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The Animal in Us All

Chapter Text

Emptiness.

 

That’s all I feel anymore.

 

It’s been so long since I’ve felt anything else

 

Happiness, anger, sadness, even pain. None of it is there. It’s long since been beaten out of me.

 

Well, logically, I know that pain is still there. Everything they do to me hurts in some way or another. Every poke or prod or prick of a needle, or cut of a scalpel, or stinging shock of electricity. The burning of the drugs they inject me with and the constant chemical smells that sting my nose. Everything hurts, even something as simple as eating. But it’s all been there for so long that it doesn’t even register anymore.

 

I’ve been here too long for it to matter anymore. Stuck here in this cage, far too small for me at this point. By now, it’s likely been years since I was taken, since I was stolen from my life. I don’t know exactly how many, and at this point it no longer matters. All I know is that I was young when they took me, about four, if my memory can be trusted. It could be five or ten or it could even be fifty years since I was put here. The days all blended together into a mixture of pain and fear until I eventually gave up. After that, I simply haven't cared enough to keep track of each day as it passed.

 

I shift around a bit, attempting to find a position that might provide a bit of comfort. This cage is much too small for my four-legged form. It wasn’t always; it used to be a proper size. But a combination of my own natural growth and the unnatural growth caused by the two-legs incessant testing caused me to become too large for it. Now, I can barely stand up fully; my head brushes against the top of the cage, even when I hunch down. On top of that, it’s only just longer than I am. I can stand, but not walk or move around hardly at all.

 

I don’t remember how long it’s been since they last let me out. They did so once or twice, not long after they first brought me here. But ever since then, I’ve been stuck in here. The tests that the two-legs perform on me don’t require me to move; they just inject me with unknown substances and test my blood constantly. I don’t understand what they do to me, but the things they inject me with always hurt; burning through my veins, causing things to shift, always changing me. Some would make my claws or teeth longer, some changed my eyesight and hearing, one even caused something bony to sprout from my skull, just behind my ears. That one hurt so, so much; it felt like my head was going to explode. I used to try to ask them what they were doing, but I don’t make that mistake anymore. I’m not allowed to speak to them.

 

I’m not allowed to do anything. I can’t speak to them, can’t touch them, can’t even look at them. They don’t let me eat by myself. Any time they bring me foods or liquids, they don’t let me eat it, they always force it down my throat for me. I’m not even allowed to suffer the consequences of such limited movement.

 

For a while, I could. I would feel myself growing weaker, my muscles growing smaller until I was no longer able to support my own weight. But they took that away from me as well. One day, one of them injected me with something that hurt worse than anything else before it. It burned throughout my entire body for so much longer than normal until it forced me to fall unconscious. When I finally woke back up, I felt so much stronger than before. I could feel my muscles bulging just beneath the skin. After that, I never felt myself grow weaker again. No matter how long I went without moving, I would always remain just as strong.

 

I wish I could shift back into my two-legged form. At least then I could move around and stretch out properly. But they don’t let me do that either. At first, they would shock me whenever I tried, until they finally found a more permanent solution. One day, I bit one of the two-legs when they tried to inject me with something. As punishment, they put a muzzle on me; one that only allowed me to open my mouth just barely enough for them to feed me. This muzzle also prevented me from shifting. It was designed to shock me anytime I even tried. These shocks were so much more painful than the normal ones. It didn’t take long for me to give up and remain in my four-legged form.

 

I shift again, letting out a sigh as I rest my head on my paws.

 

I wish they would just let me die.

 

I used to wish for and dream of being saved. For great heroes like All Might to come rescue me from this torment and take me back to see my mom and Kacchan again. I used to want to see them more than anything in the world. But I’ve long since given up on that dream.

 

Now I just wish that the two-legs that test on me will finally get tired of me and either kill me or let me die. I’ve tried before to let myself die, but all that did was make things worse. I tried to stop eating, causing them to start force-feeding me. I tried to attack them in order to trick them into retaliating, but that merely resulted in the muzzle. Everything I tried just made them punish me more.

 

So now, I’ve given up.

 

I lie here day after day, blank and empty. I hope against hope that one day I’ll fall asleep and never wake up.

 

I hope I can finally just fade away.

 


 

“And then Kacchan started shouting at them. He used his explosions to scare them off; they ran away so fast. Then, once they were gone, he started yelling at me. But it wasn’t mean. He was telling me that they were stupid, and that I shouldn’t let them push me around.” I say with a small laugh, recalling the day that Kacchan had rescued me from a group of bullies, before I got my quirk.

 

I sigh, reminiscing about my best friend. Even during his best moments, he always came across as brash and loud. But I would give anything to see him again, even if just for a moment.

 

“This ‘Kacchan’ sounds like a good friend, but I don’t think I’d want to meet him. Those explosions and all of that yelling makes him seem like someone who wouldn’t like animals.” The animal in the cage across from me responded. She’s a cat. A fluffy, white Japanese Bobtail with bright green eyes. She said that she didn’t have a name, so I’ve taken to calling her Snowball. She allows it, saying that it fits, because of her beautiful, snow-white fur.

 

“You might think that, but actually, he has a pretty big soft spot for animals. He’d probably yell at me for saying this, but he loves just about every animal he sees. He wants to pet every single one, even the all the wild squirrels and birds he’d see at the park.”

 

It was true, he’d chase after every animal he came across. Though he’d very rarely be successful in petting them; a fact that would upset him each time it happened.

 

“Hmm. Well if you put it like that, then maybe I would like to meet him. Maybe you can introduce me to him when we finally get out of here. If he’s nice enough, I might even let him pet me. So long as he knows the right way to do so.” Snowball remarked in a haughty manner and with an absent flick of her tail.

 

“Heh… Yeah… When we get out of here.” I try not to let my doubt show, but I’ve been here for so long now. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll ever be able to leave.

 

“We will. Eventually.” She assured me. “You’ll see. Either they’ll slip up one day, or those nice two-legs you keep talking about-the heroes-will come get us out.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah!” I said, shaking my head to clear my doubtful thoughts. “We’ll be free someday. And when we are, I’ll take care of you, and get you all the fresh tuna you can eat!”

 

“Hmph. I’ll probably be the one taking care of you cloverBut I wouldn’t say no to that tuna. That’s my favorite food by far, ever since that one two-legs that I ran into, gave me a piece. It’s too bad that I was never able to find them again.”

 

Clover was the nickname she’s given me on account of my dark green fur. I didn’t mind, it’s a lot better than the harsh names that the two-legs call me.

 

“Well, don’t worry. I’ll make sure to get you some. My mom will probably help, too. She hasn’t let me keep any animals before, but I think she’d like you.”

 

Mom.

 

Even the thought of her hurts. My heart aches every time I think of her. Every time I think about her cooking katsudon, my favorite food, or helping me watch my favorite video; the one where All Might saves all those people.

 

“Of course she’ll like me.” Snowball says with a lazy lick to her paw. “What’s not to like about m-”

 

I’m rocketed from my dreams by a mind-numbing shock to my side.

 

“Wake the hell up, subject zero-one-eight-two!” A two-legs shouts at me, electricity arcing off his fingers. “We’ve got another drug to test, and we need you awake, mutt! Come closer to the bars!”

 

With my heart still pounding from the sudden waking, I shift myself so that my back is leaning against the bars. Another two-legs comes up and grabs the scruff of my neck. With the trained efficiency from years of performing this same task, they stick me with the needle and inject yet another unknown chemical underneath my skin.

 

Without even a second glance in my direction, both of them walk away, leaving me to deal with the incoming, familiar sensation of burning, beginning to spread out from the injection site.

 

Ignoring it, I think back to the dream I was having before being woken up. The cat, Snowball, had-had a quirk that allowed her to communicate with her mind. Originally, I couldn’t speak back to her. I could only listen to what she said. But then, one day, the two-legs injected me with something that burned inside my mind instead of across my body. Later, I discovered that I could finally speak to her.

 

After that, she’d quickly become something of a friend to me, the closest thing to a comfort I’d ever had in this place. She finally had someone to talk to, someone to share her thoughts with. In return, she’d give me hope; filling me with ideas of escape or rescue, of running away together as far away from these cruel people as we could.

 

Then, she was taken away.

 

It was sudden and, as usual, there was no explanation. But, one day, a group of two-legs came in and took her from her cage, before disappearing behind the doors at the end of the room. A day later, her cage was taken by a blank-faced monkey with an extra set of arms that wouldn’t respond to me, no matter how much I tried to talk to it. I never saw Snowball again.

 

It wasn’t long after that that I started to give up. After all, what was the point of dreaming of escape if I couldn’t do so with the one being in this place that had ever shown me kindness.

 

I sniff, blinking back the sudden rush of emotions and curling in on myself. Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? All I’d wanted was to grow up and be a hero by Kacchan’s side. Now I was being poked and prodded and hurt for no reason at all.

 

Curling up even tighter, I tried to shut out the wave of sadness that threatened to rush over me. This is why I try to just stay empty. It’s easier than having to deal with emotion. If I had to deal with emotion, with every bit of sadness, grief, anger, or loneliness that was warranted by my situation, I likely wouldn’t be able to remain sane. It’s better to simply not care about what happens. Eventually, this will all come to an end. Not necessarily because of rescue or escape-that was unlikely-, but because eventually I will die. Whether the two-legs finally get tired of me or I eventually die of old age, this will end at some point. 

 

Still ignoring the burning under my skin, which was now beginning to coalesce along my spine, I drift back into an uneasy sleep, hoping to avoid any further dreams that would dredge up unwanted memories.

Chapter Text

Nezu was silent as he overlooked the group before him preparing for the upcoming raid. It was the dead of night and a group of police officers were gearing up, ready to be led by one of Nezu’s employees, Shouta Aizawa, otherwise known as Eraserhead.

 

Nezu had been preparing for this raid for some time. Against the bastards simply dubbed “The Organization”. The same ones that had held him all those years ago, had experimented on him to understand the nature of his having a quirk as an animal.

 

He ran a paw over his scar absentmindedly. As much as he hated to admit it, they’d done a frustratingly good job of hiding themselves. Even with his quirk and greatly enhanced intelligence, it had taken him an agonizing amount of time to root them out.

 

This was the first location he’d found. And presumably the first of many. With luck, this one would provide information on any others that existed.

 

No matter how long it took, or what resources he’d have to spend, he would make sure to find each and every one of them. He would find them all, and he would burn them. He would make them suffer as he once did. And he would enjoy every damn second of it.

 

A figure exiting the van next to him, brought him from his thoughts.

 

“I’m ready on this end.” They said quietly. “The moment you’re ready to move, I’ll shut them out of the network to prevent them from destroying any data.”

 

Nezu nodded. “Thank you, Crypto. Your help is appreciated.”

 

Crypto was an underground hero. They worked closely with the police as a hacker. They had a quirk similar to Nezu’s, that gave them increased brain-processing speed, giving them a high proficiency with computers and enabling them to sift through lines of computer code at unprecedented speeds, making them invaluable for this kind of work. They were here tonight to make sure The Organization didn’t start destroying everything the moment they realized they were being attacked.

 

“Of course, Nezu. I’ll do everything I can to help those animals. I can’t wait to watch you take these bastards down.”

 

Yes. The animals.

 

As much as Nezu wanted to take The Organization down for the sake of revenge, the main reason why he was doing this was to help as many of the animals as he could. The less time that they had to go through the same things he did, the better. These people were ruthless, experimenting on animals constantly. For the most part, they were doing so to understand quirks and why animals were getting them. Because if animals were developing them naturally, then that meant there was an outside factor causing them, instead of them being the next step in human evolution. But Nezu had heard rumors that The Organization would offer their services to any company or organization that wanted to perform unethical or otherwise illegal testing of their products on animals.

 

Needless to say, if that rumor turned out to be true, then he would make sure to burn them too.

 

His thoughts were interrupted once more by another two figures approaching him. They were Detective Tsukauchi and Aizawa.

 

“Everything’s ready, Nezu.” Tsukauchi informed him. “Give us the word and we’ll get to work.”

 

“Very good.” Nezu responded, nodding. “Does everyone understand their objectives?”

 

“They do. On my end, the police will be focused on incapacitating the personnel inside and securing any and all data before it can be disposed of, physical or otherwise.”

 

Aizawa cut in right after. “And I will be moving ahead of them with the task of seeking out and securing any holding areas for the animals.”

 

“Good. I’m counting on both of you to complete your tasks.” Nezu said, then, “You may begin on Crypto’s signal, as they are the linchpin of this operation.”

 

Without another word, the two heroes and the detective separated to see to their respective areas. He saw the police officers ready an explosive breaching charge on the door.

 

He allowed himself a brief moment to relish the fact that he was going to take The Organization down a peg, before pushing that thought from his head and steeling himself for the task before him. He heard Crypto signal everyone to begin over their communicators and a moment later, the doors blew open, signaling the beginning of his vengeance.

 


 

When I awake from my sleep, I notice that the burning underneath my skin has ceased. I check myself over to see if this one has yielded any visible changes and, sure enough, it has. Along my spine, where the burning had been focused, I now have a series of spikes extending from the base of my neck to the base of my tail. Each one is a few inches in length, with the ones near my neck being slightly longer than the ones closer to my tail.

 

As I inspect the new additions to my body, I hear an explosion echo through the building somewhere above me. I don’t pay it any mind; it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard some strange noise from somewhere else in the building. Whatever it is, it doesn’t involve me. Even still, I just hope that it’s something serious. If I’m lucky, it’ll be something serious enough to kill everyone in the building, including myself. If I’m not lucky, then whatever made the noise is just some minor inconvenience that is easily remedied.

 

Whatever the case may be, there’s nothing I can do about it. I shift around to a more comfortable position and rest my head on my paws. I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

A few minutes later, and I get my answer. Two of the two-legs enter into the room. They are noticeably distraught, and they stink of fear. I catch the tail end of their conversation as they enter.

 

“-have no idea who’s behind this, but it has to be someone big given the size of the operation.”

 

“Well, no matter who it is, we have our orders. We have to dispose of the subjects. Let’s hurry up and get this done before they make it down here.”

 

I see them nod to each other before they walk over to the cage nearest them, one just a few down from my own. They both stand in front of it and extend their palms down at the animal inside.

 

Suddenly, there’s a loud bang reverberating through the room. The animal is now lying on the ground, blood beginning to pool beneath it. A moment later, heat seems to pulse through the room, and then fire is bursting rushing from the hand of the second two-legs, igniting the animal and quickly filling the room with the acrid stench of burning flesh.

 

They must be using their quirks to get rid of the animals.

 

I must be very lucky indeed, then. It seems like today’s the day that I finally get to die.

 

I close my eyes again as they move on to the next cage, repeating the process on the animal inside. As the seconds stretch into minutes, I hear them moving to each cage; the stench and the smoke are almost suffocating at this point, but I don’t care. Soon enough, I’ll be free.

 

When I open my eyes again, I see them move away from the cage next to mine. The monkey that replaced Snowball is little more than a smoking corpse now. I take one final look at them as they stop in front of me, before closing my eyes once more.

 

I take a deep breath and prepare for the end, for the bang that will signal my release from this torment and for my long-awaited freedom.

 

And I wait.

 

But it doesn’t come.

 

I hear a click, but no bang, followed by confused noises from the two-legs. I open my eyes to see them both looking down at their hands. They seem as confused as I am about why they weren’t able to kill me. Suddenly, one of them-the one with the fire-is wrapped in something that looks like a long, white bandage. It restricts his limbs, pinning them to his body, before he is roughly pulled backwards, directly into the path of a fist thrown by a new two-legs.

 

I raise my head up to get a better look. This one looks completely different from all of the ones I am used to. Firstly, they are dressed in all black. No one is ever dressed like that. Everyone is always dressed in clean, white lab coats. Second, they have long, messy black hair floating around their head. Everyone I’m used to has neat, short-cut hair that, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t float.

 

The only similarity they share with the usual two-legs, is the pair of goggles they have covering their eyes. Although these look slightly different; yellow and slotted, they still likely serve to protect their eyes, just like all the others.

 

But none of that is important. What is, is why they felt the need to stop the two who were finally going to kill me. I was so close to freedom, to being done with this place and all of the pain.

 

I let out a sigh as I watch the new one beat the other two into submission, before seemingly speaking to himself.

 

“This is Eraserhead. I’ve secured the main animal holding area. They were in the process of disposing of them when I arrived. I stopped it, but unfortunately, they did succeed in killing a few.”

 

I hear a faint voice from somewhere. It responds to the new one.

 

“Very well, Eraserhead. It is unfortunate that you couldn’t save them all, but at least you put a stop to it as soon as you could. Tsukauchi’s people have finished securing most of the floors above you. I will be making my down as soon as they have finished.”

 

“Sounds good. I’ll stand guard until then.” He says, before beginning to walk around the room. He starts inspecting each cage in turn, looking at all the animals within.

 

He stops at mine, kneeling down to look closer at me. He narrows his eyes, inspecting every bit of me. From the muzzle strapped around my head, to the horns on my head, to the spikes along my spine, before finally settling on my eyes, peering into them as if they hold some answer.

 

He stands back up to walk away, muttering something under his breath that even I have a hard time hearing. I can just barely make out an “interesting” thrown in at the end.

 

Ah. That must be why he didn’t let them kill me. He must be working with someone who’s taking over and didn’t want to lose all the test subjects. Whoever he was talking to is probably going to come down to take stock of all the remaining animals.

 

I smother down the frustration that rises up in the back of my throat. So close. So very close to being free. Only to just barely miss out and have to go right back to dealing with it.

 

I wonder if they’ll end up moving me to a new location. That, at least, might be nice. Maybe I’ll be allowed to walk for a few minutes before going back into a new cage.

 

No. I can’t let myself start hoping. That will only end in disappointment. I just have to be empty. Get rid of everything, and stop caring about anything, just let whatever happen.

 

With that thought, I empty my head of all thought as I lie back down. I no longer observe the new two-legs; I no longer look at anything. I just stare, blankly, into the distance as time starts to slip by me in a haze.

 


 

Nezu let out a small sigh of relief and allowed himself another brief moment of satisfaction. They had succeeded. It hadn’t been perfect; The Organization had managed to destroy some physical data before being subdued, including a few animals, according to Eraserhead, but for the most part, it had gone very well.

 

They had saved most of the data in the facility. Data that would hopefully detail exactly what had been happening here and, more importantly, where other facilities were located once it had all been sorted through.

 

They had also managed to save most of the animals. It really was unfortunate that they hadn’t managed to save them all; they didn’t deserve to go through who-knows-what, only to die just short of freedom. But Nezu wasn’t focusing on that, instead, he was thinking about the animals they had managed to save. For now, he would focus on helping them as much as he could.

 

That was where he was headed right now, down to the lowest level in the facility, where the animals were all being held.

 

As he entered the large room, he noticed that Tsukauchi was already there, speaking to Aizawa while several police officers went around recording everything they saw.

 

The room was nearly fifty meters in length, and almost half as wide as that. Cages lined all of the walls. Varying in sizes from barely a foot tall to one that was almost three meters tall.

 

He approached the two men speaking in the center of the room. Tsukauchi noticed him first.

 

“Hello Nezu.” He greeted. “As you can see, my men are taking note of what all animals are present here. Once they’ve finished, we’ll leave it to you to decide what will happen to all of them. This is your operation, after all, and you have more claim to this than anyone else.”

 

“Thank you, detective.” He responded. “Once we’re done here, we’ll need to run diagnostic tests on all of them. As much as I hate to have to subject them to more testing, we need to know exactly what has been done to them and if any of them are a potential danger to either themselves or to others.”

 

“Once that has been taken care of, most of them will be moved to UA. I have overseen the construction of a reservation of sorts deep on the property. This space will be used specifically for animals in this situation. I will provide a safe environment for them to live in, either permanently or, depending on the species, until they are rehabilitated to the point that they can be feasibly and safely released back into the wild.”

 

“I see. That certainly seems like a proper way to handle them. I wish you the best of luck.”

 

Nezu nodded as he took another look around the room. His eyes landed on what was easily the largest cage in the room. The bars on this one more closely resembled that of a prison cell, instead of the wire mesh that the rest of the cages had. Inside, he saw what looked to be a Mackenzie Valley Wolf with a beautiful pelt of a green so dark it was almost black. But he could be mistaken, who knows what sort of experiments it had been subjected to that may have affected its appearance. After all, he himself appeared to be a mix between a few different mammals. And this poor animal had clearly gone through a lot.

 

First, there was its enormous size, which was nearly three times what it should be, assuming Nezu had correctly guessed its species. It would probably measure at eight feet tall at its shoulder when it stood up. It also had a set of horns curling down from behind its ears and a set of spikes along its back. On top of all of that, there was the wicked looking muzzle that was secured over their head. Just looking at it sent rage coursing through him. It looked as though it had been in place for far too long; he could see where the fur had been rubbed away around the straps.

 

And their eyes. There was something off about them. He could see the dull pallor of a soul that has given up, something he knew all too well and that was to be expected of anyone, animal or otherwise, in this situation. But there was also something present that he couldn’t quite place, certainly a new development for him. He took a step closer, when it hit him. It was intelligence. There was the spark of conscious thought as they stared him down, occasionally flicking over to Aizawa and Tsukauchi as they continued their conversation.

 

He continued to move closer. He had to know for sure.

 


 

These new two-legs are odd. Many more have arrived to join the one dressed in black. They’re going around to all of the cages inspecting the animals inside. That makes sense; they probably want to make sure that none of their test subjects are injured before they move us. Meanwhile, a man dressed in tan has since arrived and begun to speak to the dark one.

 

A few minutes later, something new arrives. I can’t see it from where my cage is located, but it obviously isn’t a two-legs. Or, if it is, it is a very abnormal one. This new arrival smells very different from all the ones I’m used to, and even the other ones that are currently walking around. On top of that, its footsteps are so much lighter than a normal two-legs, as if they are much smaller.

 

Another few moments of wondering, and the answer is revealed to me. The reason it doesn’t smell or sound like a two-legs, is because it isn’t; my first assumption was correct. Its appearance is… odd. It brings to mind a few different animals; a mouse and a dog, most notably. But strangest of all, the animal is dressed like a two-legs and is walking around on its hind legs.

 

This is very odd. Why would an animal such as this, be taking over testing on other animals? It makes no sense.

 

As it moves into the room, it is greeted by the two-legs. I start to pay closer to attention to what they’re talking about. The animal says something about moving us to a place called “UA”. But there are several things that are off about what it says. It called this new place a “safe environment”, maybe that just means that we will be secure from anyone coming to steal us or their research? Then it also says that they will be releasing some of us depending on species. Maybe these people are nicer than the last ones; maybe they let animals go, instead of killing them, when they are done experimenting on them.

 

I don’t have much time to think about that, because almost right after the animal finishes speaking to the two-legs, they are looking straight at me. I see their eyes widen a bit, before they begin walking over towards me.

 

It stops right in front of my cage and stares at me a moment longer.

 

“You can understand us.” It says. That wasn’t a question, it knows that I can understand what they’re saying.

 

It doesn’t say anything else. I wonder if I’m supposed to respond to it. The old ones did not let me speak, but maybe these new people come with new rules. And if they know about my being able to speak with my mind, then they might even be expecting me to respond.

 

I decide to go for it. If they don’t like it, then at least that way I’ll know.

 

“Yes, I can.” I say with my mind.

 

The animal’s eyes widen once more. “And you can communicate. Marvelous.” It exclaims. “Is this telepathy your quirk then?”

 

Did they not know? Judging by their reaction, it obviously wasn’t expecting me to speak back to it. Maybe they just haven’t had a chance to go through everything that the old ones knew.

 

For now, at least, they hadn’t punished me for speaking. So, I suppose I’ll go along with it while I can.

 

“No. This is not my quirk. They did this to me.”

 

“Oh? Then what is your quirk?”

 

“This form.”

 

“Wait… What? What do you mean that this form is your quirk?”

 

“Exactly that.” I respond. “My quirk allows me to transform into this.”

 

The animal is silent for a moment before their eyes narrow slightly and darken unexpectedly with a deep, unfathomable anger.

 

“You’re a human.” They say. At this, the two-legs that were conversing, stop and walk over to join the animal.

 

“Did I here that right?” The tan one questions. “Did you say that this is a human?”

 

“I did indeed.” The animal answers, before looking back at me. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

 

“You are.”

 

The dark one curses out loud when he hears my answer. “How long have you been here?”

 

“I don’t remember. Too long for me to care anymore.”

 

Somehow, the animal’s eyes manage to darken even further. “What have they been doing to you?”

 

“They test things on me.” I respond, curious as to the cause of the animal’s anger. “They inject me with things to change me. But other than that, they just leave me alone. The spikes on my back are the most recent.”

 

The animal turned to the tan one. “Tsukauchi, go find the keys to this cage. We’re opening this one first.”

 

“I’m on it.” The two-legs responds before promptly walking away.

 

I feel myself freeze a bit at the animal’s words. Were they going to let me out? I feel hope, dangerous, soul-warming hope begin to creep into my body.

 

Before I can say anything, the animal turns back to me. “Can you tell me your name? My name is Nezu. This is Eraserhead.” He gestures to the dark one as he says this.

 

“Zero One Eight Two.” I reply. That’s what the old ones always called me, so that’s probably the name that these new ones wanted.

 

“Not that one.” The animal-Nezu-says. “I don’t care about that one. I want to know your real name.”

 

What? Why did they care about my real name? Surely that wasn’t important to whatever testing they wanted to do. The old ones had never cared about it.

 

It’s been so long since I’ve thought about my name, it doesn’t surface when I search for it. I sift through the few memories I have of before my cage, trying to dredge up some hint of it, but I find nothing.

 

I can feel a rush of sadness attempting to crawl up my throat. I hadn’t realized before now that I don’t even know who I am. All I am anymore, is a number.

 

“I-. I don’t remember. It’s been so long, I don’t even remember my own name.”

 

I see something new enter Nezu’s eyes. This looks like… Pity? But also understanding?

 

“That’s alright. That doesn’t matter.” He reassures me. “We’ll get you out of here. And then we’ll find you a new name.”

 

“You- You’re letting me out of the cage?” I ask, incredulous. “You’re not going to- to experiment on me?”

 

“Yes, we are.” The animal responds at once. “And no, we’re not going to experiment on you. You never have to go through anything like that ever again.”

 

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I want to, oh how I want to believe it; I’ve had so many dreams where someone comes to rescue me from this place. But I can’t let myself make that mistake, can’t let myself hope. Hope is dangerous. It builds you up, oh so high, only for the inevitable disappointment to tear you back down to earth.

 

I feel the tide of emotions, of sadness and confusion and frustration, surge forward once more. This time, I’m unable to force it back down.

 

“Why?” I ask quietly.

 

“Why wh-” Nezu starts to question, before I cut him off.

 

“Why are you doing this to me!? Why are you giving me hope!?” I yell at them. “Is it not enough that I can barely move or that my body burns every time something new is tested on me!? Now you have to torment me with this too? With the thought of freedom, so tantalizingly close, when you’re just going to rip it away at the last second.”

 

I squeeze my eyes shut, willing these cruel new people to leave, to just let me suffer alone as I always have.

 

“Why can’t you just kill me already?” I ask, quieter this time, when they don’t move. I can feel tears start to spring from my eyes. “What is there to gain from continuing to make me suffer? Just kill me and let me finally be free.”

 

I open my eyes when I hear a strange shuffling noise, only to see that Nezu is squeezing between the bars of my cage. He walks towards me once he manages to push through.

 

I close my eyes again at his approach. I just interrupted him, and then shouted at him and the dark one. He’s probably coming closer to punish me for my insolence. I just hope that he’ll take pity, and kill me once he’s done.

 

I feel him lay a paw on my head and I tense, preparing for the pain that’s sure to come. Only, it doesn’t. Instead, I feel him running his paw through my fur, rubbing around the straps of my muzzle.

 

I open my eyes to see him looking down to me as he continues to stroke around my ears. “I AM going to get you out of here. You may not believe me, but I’m telling the truth. I’m going to get you out of here, and you’ll never have to suffer like this again.”

 

When I don’t respond, he continues. “Believe it or not, I was actually in your position once. The same people that put you in here once did the same to me. They experimented on me, and they hurt me, until eventually, I gave up as well.”

 

What? Was he telling the truth? Did he really have to go through what I have?

 

He places his other hand on my head as he keeps talking. “But then, one day, I escaped. I got out. And ever since then, I’ve worked to make the world a better place. I built a hero school that has seen the greatest heroes in history pass through its gates. And ever since that day, I’ve worked to find out everything I can about the people that I escaped from. So that, one day, I would be able to take my revenge and help any others that are in the same position I was in.”

 

As much as I try not to, I relish the feeling of his paws running through my fur. As with everything else, I no longer remember the last time I felt positive physical contact. It feels so good, and calms an ache, deep in my chest, that I wasn’t even aware existed.

 

And what he is saying. If this is really true, if what he’s telling me is the truth, then he really is going to get me out of here. I can feel the last of my barriers starting to crumble. I can feel myself giving in to the hope. I can only pray that it won’t turn around and bite me.

 

“Okay.” I finally respond. “Okay. I- I believe you. Just, please, if you have any mercy, don’t make me regret it.”

 

“I won’t. I promise you that. For as long as I live, I will do my best to make sure you never have to suffer again.” He reassures me, before turning and nodding to the tan one, who I didn’t notice had returned. At Nezu’s signal, they begin working on the locked cage door. As he does, the true gravity of what is happening starts to hit me.

 

“I- I really get to get out of this cage… It’s been so long.”

 

Nezu turns back to me. “How long have you been in here? Did they ever take you out?”

 

“No. Never. Not since shortly after they brought me here. And that was years ago, I think.”

 

The dark one speaks up again. “You mean to say that you’ve been stuck in this tiny cage for years, without ever being allowed out?”

 

“The tests that they did didn’t require me to move around.” I reply. “They even gave me something that made me strong again after my muscles got weaker.”

 

With that, the door finally swings open. Nezu walks out first, before turning to look at me with an expecting look.

 

With a huff, I push myself to my feet. Now that I’m standing, I can feel that my new spikes are brushing against the top of the cage. I take a cautious step forward, sniffing at the edge of the cage. I keep an eye on the three newcomers. I’ve chosen to put my trust in Nezu, but I’m still worried that this is all some kind of elaborate trap. Not seeing anything to indicate a trick, I step forward again, finally exiting the cage. Finally, after who-knows how many years, I can actually stretch out properly as I stand.

 

I look down at Nezu. Waiting for instructions of some kind to tell me what to do next. This is all new territory for me, so I’m not sure what to expect, and the last thing I want to do is break some unknown rule and lose this newfound freedom.

 

The animal has some sort of gleam to their eyes. It looks like joy, of some kind, or maybe relief?

 

“Now. Can you shift back to your human form for us?”

 

“No.” I reply. “I can’t”

 

“Why not? Is there something stopping you?”

 

“The muzzle.” I say, raising a paw to rub at my snout. “It doesn’t let me. Shocks me if I try.”

 

At that, the darkness returns to Nezu’s eyes as he inspects the device that has been secured to my head for so very long.

 

“Tsukauchi.” He says, something unidentifiable in his tone. “Find a way to get that wretched thing off.”

 

Whatever was in his tone, the tan one must have picked up on it, his face pales as he takes a step closer to me. He now has a noticeable smell of fear around him.

 

“Could you lower your head, please?” They asked. “I need to get a proper look at it.”

 

I comply to his request, lowering my head to where he could reach everything. I’m still nervous about these people, but I’m also hesitant to disobey them and excited at the same time at the prospect of having my muzzle removed.

 

He runs his hands across the straps, presumably looking for some kind of latch or buckle to disconnect it. After a few moments of searching, he finally grabs hold of something.

 

“I think I found it.” He says. “It’s locked, but it looks like it just unlocks with another key.”

 

He rummages through a set of keys for a moment before picking one out. He moves it up to my head, probably to wherever the lock is located.

 

I hear a click, and suddenly a white-hot spear of pain impales itself through my head. I just barely make out the tan one yelling out an expletive as he jumps back, and before I know what’s happening, I’m on the floor. My body is no longer mine to command as it jerks and seizes uncontrollably. The pain burns out all thought from my mind; it’s so much worse than ever before. Whatever the tan one did, he made it hurt so much more than it ever did when I tried to shift.

 

I can’t breathe, can’t even take in any oxygen to scream in pain. I’m a prisoner in my own head as my body burns from the inside-out.

 

I think I hear Nezu shout something out to one of the others, but I can’t make out what it was. Then, just as I think I’m about to pass out into oblivion, the pain stops. The world changes around me as my body suddenly snaps to my smaller form, my bones crunching and shifting into place much faster than I thought they could.

 

Before I can register what’s happening, something is wrapped around me, pulling me away from the muzzle that’s now crumpled on the floor, still buzzing away. A pair of rough hands grip me by the shoulders, steadying me. My eyes focus just long enough to see the dark one looking at me, he’s trying to ask me something. Whatever it is, I can’t hear it. The combination of the pain that was just rocketing through my skull, and the disorientation resulting from changing back so quickly and after so long, deafens me to whatever he’s trying to say.

 

My vision begins to dim around the edges as I lose my grip on consciousness.

 

The last thing I see before the world finally fades to darkness, is Nezu standing next to the dark one, a visible look of concern in his eyes as he tries to speak to me.