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Out Of The Black

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OUT OF THE BLACK

 

If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm

Frank Lane

 

Out of the suddenness and confusion and trembling high and bitter drop in temperature came a paralysing moment of clarity, of dawning realisation quickly engulfed by fear.

A heave of pain cuts into the fringes of his sockets, cramping around his temples and carving out a hollow pit between his brows. Matt kneads his eyes with a rough heel of his hand and narrowly draws in one - two - three deep breathes. It swells behind his eyes, prickles on his taste buds, and shovels unease into the chasm of his stomach. It is a chunky, piercing pressure that crackles in the air and threatens to swallow Matt whole.

His ears pop.

The pitter patter of rain trickles down from the rooftop and Matt can hear a flock birds take off into the sky and disband amid the shelter of the trees in the courtyard, while an unfortunate student ducks for cover, the grass squelching as the muck slurs under his heel. Sure enough, only seconds later, it's pelting down, fast and pitiless, and the disquieting, charged buzz that signals the approaching storm only heightens. A bored classmate, obviously seated by the window, traces a lopsided heart into the glass, stuttering squeaks and cold dew. It makes Matt's skin crawl.

The wind is already shrieking loudly as it thrusts the rain at the trees, whose fearful branches stoop and swerve with little hope of evasion. It smells like burnt pine and sickly sweet smoke.

The hairs on his arms stand erect. Bristling with apprehension. A knot of tension forms between his shoulder blades and the atmosphere around him seems to shiver and thrum with anticipation.

Matt fiddles with his glasses, tapping the temple tips against the desk, before sliding them on and wiping sweaty palms against his thighs, pants crumpling and scuffing against his sensitive skin.

Ever since his accident as a kid, Matt has been able to feel a storm coming a mile off and with his highly powered senses, the sensations are quick to overwhelm him. He's never been particularly fond of the experience, though he remembers being fascinated by lightening before. Matt used to smush his face against the glass, where the water seemed to melt before his eyes, fogging up into a ripple of smoggy colour, and watch as these bright flashes burned across the sinister sky for seconds that seemed to stretch into another lifetime. His Dad was forever barking at him to get away from the window and at the time, Matt had certainly begrudged him for ruining his fun, especially in his younger years. He'd never really understood the danger.

Now, however, he is eager to get as far away from such displays as he can. Understandable when Matt can no longer marvel at the fearsome beauty and it has the adverse side-effect of making him dreadfully ill.

Matt struggles to snuff out the dread that slithers out from the darkest depths of his gut and licks his nerves with tingling attentiveness. His muscles are tense and raring for action, his leg jiggling as his lecturer drones on and on, and he is unable to keep still or think straight for the life of him.

He can't do this.

Matt grabs his jacket from the back of his chair and hastily slips it on, zipper clinking as he yanks it up. He snatches his bag and slings it over his shoulder, shuffling his books into a wonky pile and hugging them to his torso. The chair screeches against the linoleum as he abruptly stands.

The babble of voices fall silent.

Matt hobbles down the aisle of the classroom, bumping into the sharp corners of more than one desk and muttering strained apologies, before clumsily lumbering in the vague direction of the exit with his hand flung out in front of him to avoid a nasty collision with the wall or heaven forbid, the door itself. No-one intervenes, no-one blocks his path. They're far too startled.

'Mr. Murdock-' the professor begins in bewilderment, but he's already out the door, cane forgotten and a flurry of papers crashing to the floor in his wake.

It's too much, it's not enough. He's here and he's gone. Ensnared in a tangle of feelings and impressions and a hum of people that only gets louder and louder and he can't block it out. It's heavy, it screeches, the gust picks up and it's all he can to not to puke right then. Matt's breaths are shallow and his lungs throb as he begs someone, begs God himself, not to let him pass out in the middle of this busy corridor. If He has any mercy at all, He wouldn't abandon Matt to that. The last thing he needs is to draw any more attention to himself.

He can't be both blind and prone to black outs. That just won't do. Matt doesn't crave sympathy, he wants to be left alone, and he can't be alone when everyone's worrying about whether or not they should trust him to escort himself around campus without injuring himself further. If there's one thing people love, it is to spy a fresh bruise on his forehead, so they can ask, how'd you get that? But he's not a helpless baby bird, his blindness shouldn't automatically warrant their scrutiny, and he's entirely capable of scraping by on his own, thank you very much. He is not going to give people any further ammunition.

And while he is also very skilled at steering clear of The Fixers crowd and politely declining invitations for assistance and can even use it to his advantage sometimes, Matt would prefer not to collapse here where just about anybody could happen upon him all the same, if it could be avoided. It's a matter of not compromising his dignity.

Luckily, he needn't have worried.

Matt makes it. If just barely.

By the time he reaches the stairs, he is wheezing and seriously winded, and Matt staggers up to his dorm room and jimmies the handle, ramming the door with his side and stumbling through the doorway.

But what he'd forgotten to account for in all of his dark musings is the possibility of his roommate being, well, in his room.

'Matt?' comes the shocked response. 'Jesus, Matt. What are you - Shit.' Foggy leaps up from where he's typing on his laptop, keys clacking away, and barrels towards him. He sounds disastrously alarmed, heart beat lurching and quickening. Matt's own heart sinks. 'Are you alright?'

For the love of all things holy-

'Yes. I'm perfectly fine, thank-you,' Matt pants, trying his damn hardest to ground himself and failing. He is totally taken off guard. Shouldn't Foggy be in class? It's Monday, isn't it? He's supposed to be in Humanities and Social Sciences. So why is he-? 'Nothing I can't…c-can't handle.'

Of all the rotten luck…

'Um…yeah. No dice, buddy.' He places a hand on his shoulder and guides him towards the bed. 'Here, sit down. Deep breaths. That's it.'

Matt lowers his chin and steals clipped, aching gasps, as he mangles the bed sheets with a taut fist. His glasses dip down his nose and then fall further, hanging crookedly from one ear, before Foggy carefully plucks them off. His friend sits down beside him and thrusts a hand through his hair. With a second's wavering, he begins rubbing calming circles into Matt's back.

Pressing a hand against his rolling stomach, Matt suppresses a groan of pain as the air vibrates with the threat of thunder and becomes so dense, it's a miracle he can breathe at all. Or at least, it seems that way.

But Foggy keeps rubbing - soothing, broad strokes. The only remaining thing keeping him tethered to the present, keeping him from floating away with the motions.

The nausea dissipates.

'There,' Foggy breathes, after a long, long five minutes. 'Better?'

Matt shakily nods, another tremor racking his body. He stuffs his hand under his leg to hide the trembling. But it doesn't help. They travel up his arm.

'I was wondering when you'd show up,' remarks Foggy. 'Starting to worry you might flee to someplace else.' Matt jerks in surprise.

'When I'd…?' If he wasn't already disorientated before, he certainly is now. It amazes him he can string together a semi-coherent sentence. 'How did you-?'

'Relax,' he cuts in, 'I always check the weather forecast. I knew this afternoon was gonna be a bad one.'

'You-' Matt is completely stunned. 'You check the forecast?'

'I do,' Foggy confirms, far too breezy for the other man's liking. 'I don't watch the news purely to keep up with current events, you know. Waaayyy too depressing.'

'W-why?'

'Because before a big storm is gonna hit, I noticed you always get really tense and withdrawn. As if you can sense it or something, like an animal. I dunno. It's really freaky.' He shifts in place and his voice is blasé, but there's a trace of timidity simmering beyond the casual outer shell. He starts talking very fast. 'Anyway, there's, like, this recurring pattern where you get super weird and refuse to talk about it, and then you go incognito for a few days and each time there's been a crazy thunderstorm and I thought, there's no way this is a coincidence. So I figured you must have astraphobia or something similar and heck - maybe you'd appreciate a little company? We can brace the storm together. Whaddya say?'

He sounds excited, but Matt suspects he's more than a little worried about having crossed some undeclared line and having his suggestions met with scorn. If there's one that's apparent, it's that hurting Foggy's feelings must be avoided at all costs. He couldn't bear it if Foggy began apologising for being himself.

'Oh….Wow. Foggy, I-I don't know what to say.' And he really, really doesn't. How can he-? How can Matt turn down his friend when he's being so damn considerate, when he's only got his best interests in mind? Typical Foggy, totally understanding, never passing judgement. It disarms him. Who knew his roommate was paying such close attention? 'While I appreciate the offer, I can't imagine it would be overly enjoyable for you,' Matt rubs his brow, swallows hard, feels oddly guilty, 'and for your sake, I wouldn't recommend subjecting yourself to my ill-fated behaviour for any great length of t-'

'Nonsense!' Foggy exclaims, quick to reassure. 'You've looked out for me on the few occasions where I've gotten absolutely shit-faced, which I've been kindly and repeatedly informed is no picnic for anyone involved by a quite frankly confounding number of strangers. Apparently I like to take off my pants and dance in my underwear? Yeah,' he shakes his head, 'Moving on. I'd like to return the favour.'

'I really can't ask you to-'

'Good thing you're not asking, then.'

'Foggy,' Matt protests, face pinching, 'I'm serious. This isn't going to be pretty.' It's going to be horrific. His heart races at the thought.

'You don't want an audience. I get it. I really do.' The voice is impassioned and something inside Matt deflates, shrinking in on itself until the reluctance caves inwards, collapsing in a bundle of nerves and indecision. This is not a fight he's destined to win. Clearly.

'But here's the thing, though,' Foggy bites the inside of his cheek, clasps his hands together, '...I kind of built a fort.'

'You…you kind of built a fort?' Matt repeats, mouth twitching in disbelief. His mind struggles to comprehend what he's hearing - are they suddenly back in kindergarten or something? 'What does 'kind of' entail, precisely?'

'Only the coolest, cosiest fort in the history of fort-making!' he defends, 'You know, lots of sheets clipped in place, criss-crossing to form a cocoon of warmth and heaven. You may be familiar with the concept. It's the perfect refuge for a couple of guys bracing their first storm together and emerging beautifully and spiritually as one. Nothing, like, weird, or anything. And Matt,' his tone turns pleading, 'it's amazing. Like you wouldn't believe how incredibly amazing it is. Homely and majestic and way bigger than your average fortress of blankets. I promise you, this is gonna be the best damn fort you've ever seen. Er, wait. That was poor wording on my part. I mean-'

'You know the aesthetics of the structure doesn't make any difference to me, right?' Matt asks, amused. Foggy's awkwardness garners a fleeting smirk, and a warm chuckle bubbles to the surface before he can muffle it. 'Not to mention, I fail to grasp the benefit of the fort in the first place.'

'Atmosphere, my man. Atmosphere.' Foggy doesn't appear to be too disheartened by Matt's lack of enthusiasm, having relaxed at Matt's lack of irritation, voice cheery and wrapped in this enduring kind of optimism that Matt sincerely doubts he'll ever be capable of.

He's still not entirely sold on the idea, but Matt is more than willing to hear him out, maybe give it a go. He is hyper aware of the wind yowling outside and it won't be long now before the storm is kicking off in full swing. Not that he can't get by on his own, 'cause he can, but a distraction, any distraction, is looking pretty darn good right about now.

'If you say so,' Matt says indulgently as he forces himself to breath evenly. In... Out…. In and out. How hard can it be? 'Though I don't think I'm in a position to appreciate your masterpiece in all its glory.'

Foggy brightens, 'Hang on. Is that a yes?'

'I don't know, Foggy.' Matt's not in the mood to put up a fight and even if he were, he's not sure he'd want to. Maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe he doesn't have to lock himself away and wait for it to blow over. Not if he doesn't want to. 'Can I afford to say no?'

Besides, this is going to be difficult enough to endure without him inflicting loneliness on himself unnecessarily. It might be nice to have someone around. Who knows? Maybe it's time to try something else. It'll be different, but sometimes different's better.

'Oh my God. Seriously? I didn't think you were gonna go for it. This is gonna be so great!'

Matt is pleasantly surprised by his surprise. Talk about realistic expectations for the getgo.

'Sorry,' Foggy suddenly murmurs, sheepish, 'I just fist-bumped.'

His lips quirk, 'That's okay.'

'So…' his roommate clucks his tongue, obviously steadying himself, 'You wanna come inside?'

'Do I have a choice?'

'Not really. You lost the right to change your mind approximately five seconds ago.'

'Oh. Well.' Matt laughs gently. 'By all means, lead the way.'

'First - shoes off. That's the rules.'

'There are rules?' He lifts his leg and pulls one sneaker off, then kicks off the other, dropping them to the floor with two, solid thumps.

'Only one.' Foggy links his arm around Matt's and steers his friend towards the grand assembly. 'Alright. The entrance is through there, just in front of you. Sorry, you'll have to crawl.' Suppressing a chuckle despite himself, Matt peels back a layer of the heavy covers and wriggles inside the cramped space, mindful of the flashlight dangling from the crafted ceiling.'Oops,' Foggy gulps, emitting a nervous titter, 'Forgot to tell you to mind your head. Architectural hazard.'

'No problem.'

True to Foggy's word, inside it's tepid and snug, if a little stuffy, with fuzzy, fleece blankets spread out on the floor alongside an abundance of puffy pillows. There is the dusty, woodsy scent of Foggy's cologne lingering in the air, clinging to the bedspread.

'This is extraordinarily childish,' Matt comments in amusement as he squirms around to get comfortable, digging up a wan smile as he sinks back into a cushion padded with duck feathers. He stretches his long legs beyond the perimeters of the fort and interlaces his fingers behind his head, elbows poking out at either side and fabric bunching at his feet. 'You do realise that?'

'I know,' Foggy sighs, a contented sound, 'Isn't it wonderful? We're living the dream, dude. Frickin' living the dream.'

'Are we? Good to know.'

His smile soon dissolves, though, as a clap of thunder jolts him back to reality. He jumps.

As the weather outside worsens, Matt hunches over and pinches his eyes shut as the symptoms return full-force. He gags and retches and thanks God he's forgotten to eat since yesterday. Acid blazes the interior of his throat and his muscles spasm and contract, but nothing makes it past his mouth. Soon, his hair is sticking to his forehead as his breaths become more and more laboured, and Matt claws at the opening of his tee and flaps the fabric to release some of the blistering heat that ravages his body.

He's in agony.

Then Foggy does the most incredible thing.

He takes Matt by the shoulder and draws him into a hug. He surrounds him with the tightest of embraces and squeezes, as if trying to push all his separate parts back together, clutch the chaos and squish it into place. It's enough to startle Matt out of his misery long enough to cautiously raise his arms and reciprocate. He fits his head under Foggy's chin and buries into the warmth of his neck, and it's there, where Foggy's windpipe whistles, that he can finally breathe again. By all rights, the intimate hold should feel suffocating, but it doesn't. Matt feels safe, protected, and the storm rages on, cold and unrelenting, but this time Matt isn't partaking in the mayhem. He's here, only here, with Foggy and the sturdy pulsations of his heart that feels so close he could reach out and touch it. Hardly noticeable at first, Foggy starts rocking, and to Matt's utter mortification, he feels the tension clotting his insides unravelling, and when he doesn't object, Foggy keeps it up, slow and disconcertingly soothing.

For hours, they stay like that, even when the incessant drum of energy stammers and halts, and Foggy informs him the power has gone out. If it weren't for Foggy's trusty flashlight and double A batteries, they'd both be cloaked in blackness by now. Instead, Matt sees sparks like drifting ember.

Eventually the storm passes overhead, like the theatrical end of a deafening symphony, and then moves farther and farther away until, even with his perceptiveness, Matt is no longer caught in the firing line, preparing for impact.

He sighs, pulls away, sags in exhaustion. It's only then that Matt notices Foggy's shirt is damp.

He's at a total loss for words. Matt has no clue how to justify his behaviour to himself, never mind anyone else. But this isn't anyone. This is Foggy. And Matt should have known better than to try.

Holding his head in his hands, he gives a tiny moan. 'I am so, so sorry, Foggy,' he croaks, as he swipes at the moisture dripping from his lashes and feels the back of his neck burn. 'You should never have had to deal with that. Jesus, I'm…I'm really sorry. I realise that wasn't fair to you and I understand if you are extremely uncomfortable right now.'

If Matt was expecting acquiescence, he doesn't get it. Foggy is far too nice to kick a man when he's down. He shrugs it off, like he does with most things any reasonable person would find grossly unpleasant. It's not in his nature to go along with what he considers bullshit contriteness or allow someone feel bad when they don't have to.

'So you don't like thunder,' he dismisses Matt's apologies, 'Who cares? Personally, I'm not a huge fan of butterflies. Give me the creeps. But I don't go beating myself up about it, y'know? We like what we like, we fear what we fear. Way I see it, there's not much point getting too hung up on the mechanics of it. Not unless it's gonna do you any good.'

'But it's ridiculous, Foggy. Don't you get how…how humiliating this is? I'm an aspiring lawyer. Our philosophy is founded on solid arguments and rationalization and our ability to dissect the facts. We are programmed to employ even modest common sense and this,' he gives a bitter laugh, sinking a hand through his hair and tugging at his roots, 'this is not the kind of behaviour I would expect from a blossoming attorney. I certainly wouldn't extend much faith in a man who cowers at a spot of bad weather. Would you?'

What if he's not cut out for this, cut out for a normal life? What if he can't control his abilities and sooner or later they overpower him? What if his 'gift,' as Stick puts it, is going to be his downfall in the end?

'Yeah, well, common sense also tells me thunder storms are scary as hell,' retorts Foggy. His pitch is imperceptibly higher, a faint tint of annoyance colours his tone. 'Seriously, dude, how many people die getting struck by lightening every year? I bet it's a ton.'

Brow hitched, Matt snorts, 'Is that supposed to comfort me?'

'Probably not. But I'm trying to show you it's okay,' Foggy insists in his usual, lively manner. 'Validate your fears or whatever. And I swear it'd work if you'd quit being such a stubborn hard-ass. I mean, I know you can't see your face or anything, but you've gotta have some idea how handsome and shit you look by the way the ladies are constantly fawning over you, and really, you don't need me to tell you how talented and smart you are, 'cause, like, we might be best buds but I'm still allowed to hate you for beating me in that mock trial last week.'

Matt frowns. 'You swore we were cool about that-'

'Honestly, Matt,' Foggy continues as if he didn't hear him, 'you can afford to have a few flaws. More than a few, actually. It'd make me feel a whole lot better.'

'You don't get it. I shouldn't- I shouldn't be so, so…' He blows out a frustrated breath, jaw clenching.

'So what?' he questions, incredulous, 'Human?'

'That's not what this is.'

'Alright, then tell me.' Foggy's voice is mild, tempered with receptivity. 'What is it?'

Matt inhales sharply, opens his mouth, stalls, waits for it but it doesn't come. A stiff silence roars in his ears.

Nibbling on his lip, Matt twists the soft material of his sock between his index finger and then plays with his toes while Foggy waits patiently. After several minutes, in a small, muted voice, he finally takes the plunge and confesses, 'It's…it's pathetic.'

'So…' a frown pierces the other man's tone, 'it's a case of pride? Which, for the record, is fine. Although I can't say I'm surprised.'

'Because I'm blind,' Matt murmurs, nodding. 'That's it, isn't it? You assume I'm insecure about my impaired sight, uncomfortable with the pity and the special treatment and the, the disadvantages that come with it. That I think I have something to prove? A chip on my shoulder? Come on, Foggy. Don't hold back now. You've never shied away from the subject before.'

'Dude, it's not the blind thing,' Foggy maintains. 'I don't care about that. You know I've never given a damn about the stuff you lack when it was obvious what an awesome guy you were to begin with. Remember our first meeting? How I made a total fool of myself? Yeah. Trust me, it's not about being blind. I just meant that…Matt, you've never been all warm hugs and chocolate brownies. You keep yourself to yourself and I respect that. You value your independence and that's great,' there's a swish of spit as he wets his lips, voice faltering and skirting around a ragged breath of discomfort, '...For the most part. But let's be real. You're not the most open of people and it stands to reason you might be a little...'

'A little what?' Matt wonders, leaning forward curiously.

Foggy hesitates, 'Too independent, sometimes… maybe. If something goes wrong, you're not exactly itching to ask for help. I blame Catholicism, but you have to admit, Matt, you're intensely hush-hush about how you're feeling and you downplay everything. To the point where it might become an issue given the fact that, blind or not, nobody should have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders alone.'

'Some might call that modest.'

'Others might call it stupid.'

Matt grimaces. 'Foggy-'

'I'm not trying to undermine your personal issues. Believe me - that's your job. I'm only saying that it's not good for you to bottle everything up all the time and at the end of that day, you're no Superman. There's no sense in setting yourself apart and being almost, hell, I don't know, almost prejudice against yourself. If I had a serious phobia that I had literally zero control over, you wouldn't think I'm weak or that it's something to be shameful of, so what makes you any different? We're both equals here. I hate to get preachy on you, but the reality is, it's not fair. Like my Grandma always said, treat yourself the way others like to be treated.'

'I don't believe that's the correct phrasing,' Matt comments, raking his fingers across the blanket and tugging the heavy cloth closer as he offers a tentative smile.

'You questioning my Grandma's wisdom?' Foggy demands, but there's something obstructing his throat that sounds suspiciously like laughter.

'No, no,' he replies quickly, as his tiny smirk morphs into a wide grin. 'Not at all.'

'Good. Then it's settled. No more disparaging of your feelings.'

'It's not that simple, Foggy,' Matt counters smoothly, 'We, Murdock's - we're, uh,' he scratches behind his neck, softly clearing his throat, 'I guess you could say we're sort of a tough bunch. I'm not used to showing a lot of weakness.'

A ghost of a smile tugs at one corner of his mouth, flashes of crowds cheering, bloodied knuckles, his Dad downing a tumbler of syrupy liquid that glows in the sunlight and breath that reeks of whiskey. It's shaped like a smile but it's not happy in the way smiles ought to be.

'Nobody really is, Matty,' Foggy is uncharacteristically serious, 'That's why God invented friends. Friends don't judge one another, right? Generally, it's considered rude and kinda suckish to make fun of your buddies. Friends have each other's backs.'

Matt's lips twist into something ugly. 'Yes, well, truth is…I might not have a lot experience with those either.'

'Really?'

'Unfortunately.'

'Sweet,' Foggy grins, 'Me neither. We can stumble our way through the societal rules of friendship together!'

'Forgive me, but that doesn't sound remarkably promising,' Matt arches a brow, 'Should I be concerned?'

'Maybe,' he hedges, 'Just a little.'

'And are you really afraid of butterflies?'

There's a short pause.

'…Deathly.'

Matt shakes his head and press his lips together to smother his smile, chest bobbing slightly. 'Okay, then,' he says.

'Okay.'

Foggy laughs and the low timbre is pleasantly reminiscent of sunshine. Matt faces the vague direction of his friend and he grins back. Though, next time he thinks he'd prefer a bigger fort. Not that he'll ever tell Foggy.