It was cold in his cage, darkness surrounding him even with the light of dozens of monitors cutting through the shadows. The beeping of machines and dripping of the pipes overhead were not enough to muffle the sounds coming from the other cages. Wheezing of lungs barely working to take a vital, sometimes final breath. Growls and grunts of creatures in deep, fitful sleep. The grinding of non-human teeth against metal bars.
Izuku had learned days ago that crying would work no more; it would not make his mother appear to calm him down as it always did, it would not alert people nearby that he was in danger, it would do nothing for the pain in his tiny body or the hunger gnawing at his empty stomach. At the mere age of two, the only thing he was capable of doing by himself was walk and talk a mile a minute, holding onto his mother's skirt as she smiled down at him.
That was the last thing he remembered before he was brought here, forcefully ripped from his mother's grasp as she screamed and ran after him. A useless effort as a mass of black goo enveloped him and took him away into this unknown place, where he had been shoved into this jail and promptly been forgotten unless they came by to prod at him to make sure he hadn't gone into shock.
He had been hopeful at first, having just began to learn about heroes and what great feats they were capable of. He was sure they would come for him to deliver him into his mother's arms once more, bright smiles shining down on him as they ruffled his hair and told him to be careful next time, just like how he always saw on TV.
Then the days started passing.
Truth is, Izuku couldn't tell very well how much time had passed. For a boy his age a minute could feel like an hour, hours like days and days like weeks. There were no clocks or windows anywhere. The passing of time was a myth that only the whisper of a door sliding open was able to provide, and even then it was all subjective. He'd spent the first few hours of his capture crying and screaming for help until he passed out of exhaustion and stress. He'd wake up who knows how long after, forgetting where he was and what had happened to him, thinking he'd fallen asleep on the cold kitchen floor while watching his mother cook like how he'd done multiple times before.
But then he'd remember everything and the wailing would begin anew.
The other cages—whatever was in them, would react to his cries and answer them, screeching and gurgling noises filling the room until Izuku's throat was raw. Some of them had stopped making noise after a some time, now just lying still in a lump in their place, never betraying a sign of life. After some time the doors would open and a couple of people would walk in, opening the cages of the immobile ones and dragging them out, ignoring Izuku's shouts for help.
Sometimes they would come for him. Pick him up and carry him like luggage to another room with even more machines. He'd be strapped to a chair, prickled with needles too big for his tiny veins as red flowed out of him towards the machines, everyone ignoring his trembling chin and watery eyes. After a few times of this he'd just lay boneless like a doll, letting them do whatever they wanted.
Food and water seemed like a faraway dream, his tummy not even growling anymore to complain. Every time his blood was drawn, a different tube would flow something towards him, a pinkish liquid that must've been the only thing keeping him alive, enough to keep his heart beating but not to help him escape.
Not that he could even scratch the bars of his cage with his tiny, rounded nails.
It was a day—night? Evening?--that everything around him was quiet. The beeping of the machines had long since blended into the background of his mind, and not a single one of the creatures in the neighbouring cages was moving anymore. He was lying on his back, staring blankly at the steel roof on top of him and trying to remember what color the sky was when the door opened again. His arms throbbed in response, the wounds from countless needles still bleeding under his bandaged skin. The rest of him stood still.
“Is this all your investigation could achieve?” A deep masculine voice said, tsking as he walked around the room.
White light flooded the place, blinding Izuku as if someone had set fire to his eyes.
A different voice spoke. “It's all part of the preliminary process. We have to eliminate all possible weaknesses of the transition before trying for bigger ones; it's all about protecting assets, sir”
The first man hummed, his heavy steps getting closer as he walked through the cages. “Weaknesses” He said, his voice low and grating. “A necessary step to reach the most powerful creature alive, I guess”
The steps turned around, slowing down as they approached the cage holding the trembling child curled up trying to protect his eyes. They stopped right next to him, the sound of sterile tile squeaking against shoes as the man crouched down to look inside.
“And who is this little guy?” The man asked, only curiosity in his voice. Not a single hint of worry about the emaciated toddler inside.
“We wanted to test how the process would work in someone without a developed quirk. A child below the age of presentation seemed appropriate” The second man chuckled. “Ironically enough, one of our tests revealed he's quirkless. Two joints in his pinky toe”
“Should I start with him now, then?”
“Not yet, no. We're still running preliminary tests on him. We did a lot of bloodwork before we discovered he's quirkless, so we had to remake those with a different point of view”
Izuku's tremors had intensified under their words. Quirkless? Izuku was still young, but he'd developed mentally at a rate most people classified as genius, and his speech was at par with a five year old. He knew well what that word meant, and it scared him and saddened him terribly. Wasn't a quirk what all heroes had?
“Oh well” The man with the deep voice said, straightening up. “Just make sure he doesn't die until you have some results. He looks ready to keel over”
“We'll reinforce his nutritional supplement” The second man said, following the other out of the room. The lights were turned off once more, and as the door closed behind them, Izuku uncovered his face to be swallowed in darkness once more.
One time, a few weeks ago, Izuku had run up to his mother to complain how bored he was and pull her to play with him.
Now, laying on the cold metal of his jail, he missed the rainy days were his only entertainement was watching the drops fall from the clouds.
How long had he been here? How was his mom? Were the heroes looking for him? Izuku would've laughed had he had the energy for it. Of course they were; they were heroes! It's just that this place was hidden very, very well. Obviously. No other reason they'd take so long.
They hadn't given up on him.
The two men from that time had come again a number of times after a few generic faces had emptied and cleaned the other cages. They'd come back with more of the grotesque creatures to fill them back up. Each time they were larger, making more noise and causing a ruckus as they slammed against the cages until an annoyed worker would come in and poke them with a stick that had them screeching and left a smell of burned flesh clogging the air.
Would they have used that stick on him if he hadn't stopped crying so long ago?
The times they took him to the chair were farther and farther apart each time, and so the amount of the pinkish liquid they gave him diminished as well, leaving him tired and disoriented. It was kind of a blessing in disguise though; he was so famished and dehydrated he would pass out most of the time, making the imprisonment a bit more bearable. Sometimes he woke up and there were new bandages on his arms, and he'd be in a position he hadn't been in when he fell asleep, as if he'd been carelessly thrown back into the cell and just left there, without care if his leg was twisted wrong or if his arm ended up underneath him and had lost all sensitivity by the time he regained consciousness.
He was so weak he could barely lift his head, and the world swan around his vision every time he tried to move a muscle, which is why he didn't question it when the ground shook in a muted movement; he must've been imagining it.
But then it happened again.
Izuku blinked, his dry eyes nearly sticking shut from the movement. The tremors kept happening, each time closer to each other and feeling nearer and nearer as they passed. An earthquake?
The door slammed open and a bunch of people in white coats rushed in, turning on the lights to Izuku's great pain. They ran to the monsters in the other cages and did something that Izuku could not see from his supine position, but it must have been painful as the room was filled with horrible screaming. The sounds that followed were of metal doors being opened and immobile lumps of flesh being carried away by the men through another door Izuku had never noticed before in his terror.
He'd been left behind, alone.
The ground kept shaking, but this time it wasn't just that. He could hear shouting, yelling and explosions. The sound of a wall crashing down and then--
Izuku would've whimpered if his throat didn't feel like sandpaper.
Those footsteps were ones he could identify easily; heavy and with a purpose, even when their owner was running instead of calmly strolling through.
His cage was in the front of the room, in the middle of the first row, directly in front of the main door. Rushing in through the open door, the man panted as he stopped in front of his cage, fumbling to open it.
Izuku could see the bloodied hand reaching down towards his face.
And then, as soon as it had appeared, it was gone.
The man roared in rage as he was pulled back, and the laugh that filled the room had Izuku almost jumping to his feet. The only thing he felt, however, was a jolt of pain at the mere thought of moving his muscles.
There were more noises, this time right next to him, and Izuku could identify most of them from all the videos he'd seen of heroes at the job. A body being slammed against a wall and pummeled mercilessly. Concrete cracking from an unimaginable force. Grunts of pain. Grunts of anger. The muted sound of an unconscious body hitting the floor. Panting.
More voices were coming closer, but Izuku could barely process what they said as he focused on the new, big, clean hand that had appeared in his field of vision. It touched his face gently, and it was so rough, so calloused, so warm. Izuku would've cried if he still had had enough tears to do so.
He was moved, gently, lifted up with a care he hadn't felt in what seemed like a lifetime. A couple of hands big enough to hold his entire tiny body; one cradling his head and supporting his fragile neck muscles, the other holding his back and legs. Cupped like a newborn puppy.
The face that came into view was what Izuku had been dreaming about for so long, he almost thought he was having another hallucination.
The bright eyes. Strong jaw. Blonde hair pulled up in twin bangs high above his head. The smile that set millions of hearts at peace, toned down to a gentler, softer, sadder curve of the mouth. Willing strength from his very soul and feeling like he swallowed sand with every breath, Izuku opened his mouth to utter his first words in months.
The tiny child passed out in the hero's arms, and the Symbol of Peace could not stop the rebel tears that rushed down his cheeks.