A/N: Credit to tumblr users catxnoir, ursopanda, and gelema for the original concept!
He was never meant to hear it.
It was just a wry observation during a particularly smooth battle with an akuma, one she hadn't even realized she'd voiced until her partner in crime stiffened beside her.
"If only asking out my crush was this easy."
"Your... crush?" Chat Noir echoed, blank and quiet.
Ladybug sincerely wished she could bite out her tongue. There was a reason she'd never told Chat about Adrien, and the pained flash in his bright green eyes was it.
She'd never wanted to hurt him, ever. He was one of her best friends, her teammate, her (platonic) other half, and she would be dead or insane a thousand times over if it weren't for him, and if keeping him as a friend meant putting up with his over-the-top flirting and lewd grins, then so be it. She wouldn't trade him for the world.
She could never quite believe his feelings were genuine-nobody who could fire off lines like that was genuine-but, on the off-chance that he was, she'd kept her mouth shut on the topic of Adrien and her hopeless crush. It wasn't hard. It wasn't like they really gossiped much, anyway; there was no time for it between the akuma and the city-saving and the timers on their Miraculous.
Thankfully, the akuma relaunched it's attack, saving her from having to come up with a response to that, and Ladybug threw herself back into the battle, relieved.
Chat Noir followed her, backing her up as he always did, but he was subdued. No witty comments, no winks, no posturing, and Ladybug could feel her soul shrink in guilt with each passing minute of his silence.
Together, they ripped the policeman's hat and released the akuma. She captured it and purified it and threw her lucky socket into the sky, wiping away all traces of the totalitarian regime the akuma had enabled.
She turned to Chat, longing for reassurance that he was alright, that she hadn't just broken the heart of one of the most precious people she knew.
There wasn't much reassurance to be found.
He looked distant, sad. The set of his shoulders was defeated, his mouth twisted in something that looked a lot like jealousy. Even his ears were drooping.
The guilty pit in her stomach grew.
"Hey," she said, unable to take her sunny friend's silence any longer.
He refocused on her, and she raised her fist shyly.
I'm sorry, she couldn't quite voice. I never wanted to hurt you, she couldn't say either. I love you, please forgive me, stuck in her throat. Please don't be sad, sat heavy on her tongue, pressed against her lips.
He read it all anyway.
He huffed a little, self-deprecating laugh and gave her a crooked smile.
It's okay, the smile said. I'm not okay right now, but I will be. Don't worry.
He raised his fist in a mirror motion to hers and she grinned, the lump in her throat loosening ever so slightly.
"Mission accomplished," they chimed together, sealing the night with a ritual.
A beep told her how little time she had left and she rocked back, instinct to leave fighting with instinct to protect her injured partner, even if his injuries were purely emotional.
He looks from her to her ear and back. "Time's up," he noted, a gentle permission to leave.
"Yeah," she exhaled, taking it. She took one step back, then two. Then she was on the edge of the roof and had to turn around to properly throw her yo-yo.
"Wait," he said, just as she'd pulled her arm back to make the throw.
She looked over her shoulder.. "Yeah?"
"Who-" He cleared his throat and tried again. "Who is this rival of mine?"
She was the one who stiffened this time. "Er," she said intelligently.
"I'll be well-behaved and not try a thing, I promise," he laughed, sounding more like himself than he had since her stupid slip of tongue. "I just want to know who could've possibly captured your heart, my lady."
Marinette... Tikki nudged her, reminding her of the sand tricking through her hourglass earrings.
That, combined with the fact that Chat had said my lady almost the way he always said it, was what pushed Ladybug to confess.
"Adrien. Adrien Agreste."
She secured her yo-yo line and jumped, not wanting to actually have to converse on this topic, because if she talked about Adrien, she'd probably end up gushing (just like she always did) and Chat had taken her just mentioning she had a crush badly enough, she absolutely did not want to rub salt in that wound.
Her flight meant that she completely missed the stunned, gaping look on Chat's face.
"Wait- wait- what!?"
I love the love in this show so. much.
Alya spends her time trying to get Marinette together with her crush, and Nino storms Adrien's house to convince Mr. Agreste to let his son have a birthday and gets so upset when h won't he gets turned into an akuma, and Chat respects Ladybug enough to close the door on finding out her identity against her wishes, and even though Ladybug is 5000% done with Chat's flirting, she still supports him and saves him and readily admits that she needs him.
I'm not crying you're crying