yeah. And then I should be back on track to be okay again, okay, princess?”
She blinked at him, already feeling her vision blur.
He gave her a smile, one weak from exhaustion but true nevertheless. “Thank you for caring about me. It means more to me than you realize.”
Her cat just kept wanting to give her heart attacks, didn’t he? If it wasn’t bad enough that he was already barely lucid half the time, Marinette had just come up on her balcony to see the white super sprawled out, unconscious.
“Chat. Chat!” She flipped him off his stomach as carefully as she could before checking him over for any sign his was breathing. Which, while shallow, he was.
“You’re going to be the death of me, damn it!” she hissed, plopping down on the ground and pulling his head in her lap. Gently, she patted his cheek. “Chat. Chat, wake up, please.”
He didn’t, at least not right away. It took a moment for him to so much as stir under her touch. And when he finally opened his eyes, Marinette felt herself sigh heavily in relief.
“Damn it, you stupid cat,” she said, heaving a sigh of relief while her gut still burned with worry. “You scared the crap out of me.”
His eyes shut for a moment. “Sorry,” he muttered. When he opened his eyes again, they seemed to be a little less foggy. Nowhere near fully lucid yet, but she’d take any bit of progress she could at the moment.
She sat there for a while, stroking his hair and pondering what she could possibly say that she hadn’t already said a million times before. She couldn’t tell him to surrender his ring now, since he seemed determined to see this through, nor could she tell him to go to Ladybug for help. He certainly wasn’t going to listen to her either way.
“What am I going to do with you?” she muttered, tears beginning to make their way down her face. She realized that too late when they rolled off her jaw to splatter against Chat’s cheeks.
“It’s almost over, princess,” he muttered, forcing a weak smile that clearly took a lot of energy out of him. “I’m almost done.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“I mean it this time,” he wheezed out. “I… I got it.”
Got what? She wondered.
It took her far too long to realize what he meant.
“You’re really almost done?”
“Yeah,” he said, reaching up a shaky hand to roughly brush away the tear trail on her cheek. “Almost done.”
She could have cried in relief. Now, she had to prepare herself for his meeting with Ladybug. “Are you going to meet Ladybug now?”
He opened his mouth, but froze, words seemingly stuck in his throat.
“No,” he answered solemnly, the light seeming to fade form his eyes. “Not… I need… I need a moment.”
Her brow furrowed. “To collect yourself?”
“To… recollect everything,” he said. “Because… it didn’t go as planned. And to call it the second big ‘oops’ I’ve made is just… too much an understatement.”
Suddenly, Marinette’s gut was back into such a tight knot she felt like she could throw up. What happened, cat?
A stupid question. Because unless she could work some Ladybug magic on him, she doubted she’d ever know.