There are a lot of things that Ladybug knows about Chat Noir, but one of the most important is that he fills space. Chat is boisterous, playful, larger-than-life; when he wants to be, Chat Noir is loud. He may be good at erasing himself when he wants to, but no matter what he’s doing, Chat Noir’s presence is always big.
Which is why, when Ladybug arrives for patrol that evening, she’s immediately able to tell that something is wrong. He’s too small—he’s drawing in on himself, minimizing surface area. His eyes are glazed, a hundred miles away; they’re wandering, sliding past her. He won’t even look her in the face. He barely even acknowledges her presence.
Little kitty on the roof, all alone without his Lady…
“Chaton?” she says.
He doesn’t speak, his body language only growing tighter. He’s—he’s shaking.
She sits down next to him, carefully, and reaches out to place her hand on his shoulder.
Immediately, Chat shrieks, yanking away from her. His head snaps around, his pupils slit like knife blades, and his back rises, hackling and hissing, fangs bared.
Ladybug pulls her hand back. “Chaton?” she whispers, shocked. He hasn’t reacted to her like this since Sandboy—it reminds her of drowned Paris, of the boy in white. Something is severely wrong.
His hiss stops mid-breath as he realizes what he’s doing. “Oh,” he says, his eyes widening in shame. “I—I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
“It’s okay,” Ladybug says, trying to force down how unsettling his reaction is. This is completely unlike him: whatever is going on in his life outside of the two of them, she knows he doesn’t get enough physical touch from other human beings based on the way he leans so desperately into her hands and her space. To have him actively shy away from it is… “What’s wrong?”
He stares at her for a moment, then shakes his head, hugging his knees to his chest. “Nothing’s wrong,” he says with a trembling voice. “Had a great day.”
She blinks as her lungs twist in her chest. This whole scenario is screaming emergency inside her skull. She needs to do something. But based on how defensive he is, if she pushes, she’s not sure if he’ll open up or shut down.
But Ladybug is never someone who will go through a problem when around is an option. Lateral thinking is her strong suit; she just has to approach the situation from the side.
“What made it so great?” she says, gently. Not looking at him, not prodding. Letting him take the question on his own terms.
She twists, sees him wiping his mouth with his palm, and the muscles in her arm tighten as she forces herself not to reach out to him. “Kitty?”
He turns away from her, presses his palms into his knees. She can see his claws tremble. “I—I lost my… my… virginity, today,” he says.
From what Ladybug knows of boys, that would normally be something for them to brag about. Hell, Alya basically crowed about it to her for an hour after she and Nino finally moved from Super Pinguino to Ultra Pinguino. And, despite her irrational flash of anger—not jealousy, of course not, you’re not jealous you don’t want him—it’s hard to begrudge him moving on after four years, picking someone else. But the way he sounds when he says it… he’s utterly broken. Something in him hurts from this, and there’s no way it’s because he’s in love with her. That would sound apologetic, not… not shattered. Not torn apart.
“Were you scared?” she says, because that’s the only thing she can think of.
He shudders, utterly silent, holding his palm over his face. His thumb drifts toward his lips; the claw shortens as she watches, and she’s struck by how lost, how childlike, he suddenly looks when he presses down between his teeth.
“Chat?” she says.
“I… didn’t want to,” he responds, his voice small and very far away.
Her bones fracture into ice, frost crashing through her veins. “What?” she hisses.
He laughs, a mirthless, defeated laugh. “Isn’t that… isn’t it stupid?” he says. “I was—I’m supposed to want it. I do want it.” He presses his palm into his forehead. “I don’t… I don’t know what was wrong with me.”
Ladybug can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t—
“I feel like I hurt her,” he says. “But I was just… I can’t stop freaking out.” He rumbles—his self-soothing purr sounds different than his happy one. “Wasn’t I supposed to enjoy it?”
Ladybug’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
Chat chuckles again. “Sorry,” he says. “I know it sounds stupid.”
Ladybug feels the corners of her eye grow wet. He—he doesn’t know. He’s blaming himself, and he doesn’t know.
“Chaton,” she croaks. “It’s—it’s not…” Her voice cracks. “Chat, I think…”
“Yeah,” he says, staring towards the lights of Notre Dame. “Not a big deal, right?”
“Not a big deal?” It’s like there’s a well inside her, except instead of water it’s full of flames, and everything has just come roaring out. He twists to stare at her, horror in his eyes, but she can’t stop herself—not once it’s already started. “Chaton, you’ve been—you were raped!”
Chat’s whole body jerks, and she hears his breath begin to come ragged. “What?” he gasps. “No, that—no, men… men can’t…” He chokes. “That… doesn’t happen to guys…”
…Ladybug wants to murder someone. She’s not sure if it’s this girl, or Chat’s parents, or his teachers, or whoever put him in this position but she knows that someone needs to die. “Did you have sex?” she says.
“I—yeah?” Chat responds, his eyes wide.
“Did you want to?”
He swallows. “It’s—it’s that simple?” he says.
Ladybug purses her lips, trying to hold back the tears, and nods.
Chat’s chest shudders. “I—oh Kwamis,” he breathes. “I… I was… I was…”
She can see it. There’s something constructed around him, a delicate shell of self-lies that he’s been carefully building for the last few hours to keep himself from falling apart, and she can see it beginning to shake. Bits of the frame are breaking loose. She has only seconds until he collapses, until he breaks.
She reaches out to hug him, to hold him, but then—she can’t touch him. If she touches him he’ll break and she’ll only make it worse and she doesn’t know what to do. What do you do when your partner, your other half, the man you trust with your life, is… is… she’s not prepared for this. She never prepared for this.
She flings her yo-yo upward in a blind panic. “Lucky Charm!”
The box that lands in her arms is deceptively heavy, and she immediately recognizes the weight of it—she has one of these herself. She rips it open, desperate spandex fingers tearing into cardboard, and yanks the gravity blanket free of the box as the cardboard scatters into the wind. “Here,” she gasps. “Take the blanket—”
She doesn’t even finish her sentence before her whimpering partner rips the blanket from her hands, swaddling himself in it and rocking back and forth as he begins to shake. Her heart cracks at the sight as her normally brash, confident kitty tries to force down his sounds of distress, tries to stay quiet, tries to—
“Minou,” she sobs, holding herself because she can’t hold him. “You have to let yourself cry.”
“I can’t,” he gasps. “Not—supposed to.”
Her eyelid twitches, and her vision fills with flames. Not supposed to? Who—who taught him that? She’s known Chat’s home life is bad, but… but… this? Not supposed to cry?
“I am going to murder everyone who ever hurt you,” she growls before she can stop herself.
Chat’s head snaps around, his pupils wide enough to nearly obliterate his irises. “I—Ladybug, I…”
He’s still shaking. He needs help. He needs support.
“Murder,” she says, doubling down. Shingles crack under her knuckles. “No one gets to hurt my partner.”
He chokes again, looking away.
“Minou,” she whispers, her arms shaking with the effort of not hugging him. “I’m not going to judge you for crying.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then he breaks.
“It wasn’t her fault,” he gasps as soon as he can speak again.
Ladybug’s eyes narrow, but she says nothing. She’s too busy imagining creative scenarios for murder for this girl, whoever she is. And steadfastly ignoring the fact that her earrings are only down to three spots.
“I…” Chat swallows, clutching the weighted red blanket close around his shoulders. “I didn’t say anything. She didn’t know.”
“Not saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you said ‘yes’,” Ladybug murmurs.
Chat doesn’t acknowledge her words. “She’s… she was…” he says, his eyes far away. “Daughter. Of one of Father’s clients…” He trails off, swallows. “I shouldn’t be talking about this,” he says. “Civilian stuff.”
Ladybug pulls her knee into her chest. “Tell me,” she says.
Chat looks at her with wide eyes. “Are… are you sure?”
Chat swallows. “She—I was at a party,” he says. “Work event. Father said…” He chokes. “I was supposed to… keep her entertained.”
Ladybug gasps, covering her mouth with her hand. Keep her entertained. Such an innocuous phrase… and yet, so horrifying in context.
“She…” Chat hiccups. “She was doing that thing girls do when they like you, you know?” He waves his hand. “Hanging on you, t-touching…”
Ladybug’s skin burns, and it’s all she can do not to choke on her own rage. “Chat…” she says, “that’s… that’s not normal.”
Chat stops breathing. “…what?” he says, his voice weak.
“Do you—do people do that to you a lot?” she says.
Chat shrugs. “All the time,” he says. “I’m used to it.”
“That’s assault, Chat!” Ladybug cries.
Chat’s jaw goes slack. “I—I thought that was just flirting,” he says.
That explains a lot.
“Chaton,” she says as her earrings tick down to two spots, “you’re allowed to not want people touching you.” She swallows. “Did your parents never tell you you could say no?”
Chat’s ears droop. “I’m pretty sure Father would yell at me if I did,” he whispers. Then he suddenly flicks his gaze back up to her. “W-wait,” he says, panic in his voice. “I’ve been—I keep… like, with you…”
Ladybug bites her lip. This was not a discussion she ever wanted to have with him, but…. “…Yeah,” she admits. “I—look, I enjoy most of your affection?” She swallows. “But… you get… uncomfortably romantic a lot. Especially when I’ve asked you not to.”
Chat stares at her, horror in his eyes.
“You… do push my boundaries,” she says, looking away from him and clutching her elbow.
Chat whimpers. “Oh,” he says. “Oh cats, I—I’m sorry, my—Ladybug, I swear to you, I didn’t—I didn’t know.” He’s looking anywhere but her face now. “I—if I’d—”
“Chaton,” she murmurs. “Look at me.”
He meets her eyes, fear splashed across his face.
“I know,” she says, as reassuringly as she can. “I know, and—well, it’s… it’s not okay, but… if you promise to work on it…”
He blinks. “You’re not… mad at me?” he says.
Ladybug shakes her head. “Not anymore,” she says.
They sit in silence for a moment. Then Ladybug steels herself, sucks in her lip, and speaks. “If you told your father what happened,” she says, “how would he react?”
Chat’s ears flatten against his skull, and he curls up even smaller.
She doesn’t need to hear his words to know. But if he doesn’t admit it…
“Chaton,” she says, prodding him gently with her words.
“He’d blame me,” Chat whispers. “And if I tried to tell anyone else, he’d—he’d—”
They’re interrupted by the sound of her earring beeping its last spot.
Chat looks at her. “You should go,” he says, his voice torn. He clearly doesn’t want her to. He clearly needs her to stay. And with as bad as his home life is, the decision is easy.
“I’m not leaving,” she says, her voice shaking. She’s terrified, but she knows this is what she has to do. She can’t help Chat if she doesn’t know who he is.
“What?” he says. “My—Ladybug, this, you—are you sure about this?”
Ladybug smiles. “You’ve always protected me, Minou,” she says. “Let me protect you.”
He sobs. “Ladybug?”
“Princess,” she corrects. “Tikki? Spots off.”