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Vanilla Pain

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“No, it’s okay… It’s gonna be okay, Princess,” Chat assured her. His voice cracked. “Ladybug will get here soon, and she’ll make everything better again.”

Marinette stared up at him, tears in her eyes. Water droplets speckled her face.

Chat moved to wipe her cheek dry, but stopped, the palm of his gloved hand slick with something wet. Instead, he curled his hand in a fist and drew in a shaky breath.

“That was a bad hit you took from the akuma, Princess.” He forced a weak laugh. “You didn’t have to jump in front of me, you know. I’m tougher than I look.”

“Kitty, she’s not coming,” Marinette whispered, cradled in Chat’s arms. “I’m sorry. I wish I could’ve done more.”

“No… No, you’re perfect. Just stay with me, okay? Ladybug’ll be here in no time.”

Marinette struggled to push him away, but her movements were sluggish after that hit to the back of her head.

“No, Chat, you have to go,” she slurred. “You have to go get the akuma…”

Chat shook his head. “I’m staying right here. Ladybug can handle it on her own. Believe in her. She’s really more amazing than you think. Ah-ha, there’s a smile.”

Marinette reached up a hand, and he let her fingers brush the edge of his mask.

“You can try, but it doesn’t come off,” he murmured. He didn’t mind that her touch trailed the mask less and caressed his cheek more. “You wouldn’t want to see my face, anyway. It’ll shatter the illusion of that roguish black cat meowing at your balcony at midnight that I’ve got going on.”

Chat glanced to the window, then shifted Marinette a little so he could peer around table legs, ears flicking. He hoped Ladybug, wherever she was, lured the akuma away from this tucked-away corner of the hotel dining room. Marinette was too injured to move, but he couldn’t leave her, either. Ladybug had to handle this akuma by herself for once.

Her hand slid down his chest, falling.

“Hey, don’t fall asleep on me, Princess,” he said, adjusting her in his arms, jostling her and making sure she was comfortable. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining the wetness that seeped into the grooves of his gloves. He wasn’t imagining the tears falling on Marinette’s soft face, her eyes closed.

“Hey… You have to stay awake, Marinette, for Ladybug. She’ll reverse this.”

Chat Noir trembled. Tears flowed down his mask, and he buried his nose in Marinette’s hair, swallowing a sob. It smelled like vanilla and fresh bread.

“Ladybug’ll reverse this… She always does.”