Not expecting his roommate to return for at least a few hours, Matt was surprised to hear the door swing open. He removed his earbuds, easily registering the familiar tread of Foggy’s footsteps. The door closed—not quite slammed shut, but harder than was usual for his even-tempered friend.
“Foggy?” he said, even though his senses had already told him this in a dozen different languages.
A sigh, the plodding of feet, body settling heavily on the bed opposite, squeak of rusty springs, groan of the mattress. “Yeah, buddy, it’s me.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Tired of me already, Murdock?” the voice like sunshine teased. Except that tonight the sun was muted, hidden behind something heavy like rain. “And I haven’t even shown you my embarrassing collection of Broadway soundtracks yet.”
“No, no of course not.” A crease worried itself between his eyebrows. He set aside his study materials and sat up taller. “But I thought you had that date tonight, with, uh... Emily, the girl from the play, wasn’t it? Janine set you up with her.”
Well... To an unenhanced ear, silence. To Matt? Bed creaking as Foggy’s weight shifted, slightly elevated heartbeat, teeth grinding together as loudly as nails down a chalkboard. He could smell the sweat gathered in Foggy’s palms, feel the heat radiating from his skin. Flushed. Anger? Embarrassment?
“Foggy, did something happen?” he asked quietly.
Heartbeat spiked. “Nothing happened, it’s fine. It just didn’t work out.”
“You only left ten minutes ago.” Matt suddenly wished that he’d thought to eavesdrop on Foggy’s walk to his date’s dorm room, despite how invasive such an action would have been. Maybe if he’d been listening, he would know what had happened that Foggy was so reluctant to tell him. He would know how to help. “That’s barely enough time for a hello, much less a goodbye. You didn’t wear the duck tie, did you? I told you, never on a date. Just hearing about that tie made me glad I don’t have the eyes to see it with.”
His attempt at humor fell flat.
“Look,” said Foggy. “I don’t... It’s not a big deal, okay? I should be using this time to study anyways. You’ve got the beauty so I gotta get the brains or this whole partnership will tip way out of balance.”
Light-hearted. Trying to joke, to banter. But heartbeat jumping at the word ‘beauty’ and not in the way that suggested attraction. Matt knew what that particular staccato rhythm sounded like from his roommate, and this wasn’t it.
The shuffle of clothing against sheets and a papery fwap as a book was picked up and dropped on a lap. The soft whisper of pages flipping open.
“Please, Foggy,” he said, aware that there was more than a hint of pleading in his voice. He planted his feet on the floor, sitting at the very end of the bed, facing the one he knew sat directly across from his. “Tell me what happened. Did she do something to you? Say something?”
The book snapped shut, the sound ricocheting inside Matt’s eardrums like a bullet.
“Matt. Drop it. Why do you even care so much?”
“Because,” he insisted. “You’re upset. She hurt you. Or someone else did.”
“Even if you’re right... So what? What’re you gonna do about it, braid my hair and bake me brownies? You can’t fix everything, Matt. You’re not actually Superman. Still just a regular guy, albeit a very good-looking one.” Another spike, the rush of blood in his veins. Definitely anger.
Matt withered. “I, uh...” He licked his lips. “You’re right, it’s none of my business. I’m sorry. I’ll...” His head gestured awkwardly and he slid back onto the bed, returning to the position he’d been in when Foggy had entered. He groped carefully for his braille reader.
A deep sigh. “Shit,” said Foggy. The scratch of a palm across freshly shaven cheeks. “I’m sorry. You’re just trying to be a good friend, and here I am, acting like the king of all dicks.”
“No,” Matt said immediately. “You’re not—”
“The king, Matt,” repeated Foggy. A peep of sunlight through the clouds. Matt sensed a flicker of flame as a finger was pointed at him. “King. Of the dicks.”
Matt’s lips quirked. “The jack, maybe,” he allowed.
It’s okay, he almost said. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.
But he didn’t say that. Because he was selfish and he did want to know. Already he could hear the slight hitch in Foggy’s breath that always gave him away when he was about to speak.
“All right, it’s... It seriously doesn’t matter though, like, at all. Got it?” At Matt’s overly agreeable nod, he sighed. Then, “Okay. So I went to her room, right? Like I was supposed to. But she obviously wasn’t expecting me because she asked if there was something she could help me with. So, I introduced myself as the dashing young buccaneer to whom she was promised for the evening, and... well...” He sighed again. “She said, ‘Oh, I thought when my friend said she set me up with the guy from room 312 she meant the hot one. Sorry.’”
Fury consumed Matt, burning hotter than the flames of the world around him.
“And that was that!” Foggy finished, deliberately brightening his voice, as though that would really make Matt feel any better. “Like I said, no big deal. I’ve had worse letdowns from the cafeteria’s spicy burritos.”
“Foggy, I’m—” He choked on his anger. “I’m so sorry.”
Foggy made a pshaw sound and Matt sensed the movement of a hand flapping up and down. “Dude, don’t. Seriously.”
The tension in Matt’s shoulders eased to hear the genuine, casual tone back in place. At least Foggy wasn’t angry anymore. That was something.
Matt, on the other hand...
How? How could someone say such a thing to Foggy, Foggy, much less mean it? He knew it was cliché, but he did often wonder whether his lack of sight actually made him less blind than other people.
He wasn’t oblivious. He understood that Foggy was not thought to be terribly good-looking, certainly not to the extent that Matt was. Matt set hearts racing all over campus, whether he wanted to or not. (Usually he didn’t.) Foggy tended to be overlooked as a result, and Matt had overheard more than one unkind remark comparing the attractiveness of the two friends. He was just glad that Foggy didn’t have enhanced hearing and had thus remained ignorant of those particular comments.
It was true, then. People, men and women alike, gravitated towards Matt when it came to sex.
But they gravitated towards Foggy when it came to everything else.
Despite his looks, Foggy was confident, outgoing. Bright, kind, full of warmth and laughter for everyone. He made friends in all of his classes, and never seemed able to so much as cross campus without at least one of their Columbia peers shouting out his name in passing. Foggy was an open book, and written on his pages were fun and silliness and love. People were drawn into his orbit as surely as planets to the nearest star. So distant from Matt’s darkened shades and measured expressions. Anyone could see it, if only they cared to look.
Matt wasn’t the ‘hot’ one. Foggy was. In every single way that mattered.
“It really has nothing to do with you,” Foggy continued. Matt forced himself to listen past the haze of red burning through his brain like a fuse. “She wouldn’t’ve wanted to go out with me anyways. Let this be a lesson to you, my friend! Never agree to go on a blind date! Except I guess all your dates are blind dates, so—”
“She’s an idiot,” Matt said through gritted teeth. The injustice, the blindness of it all was too much for him. He wished he were holding his cane in that moment, only so that he had something to squeeze the life out of. His palms were going to bear white half-moon indents for days to come. “She doesn’t deserve you.”
There was quiet for a second. Then Foggy let out a bright laugh. Even in his anger, Matt’s heart fluttered inside his chest. Pleasure, that he’d made his best friend happy. Totally normal, friend-like feelings.
“Hey, you don’t have to tell me that I’m a hot piece of ass,” said Foggy. “Any girl on campus would be lucky to get two handfuls of this very squeezable tushie. I know it! And if she doesn’t, then she does not deserve the Foggy Nelson Experience. But hey! Her loss your gain, my friend.”
Something punched Matt in the chest. He forced a laugh. “You’re not gonna put your ass in my hands, Nelson. I’m not touching anything you tell me to for at least a week—”
“No, not that!” Pure sunshine. Matt felt the shift in the air as the pillow hurtled towards him, but he stayed still and let out a loud, honest laugh when it struck him in the chest, causing him to sway backwards. That was one of the many things he loved about Foggy: he never tiptoed around Matt’s blindness, but he never would have risked throwing the pillow at Matt’s face and hitting his glasses either. He was the perfect friend, really, the best a blind guy could ask for.
The best any guy could ask for.
Matt grinned, despite himself. “Pancakes?”
“Hells yeah! All those nummy pancakes I would have cooked for her? Going straight to your stomach now.”
Matt chuckled—he certainly did not giggle, no matter what Foggy liked to claim—with his tongue sticking out of his mouth in sheer mirth. Around no one else did he let down his defenses this way, letting them see the silly, carefree side of himself. He was always careful and guarded, choosing what to show and what to hide away.
But with Foggy there had never been any choice. He’d never even had the chance to try and keep his walls up, because Foggy wasn’t a sledgehammer, knocking them down by force. He was sunlight, shining through them, turning the walls transparent while leaving them perfectly intact. It was easy with Foggy, easier than it had ever been with another person.
“Will you use actual blueberries this time?” he asked. “Or are you going to swap them out for chocolate chips again when I’m not looking?”
“Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you’re never looking.”
“You would take advantage of a blind man’s disability to feed him non-nutritional breakfast foods?”
A shrug. He could hear the grin in the other man’s voice as he said, “I’m not above it.”
“You are shameless, Mr. Nelson.”
“And you are a freak, man, seriously. It is not healthy to eat as little junk food as you do.”
“Healthy is exactly what it is, that’s the whole point,” he retorted, the well-worn argument comfortable to settle into, like an old plush armchair.
There was a pause.
“Yeah,” said Foggy, too quiet all of a sudden. Matt’s brow scrunched; the armchair had grown stiff under him. He resisted the temptation to squirm in search of that easy comfort once more. “Yeah, you’ve probably got the right of it. Can’t hurt to stay in shape, right buddy?”
Matt’s insides cinched into one gigantic knot. Foggy, no, he wanted to say. He wanted to scream. Don’t change yourself for her, for any of them. You’re perfect the way you are. If only he could make Foggy understand, make him see the way that Matt saw.
Instead he swallowed and swung his legs off the bed. He stood, reaching for his cane.
“Come on,” he said.
“Where are we going?” Foggy asked, already on his feet. He moved to the door and positioned himself on Matt’s left side.
“Class field trip,” said Matt. He slipped his hand into the crook of Foggy’s elbow and pulled his friend out the door. “We’re leaving New York and visiting the state of inebriation.” The door clicked shut behind them and they set off down the hallway together.
“You know neither of us can legally drink, right? We can’t exactly stroll into the nearest bar to drown our sorrows.”
Matt made an unconcerned face. “So we’ll go to a party. It’s Friday night, isn’t it? There are always parties. In fact, uh... I think I remember hearing about one,” he lied. Somehow he thought that I’ll locate the closest one using my incredibly advanced senses wouldn’t go over as well.
“Uh...” He quickly honed in on a cacophony of scratchy speakers, sloshing beer bottles, and pheromones. “Broadway Hall,” he said. “Come on, let’s go.”
He tugged his friend forward. Foggy met his stride so that neither was leading and neither was following, and together they made their way towards the promise of alcohol and forgotten cares.
Matt wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. By no standards was he a lightweight, and Foggy didn’t exactly possess a hollow leg. But there was no denying that, by the end of the night, he was far drunker than his companion. In truth, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this hammered.
Ah, no, wait. Yes he could.
Never. He had never been this hammered.
Only by the good grace of Franklin P. Nelson did he make it out of the party and down the stairs in one piece. His senses were on the fritz, insofar as he had lost all capacity to filter through them, to focus. Smells, tastes, and sounds collided with him one after another, battering at his nerves.
Air sharp as a serrated steel blade. Dog panting three blocks away. Couple shouting in a top floor apartment. Cheese pizza with so many peppers his eyes watered. Daffodils. Horns, so many horns, and sirens. Always the sirens. Flowerpot shattering. Freshly baked almond cookies. Sex. Sewage.
All this in the first four seconds after their emergence back onto the otherwise quiet campus grounds. Cane extended in front of him, Matt took a shaky step forward, only to topple sideways.
He hit something solid but soft. Foggy laughed, the sound deep and rumbly in his chest, his chest beneath Matt’s ear, his bones vibrating, air inhaled and exhaled in pleasant Foggy-sized huffs, beer, vanilla, mac and cheese, cherry chapstick, printer paper, and something distinctly Foggy, utterly sunlight, and Matt curled into the sound, the smell, away from the war-torn battleground that was the city’s assault on his ears and nose and mouth.
An arm wrapped around Matt’s middle. For a moment he thought that Foggy was responsible for keeping him upright and was impressed by Foggy’s strength—before realizing that he was keeping himself up by way of two arms looped snugly around Foggy’s neck and shoulders.
“Matt,” Foggy laughed. “Buddy. As much as I’ve always wanted a koala baby, you gotta help me out here or we’re never gonna make it back to the dorm.”
“Koala baby?” murmured Matt, still focused on the symphony that was Foggy Nelson. Everything else had drained to a buzz in the background. “I didn’t know you wanted a koala baby. I’ll get you one, get you a—Wait, is that legal?” He let out a long breath of air, content. “I don’t care, I’ll get you one anyway. I’ll go to China and get you a koala baby.”
“Sweet thought! Wrong continent.”
“Oh. What’s in China?”
“Pandas. Pandas are in China. Also: general tso’s chicken, about twenty percent of the world’s population, and ninjas!”
“No, that’s... Ninjas are Japan, aren’t they?”
“So where can I get a koala?”
A snort. “Nowhere. You cannot get a koala anywhere because I don’t need a koala.”
“But you said—”
“You, Matt. You are the koala baby, all... clinging to me like I’m your mamma koala bear. Not gonna lie, it’s kind of adorable, totally making me want to lick your hair into submission, but you’ll have to let go if we’re gonna do the whole walking home thing.”
Matt’s brow contracted into a very serious frown. Let go? Didn’t Foggy know how loud and smelly Hell’s Kitchen was at night, especially this night? No. Not safe. Had to stay with Foggy.
Foggy laughed again and Matt smiled, nosing his way further into Foggy’s coat. Mmm laundry detergent. So clean and fresh. A soft scent too, gentle on his nose, like a breeze that still carried the smell of flowers from a meadow somewhere far away, but just barely.
“How did a night out to drown my sorrows turn into you rhapsub- rhapsodizing about my detergent?”
Oh. Had he said that out loud?
“Dude, you—” A laugh. “You are so gone right now. Come on. Let’s get you home before you hurt yourself, mi blind amigo!”
High-pitched laughter burst from Matt, his cheeks splitting from the force of his delight. “Mi... Mi blind amigo?” he managed to get out between chortles.
“Fine then!” Matt could tell that the other man was struggling to keep a lid on his own laughter. “What... What’s the Spanish word for ‘blind’?”
Later he wouldn’t be able to say why he did it. Even as he said it he knew it was a terrible idea, knew there were a million ways it could go wrong. But before he could stop himself the word was spilling out of his mouth.
“Amado,” he said.
“Mi amado amigo!” Foggy proclaimed loudly, proudly, as though he had discovered the word through his own merit.
Something that had been empty inside of Matt for a long time, perhaps all of his life, felt suddenly whole. He breathed in. His eyes grew wet, though he didn’t know why.
My beloved friend.
“All right, arm around me, Murdock.”
Foggy’s voice brought him back to Earth. He cleared his throat and did as he was asked. Foggy wrapped an arm about his waist in return.
“I’ll fight off any bad odors or loud noises with my sick kung fu moves if I must, but I will get you in bed tonight if it kills me.”
At this Matt shot straight up, releasing his hold at once. Fire seared through him from the inside out, first through his veins, then his flesh, then blooming bright and vivid red on his skin. He bit his lip, hard. Focused as narrowly on his friend as he was, he couldn’t quite ignore the corresponding trip of Foggy’s heartbeat.
Before he could do more than open his mouth—
“Your bed,” Foggy clarified. His voice was louder than normal and his pulse was certainly quicker, but Matt suspected embarrassment was the culprit. He knew what honesty sounded like in his friend’s voice, and right now it was there in spades. He released a breath.
“For sleeping in. By yourself! And, in your case, waking up in with a killer hangover.”
Matt forced a smile. His heart—which had seemed to leap into his throat when he’d misunderstood Foggy’s meaning—now settled somewhere in the bottom of his stomach, worsening the nausea brought on by too much cheap beer. Somehow he felt far less inebriated than he had only moments ago, though he knew rationally there was still the same level of alcohol in his bloodstream.
“I knew what you meant,” he lied. Pounding heart—his own. Wind caressing the grass, rippling through each blade. Hot dogs. Blood, a busted lip, rusty tang. He fumbled for Foggy’s elbow, fingers gripping too tightly at the shirt fabric. “But you’re right, we should get back to the dorm.”
“Yeah.” He licked his lips, nodded. “I’m good. Let’s go.”
The awkwardness had passed by the time they got back to the room. Matt leaned heavily on Foggy’s side for support, support provided without complaint all the way up the stairs, down the hall, and into their shared sanctuary.
“Oof!” Foggy expelled, depositing Matt on his bed. Matt’s back struck the mattress and he let out a groan of his own, replaced almost immediately by a grin and a chuckle. There was a clatter. His cane? Then a crinkle of clothing that was surely Foggy picking the cane up and putting it away for the night. A dopey smile brightened Matt’s cheeks and he tilted his head to the side, just to listen. Foggy was so thoughtful...
“Man,” said Foggy. Matt felt hands pushing at him. Obediently he allowed his friend to maneuver him into a better position. “If this is how you handle me getting rejected, I already rue the day some girl rejects you for the first time. Not that she would, of course, this hypothetical girl. She’d have to be blind. Ha! Sorry, no, rude. Bad Foggy.” A pair of hands gently removed Matt’s glasses and he heard them settle onto his bedside table with a clink.
Even through his impaired senses, Matt recognized that Foggy’s tone was relaxed, amused even. There was no resentment. He was just a guy sharing an inside joke with a friend.
The words were poison to Matt’s ears anyways.
His hands shot out and grabbed Foggy’s wrists. Foggy froze, heartbeat stampeding all of a sudden, but Matt was too drunk and exhausted to care by this point. He held tight, probably too tight.
“No no no no,” he breathed. The word was little more than a whisper.
Senses still on overload, he was having trouble focusing on Foggy even at only a foot away. And if he couldn’t focus on Foggy then how could he know if Foggy was focused on him? What if Foggy couldn’t see him, couldn’t hear him? He pulled his friend closer. Foggy lurched, nearly toppling off his feet at the jerky movement. One knee landed on the bed to brace himself.
“No, Foggy, no,” Matt said. His head hovered a couple of inches off the bedspread, straining towards the other man. It took all the energy left in him to hold himself up even that far. Their faces were inches apart. “You can’t... You can’t listen to people like her. They’re wrong, Foggy, they don’t... You have to... You have to know how beautiful you are.”
A hiccup of a laugh brushed past Matt’s cheek. He could taste its bitterness on his tongue.
“While I appreciate the pep talk, Matt, lying does not become you. We can talk about it later if you want, okay? For now let’s just get some serious shut-eye. I think we both need it.”
Thunder crashed inside Matt’s chest. He shook his head. “I’m not- I’m not lying,” he said, tripping over the words in his haste to get them out, to make Foggy see. He didn’t loosen his grip. “Foggy, I’m... You... You have to understand, you have to see the world how I see it. It’s... Everything is hard, brittle. The world is made of, of shadows and sharp edges and cold, but you, Foggy, you... are soft and warm and comfy and... and I can’t...”
Foggy had gone completely still, no physical tells for Matt to read. Silent. He couldn’t even hear his friend’s breathing. After a moment, he realized that this was because his own breaths were too loud to hear past. His heart pounded. Where others would have made nervous gestures with their eyes, Matt’s remained fixed and unmoving and, as they normally did, his hands filled in the gap.
Releasing their grip, his hands shot upwards, urgently seeking out Foggy’s face. At the first press of his fingers into flesh, Matt relaxed. His fingertips began to flutter over his friend’s skin, tentative, trembling, but demanding in their exploration. The touches were not methodical, not intended to map out the terrain. Rather they were light and brief, like butterfly wings ghosting over the surface of a leaf. He was driven only by the need to move, to feel.
“I want to be near you all the time,” he confessed. His fingers continued their dance. “I want to touch you, all the time. You... It’s like... It’s like when I’m with you, all those shadows and sharp edges, they... they just melt away and you... You have no idea, you have no idea what that means for me, Foggy, how much... how much I need that. Need you.”
Growing bolder by the second, Matt removed his hands from Foggy’s face and tangled them in his hair instead. He’d always wanted to see for himself what it felt like—he could always hear it, brushing against Foggy’s shoulders, and smell the conditioner Foggy used on it—but he hadn’t had the courage to touch, too afraid of scaring his best friend away.
Such concerns did not stop him now.
Foggy’s hair felt exactly like Matt had always imagined. Soft, so soft, just like every other part of Foggy. Soft voice, soft body, soft hair... Why would anyone want Matt’s coarseness when they could have this instead? He ran his fingers through the strands over and over again, wanting, needing to remember this sensation forever. Something to cling to in any moment when the sharpness of the world cut too deep.
“Do you... Do you see?” he asked, nearly breathless. He stroked Foggy’s hair, all the way down from his scalp. “You’re perfect. So when I say you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met... inside and outside... I mean it. More than you can possibly know.”
Finally there was movement. Foggy’s head moved slightly as he cleared his throat, the sound hoarse and scratchy. “You didn’t.”
The sound of Matt’s heart thudding grew twice as loud in his ears. He could feel the reverberation so hard inside his skull that it was almost painful. His lips pulled into a pout. Why was it suddenly so much louder? He didn’t feel any different—
Then he realized. His heartbeat hadn’t doubled in volume; instead, there were two separate, distinct heartbeats both clamoring in his ears now. Foggy’s heartbeat had finally grown loud enough to hear even through the cannon fire of his own.
“You didn’t say that.” Foggy’s voice reached him through the noise. Instantly he felt calmer. He latched onto the sound and let it carry him like a lifeboat. “You said... that I was beautiful. You didn’t say I was the most beautiful person you’d ever met.”
“Oh.” Matt paused. Then, fingers still tangled in Foggy’s hair, he moved his left hand so that the palm was resting on Foggy’s face, thumb tracing his cheekbone. Soft. Always so perfectly soft. “Well I meant to. And you are.”
Foggy, normally so talkative, was quiet above him. Nothing to give him away but the sound of shallow breaths in and out. Well, those and the still present aromas of Foggy’s conditioner and detergent and goddamn cherry chapstick, joined now by the tang of sweat and alcohol. Matt was struck by the urge to pull Foggy down further, until he was sharing Matt’s bed. Matt could curl against him as he slept, cushion himself with Foggy and wake up comfortable and content for the first time in a long time. That sounded like a good idea.
In fact, why only for this one night? Why not curl up with Foggy every night? The more he thought about it, the happier he became, a gentle smile playing about his lips. Laying down with Foggy, going to sleep with Foggy, waking up with Foggy... They already spent nearly all their waking time together. This would be all they needed to have the perfect friendship.
Friendship? his brain teased. That sounds more like a relationship, Murdock. Matt snorted, and opened his mouth to share this joke with Foggy.
His grin faded.
Everything inside of him seemed to collapse in on itself, a black hole at the center of his being. He might have thought it in jest, but... it wasn’t a joke. His heart, which had started to settle down in the peacefulness of envisioning a relationship—a relationship—with Foggy, began to pound again.
How, how, was he only now realizing that a relationship was exactly what he wanted from Foggy? How had he missed the warning signs? When had his feelings towards Foggy stepped over the line from friendship to something... more?
And, more importantly... What the hell was he going to do about it?
“Hmm? Yeah?” he said, raising his eyebrows in what he hoped was a casual gesture. As if his heart wasn’t pounding a mile a minute beneath his skin and his mouth hadn’t gone completely dry.
“You okay?” Foggy, bless his soul, sounded genuinely concerned.
“What? Yeah.” His smile was a greater lie than any he’d ever told his friend before. “Yeah, I’m.. I’m fine.” Body crying out against the action, Matt removed his hands from Foggy and let them fall to the mattress. “Thanks for... for taking care of me tonight. I’m sorry I... if I...”
Both hearts still raced hard and fast, belying the two friends’ return to normal conversation.
“No, yeah, it’s... Don’t worry about it,” said Foggy. He cleared his throat, presumably trying to erase that rough edge from his voice. “I mean, you would’ve done the same for me, right?” An awkward chuckle then, that of a man striving to regain sure footing.
Matt forced another smile. “I think we might have hit a couple more walls on the way back if I’d been leading you instead of the other way around.”
Foggy laughed. Still awkward, but genuine nonetheless. Matt’s smile grew gentler in response.
“Well, I guess I’ll always have to be there to lead you then, so you don’t go and get yourself arrested by campus police for being blind and disorderly.”
Surprised, high-pitched laughter. His own. “Blind and disorderly?” he repeated, crinkles by his eyes. “Foggy, that is so offensive.”
“Please,” Foggy scoffed, nothing but sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. Matt basked in it, warming under its glow. “You love me and my offensiveness.”
Matt froze. Any words he might have prepared to say were forgotten now. He fought to breathe. His heart was thundering so loudly in his ears he could no longer remember what it felt like not to be aware of his pulse in every nerve ending of his body.
“What if...” He licked his lips. “What if I did?”
“Did what, buddy?”
“Loved you. What if I... loved you.”
Not for the first time, Matt cursed his sightlessness. Normally he could cope just fine without eyesight, his other senses making up most of the difference and then some. But in moments like these, without visual cues to guide him, he would have given nearly anything to see again. He felt liable to vomit up his heart at any moment.
The silence went on so long that Matt began to feel the stirrings of true panic. He reached out a questing hand.
Gentle fingers wrapped around his wrist. His body electrified at the contact, even if it wasn’t quite what he was going for.
“Matt...” And Foggy’s voice was definitely cracking now. “I’m not... Look, you’re drunk, okay, like... really drunk, and so am I. You don’t know what you’re saying. Now, you’re gonna sleep this off, and in the morning I’m not gonna hold you to any of this, all right?”
“What?” The pressure around his wrist vanished; the air shifted as Foggy began to move away. “Wait, no, Foggy...”
Ignoring the complaints of his body, Matt lurched up from the bed. He had to find Foggy, catch him, stop him before—
The floor rocked beneath his feet. Waves of alcohol sloshed through his brain from one eardrum to the other. Matt threw out a hand, grasping for something, anything, but it was useless. Without even knowing for sure which way was up and which was down, he could feel his equilibrium slipping, knew that he was losing his balance, and there was no way to stop it.
Something cracked against his skull. Then his body hit the floor, a sharp ache emanating from a spot on his forehead. For a moment he didn’t try to move, too focused on the pain and the sudden taste of rust in the air. Then he licked his lips and began to get up. His head hurt like hell, sure, especially given the intense headache he’d already had courtesy of the alcohol he’d imbibed, but none of that mattered. Murdocks didn’t stay down.
Besides, he’d had worse. Now that the shock of the moment had passed, a quick internal scan told him that the injury to his head really wasn’t all that bad. More of a surface nick than anything else.
He’d managed to sit up by the time a body collapsed at his side, the floorboards shaking and Foggy’s smell filling his nostrils.
“Shit shit shit,” came his roommate’s frantic voice.
Matt smiled. “Foggy, I’m fine.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, fine,” said Foggy, sounding honest-to-god angry. Matt didn’t think the anger was aimed at him, though. “You clipped the fucking table on your way down. Oh man, you’re bleeding, like, really bleeding.”
“It’s okay,” he continued to reassure the other man. “Head wounds bleed a lot, even minor ones.”
“Do I even want to know how you know that?”
He chuckled. “It’s common knowledge.”
“Not the way you’re saying it, it’s not,” was the unamused reply. “You’re saying like you know. Like you’ve had them before. And what am I even saying right now? This doesn’t matter! We need to get you to a hospital now.”
The tug on his arm was gentle, but at the mention of a hospital, Matt grew cold. He made himself as immobile as possible.
“No.” He directed his gaze as close to his friend’s eyes as he could. “I don’t...” His teeth ground together. “Look, you’re right, okay? I’ve had my fair share of falls. And I know when it’s serious or not. Trust me. This just looks bad. But nothing’s damaged, nothing’s bleeding internally. I don’t even have a concussion.”
“You can’t diagnose yourself, Matt! That’s what professionals are for.” Two hands took hold of him, no longer gentle, no longer accepting no for an answer. Foggy started to heave him up. “Now, I’m taking you to the hospital whether you—”
“I said no, dammit!”
Back on his feet, Matt yanked away from his friend, swaying dangerously as he did so. This time he steadied himself, purposefully avoiding the concerned hand that reached towards him.
“Don’t you get it?” he bit out. His muscles were stiff, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. “I can’t... I don’t want that. I don’t want to be that.”
“The blind guy! The blind guy who winds up in the hospital his very first year of college because he couldn’t see where he was going.”
“What? That’s not even what happened.”
“But that’s what they’ll all think,” Matt said intently. “It’s what they’ll say. And that’s how they’ll see me for the rest of my time here. Please, Foggy. I just...”
He inhaled. Then exhaled, releasing the last of his anger. He bit his lip sadly and turned big, imploring eyes towards his friend.
“Please,” he repeated.
There was a heavy, weighted pause. Then,
“I should not be doing this, man.”
Matt sighed with relief. “Thank you.”
“Will you at least let me help clean you up?”
“I’d appreciate it,” he answered, smiling bashfully.
Foggy sighed, but his annoyance was masked almost entirely by affection. “All right. Sit down, handsome wounded duck man. One wet rag coming up.”
Grinning, Matt sat on the bed. He heard rushing water as Foggy turned the sink on. “Handsome wounded duck man? That sounds like a superhero name.”
The sink turned off, feet padded against the floor, then the bed was dipping beside him. A wet towel dabbed at his forehead, sponging away the blood.
“Yep,” Foggy said. “Powers include hot women radar, adorable giggling—”
“I- It isn’t giggling, Foggy.”
“—and... being a major pain in his too-beautiful-for-this-shit sidekick’s ass.”
Matt hummed. “I don’t think Handsome Wounded Duck Man would have a sidekick.”
“Partner, maybe,” he said with a smile.
“...Yeah?” came the happy reply. “So who would his partner be?”
Matt paused to consider this. After a moment, he said,
The next morning dawned like a fucking tornado had ripped through his skull.
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” came a sympathetic voice by his bed. “I’ve got water and two pills. Think you can sit up?”
He did, fighting the urge to cringe at every movement. He swallowed the pills that were placed gently in his palm and let Foggy guide the glass of water to his mouth.
“How do you feel?”
“I now have an intimate understanding of the words ‘smashed’ and ‘hammered,’” he said. He winced at the sound of his own voice. Foggy’s was nicer. Softer. “Though I think ‘bulldozed’ or ‘dropped from a ten-story building’ would be more appropriate.”
“Yeah, you had a pretty rough night.”
Matt’s forehead wrinkled. Somewhere in the background, behind the ache of his hangover, he heard a soft, subtle rhythm gaining in speed.
Foggy’s heart. His heart rate had increased.
“Do you, uh... Do you remember much of it?”
Lightning speared him, right from the crown of his head down to the tips of his toes. He did. He remembered all of it. He remembered his poorly timed revelation. He remembered his foolish, drunken confession.
He remembered Foggy walking away.
He forced a smile, knowing Foggy would assume the pain in it was from the hangover. “No, not really,” he said. “It’s all a bit... foggy.”
“Ha ha,” his friend said, a smile in his voice despite the sarcasm. Matt grinned. “I would whack you for that truly awful pun, but you look like you might cry if I did.”
“It’s true, I’m very fragile,” said Matt with mock seriousness. “Please be gentle with me.”
Foggy laughed. The sound, bright and beautiful as sunshine, hurt Matt in places he didn’t know were left to be hurt. He shoved this pain as far beneath the surface as it would go.
“I’ll tell you one thing though,” he said.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
He groaned, letting his head fall back against the wall. “I am never drinking that much again.”
And Matt never drank that much again.
Ten years later...
Matt listened quietly to his friend rant. He didn’t rise to his own defense. For the first time in their long acquaintance, Matt had raised walls specifically to keep Foggy out. Without them, he knew that he would turn into a teary pile of mush, falling to his knees, begging for Foggy’s forgiveness. He would not do that. He would be strong and take it like a Murdock. This was his penance.
“You can’t do that! There’s a system in place, and it’s weird and invasive and—”
Foggy stopped. His heart quieted for a moment. Then it picked up speed again, growing faster and louder by the second. Matt’s stomach clenched in terror.
“Wait,” Foggy said, sounding small and ragged and broken. Rain seeped through the cracks in Matt’s walls. “Are you telling me that... since I’ve known you, any time my heartbeat changed, you heard it? You knew?”
Matt looked away. Every time I lied, you knew, Foggy was saying. You knew and you let me believe you didn’t. Matt had invaded his privacy, then lied about it by omission, and now he was angry. Rightfully so. What could Matt possibly say to that?
“And what? You just pretended not to?”
Matt breathed. Pursed his lips. As if those few precious seconds of bought time could change the truth he had to give.
“Basically,” he said.
Footsteps, movement in the air, Foggy getting closer, vanilla, sweat, Foggy standing right in front of him, cherry chapstick, a finger pointed towards his face. “If you weren’t half dead, I would kick your ass, Murdock. Am I lying about that?”
Matt tilted his head up, towards dark skies and rain clouds. He didn’t bother to point out that even if Foggy were lying, his heartbeat would be little help to Matt in this moment, as it was already drumming out a battle march. Nor did he mention that he didn’t need to hear Foggy’s heartbeat to know when he was lying, not now, not after all these years of learning Foggy backwards and forwards, inside and out, better than he knew himself. So instead he just answered the question.
“How could you...” Foggy had grown quiet again, anger giving way to hurt. “I thought we were friends, I thought...”
“We were,” Matt said hurriedly. His back arched forward, as though to get up off the couch, but he stayed where he was. “We are. Foggy—”
“Then why?” Foggy yelled. Matt flinched. “Tell me why, Matt, huh? What, was it... was it funny to you?”
His eyebrows scrunched together. Funny? Why would lying to Foggy be funny? A pain worse than any of his battle wounds throbbed inside his chest. Was that really what his friend thought of him?
Foggy wasn’t done. “I mean... God! I always knew you must have at least suspected, but this... You had no right! You knew, you knew I was in love with you and you didn’t say anything, you just let me make a fool out of myself. How could you—”
“In—what?” Matt choked out. Foggy fell silent, but Matt was far too panicked to spare a thought for this. His eyes were stretched open as wide as they could go, air entering and exiting his lungs in short, frantic breaths. His ears were ringing. “You were... in love? With... me? I... I didn’t... When were you—”
“No.” The word was hard, firm, but Matt sensed the underpinnings of hysteria. “No. You had to have known, you just said—”
“I can... Foggy, I can hear- hear lies and fear and... and yes, all right, attraction, but that’s- that’s not...” He didn’t even stop to think about what he was saying before he said it; the words were pouring out of him too fast. “Love is... something else, something different. I can’t read it, it’s too... personal, too much inside the person’s head.”
“Do not tell me that right now, man. Do not.” Heavy treads across the floorboards. Foggy pacing away, away from Matt. A sharp, acrid scent in the air. Foggy’s heart beating excruciatingly fast. His panic had reached its peak.
Matt licked his lips. His own body was thrumming with adrenaline, the ringing in his ears leaving him confused and discombobulated.
“But... Foggy... You couldn’t have been in love with me,” he said, more than a little frenzied himself. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t. He knew Foggy, he would’ve known, super-enhanced senses be damned. There was no way that he’d missed it, that he’d missed his chance to be with Foggy, a chance he’d never even known he had. “You couldn’t. I... I told you that I was in love with you and... you didn’t say it back.”
“What?” Foggy was further away now, but still there. Still there. “What are you—”
“Our first year of college. That... That night we went to a party because... that girl, uh... whoever she was, rejected you. Remember? I told you—”
“Are you even being serious right now?” Foggy exclaimed. “The night you got so drunk you fell and bashed your head against a table? That wasn’t a confession, Matt, it was you being an affectionate drunk. I knew that. I knew you didn’t really feel that way about me. I wasn’t about to make some idiot of myself by taking your drunk bullshit seriously and telling you something we both would have regretted in the morning. Besides, you didn’t even remember any of it the next day.” He paused. Then, “Or I thought you didn’t, anyways.” His voice was gravel. “Just one more thing you lied about, I guess.”
“Because I thought you didn’t feel the same way,” Matt insisted. “I lied so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, so we could pretend it never happened, like you wanted. I did it to save our friendship.”
“You can’t use that as an excuse every time, Matt! I—Wait.” He stopped. “Did you—? You said, ‘the same way.’”
Matt raised his eyebrows, his head making a clear, And your point is...? gesture. “Yeah?”
“You mean... Are you saying that... you loved me?”
Oh. Oh. He still hadn’t realized...
Matt let out a sigh, his expression turning soft and sympathetic.
Any roughness that had been in Foggy’s voice before was nothing compared to how wrecked he sounded now. “You really were in love with me?”
Swallowing, Matt blinked against the tears in his eyes. His lips were trembling. But he knew this was important, knew that he couldn’t lie anymore. It was time to tell the truth, once and for all.
“Not ‘were,’” he said, quiet, as though he were in confessional with Father Lantom. “Am. I am in love with you.”
“And listen, I, I know that’s probably not what you want to hear right now,” Matt said, racing to get it all out before Foggy could speak. “I know I missed my chance and I don’t... I don’t know if I deserve another one, but please. I’m asking for it anyway. You loved me once, and I didn’t know it then, but maybe if... Maybe we can get back there, to that place. Maybe... you can love me again. I’ll... I’ll do anything, just... just tell me what to do.”
“Foggy, say something, please.”
The rustle of clothing. Foggy took a long, slow breath in. Then he walked closer, Matt’s heart beating harder with each step. The couch cushion dipped as Foggy sat next to him. Matt turned his head and inhaled deeply, his friend’s unique smell as comforting to him now as it had been a decade ago at Columbia.
Matt sensed movement, but didn’t have time to process what it meant before a soft finger was tracing one of the cuts on his face. He flinched, more from the unexpectedness of the touch than the pain. In fact, it was taking him a great deal of effort not to lean into Foggy’s touch.
“Don’t... Please don’t ask that,” he said, fighting back tears.
“Why not?” The finger fell from his cheek. “Because you’d say no?”
“Because it would tear me apart.” He focused his gaze as close to Foggy’s eyes as he could. “Either way I’d be giving up a piece of myself.” He put a hand against his chest. “This is part of me, Foggy, part of who I am now. But so are you. You always have been. I don’t think I can... be, without you.” Shaking, he lifted a hand and reached out. His heart catapulted inside his chest when his fingers found their mark. Shifting closer on the couch, he stroked Foggy’s cheek, relishing the smoothness beneath his fingers. “Please. Please tell me we can find that again, find... whatever it was that made you love me back in college. I’m still that guy, Foggy, I swear, just... just let me try.”
“It’s not something you can find.”
The tears finally broke free and Matt’s face crumpled in on itself. He started to take his hand back.
A sigh, then a hand touching his own, pulling it back to Foggy’s cheek. Foggy turned his head, nuzzling against Matt’s palm. Matt’s breath stopped.
“Because I never lost it, Matt. I still love you. I never stopped loving you.”
A sob of relief and then he was moving forward, his lips finding Foggy’s forehead before he could stop himself. Tears fell from his eyes as he peppered kisses all over Foggy’s face, his forehead, his nose, his cheeks, chin, every spot of skin he could find. His fingers carded through Foggy’s hair. Another sob left him. Foggy’s racing heartbeat was music to his ears.
Then Foggy was touching his face, holding him so softly, so gently, directing him until—
Foggy met his lips in a kiss. Breath caught in his chest, Matt nearly choked. But he merely pressed closer, surging forward into Foggy’s atmosphere, breathing Foggy in like oxygen. His hands curled in the fabric of Foggy’s shirt. He arched his body towards Foggy, aching to be touched, held. Foggy reached forward and gripped his waist.
“Ah!” Matt lurched back, pain shooting through him. Foggy leapt away as though burned, his weight lifting off the couch.
“Shit,” he said. “Matt, we can’t do this. We have to stop.”
“No, no Foggy no,” he pleaded. “It’s... It’s not always like this, I promise. I’ll be more careful. Don’t- Please, please don’t leave me, not now, not—”
The couch dipped again and a hand cupped his face. “I didn’t mean ever, you doofus,” Foggy said with quiet affection. “I meant right now, while you’re still... healing.”
Breathing easier again, Matt relaxed into Foggy’s touch, closing his eyes to the sensation.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Foggy, his voice harsh and gritty again. “I’m still pissed at you, Murdock. You owe me one hell of an explanation for all this, and about a thousand and one apologies.” Matt nodded his head in time to Foggy’s words. “But I’m not gonna up and leave you right after you had a run in with Jackie Chan’s evil twin. What kind of a boyfriend would that make me?”
Matt’s lips pulled upwards in surprise. He had meant to point out that Jackie Chan was not, in fact, a Japanese ninja, but what he said instead was, “You’re my boyfriend?”
“Uh, duh. Hello.” The hand left his cheek to poke him, as lightly as was possible, in the chest. “That’s the only reason I’m doing this, man. So I can be the Mary Jane to your Spiderman.”
...Oh all right, fine. Giggled.
“No, who am I kidding,” Foggy continued. “You’re way more of a Batman. Which makes me...”
Matt’s head tilted in thought. “Catwoman?”
“Not sure I’m on board with the whole thieving thing, but I can definitely rock a catsuit.”
Matt smiled, staring adoringly and unabashedly towards his friend. Boyfriend. “You rock everything you wear.”
“Yeah, says the blind guy,” Foggy snorted.
“Says the blind guy who is hopelessly...” He leaned forward and kissed Foggy on the cheek. “...irrevocably...” The other cheek. “...passionately in love with you.” He pressed his lips to Foggy’s, the kiss chaste but full of promise. He took immense satisfaction in the hurried pitter-patter of Foggy’s heartbeat that came as a result.
Foggy groaned when Matt pulled away. Matt leaned more comfortably against the couch, head propped up on one hand, smiling—perhaps a little smugly—in Foggy’s direction.
“Cruel, Mr. Murdock. Cruel,” Foggy complained. “Why must you make it so hard to remember the ‘wounded’ part of Handsome Wounded Duck Man?”
Matt’s teeth flashed in a grin. “Sorry,” he said, not sorry at all. He leaned towards Foggy again. “I guess I’m just addicted to sunlight.”