I imagine Fiona Dourif is a good face-claim, specifically when she had the long red hair. Cross-posted to AO3

Spoiler Warning(s)

Contains the following:

- Major Character Death (multiple times, but I promise she is okay)

- minor gore (mostly in this first chapter)

- general angst and hurt/comfort


The Mouse


My friend has spite, he gets shakes in the night
And they say that there's no way that they could have
Caught it in time takes his toll on him
It is traditional, it is inherited, predisposition
All day I've been wondering what is inside of me
Who can I blame for it? I say it runs in the family

-Runs in the Family by Amanda Palmer


The facility is well-kept. Clean. It's on a meticulous schedule, she learns as she watches everyone around her. It's always at the same time, always the same people. There's very little variation in the schedule other than what they plan to do with her that day. But eventually, she starts to find a pattern in that too, in between the electrocution, torture, and the mind games.

She supposes she shouldn't be surprised. The methods get different and it's always a different place in a different time, but these types of people are, and always will be, the same. No matter where she goes, no matter what she does, there are always people like this somewhere.

Every time she dies in a new way, she comes back to the same place. She knew she would, but they seemed pleasantly surprised by this discovery. The extent of her quirk is unknown, more to them than to her, but she still gets surprised by something every so often. Each time she comes back to white walls and dim lights, she regrets the fact that not even in death, can she get away. Each time she dies, she now wonders if she's going to come back at all. She sometimes thinks it would be much easier if she didn't. At least then she could be at peace.

Considering she doesn't remember that blank space in between life and death, it feels like all she does is blink. One moment she's in pain, she's dying. Then there's a dark nothingness - closing her eyes. She opens her eyes and she's alive - breathing, nothing hurts and her body feels a few years younger. Always twenty-four, the first time she made the mistake of dying.

She rubs at the tattoos on her arm, the motion is hard and restrained by the shackles. The decorative leaves scattered against her skin are her personal journal. A leaf for each time she's felt her life blow away, the length of the vine it attaches to to help signify just how long she held onto that leaf - how long she lived before it gets away from her. Small and large flowers are interwoven through her skin; their meaning is something for her and for her alone.

It's not a habit she wants to get rid of, but her captors aren't too keen with letting her tattoo herself. Nor does she want them to realize just what the tattoos are to her; they seem convinced that they have her all figured out, it's her job to make sure that they only think that.

No one can know just what it means. The ritual of collecting the burned ashes of her previous body is sacred. It's just for her and no one else. Turning it into the ink is a therapeutic experience for her, a way for her to make sure she's not crazy and it's the only thing that sticks with each reincarnation of her body. She needs that in her life. A reminder that even if the scars are gone each time she comes back, even when her body feels younger, that it doesn't change what happened to her. That it's all real.

One day, the schedule changes. For the first time in years, she's not alone. She sees something other than obscured faces and bodies in lab coats.

Another transparent cage is brought in. She goes as far as her chains will let her to get a good look, her body aching and covered with dried blood from precise wounds. It's not enough to kill her, at least not yet.

Unlike her, contained mostly by electric bars amped all the way up, the creature inside is contained by a thick, bulletproof glass with air holes punctured at the top like a large rodent cage. Suiting, perhaps, given the creature inside looks like a white mouse.

It doesn't even feel like he blinks as he stares at her. Dark beady eyes meet hers in a harsh gaze. She feels like they just can't simply stop looking at each other, both too stunned that there's someone else here. Like her, she can see open wounds through bloodied fur.

He never says anything, she's not even sure if he could, but there's an intelligence in those eyes that the scientists seem to either dismiss or ignore completely. The mouse is larger than mice are supposed to be, with posture more suiting to a young gentleman. He sits facing her, with his own shackles attached to his thick neck, his hands clasped politely in his lap.

She hesitates. No one is in the room. After they brought him in, they left quickly to attend to other business - or they're watching from the cameras. She waves; it's awkward, close to her body and it makes her wrist ache from the way it pulls on her chains, but it is a wave. A peace offering. A way to say - please at least understand this, I'm glad that I'm not alone anymore.


They never move the mouse. She doesn't know why; do they have so many others here that they need the space or is it because they like to see what they do when they're alone? Is this all just another mind game to them? A way to give them each fake hope before they rip it out of them. Is this just another experiment to them?

The fact that they are watching them never changes the fact that she talks to the mouse when they're gone. He never answers her; just sitting there, but she knows that he's listening. She knows their cameras don't have audio and has taken that shred of peace of mind to heart. She still never tells him much. Instead, she tells him what her favorite american commercial jingle is, unsure if he even knows English; she sings it to him in Japanese just in case. She sings him a lullaby in French when it gets hard to sleep. Snippets of things here and there.

She asks him if he was somewhere before he was here and if he knows what good food tastes like. She complains that she can't remember the taste of strawberries; the next day, the scientists bring her in strawberries as if that makes up for what they do to her, she stops talking to the mouse after that.

The first time she dies since she's known the mouse, she finally gets a reaction out of him. She can see the broken acceptance in his eyes, as he tries to watch when the scientists poke her with long needles, shooting liquid in her veins that makes her body feel cold. She sees his gaping mouth, eyes wide as small paws press against the glass when she wakes up in a pile of ash. She wishes that she could have seen what his reaction was when her previous body burned away into nothing after her death. She wishes she could know how long her ashes have been there before she came back.

Something changes though. That first time she comes back since seeing the mouse, it's as if he realized something. He still doesn't talk to her, she supposes it's for the best, but then he starts to tap his small paw against the floor. He doesn't look at her when he does so and she doesn't think much of it - brushing it off as first like it's a way to kill the boredom that threatens to kill them just as much as the scientists. But she picks up a pattern. One short, one long, one short. Pause. Two short. One long. Pause. Four long. One short. One long. Then it begins again.

She knows that. She visibly perks up, looking at him questionably, but then swallows it down when she notices the way that the scientists are watching.

R U OK

She settles down and he finally stops tapping when she taps out a message consisting of short taps.

Eh

The scientists dismiss it as a cough, but she knows a snort when she hears one.

They communicate like that for a while after the scientists give them no sign that they've caught on. They create a new way of communication after the mouse gets too paranoid. But now when she talks, he does more than listen.


One day, they take the mouse out of the room. A guilty part of her is selfish, glad that she doesn't have to watch the closest thing she has to a friend get tortured and experimented on in front of her. She's too dehydrated - the latest of their experiments - to cry when she hears monstrous wails from another room. She knows the sound of someone dying well and the sound of wishing you were even more.

She hates that it makes her feel lonely again. After a while, she accepts the fact that a friend was too much for her to hope for in this place. She silently mourns him. She makes a firm decision to get a tattoo in his memory whenever she's free.

But then they bring him back, only he's no longer a mouse. She catches a few words written down on a chart that name him specifically as a mix of certain different animals now; the animals vary, but she notes that she mistakenly called him a mouse when he is listed, in fact, as a rat mix. The wound over his eye looks rough though and she asks him about when they're alone again; he doesn't tell her, so she instead tells him how much she missed him and how sometimes, especially like this, she is very tired.

"I've already died here, what more can they do to me?"

She's sitting down in her cell, as much as she can, shackled hands around her knees. Hazel eyes are dim, glossed over with a sad acceptance, a lost will to live. Dark hair that was once red is greasy, sticking to her forehead in a cluster of mats and dirt.

The now-correctly-labeled rat (though he's not even just a rat anymore after what they did to him), looks at her closely. As if he's trying to decide something, before finally he sits down a little closer than usual, the shackles actually beginning to go taut around his neck as he pushes it as far as he can.

"Many argue there are worse things than death."

There's a sense of camaraderie in his words. She gives him a weary grin as she crooks her neck to look at him as he continues.

"But I know that I would not be the one to argue with them."

He's not looking directly at her, something she's mildly thankful for considering the lack of clothing that the scientists give her. It's a lot odder to sit naked with a rat when you know the rat knows you're naked. Ever since they've started talking, he's stared at her less and less.

The scientists give them odd, frustrated looks; a signal that their own little language still remains undeciphered.

"As someone who has died, I can't help but agree."


They had taken him out of the room again. She worries now that she can't see him; as much as she hates seeing what they do to him, she prefers knowing with confidence that he's at least alive. She can hear screams off in the distance; but they sound different, more human. When alarms start to sound and the lights in the room start to flash, she gets concerned.

But then the door opens. It's a scientist, to her dismay, with frantic eyes and blood soaking through their lab coat. He doesn't simply walk into her room, rather running as he scrambles away from something that she can hear pattering down the hall. He's not quick enough.

A familiar rat, white pristine fur now covered in dark splatters of red, runs in on all fours. He jumps onto the scientist without hesitation, teeth digging into the man's neck. When the man is finally dead without any doubts, the rat goes from an animal into a gentleman, standing back up on two legs, wiping at his mouth with the back of his paw as if he just finished a meal.

He's escaped, and she doesn't ask how. Instead, when he types away at the computer and suddenly she's free, she thanks him.

She rubs at the wrists, barred red and bruised, her heart rapidly thumping against her chest. She almost hesitates walking, having not gone beyond the cage without other restrictions waiting for her. He waits for her seemingly patiently, a somewhat grin on his face.

"Please hurry, I would very much like to continue taking care of them."

Taking care of them. She supposes that's one way to put it. She nods and doesn't hesitate to grab the lab coat off the nearby man's dead corpse. Flames flicker at her fingertips.

"Do you want any help?"

He hums in thought for a moment. Despite not having seen her use her flames before, other than her corpse burning seemingly on its own post-death, he doesn't seem too surprised that she kept that use of her power to herself. He catches the flicker of a flame in her eye and nods.

"If you don't mind, it would be much appreciated. I am only a small rodent after all."

She opens the door for him, but he takes to riding on her shoulder instead of following behind her.


The facility burns in the clearing. She watches closely, almost worried that one of the scientists will have a quirk that will help them survive. But no one comes out of that building alive nor does anyone come to put out the fire. Her and the rodent (rat seems such a harsh word, so she adopts the word he used to refer to himself as) worked hard to make sure this works. Computers wiped clean - he seems to know how to do that well enough, and she surprisingly trusts that he knows what he's doing - she doubts that they have to worry about anyone ever finding out about them. About this.

She'll have to be more careful from now on, she absently hums. She's always been careful - always moving, always changing her name, doing all she can to make sure that no one ever figures out that her powers go beyond just fire. But she had to have done something wrong to get caught - she just has to figure out what and make sure not to do it again.

She takes in a deep breath, plopping down on itchy grass that scrapes against her skin through the coat's material. She doesn't know how long it's been since she's felt genuine air against her skin. The scent of the nearby trees mix with smoke, and she relishes in it, committing the smell to memory.

"Should we worry about the woods catching fire?," she absently asks the rodent plopped down beside her. He leans his head against her shoulder - comfortingly, as if he's as relieved as she is. With the comfort of knowing it's only them, she speaks confidently in Japanese.

"We should hope that it does for this to work," he answers honestly, his voice more chipper than before. "It would look too suspicious if there's just a burned spot in a clearing. I'd imagine that they're less likely to look into a forest fire. In fact, I'd say we have about twenty minutes before the fire reaches the forest and the pro heroes notice."

She only hums, admitting that he is right. This incident shouldn't be looked into by anyone if they play their cards right. No one will know about the horrors that happened there and no one will have to know that either of them were involved. Pro heroes complicate things and she wonders if they need to be worried about being spotted by them.

"We will need to be gone before then," he continues; that sentence alone brings her some comfort that her only friend isn't going to immediately leave her. "The scientists took me for a reason, you know. A rodent smarter than any human is always bound to get attention, but it also means it's much easier for me to disappear without any trace."

He finally looks at her, beady eyes seeming more full of life than she's seen him. The wound over his eye is now a well-formed scar. The blood is dried in his fur, but he doesn't seem worried about it staining.

"Do you know what you want your new name to be," he asks her, "I'll make all of our papers and I assure you that no one will question them…" He pauses, then adds, "Perhaps I will note us both as pro heroes to justify the use of self-defense should something like this happen again, it will be much easier."

He doesn't ask her why she wasn't a pro hero already, and she doesn't ask him either. They both know that they each have their reasons, but now he offers them both a second chance. She can't bring herself to refuse. While her forged papers have always been decent, if she wants to be registered as a pro, she can't risk anything being wrong.

"Florence," she answers. "Talbot Florence, it's been long enough since I've used that name that it should be clear. I'm usually French, but I speak enough languages and accents that you can put whatever country you wish."

"-Britain is one of my favorites," she adds after a thought.

"From Britain it will be then," he confirms, "...What do you think of Phoenix as being your pro license? We can keep your quirk vague."

"It's a bit on the nose, don't you think," Florence snorts, but doesn't disagree. She knows that her quirk will have to be a need-to-know basis; vague, something that even the registry can't have listed. Most of the time, she lists it as a fire based quirk and supposes the rodent will put something similar since it's the most believable.

"And what about you?" She looks at him curiously.

He grins wildly at her, as if they didn't just commit many crimes that would very much label them more as criminals than pro heroes.

"Ah, simply just call me Nezu."