Brigitte followed Brush Kit’s illusion-fox through the halls of the crumbling building. By the many twists and turns they’d already taken, she was beginning to think that the illusion was confused. Brush Kit had said something about tracking Queen Bee’s scent... apparently, Queen Bee had been walking in circles.
When they reached what Brigitte assumed must have been the back of the building, a terrible scream echoed through the halls, stopping her in her tracks.
“DON’T TOUCH HIM!” The voice was unmistakably Ladybug’s.
Brigitte turned on her heel, heading for the stairs—and the source of the scream—when something else caught her attention: panting, rattling, banging... the sounds of a struggling animal.
“Felix...?” she called out uncertainly. There was a door at the end of the hallway that was secured with a padlock. Every few seconds, the door shook on its hinges, and dust cascaded in its wake. A creature growled beyond.
The veterinarian crept closer.
When it had been deduced that Felix had been akumatized into a giant wolf-monster, Brigitte hadn’t been afraid. She had been concerned for her fiance, but, in the end, this was Felix. He may talk big and wear a scowl, but he would never hurt a fly. She trusted him, and she’d gone into this confident that she could get through to him and they’d overcome whatever magic Hawkmoth had cast.
Now, though, faced with that quaking door and the feral noises beyond, Brigitte’s heart shook. Felix wasn’t himself right now... and Felix was frightening. With wide eyes and trembling knees, his fiance barely managed to push herself forward.
She might have turned heel and ran, but to Brigitte Fernandes, that was not an option. She held steady, a singular motivation grounding her: Felix was in pain, and she needed to comfort him. It was simply the core of her personality, her modus operandi. It was why she became a veterinarian. It was why she was here.
Realizing all at once that the seconds were ticking by, Brigitte snapped into action. There was a wooden beam propped conveniently by the door, and she used it to bash the padlock. It shouldn’t have worked, but Lone Wolf’s efforts had already worn the lock down quite a bit.
The great beast came tumbling out. Like a dog getting out of a bath, he shook, dislodging splinters and dust. Then, he turned and met Brigitte with clear, silver eyes.
“Adrien,” she barely heard him say in his human voice.
That was all the confirmation she needed: Felix was somehow in control right now. She flung her arms around his bristling neck. Tears were already flowing over her cheeks before she noticed them.
“Yes, Felix. We have to get Adrien back.”
He growled low in his throat, acknowledging her words.
She drew back, threading her fingers in the long fur just below his ears. “It’s you right now, isn’t it?” she gasped in wonder.
Lone Wolf blinked.
Felix was just as confused as Brigitte about his mental freedom, but it was the least of his concerns. Right now, he had to get to Adrien. Forming words was a challenge as Lone Wolf, though, so he only managed to gasp Adrien’s name once again.
“Yes, yes. We should go. We need to find him,” Brigitte said through tears, stroking Felix’s mane soothingly. Seeing the questioning twitch of the wolf’s eyebrows, she went on: “I don’t know where he is, but he and Ladybug are somewhere in this building. This fox here....”
The brunette trailed off. The illusion-fox was gone.
Although Felix was curious about what Brigitte was looking for, and how she planned to find his brother, he was even more anxious to get moving. On his four, powerful legs, scouring the entire building would be a piece of cake—and, besides, he had some idea of where he needed to look.
Brigitte must have seen him shuffling restlessly. She embraced him once more. “Go, Felix,” she whispered. “Get him.”
For a brief moment, Lone Wolf met his fiance’s eyes: those sincere mocha pools. She gave him the strength he needed.
Felix took off.
Ladybug was sobbing freely now, and her chest ached as if it had been pierced through. Her right hand was poised to remove her earring, but she was frozen in place.
Her mind flashed back to three years ago, when Volpina had held Adrien out over Paris, dangling from the Eiffel Tower. Ladybug had been ready, then, to throw away her Miraculous for his sake. How much more now, after all they had been through together, should she be willing to give up everything for him? This was her Kitten, her best friend... the boy she loved.
And yet, she couldn’t move.
The sharpened tip of Hawkmoth’s cane pressed harder into Chat’s throat, and a bead of blood escaped.
“No,” Ladybug gasped.
Tikki spoke up in the back of her mind. You have to think this through, Marinette! If he gets ahold of the Miraculouses, the world will be doomed!
The red-clad heroine moaned, physically hurting now as she watched her partner suffer. “Tikki, I have to! Chat—I can’t let him—”
I know you care about him, Marinette, Tikki replied. But if Hawkmoth gets your Miraculous, you won’t be able to save anyone.
Like a flipped switch, Ladybug regained control of her fingers. Her face tightened in determination. “I hear you, Tikki,” she whispered. “But if I can’t save him, I’m just as screwed.”
And then, unclasping her right earring, Ladybug called out: “Alright, Hawkmoth! Let Chat go and I’ll give you my Miraculous!”
Hawkmoth sneered. “Oh-hoh, Ladybug. Always in control of everything... alright, we’ll do this on your terms.”
The villain released Chat and shoved him forward unceremoniously. Ladybug cried out, knowing that her partner would hit the ground hard, and she couldn’t catch him.
Just before the cat-like hero’s head could crack against the ground, a bulky shadow appeared out of nowhere, gently cradling the boy and settling him harmlessly on the floor. Tom Dupain straightened protectively over Chat’s body, and faced Hawkmoth.
Ladybug had to clamp both hands over her mouth to keep from shouting: “Papa!” Instead, a muffled squeal cut through the air.
The purple-clad villain was completely caught off guard. Before he could even question why the local baker was standing in his lair, Tom had taken three steps forward, wound up like a batter striking a home-run, and punched Hawkmoth square in the jaw.
The impact rang through the hollow chamber, and the villain went down like a stack of bricks.
Tom stepped back, panting, shoulders shaking. Ladybug had never seen her father so angry.
After taking a few moments to collect himself, he turned to his daughter. “Sweetheart,” he gasped, voice full of relief. He moved towards her cage.
She glanced at Hawkmoth. He hadn’t moved from where he fell. “Papa,” she answered, voice thick with tears. She shook her head. “Help Chat first.”
Tom nodded grimly and stooped to examine the boy at his feet. After coming to some silent conclusion, he gathered the hero in his arms and brought him to Ladybug’s side.
“How is he?” she asked anxiously.
Her father leaned her partner against the dog cage and got to work on the lock, his face somber. “He’s going to be alright, ma petite,” he told her in a choked voice. “We’ll get him out of here. Now, are you hurt? Did they do anything to you?”
Tears continued to flood over the heroine’s cheeks as she tried and failed to reach her partner through the bars. “I’m fine, Papa. I just need Chat to be okay.” She wiped at her eyes, trying to stay strong.
Tom glanced back at the supervillain as he managed to wrest the cage door open. Hawkmoth was still sprawled like a struck-down bird-of-prey.
Later, Ladybug would look back and think of the moment that her father knocked out Paris’s enemy, and glow with admiration. She would replay the scene in her head, and think, That’s my Papa.
But right now, she only had eyes for Chat Noir. She scrambled out of her tiny prison and to his side. As she eased her partner into her arms, she felt another painful stab through her heart. He was hurt pretty badly, she’d known that. But seeing him up close was another story.
As tenderly as she could, Ladybug brushed blood from Chat’s ashen cheek, thankful just to see him breathing.
“I’m sorry... I’m so, so sorry,” she mumbled over and over. “I should have realized it was you.... I should have taken care of you. I shouldn’t have let this happen. Y-you don’t deserve this. Oh, Chat—”
Neon green eyes fluttered open. “Hey, Bugaboo,” he rasped.
“Hey,” she answered, voice barely more than a sob. She tightened her grip on him, as if trying to will his body into movement. “We’re here now. We’ve got you. You’re going to be all right.”
He strained to move his head in what Ladybug assumed was meant to be a nod. “You’re here,” he whispered, smiling. He coughed a dry cough that seemed to hurt his whole body. And then, drowsily, he said: “Ladybug, do you think cats get to go to heaven?”
His partner tried to hide the panic that pierced through to her core. “Yes,” she answered. “Yes, they do. But you’re not going anywhere any time soon, got it?”
Chat’s eyes slid closed. “Got it. I was just... curious.”
No, no, no. She didn’t like that look he’d had in his eyes, as if he were already resigned to his fate. This wasn’t okay. Fat tears were dropping generously from Ladybug’s eyes onto Chat’s face, but he didn’t seem to notice. They had to get him out of here.
She turned to her father. “Papa—” she began—just in time to see him flung across the room and lost in a cloud of white butterflies.
“Uh, maybe this isn’t the most appropriate time to ask this...” Nino trailed off, watching Alya’s progress over her shoulder. The blogger had linked up to a live video feed from Tom Dupain’s phone, and was trying to decipher the jolted images coming through from his breast pocket. There were a bunch of blurs, scuffs, and muffled voices. He seemed to have located his daughter, and she sounded distressed, but unharmed. Then something black pressed up against the phone screen, and the image dipped into confusing rushes, the sound filling with static. Alya turned up the volume and leaned in closer, waiting for the signal.
As soon as Tom indicated that they were ready, Nino and Alya would call the paramedics, and whatever other emergency services necessary to clean this mess up. They just had to be sure that Ladybug and Chat Noir were de-transformed by then.
“Ask away, Nino. I’m not picking anything up anyways. Ugh... maybe that front-pocket cell phone video idea was actually a really bad choice.”
Nino grimaced and held Petite Macaron closer, stroking behind her ears. “That was my idea....”
Halted by his remorseful tones, Alya turned to face her boyfriend. She placed a steadying hand on his shoulder, and he met her eyes. “We’ll get him back,” she assured him.
Nino nodded, on the verge of tears.
“Now,” Alya continued, “What were you going to ask me?”
“Right. I was wondering... why doesn’t Hawkmoth just take the Miraculouses? He’s had plenty of time to take Chat’s ring right off his finger....” Nino had to stop to gulp. “And, from what we can tell from the tracker and the video feed, he captured Ladybug as well. I mean, can’t he just take them if he wants them so badly?”
Alya frowned. “I guess he could. But, it doesn’t work like that. Marinette and Adrien would still have a bond with their Miraculouses, so no one else could use them. They have to give them up voluntarily for the bond to be broken. That’s why our favorite one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater—”
“Gabriel Agreste,” Nino interjected.
“Right. That’s why he’s trying so hard and playing the blackmail game.”
She and Nino were silent for a moment, only the static from Tom Dupain’s phone filling the room.
Finally, Nino spoke up: “Let’s pray for Adrien’s sake that it’s not him. Like, maybe it’s Gabe’s evil twin bro, just... just as long as it’s not Adrien’s pops. He doesn’t deserve that.”
Alya scowled in determination. “He doesn’t deserve any of this.”
The feeling was mutual: they couldn’t wait to get Adrien back, to tell him how wrong this all had been, convince him that he was loved and that no one would ever, ever hurt him like that again.
The video feed screeched abruptly, pulling them back to the present. There was a sudden flurry of white wings, a dull thud, and then nothing.
The feed cut out, and they were left, literally, in the dark.
Felix was long gone down the dark halls when Brigitte nearly collided with a staff leveled at her throat. There was a girl at the other end—Style Queen, if she remembered correctly—scowling as if she had just eaten a lemon. Brigitte slowly raised her hands in surrender.
“You will tell me why you are here, why you released Lone Wolf, and which direction he went,” the yellow clad girl demanded. “I will let you go if you cooperate, otherwise—”
Brigitte had had enough already. Fast as a whip, she shifted her stance, swept in close, and executed a Judo flip, pulling Style Queen over her head in a graceful ark. She made sure the girl hit the ground hard enough to stop her, but on safe landing points so as to avoid serious injury.
Too stunned to even comprehend what had just happened, the blonde girl could only curl in on herself, groaning.
Brigitte dug in her purse and withdrew a sleeve of pills. “Here! Advil! You’re going to want it for the bruises. Be sure not to take more than two every six hours!”
As an after thought, she snatched up Style Queen’s staff. “Sorry! I’m taking this.”
And she ran off in the direction Felix had gone.
Felix could feel it again—that stirring. It was like something was growing, ready to burst forth. It was uncertain and terrifying, but it was good.
That couldn’t be right. Nothing had been good since he’d been turned into this awful monster and forced to attack his own brother.
Hawkmoth would pay.
The fledgling goodness inside Felix burst forth, took root. Even as his large paws pounded over the decrepit floor, even as he wrested his way up narrow staircases, he could feel it. It was strength, clarity, hope. And it was altogether out of his grasp. It was something he couldn’t describe even if he tried.
It was trying to get out of him.
And he felt the urge to speak to it. Whatever you are, he told the thing, you’re going to help me. We’re going to get Adrien out of here.
There was a little sensation of consent, and Felix had to pause for a moment, because that was the first time the stirring had become a presence.
What on earth was happening?