Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
- Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Denki sprints down the halls of UA, narrowly missing crashing into another student. “Sorry! Fuck, I’m going to be late, shit, shit, shit!” He turns the nearest corner in an attempt to avoid the now enraged kid, and pauses to catch his breath. “Man, though, how the hell was I supposed to know that that one fucking full-day class was supposed to be today?”
Maybe you should have checked your schedule, dumbass. Denki is going to ignore that particular voice in his head, for obvious reasons. Had his schedule even mentioned it?
He checks, and oh, yup, there it is, a full-day block labeled ‘Shadow Training’, whatever the hell that is, taking place in the Guidance Counselor's Office, which is hopefully not too far from where he currently is.
He starts running again, and ponders just what exactly “Shadow Training” is supposed to be. Class 1-B would be taking it tomorrow, and from what Denki has heard, they’re as clueless as he is to its supposed meaning. Denki is certain they’ll find out after today, though, which is more than a little bit unfair for Class 1-A.
Oh, and there it is. The office’s door isn’t unlike most of the others in the school, save for the sign labeling it as the counselor’s office. Underneath the sign, in smaller lettering, are the words, “Judgment Hero Umbra.”
The door is ajar. As Denki approaches the low lighting of the office, he takes a moment to appreciate the room. Inside, oddly enough, is a collection of bean bags, chairs, couches, mats, and really any other soft surface Denki could bring to mind, as well as, for some reason, a bright yellow stuffed bear. An old rabbit-eared television is in the corner, playing classical music of some sort. There’s something warm about the room; it seems very welcoming and friendly, and maybe, Denki thinks, maybe spending a full day in this classroom won’t be all that bad.
He almost doesn’t notice the woman standing there, leaning against the desk at the back wall. From a quick glance, Denki can tell that she’s tall, with black hair that curls around her shoulders. Her costume covers most of her body in black and silver, and while the outfit seems rather tight, Denki has met enough pro heroes to know that there’s probably enough space in there for her to move quickly when needed. Despite most of her flesh being covered, she’s wearing fingerless gloves, which, for some reason, sticks with Denki. Does her Quirk require physical contact or something? Maybe I should ask Midoriya, he probably knows everything about her already, from the hero research he does.
Himeyo Maki (at least, he assumes, based on his schedule) smiles at the students as they walk into her classroom.
“Take a seat anywhere,” she says. Her voice is high, almost delicate. Her smile is warm as she gestures around the room.
Despite her friendly demeanor, Aizawa-sensei is glaring at her from where he’s sitting on one of the couches, his legs thrown casually across Mic-sensei’s lap, while the other man quietly converses with All Might, who’s sitting next to them. They’d been avoiding implementing this class for years for some reason, despite the constant pushing of Maki and her dear friend Endeavour. But now that Endeavour is the number one hero, they’ve had a harder time denying him any of his requests. Or, at least that’s what he’d heard from Midoriya, who had pried the information from Todoroki.
Truthfully, pried is probably too strong a word to use; it probably didn't take more than a “please” from Todoroki’s crush to get him talking.
Apparently, Class 1-A will be the first to experience this, and as such, three of their teachers are being sent along as a safety measure.
“So, uh, what exactly is this class about?” Denki asks. There’s a collection of bean bags in the corner, where Kirishima, Ashido, Sero, and a very displeased Bakugou have already gathered. He walks over to them and sprawls across Ashido and Sero’s laps. He feels Ashido’s hands in his hair, and while he can't see Sero, he knows that he’s probably smiling. All ignore Bakugou's complaining that ‘There’s already too many people, move,’ and ‘I was here first, assholes!’
“Well, considering our teacher I think I have an idea!” Midoriya says. He’s sitting on one of the couches along with Todoroki, Iida, Uraraka, and Asui. Kouda is sitting close to them, stuffed bear in his lap. “Umbra’s quirk is really amazing! She can pull people’s consciousness into another dimension. When you appear in that dimension, your shadow manifests.”
“Shadow?” Ashido repeats, sounding a bit confused.
“The darkest parts of your personality!” Iida speaks up. “Essentially, they are the parts of yourself that you pretend doesn't exist.”
“Very good, Iida!” Umbra says. “Quite the smart class this year. Now, you all talk amongst yourselves. Your teachers and I need to make sure everything is set and ready to go.” As the last of the students filter in Umbra walks over to the door and closes it with a resounding click. Then she struts over to the teachers, and they begin talking in hushed voices, too low for most to hear, but Denki is close enough for him to hear them discussing Mineta, who had caught the flu and is still recovering. He’ll be taking the class with Class 1-B tomorrow. It’s a small victory mutually celebrated by anyone who's ever met him-- unless they’re in Class 1-B.
“I bet Bakugou's shadow will be a pushover!” Denki declares, snickering when said boy turns around to glare at him. “I mean, he’s already in touch with the ‘bad’ parts of his personality, so what’s it gonna do? Be slightly more angry?” The entire bean bag group starts giggling. Bakugou turns toward Denki furiously, hands smoking, but his eyes linger on Kirishima, who’s still shaking with laughter. After a moment, he looks away, rolling his eyes.
“Does that mean soy sauce face’s is gonna be his secret bondage kink?” he asks, choosing a less violent means of retaliation. The giggling breaks into full blown laughter. Sero offers a small “Hey!” in his own defense, then gives in and starts laughing too.
“Secret? ” Denki says. “Sero’s bondage kink is no secret, Bakugou.” Sero flushes slightly, while Ashido snorts and swats Denki in the side.
“Looks like there’s gonna be some pretty intense competition for title of edgiest Class 1-A student,” Asui says. “Sure you’re ready for it, Tokoyami?”
“I’m confident he can out-edge his own shadow,” Shouji says from where he’s standing behind Tokoyami’s chair. Tokoyami looks far too pleased at the vote of confidence. He tilts his head up, a familiar motion between the two of them. In response, one of Shouji’s hands reach down to run through his feathers.
God, I wish that were me, Denki thinks to himself as he watches them. Shoji’s fingers have to feel nice, but on the other hand Tokoyami’s feathers are probably really silky and pleasant to touch. It looks like a good deal to him no matter which perspective you see it from.
Apparently heaven wants to remind him to be thankful, because as he's thinking this Ashido’s hands leave his head so she can wave them around as she speaks. Denki makes a soft whining noise and grabs her by the wrist, pulling one hand back down.
“Okay, okay, geez! You’re so needy,” Ashido says, clearly more amused than annoyed. She buries the hand in his hair, gently scratching at his scalp. Denki hums contentedly, and tunes back into his squad’s conversation.
“I was training with Tetsutetsu and Midoriya last night,” Kirishima says, clearly talking to anyone interested in listening. “Midoriya told us all that stuff about shadows, and Tetsutetsu said I should just arm wrestle mine into submission!”
“Maybe your shadow is just Tetsutetsu with a really bad dye job,” Sero suggests.
“And a cut out Kirishima mask!” Ashido shouts. One of her hands is gesturing wildly, while the other remains firmly in Denki’s hair.
“Like the spy in Team Fortress 2?” Sero asks.
“Yeah, exactly like that!”
“Alright, everybody!” Maki calls. The students look up to watch as she, once again, struts to the center of the room.
“I think we’ve got everything just about figured out. We’ll go one by one in a group, into your subconscious. Any questions before we begin?”
Midoriya raises his hand. “Uh, I have a few questions about how your quirk works, actually. It’s always been a subject of debate, but a lot of villains you’ve caught say it’s really dangerous in the shadow realm. Are you sure this is safe?”
“Aw, so cute! Don’t worry, Midoriya, you’re in good hands,” Maki holds her hands out and walks to the far right corner of the room, where Ojiro and Hagakure are sitting. She hadn’t actually answered Midoriya’s question, Denki realizes faintly. “Hold still, this’ll hurt just a bit,” she says, before reaching out and pinching both of them on the forehead, somehow managing to find Hagakure’s on the first try. They fall asleep seconds later. She goes across the room doing this, occasionally having to pull taller students down to reach their foreheads. She reaches the bean bags last. For a moment something malevolent seems to gleam in Maki’s eyes as she looks down on Denki. The pinch is quick, and he barely feels it.
The shadows around the room seem to grow larger, darker. He feels the world surrounding him melt away as a feeling similar to sleep overtakes him.
There’s a flicker of light and the feeling of something in his chest stirring. Then it’s gone as the familiar sensation of waking up too early overcomes him. Denki wearily presses a hand to his chest on instinct, but nothing feels out of place. He takes a breath and opens his tired eyes. Everything is just as it was-- everyone is sitting in the Guidance Counselor's office, but the walls are painted orange instead of blue. Despite the light that the lamps shed, the room seems darker than it should be. A clock on the wall indicates that only a few seconds had passed. The TV in the corner has been turned off, making it hard not to notice the overwhelming quiet. Outside, the sky is pitch black. Denki sits up, and notices Kirishima being the last to wake up. The only other notable difference is the absence of Umbra.
“Alright, everybody up,” Aizawa-sensei says. He’s standing at the door, arms crossed. “We only get out of here once you’ve either all confronted your shadows or we run out of time. Let’s try and get it over with as quickly as possible.”
The students rise to their feet, still chatting and joking amongst themselves as they follow the teachers out of the room. Their bodies cast longer and darker shadows then what should have been possible, which some take as an invite to try their shadow puppet skills. After only a few minutes, everyone crowns Shouji as the king of making them. Having six arms seems to help, Denki muses.
As they walk and joke around they seem to feel at ease. There’s an uneasiness in the air, though-- Denki can feel it. Everyone is on edge. Something is wrong with this place, the quiet halls of this not-quite-UA, but there’s nothing they can do but pretend they don't notice.