Adrien felt hollow, doing his best to pull himself together but he had no idea what to do. He didn't have Plagg… he had no idea where he was or how he could possibly find him. Even if the plan was just to give up and hand over the miraculous they couldn't, not without Plagg. It was just a ring without him, so now even their bargaining chips were useless.
"Adrien," he heard a soft voice speak, and he turned to face the doorway of Nino's room, Ladybug entering with something in her hand.
"Is that it?" Adrien asked, walking towards her and ignoring the questioning police staring on from the other room. He didn't care how it looked.
"The ransom," Ladybug answered, "yeah. You should take a look at it, we don't have a lot of time."
Adrien reached out and took the thick stationary in hand, surprised by the expensive weight of it but then again it wasn't unreasonable to assume Hawkmoth had a flair for the dramatic. It was hardly befitting of a supervillain to make out ransoms on receipt paper.
Adrien's useless train of thought halted as he looked over the sharp clear typed out letters.
[He will be returned, as long as the price is paid. Ladybug and Cat Noir must hand over their Miraculous, mid-day inside the Notre Dame. Any heroics and it is the boy who will suffer the consequence.]
"Mid-day?" Adrien said aloud, unable to keep the shock from his voice as he looked up to meet Ladybug's statue like gaze. "Noon? You can't be serious we only have three hours?"
Adrien looked down at Nino's bedroom clock, fallen from its side table and strewn across the floor but still confidently displaying 8:53 AM on its face.
"Looks that way," Ladybug said in a quiet voice, the tone so distant and robotic that he fought off a shiver as he looked up again at her now stoic expression. "Three hours to think of something… Police set up a perimeter around the Notre Dame as soon as the note was discovered, they've searched everything as far as I know. Nino's not there, Hawkmoth is holding him somewhere else and is most likely going to either move him to the meetup or hold him somewhere else while he collects the Miraculous. So an early rescue isn't an option unless we can figure out where Hawkmoth has him."
Ladybug paused, looking over her shoulder at the police men who quickly looked away but she bit her lip regardless. She stepped closer and spoke softly then.
"We don't have any clues we don't even know where to start, but if we run out of time I don't have a choice. I've got to go to the meet up and try and bargain for Nino with what I have."
"What does that mean?" he shot back immediately, struggling to lower his voice when he spoke again. "Why are you saying that like you're going alone?"
Her blank expression wavered slightly and he could see fear in her eyes before she masked it again. "You don't have your kwami, you can't transform there isn't an option here. Hawkmoth is our biggest enemy you can't go into a fight like this without your powers."
"And you can't go in alone!"
"Adrien," she cut him off, the name shaking as she said it. "You can't just reveal yourself to him, if you do even if we get away with Nino he would just come after you, he would destroy you entire life. If you don't have your kwami I have to go alone."
"NO," he nearly shouted again and she closed her eyes as he did his best to conceal his words. "You're just going to run in there and give up your Miraculous? Because that's the only play you have! If you go in without backup he'll hold Nino over you and force you to hand over your earrings! There has to be a way to get Nino to safety and where we don't lose to that monster."
Ladybug was quiet, momentarily dropping her head into her hands before she straightened up again, trying to plan.
"The best we can hope for is that your kwami escaped and is looking for you. You can't run around the city with me it will raise too many questions, for now you need to go home, see if he somehow managed to make it back there on his own. Check any place he might go, your priority is finding your kwami. In the meantime I'll travel the city, try and find some kind of clue as to where Nino is being held."
Adrien held her gaze for a moment before taking a deep breath, nodding once. "Okay… we've got three hours to find an advantage. Stay in contact with me okay?"
"I will," she answered, taking a step away and heading towards the open space in the wall where Nino had been taken. Ladybug looked outside, her attention directed momentarily towards the sky. "Be careful," she said in a subdued voice, the stress of the situation starting to wear on her, "it looks like rain."
She only took one more second to gather herself before she bounded away, her yo-yo vaulting her across the street and over the buildings in a blink of an eye. Adrien followed after her as much he could, stepping to the hole in the wall himself and looking up, seeing the encroaching storm clouds Ladybug must have seen in the distance, past the looming visage of the Eiffel tower.
"I hope that's not an omen…" he said to himself, dreading his bad luck as he headed back through the apartment, handing over the ransom and leaving as quickly as he could. Adrien took to the streets, barreling past every reporter looking for insight and just ran for home, desperately hoping that Plagg would be waiting for him when he got there.
'Hold on Nino," he thought to himself, fighting off another onslaught of complicated fused emotions as he ran. 'We're coming, I swear.'
Plagg flew through the shadows of an alleyway, whining in frustration as he looked out on another tiny street he didn't recognize. He never looked around while he was with Adrien he just rode in his pocket, he could be a block away from the mansion and have no idea. He groaned, rubbing at his eyes as if to purge them for the thousands of identical looking streets and corners and all the useless signs that meant nothing to him since he had no clue as to how the streets related. Store fronts he didn't know, people he had never seen before, hundreds of cars and pedestrians clogging any scent he might have used. He knew some roads, some places but nothing looked right. And the entire time he couldn't get the image of Nino out of his mind, tied up and terrified as he tried to tell him to leave him behind.
"Have to find my boy…" he said to himself, darting up and over the rooftops as fast as he could, clinging to any ledge that might conceal him but also being reckless. As far as he was concerned yes his existence was secret and the branching consequences for being spotted would be massive, but… a small talking cat just might make the news, and he'd find Adrien that much faster.
"Last option," he decided, flying as fast as he could but forced to drop lower then he would have liked to avoid being seen. He didn't have the energy to fly so high that he'd be just a black dot, his hunger gnawing at him. The one thing that held hope for him was the distant image of the Eiffel tower. He knew that, but if he couldn't make a bee line then all the turns and side streets were just confusing him and slowing him down. Adrien lived near the tower, he knew that. He just had to hope that if he could at least get close Adrien would find him first.
Nino sat up straight, eyes zeroing in on the black nothingness that seemed to hold the sound, distant… but growing nearer.
He had been alone in the strange room for so long now, lost in the darkness and crouching in what light the window provided like it could provide warmth and he was cold. It was light where there wasn't any, it felt safer somehow. However as Nino waited in agony and the sound of footsteps approached the light did nothing to comfort him.
Nino hated that he trembled, it made him angry. He had always liked to believe that if something like this happened he would be strong, full of snarky one liners and a spit to the face. However now as a door he couldn't see was cast open he didn't feel any of that. He felt helpless and trapped. He supposed that was the point.
The footsteps halted, the figured they belonged to just out of sight. The butterflies drifted towards him, twisting in and out of the shadows while their master remained concealed.
Nino flinched when the man laughed, his voice low and… cruel.
Nino knew who it was.
"Hello young man," the deep voice addressed him, sounding almost amused. "It is an honor to have you with me today."
Nino bit his tongue, shifting on the floor but staying in the circle of light the window provided. He didn't want to hide in the shadows like he did.
"Will you not even speak?" the voice questioned him, a cane and the man's outline visible as he strode forward somewhat. "There is no cause to be rude. We can help each other after all."
"I don't want anything from you," Nino blurted out, the sentence rushed and harsh. His heart rate sped up as he straightened his back, something in the back of his mind screaming at him to be quiet as he said, "And I'm not helping you with crap."
The man hesitated at the edge of the light, the clicking of the cane as he tapped it absent mindedly on the floor filling the space for a time, before Nino could hear a slow chuckle start to build.
"You're brave," he remarked, slowly stepping forward so he could watch Nino cringe at the sight of him, "or at the very least, you like to pretend you are."
Nino looked up at Hawkmoth as he loomed over him, a smile on his masked face as he looked down on him. Nino felt so small in that moment, his throat instantly feeling dry and his breath harder to catch.
Hawkmoth took another step forward, Nino trying to scoot away but froze in fear when the man lifted his cane, aiming it forward so that the end was poised right in the center of his chest.
"Now now Nino," he said with another slow grin, "Don't crawl. I have no intentions of hurting you if I get what I want."
"And when you don't?" Nino said thoughtlessly, screaming at himself internally, wondering how the hell he even had the nerve to speak.
"You seem so sure they won't come for you," Hawkmoth said curiously, digging the cane a little into Nino so that he was forced to lean back slightly, closer to cowering on the ground. "That is rather strange… they are your friends after all, of course they'll come."
"What makes you think I know them at all?" Nino asked, his voice wavering slightly. Nino was unable to hide the small gasp of fear and shock that escaped him when Hawkmoth suddenly tilted the end of the cane so that it dug underneath his chin, lifting his head.
"Don't. Play. Dumb," Hawkmoth said slowly, each word punctuated and showing for the first time how easily anger could surface. When he spoke again his tone was calmer, aloof as it had been before. "You matter to them. How someone as insignificant as you could ever gain their favor is beyond me, but the details of your relationship with them is, for now, meaningless. All that matters is I have you, and if they want you back they have to comply."
Nino didn't say anything at first, pulling his chin away from the cane and looking away, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity even when he was a captive.
Hawkmoth chuckled to himself, finding entertainment in all this somehow, but as he turned to saunter away Nino couldn't help but speak.
"You seriously think you're gonna win?"
Hawkmoth stopped, and when Nino looked up the man was very still. So Nino spoke again, swallowing down his fear.
"You really think you've got anything on them? You hide behind your villains, the only reason you've got me is because you could never take them down any other way. But guess what? Not even something as low as this is gonna beat them. They are going to show up and they will take you-"
Nino's speech faltered in a scream as Hawkmoth suddenly whirled around, eyes enraged and cane lifted high. Nino cringed and tensed up, shaking in fear as he felt the chain very gently tap against the side of his neck.
"Do not disrespect me young man," he said quietly, anger brewing behind the words but Nino was too shaken to look up. What he would have seen on his face he could only guess.
Nino didn't look up again, barely breathing as the cane was pulled away and he heard again the sound of footsteps and the occasional clicking of the cane.
"Do not underestimate what you do not understand," he was saying as he walked away, his voice cast back into the room behind him. "I am a very motivated man. What I am capable of you can not even imagine."
Nino waited as he heard the door open again, and he was sure he would be alone again in that room but he swallowed once, finding the nerve to speak once more.
"What are you going to do with me?"
There was a pause, Nino still too afraid to lift his gaze. Then,
"Move you, when the time comes. For now, you will wait. And when the exchange takes place I will come for you again."
And the door swung shut, leaving Nino with his single circle of light and the fluttering of a hundred butterfly wings.
Many people looked up to see Ladybug flying overhead as the kidnapping dragged on, no updates or new information available to the public. However the main reason for that was that there was no new information to share.
Ladybug stopped on the roof of a random storefront, drawing her yo-yo back in so she could look at the time once again.
"10:15… you've got to be kidding me," she groaned to herself, one hand rubbing at her eyes as if to ward off her stress induced weariness. One hour and forty-five minutes remaining… and she had nothing.
'Marinette' Tikki spoke to her quietly from her earrings, 'you've got to stay calm, we're going to find him.'
"How!?" she exclaimed suddenly, her outburst betraying just how frazzled she really was. "We don't know where to look this is exactly what Hawkmoth wants, we don't have a choice but to meet him on his terms, and with Cat out like this…"
She stopped, her voice trailing off as she looked at an unread message from Adrien. From Cat…
'Not yet,' she reminded herself, dragging in a shallow breath as she read something else she had been dreading.
'A- No luck at the school, gym, or studio either. I don't know where else he would know to go to, I'm going to try landmarks next.'
"Great…" Ladybug whispered to herself. "I- I have to keep looking but, I've got nothing to go on Tikki. I can't do this by myself…"
"Then perhaps I can lend a hand."
Ladybug jolted, whipping around with her yo-yo poised to throw as she realized she wasn't alone on that rooftop like she had assumed, her entire body tensed and ready to respond.
What she saw when she turned however caught her off guard, the figure so entirely unexpected that she didn't know how to react.
"I am not your enemy," the stranger spoke, holding up his hands. "Don't let an old man frighten you."
He was old, that was clear, but something about him still looked powerful. He had calm, knowing eyes, but it was his outfit that drew the most attention. The old man had a dark green hood pulled up over aged white hair, a dark green mask concealing most of his face. She could see even from the distance the almost unnoticeable shell like pattern across it as well, the hood spilling down with loose fabric over his shoulder. The hood tied into something almost like a cloak or robe, not going down his arms like sleeves but rather left uncovered to shove layered armor like protection over his skin, his hands sporting almost black fingerless gloves. The outfit as a whole was various shades of dark green and muddled, swampy brown in some places, his boots the darkest thing to him. What stood out was the large, shell like shield resting on his back, and the smile on his face.
Ladybug took a step back, thrown off by his sudden appearance but not ready to back off just because he claimed he meant no harm.
"Who are you?" she demanded, still prepared to defend herself when suddenly it was Tikki that confronted her.
'Wait don't! I know who that is he isn't an enemy I promise!'
"What?" Ladybug questioned aloud, looking at the old man again more curiously now.
"Was that Tikki sticking up for a friend?" he asked, shocking her as he chuckled to himself. "I appreciate it dear."
"You can hear her?" Ladybug questioned in disbelief, eyes widening as he laughed again.
"No, but I know her well, it's easy to guess. I promise you Ladybug, I am an ally. I've come to help."
Ladybug stared at him in confusion, reluctantly doing away with her defensive position only when Tikki assured her again that he was alright.
"Who are you?" Ladybug asked again, watching closely as he reached up to stroke at his white and gray mustache.
"I suppose," he said slowly, a grin on his features, "I am Jade Turtle. Have been for a long time, though not for much longer. I'm a hero like yourself, and it's come to my attention that something rather serious has come up."
"Y-you're a miraculous wielder?!" Ladybug blurted out, mouth dropping open and Tikki giggling at her.
Jade Turtle nodded, gesturing to something green and, unsurprisingly, made of jade on his wrist.
"I am, though an old one," he joked, taking a few steps closer to her now that the situation was diffused somewhat. "You and Cat Noir are something to be marveled at, you are everything heroes are meant to be. I have not transformed in many, many years, but I feared that in such a dire time you might appreciate any aide I could give you."
"I-" Ladybug stammered, heart hammering as she tried to take it in. "Yes! This is good, this is really good. Maybe with your help…" she trailed off, fear settling into her chest again.
'Everything heroes are meant to be…' she thought to herself, 'what hero would allow this to happen?'
She looked at the old man, still somewhat apprehensive, but still… it was sudden but Tikki was vouching for him… and she really did need a win right then. She couldn't afford to turn down his help.
"Cat Noir is not with you," Jade commented, looking more serious as he said it.
"Yeah," she answered him slowly, "He… his kwami is missing. He can't transform and I haven't found anything to go off of. At this rate I'll be forced to face him on my own."
"No," he cut in, his voice firm. "You won't be alone, and you never will be. The Ladybug and Cat Noir miraculous are not parted so easily, don't doubt your partner. Plus," he said with a slightly mirthful change in tone, "I'm here too young lady."
Ladybug was still, staring at him for a second before laughing a little breathlessly. "Right…" she replied eventually, "I know that." She was quiet a moment more before she took a deep breath and shook her head to clear her mind. "Right. Hawkmoth isn't expecting you, we have an advantage now."
Ladybug nodded, calming herself and just trying to take the blessing as it came, thanking her good luck.
"I need to tell Cat."
Ladybug made the call, watching the old man stare out over the city as she did, her breath still catching a little when Adrien answered.
"Whats up? Any luck?"
"No," she answered, her stomach dropping a little when she heard him huff a little in agitation. "But I've got good news. Another Miraculous wielder showed up, he heard something big was happening and ran over to help out, his name is Jade Turtle."
"W- wait what are you serious!?"
"Yeah," she laughed, still a little in disbelief, "My kwami says we can trust him so I'm going with what she says right now. So, since we have an extra hero even if your kwami doesn't show we still have a secret advantage. Hawkmoth doesn't know he's here."
"That's good," he replied a little breathlessly, sounding like he was running, "That's good news, we needed some good news. I still haven't found Plagg but… I'm gonna keep trying. It's all I can do. How are you holding up?"
"Fine," she said simply, her tone heavy, "Better now that we have Jade's help. Me and him will keep combing Paris for Nino or Plagg, but if we run out of time at least we have a backup plan."
"Alright… alright. Keep looking LN, it's going to be okay. Stay safe alright? That storm isn't far off now."
"You too," she answered back, silence dominating the line for a moment as if they were both waiting for the other to say… something. But neither did, so Ladybug ended the call.
Ladybug straightened her back, looking up at the sky to see the storm clouds now almost directly overhead, thick and heavy with rain. They rolled in like a wave, casting darkness over most of the city.
"Ms. Luck," an old voice cut in, dragging her attention away from the ominous storm and to her newfound ally. "WE should go."
"Right…" she answered him, nodding once more. "We should split up, cover more ground but do you have something we can communicate with?"
"Yes, Tikki knows the number," he chuckled, tapping his miraculous once and shocking her when something light, green and like a hologram floated above it. "I'll call you if I find anything, and if not, I'll be at the Notre Dame."
"Okay," she agreed, backing up towards the edge of the building, looking once at the time. 10:28. An hour and a half left.
'Hold on DJ,' she thought to herself, sprinting towards the edge and leaping off, plummeting towards the ground for only a few seconds before throwing her yo-yo, rocketing off into the city.
'Hold fast young guardian…' Fu thought to himself as he pulled his shield from his back, throwing it to the ground and climbing onto it. He leaned forward, skittering down the roof tiles and jumping between buildings as he went. While transformed he was strong, but he knew he could not stay that way for long.
Plagg wandered the city much like his boy did, sometimes coming within a block of each other without ever knowing. Ladybug sped along with a heavy heart, Master Fu solemnly noting the passing time with grim understanding. Not much time remained… and he had a very bad feeling that Hawkmoth had some other play.
10:45, Adrien doubled back to the house, fruitlessly checking his room for what felt like the hundredth time.
11:00, Ladybug stopped at the Eiffel tower, trying to catch her breath.
11:15, Adrien stopped in an alleyway, his head dropping into his hands, trying to get a grip as he texted Ladybug about yet another failed search. The storm finally started, rain falling over the city and growing worse with every passing second. Adrien forged on.
11:30, Fu ignores the murmurs of the people looking up at him fearfully, hoping he wasn't a monster. His gaze was solemnly fixed in the distant image of the Notre Dame, dreading what was waiting there.
11:35 AM. 25 minutes until mid-day.
A huge hulking monster of a creature was crouched quietly in the dark, it's breathing heavy and animal like as it waited. It was dormant, patient, and obedient. It had been promised something, its task simple. It wasn't required to collect anything, it was only required to wait. Wait to destroy like it wanted to, wait to unleash its frustrations and aggression. Just a few hours, that's all Hawkmoth had asked. Wait a few hours, until close to mid-day, then it was asked to destroy anything it could touch. 'Give the police something to do,' had been his instruction, the words punctuated by dark laughter. 'Wear our heroes thin, it is all I ask. Destroy, like you want to. You have been mistreated, you are angry and I understand. Destroy everything you can, just wait a few short hours.'
In the darkness of that abandoned building the Akuma straightened, a ghostly purple outline of a butterfly lighting the face of a monster.
"Silverback," Hawkmoth spoke into its, "You've always been called the Gorilla, like an animal expected to be watched and disrespected. Show them now, if a Gorilla is what you were called then by all means, it is what they deserve. It is time, you may go."
Adrien and Plagg, though five blocks apart now, looked up at the same time much like most others in the city, everyone's attention drawn to where a horrible and wild howl resonated through the buildings. It was loud, animalistic, and violent and it didn't take much imagination to know what it belonged to.
"Akuma…" Adrien and Plagg said at the same time, both of them growing cold even without the chill of the rain.
'If there is an attack,' Plagg thought however, 'Then… Then that's the first place Adrien would go!'
Adrien had had much the same realization, going against the fleeing crowd and running towards the sound of their enemy. Plagg would go to the fight, he would be there he knew it. He had to hurry, he thought as he sprinted through the streets.
Fifteen minutes until mid-day.
"That will distract your friends long enough for us to move," Hawkmoth said aloud, addressing his captive who was lying face first on the floor. Nino was breathing heavily, his glasses cracked and Hawkmoth just shook his head when he looked down. "I hope you won't cause any more problems, you trying to run off would not fit my plans."
"Screw you," Nino said weakly, taking some enjoyment from frustrating the bad guy. His escape attempt had ended in a pretty severe cane to the stomach and the fall he had taken had broken his glasses and bruised his face. It was weird, but when it happened it almost looked like Hawkmoth took no pleasure in it, though that hardly redeemed him since he still did it.
"Stand," Hawkmoth ordered, counting or Nino's wounded stomach to remind him to behave. It seemed like it did, because the boy stood without a word.
Nino cringed but didn't pull away as he was blindfolded, stumbling forward when he was prodded making his way blindly though… a corridor. He wasn't sure, he had been unconscious when he had first been brought in, he was surprised he wasn't unconscious now. Nino nearly fell down some steps, Hawkmoth laughing behind him and making him grit his teeth in frustration. He tried to walk slowly, any inconvenience he could manage, but Hawkmoth kept a steady pace. They worked their way down, the air growing colder and dank somehow almost like they were underground. It had felt like they were in a building before, some higher level that they walked down the winding steps from but now it felt like… a tunnel. Nino had no better of a grasp as to where he could be when he was forced onto… something. A cart, a tram or something like that, something that moved. It was when they were driving along that Nino first felt the earth shake, a distant ferocious roar audible even with as far underground they were.
"I wonder," Hawkmoth spoke for the first time since they had departed, Nino turning his head to listen. "With such a distraction will they leave the city to suffer or come to collect you? No matter what they do I can't imagine they will be nearly as troublesome right after such a vicious fight."
"Is this the part where you monologue? Let me know so I can space out," Nino shot back, his fear and pain making him braver somehow. Or maybe it was his anger, a strange combination of fear and rage spiking every time he felt the earth shake.
His friends were up there.
To his surprise he wasn't hit for his outburst, but when the tram finally stopped some time later he was shoved harder than strictly needed out onto a staging platform of some kind, still underground it felt like. Nino was forced up many steps, coming towards the surface but not out into the open air, but a different building, the sound of rolling thunder and distant rain more audible the higher they climbed.
They had arrived.
11:56, four minutes until mid-day.
"PLAGG!" Adrien was shouting openly as he ran, dodging debris from buildings and windows that shattered every time the akuma roared. He covered his ears, the noise jarring and painful, but he prayed that Plagg could hear him. "PLAGG!"
Adrien looked up just in time to see Ladybug get thrown wide, her body crashing harshly into the side of a building.
"Lady!" he shouted out to her but when she locked eyes with him through the rain she shook her head.
"Keep looking!" she said vaguely, gritting her teeth and standing to face Silverback again.
It was massive, four times the size of the man used to create it and some horrific half breed between animal and human. He was covered in fur, eyes dull and violent, and Ladybug had no idea where the possessed item was.
"I don't have time for this," she groaned, acutely aware of how little time they had. What was Hawkmoth's play? Why was he sending out an akuma right now?
Ladybug yelped in surprise when Silverback lunged, picking up a car like it was a paper weight and hurling it at her, forcing her to swing to higher ground. She was nearly blind as she flew so suddenly through such a fierce downpour but the monster had no problem following her. The Akuma was frustrated, snorting and barreling after her destroying absolutely everything he could, and from the rooftop Ladybug could see the hundreds of people evacuating the buildings around her. Then she saw the police.
'Of course,' she thought to herself, the pieces of Hawkmoth's plan fitting together and making some kind of sense. There were police everywhere there had to be. With such a violent akuma anyone within five blocks of the attack site would be in danger. To control crowd panic and get everyone out safe, every available police officer had been pulled.
Which meant the Notre Dame was left unguarded.
Ladybug turned, catching sight of Jade Turtle as he threw his shield at the monster, cracking it sharply in the side of the face and making it roar again in rage, turning towards him instead.
"This is just a distraction!" Ladybug yelled out to him, looking between Jade Turtle and the direction of the Notre Dame. "Hawkmoth is using this as cover to move Nino! He's at the Notre Dame right now I know it!"
"Only you can cleanse him!" Jade shouted back, his miraculous making him agile enough to keep ahead of the monster, Ladybug running on the buildings on the other side of the street so she could still hear him. "If you leave people will get hurt!"
Ladybug was thinking desperately, at her breaking point when suddenly she heard Jade cry out, raising his shield to defend himself but too slow to dodge. Ladybug watched in slow motion as the full weight of that horrible monster's fist was reeled back to crush Jade Turtle through the roof of the building, when suddenly she saw the flash of metal shining brightly from being soaked in the rain.
Cat Noir's staff collided with every bit of force he could manage behind it, right to the Akuma's jaw. The hit was so hard and so sudden that Silverback was thrown off the building, crashing to the ground and leaving a crater in the street.
"CAT!" Lady called out, beyond relieved to see her partner suited up. Plagg must have been nearby after all.
"Where is the item!?" Cat shouted back through the storm, wasting no time he knew they didn't have.
"I don't know!" she answered, her voice taunt in distress. "We don't have enough time, it's almost noon!"
"You cannot go!" Jade shouted across to her, standing and looking between both heroes. "This is his plan! He is making you choose between the boy and the city, you cannot make that choice. You both must stay, defeat the monster and cleanse the Akuma. I will go to Hawkmoth."
"What!?" Cat Noir turned around, sharing the same rooftop with him so that they only stood a few feet apart. "You can't beat him on your own!"
"And neither of you can defeat this monster without the other, someone must stay," Jade said hurriedly, striding forward towards the edge of the building. "There is no time to deliberate! Hawkmoth cannot be defeated, not on this day there isn't the time. But I know there is time enough to save your friend."
"I-" Cat Noir tried to speak, but all three of the heroes looked down as Silverback roared again, slowly recovering from the blow.
"I will save your friend," Jade Turtle said firmly, so much power and conviction in his words. "No matter what it costs. So fight! Fight as you are meant to!"
And he leapt, his shield crashing to the ground beneath his feet and throwing him down the street, skidding on the water and propelled by his own power without waiting for either of them to decide.
'One last run,' he heard suddenly, the voice of his old friend the only thing now he could hear beside the sound of the rain and the distant sound of the fight. 'What an adventure this is turning out to be.'
Despite everything, despite his own fears and the tension that soaked the city as thoroughly as the storm, Fu smiled.
"We never have anything else," he chuckled, steeling himself for what was to come.
Nino was fighting to keep his fear from overwhelming him, kneeling on the floor with Hawkmoth's cane resting on the back of his neck. It was so… awful, but he was trying to distract himself and steady his breathing.
He lifted his gaze as much as he could without Hawkmoth forcing his head back down, the emptiness of the grand cathedral they waited in making Nino feel incredibly small. It was dark, the windows offering only dim light as the storm grew steadily worse. The roar of the rain was distant, somewhat muted as it drowned the city around them, and for a moment it felt like there was no other place in the world except the Notre Dame.
The longs rows of pews were abandoned, no soul daring to venture near the place where the ransom was set. Nino looked down the great building, seeing the rain fall through each long stained glass window and he was struck for a moment by how… dramatic it was.
The thought made him feel a little better, finding some kind of humor to focus on helping him forget the weight of the cane on his neck.
Couldn't fault Hawkmoth for flair. A massive intimidating cathedral, abandoned of all patrons and sealed away from the world by a raging storm. Nino jolted a little when lighting swelled and filled each window with blinding light for a fraction of a second before the darkness fell again, thunder rolling through his chest just a few seconds later.
There was something Nino hated more in that second then even the man who stood behind him.
He was terrified, and he hated that.
He was shaking, he could feel it and h bite back a yelp any time Hawkmoth dug into him a little to entertain himself. His chest and stone ached from the blow he had taken, and every thought he had was filled with fear for his friends.
He couldn't help but wonder if this was his fault.
Nino flinched when he heard Hawkmoth hum, speaking aloud a moment later.
"12:05…" he said slowly, tapping his cane against Nino's spine. "I wonder. Are you not worth it to them? I wouldn't be too surprised, but it does mean that something will have to be done." Hawkmoth paused in his sentence. "It will be entertaining to watch the city doubt them. I can be patient, I will bide my time if I am forced too, but this failure?" He chuckled and Nino's jaw clenched. "Oh how the city will doubt them. A little boy was counting on them, and they failed. Not the perfect heroes they wanted after all."
Hawkmoth's laugh was slow and building, his voice so deep that when thunder rolled again for a moment they were indiscernible from each other.
"Yes, unpleasant though it is…" Hawkmoth said slowly, lifting the cane away from him. Nino froze in terror when he heard a sound like a blade being unsheathed before Hawkmoth said, "That will be victory enough, for now."
And then the door crashed open.
Nino looked up when the sound of the storm flooded into the cathedral, the crash of the doors resounding through the massive room. Even so, with the echoes and the storm and the thunder and his own beating heart… Nino heard Hawkmoth snarl.
"Who." Hawkmoth said through clenched teeth, his voice growing louder in rage to confront the stranger that strode down the center of the aisle, "WHO ARE YOU TO INTERFERE."
Nino watched in amazement, a flicker of hope burning in his chest as he saw this strange man, aged and stoic as he approached them. A hero. A Miraculous wielder.
"I am someone who has lived long enough to know the evil of cruel and selfish children pretending to be men."
The stranger's voice echoed, filled with calm yet unstoppable force.
Hawkmoth's power though was anything but calm, it was rolling and all encompassing. Like the power of a thunderstorm.
"Do not involve yourself," Hawkmoth threatened, and for the first time Nino felt something sharp press against his skin. "I will not hesitate."
"I know you won't," the old man spoke, his voice still challenging. "Have you not wondered how things came to this point? Have you not wondered what could have rotted inside of you that you would be willing to murder an innocent child?"
Nino swallowed, focusing on the man who stood against Hawkmoth so fearlessly. He tried to fight off his fear, breathing deeply. He had to be brave… he had to be brave.
"I don't have to wonder," Hawkmoth growled, his voice sinister. "I know the answer, and it is only through power that I can rectify it."
The stranger stopped, a short distance away from them so that Nino could see the turtle shell like shield he wielded. It was held to still, no sign of wavering…
"You have chosen to use the Miraculous you possess for evil…" the man said slowly, his eyes somehow saddened, "and from that folly there is no return. You have been poisoned, your soul as blackened and cruel as the Akuma you terrorize innocent lives with. But like the Akuma… I hope for your sake that one day you may be cleansed."
And then he lunged.
The old man lifted his arm and threw the shield so suddenly that Nino had hardly seen it happen, he was more so aware of something passing only a few feet over his head with such force that when it collided Hawkmoth was thrown several feet backwards.
"Run young guardian!" the stranger called out, running towards and passed Nino. "Run!"
Nino was stunned, for a second too scared to move before he was stumbling down the steps and down to the center aisle, falling once and crawling armless back to his feet as he heard Hawkmoth's animalistic roar of rage.
Nino made it almost ten rows down before the darkness of the cathedral was pierced with blinding light, the brightness almost having something physical to it like fire that flowed and burned a sickening shade of purple. When it hit him it sent Nino flying, the young boy slamming into a pew and collapsing to the ground with the wind knocked out of him, his wrist screaming in pain when he pull weight landed on it.
Nino coughed out, struggling to drag in a full breath of air as he struggled to his knees, head reeling as he looked through broken lenses back towards the conflict.
What he saw was Hawkmoth, a sword with a thin black blade pulled from his cane in one hand, and the hollow cane in the other. From the end of cane came energy of some kind, darker now and spilling out like smoke. The stranger had his shield again, standing firmly between Hawkmoth and Nino even as Hawkmoth attacked, screaming in fury as he lashed out.
Nino's head was reeling, but he still had the presence of mind to feel hope for his savior. Such a thin sword against a shield like that, it didn't matter how fast Hawkmoth moved a weapon like that-
It was when the blade collided with the shield that Nino discovered the source of what had thrown him, that same purple, cold energy that swelled against the walls and clung to the windows like fire would swallow a burning building as soon as he attacked.
Nino was far enough away now that it didn't hit him like it did before, pushing him against the pew like an icy wind. The more Hawkmoth attacked the colder it got, and the more it pushed back the old man.
Nino got to his feet, stumbling towards the door but he was dizzy, starting to feel like headed and like he couldn't… quite… breathe.
Nino staggered, falling to his knees and starting to choke, his chest heaving in coughs and struggling to pull in air but failing, only pulling in more and more of whatever horrible power Hawkmoth expelled.
Nino couldn't breathe, his head swimming and clouded as he started to black out. What was the most frightening though… was it didn't quite feel like he was out of air. He could feel it, pulling like heavy gas in his lungs and soaking into him. He could feel what came with it, something chilling and potent and… enticing.
He recognized it.
'Hello Bubbler' the memory echoed in his head, pulled out by whatever was choking him now. It was clouded and distant but it was numbing like a narcotic.
Was this Hawkmoth's power?
'Yes' the darkness answered. 'This is the power of a tainted Miraculous. You were too weak to deny it before. And you are too weak to deny me now.'
'No…' Nino thought, coherent thoughts of any kind a struggle to maintain. He was starting to shake again. 'No… NO.'
'Hello Bubbler… hello Bubbler,' it echoed, something ghostly like a laugh drifting through him along with the nearly inaudible thunder that seemed a world away. 'Or perhaps a new name? Something new? It hardly matters. You can't deny me Nino, you were too weak before, and nothing has changed.'
'No…' Nino thought again, doing everything in his power to push his legs beneath him, his vision spotted with something dark and horrifying. Like butterfly wings. 'I won't… let you.'
'You can't stop me.'
The darkness blinded him, taking away the blurry image of the open door that lead to a water drenched Paris.
'The Miraculous stone is protecting this old meddling fool, but it won't protect you. Oh Nino…' the voice mused, laughing again as his strength started to fail. 'I will enjoy forcing you to fight your friends.'
There was a moment that seemed to stretch on forever, or maybe not quite that. It was a moment that stretched long enough, those last few words echoing out into the darkness that threatened to consume him.
And Nino breathed.
Air flooded his lungs in a harsh grating gasp, Nino forcing his knees to move, to drag him forward.
'Fight my friends…' Nino thought to himself, his own voice claiming his mind and fighting to drive out anything else. 'Fight my friends…'
Nino dragged in another painful, burning breath, the image of the open door starting to come back to him.
'No way in hell…'
Nino kept dragging in each agonizing lungful of air as he crawled towards the storm, the rain growing louder and louder as he approached. The father he crawled the stronger he became, his vision starting to clear and his senses coming back to him with every foot he managed.
He wasn't going to be afraid anymore, he wasn't going to let that monster manipulate him. He was dark and cruel and twisted, filled with rage and cruelty. Nothing like that would ever touch him again… no power, no matter how suffocating would ever make him hurt anyone again.
Nino laughed to himself a little in shock when he felt the icy rain start to drench his clothing. He crawled painfully through the water and out of the Notre Dame, ignoring the pain of his injuries for a moment to enjoy the feeling.
He was smiling when Ladybug and Cat Noir found him, laying in the street in the middle of a storm. They ran to him, screaming his name and pulling him into their arms, Cat Noir clawing at his restraints so relieve his aching arms.
"Hawkmoth…" Nino said, his smile faltering a little and his tone serious. "The cathedral. He's in there alone, the guy who saved me. I'm fine, just go after him, go."
The duo looked down at him, his vision now mostly clear save for the rain drops on his cracked glasses, but he could see the conflict in their faces all the same before they pulled him to the side of the street, vanishing into church.
Thunder… that was most of what Nino could hear aside from the rain. The drops were so heavy and so frequent it was like static, coating the city in white noise. No one else was around. No one would dare to wander close… so Nino was alone.
He was sitting on the ground, pain throbbing in his wrist and his arms and his stomach, his ribs were bruised for sure. However even though he wasn't far from the violence he wasn't afraid. He knew things were be okay even before he saw the trio of figures approaching.
Nino actually grinned, despite everything, looking up at his friends and his savior as they walked up to him, all three looking weary.
"Soo," Nino said, drawing out the word expectantly. "How did it go?"
"You- you are unbelievable," Cat Noir blurted on impulse, a tense laugh slipping out as he looked down at his best friend, battered and bruised grinning like nothing had happened.
Nino looked over to see the old man smiling and Ladybug shaking her head, crouching down to kneel beside him.
"He ran," Ladybug explained, sounding incredibly tired. "As soon as it was three on one and he had no leverage he knew he couldn't win, so he ran. If we had gone after him… I don't know what would have happened. That fight isn't meant for today I suppose."
"I'm not too worried about it," Nino said in response, Cat Noir chuckling and dropping his face into one of his hands at his friend's flippant attitude. "You'll get him next time B."
"Nino," Ladybug scoffed, shaking her head, "how can you just- how can you just be so whatever about this?"
"I've spent the last however many hours scared out of my mind," Nino said with a huff and a shrug though the movement hurt somewhat, "I'm about done with it now."
Ladybug groaned but the two other men gathered laughed, Nino's attention pulled towards the old man again.
"Hey… you saved me back there," Nino addressed him, doing his best to stand. Cat Noir ducked quickly to help him up but Nino strode forward on his own to hold out his hand. "I owe you my life. Thank you."
"You owe me nothing young man," the old man chuckled, accepting the hand shake with a weary smile. "It was you who saved yourself."
Nino stood there in confusion, the rain drenching them all as they stood there. He dropped his hand, tilting his head slightly. "What do you mean? If you hadn't showed I'd have a sword through my neck."
"Perhaps," the old man allowed, shrugging his shoulders, "but I could do nothing to protect you from Hawkmoth's influence. When he tried to poison you, you denied him." The old man locked eyes with him, and suddenly Nino felt like he couldn't look away even if he tried, and the old man grinned and said, "That took more strength then you could possibly know, there is no doubt now."
Nino held his mother as she cried, knowing that this whole ordeal hadn't just been hard for him. Both of his parents had looked sick with worry when they showed up at the hospital, storming in even as the doctors were trying to treat him. The only person who rivaled his parents' determination to get through was probably Alya, his friend tackling him as soon as the doctors gave the OK.
Even now that they had made it home Nino knew they were still shaken.
Nino was allowed to rest in his room after that, thankfully repaired once Ladybug had cleansed the Akuma responsible. Sleeping was easy, he was beyond exhausted, but he was acutely aware of the fact that someone was always watching him.
As the days passed the guards changed out but remained all the same.
Sometimes it was Ladybug, sometimes it was Cat Noir. Sometimes it was his parents too, waiting outside his bedroom door in case they heard any noise.
It was four days since the attack happened that Nino couldn't handle it anymore. He hated it, he hated how exhausted Marinette and Adrien looked every time they came to see him. There was so much weighing on them and his safety was burdening them. He knew they had a lot of other crap to think about, any other attacks that could happen, their own lives, each other. He had learned from Marinette that Adrien had revealed himself, but every time he tried to address it she would shake her head, saying that Hawkmoth was still a threat to him. Freaking out about… that, well, it wasn't on her priority list yet.
Nino was laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling for a while as he thought.
He hadn't been allowed to leave, Ladybug and Cat Noir convinced he was still a target. They didn't want to risk him getting hurt but…
Nino groaned, closing his eyes.
They couldn't do this forever… it was wrong. What was their plan, just guard him day and night until they beat Hawkmoth? That power… Nino had felt it firsthand. With them wearing themselves thin like this…
They couldn't protect him forever, and that knowledge was weighing on them too.
Nino sighed, hating how unfair it felt.
If he could just… be strong enough to protect himself then it wouldn't matter if Hawkmoth came after him again. Ladybug and Cat Noir could go back to being lame and stupid and in love. He could live his life again. He could stop flinching at every shadow on his window.
He just wanted to be able to protect his friends, and himself. He wanted the power to protect what was important to him.
Was that so impossible?
Nino jumped when he heard a knock at the door, sitting up as his father let himself in.
"Hey kiddo," his dad said, taking a few steps in the doorway with something in his hands. "Someone sent a get well gift for you, it didn't have a name on it though."
"Oh, thanks," Nino said, reaching out for the small parcel. When it was in his hands he could tell that whatever was in the gray bag was solid, not quiet heavy but not light either.
Nino's dad watched him for a second before he left, closing the door behind him as he went.
Nino didn't open it right away, too distracted with his own thoughts to care much what it was… put eventually his curiosity led him to tear the bag away.
Nino stared at the small jewelry box as it fell into his hands, turning it over in his hands in bewilderment to stare at all the Chinese lettering marked across it. It was old, wooden and shaped like an octagon.
"What?" he said aloud, totally confused at such a random gift. And it didn't have a name?
Nino looked down at the discarded grab bag it had come in, reaching inside to feel around for- yeah, a note.
Nino lifted the note with one hand and held the box with the other, one eye brow raised at the totally cryptic message on the simple white card.
[All you have to say is Transform Me.