Chapter 1: The Ending is just a Red Herring
The first time they'd decided to watch a movie together, Marinette had ushered her guest to the chaise before wheeling over her desk chair to sit in. She positioned it as close as possible, but the whole arrangement had been less than ideal. Since then, the event has been repeated more times than either teen has dared to count, and they slowly shifted from sitting in two separate seats to curling up just beside each other on the chaise, with the laptop held between them.
They didn't cuddle, Marinette insisted, though occasionally her head would lean against Chat's shoulder and his arm would shift to hold her when the movie got sad. Their friendship just wasn't like that. And although her smile was sheepish whenever the topic crept into their conversation, Chat never returned her weak words with anything other than a gentle acceptance. He never tells Marinette that he approached her parents after their first movie night to request permission to visit her again. He never shares the details of the very long lecture he got from Tom about mixed signals and compassion. Chat keeps all of that to himself, but he remembers it.
And if he's a little sad whenever they're slated to watch a funny movie rather than a dramatic one, he doesn't examine his feelings. That's the direction of madness, and he's already more than aware that Marinette is far more to him than 'just a friend', no matter what he tries to tell himself when he's Adrien. But even with the funny movies lately, they curl up together on the spotted chaise. And this night is no different. Marinette's head is nestled against his shoulder as they watch the end of Clue and when the first ending stops abruptly and a title card shifts them to an entirely different one, Marinette stiffens sharply.
"What?" she demands, her voice pitched low enough that despite how close they are he can barely hear her over the movie. Her eyes never leave the screen as Wadsworth talks to Mrs. Peacock. "No, that's not..." She scowls, reaching to pause the movie, but Chat catches her wrist before she can, holding her hand away from the keyboard. "Chat," she complains, even as he chuckles.
"Just enjoy it, Marinette. Isn't it more interesting this way?" Her grumbling subsides, but he can see that the alternate ending doesn't sit well with her. He half-suspects that his Lady would have a similar reaction. Both girls are planners, and the idea that there were details missed clearly rankles. Still, Marinette slowly settles against him again, and by the time the third ending comes, she's nestled as close as she's ever been to Chat.
As Shake, Rattle, and Roll begins to play, Marinette turns toward Chat, her eyes closed. "Not your favorite?" he asks softly, unsurprised when she shakes her head.
"There were too many American jokes. I'd prefer something with jokes that make sense," she admitted softly as he cards a hand through her loose hair.
"Still, I thought the multiple ending thing was neat," Chat noted, a half-grin on his face. "Imagine if Hawkmoth created an Akuma who could do something like that. That'd be the hardest..." He trailed off as he realized the way Marinette had tensed in his arms. Her hand clenched his arm tightly, and she was shivering, her eyes still squeezed shut. "...Marinette?"
"Don't," she whispers harshly, but rather than pulling away, she pushes right up against him, so they were almost completely entangled. Chat's cheeks warmed to a dull red, but Marinette was still shaking.
"Marinette," he whispered again, his voice as gentle as he could possibly make it. "Tell me what's wrong? Let me help, Princess," he pleaded.
"An akuma like that would take you away," she whispered shakily. "There would be an ending without Chat. I... I can't..." He reached down to tilt her face up so that he could see her, and found tears escaping from her tightly-shut lids. Before he could begin to reassure her, she spoke up again. "Paris won't be safe without you, Chat. Ladybug can't... I can't.... we need you," she pleaded. Her muted, trembling voice shattered his heart.
"Princess," he breathed, cupping her cheek in his palm. "Open your eyes." She was slow to respond, but eventually he was staring into the depths of oceanic blue. "It's going to be okay, Princess," he promised softly. "I'll never stop defending Paris. I'll never stop being Ladybug's partner." His thumb ran just under her bottom lip, and he tried not to register the hitched breath he heard. "I'll protect you, Princess," he whispered again. Pressed chest to chest as they were, he couldn't quite tell if the pounding he felt was her heart or his.
In that moment - in the breath after his promise to protect - he wanted to kiss her. His eyes dropped to her lips, noting how soft they looked, and his thumb drifted just a little closer to her mouth. "I'll always protect you," he repeated, reinforcing the promise as he tugged his gaze away. She loved someone else... and so did he. But here in her room, the outside world had faded to a dream.
"Stay?" she begged shakily. "I can't... I don't..."
He couldn't really understand why the idea terrified her so much, but this, at least, he understood. "It's okay, Marinette. I'll stay 'til you're asleep. I won't leave you alone," he assured her. Slowly, she calmed. "I'll never leave you alone, Princess," he murmured, so softly that he wasn't quite sure she even heard him. Then again, he wasn't quite sure he wanted to be heard.
Chapter 2: Soft, Strong, and (Never) Disposable
It's a strange feeling, holding Marinette while she sleeps. He's never stayed quite so late before, but she'd cried after the movie (after their talk of akuma), and her grip on his arm was white-knuckled in a way that twisted his stomach. He's going to owe Plagg so much cheese after school, but it'll be worth the grief he gets if he can give Marinette a restful night.
He tries to avoid thinking about how natural it feels with Marinette's cheek tucked against his shoulder as her hair tickles at his neck. One of her legs swings over him, sandwiching his thigh between hers and the mattress, and her arm keeps him snuggled close enough that it feels like second-nature to match the rhythm of her slow breathing.
He doesn't sleep. He wants to, almost more than he's ever wanted anything else, and not because he's tired for once. No, this time there's a low thrum of need burrowing into his soul. He needs to wake up with her. He needs for her to open her eyes in the morning and look at him blearily and smile that sunshine smile of hers. But he can't. He can't because of Luka, and because of Adrien, and because whatever else he might have figured out about her, she's just a friend to him. He may not get to claim anything more, since she loves Luka, but he won't allow for anything less.
She trusts him as Chat. She might trust him as Adrien, too, but there's something different about waking up with a superhero in your bed versus waking up with a teenage boy in your bed, and he's just not quite ready to chance the horror she would feel. He's afraid that she might feel used or lied to, even though he's explained to her exactly why he can't tell her his real identity. And honestly... he's not entirely sure she'd be wrong.
This sort of all-encompassing snuggling is a new affection for him, and one that he was addicted to after the first hit. He tries not to let it show, because it's clear that well-adjusted young men didn't crave for the brush of another human's fingers to remind them that there's more out there than ice and emptiness, but somehow, Marinette seemed to see, even when his Lady didn't. Perhaps it's just that he gives Marinette more chances to see. Chat doesn't know.
What he does know is that it's nearly dawn. Outside the skylight, the sky has shifted from dark to a pale grey pre-dawn that heralds his need to get moving. He starts to untangle his limbs from hers, grateful to discover that Marinette's a heavy sleeper. Rather than waking, her eyes blink open briefly and she smiles at him before rolling away to snuggle into the pillow at the back of the chaise. That smile... Chat thinks that his heart might just burst from his chest, and for a second he hates Luka, because someday Luka will see that smile all the time, and Chat will be left alone again.
But this time, the smile is for him, and he can't quite help himself. He stands beside the chaise and leans over, pressing a soft kiss into her hair and hearing only a light snore in response. This may not be his future, but he'll steal the current moments away to keep in his heart.
As he's moving to the ladder up to her bed, he hears her knob rattle, and freezes, his eyes glued to the door. It opens slowly, and suddenly it's Tom that Chat's looking at. He can feel the warmth drain from his face, but Tom only smiles quietly and steps into the room. "I brought breakfast," Tom whispers, holding out a bag to Chat. He waits patiently while Chat approaches, as skittish as a feral cat. When Chat grips the bag, Tom holds onto it for a moment more. "We trust you," he assures Chat, and then releases the bag.
Chat stares at him with wide eyes for a single moment before darting to the ladder and up through the skylight. As he launches himself toward home, however, his heart is singing, reminding him that maybe... just maybe... he's actually leaving home behind.