Chapter 1: PLEASE Tell me you kept the receipt
“If you’ll just let me explain-“
“Look, I know he’s blind but he can cook and clean and he’ll even help you study. He’s got a Bachelor’s from his last owner, they had him as a study aid as well as a house slave. He’ll make sure you have clean clothes and are well fed, living on your own.” Anna Nelson gives Foggy a hopeful look that gives her son an immediate toothache. Something she said caught his attention, though, because -
Foggy looks up from the ownership papers with a frown. “His old owner paid for a degree but sold him?”
That was unusual. Not the degree itself - there were slaves out there with PhDs, why not train them for six figure jobs when you didn’t have to give them a cent of it? Companies saved millions training slaves these days. But even though slave tuition was cheaper, it wasn’t that cheap and it was odd to have one just as a study partner and not keep them for the eventual income they’d provide.
His mother smiles. “Their loss is your gain, darling.”
“I’m not taking him!” Foggy snaps, angry again. “Mom, did it escape you that I hate the slavery system? That I'm becoming a lawyer specifically to help people in that situation?"
“And you can do all that when you actually have your degree darling,” his mother says in the unmoved tone all mothers learn to employ, and that informs their kids they’d have more success yelling at a brick wall. “The papers are in your name already,” she adds, “And I’m not going back to the market, so you either take him or sell him yourself.”
Foggy’s hand clenches around the stupid documents and his mother gives him a victorious smile. They both know he loathes the slave markets. And his mother has probably guessed, correctly so, that between owning or selling, he would choose keeping a slave as the lesser of the two evils.
Foggy wonders how many slave owners started like that.
“What’s his name?”
His mother’s smile is infuriatingly triumphant. “Name him whatever you want, darling. He’s yours now.”
The most-decidedly-not-a-StarkPad is still standing in the living room where he’d been left after Foggy had dragged his mother into the hall to find out why exactly he'd been presented with a goddamn freaking person as a graduation present. Foggy approaches wearily – the slave is clad in the grey jumpsuit people – people! – are usually sold in, including worn-down shoes. He is also wearing a pair of rickety, taped-together sunglasses that make it hard to get a read on his expression. . Foggy tries to collect himself. Okay. He can do this. He just happens to be a slave owner now, something he never wanted to be, and is responsible for the well-being of another person, absolutely NO problem at all.
(Foggy tries not to remember that he managed to accidentally kill his pet cactus in primary school.)
“Uh, hey. Do... do you have a name?”
“You can call me whatever you wish, sir,” he replies immediately, with a small bow of his head, the padlocked metal collar around his neck clinking softly.
“Okay... what if I wish to call you what you want to be called?”
The slave’s mouth twitches slightly at that and for a second Foggy thinks he is going to smile but it’s gone just as quickly.
“My previous owner called me Dean.”
Foggy almost rolls his eyes but stops because he thinks it might be a little rude. Then he internally rolls them again at that thought, because, blind.
“Do you want me to call you Dean?”
He expects another evasive non-answer (that slave might make a good lawyer too) but is pleasantly surprised when he tilts his head slightly and says, “I like ‘Matt’.”
“Matt it is, then,” Foggy announces. “Oh, I’m smiling by the way.'
The slave looks surprised and for a second Foggy thinks he'll get an actual smile, but after a moment he simply bows his head again.
“As you wish, sir.”
He remembers the day they locked the heavy metal collar around his neck. The day Matthew Michael Murdock ceased to be and slave number 10-4-1964 had been registered.
He became Rory shortly after. The small daughter of his first family had named him. She had been nice, her father less so. They’d sold him after four months, when the wife got too jealous.
Then Dean. For four years, during his time as a study aid, when he was owned by Mark - who was actually a sort of decent owner. He treated 'Dean' like any of the other things he owned, he gave him orders, locked his collar to the wall when he left him alone, lent him to his friends if they need a helping hand and occasionally fucked him or used him for a quick blowjob.
Mark was also never cruel. 'Dean' was only beaten if he disobeyed or made a mistake, and when he was sick Mark took him to the doctor and let him recover; sometimes he even bought food his slave liked for their room.
(And after that, for three weeks before he was sold to Mrs Nelson, there was Lester. Three weeks that ended with his knuckles raw and bloody and the sirens and…the less said about Lester, the better.)
(Lester had called him 'bitch', and that wasn't a name at all.)
No, by now he is almost used to 'Dean', no matter how much he despised it simply because it wasn’t his.
He straightens as he remembers his training. It’s your owner's decision on what to call you. A slave owns nothing. Not their clothes, their body, their name.
His new owner is Franklin Philip Nelson.
His name is Mr. Nelson’s decision. But Mr. Nelson had asked him to choose and...
A slave owns nothing.
Matt has his name back. That is something.
“Um. How about a shower first?” Foggy tries, attempting very hard not to let the words ‘You stink like you died in a car last month’ leave his mouth at the same time. He knows it’s probably not the slave’s fault which condition he’s in. Currently he’s wearing the slightly smelly, grey clothes most slaves are sold in, and, probably due to his condition, he’s also equipped with a pair of taped-together sunglasses. Foggy thinks there was something about a cane that’s supposed to be shipped to him at some point, but currently Matt is standing in his living room cane-less, although his hands look like he’d like to have something to fiddle with.
“If you would like me to,” Matt says, ducking his head and again using that bland, servile tone that kind of creeps Foggy out a little bit. “Will you be joining me, or…?”
“No. No! No, you can do that on your own, right?!” Foggy panics a little, and kind of throws himself into the bathroom door in an attempt to open it. “Here. Here is the bathroom. The shower is in the right corner when you get in. Left is cold, warm is right, have fun.”
Matt slowly makes his way toward his voice, hand trailing along the corridor wall. “Okay,” he says. “Do you want me to put my clothes back on afterwards?”
Foggy decides that Matt is going to be the death of him, and he blames his mother.
“Oh. Um. Yeah, I suppose they could do with a wash, right?” He gives a miserable laugh. “Just leave them on the floor, I’ll get them and get you a pair of sweatpants to wear when you get out.”
When he enters the room later to exchange the clothes, when Matt is in the shower and not even seems to react to his presence invading, he very purposefully does not look at the naked slave in the cubicle.
Foggy is so glad Matt can’t hear the pace of his heartbeat or anything.
“Er. Right. Let’s go to my room, then,” Foggy says (unsuccessfully) trying to not stare at Matt’s bare chest after he’s emerged from the bathroom, hair damp and skin flushed (he is ogling his slave here, and if that wasn’t enough to make him majorly uncomfortable, his mother is in the next room-) “It’s upstairs, and the, uh, stair case is like two steps in front of you, and maybe…thirty? degrees to the right-“
“Most people just grab me by the arm if they want me anywhere,” Matt interrupts him, softly, but then immediately stiffens, as if realizing what he just did. “I’m sorry. Sir. Please punish me as you see fit,” he says, but the words sound grating and stiff, as if someone had made him repeat them so often until they were a hated, but natural response.
“I, uh. I’m not going to punish you just for speaking,” Foggy manages, adding in his head, or ever, if I can help it. “And please. Call me ‘Foggy’, everything else is just…weird.”
Again, Matt gives him what would probably be a curious look if he could see, but then just nods. “Understood.” Then he holds out his left arm, slightly, as if it were an offering to appease an angry god. “If you still want me in your room…”
“Um.” Foggy eloquently says again, and now he can feel himself blushing. “Can’t imagine it being that comfortable to be yanked around by your arm,” he forces out. “Do you want to hold on to mine?” He has seen someone leading a blind person like that in a movie, once, and begs that the almighty university of Hollywood won’t let him down on this. He gently extends his own elbow to bump into Matt’s bare forearm, so he knows where it is and can grab on if he wants to.
The startled look on the other man’s face doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the sudden touch.
“...yes. Thank you, sir,” Matt says, lifting his hand a little, brushing fingers across Foggy’s forearm until his grip, feather-light and tentative, as if he doesn’t know whether he’s even allowed that much contact, settles in the crook of his elbow. And then there’s a slight intake of breath when he seems to realize what he just said. “Oh. I’m sorry for using the wrong address again, please punish me as-“
“No. No, that’s fine, there’s gonna be no punishing whatsoever, really, I just wanna get upstairs before my mother comes to check on us,” Foggy pleads, trying to slowly get moving toward the stairs, breathing a relieved sigh when Matt on his arm seems to follow along easily enough. “And really, I want you to call me Foggy, but if it takes you a while to remember and get there, that’s okay, too.“
At this, Matt actually seems to give him a little frown. “I can obey orders,” he says, and there seems to be a hint of offended pride in his voice, as if Foggy had called him stupid. It’s a brief flash of personality behind the meek and servile demeanour, and Foggy can’t help but be intrigued despite himself.
“Never said you couldn’t, buddy. Just that you don’t need to, right now,” he tries, going for a soothing tone. “Stairs start here, by the way.”
Again, that little surprised expression (that thankfully seems to wipe the small downturn of his lips away – god, Foggy doesn’t know whether that’s a blind thing, but this slave – Matt, Foggy reminds himself, he is called Matt, he has a name he wants to be called by – Matt’s face seems to be showing any single little emotion he feels so openly, Foggy doesn’t know what to do with it) and then Matt nods, and starts to climb the first step.
“Don’t mention it. I have no idea what I’m doing. Am I doing this guiding thing right?”
“Well, I haven’t walked into any walls yet,” Matt replies, and then almost freezes next to Foggy. “I’m sorry-“
“It’s alright,” Foggy cuts him off, his tone weary but his heart actually pounding a bit faster than usual. “I, um. Actually thought that was kinda funny.”
“Oh,” Matt replies, but then also doesn’t seem to know what else to say, so they awkwardly shuffle up to Foggy’s room in silence.
“Here,” Foggy says as he opens the door to his little kingdom, kind of wishing that the first time he brought a hot, half-naked person in here it wouldn’t be someone who legally belonged to him, “Bed is three steps in front of you, if you sit down on it, I’ll get you some more clothes.”
Matt nods, releasing his arm and walking forward surprisingly steady, even without guidance or cane. Foggy briefly wonders whether that is because he is just a very fearless person, or whether he still thinks that Foggy would punish him if he didn’t obey instantly.
Then all thoughts fly from Foggy’s head the instant he sees Matt from behind.
“Holy – what happened to your back?!”
Matt stops in his movement, coming to a standstill in front of Foggy’s bed. His right hand closes into a fist for a moment, but then he seems to consciously relax himself again.
“A punishment,” he says, head turned over his shoulder. “I received it just before I was sold. It should heal soon.”
“Yeah. Yeah, no, doesn’t look like it,” Foggy says, tonelessly, still staring at the absolute mess of thin, scabby wounds, some of them obviously slightly oozing again after the water of the shower must have aggravated them, and the older scars beneath. He isn’t quite sure how Matt is moving as gracefully as he does instead of being stiff as board with pain. The thin, bloody stripes (Whip? Cane? Foggy has absolutely no reference which instrument could have inflicted this damage and hopes he never has to develop one) extend all the way down Matt’s back and disappear beneath the waist band of his oversized sweat pants. Foggy realizes he has no idea how far the damage goes.
“Your mother did get me out of the bargain bin,” Matt points out.
And then, because the entire situation is so surreal it couldn’t become weirder if either of them turned into a melting clock, Foggy can’t help but blurt out “Oh god, that is so her,” and then he suddenly can’t help but give a (slightly hysterical) giggle, because everything else would probably mean crying. Matt has half-turned into his direction again, and he seems a trifle alarmed at Foggy’s reaction – even if the edges of his own mouth are, interestingly, twitching again – but then he appears to clamp down on that, sharply, and ducks his head.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply – they’ll stop bleeding soon. If you don’t want me staining your clothes-“
“What – no! This isn’t what this is about, Jesus.” Foggy runs a hand over his face. “I’m so sorry, I am talking complete nonsense. God. You better lie down on the bed. On your front.”
Matt nods, as if he had expected that order. “Of course. Do you want me to take my clothes off myself or-“
Foggy starts at the question for a second, until it dawns on him what Matt has likely to be thinking. He shakes his head wildly (for all the good that does when talking to a blind person, Nelson, great going). “Wha – no!” he blurts. “I mean.” He clears his throat. “That isn’t…I want to clean up your wounds, Matt, not, not have sex with you.”
(Sex, a voice at the back of his head scoffs. No matter what the law says, that would be rape, and you know it.)
No, he is not denying that Matt is extremely attractive, and that the sight of him barely clothed in his bed room does things to him. But then, there is also the sight of his collar, and the sight of his tense, wary body language, and the sight of his wounds, and that takes Foggy more quickly out of any aroused mind set than a bucket of cold water.
Matt tilts his head again at his flustered denial, seems to study him for a minute as if listening to something, but then again simply turns back to the bed, climbs atop it with more graceful movements than he should be able to perform, and lies down flat on his front. He still doesn’t look relaxed, exactly, but less like he is expecting Foggy to hit him any moment now, so Foggy will take what little victories he can get.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, basically fleeing his room to look for disinfection spray, salves and bandages in the bath room, and hoping he doesn’t run into his mother on the way there, because he has a lot of feelings to sort out right now.
To be continued...
Chapter 2: My Mom Always Wanted Me To Be A...Nurse?
“Okay.” Foggy has been standing in front of the door to his own room for what feels like ten minutes now, clutching the first aid kit and several creams and ointments, and trying to work up the courage to go in there again. What finally pushes him is the thought that Matt is still in there, still waiting, still in pain, and that as his owner is his responsibility now and fuck.
Foggy goes in.
Matt is still lying on the bed, curiously not startled in the least from Foggy’s sudden entrance, and doesn’t seem to have moved at all. He has his cheek pillowed on his hands, head turned sideways so the metal collar isn’t digging into the skin of his neck. Foggy makes an absent-minded note to replace that thing at some point, but now there are more pressing concerns.
“I’m going to disinfect your wounds first,” he warns Matt as he sits down next to him. “That might sting.”
“I’ll be fine,” Matt replies, and, worryingly, he actually seems to be. He startles when Foggy’s hand gently settles on an uninjured patch of skin on his hip to steady him, but when the part that’s actually hurting him, i.e., the disinfection happens, he almost seems to relax into the pain.
Foggy tries not to think about what it implies when someone is startled by gentle touches, not painful ones.
There is silence in the room while Foggy wipes off the disinfectant around the wounds and then dresses them as best as he can. As he works, the pattern keeps repeating, Matt’s muscles flinching and tensing under Foggy’s hands every time he touches him, and then relaxing into his ministrations, almost like soothing a spooked animal. Matt has taken off his glasses after he’s been ordered to lie down on the bed, and, even if for him it has to make little difference on whether his eyes are open or not, Foggy wonders whether him closing them might be the first, minute sign of trust.
“Okay,” Foggy says, breaking the silence after he’s done all he thinks he can. “Are there….” He forces himself to take another breath. “Are there more wounds beneath your pants?”
Matt has opened his eyes again after Foggy spoke, but still does not seem as ill-at-ease as he previously was. “Yes,” he says, cautiously. “Do you want to dress them, too?”
“Only….” Foggy swallows. “Only if you want me to. This is your body. You should decide what happens to it.”
Matt gives his left ear an incredulous stare.
“You own me,” he points out.
“And I don’t want anything happening to you that you don’t want happening to you,” Foggy replies calmly, because this is an easy turnabout by now. “So. Do you want me to have a look at the rest of you, or do you want the first aid kit and I’ll leave the room so you can try to sort yourself out…?”
Again, it takes a moment while Matt apparently computes the question. This time, though, it seems less like he has trouble believing what Foggy says and more like he’s fighting an internal battle, brow furrowed and shoulders tense. But then there is a noticeable slump to his body’s tension, as if he’s giving up a fight he has no chance of winning.
“Stay. Please,” he says, voice small. “I’ll…you can use me, if you want to, I don’t mind-“
“Yeah, not happening,” Foggy says, curtly. “But if you want me to take a look at those wounds, take off your pants and I’ll see what I can do.”
Matt fully naked, as it turns out, looks more than twice as attractive than Matt half-naked (Foggy thinks the math is somehow not checking out here) but, again, any attraction he could have felt during the moment is dampened into non-existence by the damage that is obvious to see. On instinct, Foggy had even turned around while Matt was taking off the sweat pants, waiting until he could hear him lying down on the bed again. (He had felt stupid, of course, it wasn’t like Matt could actually see the gesture, but it had still felt right – slaves were hardly ever allowed to keep any modesty, and Foggy would have felt dirty if he had treated Matt like this from the start).
Now, though, the back of Matt’s lower body is on full display and it’s just as bad as the upper half. Worse, even.
Foggy sees blood crusting from a place it really shouldn’t be coming from.
“Fuck,” he whispers under his breath, and maybe Matt’s hearing is sharper than other people’s, because he flinches as if Foggy had yelled it.
“It’s – it’s okay, I’ll heal –“
No, no, nothing about this is okay, the voice in Foggy’s head keeps yelling, and of course he knows what slaves are used for, everyone is aware of what’s going on in a lot of slave owners’ houses, it’s legal, but – but suddenly coming face to face with it is something different entirely.
“No,” Foggy chokes out, suddenly having difficulty to get air. “No, this isn’t okay, Matt.”
At his words, Matt goes rigid again, even the last fragments of relaxation gone. When he speaks, his voice is clipped and controlled.
“I am sorry this slave isn’t up to your standards, sir,” he says. “I will do my best to appeal to the desired aesthetic more in the future.”
Foggy stares. He now knows that a) whatever undergrad degree his last owner made Matt get apparently either had something to do with English or with interpreting everything anyone ever said in the worst way possible and b) for next Christmas, he is getting his mother something horrible.
For the moment, though, he forces himself to remain calm. “No, Matt, this – this isn’t what I meant. I meant it’s not okay anyone did that to you. Did anything that you didn’t want them to.”
Matt blinks at this. It occurs to Foggy that he isn’t actually doing much to escape a stereotype of a typical slave owner here – it’s Matt’s first night with him, and he has him lying naked and collared next to him on the bed while he himself is fully clothed, and inspecting him like damaged goods – but dammit, he’s trying here! It’s not his fault the universe seems to hate him.
“That is…a kind notion,” Matt says, and he sounds just as polite and distant as when he first spoke to him in the living room. “But it’s fine. Pity is not required.”
And oh, thinks Foggy, oh.
“It’s not pity, Matt,” he says quietly. “It’s anger. I’m angry. Because even if doing this to you is legal, it certainly isn’t justice.”
Beneath his hands, he swears he can feel Matt’s heart beat skip a beat.
“You…think so?” Matt manages, for the first time his voice actually sounding unsteady.
“Mh-hmm. I’m actually planning to become a lawyer for stuff like this. Maybe even specialize in slavery law.” He pauses when he sees Matt’s expression. “What, didn’t mom tell you she wants you to be my study aid?”
“…no. She didn’t,” Matt says, but he still sounds a bit bowled over. “That’s…actually…” he seems to want to say something more, but then blinks again, and whatever he meant to say is apparently swallowed back down. “Alright. I can do that.”
“Great,” Foggy says, and is actually surprised at how the enthusiasm in his voice somehow doesn’t seem to be entirely faked. “So. Are you okay with me taking care of the rest of your cuts?”
“Yes.” Matt nods, then swallows and adds quietly, “Please.”
“Okay,” Foggy says, and there is a repeat performance of him sterilizing and patching up cut skin, only he imagines that this time, it might take Matt not quite as long to relax into his touches. Foggy thinks he still tenses when he gets close to any sensitive areas, but he carefully avoids those and then, later, when Matt is awkwardly shuffling back into the oversized sweatpants and shirt Foggy has extracted from the chaos in his drawers, he takes his hand to press two of the salves into it. “And here, uh. This is a disinfectant, and this one is supposed to numb and, er, heal. If you want to. Apply. Some of it yourself, in the bathroom.” He stumbles through his offer. “If you want to, we can also go to the hospital tomorrow?“
Matt, now fully clothed and wearing his sunglasses again, tilts his head. “I…would rather not go to any hospitals, if you don’t mind.”
“Alright,” Foggy nods, because this is what he’s trying to do, right? Give Matt some autonomy over himself back. “Just tell me if it doesn’t heal or gets worse, right? Because, you know, I’m so not qualified to deal with any of this.”
Again, Matt seems to weigh his answer before he speaks (Foggy wonders whether, perhaps, impulsiveness might have been what has him gotten those stripes on his back), but when he does reply, it almost looks like he’s smiling.
“It’s probably not my place to say,” he says, “but I think you’re a lot more qualified than anyone I ever met.”
Later on, Matt can’t believe how he could have been so reckless. Telling his owner what he thought of him? He could have been whipped for less.
Only Foggy doesn’t seem to be interested in whipping him. Instead, he is busy setting up a sort of futon on the floor next to his bed. Matt had tried to help, at first, but was quickly shooed back onto a chair. ‘You’re still injured, buddy. Let me do the heavy lifting for the next few days, okay?’ Foggy had asked. “Also, I’ll have you know that this futon has pink flower print on it, because it belonged to my older sister, but they are very manly flowers, okay?” he asks, and Matt actually has to (not very successfully) suppress a surprised giggle at the ridiculous statement. He’s never belonged to an owner who made jokes.
(Well. Not any jokes that were meant for him to laugh about, anyway.)
“Okay, futon’s all set up,” Foggy says. “Feel free to crawl in and knock yourself out. I put out some washing stuff and a toothbrush on the right side of the sink, three feet behind you. Sorry for not having an actual bed for you, but there’ll be one when we move into our dorm room.”
Huh. It actually does seem like being fucked is not on the agenda tonight – Matt tries to suppress a feeling of gratitude for what should be basic human decency when someone has a back that is torn to shreds, but he doesn’t quite succeed; there is a part of him that apparently saw Foggy, and then decided to like him, to hope for kindness from him when experience tells him that this is an absolutely ridiculous notion.
“Thank you,” he says instead, not quite managing his usual polite but distant tone, voice wavering just a little. He trails along the wall over to the sink, brushing his teeth with the first actual tooth paste in what must have been a million years, enjoying how the sharp peppermint flavour burns away any residue of the cheap slave kibble they’d been feeding him at the seller’s place. He is probably just going to get more of the stuff tomorrow, but maybe it will be one of the more expensive brands, he hopes.
“Alright. I’m going to turn out the light. Um, and you totally need to know that because, because…if I walk into you now, that’s probably why?” Foggy tries to salvage a point to his narration, and Matt can’t help but give an (unseen) grin.
“I’ll try to keep out of your way, sir.”
Foggy huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. And feel free to kick me if I start sleepwalking or anything,” he says as Matt crawls into his futon and tries to make himself as comfortable as he can with a flayed backside. But the mattress is softer than anything he’s used to and it’s a relief not to have to sleep on the floor.
“Matt?” Foggy’s voice already sounds sleepy, and Matt is surprised that he actually doesn’t automatically tense at his name this time. It does sound almost…nice when Foggy says it.
“I hope…I really hope you have a good night. I mean, I know…I know this isn’t ideal. And I know you have no reason to trust anything I say,” he swallows. “But I just…I just want to tell you that I’ll try to do this right,” he says, and his tone has an unusual amount of conviction behind it, as if he really means what he says. “And by ‘right’ I don’t mean whatever left you looking like that. More like the opposite. Matt, if I could, I would – ” he stops himself there, like he’s not even sure himself what he wanted to say there. Matt is lying on his futon, tense like a whip, as if just by listening harder he might be able to catch the unspoken words. If his owner could, he’d do what?
But Foggy only sighs, and that seems to be it. “Sorry. You must be hella tired and I’m keeping you awake. We’ll talk more in the morning, alright?” Foggy is turned toward him, but Matt has no idea whether the residual light in the room is enough for Foggy to see him. But his voice sounds soft as if he could when he says, “Good night, Matt.”
“Good night…Foggy,” Matt manages, now halfway convinced that he is actually already dreaming.
To be continued...
Matt wakes up to the sound of arguing. That…is not a good sign. People arguing always, always mean that the loser of the argument is going to take it out on the pet, take it out on him, and Matt really doesn’t feel in the condition to take another punishment so soon.
Bullshit. You’ve been in worse shape, and you know it, flashes through his mind, and as always, Matt jerks awake at the familiar, unkind voice and his brain and senses come crashing online, flooding him with a deluge of information and memory that he has to sort through as he tries to make sense of his surroundings.
Sold. Yeah, right, he had been sold yesterday and now he was in his new owner’s – Foggy, he’d wanted Matt to call him Foggy of all things – bed room, on a futon.
Only Foggy wasn’t in here with him…and huh, that was strange, Matt honestly would have expected him to kick – well, okay, maybe not kick, Foggy didn’t seem to be violent type – but at the very least prod him with a foot to wake him and maybe put him to work preparing breakfast or something.
Only…Matt sniffs, briefly – breakfast is already cooking downstairs, eggs, ham and buck wheat toast. And someone must have opened a glass of marmalade. He tries to forcibly suppress the growl of his stomach at the smell. Yeah, he hadn’t eaten for almost twenty-four hours now, but that still wasn’t the worst he’d ever been through. Worse is only ever getting slave kibble, when you could smell what everybody else was eating, three rooms and two storeys over.
He sits up, gritting his teeth against the urge to wince. His injuries do feel slightly better than they did last night; it’s been some time since he’s been properly patched up after a punishment. There’s a small spark of gratefulness he feels for that for Foggy, but tries to suppress instantly – after all, there is nothing worse than getting attached to an owner, he had learned that much.
Not like that will be difficult, when Foggy undoubtedly will administer his first disciplinary measure (whatever it is) when he comes back upstairs again, angry from the fight he’s having with his mother downstairs. Not particularly caring, but still curious, Matt tilts his head slightly as he listens in, anyway – it’s also not like he has anything else to do.
“…you insane?! Did you see his back, mom, did you? They nearly took his skin off, it’s sick!”
Ah. Matt gives a wry grimace. Of course. Complaining about his state, what else.
“Franklin, I swear I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me, and he seemed fine-“
“Mom, I can’t – I had to patch him up, yesterday, and the way he looked at me, as if he was grateful for something that shouldn’t…shouldn’t….”
Franklin (Foggy, you’re supposed to call him Foggy), is taking deep breaths now, probably trying to calm himself down – yup, heart rate elevated, Matt nods to himself. He is a bit surprised that he can already track Foggy through the building, but then again, they had spent quite a bit of time together yesterday, and none of it had been overwhelming or seriously painful for Matt, so he’d been able to catalogue everything about Foggy quite well. That was…new. Matt carefully decides not to dwell on it.
“Franklin,” his mother says, “that is a normal way to discipline slaves. You’ve seen that he acts quite docile now, doesn’t he? That is probably what made him such a well-behaved boy.”
“Bullshit,” Foggy seethes downstairs. “That’s not…I wouldn’t ever-“ He takes another deep breath. “Fine. You wanna give me a slave, fine. So, as long as he is mine,” Foggy says, and Matt concentrates hard at this point, so he can hear the air part as Foggy jabs a finger into his mother’s face, “No one is ever going to touch him like that. Is that clear?”
There’s a sigh from his mother’s end. “Yes, dear, if that’s what you want. But you should read the owner’s manual I got you, anyway. If – or when you run into difficulties with him at Columbia, you’ll probably be glad to have it.”
“Yeah, so I can light it on fire when the heating is out,” Foggy grunts, and Matt can hear him stomp out of the kitchen and toward his room again. He panics for a moment – doesn’t know whether he should pretend to still be sleeping, or whether Foggy would want him to be up and dressed, or up and undressed, so when the door flies open and Foggy crashes into his room in a thunderous mood, he is presented with one slave, too-large sweatshirt half over his head, flat on his face in the room with his feet hopelessly still tangled in the futon.
“Uh…morning, sir?” Matt manages.
“Um. Morning,” Foggy says. There’s a bit of a tremble to his voice that suggests he is trying not to laugh at the ridiculous picture his blind, clumsy slave must present right now – and hey, usually laughing owners don’t hit you, so it’s not that hard for Matt to swallow his annoyance at this new loss of dignity. God knows he’s had worse.
And hey, a long, long-forgotten voice at the back of his mind suggests. You would have found this funny, once.
“Er, I’m sorry if I startled you. Do you…need help?” Foggy swallows, sounding more earnest now as Matt suspects he just saw his bare back and remembered the wounds he dressed last night.
“No sir,” Matt manages to pull his shirt off and scramble back into a kneeling position, unsure of whether he should proceed to get changed, or whether Foggy has changed his mind to take him for a morning test ride. His heartbeat did pick up when he saw Matt half-naked on the floor, so…
“Foggy. Please. You had it last night,” Foggy reminds him gently, and Matt flushes, nodding.
“Yes. Of course. Sorry.” It doesn’t happen often that he has to be reminded of an order, but it’s such an unusual one that it’s probably not that surprising that he keeps forgetting.
“I brought you some food,” Foggy says. “It’s just a sandwich and an apple, but, uh. I read that you might have to get used to food in…small amounts at first?” he winces. “Sorry, I mean, obviously I can get you more, you’d have to be hungry, I will get more, I’m an idiot, please eat this meanwhile. Oh god.” He sits down on the bed heavily. Matt, still kneeling at his side, is a bit unsure how to proceed. But still, there was an obvious order in there – eat this – and one, for once, that Matt wouldn’t mind at all complying with. He waits for one, two heart beats – Foggy is holding the food out to him, he can tell, but it would look a bit odd if just reached out to take it as if he could see it – wondering if Foggy is going to demand anything of him for it, maybe, but honestly, Matt would be fine giving a blowjob if it meant he could eat.
“…oh! Oh, dammit. Right,” Foggy says and Matt curiously gets the impression that it’s now him who’s flushing. “Here.” Matt’s fairly proud of himself that he manages not to flinch when Foggy’s free hand closes around his wrist and guides his fingers to the apple in his owner’s other hand. “Um,” Foggy starts again. “Do you want to sit on the bed? I’d take you down to the kitchen to eat, but I figured that might be a bit much, first thing in the morning?”
This time, Matt almost can’t stop himself from giving a blatant, wry smirk. ‘Sit on the bed’. As if the guy couldn’t be more obvious.
“Thank you,” he says demurely, raising himself and taking the apple and the bread roll to sit down on the soft bed. Any minute now, he suspects, there is going to be a hand on his thigh, maybe already fingers curling underneath the band of his pajama pants, another hand pressing his shoulder down until he is on his back, a knee nudging between his legs –
It is a bit anticlimactic when Foggy then simply stands up and says “Right! You eat that, I’ll get you some clothes!”
“Um,” Foggy says, looking at him some fifteen minutes later. Matt is standing in the middle of his room, now wearing a baggy pair of Foggy’s jeans and an oversized hoodie, feeling self-conscious. “Yeah, no.”
Matt is also getting the impression he is somehow failing to please here.
“I can…take it off, if you want-“ he suggests, but Foggy only shakes his head.
“Yeah, no,” he repeats. “I don’t think anything I have is going to fit you any better, sadly.”
Matt almost regrets this. If Foggy doesn’t like how the clothes fit on his body, he likely won’t get to wear them again. They’re the softest clothes he’s been allowed to wear in years.
“Oh well,” Foggy says, sounding as resigned as Matt feels, right before the second half of the sentence leaves Foggy’s mouth - “Guess we’ll have to go shopping.”
Before they apparently really go shopping, though, Foggy gives him a tour of the house. He carefully guides Matt down stairs and around chairs, warning him of low telephone tables standing in hallways and tells him where each door leads to.
“And these are my mom and dad,” he also introduces Matt to the two adults he can sense sitting on the couch in the living room. They have their heads turned toward him, and Matt feels awkward under their gaze – this isn’t how he usually meets people, if he does at all, he would be kneeling at his owner’s feet – “Mom, dad, please call him Matt. I’m going to take him shopping to the mall later. He can’t keep wearing my clothes, he looks ridiculous. And, um-“ he swallows, “I’ve read up on it and I know Matt has to obey every order any free person gives him, so, well. I don’t want you to give him any.”
Matt could hear one of the parents – the mother – sighing. “Franklin…”
“Also, we’re going to the mall right now, actually. Bye!” Foggy’s hand closes around his arm and it’s one of the few times Matt is actually grateful to be dragged away from somewhere.
“Um,” Matt starts, when they’re waiting at the bus stop to go the mall, feeling uncertain because it’s been a while since he’s spoken when not being spoken to.
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“You know…I am your slave. Your family and you can order me about, I can – I can follow orders. Even if I’m,” Matt swallows, “defective.”
“Defect - holy shit, they said that to you?!” Foggy gasps, voice somewhere between disbelief and anger.
“It’s the truth,” Matt lies. Foggy shakes his head emphatically.
“Like hell it is. Assholes. If anything, their worldview is defective. No, no way am I gonna order you about, buddy. I just…well, I mean, I didn’t ever want a slave, I’m completely against that system, and I can care for myself, thank you, but mom insisted, so I had hoped I could just get… just like…somebody I could hang out with? Uh.”
The heat radiating from Foggy’s face abruptly spikes so that Matt thinks he must be flushing bright red now, but at that point the bus thankfully arrives and they both board, Foggy’s words still echoing in his head.
To be continued..
Comments, fav bits, speculation always appreciated! :D
Chapter 4: Let's Go to the Mall, Today!
The shopping goes…not great.
Employees either coo over Matt or disdainfully inform Foggy that pets in a store need to be kept on a leash or else they will be denied entry. (“He is not a pet,” Foggy scathes, “He is a fully functional human adult, and he sure as hell would behave better than those teenagers running amok in your store back there!” The shopping assistant’s eyes boggle at Foggy’s outburst, but before the guy can turn around and see the kids goofing around that Foggy had indicated, Foggy has already nudged Matt, gently pressing his elbow to his side. “C’mon, Matt. We’ll take our business somewhere else.”)
In the end, they manage to get a collection of halfway decent shirts and jeans, and two pairs of shoes from the sale rack for the rest of the money Foggy had in his bank account for the holidays. It’s late in the day, and the shopping assistants are too tired to bother them for the most part - although if they do, they keep talking to Foggy the entire time, and one of them even almost yanks the curtain of the dressing room open, telling Foggy “I’m sorry sir, the changing rooms are for clients, not their pets.” (“What the – hey! Stop it!” Foggy interrupts them just in time, moving to block the woman from opening the curtain. “That’s my friend changing in there, what do you think you’re doing?!”
“Sir, we have a strict policy that the dressing rooms may only be used by people-“
“Matt is people!” Foggy snaps. “Matt is probably more people than you are!” he adds, somewhat nonsensically, but he is angry now.
“Um, Foggy? It’s okay, I’m done,” Matt’s voice says, quietly, as he draws the curtain aside himself, stepping out. “We can leave, if you want.”
“Yeah. We will,” Foggy says, still glaring daggers at the sales assistant, who has started to look uncomfortable with the situation. “Did you like the shirt you just tried on, Matt?”
“I…yeah. It was soft. Nice,” Matt clarifies. “It felt like it fit well, too.”
“Great,” Foggy says. “I’ll have a look at the brand and the size, and then, we will buy it off the internet,” Foggy grates at the assistant’s face, and they make another accelerated store exit.)
“I…Foggy, thank you,” Matt says, later, when they’re sitting on a bench in front of the mall, bags by their feet, and both working on a sort of wrap from a fast food place. “I realize you didn’t have to do any of those things.”
Foggy snorts. “What, feed you and clothe you? Those are some pretty basic things that everybody has the right to, I think.”
“Slaves don’t. At least, not like this,” Matt says quietly. “My last owner…” he starts, then makes a grimace, when everything inside him screams at him not to say anything, not to open up, not to trust, but in the end goes ahead with it anyway. “My last owner wouldn’t have let me sit on the bench like this with him. I’d have been kneeling at his feet. Being hand-fed.”
Matt has turned his head slightly away from him, so Foggy can’t see his face, but he can see Matt’s hands. They’re clutching the wrap hard enough to almost smush it.
“Well, he shouldn’t have,” is all Foggy can offer in return. Even he feels it’s a weak answer. But Matt is sharing something with him, starting to offer something of himself, and Foggy can’t help but hope that this is a kind of step forward. Next to him, Matt takes a breath.
“At the last shop, you…said I was your friend.”
“Oh. Yeah. I’d like to be yours,” Foggy says. “If you want me to.”
At this, Matt honestly seems to be surprised. “Really? Why?”
Foggy shakes his head. “Why wouldn’t I? I like having friends. And you, I mean, you’re smart – your grades are better than mine, honestly - you’re funny, you’re easy to talk to and…you even laugh at my dumb jokes, and I at least think you’re being honest when you do.” Foggy rubs the back of his neck, suddenly sounding a bit self-conscious. “Um. Are you?”
Matt stares in his direction for a moment, seeming slightly floored by the compliments. “I…yes. I like them,” he admits, and fidgets with the fabric of his pants. “But you can get all of that just by being my owner. You don’t have to…be anything else.”
“Really,” Foggy says dryly. “And just how often did you make that asshole who didn’t want you to sit beside him laugh? Or laugh at one of his jokes?”
At that, Matt at least gives him a hint of a wry smile. “I…didn’t, actually. I don’t think he had a very well-developed sense of humour.”
“And there you go,” Foggy nods. “Friends laugh at other friends’ jokes,” and then adds, before he can stop himself, “And I, um. Would really like to have a friend again, actually.”
“…oh,” Matt says, sounding slightly taken aback and Foggy already feels as awkward as possible. Who would even say that. And say it to someone who is completely dependent on you, great going, Nelson. Foggy groans quietly. He doesn’t know quite what it is, but there’s something about Matt that apparently makes him feel like he can just talk about anything.
“Oh god, no, forget I said that. Please. Anyway, what I meant was that it would be cool if we could be buddies. Right?” he asks desperately. “Like, buddies that can help each other come up with revenge plans for rude shopping assistants.”
“Hm.” Matt tilts his head, thankfully looking like he’s taking the cue of a topic change. But it doesn’t seem entirely like an act to please his owner when he asks, “We could…release live bees from the pet store in the shop?”
“Ooh, yes. And then yell ‘how many pets are now in your friggin dressing rooms? Huh? Huh?!’ That’ll teach her,” Foggy says vindictively, and he thinks he actually managed a genuine, almost startled giggle out of Matt this time, like he’s surprised his owner is trying to make him laugh. Wants him to laugh. Foggy can’t help but grin back.
“Alright. Let’s get home and see how we can ruin the local retail trade via amazon.”
“The shopping trip upset you,” Matt remarks, much later at night when they’ve quieted down for a while, and Foggy doesn’t bother denying it. Matt was good at reading people, Foggy had understood that quite quickly, and only sometimes wondered whether that was a Matt thing, or simply a skill most slaves had to learn to survive.
“Well…yeah.” Foggy sighs. “I already knew I didn’t like the slavery system, but I don’t think I realized until now how incredibly dickish people can be about it. There’s a bit of metal around your neck, and suddenly they don’t view you as human any more, what the hell.”
“…tell me about it,” comes Matt’s flat voice from the futon in the darkness, and Foggy once again wants to reach out and squeeze Matt’s hand, but he doesn’t want to intrude upon his space when he’s on his bed. The slave owner’s manual says that it’s psychologically useful if a slave has a ‘safe space’ that they can think of as a sanctuary, like a cage, or a kennel or, if nothing else is there, a mattress. The slave owner’s manual then also went on how deprivation of that space can be a valuable discipline measure, but what Foggy has taken away from that passage is that a) he isn’t gonna be touching Matt or make demands of him while the guy is lying on his bed, and b) the author of that goddamn book really needs to be lined up against a wall and shot.
(Later on, that rule was probably the first that went out the window. Foggy has probably lost count of the number of times he was prodded with a cane for snoring during their college days - and then threw a cushion at Matt in retaliation – and the number of times they’ve stumbled back into their dorm, completely shit-faced, and just fell into the first of their beds they happened to bump into, neither of them willing to get up after that.)
“Can you even sleep comfortably in that thing?” Foggy wonders, aloud. On his futon, Matt huffs. Foggy wonders whether it’s the darkness in the room that makes Matt slightly more…open again, like he had been at the end of their shopping trip. When they had gotten back, Matt had mostly retreated to his former, outwardly servile and submissive self while in the company of Foggy’s parents, even trying to kneel first at Foggy’s side when it was time to sit down to dinner. It had taken a firm command from Foggy and a warning glance at his parents not to say anything to get Matt to sit down at the table properly and eat the share of food Foggy put on his plate (which, thankfully, was pizza. Foggy only realized afterwards that he had no idea what he would have done if it had been something that wasn’t finger food – what kind of instructions did someone who was blind and had maybe never eaten with cutlery even need? He’d have to ask Matt when his parents weren’t there) Afterwards, Matt had looked almost pathetically grateful when Foggy had asked him to help him clean the table and showed him how to work the dishwasher. (Foggy tried not to think too hard about what it might have meant for a slave to not be able to be useful.) Now, after Foggy has changed his bandages and gotten them ready for the night, though, Matt seems to be a bit more talkative again.
“Not really. But you get used to it,” he says, and Foggy swallows as he hears the low clink of the metal collar against one of the buttons on the pillow case.
“I’m sorry,” he winces. “I’ll try to think of something, I promise.”
“I’m fine. But…thank you,” Matt says, and even though it doesn’t seem like he believes what Foggy said, Foggy thinks it did not sound entirely like a lie.
To be continued...
Chapter 5: Who We Are in the Dark
The collar, it turns out, also brings with it some more problems than just making other people behave like dicks.
“Okay. So these are my underpants, and these are your underpants…” a week has passed and Foggy is trying to sort both of their (meagre) belongings as he’s packing them for college, and Matt is in his room (as always) and not able to be much help.
“Can you get me the shampoo sitting on the table?” Foggy asks, more because he wants Matt to feel useful than because he is too lazy to do it himself. “It’s sitting at the front, in the middle.”
“On it,” Matt says, raising himself from where he has been sitting on the bed, and walking over to grab it from the desk. As he moves, something that Foggy has been noticing for a while catches his eye again.
“Is something wrong with your neck?”
“Hm? No, I’m fine,” Matt replies, because that seems to be an automatic reaction from him, and Foggy gives him an unimpressed look, that (sadly) is of course totally wasted on him.
“Uh-huh. That’s why you’re keeping your neck straight as a board and avoid turning your head when you move your body. Let me see,” he says, already moving over. Matt has frozen, looking like a deer in the headlights as Foggy nears him, but he doesn’t resist when Foggy puts a hand on his shoulder, leaning in to have a closer look at Matt’s bare throat and neck.
And then almost rears backwards.
“…Matt! You’re bleeding.”
“’Yes’? ‘Yes’?! ‘Yes’ isn’t the answer to that question, Matt,” Foggy wants to wail, because why is any of this happening to him, and Matt is just looking into his general direction, his expression a slight frown.
“What you said…wasn’t a question,” he points out, a bit consternated, and Foggy only groans, because of course he would say that.
“Matt. Take that collar off, now.”
“I can’t,” Matt replies, and Foggy thinks there is a hint of anger in the words, no matter how well Matt tries to hide it. “It’s locked. The key is with my ownership papers.”
Which prompts a wild hunt through all of the documents Foggy had painstakingly assembled for transport to college, until he has found the damn contract his mother had given him last week, and which had been crumpled all the way underneath everything else. But it does have a metal key taped to it, looking just as scratched and busted as the old collar around Matt’s neck, which Foggy carefully extracts.
“Okay,” he says, voice, for his credit, almost calm again now. “Lift your head and let me take that…thing off you.”
Again, Matt obeys, and Foggy tries to be as careful as possible as he inserts the key, twists it, and then gingerly removes the collar. Underneath Matt’s skin is angry, red and irritated, exhibiting a rash-like look and small open, oozing sores at irregular intervals. Foggy winces and hopes none of them are infected yet.
“Fuck,” he says, quietly.
“Not looking great?” Matt ventures (and at least that’s progress, a slightly hysterical voice in Foggy’s head reminds him, that Matt doesn’t straight jump to the conclusion that he’s somehow defective, when Foggy voices how badly cut-up he is).
“No. No, Matt, it doesn’t. Why didn’t you say anything?” Foggy moans. “I swear, I have aged twenty years during the last seven days,” he sighs, as he gets out – again – the first aid kit, the salves and the bandages. “Sit down, hold your head up, and hold still. What kind of sicko even made you wear that thing?”
“It’s a standard government collar,” Matt says, once again eerily not flinching even when Foggy does his best to disinfect and clean the irritated ring of red skin around Matt’s throat. “They’re made to be durable, not comfortable.”
“Yeah, well, I’m now drawing on three months experience from when I was trying to flirt with this girl into anarchist bands back in tenth grade, and I’m saying ‘Fuck the government’,” Foggy says with conviction. “You’re not wearing that thing again.”
Matt huffs out a small laugh of amusement. “I’m legally required to, Foggy. You can’t take me out of the house without a collar.”
“Says who,” Foggy argues back. “I mean, what if you simply went out without one, who would even know you’re a slave?”
Matt begins to shrug, but Foggy slaps his shoulders back down. “Uh-uh. Hold still.”
Matt freezes for a moment, and Foggy realizes with a slight jolt that this is technically the first time he’s ‘hit’ Matt because he’s done something wrong. Fortunately, Matt seems to realize that Foggy meant it as a friendly reminder, not as a punishment, and he relaxes again. “Sorry,” he says, clearing his throat, sounding slightly awkward.
“It’s fine,” Foggy replies, trying to let his voice sound calm and non-chalant. “So you were saying, about going out without a collar…?”
“Ah. Yeah, no, people wouldn’t be able to see right away, that’s true. But the moment anyone asked to see my ID for something, and I wouldn’t have either a citizen ID card, or a collar with an ID chip, I’d be taken in by the police. And uncollared pets are pretty much taken in and…auctioned off.”
“Oh. Right,” Foggy says, lips thinning as he works. He is now wrapping the bandage around Matt’s throat, giving him a soft, white collar instead of the grey, cruel metal one. The metal one still holds the ID chip Matt has spoken of, a small thumbnail thing that would display his registration number, name of his owner, and county of holding if held in front of a police chip reader. “Can we get you a different collar? One that doesn’t hurt?”
“Sure. I think pretty much anything that isn’t metal or too tight will be fine,” Matt says. “Most of them will have a holding space for the chip, too. That’s the one thing that separates them from dog collars,” he adds wryly, and Foggy nods.
“Do you have a preference for anything? Favourite colour or something?”
Matt, however, doesn’t actually smile or snort at that like Foggy had hoped. Instead, he only replies quietly “It’s a collar, Foggy. I’m pretty much bound to hate it whatever it looks or feels like,” and Foggy, uncomfortable, drops the topic in favour of returning to packing for college.
It was probably somewhere around the third or fourth night in the house that Matt has started slipping out of bed when Foggy’s asleep.
It’s not that he’s trying to escape – he’s not, he’s tried in the past, and he’s been recaptured each time, because escaping without a valid citizen ID is near impossible – but rather that he feels like he needs time to…think. Thinking around Foggy during the day is kind of hard, he’s found, since the man not only won’t shut up, but also expects Matt to contribute, earnestly asking for his opinion on half a dozen topics before breakfast, and still cracking the awful jokes that still make Matt laugh each time.
(The first time he made one back, Foggy was so pleased he smacked Matt on his back, which immediately of course resulted in a wince and a horrified avalanche of apologies from Foggy - which, to be honest, kind of made Matt laugh harder.)
It’s not that Matt minds – no amount of being called ‘stupid’ by his owners had ever managed to convince him that he was, he knows he isn’t, and his fists ball in anger at the memories, but Foggy doesn’t seem to think so and the amount of intellectual stimulation he’s exposed to now is staggering and like an oasis after a march through a desert. But, concentrating around Foggy is hard. Especially since everything about his stay here is still so puzzling – Matt is kind of suspecting now that Foggy probably won’t start making use of him as a bed warmer until they’re at Columbia, which is either due to the fact that he wants to wait until Matt is fully healed, or that he’d feel weird having sex with his parents next door, or likely some combination of both. But while he isn’t looking forward to being fucked again, it’s become at least a less terrifying scenario in his head for the past few days – Foggy handles him gently, and Foggy likes hearing him laugh of all things; in bed, Matt thinks, Foggy might actually also take care that it wouldn’t be too painful, maybe even go slow and careful enough that Matt could still pretend to like it, if Foggy liked seeing him smile.
Now, during the second week he sneaks down the stairway soundlessly, less because he’s genuinely afraid to wake anyone up and more because he wants to see if he still can – and yup, seems like his muscles remember Stick’s training just fine – and relaxes when he’s in the familiar territory of the kitchen, the noise of the refrigerator and dishwasher, as well as the smells of three dozen foodstuffs painting a brightly burning picture of his surroundings for him. This is another weird feeling, too – the fact that he is close to food, real food, but has little to zero desire to eat anything, simply because he’s still feeling far too full from dinner. He can’t recall ever having met a slave who wouldn’t jump at the chance to stuff themselves if they were able to roam the house at night freely like he is.
It’s his advantage that he doesn’t need light to move about and he makes his way into the living room still as silent as a shadow. It’s a relief to finally be able to move without having to pretend he doesn’t know where things are – it’ll likely take at least another week until he could believably claim he had memorized the entire layout of the house – and, even though his freedom still ends at the front door of the house, it feels too much like taking another piece of himself back when at least he can move his body the way he wants to. Matt takes a breath and positions himself at the center of the living room. His senses tell him everyone else in the house is still fast asleep, heart beats and breaths slow and even. The only sound he himself makes is the quiet rustling of the loose and soft pyjama pants and T-shirt Foggy has given him to wear for sleeping.
Clothes for sleeping. That was also a novelty.
As it is, they’re also the perfect attire for his other nightly activities and Matt breathes out, closes his eyes, drops into the stance his muscles haven’t forgotten, and then starts running through the first kata Stick had ever taught him. When he manages it flawlessly at the last attempt, he can’t help but feel like a small surge of triumph.
His name, his memories and his skills. Things they haven’t been able to take yet, no matter how deep their metal might have cut into his skin.
Still, during the day Matt’s confusion only starts to mount, because staying at the Nelsons still hardly feels like being a slave at all. Oh, the collar around his neck (even if temporarily replaced by a bandage for now) won’t let him forget it, to be sure, but – no one in this place beats him, or even works him very hard; Mrs Nelson has him carry things occasionally, or makes him help her in the kitchen, or puts him to work folding clothes, but even that only when Foggy isn’t around. Matt hasn’t told Foggy about it, mostly because he knows that it hardly ever pays for a slave to go behind the back of one family member who owns you to go crying to another, but also because he honestly doesn’t mind – he likes being useful, it gives him something to do other than to feel completely at sea, and it’s not like the work is hard or uncomfortable. It’s usually when Foggy has gone to work himself, putting in the last few hours at the butchery he helps out in, before they’ll be heading to Columbia. Matt thinks he’s probably barely earning his keep here, especially because they feed him actual food instead of slave kibble. But despite that, neither of Foggy’s parents seem to treat him with hostility, like some working free people do when they come face to face with slaves who are basically pets, kept around without actually being very productive yet.
Matt had never wanted to be a pet, but somehow, being Foggy’s is so far less bad than expected. He thinks he could get used to living as Foggy's slave like this, even already envisions how their stay at law school might look like. It's not something he particularly looks forward to - the students at college always have some very choice ideas when it comes to having 'fun' with any house slave or study aid one of their friends might have brought along - but, Foggy seems like a decent owner, all in all. Even when the honeymoon period is over, it likely won't be that bad to belong to him.
These expectations hold absolutely true until the next day, when Foggy brings home Matt's new collar.
Chapter 6: A Thing For Red Leather
“Matt? Buddy?” Matt’s head goes up as Foggy enters the room, back from a trip to the mall he took on his own this time, and there’s still remnants of that familiar snap-to-attention reflex whenever Foggy says his name, as if he was always bracing himself for an order or a blow.
Matt has been mostly staying in Foggy’s room, despite Foggy telling him he was free to go wherever he wanted, only leaving when Foggy dragged him to meal times or on a walk around the neighbourhood after it was dark, the day Matt’s cane was delivered. The one walk they took during daylight the day after their trip to the mall had…only gone equally as well as their day at the mall. Matt also seems to spend a good deal of his free time when Foggy leaves him alone sleeping, which Foggy chalks up to him probably being completely exhausted from his previous owners and in need of recovery, so he takes care never to wake him during a nap unless it’s for a meal.
“Hello, Foggy. Welcome back,” Matt says, but it’s said with a mild, hesitant smile, as if Matt actually was a bit happy that Foggy’s returned, and didn’t just say it because he’s been trained to.
Yeah, right, the cynical voice in Foggy’s head says, as if a slave would ever be happy that the person who can order them around is back.
“Haven’t gotten bored, have ya?” Foggy asks instead, carefully putting the bag he’s been carrying on the bed. Matt is sitting pretty much where Foggy left him this morning, on the floor next to the bed, leaning against the covers. Foggy had pressed the remote control for both the radio and the TV into his hands before he left, explained what the buttons did, and then excused himself to run ‘errands’.
(“I’d ask if you wanted to come with, but…” he’d said, but Matt had given him the usual tightly-wound smile, ducking his head in the already familiar way.
“But you can’t take me out without a collar, and you don’t want me to wear it until my neck’s healed again,” he had finished Foggy’s sentence, white bandage around his throat constricting as he swallowed. “I understand.”
“That, and I don’t think you had much fun last time we went shopping,” Foggy admits with a grimace. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize what a-holes people could be.”
Matt shrugs. “It happens. Once you’ve been out a few times with a collar you get used to it.”)
“No,” Matt shakes his head. “I like having a bit of downtime.”
“Right. Well, I bought something for you.”
“Again?” Matt tilts his head at Foggy. It’s not that easy to tell with the dark glasses but he seems a bit confused.
“Um. Yeah,” Foggy says and now he actually feels a bit embarrassed. “It’s ah…uh, here. It’s a new collar.”
“…ah. Of course. The skin underneath the bandage should be healed now. Thank you,” Matt replies, but it’s a stiff tone again, and he tilts his head toward the ground. For a moment he looks more like a regular slave, slumped at Foggy’s feet, and Foggy instinctively grits his teeth.
“It’s…here. Have a feel.” He takes the item out of the bag and presses it against the back of Matt’s hand. A brief frown passes across his slave’s face, but he does take the proffered collar obediently. As his fingers wrap around it, the frown deepens.
“It’s very thin,” Matt says. “And very long.”
“Yup,” Foggy says. “It’s also made from genuine leather and it’s red. Uh, sorry about the garish colour. I, er, also got from the female slaves’ section, because the male models were all really sturdy, but I figured, what you really needed was a collar wide enough and thin enough that you could wear it under your shirt so no one would be able to see it. You know. So you wouldn’t actually be breaking the law, but also people won’t be treating you like you’re not a person,” Foggy says, and he can hear himself babbling a little now, because Matt is staring off into space even more than usual, feeling the collar between his fingers and not showing any emotion at all on his face. “Do you, uh, like it? I mean, duh, dumb question, of course you probably won’t really like that stupid thing they’re making you wear, but-“
“You…” Matt interrupts him, then, voice hoarse and he seems a little out of it, because he doesn’t even apologize for it like he usually does. “You…got me a collar specifically so I would be able to pretend…to be a free man?”
“Well, yeah,” Foggy shrugs helplessly. “After that disaster of a shopping trip it seemed like the thing to do.”
And then he almost flinches backwards, because all at once, Matt has pitched himself forward onto his knees and grabbed Foggy’s legs.
“Thank you,” he says and it’s raw, and helpless, and Foggy SO doesn’t know what to do with it.
“Woah, woah, that’s okay, dude. Here, come on up, please.” Foggy reaches down to grab Matt by his upper arms, pulling him to his feet because he is so uncomfortable with him clinging to his legs, pressing his face into his thigh like a damn illustration from the colonies.
A slave may nuzzle you in an attempt to thank you, or offer sexual favours. It is up to you to either reward or curb that behaviour as you see fit.
“You don’t…seriously, I’m glad you like it, but if you want to thank me, a hug will do just fine!” Foggy tries, carefully not adding Just please don’t act like a dog. “I like hugging. Big hugger here. Let’s hug it all out, okay?”
His voice is pitched just slightly higher than usual, and he’s unsure of how to hold Matt without aggravating the injuries on his back. He settles for keeping his hands on the other man’s shoulders, holding him in a light grip that he hopes doesn’t come off either as threatening or possessive.
“You want me to…hug you? As thanks?” Matt asks, voice somewhere between thick with near-crying, and genuine, simple disbelief.
“If you want to,” Foggy says, shrugging, thinking maybe the motion will transmit through his hands on Matt’s shoulders, even if he can’t see it. “Like, seriously, you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to do something…well, friends generally hug, yeah. Or bake muffins? One or the other. I don’t know whether you can bake, but-“
Matt hugs him, hard.
The next morning, it turns out he also (hesitantly, nervously as she tells Foggy later) asked Foggy’s mother for permission to use the kitchen to bake muffins, and the way they taste Foggy fears if he’s going to take Matt with him to Columbia, he’s going to put on the freshman fifteen again, and this time they’ll have brought friends.
After breakfast, Matt steps out of the shower (the warm shower, that he has all to himself, he still has trouble processing that) and, naked, steps over to his pile of clothes for the day. Underwear on top, crisp, new jeans from amazon and a shirt from underneath, black and light blue respectively, according to what Foggy had said. They don’t fit exactly – the drawback of online shopping, which is why they’re heading to the mall today, again – but better than the clothes of Foggy did. Matt still feels almost alien to be dressed, for what seems like forever, in new clothes, that had been bought for him.
It feels almost like being a person again.
Matt exhales, deeply, and then reaches out for the last item on the tumble dryer he had stacked his clothes on before taking his morning shower. His hand closes around the new, red leather collar.
(“Okay, let’s take the bandage off for tonight,” Foggy had said, yesterday evening after he had given Matt his new collar, “Then your neck has one night to completely heal and get some fresh air and then you should be able to start wearing this one tomorrow, and we can leave the house. Sound good?” he’d asked, even if amending it with what sounded like a small grimace. “I mean, not good, but…bearable?”
“Yes, Foggy,” Matt had said, still feeling a bit dazed. He had fallen asleep that night, neck bare for the first time in years, and still run his fingers over the new collar in the darkness, the thing that would likely make him truly Foggy’s.
He had almost wished Foggy would put it on him already just to get it over with.)
To Matt’s surprise, Foggy hadn’t put it on him.
Instead, he’d been handed it in the morning again, together with the new clothes that had arrived in the mail.
“Here,” Foggy had said, “Just, uh. Y’know. Try it on, see whether it fits under your shirt and is comfortable and all. Of course, you don’t have to wear it in the house if you don’t want to. Just. Whatever is easier for you, okay?”
“Oh. Yes, Foggy,” Matt had replied, slightly dumbfounded as he took it and the clothes, before being directed to the bathroom again.
He had never met an owner who didn’t enjoy putting a collar on their pets. (And they do, often tightening them extra fast for the first few days, just to drive it home. You are owned by me now.)
Matt’s lips thin.
Collars are degrading. Dehumanizing. Humiliating. Matt has also never forgotten the day the first one had been locked around his neck and he can’t even remember if he ever went more than the minute it took for them to exchange one collar for another without one, except for last night. Hands, touching his throat, his neck, and twisting keys, turning them in locks, making it tight enough to choke him…Matt takes another deep breath, fist closed tightly around the new collar, crushing the leather against his skin.
But it’s softly yielding leather, and even though it’s a collar, it’s…different.
He had never been able to take a collar off by himself, for instance. Collars are locked by nature, whether they’re heavy padlocks or dainty little electronic chip-locks. This one is the latter, it thickens both at the front where he knows Foggy has put his ID chip into the holding space, the thing not much bigger than a micro SIM card, and at the back, where there’s a small metal bit that likely will only open when Foggy puts the electronic chip key he’s probably been given near the chip at the front. Matt still couldn’t open this collar if he wanted to.
But it’s so wide that Matt doesn’t even need to. He lifts it, once again thinking that he could probably double it up into a figure eight and still pull it over his head, and then takes a breath and lets it fall around his neck, touching the back over his shirt collar and coming to lay over his front, low enough to easily hang a hand’s width below his collarbones.
He’s now officially collared as Foggy’s and he doesn’t feel like he’s choking. Now there’s a first.
On impulse, Matt grabs the leather band and proceeds to stuff it quickly inside his shirt, settling it between the fabric and his bare skin. He can’t see his image in the mirror, so he resorts to patting, and realizes that yes, Foggy’s idea should work, the ridges the collar makes underneath the shirt are so fine and irregular he’s pretty sure they shouldn’t stand out.
And it also..doesn’t even feel that bad. Collars are supposed to be humiliating, and to make you feel your place. This one…it isn’t physically uncomfortable, and while Matt still doesn’t like the fact that he has to wear it, it takes a lot of the shame away if nobody can see it. He could almost live with this.
(Though he still has no idea why, or what the motives are behind this. Yesterday, at the idea of even being able to spend a single hour outside without that visible brand around his neck, had sounded so overwhelming, pitching himself onto his knees in front of Foggy had been pretty much all he could do. Now, in the light of day, he was almost a bit embarrassed to have acted like this, giving in to his conditioning so easily, but, still. The idea of going out pretending to be a free man makes his stomach churn with both exhilaration and nerves. He prays Foggy still means it.)
When Matt steps out in his new clothes and Foggy’s heart skips a beat for a moment, before he stammers, “Uh, oh…wow. Looking good there. Are you wearing the collar right now? Because if you are, I can’t tell, so that’s good,” Matt almost can’t help but smile as he says
“Yes, Foggy, I am. I…it’s much more comfortable than my old one. Thank you,” and he knows he sounds like the most pathetic, brainwashed pet ever, but he can’t help but mean it.
(He also doesn’t take it off when they get home, still dazed by how the day had gone, how people had talked to him, how Foggy had joked with him, how…he had almost felt human again, the hidden collar briefly just a thin cord of leather around his neck, as meaningless as a piece of jewellery.
Nothing he wants to claw off his skin as soon as they’re back home and he is no longer legally required to wear it, anyway.
And he tells himself it is easier that way, that way he can’t lose or forget it, and he can almost manage to convince himself that it doesn’t mean he doesn’t particularly mind wearing Foggy’s collar when it’s just the two of them.)
Their second shopping trip goes much better.
It turns out, as soon as Matt isn’t wearing a visible collar any more, people are basically falling over themselves to help them, going from ‘The changing rooms are over here, sir, would you like some help?’ to ‘This shirt is a very nice, light grey, which means it should go with almost anything! Do you have any preferences for fabrics?’
Foggy thinks he could almost feel insulted by how this time it’s him being ignored in favour of his handsome, wounded-duck companion, but Matt is genuinely smiling at the end of the day, so Foggy thinks he can probably live with that.
The last stop Foggy takes them to is not a clothing store.
“Oh…Foggy, no, it’s fine, I don’t need a new pair – it’s not like I use them to see through, anyway,” Matt tries, as soon as he understands where they are, but Foggy has already gently ushered them into the shop.
“Hello. My friend is looking for a new pair of sunglasses,” Foggy flags an assistant down. “Also, he clearly needs them because he is so blind he won’t notice his old ones are falling apart,” he adds, and then immediately feels terrible, because what the hell, you can’t just say that, Nelson, now he’s gonna think you think he is defective all over again and - ! He is about to apologize when Matt turns his head to the young sales rep heading over to them and nods.
“Very true, sadly. On the bright side, I save on not needing prescription glasses,” which startles the young woman into a laugh, and the conversation turns to the various available models.
“How do you like these?” The assistant asks Matt after handing him another pair. “The lenses are very dark, but they also have a reddish tinge to them. I think they’d go great with your hair.”
“Hmm. Yes, I like them. They feel nice,” Matt says after running his fingers along the round frames and then putting them on. “What do you think?” he asks, turning to Foggy with a shy smile.
“Yes. Very. Very nice,” Foggy says, sounding slightly strangled, because for some reason his vocabulary seems to have abruptly fled to Canada at the sight of happy!Matt with shiny new glasses. “We’ll uh, we’ll take them.”
“They’ll go great with my other red accessories, too,” Matt adds glibly, and Foggy is so surprised at the inside joke that he actually has to suppress a very unattractive chortle.
“I’m, er, sorry about the blind quip, by the way. That was probably out of line,” he says when they leave the store, on their way home with bags dangling from their arms. Next to him, Matt shakes his head.
“No, I thought it was funny. Back when I was…” he abruptly stops himself, then clears his throat and starts the sentence again. “When I was younger, people used to dance around me like I was made of glass. I hated that.”
Huh. Maybe not always a slave, then. Foggy wonders whether he should dig a little deeper here, but ultimately refrains. If Matt wants to, he’ll tell him.
“Well, good to hear you developing a sense of humour over the atrocious collar I bought you, at least.” He replies instead, trying to go for a wry tone. “Contrary to that thing, the glasses actually do suit you, though.”
“What? I wasn’t joking,” Matt defends himself, “I actually have a serious thing for red leather, I swear.”
“Great. My mom bought me a kinkster, that will be something to thank her for on mother’s day,” Foggy mutters, and then it takes them all of five seconds to helplessly burst out laughing.
Afterwards, when they sit outside the mall, on the same bench they sat on as they left the last time, Foggy describes the people passing by as they wait for the bus back, describes the sunset and what he has read about Columbia, and Matt smiles at him as he does.
And maybe, just maybe, Foggy starts hoping that he may have gotten a roommate to be friends with after all.
“What are you going to tell people about me?”
Matt is sitting on his new bed in their new college dorm room, and listening to Foggy unpack his things. (And it is his bed. For some reason Matt had looked utterly perplexed when Foggy had guided him to it and said ‘Here, you can have this one. You don’t mind if I take the one closer to the window, right?’ and continued to stare into space until Foggy had said “What, you didn’t expect to continue sleeping on the floor, right?” with a laugh that was quickly turned from amused to incredibly uncomfortable in two seconds flat when Matt had said that he hadn’t been allowed to sleep in a bed of his own for the last four years.) Now, desperate for literally any other topic of conversation Foggy only briefly glances over his shoulder at the question.
“I don’t think I’ll need to tell them anything, buddy. Pretty sure the co-eds’ll soon be forming a line to ask you stuff themselves.”
“No, I mean…what I’m doing in your dorm. I know you’re trying to help me pass as a free man,” Matt says, briefly reaching into his shirt to nervously adjust his collar, Foggy guesses, “But I’m here to be your study aid and house slave. I’ll be attending lectures, but I won’t be attending seminars or taking exams, so it’ll be obvious I’m not here as a student. What are you going to tell people I’m doing in your room?”
“Oh. Uh.” Foggy blinks at this Very Obvious Question. Then his eyes abruptly narrow.
“Wait. I think I may have a brilliant idea.”
“You want to enrol your slave for a…law degree?” the woman behind the desk at the dean’s office gives Foggy a fairly sceptical look.
(It’s not a surprise. Slaves are enrolled for studying in quite a few subjects, but mostly to become engineers, to work in science laboratories or to go into finance. Jobs that generate their owners money. Enrolling someone enslaved in law, or history, or philosophy or literature classes, is generally discouraged, because the last thing the system wants is to give slaves the intellectual tools to work against their bondage.)
“Yes.” Foggy nods determinedly. “He is my study aid, and I want him to take the same classes I do. He also has a Bachelor’s degree and everything. Please?”
(It’s not a completely wild shot. The system should actually work in their favour, here – slave holder lobby work has guaranteed that universities are legally required to always offer a number of spots for slaves for any given degree, and the fact that no one would be crazy enough to enrol his pet in law of all things should mean Matt can still get in, even this late.)
The woman’s eyes draw together as she looks at Matt’s documents, obviously trying to find a flaw in them. Matt is standing next to Foggy at the desk, outwardly calm and exceptionally well-behaved, even if ten minutes ago Foggy could still see him nervously fidgeting with his cane. He’s also wearing his old collar again, a last-minute adjustment after Matt pointed out that if Foggy wants to apply for anything official regarding Matt as his slave, it would be strange if he didn’t look the part.
“Yes. And I still want a study aid, and you’re legally required not to discriminate against students with disabilities,” Foggy replies cheerfully. The woman gives him a look that indicates what exactly she seems to think of first year law students that want to go legal with her, but then only pushes a clipboard of papers toward them with a scowl.
“Fine. But I seriously question why you would bring a blind slave as a study aid with you. Though looking at him I can guess.” The worker presses her lips together, and gives both of them a wry glance. Next to him, Foggy can feel Matt stiffen and himself blush, but he really can’t afford to annoy the woman that could make or break Matt’s stay here.
(“Matt,” he’d asked half an hour ago, “would you like to actually be enrolled in the classes I take and become a lawyer?” and Matt had looked at him, had really looked like he was looking at him, and with a hoarse voice had replied “More than anything in the world.”)
Foggy isn’t going to screw this up.
“Very well. Pro forma, I’ll need a last name to enter on his application documents. There aren’t many slaves enrolled in this department, so we don’t have a separate form. Shall I enter yours? The first name you’ve given him is Matt, is it?”
“Matthew,” Matt says, quietly. Foggy takes a little breath – if Matt’s actual name is Matthew, that means he has been trusting Foggy with that part of his identity from the very beginning.
Trusted him not to take it away from him after he offered it.
“Matt…” he begins, and Matt flinches a little, bending his head. It seems to Foggy as if the metal collar around his neck also made him go right back to the behaviour he’d exhibited in the very beginning, tense and submissive.
“I’m sorry,” Matt mutters. “I just thought…for official documents, maybe the full version would be better?”
“You’re right. It is. His first name’s Matthew,” Foggy says, demonstratively confident and cheerful, and next to him, Matt lifts his head a little and seems to study him, somewhat surprised.
“Great. And the last name…?” the woman types on her keyboard, seemingly not impressed.
“Uh,” Foggy pauses, turning to Matt. “The last name…would you mind going by Nelson? Or maybe something really common, like Smith?”
Matt cocks his head, seeming to think. “I…wouldn’t mind going by Nelson, no,” he says, slowly, with a mild smile. “But if you don’t want people to wonder whether we’re brothers the entire time…” He swallows.
“Would you mind giving me the name Murdock?”
“Murdock?” Foggy repeats. “Matt Murdock?” he takes in a sharp breath. “Wait, are you actually from Hell’s Kitchen?”
The woman at the front desk clears her throat audibly. “The full name, please? There are other students waiting outside.”
“Oh. Right.” Foggy flounders for a moment. “Er, yeah. I’d like him to be registered under Matthew Murdock. Any middle names you want to have while we’re at it, Matt?”
“Michael,” Matt almost whispers, and Foggy tells her to write that down, too.
“What the hell, Matt?!”
Matt flinches at the outburst, and Foggy quickly forces himself to lower his voice. “You’re Matt Murdock? The kid who got his peepers knocked out saving that old dude?”
“Well, they didn’t get knocked out,” Matt defends himself with a pitiful attempt at a jocular tone. He seems slightly more relaxed now that they’re out of the Dean’s office and he has exchanged the metal collar for his hidden one once again. “Don’t think your mother would’ve bought me if I had been that badly damaged.”
“Well, yeah, that would’ve been kind of freaky,” Foggy says before he can stop himself. “Wait no! I didn’t mean that. Sorry. No offence meant.”
“None taken,” Matt replies, with a poor attempt at a smile.
“Yeah, that isn’t…I mean I can’t believe this,” Foggy says again when they get back to their dorm room. “You are basically a hero and they let you end up as a slave?”
“I’m not a hero,” Matt says and there’s only the slightest hint of wryness to his tone. “I just did what anyone would have done.”
“Bullshit,” Foggy shoots back immediately. “You totally are. And, I mean, I’m still thinking that actually no-one deserves to be sold into slavery, but of all those who don’t, you shouldn’t be the most. Er. Does that make sense?”
“I think I get it,” Matt says, and there’s a small smile back on his face again, before he continues, more quietly, “Thank you for letting me keep my name, Foggy”
“Yeah, that…Matt, that was the least I could do,” Foggy replies, swallowing, before he can’t resist adding, “ Also, ’Matthew Nelson’ would have sounded terrible.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Matt gives a little laugh, the first genuine one Foggy can remember hearing from him since they arrived here. He takes it as a personal victory.
“Trust me on it. I hear blind people have spectacular hearing, so you should probably be able to tell that yourself. And yeah, starting from today on, you’ve got a last name to introduce yourself with, so you can just be a regular guy!” He grins, then adds, “A really, really good-looking guy,” because his foot is living in his mouth and has probably bought a condo there.
Matt’s tentative smile doesn’t freeze. It doesn’t even vanish, it just turns from…genuine, to something else. Something he thinks he never wants to see on Matt’s face again.
And Foggy backpedals frantically.
“Oh, um, I mean, girls will love that! The whole, handsome, wounded-duck thing. Right?”
Matt gives him another one of those stares that Foggy is pretty sure other owners don’t have to put up with.
“You…want me to attract girls?”
Great, now he isn’t thinking you want to jump his bones, now he’s thinking he’s supposed to act as some sort of weird, creepy bait to capture college girls for you.
“No! I mean, if you want to. I mean, we can be each other’s wingmen and it’ll be great! Let’s get coffee!” Foggy suggests frantically and then is already leading Matt out the door, because their college dorm is small, and Foggy is kind of hoping that awkwardness works like a gas, and space will let it dissipate.
The first day of classes, wearing his invisible collar and walking around campus now that all the other students have arrived, is an almost surreal experience for Matt. He is walking next to Foggy, being led by him like a friend, not like a pet, and when they stop to ask people for directions on the campus, they’re friendly to both of them, engage them in conversation and introduce themselves to him like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
“She’s holding out her hand, Matt,” Foggy nudges him in a stage whisper and he startles, realizing that he hasn’t even noticed it because he was so busy marvelling.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I should have said something!” He can feel the temperature of the girl’s skin rising, she is obviously blushing, and he hurries to give her a smile.
“No, it’s fine. I’m Matt Murdock, nice to meet you,” he says, holding out his own hand for her to grasp and can’t help but feel a wide grin stretch across his face. For the first time in a while, he feels alive.
In the beginning, Foggy is actually worried Matt will become dependent on him in the long run. Psychologically, if not physically.
Use kindness as a tool, the Slave Owner’s Manual had said. Any slave or pet will come to appreciate and depend on your kindness, going so far as to perceive it as necessary for its existence. Sometimes withholding kindness can be a far more effective measure of punishment than most anything else.
This had been followed by a lot of cherry-picked-sounding psycho babble about a guy named Harlow and the things he did to rhesus monkeys, and how starving your ‘pets’ of affection therefore was a brilliant move. Foggy bristled at everything of it and nearly tossed the book across the room. Matt wasn’t a rhesus monkey, for heaven’s sake.
Still the niggling worry is there, for the first two weeks – Matt mostly stays close when they go out, is quiet in class, hardly speaks to anyone when not spoken to, and doesn’t seem to do anything Foggy doesn’t drag him to. Foggy has actually started looking into legal possibilities to free slaves, though he hasn’t told Matt any of that yet - isn’t going to tell him anything and get his hopes up before he knows for sure what he is talking about - (while he hopes that, in case it works, by making Matt get a law degree, his slave will also be able to stand on his own two feet economically) but after these first two weeks he is worried that Matt may not acclimatize to being free that well, after all.
The turnabout comes during their third week at Columbia.
“Foggy?” Matt asks, and his voice is hesitant, uncertain. Foggy makes sure to reply with a broad, audible smile in his voice, because he’s come to connect that tone with Matt testing his new boundaries, and he wants to show him how wide they are.
Matt frowns. “Is something wrong with your voice? You sound odd.”
“Just smiling, buddy,” Foggy replies, though this time it sounds a bit more flat. He feels like he’s just been told his face looks weird. “Rude.”
“Sorry,” Matt says, but this time it’s less the cringing, rigid apology and more a relaxed, slightly teasing one. Foggy huffs back.
“I…” Matt fiddles a bit with the hem of his sleeve. “Our dorm is quite close to an old boxing gym I used to know. I think if I asked, the owner there might let me train after hours, maybe for free. If you’d be fine with that.”
“What? Yeah, sure!” Foggy says, delighted at this turn of events. “By all means! Go for it. I didn’t know you liked to box.”
“It’s been a while,” Matt says, but doesn’t elaborate. “If you could get me the permit to go out by myself and the one to leave the house after dark…”
“Permit?” Foggy frowns.
(It turns out, there is a lot Foggy still has to learn about slave holding. Slaves legally have no rights, Matt explains, but there are privileges which their owner can bestow upon them. The right to leave the house by yourself, for example. The right to carry cash. The right to use telecommunication, the right to speak to other free people when not spoken to, the right to be out at night, to drink alcohol, to buy things, and so many more Foggy’s head is buzzing by the time Matt is done listing them.)
“So…the entire time, when you stuck around in here, being a homebody, that was…?”
At this, Matt actually gives a quiet little laugh. “I think I’m probably a natural homebody. But yeah. I’m not actually allowed to leave the dorm unless there’s a…handler with me.” The edges of his mouth turn down at the corners at the last words.
“Uh-huh,” Foggy repeats hollowly. “And how do you get these permits?”
(The permits, apparently, are available at the municipal bureau. Matt and Foggy show up there the very next Saturday morning, and Foggy pointedly ignores the other people there with theirslaves, men and women, some barely clothed, all visibly collared, who kneel next to their owners on the floor, or who look scared and spooked, fidgeting next to either apathetic masters or masters who pet them in an attempt at settling them. Both Foggy and Matt - who is sitting next to Foggy on the uncomfortable plastic chairs and wearing his old, metal collar for this venture, (“It’ll be fine, Foggy,” Matt had said wearily. “They’ll expect me to be collared at the bureau, the skin abrasions have completely healed by now, and I’ll survive having to wear it for an afternoon. I know you’ll take it off after.” And he’d given him a smile, once again looking grateful enough that Foggy started to blush) - feel more than awkward when questioning stares land on them the entire time.
Foggy knows more questioning stares would land on them if they knew he’d given Matt the key to his own collar before they got here.
When finally, finally Foggy’s number is called, and they are able to head to the next overworked civil servant, both of them are glad to get out of the waiting room. Matt clings a bit more tightly to Foggy’s arm than usual, and Foggy doesn’t know how much of that is an act for their audience, playing up the part of dependent pet, and how much of that is Matt being seriously uncomfortable and overwhelmed by all the new sounds and smells of their unfamiliar surroundings, so he simply puts a soothing hand on Matt’s clinging fingers, rubbing them a bit in an attempt at comfort. Matt relaxes. Foggy’s gesture falls in the blurry overlap between the treatment of a scared slave and that of an anxious friend, but it’s that overlap they’ve been using ever since their arrangement started, so by now, it’s almost a comfort on its own.
“Hello. So, you’re here for…”
“Permits. For slaves. I want all of them,” Foggy says, firmly, and he can feel Matt next to him suppressing a startled snort, just as the woman at the counter gives him a seriously doubtful stare over the rim of her glasses.
“You want to apply for a permit for your slave?” she asks, chancing a glance over at Matt.
“Close. I want to apply for all the permits there are. I think there are a lot, right?” Foggy asks. “No worries, we’ve got time!”
The woman gives him a dry look. “So you also want the permit for him to be able to fly a plane?”
“Uh…maybe not that one,” Foggy stumbles. “But the rest, yeah. Bring them on.”
Matt makes a noise that he thinks might’ve been a verbal protest if they were alone, so he adds, “and put the one for him being allowed to talk to people on top!”
“Right above the ones for him to be allowed to handle farm equipment and perform in a theatre, then,” the woman mutters, but starts getting forms out of folders. Foggy and Matt take the stack of papers and retreat to a corner in the bureau – where Matt is thankfully talking to him again once they have a semblance of privacy – and Foggy does just what he promised to do and fills out every one.
The one allowing Matt to get pregnant gets rejected by the woman when they return (as does the one for Matt being allowed to handle fire arms), but other than that, Foggy considers their trip a triumphant success when they leave with an entire deck of little plastic cards, each one of them informing the reader of another ‘privilege’ granted to Matt now.
“Thank you,” Matt says, as soon as they have left the bureau and he has exchanged the metal collar for his regular, hidden one again. Foggy notices how his entire posture even changes, becomes straighter and more confident, more like he’d been on his good days during the last two weeks. “I don’t think I’ll need to carry most of them with me, most of the time, but…thank you.”
And he’s smiling, and genuinely smiling, and Foggy thinks that this entire Saturday, filling out forms at the office until his hand cramped, was SO worth it.)
Comments are what makes every letter typed worth it:D Anything you liked in particular? :) Thanks for reading!
(also, note: I added a scene to the last chapter, in case any of you wanna check back there :p)
Chapter 8: Collecting Fragments
Yay, COMMENTS! Extra fast update for you :3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Hello? Mr. Fogwell?”
Matt knows he’s legally allowed to do any of this. He has two wallets now, one of them that he’d dearly like to forget he has to carry, and that one holds the permit cards. (Technically, most owners just clip the permit cards they give to their pets to their collars, so people can see at a glance what that particular slave is permitted to do and isn’t. Matt hadn’t really expected Foggy to do that when they came home from the bureau, but he can’t deny he was still incredibly relieved when Foggy pressed the little leather folder into his hand instead.) He’s using the privilege granted to him by three of them, currently – right to be out at night, right to use public transport, and right to talk to free people – and he is also doing his damndest to make sure no one realizes he needs these permits to do those things legally. So his collar is well hidden, and the permit cards themselves are in a separate holder that he doesn’t have to get out with his regular wallet that holds his student ID and cash (using permit number four).
“Yeah? Someone still there?” Fogwell’s voice is old, and rougher than Matt remembers it, but it’s still unmistakeably his. Matt hopes no one else can hear his heart beat as fast as it does, because then his pretense would shatter.
“Actually, it’s me. Matt Murdock? I don’t know if you remember me,” Matt says, stepping into (what he thinks is, judging from the warmth) the light of the old lamp above the gym door.
“Matt…?” Fogwell croaks, and steps closer. He sounds like he has a beard now, and drinks a little bit more than he should. There is a stoop to his shoulders, and a bad knee creaking to Matt’s ears, but he still moves quickly enough for an old man, shuffling toward Matt. “Holy hell, boy, that really you?”
“Still the same,” Matt lies, but covers it easily with a smile. He knows he technically isn’t Matt Murdock anymore, isn’t anything but what Foggy chooses to name him, but this…this is a fragment from his old life, before he was sold for the first time, and Matt treasures every single bit of it.
“I thought…I didn’t see you since your old man won that fight,” Fogwell says. “Damn solid fighter, he was.”
“Yeah,” Matt agrees easily, “He was.”
“So what brings you back to this old place, boy?” Fogwell tilts his head at him. “Surprised you found it again without your peepers. But I guess you couldn’t mistake the stink, right?”
Matt shakes his head with a snort. “Not very polite, Mr. Fogwell, making fun of the blind.”
“Oh, spare me. You Murdock boys always could take anything the world threw at ya,” Fogwell waves him off. “So what are ya doing that brought you here?”
“Actually, I’m going to law school at Columbia. The campus is fairly close.”
“Are ya?” Fogwell asks, moving his face closer and taking his glasses off in a way that Matt wonders whether he’s squinting at him. “Well good on ya, kid. Woulda made your old man proud.”
“Hopefully, yeah,” Matt replies, privately trying to avoid thinking about what his father likely would have done if he’d seen Matt only four months ago, collared, caged, naked and grovelling on the floor before his last owner. (His last owner, who he had then thrashed six ways to Sunday four days later; neither of those instances would have been likely to impress his father much).
“Anyway, I was wondering if I could maybe use the gym for some basic training after hours. I’m sorry I wouldn’t be able to pay you much on a college budget, but I also wouldn’t need to keep the lights on,” Matt tries with a joke, and is rewarded with a hacking laugh.
“You wanna train? Yeah, sure. Guess I owe Battlin’ Jack’s kid that much,” Fogwell says and then digs around in his pocket for what sounds like keys.
“Everything’s still where it was twenty years ago, so if ya remember the place you ain’t gonna bang yer head too much. Why change what works,” Fogwell mutters, then presses the keys into Matt’s hands, folding Matt’s fingers around the individual ones. “That’s for the showers, that’s for the back, that’s for the front. That’s for the equipment room. Throw them in the letterbox when you leave, and if you bring a tenner next time, I’ll get ya yer own. See ya, boy. If that isn’t offensive for you people.”
“No offence taken, Mr. Fogwell. Good night,” Matt replies, suppressing a head shake, and then listens as the old man shoulders his bag again and leaves him standing in the old gym. Matt doesn’t realize how tense he’s been until he’s released the breath he’s been subconsciously holding all this time.
He’s done it.
He played the role of a free man, alone, without Foggy around, and was treated as one, and no one even knew.
(Well, sure, Fogwell had called him ‘boy’, but that was all to do with the age gap and the memories, and nothing with his status. And Matt had managed not to flinch at the address.)
And now…Matt drops the bag with the clothes he’s brought for changing. Drops his jacket on top of them. He can hear the faint creak from where the sand bag hangs. He can smell where the spare wraps are kept in the unlocked locker, and after warming up and stretching for a while he goes to wrap them around his hands, slowly, methodically, like he hasn’t been able to for a long time. He steps into the ring.
For the first time in years, he is all alone, unobserved, and completely on his own territory where no owner can come to disturb him.
When Matt comes back four hours later, knuckles punched raw and barely able to hold his cane, Foggy thinks he rarely has seen him look so beat, and so content.
“Hmmwah?” Foggy manages. ‘Why are you up this is too early’ would have been the next logical step in his line of questioning, but because it is too early, all he gets out is another ‘Wha-hm?”
“It’s Sunday,” Matt says. “Would you mind if I went to Mass?”
“Huh?” Foggy blinks at Matt, fully dressed, blearily. “You’re religious?”
“Catholic, actually,” Matt says with a shrug. “Turns out you gain a whole new appreciation for all the bible stories containing slaves when you are one.”
“Uh. Right.” Foggy says intelligently. “Do you, er, need a permit we don’t have yet or…?”
“No. Attending Mass seems to be one of the few things you only need your owner’s verbal permission for, not a signed document.” Matt shakes his head. “So, if you don’t need me…”
“What? Oh, yeah, go ahead. Matt, you know you don’t have to ask to leave the dorm any more. Have fun. Or have guilt, or whatever it is you Catholics go to Mass for.”
Matt gives a snort and shakes his head, but then still smiles and gives a quiet ‘Thanks, Foggy’ before he turns and heads out the door. He returns later in the afternoon with a bag of muffins and a tale of an exploratory adventure with raccoons in the local park, and Foggy smiles. It seems like he wouldn’t have needed to worry about Matt becoming dependent on anything or anyone after all.
Matt, on the other hand, is at some point is seriously wondering whether Foggy gets how slavery is supposed to work.
It’s been five weeks since they started classes, almost two months since he got given to his new owner, received more freedoms than he ever dared hope for – so many, in fact, that sometimes he even manages to forget that he technically isn’t supposed to walk around outside, unsupervised, in the sunshine, just because it feels nice, or talk to girls who have pretty voices, or buy himself a latte, or go running across the rooftops at night, loving the rush it gives him – and Foggy still has barely given him any orders, and even those he was polite enough to outwardly phrase as requests.
The one order Matt is waiting for still hasn’t made it out of his mouth.
The thing is, Matt knows Foggy wants him. Most owners give their slaves a test ride the very first night they have them, and, even if by now Matt has realized that Foggy really for some reason doesn’t want to see him in pain and therefore likely gave him a honeymoon period while he was still healing from his last punishment, Matt knows that by now he is healed up again (being allowed to sleep in a bed of his own and being able to meditate helped there) and therefore Foggy really has no reason to hold back any more.
Matt still wishes he would - it is so nice to pretend to be free, pretend that Foggy really wants to be his friend instead of – even unconsciously - just using him as a substitute until he can find actual, free people friends, and Matt also knows what it will probably feel like to be reduced to an object again when Foggy uses him…but he also knows that it’s pretty much inevitable. He can feel Foggy’s heartbeat spike every so often when he presumably looks at him, or brushes against him. Despite the panicked speech about being each other’s wingmen to pick up girls, Matt is fairly certain that Foggy is not just interested in women.
Of course, Matt isn’t stupid – Foggy seems like a genuinely nice person, and Matt is even fairly sure that Foggy would actually think that, since this is only what Matt is trained as, and since Matt usually is happy to perform any other task Foggy asks him to, this wouldn’t have to damage their friendship – true ‘friends with benefits’, even.
Matt wonders what it will be like, the first time Foggy remembers what he’s here for. Will Foggy be satisfied with a simple hand- or blowjob, or is he going to bend Matt over the desk or bed straight away, riding him while asking him to muffle his cries? Is he even going to get a warning, an order to undress, or is Foggy simply going to come up behind him at some point, taking a breath and telling him ‘Hey, buddy, would you mind…bending over? I think I kind of need you for this.’ And run his fingers under the band of Matt’s jeans?
It likely wouldn’t be that bad, Matt thinks, even while his fists clench. Foggy doesn’t feel like the type of owner who gets off on pain. He’d survive. Foggy would likely give him a pat, even, maybe a fond squeeze of his sore behind as a thank-you for a job well done - or even allow him to come as well, instead of leaving him bent double, overstimulated and trembling.
Matt might not even have to get fucked every night.
His illusion of freedom will be over, but it won’t be that bad.
(In fact, if Foggy just did it, maybe Matt would be able to at least stop thinking about it.)
It’s after he first four months of their stay at Columbia are over when Matt finally thinks this is it. Foggy is currently in the shower, while Matt is already lying in bed, but he can’t sleep.
Mostly because he can hear what Foggy is doing, and, more importantly, what he is saying.
It’s mostly that, plus a few ‘oh, yes’ and ‘oh god’s thrown in, plus whimpers that sound like they’re suppressed by a fist shoved into Foggy’s mouth. He is clearly trying to keep it down, although Matt isn’t sure why. Maybe he doesn’t want to scare Matt beforehand?
The temperature in the shower is rising, and so is Foggy’s heart rate, desire pulsing from his skin in waves. Matt fists the sheets beneath his hands, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to steady his breathing as he waits for Foggy to come out.
He wonders whether Foggy will feel the need to say ‘sorry’ beforehand. It would sound like such a Foggy thing to say.
Matt exhales and attempts to consciously relax himself. He will have to, if he wants this to be as painless as possible.
If he wants to be a good pet for Foggy.
He is surprised himself how that thought isn’t even accompanied by as much revulsion as it usually is – he wouldn’t actually mind being a good pet for Foggy. He’s given Matt so much. Offering sex voluntarily is one of the few ways slaves can thank their owners, as well as submissively nuzzling them or kissing their feet, but Matt hadn’t quite been able to do that yet - it would have been a reminder of what he is, and he hasn’t quite been able to bring himself to behave like he should, even if Foggy more than deserves it.
Well, that’s probably going to change, starting from tonight.
Matt briefly contemplates on whether he should strip, arrange himself on the bed spread in an offering, ready position to show Foggy that yes, he knows what is asked of him, he is grateful and he can be good – thank you for giving me my name, Foggy, thank you for letting me pretend, thank you for letting me talk, he could whimper, if Foggy wanted to hear him, thank him with every sharp thrust inside of him.
The door opens before Matt has decided what to do. He tenses anyway, even as a small frown of confusion drifts over his features – Foggy…isn’t hard anymore. He finished in the bathroom.
“Night, Matt.” Matt almost flinches at his name, but still hears Foggy pad over to his bed, already wearing his softly rustling sleep clothes, and then collapses pretty much immediately onto the covers.
He didn’t even touch Matt.
Matt lies in bed, utterly confused, for a few long minutes. By the time he remembers the reply ‘Good Night, Foggy’ is required of him, Foggy’s breathing has evened out and he’s pretty sure it doesn’t matter that the only thing he manages instead is a baffled ‘…wait, what?’
Hope you liked - if you read, please review? :D
Chapter 9: Beautiful Dream
The pattern repeats.
In fact, Matt is pretty sure Foggy regularly has fantasies about him, mutters his name or things he’d like to do Matt, what he’d like Matt to take when he’s in the shower, or under his own covers, when Matt is pretending to be asleep.
But they remain just that. Fantasies.
Foggy touches him occasionally, to guide him, to get his attention, when he wants to press a drink into Matt’s hand. But it’s never the proprietary touch he is entitled to, never a touch that ventures onto a part of Matt’s body that would be too intimate, even though he owns all of Matt anyway.
Matt gets bold. And morbidly curious.
He remembers his training with Stick, how he would try and circle closer and closer in practice fights, knowing he needed to get in close, also knowing that whenever he tried to get too close he’d be on the wrong end of a painful whack with the cane, but unable not to try anyway.
The trick is to goad your opponent, Stick had told him. Get them to be angry, they will make a mistake.
Matt doesn’t know whether Foggy is his opponent.
He knows, logically, that he hates being owned, hates the idea that not even his own body is supposed to belong to him. Hates that anyone in possession of his legal papers is allowed to use him as they please, which they frequently did.
But with each day that passes, with each day Foggy fails to make him feel pain, fails to touch Matt in any way other than welcome, friendly handling, it gets more and more impossible to see him that way.
Matt grits his teeth. He knows he can’t let himself get emotionally attached to Foggy. Because if he does, he’s pretty sure he’d actually want to be fucked by Foggy, and…
Being used by someone you have feelings for would hurt too much.
He tries making Foggy angry. ‘Accidentally’ splashes hot coffee onto him. ‘Accidentally’ steps onto a CD and breaks it. Each time he drops to his knees, apologizes, offers to take whatever punishment Foggy wants to mete out, makes sure his lips are slightly parted to remind Foggy what he’s there for.
Only Foggy never seems to get angry. The coffee incident is treated with ‘Ow! Ah, shit, that’s hot. Guess we gotta do laundry early this week.’ The CD earns a ‘Oh no! Man, I shoulda cleaned this up, shoot,’ and the kneeling is invariably greeted with a ‘the hell? Oh good god, Matt, get up, everything is fine!’
Moreover, it also always results in Foggy treating him extra-careful for a day or two, and then diligently tidying up their apartment and studiously avoiding giving him drinks to carry in the future, like Matt is too incompetent or fragile to handle even such a simple task. It drives Matt up the wall, and if this were anyone other than Foggy, he’d even consider this a sort of long-term mind game to break him completely.
Since it is Foggy, all he can come up with is a pathetic question of ‘Can I get you a coffee, Foggy?’ one week later, desperately wanting to prove that he isn’t a completely incapable house pet, and feeling utterly humiliated at the involuntary feeling of gratitude when Foggy replies with a ‘Oh god, that would actually be awesome, thanks. I don’t think I can write another page without some caffeine.’
Matt gets him the coffee and wonders what is wrong with him that he can’t even decide whether he’s disappointed Foggy fails to ever make use of him to punish him properly.
What he has been expecting since his very first day seems to finally come about after their fourth month at Columbia.
“Matt?” Foggy’s chair squeaks as it swivels. Matt is sitting on his bed and turns his head into his direction to show he’s listening – owners appreciate being shown respect this way, and after four years, it’s a natural reaction.
“There’s something I wanted to do to you from the very beginning. But I was worried to ask. I think…I wanted to get to know you first? Not spring something like this on you when you were still…recuperating,” Foggy speaks slowly, delicately, like he is a veterinarian selecting tools to lay on the table, hoping that none of them will scare the animal he is about to operate on.
And Matt can feel his stomach sink all the way to his knees, even while something else, something hot inside him clenches. This is it. The honeymoon is over.
Foggy is going to bend him over the table and fuck him, or maybe force him onto his knees on the bed and fuck him again, and he is going to feel it the next day, and the day after that, and it will be a constant reminder, again, of what he is and where he belongs.
He just hopes Foggy might still let him go to class, or let him leave the room, when he remembers what Matt is here for. Maybe if he is especially good.
“Yes?” Matt says and forces his voice to remain steady. Maybe he can make this easier for the both of them. “What is it?” he asks, at the same time almost casually spreading his legs where he is sitting on their couch, leaning back a little and putting his arms on the backrest so his shirt spans tightly over his chest. He has had enough free time to pick up his training during the last dozen weeks. Judging by the way Foggy’s heart rate ratchets up a notch, he thinks it may have had an effect.
“I, uh.” Foggy manages. Matt can’t see where his eyes are currently travelling but he can guess. The idea that Foggy is watching him right now, drinking him in…it should be repulsive, but his body has been conditioned for this kind of situation. Matt can feel warmth pooling between his legs and he wonders if it would be overkill if he started unbuttoning his shirt, and then decides against it – Foggy might want to give the order himself.
“I’m pretty sure I’m completely healed now,” Matt says, easily, encouragingly. “I’ll be fine.”
He doesn’t need to hear his own heart beat to know that’s a lie.
“Oh. Good!” Foggy says, and it’s about two octaves higher than his usual tone, and now Matt is wondering whether he might be misreading some signals here. He crosses his legs again, suddenly self-conscious.
“Um. Yeah. So,” Matt replies, and he desperately wants to fiddle with the hem of his shirt, to distract himself, but he knows that wouldn’t be very alluring. Instead, he slides smoothly off the couch to come to kneel at Foggy’s feet. Foggy freezes, so Matt doesn’t try to nuzzle him and initiate any sort of contact before Foggy is ready, but he does tilt his head up and tries a fake, fake-feeling smile.
“Whatever you want to do, it’s fine.”
“Oh god, Matt,” Foggy says, leaning back on his chair as far as he can, voice strangled and hands clenched hard into his thighs. “I want to free you!”
This brings Matt up short. For the first time in his life, he thinks he’s actually glad to be kneeling at someone’s feet, because he thinks if he wasn’t, this declaration might have been enough to make him stumble and grasp for a wall.
“You want to what?”
“Wow. You, er, sure don’t react with the enthusiasm I was hoping for,” Foggy manages, but he doesn’t sound miffed, rather a bit awkward. “I was hoping because you really liked pretending to be free-“
“No!” Matt immediately scrambles, awkwardly shuffling closer on his knees, not really knowing what to do with his hands until he uses one to grab Foggy’s trouser leg in a desperate attempt to feel more grounded. “I do, I really do,” I love you for allowing me to pretend, “I am so, so grateful, Foggy. Sir,” he fumbles, because he utterly has no script to work from here, and is completely at sea. “I just…I didn’t expect…this.”
“Oh, um. Yeah, I guess it’s kind of unusual, maybe?” Foggy says, swallowing. “But I mean it, Matt. I was hoping to do that from the very first day I got you, if I could figure out how it worked and you…y’know, looked like you’d want it. You know you have to agree to be freed, right?”
Matt, still dazed, nods dumbly. The procedure for a slave to be freed takes years - even if Foggy filed an application for Matt’s emancipation now, they likely would have graduated from law school before he could be freed. It’s a safeguard in the system – for a slave to be released, they have to continue to belong to the same owner who filed the application during the years the process takes, and of course, the owner can change their mind at any time. It means abolitionists can’t just mass-buy slaves to free them, not without having to house and feed them for three to four years, although officially it’s just supposed to be enough time for an owner to ‘judge whether their slave is psychologically stable enough to be their own person’.
And then, when the owner gives their final signature on the emancipation papers after those years, finally the slave also has to agree to be freed – the only decision they’re ever allowed to make in their life, and another safeguard to prevent owners from simply abandoning pets they’ve grown weary off, leaving them to be homeless and starve.
That said, it’s also not a decision Matt ever expected he’d have to make – usually, the prospect of freedom is only ever dangled into slaves’ faces to be yanked away at last minute, keeping them hopeful and docile and desperate to please. He can hear Foggy’s heart beat, and he sounds sincere, at least – he really wants to free Matt, and believes every word he says to him. And even while Matt would dearly love to cling to that hope that this might be the actual truth, that Foggy will keep his word, file the application and in five years, sometime after they’ll have taken their bar exam, Matt will be a free man – he also knows he can’t let himself believe it.
“Yes,” he whispers to Foggy nonetheless. “I want to.”
He knows it won’t last. Foggy might not ever be a bad owner, but he certainly won’t release Matt, either, not when he grows into his role and finds the ways having power over Matt can be useful and pleasing – owning slaves changes people, and Matt knows that.
He just has to keep telling himself it, because otherwise he thinks he might believe Foggy in a heartbeat.
Chapter 10: When the Clock Strikes Midnight (the Ball is Over)
Only Foggy doesn’t change. He files the papers the next Saturday, Matt is there, in his collar, at the bureau, listening to him do it. And Matt listens to his heart every time he mentions freeing Matt - ‘Okay, here’s a credit card for you, it’s made out in my name, but you can use that one until you’re free and can get your own’, ‘Do you think you’ll want to work as a lawyer, then? When you’re free?’ and ‘As a free man, you think you wanna stay in Hell’s Kitchen?’ – and his heart beat is utterly steady. Truth.
Matt desperately wants to ask him why, why would you free me, your family paid *money* for me, and I haven’t even done anything to earn my keep, why are you DOING this, but he doesn’t. He’s afraid that if he asks, Foggy might suddenly realize that he’s being insane, and all of this would pop like a soap bubble, so Matt keep his mouth shut and tries not to let himself think of the possibility of freedom too much.
Instead, he turns to studying harder because he then doesn’t have to think about it, and also because middterms are coming up.
This strategy works incredibly well until the next Friday night.
“Hm, Foggy, maybe you should stop.”
“What? No. Another!”
Matt winces as Foggy smashes the glass on the floor, earning them probably an evil look from the waitress when she comes over to their table again, and Foggy orders them a sixth round of shots.
Well. Orders himself a sixth round of shots, because Matt has drunken one beer, is nursing a second while he’s barely touched his own, first shot, and, since slaves rarely are allowed to drink recreationally to build up a tolerance, this is already enough to get him quite buzzed, which is why he stops here.
He knows that getting drunk even as a free person can be dangerous, and as a slave, it is downright suicidal.
(No, Foggy likely wouldn’t punish him for anything Matt said or did while not quite there. But there is so much more, so many other clues from people you have to watch out for if you’re collared, or collared and trying to hide it, and Matt doesn’t want to imagine the consequences if he got drunk and maybe picked a fight, or someone they knew ran into them here and either of them let anything slip. He’s been pretending to be a free man for half a year now. He never ever ever wants to stop.)
“T-two more,” Foggy slurs at the non-impressed waitress, not quite noticing Matt next to him lifting his (still full, first) shot-glass in the direction of the waitress and shaking his head, making a I’m-still-good-thanks hand gesture. She either doesn’t seem to notice he’s blind or is too stressed out to be surprised at his accuracy honing in on her, but he hopes she gets it like she did the last four times.
“Foggy, it’s getting kind of late. Think we should be heading back after this?” Matt tries again, and, he thinks, for the first time since he got given to his new owner, really wishes that he was able to disobey, or drag Foggy out of here against his will. In fact, this is probably the first time Matt can remember to be uncomfortable in Foggy’s care at all, after the first few days with him.
(Luckily, Foggy hasn’t specifically ordered him to actually drink, pushing most of Matt’s glasses toward him with unclear commands like ‘Nah, Matt, you gotta have fun, here’. Matt’s been a slave long enough that dodging fuzzy orders like this is almost too easy.)
True, he doesn’t actually know what would happen if he ever wilfully disobeyed Foggy – the disciplinary tools Matt was delivered with received one horrified ‘oh god, what the FUCK’-commentary from Foggy and then were never seen again – Matt isn’t actually even sure whether they came with them to Columbia; he’d naturally assumed they had, but then noticed they weren’t actually anywhere among the things Foggy had unpacked – but surely there had to be some punishment, right? Since Foggy only ordered him to do something rarely, maybe once or twice a day, and his commands usually had been along the lines of ‘come on, let’s get lunch’, or ‘oh god, Matt, can you make sure I get out of bed for class tomorrow? It’s already 4 am now and I have a history of sleeping through fire alarms, never mind normal ones’ or just ‘Matt, hurry UP!’ when he had been in the shower and Foggy apparently wanted to use it, too, Matt liked Foggy. And he was grateful. He had never had a reason or a wish to disobey.
“Hmnaaah,” Foggy turns toward him, and sounds like he is grinning, although by now probably a bit unfocused. “We’re selebrate – celebrating, Matty,” he announces, although it sounds more like ‘celebraying’ when he says it, “Midderms are over! We earned this! C’mon, drink up!”
Matt is glad he can sense the slap on his back coming and therefore doesn’t flinch when it hits, or spills his beer. It’s also a nice feeling to register that apparently, his body is starting to trust Foggy, because there is no accompanying wave of panic at being slapped by an owner anymore. Matt is by now fairly sure that Foggy would never, ever physically hurt him for fun, and that makes him feel a little warm inside despite the situation. He obediently takes another sip of his beer – Foggy had said ‘drink up’, but helpfully failed to specify a time frame – and wonders whether he might have a chance of claiming he was feeling sick and asking whether he was allowed to go back on his own.
And then Foggy next to him slurs ‘Maaaatt, help, I can’t read the menu, they printed it upside down’, and Matt internally groans because there is no way he can leave Foggy alone in this state. True, officially he is only his house slave and study-aid, not his body guard, but he knows it is his responsibility to care for his owner, and he wants to care for Foggy, because Foggy cared for him when he was hurt.
And besides, a little voice adds, what would happen if he choked, alone, on his own vomit somewhere in a toilet, you know you wouldn’t have it anywhere as good as with him, ever.
Matt chases that thought away. This isn’t why he is doing this. Foggy is a good person, essentially, as good as anyone in this fucked-up system can be. Foggy deserves to be kept safe.
Yeah, good on you, another, nastier, older voice comments in his head. Take care of your future abuser, like a good brainwashed pet. They could write the damn handbook about you.
Matt chases that thought away, too.
“Foggy, the menu isn’t printed upside down. I’m extrapolating here, because I can’t actually see it, but I would recommend turning it around,” Matt says, against his better judgement, but he has been ordered to help.
“Uh. Huh,” Foggy says, continuing to stare at the upside-down menu as it takes him a while to process this, apparently, and Matt internally sighs again.
(Going out drinking with Foggy before had been actually fun, he remembers. He had been scared to death the first time - drunk owners were trouble, they either got angry and beat you, or they got horny and fucked you, and while Matt had already figured that at least on the first front he was pretty safe, he also knows that a drunken owner, unfortunately, provides little to zero protection in case anything like a police check or something happened there. But Foggy hadn’t really gotten drunk before, their budget hadn’t really allowed it, but instead, even if he had made grand speeches about picking up girls, had abruptly changed the plans for the night when he had found out Matt hadn’t ever had a proper beer – Matt already figured the one time he had been forced to drink from a beer pong until he was sick and passed out didn’t really count – and they had spent the entire night pub-crawling and buying ever weirder craft- and micro brews, Foggy growing increasingly amused at the detailed descriptions Matt could give of their tastes and aromas and the guesses he made about the production process. Due to all of the walking and talking and the sharing of the beer, neither of them had gotten actually any more than pleasantly light-headed, but still entirely coherent, and it had been like that most nights when they had gone out, after. Foggy was often talking about them picking up girls, but mostly just ended up describing them to Matt, or describing other people to Matt, and they ended up laughing and giggling, and Matt had ended up thinking that yes, there was an appeal to bars and alcohol when you weren’t forced to kneel on the sticky floor and got handed around to people.)
Today, though, Foggy has gotten well and truly sloshed, and Matt already knows that because he is now a slave who actually cares for his owner, he’s fucked.
“Maaattt, I don’ unnerstand this menu. ‘n I don’t think the waitress likes me ‘ny more,” he says, sadly. “C’n you get us somethin’ from the bar? I wan’ another one of these,” Foggy asks, pushing the empty shot glass toward Matt.
“Of course, Foggy,” Matt replies with gritted teeth because he has to, and rises, carefully taking both Foggy’s empty glass and his full one. No need for his owner to drink this one, too.
“Thanks, Matt. You’re the best. So glad I got you,” Foggy says, sounding genuinely happy and affectionate, and Matt is torn between glowing at the praise and internally wincing because ‘so glad I got you’ is innocuous enough, but the full sentence here is ‘so glad I got you as a present’ and he has no wish for anyone to hear that.
Nevertheless, the reply “Thank you, Foggy” is required, and Matt gives it, softly, before he turns and tries to make sense of the noisy chaos of the bar to find his way to the counter. He much prefers Josie’s.
“Sorry. Excuse me.” Matt is trying to push through the throng around the bar, trying to get to the counter, and, sadly, it’s far too crowded, and most people are far too buzzed, for anyone to see the cane and make this easier for him. He knows he’s still pretty lucky his collar is invisible – otherwise attempting to muscle his way through a crowd would go so badly – but still. It’s also either another sign of how drunk Foggy is that he gave Matt an order that is a bit of a struggle to fulfil, would be more of a struggle if he didn’t have his senses – all other orders so far had been incredibly easy – or it is a sign of Foggy finally slipping a bit more into his owner role and realizing that hey, he can make Matt do anything, and it’s nice.
Matt firmly hopes it’s the former, but he does have a sinking feeling.
“Hey! Hey, can I get another,” - he sighs, internally, briefly, - “Red-headed Slut?” (because of course Foggy would favour the goddamn shot that just happened to coincide with one of Matt’s least favourite nicknames for himself) he calls, when he thinks he has caught the attention of a bartender. He can tell the man’s face is tilted toward him, but whether he’s looking at him is anyone’s guess.
“That’s five bucks,” the voice of the bartender says, putting a glass down in front of him that smells like a Red-head, so it’s a safe guess that yes, he has heard him. Matt fumbles into his back pocket, feeling for a note of his petty cash he has folded lengthwise.
(Another mind-boggling development. At some point Foggy had told him he’d drawn up an expenses budget, where, after all their bills for food and rent and school materials had been deducted, they were left over with 400 dollars for any non-necessary expenses per month. And Foggy had decided the best idea for this was to not only give Matt a cash card, but also set up a second account in Foggy’s name that Matt had the PIN and the exclusive use of, and that Foggy deposited 200 dollars a month into regularly. Matt had then also been ordered to carry cash on his person at all times ‘For emergencies, trust me, my mom knew what she was talking about’ and entrusted him with buying his own clothes, toiletries and ‘anything else you like, seriously, this is your money. Uh, most of it is left over from the money mom got from my bio-mom to buy you for, anyway’, he’d said, awkwardly. That had felt like a punch to the gut, Matt knew he was basically worthless, but he hated to be reminded of it. Still, if the consequence was that he got to buy silk sheets with the leftover money this at least didn’t mean it was all bad…
Foggy had also explained to him how to work ATMs – or, rather, got a worker at the bank to explain to Matt how to work ATMs, since it turned out neither of them had any idea how to operate something with a screen when you couldn’t see shit – and other intricacies of cashless currency. At the bank they’d claimed Matt was an exchange student from Canada to cover why a twenty-two-year-old didn’t know how to do basic things in the US.)
Now Matt’s fingers reassuringly brush over his Braille-marked permits for the cash and the buying of alcohol and the talking, as he finds a note and hands it over before taking the glass and trying to find his way back to Foggy.
Which is when the absolute worst thing he could have ever imagined happens.
“…no. Dean? Dean? Is that you? Stacy, look, it’s Dean!”
“Dean! No WAY!”
Matt freezes and his hand clamps so hard around the glass he’s surprised it doesn’t break and his heart starts beating so savagely he’s surprised it doesn’t burst.
“Dean! It is you, right? Right?!”
There’s a possessive hand on his upper arm already, and the cloying scent – how could he forget that scent, ever, it was all over him when she… – assaults his nostrils, and he has to consciously keep himself from flinching away. He’s not allowed to.
“Hello, Ms Stacy,” he says instead, the fake, fake smile he had to put on for Foggy only twice stretching over his face like the most suffocating mask.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe it! After Mark sold you we thought we’d never see you again! Gwen, can you believe it?!”
“No, no way! Hey, Dean, how are you?!” the second girl is now also on him, touching his face without asking or warning him, and Matt has to make an effort not to feel sick. He doesn’t want to correct them on the name, either – he doesn’t like being called Dean, it makes him go into a bad place mentally, lets him feel like he belongs on his knees, is not allowed to speak – but he doesn’t want them to call him Matt, because that’s something that belongs to Foggy.
“Uh, Gwen?” Stacy sounds like she’s frowning now, swaying a little – both of them a little tipsy, Matt guesses, and isn’t that perfect – “You know – I don’t think he’s wearing a collar…?”
“Huh?” Gwen pulls back, and instead gropes at Matt’s bare throat, and keeping the mask in place becomes ever harder. “You’re right. No way. You aren’t free now, aren’t you?!” she asks him, sounding disbelieving, and Matt wishes, he so wishes he could legally lie, but he can feel himself replying,
“…no. I’m not.”
“Then where’s your collar?”
“In the wash,” Matt replies tersely, which isn’t exactly a lie, the metal collar at least has collected a patina from disuse and would need to be cleaned before Matt put it on again, but Gwen and Stacy are apparently drunk enough that they find the answer funny, so they giggle instead of questioning it further.
“Yeah, don’t be stupid, Gwen, who’d ever let him go?” Stacy asks, sounding like she’s grinning. “‘sides, freeing anyone is like, near impossible. Takes ages or something.”
“Oh. Right. Yeah,” Gwen nods. “So, if you’re not free are you here with your new…?”
She makes one of the endless gestures Matt wonders how sighted people expect him to pick up on, but he’s not in the mood right now to play the expectantly waiting blind guy, so he tries to cut this off as quickly as possible.
“My new owner is here with me, yes. And I actually need to deliver this drink to him, so if you would excuse me…?”
“Nooo, we’d like to meet him!” Stacy immediately protests, hanging on to Matt’s arm and rubbing up against him. “He’s gotta be rich if he lets you walk around in clothes like this, right?” she asks, tugging at Matt’s well-fitting, thin merino-wool sweater and they both laugh. Matt hopes he dies from a spontaneous aneurysm before they reach the table.
“Oh. Oh. You brough’ back…people. Pretty people,” Foggy says when they arrive, Matt, sadly, still alive, and his owner sounds as delighted as well as still off-his-head shit-faced. Gwen and Stacy, of course, laugh.
“Thank you, handsome. I’m Stacy,” Stacy purrs, sidling up the table and sliding into one of the chairs and Gwen adds,
“Yeah, we know Dean. We saw him at the bar and came to say hello. I’m Gwen, by the way.”
Matt can basically hear Foggy’s frown of confusion, so he offers, in a murmur, “I’m called Matt now, Ms Gwen,” sliding Foggy’s drink toward him. This night can’t get any worse, anyway.
“Oh!” Gwen, standing next to Matt, lets her hand fly to her mouth. “Right, he’d have obviously renamed you. Stupid.”
Foggy doesn’t seem to get much of this, knocking back the shot while they talked, probably still happily smiling. “Oh, right, you pro’bly know Matt from class, right,” he babbles, and they laugh again, Gwen finally sitting down, too.
“Mind if we sit with you?” she asks redundantly, and Foggy emphatically shakes his head.
“No, no, sure, this is great. I’m Foggy. C’mon Matt, sit down, too,” he says, tugging at Matt’s sleeve as if he even had a choice in the matter.
“Soooo…” Stacy trails a manicured finger on the sticky wood of the table. “Would you like to have some fun tonight, Foggy?”
“Fun?” Foggy’s voice perks up, muscles shifting in what is probably a big dopey grin. “I like fun.”
“Cool. We do, too,” Gwen agrees.
“And we really like D- Matt,” Stacy corrects herself, sounding like she’s still grinning.
None of them is currently paying much attention to Matt himself, who is clawing into the table, holding his beer like he is about to crush the glass.
“You think we could have fun together, the…four of us?” Gwen breathes into Foggy’s ear, lips brushing the outer shell just ever so slightly.
If you read, please review? :D Questions, fav bits, bits that don't make sense, anything's fine :) Hope you liked!
Chapter 11: Nothing Good Happens After 2 am (Except Sometimes It Might)
Underneath the table, Matt can sense Foggy’s anatomy taking a twitching interest. And he wants to throw up. The one thing worse than getting fucked by an owner is getting fucked by an owner with his friends, because then you had multiple people to satisfy, whose desires inevitably always criss-crossed and it left you sore and fucked raw and probably punished in the morning, too, which just wasn’t fair.
“You mean like…oh. Yes.” Foggy says, suddenly sounding awestruck. “Yes, I think I’d like that. Very, very much. You’re awesome, Matt!” he sways over for the last part to whisper, or probably intends to whisper, although he doesn’t actually lower his volume, into Matt’s ear.
Gwen and Stacy, predictably, laugh again. Matt’s only ever met them when Mark went out drinking, so by now he suspects they consist entirely of laughter, hands, alcohol and sadism.
“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Gwen coos, leaning closer to Foggy. “It’ll be fun. You can get to fuck all three of us. We’d like to watch, too,” she says, dropping her voice low and seductive, and Matt can sense Foggy becoming even harder at the suggestion, probably flushing if the heat radiating off him is anything to go by, before he says,
“Uh? All…three? Wait, why would I-?”
“Oh, he looks gorgeous when he’s impaled and begging,” Gwen says, running a hand down Matt’s back that he wishes he could shake off and it sounds like she’s leering as she adds, “You'd know that, right?”
Foggy sounds like he’s blinking now, swaying between inebriation and brief flashes of clarity, and he turns his face toward Matt.
And Matt swallows. He hadn’t wanted to say this. He hadn’t wanted to mix up Foggy up with anything of his previous life, ever. Foggy had been supposed to remain something good. “They, uh, know me, Foggy. Not from…class. From before.”
“Yeah, from Mark. Mark lent him out to us sometimes, too,” Stacy adds lightly. “He’s, like, really fun to play with. The noises he makes when you push into him. And sooooo flexible.”
Gwen leans forward again, nose now almost touching Foggy’s. “Should I kiss him for you to demonstrate?” she whispers. “It’s funny if you pinch his nose shut, because he’ll gasp like he means it.”
And Matt wants to desperately black out, he can’t take this, except he knows that if he blacked out it would be worse, you can’t beg owners to not do things when you’re unconscious, and sometimes they listen, but he can also feel how Foggy’s heartrate is rising, his temperature, too, all signs of desire and this is it, this has opened the floodgates, this is the end of everything, and Foggy opens his mouth to say,
“What the FUCK?!”
And Matt flinches right with the girls, because this sounds…angry. Not horny. Even though Foggy’s still half-hard, he can sense it, so what is going on?
“You…you know he’s a…a…sl- that he…belongs to me?” Foggy is tilting forward heavily, his words are still muffled and laborious, he has to work to get them out without slurring, breathing heavy and coming in gasps. The girls turn to probably look at each other, confused now.
“Uh…yeah? Like I said, we knew him when he belonged to Mark. We were thinking you bought him from him or something?”
“You…and you…you still wanted to…you asked me to…!” Foggy sputters, and then goes silent for a moment and then roars at the two of them “GET OUT!” Loud enough for people at other tables to startle and turn around.
“Wait, what the hell is -?!” Gwen and Stacy sound like their eyes are wide and expressions taken aback, both of them scrambling to their feet and retreating a half-step from Foggy who is now actually snarling,
“Fuck. Off. You make me sick! Both of you! Thinkin’ tha’- thinkin’ M-Matt…!” Foggy gets up, swaying, and now people around them are rising, and Matt knows this looks bad, a drunk guy yelling at pretty girls in a bar never looks good, and that is why he now thinks to hell with the consequences later, if they both manage to make it out alive this is good enough.
“Foggy! Foggy, Foggy, Foggy, please, stop.” He gets up as well, grabbing Foggy’s arms to restrain him and stop him from pointing and flailing at the girls, and shoves him slightly behind himself. “Sorry!” he raises his voice, angling his face at no one in particular, “He has just had a bit too much to drink! We’re leaving now, sorry,” he says, at the same time grabbing his cane, hoping that maybe that helps a little – it’s a bit of a novelty to be treated like an invalid again as a pretend-free blind man, instead of being kicked around like a disabled slave, and he can’t say he likes either much, but probably prefers the former - and then tries to manhandle an angry Foggy out of the booth, past the girls – “Sorry Ms Gwen, sorry Ms Stacy,” he mumbles, the words tasting like bile on his tongue - and toward the exit. Maybe he’ll be lucky and Foggy will neither remember how strong nor how oddly precise his movements were when he wakes up in the morning.
“No, Matt, I want – they don’ – this is bull-ow!”
“Sorry, Foggy. So sorry,” Matt says, terror of his mounting disobedience slowly starting to seep through now that the immediate danger is over. He still wants to get away from the bar, though, just in case the two girls decide to tell anyone that Foggy is running around with an apparently collarless slave.
“I promise you can punish me later for all of this, but for now, let’s just get to the taxi stand, okay?”
“Don’t wanna. Punish you. Or get in’o a taxi,” Foggy slurs, and tries to break free, but Matt is better balanced and already so much stronger than him that it is an absolutely fruitless attempt.
“Whu-wha? Why are you so…Matt, why are you so strong?” Foggy asks, mood shifting slightly from anger to confusion. “You’re blin’, right? Blind people can't, like, fight others. I think,” Foggy says, sounding frowny, and Matt decides to ignore the slight sting and instead focus on the more dangerous implication. Namely, that owners don’t like slaves more powerful than them.
Or at least, more powerful slaves that walk around unchained and uncuffed.
“I’m blind, Foggy, but I can still train. Remember how you allowed me to go train at Fogwell’s?” Matt asks, soothingly, thankful that what he thinks is the cab stand coming into view now at the end of the block. There are little things on top of the cars standing in a row next to the curb, slow heartbeats on the driver seats, so this is his best guess.
“Oh, right. I guess…I guess tha’ was a stupid ques’on, then, huh, Matt?” he asks, shaking his head and then apparently immediately becoming woozy from it, judging from the fact that he almost topples over and brings them both to the ground.
“No stupid questions, Foggy,” Matt says, more on autopilot as he tries to figure out a way to get his cane back off the ground while not letting Foggy fall down.
“No’ true,” Foggy protests, “Like wha’ those two girls said. Tha’ was a stupid question. No,” Foggy scowls, apparently getting angry again. “Tha’ was a shit question.”
“Yes, Foggy. Yes, it was,” Matt agrees, because a slave is supposed to, but also because he agrees, any question about loaning him out for sex is a shit question. He’s still not quite sure why Foggy refused, he clearly was interested and he knows from other people’s reactions that Gwen and Stacy are pretty - maybe Foggy’s becoming possessive after all? – but Matt can’t quite dwell on the fact, he has to get Foggy home, and then maybe hope Foggy is too tired to fuck him tonight after that. (Although Mark never was.)
“Ask me whe’er they c’d kiss you. Assholes,” Foggy mutters, and Matt swallows – shitshitshit, maybe Foggy is angry because Gwen and Stacy thought he was more attractive than Foggy? He doesn’t particularly care for looks, but he does not want his nose broken or the skin on his face burnt so he doesn’t offend his owner – Matt takes a deep breath. This is Foggy. Foggy wouldn’t do that, he tries to tell himself and almost believes it.
“I’m sorry, Foggy,” he tries anyway, sounding as submissive as he dares while still essentially wrangling Foggy along on the sidewalk like an angry-drunk young bull.
“Wait. Whaddayou sorry for?” Foggy shifts slightly in his grip and Matt senses that he’s looking at him now, tone still befuddled. “Holdin’ your nose shut and shi’ like tha’. They wan’ed to abuse you, Matt,” he points out, like Matt has somehow not been paying attention in class.
“Uh,” Matt manages, suddenly dumbstruck. “Sorry for…ruining your night?” he tries, although he is feeling at a completely loose end. It’s been far, far too long that any free person has ever taken his side when it came to opposing views on what should happen to him on any given night.
And now Foggy actually giggles. “Maaattt. Don’ be dumb. Nights with you are awesome. How’d you ever ruin them?”
(This line, much later, will be content of much debate.)
“Well, right now I don’t think we can ever return to this bar,” Matt says, not quite sure how he is supposed to process the warm fuzzies inside himself whenever Foggy says stuff like that.
“I d’n’t care. ‘twas a dumb bar,” Foggy replies, now hanging heavily onto Matt’s shoulder as they continue toward the stand, speed now just slightly above an enthusiastically wandering sand dune.
(Years later, Matt will also be stumbling through a sewer, injured and dragging a near unconscious Russian mobster with him, and thinking ‘yes, this is still faster than the night I had to get Foggy to this cab stand’.)
“’n the girls were dumb, too. Askin’ me whether I’d fuck you for ‘em,” Foggy grumbles in the present, and Matt shifts uncomfortably, because he’d rather discuss the best way to punch hot nails through his ear lobes than talk about Foggy finally using him.
“Matt, I wouldn’t wanna…do stuff to you f’r anyone,” Foggy says instead, which is a slight relief.
“Thank you, Foggy,” Matt says, meaning it, even though Foggy is obviously off on his own monologue here, but he seems to appreciate Matt’s input anyway, humming contentedly before continuing.
“I mean, hah, ‘course I’d like to…” he hesitates briefly, before the next words, “kiss you.” And then he shifts them, tilts his head back and up a little, and presses a kiss right on Matt’s temple, before devolving into a giggle. “C’d kiss you all over, if you wanted. ‘n more. Bu’ ‘m no’ gonna.”
“…oh,” Matt croaks, because his brain has just short-circuited. Foggy’s kissed him. And yup, there was a small surge of shock, but somehow not the terror Matt had expected.
And certainly not the sudden hotness surging downwards inside him.
“F-Foggy,” he rasps, not sure whether the next words he wanted to say would have been please, no, or please, yes, get it over with, or just please, but Foggy doesn’t even appear to have heard him.
“Yeah, no, no’ unless you’re free an wann’ed to, ob- obv’usly,” Foggy says, and then Matt thinks he is actually raising a lecturing finger, “Cuz, Matt, tha’ would be wrong.”
Not from legal standpoint, Matt is tempted to say, but bites his tongue. Obviously neither of them is in a state to consent by now, Foggy too drunk and Matt too not-exactly-a-person, which means anything like that would be a terrible idea. Matt steers them, finally, finally to the cab stand and starts knocking on doors to see which ones are free. Radar sense is great, but a switched-on ‘occupied’ sign it does not perceive. On the third one he gets lucky, and is allowed to wrestle Foggy inside, deciding to stay on the backseat together with him rather than ride in the front.
“M’ not ever gonna hurt you, Matt,” Foggy mumbles while Matt is leaning forward to tell the driver their address. He yelps when Foggy abruptly clamps him into a hug, yanking him back against the backrest and against Foggy. “I hate everyone who hurt you, ever.”
“That’s nice of you, Foggy,” Matt says dutifully, going against his training by trying to carefully extricate himself instead of staying pliant to get both of their seat belts on, while hoping the cab driver is not paying too much attention to what Foggy is saying or that Foggy doesn’t let anything slip. A slave out with cash, handling their obviously inebriated owner in the non-submissive way he is doing, sitting in the back of the cab instead of kneeling on the floor, and giving the driver directions to take them god knows where without checking in with his owner would look suspicious for sure.
“You’re the bes’ frien’ I ever had. I think I love you, Matty.”
“Same to you, Foggy,” Matt says weakly, and though he tries to keep it light, can feel his own voice growing hoarse.
“C’n I kiss you on the mouth?” Foggy says, still slurring the words but leaning close, eager.
And Matt can feel his heart both try to drop into his stomach as well as leap into his throat.
He had known this was coming.
And he doesn’t really have a choice here. This is it.
At least even drunk Foggy will be kind, I know he will, Matt tries to tell himself, briefly closing his eyes, and obediently taking his shades off.
“Of course, Foggy.”
And Foggy leans in, Matt can feel him still half-hard in his jeans despite the alcohol, and growing harder now, his heart rate rising. One of his hands comes up to finally to grasp the back of Matt’s neck, holding him possessively in place like Matt would have expected him from the very first day. Matt obediently closes his eyes, he knows people find it more romantic that way, lets his lips just slightly be parted like he was trained to, in case Foggy wants to enter him with his tongue, and holds himself pliant and still, waiting…
And then blinks when Foggy finally moves, but actually pushes Matt’s head far too far downward, and tilts his face forward to plant another lingering kiss on Matt’s forehead. And then the hand on the back of his neck drops away to allow Matt to lift his head and Foggy has already let his own flop against the backrest again.
“…Foggy?” Matt asks, all kinds of confused. The kiss hadn’t felt bad, but this wasn’t exactly what he had expected.
Foggy, half-slumped against the backseat and the door, makes a floppy hand-gesture. “…aah, nah, Matt, I can’ do that. ‘m not gonna do it, ‘s no’ right. You’re already more th’n I deserve ‘nyway. You’re the best.”
“Uh,” Matt replies, intelligently.
“S’ry for kissin’ you,” Foggy sounds like he’s pulling a face now. “Di’nt mean to.”
“I…didn’t mind,” Matt replies, which is true. Getting kissed on the forehead, like something precious, had been…weird, yes, but also…nice.
“Noooo, Matt, I know I shoul’n’t do things like tha’,” Foggy sounds briefly sad now, then confused. “I think, ‘nyway. Matt, am I drunk, Matt?”
“Um,” Matt tries. “Yes?”
“Mmh.” Foggy nods, sounding contemplative. “I fig’rd.”
The next thing that happens is, of course, that Foggy leans forward and vomits all over the cab’s floor.
“Matt? Oh god, Matt, I’m dead.”
On his own bed, heart pounding slightly faster now that his owner is starting to wake, Matt rises to pad over. “Good morning, Foggy. No, you’re not.”
“Well, I wish I was.”
“I don’t,” Matt says softly, but he doesn’t think Foggy has heard it.
“What time is it?”
“Some time past eleven, Saturday morning. I’ve prepared aspirin, and breakfast, and cool packs,” Matt says, louder. “Anything else you need, tell me, I’ll get it.”
“Naw, Matt, that’s fine, you don’t hafta…don’t hafta…oooooh, god, maybe one of those cool packs? Please. And pull those curtains closed,” Foggy moans and rolls over. “What the hell happened last night, I can’t remember anything at all. Don’t ever let me drink this much again.”
Matt, currently closing the curtains grins, because that is an order that he likes. Also he can feel himself calming down a little, because if Foggy doesn’t remember anything, he also doesn’t remember how Matt manhandled him against his will, or did anything else he wasn’t supposed to.
And he doesn’t remember how he told Matt that he wanted to kiss him, and wanted to do more to him, but that he never would. Or would let other people touch him. Not even when he was black-out drunk.
Not until Matt was free.
Matt smiles, feeling a tension he has been carrying with him for months slowly dissolve like morning mist.
“Nothing much happened, Foggy,” he says, with a small smile as he hands him one of the cool packs. “You were a perfect gentleman.”
“Well, until you vomited on the cab floor.”
“Oh god,” Foggy groans, but then they both have to laugh, and yeah, Matt thinks, he could be safe here for a few years.
And the HIMYM titles continue. Hope you liked, and if you read, please review? :D
“That was…wow, that was certainly something. You were scary out there, man!” Foggy gives Matt a dazed (it would be embarrassing, actually, if Matt could see it) grin as they’re walking back after class. Mid-terms have been over for a while, finals are looming, and this was the first mock-trial they had to participate in and, truthfully, Foggy thinks he’s now a bit star-struck. “You took her completely apart, she was close to crying, dude! I didn’t know you had that kind of killer instinct in you.”
“Well. It’s not exactly the kind of quality any of my previous owners would have wanted to foster in me,” Matt says with a smile that’s just slightly dry, but he still seems to be preening under Foggy’s praise, even if he’s trying to hide it.
“Well, they didn’t know what they were missing out on. That was hot,” Foggy says before he can stop himself. “I mean, uh. In a, er, completely…objective. Platonic. Way. And all.”
Thankfully, Matt snorts. “Don’t worry. By now I feel pretty safe that you’re not going to up and ravish me, Foggy. I’d leave stars on your Yelp review on that point, even – 5/5, would be purchased again. ”
Foggy almost chokes on his coffee, but then manages to turn the choking into a hacking laugh (because the alternative would be to cry thinking that it would legally be within his right to do that to Matt). During the last few weeks, Matt has seemed to relax around him a lot more, and Foggy thinks that any aspect of his enslavement that Matt manages to make morbid jokes about is a sign of him feeling safe about something - or at least, comfortable enough around Foggy. Foggy still remembers how their first moment of human connection was probably Matt’s blind quip about ‘not having walked into any walls yet’, and it’s...like a small life-raft in that fucked-up ocean of a system they’re both treading water in. (and yeah, maybe he would like to ravish Matt, but he also knows he never would, not while Matt belongs to him and can’t really say no, and he is so, so glad that Matt seems to believe him in this.)
“I feel flattered,” he says instead, playing over any residual discomfort at the topic and instead tries to change it. “But seriously, great going. I think half of the class is now in love with you, she was a grade-A bitch. You’re probably their new hero.”
Matt shrugs. “Well, good thing she didn’t know all she’d have had to do was order me to shut up. Not much I could have done, then.”
Foggy suppresses a grimace – Matt’s voice has a bitter edge again, which it always gets when he is reminding himself more of the limitations of his status than to celebrate the successes he achieves despite it – so he tries to steer into the other direction.
“I saw the professor talking to you afterwards, too. What did he say?” Foggy asks, hoping there is more praise to be had.
“Oh. Mainly ‘Great work, Murdock’,” Matt shrugs. “Also recommended two text books that would help me hone my argument more precisely on the points she got me on.”
Foggy scoffs. “Just ‘great work’? Dude clearly doesn’t know how to recognize the next Supreme Court Judge.”
“I liked what he said,” Matt defends him with a mild smile. “I like getting called by a last name.”
Foggy takes a mental note, and when he, two weeks later, makes a comment of ‘Yo, Murdock, if you’re not gonna eat that last, poor taco, don’t cry about it being gone in a second. Tacos have feelings too, and you’re neglecting them’, he thinks the smile flashing over Matt’s face is not just from the lame joke.
“Matt? Can you get the pizza out?” Foggy asks one night absent-mindedly, not actually taking his eyes from the screen of his laptop. (His old, rickety laptop. Not a StarkPad, but he already thinks he got the better end of the deal by now.) “I’m on a roll here, and I’m worried that if I stop writing now, it’ll all vanish.”
“Ah…sure…” Matt’s reply is kind of mumbled, but he can hear movement behind him, so Foggy figures pizza time is fairly soon and will come as a well-deserved reward.
This train of thought vanishes when there’s a crash!, and a startled gasp from Matt to go with it. When Foggy whirls around, he can see Matt holding his hand which appears to be burned and the pizza, as well as the plate it was on, in pieces on the floor.
“Matt! Is everything okay?!” Fuck his essay, Foggy is already on his feet and heedlessly stepping over the china debris to get to Matt and turn on the cold water. “Jesus, get it under the water! What happened?”
“I, ah, wasn’t paying attention. Burned myself on the oven when I reached in to get the pizza. Sorry,” Matt mumbles, and now that Foggy is paying attention, he can actually see that Matt looks far worse than just someone who gave themselves a minor burn in the kitchen. His slave is pale, looks a bit disoriented and slightly shivering with his hand underneath the running water Foggy guided it to, and has shady valleys underneath his eyes that would make California jealous.
Matt isn’t usually this clumsy, either.
“Matt,” Foggy begins, “when I just asked you whether you could get the pizza out, were you technically sleeping? Because of the all-nighter you pulled last night because of which you were really fucking tired, which I had completely forgotten about until now, until you burned yourself because of it?”
“Uh,” Matt blinks at him, even more unfocused than usual, as his sleed-addled brain apparently tries to make sense of the question. “Yes?” he tries.
“Then why would you do that?” Foggy blurts out. “Jesus, Matt, I’m sorry, I’m a complete asshole, I swear I had no idea you were trying to sleep! Seriously, you know you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to!”
At this, Matt finally gives him a tired smile, seemingly almost amused by how worked up Foggy is.
“Foggy,” he says, wearily, “I know you’re treating me…fantastically, really, but you’re still my owner. When you give me an order, I legally have to obey.”
“But…that wasn’t an order, that was…I dunno, a request! I was asking for a favour, not demanding one,” Foggy protests and at the same time can feel the dread rising in him, because now he realizes that he’s done that a lot. ‘Hey Matt, stop studying, let’s go get coffee.’ ‘Matt, dammit, I can’t tie this cravat. Help me.’ ‘Matt, can you swing by the cafeteria on your way back and get us some of those delicious cheese pretzels?’
“You…you mean every time that I asked you to do something, you…” Foggy can feel his throat close in on him, because he is suddenly feeling like the floor is dropping away beneath his feet, because he is the worst person in the universe and deserves a straight trip downstairs.
“ – had to do as you ask, yes.” Matt finishes the sentence for him. “But, Foggy-”
A slave is happy to serve you, Foggy is barely able to listen to what Matt is saying, can’t help but remember all the disgusting quotes from the horrifying slave owner’s manual in his head instead, Trained right, they will find their life’s fulfilment in obeying your orders. Lies and bullshit, all of it, and now Foggy can feel his breath coming faster and faster, words rising around him, roaring like a wall of sound that’s closing in on him like he’s at the centre of a storm of echoes, and it’s all his own voice, going ‘Oh shut up, dude, that’s ridiculous,’ and ‘No, no, you need to try this, Matt, no arguing’ and ‘Come here, listen to this!’ and ‘Tell me what you think, be honest’ and ‘Bullshit, get off your arse, we’re going out tonight!’ and ‘Uh, no, sorry buddy, but you have to get your hair cut this week, you’re starting to look like a well-dressed hobo and only one of us can really rock that look’ and a chorus to that, of ‘Yes, Foggy’, ‘Okay, Foggy,’ ‘Of course, Foggy’, and never ‘No, Foggy’ because because because, all of these had been orders when he thought he was being a friend, when he thought that Matt was doing everything they did because he liked Foggy and agreed with his opinions, wanted to do stuff with him, when, really, he had been forcing Matt to do things every single day-!
“Foggy! Are you alright? Can you hear me?! Foggy! Foggy, breathe!”
And then there is suddenly Matt on top of him, looking scared out of his mind, one hand clawing into his shoulder and one hand – one surprisingly strong hand – pushing on his chest, and Foggy – Foggy is lying on the floor, what the fuck-?
“…M-Matt?” he manages to gasp, incredibly confused for a moment what just happened, right before he remembers what he did, and he can feel the bile shooting up straight his esophagus.
“…I think I’m going to be sick.”
“I’m going to get a bucket,” Matt says immediately, rolling back onto his feet from his knees in one easy smooth movement, his strong, solid hands, the only solid thing Foggy has, leaving his shoulder and chest and before Foggy can think, he has already grabbed Matt’s wrist, gasping out a terrified,
And Matt immediately goes utterly still in his grip, his entire body language yielding to him. Like his body belongs to Foggy and he isn’t even allowed to move it without permission.
Foggy yanks his own hand back as if burned.
“Oh god, Matt, I’m the worst,” he chokes the words out, bile still burning down below in his throat, but he doesn’t feel like throwing up any more. He can’t clean himself that way anyway.
“What? No, Foggy, what’s wrong-?” Matt looks and sounds worried and concerned now, his hand still unsurely hovering in front of Foggy like he doesn’t know whether he’s allowed to take it down. “Please, tell me how I can help,” he says earnestly and far, far too calm for this situation.
“How you can-?” Foggy starts to reply and he wants to laugh, harsh and grating and utterly without humour. “You could help by hitting me for being so incredibly stupid.”
At this, Matt swallows. “Um. Could I also help another way?”
Foggy groans and wants to hide his face in his hands. He does so. Matt can’t see him either way, but he hopes the gesture counts.
“Matt, I, I…can’t. I didn’t, I didn’t know,” he says, desperately. “Matt, I never wanted to force you to do anything.”
“Foggy, I...Foggy, it’s okay,” Matt says, and then, hesitantly, “Do I have permission to touch you?”
And Foggy immediately wants to cringe more, because he didn’t ask permission a lot at all before touching Matt after their first night. Instead, he’d touched him like any friend, even though any free friend could have shrugged unwanted touches off. “Yeah,” he mumbles, hating himself a little because even if he doesn’t feel like he deserves it right now, he could do with the comfort.
“Foggy,” Matt says, and now he’s kneeling in front of him again, his hand rubbing Foggy’s upper arm. “Foggy, it’s fine. Seriously. Look, none of your orders were hard,” he says, like that makes it better, and Foggy contemplates sticking his head into the oven, right before Matt says, “And by the way? Mostly I also wanted to do them, okay? I like doing things for you,” he says, and there is a slight smile, tugging at the edge of his mouth, as if he was almost amused at Foggy freaking out about this. But…
“I made you cut your hair,” Foggy moans.
“Foggy, I have no idea what my hair looks like,” Matt points out. “You telling me it needs a cut is the best guess I get.”
Foggy moans again, cringing harder as the rest of the memory comes back, now. (‘Foggy, what should I get it cut like?’ Matt had asked, which Foggy had put down then as the cluelessness of any normal man at a barber shop, never mind a blind one, but now he realizes that Matt would have assumed that he was supposed to look like Foggy would want him to.)
In front of him, Matt sighs, almost as if Foggy is being silly. “Foggy, I’ve had owners who just got someone to shear our hair completely off. You took me to a hair salon and told me to just tell the stylist to do whatever she thought looked best, something I was completely fine with. I even got to tell her how long I wanted it cut and everything. Foggy, this is a better life than I could have ever imagined,” Matt says, and he sounds utterly serious, and Foggy kind of wants to cry.
“But…I…I think I must have ordered you to do something nearly every day…”
“And I didn’t mind, Foggy. Mostly I like being useful, you know that.”
“Augh,” Foggy lets his head drop back against his bed. They need to get off the floor sometime soon, this isn’t any way to spend the night. He is slowly calming down, now, trying to tell himself that yes, he has fucked up, royally so by assuming Matt was doing everything out of his own free will when he wasn’t, not technically anyway, but right now Matt is also kneeling in front of him, not looking hurt or scared or humiliated, just earnest and low-key concerned, so maybe, just maybe it’s not too late to learn from this. To make this better. Only one word Matt has said tugs at his memory and Foggy hears himself asking -
Matt grimaces. “Well. I wasn’t happy when I had to get you cheese pretzels. They smell horrible.” The edge of his mouth twitches. “I take back one yelp-star for that.”
“God, Matt,” Foggy says, all at once torn between laughing and crying. He allows himself to lift his hand slightly, hovering over Matt’s upper arm and then asks, “Uh. Can I…touch you?”
“I’m yours,” Matt says, easily and comfortably, and then adds as if he could feel Foggy pull a face at this, “And yes, Foggy, I trust you. You’ve never done anything to me I wasn’t okay with.”
“What an endorsement,” Foggy mutters under his breath, but then clamps down on that when Matt gives a slight frown, because right now, that isn’t helping. He takes a deep breath. “Okay, I hereby apologize for all accidental cheese-pretzel-related orders. And…everything else. Also, can we get off the floor now? I think my back is killing me.”
“Sure. Do you want to sit down on the bed?” Matt rocks back onto his heels again, his hand closing gently but firmly around Foggy’s forearm to help him get up and settles them both on the mattress. Matt sits next to him, close, their knees touching. “For what it’s worth, I…liked the hugging. And the guiding is really helpful. And I like...this,” Matt says, his head nodding at what could be everything or nothing. He sighs. “And no, I don’t like that I don’t have a choice about obeying, but…I never hated doing anything for you.”
And now Foggy swallows, because as impressive as that sentence is, and as confusing the feelings it brings are with that he doesn’t know how to deal with, there is one thing that needs to be corrected, fast.
“Okay,” he tries as he uprights himself again, “Okay. So. According to what they taught you, is there a way for me to give you a…superceding order? Like, an order that is automatically attached to anything I say to you when I’m being an unthinking asshole?”
“Um,” Matt says, again looking slightly bemused. “Sure. You just need to tell me that a rule has priority, it’s easy.”
“Right,” Foggy takes another deep breath, mentally composes what he wants to say, and then turns to Matt again. “Okay. Official new order here, Murdock,” he says, and the way Matt’s face seems to just slightly light up at the use of his last name makes Foggy hope that he’s not going to destroy any trust he’s been trying to build up so far. Or make Matt go back into his slave-headspace again, when he’s been working so hard to get him out of it. Maybe the address will help drive home that they’re still Matt and Foggy in this conversation, not owner and property.
“I don’t want you to obey any order given by me unless you want to. That supercedes all other orders unless further notice. Okay?”
Matt looks at him, slightly surprised. “O…kay?”
“Good.” Foggy nods, firmly, and then hopes his voice doesn’t sound as nervous as he feels when he says, “Now get up and dance the Macarena for me, Matty.”
He rates it as a gratifying success when Matt instead bursts out laughing. (Not quite a success yet, of course. Matt has laughed at Foggy’s ‘suggestions’ - that he now realizes were commands - before, and then still did them. Now, though…)
“Hah,” Matt says, and he’s giving Foggy a grin that seems to be trying to be smug, but there is honest to good gratitude in his voice, and Foggy wishes it didn’t have to be there. “No.”
“Yes!” Foggy punches the air, mirroring Matt’s grin with his own. “Bro-fist, now. That order isn’t optional, by the way.”
And Matt laughs, and raises his own fist obediently, so Foggy can bump it.
“Alright. Now get back to bed, Murdock, so I can clean up and in the future make my damn pizza myself,” Foggy nudges him with his shoulder, and then rises to do as he said he would.
Matt huffs amusement from where he’s sitting, but when Foggy looks up from his cleaning work a few minutes later, he can see Matt is already stretched out and out cold. Only this time Foggy can actually hope that he did it because he wanted to, not because Foggy told him to, and so he’s able to smile when he pulls the covers over his knocked-out roommate.
Here you go!:D Hope you liked and if you read, please review - it's exam season here, I can do with any morale-boosting I can get! ;) Fav bits, lines, things you'd like to see - I wanna hear it all and cherish each and every single one of them :D
Chapter 13: Devil in the Details
Well, new chapter and it hasn't even been a year, what a wild and whacko world! All I can say is that this story had basically already been finished, but then a few commenters pointed out it could do with some subplots that *aren't* resolved in the same chapter, and I agreed, so there started the editing process all over again. Results may be seen in the following chapters. Meanwhile, hope you like!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s close to midnight, and Matt can hear his heart pounding in his chest.
He’s sitting at his writing desk, back turned toward Foggy who he can sense currently trying to struggle out of his sweat pants and into a pair of newer jeans. He’s been meaning to say something for ten minutes now, but whenever he wants to open his mouth, nothing seems to come out. And any moment now, Foggy will –
“Matty? Buddy? Aren’t you going to get ready?”
And Matt presses his lips together so hard that they must be a thin white line.
No. No, he isn’t ready.
“C’mon, what are you doing, still sitting there? We wanted to be there half an hour ago!”
No, *you* wanted to be there. *I* didn’t , a voice in his head says, and Matt can feel his heart beating faster. It’s a party at one of the more prestigious fraternities Foggy managed to get an invite to and he has been excitedly talking about it all day.
Matt still hasn’t managed to tell him that he really, really doesn’t want to go. Not to that kind of party.
He shifts his hands from the desk surface to the arm rests of the chair, gripping them tightly as he can feel the sweat pricking at the back of his neck. He still doesn’t quite manage to turn around.
You don’t have to obey any order you don’t want to, the words from last week keep repeating themselves in his head. And yeah, sure, that thing is easy for an owner to say, just as long as what Matt wants to do happens to align with what Foggy wants him to do – which, until now, it actually had. Matt hadn’t been lying when he had told Foggy he didn’t mind the actual tasks. Matt likes studying law. Matt likes going out with Foggy for coffee. Matt likes contributing to their little household with his part of chores.
Matt likes coming over to Foggy when he calls him.
Only now this is threatening to turn into a repeat performance of that horrible night at the bar with Gwen and Stacy. And while that night turned out halfway okay in the end, Matt is well aware that he had been very lucky, and if Foggy hadn’t been coherent enough to say something, he could very well have wound up fucked anyway. But Foggy doesn’t remember that night at all, and Matt doesn’t care about telling him about it. He bites his lip. This would be the first time he refused Foggy something Foggy really wanted. If he did this, there was a good chance Foggy would reconsider what it really meant giving someone the right to object. Maybe reconsider that standing order, too.
But…this was also Foggy...
Matt can feel himself slowly being torn in two by his doubts and hopes, almost worse than it had felt when even the biggest of his owners had used him and he thought he would be split apart.
Oh, he is well aware of how some owners think it’s ‘romantic’ to treat their slaves nicely, even promise to free them when they never would, feel good about themselves like someone spoiling a puppy - right until you had to put down an adult dog who had become too bothersome and demanding. You were only kept in the illusion of freedom as long as you did everything they wanted anyway, but.
Foggy didn’t seem like that type at all.
And he called you a friend.
“I…I don’t…” Matt can feel himself starting to shake, but manages to suppress it. This is Foggy. I don’t have any reason to be scared, Matt tries to tell himself. He is also surprised because it feels like he believes it.
“I don’t actually want to go to that party, Foggy.” Please don’t make me.
“Uh,” says Foggy, half in and half out of his coat. “What?”
And now, Matt’s entire self-preservation instincts are shouting at him, what are you *doing*, go along with it, make him happy, as long as he is happy *you* are happy, you get to pretend you’re free, and then another voice, an older one, and the one that is probably responsible for at least half of the whippings he ever got, but also the one that has never been silenced by any of them, says,
“I don’t want to go.”
And he has said it aloud, and Foggy is terrifyingly silent, and Matt has never wished more to be able to read people’s faces and not just their heartbeats than now.
“You didn’t say you wanted to stay home four hours ago when I got us the invites.”
And Matt wants to kinda drop onto the floor and stay on his knees forever.
“I’m sorry,” he swallows.
“Uh…what for? Matty, are you okay?” Foggy’s voice has changed tones now, going from the flat, emotionless one that Matt couldn’t tell whether it was angry or irritated or just confused to plain concerned in a second.
“I – yes. I’m. I’m healthy enough to be taken to that party,” Matt says, hating himself for saying it, but he doesn’t want to wriggle out of this with lying and false pretenses. (And besides, Foggy still called him Matty. Maybe that meant something?)
(It had slipped out just two weeks ago. Matt had noticed that Foggy had started calling him Murdock, usually in jocular, easy-bantering context and he had relished that, liked being Matt, liked being a Murdock again, his father’s son - even if the memory still hurt, even if this had never been what his father would have wanted for him, he was sure. But it had been at some other point, when he had been lying on his bed, drowsy from sleep-deprivation through cram night, and Foggy had stumbled in, had one look at his incredibly unproductive-in-the-food-department-slave, and said, ‘Hey. Matty. You look pretty beat. How about we order in tonight?’
Matt’s eyes had basically shot open to stare ahead wildly and Foggy had abruptly sounded like he’d swallowed half of his tongue.
‘Oh, uh, fuck, I’m sorry. I didn’t…it just slipped out, but I should’ve asked you whether you were okay with any nicknames, I know it’s not okay to re-name a person-“ he’d babbled, heart beat ratchetting up as Matt (later) thought he’d probably been panicking, thinking that Matt likely wouldn’t have any positive memories attached to someone calling him by cutesy endearments, except –
“I – it’s okay, Foggy,” he had said, and was fairly proud of the way he managed to keep all of the pain out of his voice and instead let only the honest warmth remain. “I don’t mind you calling me…Matty. It doesn’t have,” he swallowed, “anything bad attached.”
“Oh. Oh, good. Okay, then,” Foggy had breathed out a sigh of relief. “You just looked like a deer in the headlights, there.”
“Just unexpected, s’all,” Matt had said, pushing himself up from his bed and swinging his legs over the side. “Would you like me to get the menus from the delivery places?”
“Nah, you just sit and think about what you’d like to have,” Foggy had waved him off and then started to rifle through the organized chaos on his desk. Matt, glad to have Foggy’s back turned to him, permitted himself to drop his head, fists briefly clenching once so hard it hurt, and then quietly exhaled, letting them uncurl.
It’s Foggy’s right to name him in whatever way he wishes. Of course it is, even if Foggy does his level best to let him forget that. Only…
Matty had only ever been his name when he was still someone who was loved. Maybe, just maybe, Matt hopes, Foggy won’t ever call him like that when…things get bad and the memory doesn’t have to be tainted.
(He doesn’t. It turns out, while ‘Murdock’ is mostly used when they’re having easy, ridiculous conversations, ‘Matty’ makes an appearance only when either Foggy or himself are exhausted, tired or aching from a workout or hurting from too many hours spent at a writing desk. It’s always, always accompanied by affection, or fondness, and Matt has very much no idea how to deal with it, except to try and swallow the inexplicable surge of warmth he feels whenever Foggy says it.))
“Um…” back in the present, Foggy still sounds concerned. “Kinda not what I asked, buddy. Also, you’re looking pretty pale, there. What’s wrong?” Foggy is beside him now, coat shrugged off and forgotten on the floor, and staring down at his face. “Jesus, Matt, you’re shaking.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt repeats again, swallowing. “It’s just – “ he takes a deep breath. “These kind of parties aren’t much fun for slaves.”
“…oh. Oh,” Foggy manages. There is a beat of silence, during which Foggy doesn’t point out that technically, no one knows about Matt being a slave, and instead, after a few more moments, he asks quietly, “Matt. Were you scared to tell me you didn’t want to go there?”
“Yes,” Matt says before he can stop himself, teeth snapping shut in a flinch as soon as the word is out. “Sorry. I didn’t mean – I – Foggy, you’ve never done anything – “
“Matt,” Foggy says, and Matt shuts up instantly, breathing slightly elevated. “Oh, Matt,” Foggy says again, putting his hands on Matt’s shoulders and it’s like a relief for both of them, they can both feel Matt instantly relaxing under Foggy’s grip instead of tensing up more.
“Matt,” Foggy says for the third time, “I’m really, really glad you said that.”
“Said what?” Matt manages, past the knot in his throat, “That I’m scared?”
“Yes. I mean, no. Okay, maybe – no. What I meant,” Foggy says, sounding like he isn’t actually quite sure himself what he wants to say, “What I meant was that I’m glad you said ‘no’ when you meant it. Because,” and now Foggy actually sounds kind of nervous, “even though – even though I had said that you don’t have to obey any order you don’t want to, I didn’t know whether you would. And I, uh, was scared that you only came with me to lunch and to study group and shopping because you felt you had to, not because you wanted to, or.” Foggy swallows, hard. “Liked being around me.”
“But I like being around you,” Matt instantly objects, frowning, and by now it really shouldn’t be a surprise anymore to hear himself say things like that, effortlessly and unthinkingly and true, except he’s saying them to his legal owner, and so it still is.
“I really do, Foggy,” he states again. “You’re kind. And funny. You’re smart without hanging it over people. I enjoy listening to your descriptions and I…in the morning, I look forward to going to class together, having lunch together even if the food is terrible and going home with you,” because you don’t make me beg for my food, or force me along on a leash, or hurt me when we get home, he doesn’t say out loud and Foggy’s breathing starts to sound funny as he goes on, so Matt hurries to make his closing statement, voice as level and rational as he can, “So yeah, I like being around you. I just don’t…like going to that kind of party. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, Matt, of course it is,” Foggy says, and now he kind of sounds like he is choking and Matt suppresses a swallow when he can sense the faintest trace of saltwater in the air. Shit, has he made Foggy cry now?
“Thank you, Foggy,” he says quickly and with a smile. Right now, his instinct is to be on his knees, nuzzling at Foggy to thank him properly, kiss his shoes, his hands, like a slave should, but he shakes that impulse off. He knows what to do now. He raises himself.
“Um,” is then everything he manages, arms awkwardly half-raised and spread, because somehow, turning the standard thank-you line of ‘would you like to use me, sir, please’ into ‘would you like to hug me, sir,’ would definitely sound weird.
Foggy makes a sniffing noise. “Uh,” he says. “Dude, is that a hug invitation?”
“You told me that’s what I can do when I’d like to thank you,” Matt replies. “I’m also told hugs are this great platonic thing between guys.” And I prefer this to kissing your shoes, especially since you stepped into something weird during lunch hour today, is what he doesn’t say, but apparently he doesn’t need to.
Foggy makes a small choking noise that sounds like a cross between a gasp and a chortle, and then he has already stepped forward into the offered hug and squeezed, albeit gently.
“Matt,” he says into the fabric of Matt’s shirt, as if that one word somehow explained everything.
“Thank you, for telling me. That you didn’t want to go and, uh. All the rest,” Foggy mumbles, somewhere slightly below Matt’s left ear.
“Just telling the truth,” Matt replies easily and calmly – to tell the truth, he actually has trouble believing it himself, the fact that he has just said no, and he could do that – well, no, it wasn’t real freedom, far from it, but closer to it than he had ever been in over four years, and the feeling is incredible. Matt almost feels like floating, even when Foggy releases him and steps back a little.
“So, uh, I should probably get going, then. You’ve got someplace else you wanted to go?”
“Actually,” Matt says, “I’d like to stay home and study. I wasn’t lying about being a homebody.”
“Nerd,” Foggy says, but it sounds fond, and Matt allows himself to briefly bask in that tone. “Alright. I’ll head out alone, then. Tell you about it when I get back?”
“Sure,” Matt says, also smiling now, a part of him still amazed at what just happened. Foggy had been true to his word. This still isn’t freedom, he knows that alright, but, it just might be a taste of what it feels like.
(Foggy gets back later on, much sooner than Matt expected, and mumbles something about ‘you were right, the entertainment wasn’t much fun’, and leaves it at that. Matt isn’t completely useless at the pet thing and does manage to cheer Foggy up and talk him into watching a movie with him, which makes for a far more enjoyable end to their night. Matt also can feel himself falling asleep slowly against Foggy’s side while his owner is narrating, but, for once, feels utterly at ease doing so.)
(It’s also late at night, sometimes, during some of the rare occasions when Matt has fallen asleep leaning against him in a cab back from a night drinking, or dozed off with his head tilted back against Foggy’s thigh when Foggy has been sitting on one of their beds and Matt on the floor, papers spread out around both of them in a late night study session. Foggy can never help but put a hand in Matt’s hair on those occasions, if only for the incredible sensation of Matt always, always leaning into it, sometimes even making a small, pleased noise in his sleep.
‘Irritable, of low social intelligence, aggressive and mulish to the point of insensate’ Matt’s ownership papers had said when he’d read them, once, half a year or so after moving in to Columbia when he’d found them again during cleaning. ‘ Seems unable to feel gratitude or affection for his owner; high flight risk’.
Foggy runs a hand down Matt’s neck, feels the other man shiver under his touch, and suppresses a disbelieving snort.
Matt hasn’t tried to run away from him once.
“And whoever called you insensate or unable to feel affection has been a moron,” Foggy mutters. When Matt is relaxed, he is the sweetest and most tactile guy he knows. Sometimes Foggy swallows, wondering whether years spent with a different, actually cruel owner might have eventually managed to mold Matt into that parody of himself he is described as on paper. Never let anyone hear his genuine laugh, his razor-sharp smile when he’s said something clever, his beautiful loose-limbed, utterly at ease body sprawled across a bed because he felt safe there.
“Yeah. Not gonna happen, buddy. Because that would be a crime,” Foggy whispers, and, even as he wonders why he’s telling Matt all of this while he is asleep, drops off himself. )
Matt actually…seems to balance being a pretend free man and a slave fairly well. Foggy can see the little details of his behaviour that give him away – he tends to listen far more than speak himself, his fingers involuntarily trace the collar hidden beneath his shirt sometimes when the topic of slaves or slavery comes up, and despite being polite and charming and happy to chat when being chatted to, ultimately keeps more to himself than Foggy does.
He also tenses up when someone other than Foggy gets a hold of him, but at the same time, always seems to yield under Foggy’s touch, either a shoulder clap or an attention-grab at his arm, or a slap on his back, sometimes a hair-ruffle when they’ve got a movie night going on, a mixture between the submission of a pet and the relaxation of a friend. Matt also does his best to obey any ‘commands’ free people other than Foggy unknowingly give him, ranging from ‘hey, Murdock, pass me the salt’ to ‘Out of the way, asshole! Oh, uh, sorry, didn’t see the cane…’ without actually appearing to be anything other than someone polite and not interested in conflict.
(Technically, nothing should happen if Matt broke the law and disobeyed any orders, but they both know that in case it ever came out that Matt was a slave and people remembered he had deliberately ignored commands in the past, the punishments would be severe, and/or completely ruin Matt’s chances at emancipation, Foggy points out ruefully. Matt still doesn’t let himself think about that seriously.)
But there’s also improvements in their relationship – Matt has stopped asking for permission for every single little thing he has asked permission for once before and received Foggy’s ‘It’s fine, Matt, as long as it isn’t harming anyone you can do whatever you want’ standard reply.
Now he mainly just sometimes smiles at Foggy when he tells him ‘I’m heading out’ or ‘I was planning to get some coffee, would you like some?’ and it’s a smile that says ‘Thank you for letting me do this’ but also ‘I trust you’, and Foggy feels both awkward and warm whenever he gets one. Matt does ask him for permission to attend Spanish class next semester as his elective, but that’s about it, and Foggy agrees enthusiastically, happy to see Matt having interests of his own and venturing out more and more by himself.
(Though he does point out that Punjabi is obviously the more versatile choice, and is delighted to receive a dig about the number of American Spanish speakers VS the relative usefulness of Punjabi only as a means to understand Bollywood movies, which are non-understandable anyway, even with working eyes, or so he’s been told. Foggy realizes that Matt argues, and disagrees with his opinion sometimes, and still wants to be around Foggy, and this is sort of really amazing.)
The final touch comes one night, when they’re sitting next to each other in a removed corner in the library, and Matt absent-mindedly says ‘Pass me the Braille edition for a moment’ before abruptly sucking a breath in, realizing that he has just given Foggy an order.
“Uh, I’m sorry, I meant –” he swallows, hand briefly running over the lower edge of his collar, as if the remind himself that it’s still there.
Foggy gently grasps his wrist. “Matt. It’s fine. Here,” he says, sliding the book toward him with the other hand. “And besides,” he can’t help adding, hoping that his slave hears the grin in his voice, “That order wasn’t hard,” he quotes Matt, and his friend stares in his direction for a moment, until they both burst out laughing and get promptly shushed from all sides.
But other times, Foggy also sees the clenched fists at Matt’s sides when he has to deal with someone deliberately being a bag of dicks and has little to no means of actually calling them out on it, not without serious risk to himself. Foggy always feels bad about that, but there’s not much either of them can do about it – and he unfortunately doubts Matt would appreciate his owner fighting his battles for him, anyway. In fact, after a while Foggy suspects that even in a world where Matt wasn’t completely dependent on him this wouldn’t be any different, so he doesn’t feel hurt about it – it’s just another aspect of Matt, something that is uniquely him, and something Foggy suspects he would never have gotten to see if he’d had Matt on his back and knees from the start.
Sometimes, though, he really wishes Matt would ever consider doing something the easy way.
“Matt? Are you okay? Maybe if we talked to her, she’d let you do a different assignment.”
“No. I should be able to do this. I will be able to do this,” he says, stubbornly not turning away from his laptop, fingers running over the Braille display without, Foggy is fairly certain, actually taking anything in. Almost an entire six months have passed since Foggy told Matt that he wanted to free him, they have both passed their exams for the first semester with flying colours and, if anything, it has made Matt study that much harder. Foggy suspects he is in fact doing his job as a study aid fairly well, if only because he succeeds in making Foggy feel vaguely guilty every time he considers slacking off when Matt is still working.
You shouldn’t *have* to be able to this , is what Foggy wants to snap, but doesn’t. He knows that half a year ago, Matt likely would have turned around and asked him, softly, ‘Do you want me to do a different assignment?’ and then quietly gone along with whatever Foggy had suggested. This is an improvement, Foggy tries to tell himself. This is the real Matt Murdock, and that’s who he (unfortunately) is completely smitten by.
If only the real Matt Murdock didn’t come with a martyr complex the size of Switzerland.
The final exam for the second semester of one of their classes is a debate, and the professor has assigned them their topics, their positions and their partners.
Matt has been assigned the hypothetical defence of an owner who has severely abused and crippled his slave.
(“And the biggest charge I’ll probably have to get him off on is ‘disturbance of the public peace’, because he did it in a damn park,” Matt had told Foggy through gritted teeth after extended prodding.)
Now Matt finally takes a breath, and then turns toward Foggy. “Do you think…she knows?” he asks quietly.
Foggy grimaces. “There is no logical reason why she should,” he says, and there isn’t. Generally, most professors have far too many students and are also far more interested in their research to ever bother to check whether they’re teaching exclusively free students or whether there are some slaves in the auditorium. From their perspective, it absolutely doesn’t matter for either the grading or the teaching, so there really wouldn’t be much point. In Law it would be especially strange to expect to encounter a slave, and Matt hasn’t done much to draw attention to himself, but shown himself to be an excellent student, spearheading their grade curve with a few other whiz kids.
(When they were home over Thanksgiving and Christmas break, Foggy was able to tell his parents were actually quite impressed. His father, who had been the one rather questioning the sense of having a ‘slave as a study aid, really, how is he even going to understand what is going on in class?!’ had actually cornered Matt a few times while he was doing chores, - which of course had been another topic of debate, running the usual ‘Matt, just because my mother told you to do this, it doesn’t mean you have to. I can always tell you to stop, if you want to’ – ‘No, thank you, Foggy, I’m fine, I like being useful’-course – asking him his opinion on various topics he read about, and then, apparently, been rather surprised by Matt’s concise, well-thought-out, level answers. Foggy had been pleased to note that this, coupled with Matt at least not being visibly collared any more, and not looking quite as awkward about sitting at a table with them, had apparently caused his parents to treat him a little more like a…valued house-hold help at least, rather than a slave.)
Now, Matt sighs. “For our classes next year…you were thinking of going more into criminal defence, weren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Foggy nods. “But that doesn’t mean…”
“Then it will be good practice,” Matt says, curtly, and that is the end of that. Foggy frowns, but recognizes when his advice isn’t wanted, and retreats to his half of the room to let Matt brood in peace. His slave’s fingers sound like they’re stabbing the keyboard when he writes, and if Foggy turns his head phones up, he almost doesn’t have to hear it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Matt begins the very next day, “The reason the law exists - the foundation of our entire judicial system - is to keep American people safe. What happened in Central park on June 26th – a slave, stealing food from a vendor, yes, even food that had fallen off the cart and been lying in the dirt, without its owner telling it to – is the very opposite of that.”
And then he seems to tremble just slightly, and briefly goes just a bit paler, but then takes a breath and steadies, and everything he says gets worse from there.
Matt obliterates his opponent. Foggy sits there, slightly open-mouthed, as Matt basically throws the entire slave owner’s manual at his debate partner, arguing how even the most horrid acts of the defendant should be seen as “necessary discipline, esteemed listeners, a slave is not capable of higher functions, the food it stole could have been money, or a gun, or even a child, it simply covets the things it sees and therefore needs the punishment to teach it how to function” and how “it would have been a disservice to society at large if the owner Mr Robert had restrained himself and therefore allowed an unstable slave to get worse. In a public park, no less, where other pets could have seen it getting away with it. Not punishing such disobedience in public harshly is tantamount to spreading a disease, your honour,” Matt’s voice cuts through the silence in the hall, sharp and clear. Everyone else is watching in rapt attention, too, and Foggy hears mutters of ‘damn, he’s right, I didn’t see it like this before,’ and ‘wow, I wonder whether he really hates slaves or something. He seems to know the problems they can cause pretty well.’
Down below, Matt is just about to finish up, grabbing the sheet of Braille paper he didn’t even use from the desk in front of him. He takes another breath.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. The defence concedes that a gag would have been advisable to minimize the disturbance caused by the noise, but we will maintain that, by flaying off that slave’s back, Mr Robert was nothing more, and nothing less, but the model citizen we should all aspire to be.”
He is met with roaring applause after he finishes.
Next, however, to Foggy’s worry, Matt barely stays long enough to hear it, leaving as soon as the professor thanks them and asks them to step down. Matt nods, grabs his cane and notes and hurries up the stairs, past the people whispering, not even paying attention to the next two students taking their stands. Matt is out the door in a heart beat, his bag forgotten in his seat. Foggy stares for a moment longer, but then stumbles to his feet, grabs both their things and awkwardly squeezes past everyone else to get out of the room.
Foggy is hurrying after him, not for the first time wondering how Matt can be that fast for a blind guy, but the halls are already crowded and Matt is slipping from his sight fast.
Foggy is almost certain that Matt has heard him, but he doesn’t even slow down. Foggy’s stomach clenches in apprehension – Matt’s expression upon leaving the class had looked like thunder – and that is the reason why he does what he does next.
“Matt, stop! That isn’t optional!”
“Matt! Jesus, wait!” Foggy elbows his way through the bustle of students to reach the lone figure of his friend, standing still now, head bent. The posture lets Foggy feel guilty as hell, but also relieved that Matt still listened to him.
“Matt.” He says, intently, grabbing his arm as soon as he manages to catch up to him. Matt doesn’t actually raise his head.
“Yes, sir?” he asks coldly.
“Dude, don’t give me that,” Foggy retorts without missing a beat, hiding the way that address stung. “I don’t like pulling that card either, especially not with what you just went through, but you can’t just…storm out on me like that! I was worried.”
Matt sighs, irritably. “There’s no reason for that. I wouldn’t do anything stupid to cause you trouble.”
“Yeah, that’s not what I’m worried about, buddy,” Foggy says, wryly. “I’m worried about you. What you just had to plead for is something that would have made me throw up on the podium. I think I’d need to go on a bender after, to try and wash the taste outta my mouth.”
Matt looks a little bit thrown by the explanation, so Foggy uses the opportunity to transform the grip on Matt’s arm into a more soothing rub.
“Yeah. Don’t just run out on me like that, okay? You know you can do whatever you want. I just want to be sure you’re okay.”
Matt sags a little, as if he’d been held up by string pulled taut until now, and Foggy’s words had just cut it.
“I…I’m okay. I just didn’t want to be in the room any more.”
“I think I got that, yeah. For what it’s worth, I think you at least aced that debate,” Foggy tries, giving a little huffed laugh because Matt can’t see his weary smile. “That’s gotta count for something, right?”
“I guess,” Matt replies, breathing out a sigh and visibly forcing himself to relax. A humourless smile appears on his face when he adds, “And, well. After this, at least no one should suspect that in an actual trial like that, I’d be evidence, not defence counsel.”
“Not after we take the bar exam, you won’t be,” Foggy cuts him off, because he knows what Matt gets like whenever he starts reminding himself of what the world technically could be like for him. “You good now?”
“Yeah. Will be, anyway,” Matt nods, tapping his cane against his shoes. “I think I’ll just head to the…gym again. To blow off some steam.”
“Sure. See you when you get back,” Foggy says, clapping him on the shoulder before he leaves and sees one of Matt’s genuine, grateful smiles that he doesn’t press the matter further.
Matt returns much, much later that night to their dorm room and even though it’s dark, Foggy can see that both his hands are bleeding, knuckles burst open and raw. (He also finds out the next day that apparently during that night, Matt also sprained his wrist, lost his cane, somehow managed to get his shirt torn up and got a cut across his torso that he won’t tell Foggy where he got it from.)
It dawns on Foggy that day that his slave might not have the best coping mechanisms when it comes to anger, but it will be years later that he remembers this, and then bangs his head against the wall.
To be continued...
There, I hope you enjoyed, thanks for all of the reviews, without which I may not have gotten the final push to complete this story for the second time :p Hope you like and if you read, please review! :D
Chapter 14: Where is Claire When You Need Her?
Warnings for a bit of a darker chapter, unfortunately. If that isn't your thing you can stop reading after the first 'xxx' and wait for a brief summary next chapter. I do promise that there's going to be better times ahead.^^°
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chapter 14: Where’s Claire When You Need Her?
It happens when they’re sitting in the library one day. Their third semester has started a week ago, and even though Matt remains (understandably) detached from most other students, generally making no impression on their classmates other than being a charmingly polite, hot, but otherwise completely unapproachable guy (and also the one person you do NOT want to face off against in debate…) Foggy has been busy making connections, facilitating their social life by getting invites to parties (some of which Matt even tags along to), and also always helpfully knowing someone who knows someone who has the answer to any of the myriad problems campus life comes with. In this case, Foggy has also managed to get them what he thinks is a somewhat motivated group of people (or at least people with consistently good grades) to prepare a presentation with, which happens to be one of the requirements for successful completion of one of their current classes.
Matt “I can do this on my own” Murdock is not a fan of group work. (Foggy suspects that would be the case even if he wasn’t trying to hide his legal status from 3 other kids they’re now going to have to closely work with for the next few weeks.)
But right now, he and Foggy are heading toward the group work room they’ve booked, Matt on Foggy’s arm trailing him through the busier parts of the library they usually avoid. Foggy is not keeping up his habitual running commentary on their environs which he hopes Matt will assume is due to this being, well, a library, and the people running this place probably wouldn’t even care whether they’re free men or slaves, but behead them both for talking.
It’s actually mostly due to the fact that Foggy doesn’t want to describe the dick with the study aid slave next to his deck, who he has cowering on the floor and is using their back as an additional surface to stack books on.
“Foggy? Something wrong?”
Matt murmurs it into his ear so quietly, but Foggy still almost jumps. Sometimes he thinks it’s uncanny how well Matt can tell something’s off.
He sighs. No point in lying about it.
“There’s…some of the people here have slaves with them.”
“So do you.”
Matt’s low, murmured answer sounds almost amused, so Foggy hates that he has to make that slight smile disappear.
“Yeah. But you’re not prostrate next to my chair while being used as a book desk.”
“Oh.” Matt’s expression turns slightly harder. “Right.”
“Let’s get this over with. Chair’s at your 10 o’ clock.”
“Thanks.” Foggy pulls the door to their booked room open and Matt releases his arm to wander over and settle into a seat at the group table inside, starting to pull out his laptop and set it up. They sit in silence for a while as they gather their materials, and Foggy just catches a slight tilting of Matt’s head before the first two members of their group, Kevin and Danny, file inside.
“Hey,” Danny says, nodding to both of them before sitting down as well. Foggy is just about to return the greeting when there’s someone else trailing in behind them, but it’s not their fifth group member, Trish, but…
“Oh yeah,” Kevin says, “That’s Em.”
“Uh,” Foggy says, and feels the ground underneath him sway slightly sideways. ‘Em’ is a red-haired girl in…well, less clothing than what is optimal. The only thing really properly covered is her neck in a broad, tight-looking, leather and metal choker.
She is also shaking in her non-existent boots and next to him, Matt has tensed up like a bow string.
“Hot, right?” Kevin asks and Foggy wants to fire the script writer of his life. “Just got her last week. She’s helping me study.” He slaps her behind as he says it and she doesn’t even flinch. (Matt does.) Danny is rolling his eyes like he’s had to deal with this behavior for a week already, but Kevin doesn’t seem to notice. “Kneel down next to that chair. Take notes,” he says instead to Em, who does so, settling a writing pad on her knees and trying to steady a chewed-on pen in her trembling right hand.
“So, any of you have looked at the stuff yet, or-?”
“Hold on,” Foggy says, interrupting Kevin’s question, swallowing, “shouldn’t…shouldn’t you get her some more appropriate clothes before we start this?”
“What? Why?” Kevin frowns at him. “I like the view.”
“Because it’s the library,” Foggy says, deliberately trying to keep calm while he can see how next to him, Matt’s fingers holding his Braille pad have gone white, “and in here it’s fucking freezing.”
“So what?” Kevin gives him an irritated glare. “Makes her perky. Could we get started on the project now?”
“She’s a person,” Foggy scathes, ignoring Matt’s muttered comment of ‘Foggy-‘, also ignoring Danny looking uncomfortable at the whole thing and also Trish, only arriving now and looking perplexed at the spectacle.
“Uh, hey guys, what’s…?”
“She’s a slave,” Kevin cuts across Foggy, “You’re friends with Murdock, aren’t you? Weren’t you listening to his speech at the exam last semester? That man has the right idea, ey, Murdock?”
NO, Foggy wants to yell out, both as a warning and a furious denial, but before he can do so, Kevin’s ‘friendly’ slap has already landed firmly on Matt’s back, the sound of the flat hand hitting the body of his best friend sounding to Foggy’s ears exactly like the slap on Em’s behind. For a moment, he thinks he can see Matt looking absolutely murderous with a ferocity that scares him, but within fractions of a second that impression’s gone, and Matt only makes a shocked noise, dropping the Braille pad with a fumbled clatter.
“Oh. Sor-ry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s…fine,” Matt manages, and Foggy thinks he might be the only one who can hear the fury underneath those words. Matt has always been excellent at hiding anything he doesn’t want to show (and Foggy hates to wonder what times in his life may have caused him to develop those skills) but he also secretly feels a bit of pride at the fact that he is starting to get better and better at telling what is really going on behind the façade. “We should get to work,” Matt continues and that seems to be it – only he then pauses and adds, seemingly casual, “But you should let her get a blanket. It’s nasty having a slave around who’s sick.”
There is something disdainful in his voice, but Foggy doesn’t think Kevin catches that it isn’t aimed at Em.
“Hm. You think so? Fine,” he sighs, before snipping his fingers. “You. Go and get a sodding blanket from the room or whatever. Better get your ass back here quick if you don’t want me to heat it up by beating it.” He gives a brief snort as the girl only nods once and then gets up to quickly leave the room, her expression a cross between fear, but also a hint of relief.
“Happy now?” Kevin gives Foggy a look like an exasperated charity worker and starts getting his own things out. “Seriously, I’m not the devil incarnate for deciding to get one. A few people have them and they do save you a lot of work.” He raises an eye brow. “Ever even considered getting one for yourself?”
“I do prefer doing my own work, thank you,” Foggy replies, evenly and ignores Kevin’s eye roll. Trish is already looking as uncomfortable as possible with the whole scene, Danny mainly looks annoyed and Matt has a face which Foggy would under any other circumstances consider that of a man calculating where he can get rid of a body, so he sighs and settles in for the group project from hell.
At least Em is not going to be actively freezing while they work, so that’s something, right?
(This night, Matt also comes back late. This time, he also looks worse, and it is the expression on his face that stops Foggy from asking him what exactly happened, again. He doesn’t want to, but he is still trying to figure out where Matt’s freedom or Matt’s health should take precedence, and it’s driving him up the wall.
It is the letter that arrives the next day that forces his hand and makes the confrontation inevitable.)
“I don’t want to.”
“And that would be a factor in this whole thing if either of us could do something about this, which we can’t. I’m sorry, Matt,” Foggy says, calmly (they have gone over this a lot), while continuing to look up clinics in the vicinity that admit both slaves and free people. The letter that prompted this entire conversation they’ve been having on and off for two days now – ever since the second morning after Matt got back with busted hands and another cut, actually – lies far too innocently next to Foggy on the desk.
‘Dear Mr. Nelson, we have yet failed to receive a notification of a conducted medical annual preventive health exam on your purchased slave, 10-4-1964, despite him being in your possession for a period extending twelve months. Please present the necessary documents as soon as possible to prevent the assignment of a fine.’
That, or something along those lines, had been the gist of the content.
Easy enough, right?
Apparently not when your purchased slave, 10-4-1964, also answered to the name of Matt Murdock.
“Foggy, I hate hospitals.”
Foggy sighs. “I know, Matt. You realize no-one actually likes them, right?”
“You don’t really have to take me to a check-up. Most people just make a phone call to a vet, say their pet is healthy and get a form letter sent that the check-up has been completed without anyone ever seeing a doctor at all. I’m pretty sure Kevin does that with Em.”
“I know, and I don’t approve. As soon as I’m certified, I want to stop shit exactly like that from happening. Everyone deserves access to health care, Matt.”
“Deserves, yes. Needs, no.”
“Yeah, because you’re Superman and you don’t get sick ever, right,” Foggy says, and rolls his eyes even though he knows the gesture is wasted on his roommate.
“I’m not Superman,” Matt mumbles petulantly, but there’s also a bitter edge to it as a hand of his is reaching into the front of the shirt, fingering the collar Foggy knows is there.
“Which is why you’ll have to go and get your annual check-up, yes. I’m pretty sure that cut you got from god knows where looks infected, too.”
Foggy silently counts to ten in Punjabi and debates biting into his laptop.
“You don’t know that,” he says instead. “It could be rainbow-coloured by now and you wouldn’t know it. How did you even manage to get yourself cut up that badly for the second time?”
Matt doesn’t reply to that, just continues sitting as coiled irritation on the edge of his bed. Foggy frowns. He doesn’t know what the big deal is, really – sure, Matt always balks at things where he has to wear his old, visible metal collar, understandably so – but usually he’s never this bad about it.
Matt lifts his head. “You said you wouldn’t force me to do anything I didn’t want to,” he says quietly.
“I know. And I really don’t want to do this, either, believe me. But after it hasn’t gotten better for two days I do think you need to get that cut looked at.,” Foggy says and it’s not a lie – even if there’s still a flash of guilt whenever he realizes that a part of him also feels relieved that he can tell himself the law is forcing him to do this. He clings to the notion that at least his motive is that he only wants his friend healthy and safe.
Matt only presses his lips together at that, so Foggy crosses the room, sits down next to him. This is probably the first major disagreement they have ever had and Foggy can feel the tension in the room, and Matt’s unease at being treated like this after almost a year of pseudo-freedom, and he hates it. He takes a breath.
“Matt. Even if you were free, you realize I would nag you as your friend until you went? I’d probably hold your torts textbook hostage or something. You not having a choice here has nothing to do with that,” Foggy says, gently tapping the leather band around Matt’s neck, “and everything to do with this.” And, despite it being cheesy, he takes Matt’s hand and presses his friend’s index finger against his own chest.
(He tries to tell himself Matt is the only one who needs convincing of that.)
At that, Matt finally swallows, and raises his head. He seems to look up at Foggy crouching next to him, studies him as if he was trying to discern something in Foggy’s face – and then apparently somehow finds something that satisfies him, because he drops his head back down, lower than before, effectively presenting his bare neck to Foggy and groans.
“Fine. Put me in the damn collar.”
Foggy breathes out a sigh of relief. He is so glad Matt relented. That he didn’t have to actually force him. (He honestly doesn’t know whether he would have or not, and it makes him feel either sick or scared if he thinks too long about it.)
Forcing a smile on his face instead, he claps Matt on the shoulder. “Yeah, later. I got us an appointment at a clinic that admits both slaves and free people, so I recommend you only change into that thing when we’re actually there. Nothing suspicious about me guiding you, my very free and very blind roommate into the building, right?”
And even though Matt still doesn’t look very happy about the appointment, he still smiles at that, and Foggy feels at least a little good about this.
That feeling lasts about two minutes once they actually enter the clinic.
“I won’t be able to talk when we’re in there,” Matt tells him, before, when they’re putting their jackets on in their dorm. Matt has changed his clothes, exchanged the smart, well-fitting black jeans, leather shoes and belt, undershirt and dress shirt for a pair of loose, belt-less sweat pants, bare feet in trainers and a zip-up hoodie. (“They like us to wear things that are easy to take off,” he had said, grimly, when putting them on. They, Foggy had thought. Free people.) “Slaves have zero agency when it comes to our medical treatment, so the doctor will only be talking and listening to you. You’ll get to decide which procedures are performed on me,” he says, and tilts his face slightly away. “Of course, it’s your right as my owner, but…” he seems to grit his teeth. “Can you ask them not to restrain me on the table? I don’t…I don’t deal too well with that.”
“They….they do what?” Foggy asks weakly, because that wasn’t something he had been expecting. The wonderful world of slavery apparently continues to yield new and horrific surprises that make you want to cry, like some kind of horrible onion jamboree bag.
Matt shrugs. “They don’t want to have to deal with scared slaves struggling, or having panic attacks or resisting treatment. Which is strangely what happens quite frequently when no one bothers to explain to us what is going to happen, or where. Hence, usually they tie you down.”
“That’s…fucked up.” Foggy swallows.
“You wanted this appointment,” Matt points out, slightly peeved, which at least reassures Foggy that Matt is still somewhat okay, if he feels like back-talking. His slave takes a breath, becoming more sombre again. “So…could you stop them from restraining me? I promise I won’t struggle if they don’t.”
“I…oh god, yes, of course,” Foggy stammers. “I wouldn’t ever…this isn’t right, Jesus.” He rubs his forehead, sounding weary. “Anything else you don’t want them to do that I wouldn’t know about?”
It turns out, Matt doesn’t want to be sedated, doesn’t want to be gagged, and does not do well with people sticking things into his ears. “I also…um.” Now he swallows and apparently can’t even turn his face into Foggy’s direction. “I also would prefer not to be…tested, for performance,” Matt says through gritted teeth. It takes Foggy a moment to catch the meaning here, but when he does, he nods frantically, then tells Matt he just nodded frantically, and then proceeds to promise vast amounts of alcohol for both of them when this is over.
(“And…” and now Matt takes a deep breath, while his knuckles go almost white on his cane. “Foggy, if you’re not…using me, it’s alright if I don’t receive a,” he hesitates only briefly, “sphincter reflex test or an enema, isn’t it? They like to offer it as a complimentary service.”
“A wha-…yes. Oh god, yes, Matt,” Foggy replies, halfway praying that this is only Matt’s last attempt to convince him to not go there, rather than the truth of what standard procedures are like.)
When they check in at reception, Foggy can feel Matt’s fingers tighten on his arm as they take his cane away, but he doesn’t protest. By now Foggy is starting to get a really bad feeling about this, but doesn’t yet say anything when they are both led into an examination room.
The nurses who come to check on them first aren’t cruel, but they also clearly don’t view the slaves as people. As soon as they enter the examination room, Matt is ordered to strip off his clothing, without even being given a smock or a little changing room like Foggy remembers from his own doctor’s visits. And he can see Matt tries not to show his unease, tries to strip as mechanically and unhesitatingly as most slaves do, but he can’t quite manage it, the hint of embarrassment and reluctance is there. Foggy swallows, turning his face away even though he knows Matt can’t see it, and wishes the nurses would, too. This is your fault, a voice in his head whispers, you let him get used to be treated decently, and now you’re throwing him right back to the wolves. This is called being cruel, Nelson, it says, and Foggy wishes he knew what the right thing to do even is any more.
As soon as Matt’s naked, a nurse unceremoniously grabs his arm and he flinches, stumbling onto the scales she drags him onto. Foggy wants to look away.
Matt wearing his impenetrable, red-tinted sunglasses, in sleekly-cut, dark clothing, a razor-sharp smile on his face when he’s killing someone in a debate, is such a jarring contrast to Matt now, naked, bruised, shoved under unforgiving neon light, and stumbling when nobody bothers to warn him about things on the floor, that Foggy hates himself, because he’s pretty sure Matt wouldn’t ever have wanted anyone to see him like this.
“Um,” he says, not quite either addressing Matt or the nurse, “Y’know, maybe I should just wait-“
And Matt’s head flies around, even as he is manhandled onto the scale, and he seems to shake his head urgently in Foggy’s direction. No, he mouthes.
“-or maybe I’ll stay? If that’s okay?” Foggy asks, befuddled and feeling like he’s floundering. “You can do whatever you wish, sir,” the nurse replies as she positions Matt on the scale and notes down his weight.
“Alright. I’ll…I’ll just sit down here, then.” Foggy swallows and moves over to the chair he has put Matt’s clothes on after they hadn’t offered to take them and apparently expected him to just drop them on the floor. Matt gives him the tiniest nod, before he is already taken off the scale again, and the note-taking continues.
Matt is also measured, has his temperature taken (“Maybe he shivers because he isn’t wearing anything, not because he has a fever,” Foggy scathes, as one of the nurses comments on Matt shuddering from time to time, but is largely ignored. Matt does turn his head and give him a slight, tightly-wound smile as the nurse is not paying any attention to him while taking his blood pressure, which Foggy supposes is better than nothing.) Before they proceed to call in the doctor, they do actually ask Foggy whether Matt needs to be buckled down or whether he is ‘well-behaved’ enough, and it’s all Foggy can do to not snap at them that Matt isn’t an animal, and suggesting that the doctor is the one in need to get his head examined.
“No,” he says instead, hollowly. “No, he can follow orders just fine.”
“Rough punishment?” is the first thing the doctor says in lieu of greeting when he enters and sees a bared Matt and the collection of bruises as well as the cut he sports.
“Uh…kind of? Some of it was an accident,” Foggy stumbles through a half-lie. Matt hadn’t wanted to tell him the truth – according to him, he ‘fell and landed in glass shards’, which would have sounded like the biggest cop-out if Foggy had tried to tell that a medical professional. The doctor gives him a look that is not at all impressed.
“Perhaps you should read up on proper punishment techniques,” the doctor – a middle-aged, dark-haired, slim man with an air of indifference and too little sleep – says, as he bends close to examine the wound, Matt barely keeping from flinching as he prods at it without announcement. “That cut is infected and the bruises aren’t far from actually vital organs.”
“Oh. Right,” Foggy swallows. Next to him, Matt looks guilty and embarrassed, which obliterates any desire Foggy had to serve him a giant ‘I Told You So’-sundae, with a self-satisfaction cherry on top the minute they’re alone again. Instead, he tries to reach out a hand to pat him on the upper arm. “I’m sorry. I really want him to be healthy.”
Again, the doctor looks at him a little disparagingly, but then shakes his head.
“Very well,” he says instead, “in that case, get him to sit down on that table. Does he need a gag, or a muzzle?”
“No. No, he doesn’t,” Foggy replies flatly, trying for Matt’s sake to remain calm. The little flash of relief on Matt’s face as Foggy grants him his requests of not having to be restrained almost makes Foggy’s stomach turn over.
Still, he can’t help but feel a little better when he sees how Matt looks now compared to when he saw him naked for the last time. The old wounds, at least, have faded to faint scars, and his slightly-too-thin frame has filled out with what is definitely muscle. The work-out sessions at the gym and the college meal plan seem to be having an effect.
But seeing Matt now, sitting miserably and exposed on the table, startling whenever the doctor handles him unannounced, to survey his glands, to check for melanoma, ingrown nails and open sores anywhere, makes him open his mouth to look at his throat, gums and teeth, draws blood to check for infections and grabs his hair to test its thickness before pressing a not-warmed up stethoscope against his chest, Foggy wants to take both Matt’s previous owners, as well as careless doctors, and throw them all out the window.
Instead, all he can do is look away and hold Matt’s hand as they inform him that a mandatory check for STDs is up next and Matt tries to stop himself from cringing away as they insert the cotton swab inside his urethral canal, head tilted toward the ceiling and eyes suspiciously glistening. They assure Foggy, whose emotions have to be showing on his face, that the procedure is painless, though Foggy is pretty sure Matt’s reaction has little to do with physical pain and more with something that goes much deeper. Foggy has to control himself not to throw up, but Matt has asked him to stay, keeps squeezing his hand through the procedure, so he stays.
When the nurse handling Matt goes “Aw, what a good boy you have here. Usually they panic so much we have to tie them down, but yours is exceptionally obedient. You’ve trained him well,’ patting Matt’s hip as she pulls the cotton tip out of Matt again, Foggy has to stop himself from murdering everyone within twenty yards.
Instead he just whispers ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,’ over and over again in between procedures and Matt only once turns and gives him a strange look in between the helpless and the grateful. At least they do stitch, dress and disinfect his wounds, at which Matt worryingly flinches as little as the night Foggy got him.
“Alright. According to this, your slave seems healthy so far, though I will have to prescribe a course of antibiotics for the infection,” the doctor briefly glances at the notepad in his hand, not really looking at either of them. “Has he been used for sex, in the last two years?”
“Ergh,” Foggy replies, eloquently, then “Yes,” at Matt’s tiniest, near imperceptible nod. Matt was so right, this was a terrible idea and Foggy will never insist on doing this again. “But I don’t, uh, need him…cleaned, or anything. Anywhere,” he fumbles to add, almost feeling sick himself.
“Very well,” The doctor makes a note on his sheet. “In either case, he’s due two vaccination refreshers, too – might as well get that over with as we finish up. You can already go down to reception to pick up your paperwork. Just make sure to look up proper punishment techniques before you apply corrective measures the next time.” Now he does glance up at Foggy, and his entire tone seems to be a variation of ‘So you don’t take up my valuable time because you fucked up your pet again’.
“Uh,” Foggy says, trying not to sound too hopeful. “So we’re done?”
“Mostly,” the doctor says, already pulling out a syringe and filling it with what is presumably the vaccine he talked about. “Get him to stand up and bend over the table, and you can leave.”
“Um,” Foggy swallows as he shuffles closer to Matt’s side while the nurse is getting out what looks like antiseptic wipes and a syringe “Do you want me to…?”
“You can leave,” Matt’s reply is murmured even more quietly than Foggy’s question was, both them feeling awkward as always when made aware of how unorthodox their relationship is. Matt is sliding off the table now, standing close to Foggy’s side, head bowed in what could be submission, but Foggy suspects is more like awful embarrassment. “I’ll…I’ll be fine. You don’t have to watch this, too. I can tell this is distressing for you.”
“I’ll do what you want me to,” Foggy says, feeling terribly unsure of whether Matt would like him gone to preserve a last shred of his dignity after all or would like him to stay to feel safer. Matt being, well, Matt, Foggy suspects the former but he can’t shake a lasting, gnawing feeling.
“We are almost done, yeah?” He asks the doctor again. “Just this left?”
“Hm? Yes, yes,” the doctor replies, more focused on making sure no air is left in the syringe than actually looking terribly interested in Foggy or Matt. Foggy suspects slave doctors hardly get selected for their bedside manner or ethical standards.
“It’s okay,” Matt tells him quietly. “Go. They’ll give me my clothes and cane back after and I’ll come find you.”
I’ll come find you. For some reason, Foggy can feel his throat constricting as if he were being garrotted.
“All…Alright, then.” Foggy swallows to get rid of the feeling, ineffectually. “Sorry,” he whispers, just for Matt’s ears, as he gives him a last squeeze of his biceps, Matt already leaning forward on the examination table, head bowed. He gives a fierce little nod and Foggy leaves as the doctor approaches with the wipes in one latex-gloved hand, loaded syringe in the other. Foggy closes the door audibly so Matt knows he is at least spared the audience of the one person who views him as a human being.
Foggy firmly resolves to take Matt out for seriously fancy food after they get out of here, and maybe buy him a very soft cushion to sit on.
“Hello. My name is Nelson. I’m here to pick up the general letter of health and an antibiotics prescription for my slave, 10-4-1964…?” Foggy approaches the receptionist, the one person in this building who actually smiles at him, still feeling weird whenever he calls Matt by his system number rather than the name he now knows is what he actually considers his own.
“Ah, yes, of course. Just one moment while I print it out for you…” the young blonde woman gives him a smile and proceeds to click away at her computer, while Foggy tries not to let his gaze wander around too much the reception area and waiting rooms. There is a mixed clientele of free people by themselves (and a kid with their parent) and other owners with their pets, all of whom look exactly as miserable as Matt, some of them downright terrified. Foggy suspects that this is what it would look like if the waiting room at a vet’s office was populated by people instead of animals and kind of hates himself for that thought. Some of the slaves get to sit on chairs like Matt did, though, and Foggy vainly hopes that this means their owners treat them at least halfway decently. God, he can’t wait to a) free Matt and b) become a lawyer so he can work against shit like this.
“Um. Sorry. Printer problems,” the receptionist interrupts his thoughts and shoots him an apologetic expression as she starts to wrestle with the electronic equipment. “Shouldn’t take more than a minute, hopefully.”
“Sure,” Foggy says, now a bit absent-minded himself as he starts getting antsy when he realizes that some minutes have passed already. Shouldn’t Matt have come out by now? How long can two vaccinations take?”
“What? But F- Mr. Nelson said –“
Foggy’s ears strain as he thinks he might just have heard what sounded like Matt’s voice behind the door - but that doesn’t make any sense, Matt had said he wouldn’t be allowed to talk in here. Foggy frowns, not able to catch anything else, attention half divided between the whimpers from the waiting room, the quiet (but inventive) cursing from the receptionist and wondering whether his imagination just played a trick on him or not.
“No. No, please –“
“ – standard procedure. Nurse, get –“
Now that was definitely the doctor’s voice, though, and it sounded annoyed. Foggy straightens himself immediately, all of his attention focused on the closed examination room door, heart beginning to pound. Should he…?
“- making this difficult. Slaves as responsive as this one-“
- is the next thing Foggy hears, the doctor’s voice again, but then, then, there’s a cry from Matt, something terrible that sound like anger, anguish and something worse mixed in, and before the receptionist can even say anything, he’s already past the counter and comes crashing back into the practice.
“Right, get ready to note the – what-?” the doctor’s head turns, just as Foggy bursts into the room again, and freezes – mostly because Matt is currently bent nearly flat over the table, shaking, his hands clawing into the material as the doctor’s fingers have worked him wide open and proceed to push deeper inside.
“No. Please don’t make me-!” Matt cries out again, just before his body convulses against the table helplessly in an unmistakeable manner, and his flushed face is so full of helplessness and rage and shame, head turned around to not-see Foggy, that Foggy feels something strange and new and sharp come over him, and he walks right up and backhands the doctor straight across the face.
To be continued...
Well, the chapters are coming slow, but they're coming. Hope you liked, would love to hear your thoughts and if you read, please review! :D
Chapter Fifteen: Resurrection for a Dream
“That, um. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a slave owner doing something like that before.”
“Oh god. Don’t remind me,” Foggy has his face buried in his hands. “I’m in so much trouble.”
Foggy is also currently sitting bent almost double on the edge of his dorm room bed after a very long Saturday. A Saturday that involved his best friend getting raped, the cops getting called on Foggy, a trip to the police station where there had been a lot of questions, and now it’s so, so late at night and he’s so tired. But at least they’re both home safe. For now.
(It happened so fast. Foggy remembers only patches now, how he briefly only saw red, and had backhanded the Doctor, he remembers that clearly, and then he thinks the guy might have fallen backwards and Foggy had followed, had been about to jump on him, and he remembers how he had drawn back his fist, intending to punch him again, and again and again in his face, and the nurse had screamed and then Matt had moved, Foggy thinks, and suddenly Foggy had also been on the floor, Matt above him, asking, ‘Foggy? Foggy, is that you? Did you stumble and fall? What is happening?’ loudly and waving his hand through the air as if trying to find him. The doctor had been sprawled there, staring at Foggy still in shock, holding his cheek and gaping, and then security had rushed in, and events became even more blurred. Foggy does remember holding on to Matt so tightly, though, that at least nobody took him away from him on the way to the station when the police came, and he remembers yelling at people until they allowed Matt to put his clothes back on.)
Matt now is sitting across from him, again dressed in the soft, thin sweats he prefers for nights spent in, and, by comparison, looks almost more put-together than Foggy, despite the events earlier today and that he had to spent hours kneeling on the floor in a police station afterwards. (Foggy is kind of glad it at least wasn’t the police station Brett is working at).
“I,” Matt swallows. “Thank you, Foggy.”
“You…you don’t have to thank me,” Foggy manages, although a part of him notes that Matt, despite everything seems somehow more…relaxed now than perhaps ever before. Foggy clears his throat, feeling a bit awkward.
“That wasn’t…that wasn’t right, what that doctor douche was doing. I mean, I don’t like violence, honestly.” He can feel his eyes narrowing. “But I think I’d punch him again, anyway.”
(At this, Matt gives him a smile that almost seems a little bit too sharp for a grateful pet, but again, Foggy only remembers this much, much later.)
Aloud, Matt says, “Well, technically, it was only the standard stim test. It’s usually routinely performed when owners even bother to bring their pets in – in fact, it’s most likely the only reason anyone ever would bring their slave in for a routine check-up, if you listened to slave merchants,” Matt says dryly. “Results of that performance test greatly affect our resale value.”
“Yay for humanity,” Foggy mutters, raising his beer. Alcohol had been declared to be in order, no matter the late hour. He is a few more in than Matt at this point, but honestly, who’s counting anymore? “For the record, I am so, so sorry I took you there.”
(And he would be more sorry. He would be sorry enough to kill himself, if what he had done would be enough to get Matt taken away from him, permanently, but from what he now knows of slavery law – and he knows so, so *much* of slavery law – he doesn’t think so. Matt isn’t the one who has broken the law here. In fact, anyone who met Matt would think the entire idea laughable, Foggy tries to tell himself.)
“I’m…going to be okay, I think,” Matt gives him a lop-sided smile that at least doesn’t look like a complete lie. “It’s…nothing I wasn’t used to,” he swallows, “it just…it had been a while. And I had genuinely been hoping to avoid it this time.”
Avoid what? Being finger-fucked specifically or being raped in general? Foggy wants to ask and can feel his stomach turn. Instead he hears himself say,
“Well, for the record, I’m all for you getting used to that not happening again,” Foggy says, throat a bit constricted. “Unless you want to. With a partner of your choice. Uh. And not an asshole in white who probably won his medical licence in a game of Operation. Actually, I’m thinking when we’re lawyers we can go on and try to sue him…y’know, after he’s done suing me,” he adds glumly.
(And oh god, his bio-mom is going to kill him when she hears this. He empties the last of his bottle at this wonderful thought.)
Matt, despite their situation, laughs a little, and Foggy thinks it’s the most relieving sound he’s heard since this horrible afternoon. “Sounds great. Although…” he cocks his head. “Weren’t we gonna go for defence?”
“Oh! Yeah!” Foggy (who thinks at this point that the alcohol might actually finally be working) snips his fingers. “Defence! Right. ‘cause there’s money in that.”
Matt (who seems more than eager to change the topic as well), cocks an eye brow, a snort escaping him. “What, now suddenly money is more important than justice?”
“Noooo. No, no, no,” Foggy protests. “We’re so gonna stand for truth and justice and all that. Right. Just as soon as we’ve worked our way up and made partners somewhere, totally.”
“Hmm,” Matt humms a little, laugh fading into something softer, and almost a little…nervous? He fiddles with his beer bottle, turning his head slightly away from Foggy as he licks his lips. “You know…actually…”
“Hm? What?” Foggy blinks, for a moment feeling a slight uptick in his heart beat. Matt looks slightly tense and almost embarrassed, in a way he hasn’t for a long time.
“I...” Matt swallows. “Back when I was…a kid. I always wanted to be a lawyer.”
Foggy abruptly feels a lot more sober. Matt hasn’t yet shared much of his past at all with him, all Foggy knew so far was that he was an orphan, raised in St Agnes until the day he turned eighteen, and was then sold off to cover the cost of his stay there after nobody wanted to pay to have him adopted before he became an adult. It’s the reason why Matt had both the educational background to be a useful house slave as well as get an undergrad degree – state wards usually receive both the education needed to become free citizens in case they do get adopted, as well as the training necessary to be a working slave in case they don’t. Foggy has tried and failed to avoid imagining what it would have to have been like when that metal collar closed around your neck the day you became eighteen.
“Oh, really?” he tries now, because he can sense this must be kind of big for Matt. After all, a slave telling their owner about their childhood dreams for their future…it’s obvious to how much hurt and ridicule Matt could be opening himself up here. What kind of weapons he is giving Foggy by even sharing this much.
“Yes,” Matt nods, now, more firmly than before. “My dad, when he was still alive, he…” he almost seems to stop, there but then appears to steel himself and press on regardless. “I promised him I’d make him proud. Someday. That I’d…I’d own my own legal firm. To fight for those nobody else will fight for.” Foggy stares at Matt, still, as his slave adds a humourless huff to his words. “Well. I don’t think that turned out quite like anybody hoped for. Don’t even own myself these days, never mind a firm.”
“Matt…” Foggy’s voice is hoarse, and Matt almost flinches at his name, turning his face firmly toward the floor.
“No, don’t…I’m sorry, I have everything I could ask for, Foggy. Really. That was out of line. I’m sorry.”
“Matt, no.” Foggy abruptly leans forward, grasping Matt’s wrist before his slave, now obviously thoroughly uncomfortable and embarrassed, having stripped himself bare figuratively after the doctor today did so literally, can turn away and potentially burrow himself into his blankets with his face against the wall. Matt freezes in his grip, like he did the first time Foggy grabbed him, and Foggy sighs, relenting a little, and letting his thumb massage some circles into the inside of Matt’s wrist. It does seem to relax him a little, or at least, stop him from pulling away even more.
“Matt,” Foggy says again, more firmly.
Matt huffs, shifting awkwardly. “Yes, Foggy. I’m fine. It was just…a long day. Never mind,” he tries a small, hopeful smile. “Let’s go to sleep so we can become rich, successful lawyers faster?”
“Sure,” Foggy says, tone casual. “Just tell me one thing.”
“Always,” Matt replies softly.
“Do you still dream of your own law practice?”
(Slaves don’t have dreams, the manual says. Slaves only wish for the immediate comfort and reassurance of their master’s approval.)
“Yes,” says Matt, and even though he almost looks like he expects Foggy to hit him for it, his voice sounds utterly assured.
“Alright, then,” Foggy says, utterly serious, “Our sign will say, ‘Murdock and Nelson, Free Avocados at Law’.”
Again, Matt stares at him, blindly, for one or two heart beats, and then he starts laughing, going ‘It’s not avocados, Foggy, it’s abogados’ and ‘I have heard all of your puns, and this one’s the worst’, and, finally, ‘and besides, it should be ‘Nelson and Murdock’ which sounds better - you can trust me, there’s this guy who told me blind people have spectacular hearing’.
And Foggy grins, and clinks his half-empty beer against Matt’s, and he tells him about what it was like to be a chubby, poor kid at school who was only really good at debate team and music, and how his mom had wanted him to be a butcher. Matt tells him about one last fight he heard, and that mixture of pride and loss, and they do end up on the floor in front of the same bed somehow, more drunk and leaning against each other for support, swapping stories and laughing (at Foggy’s, anyway, but also at some of Matt’s). And then, when the night is turning to a close, and Matt (the lightweight) is definitely about to be out of it soonish, he lets his head slump against Foggy’s shoulder and chest, murmuring ‘Nelson and Murdock. Sounds good, Foggy’, before losing consciousness and ending up in his owner’s lap entirely.
Foggy groans, and huffs, attempting to wrestle them into a position at least marginally suited for sleeping, and, even though Matt might have been just a liiiiittle bit drunk as he said it, Foggy couldn’t help but notice that for the first time it sounded like he genuinely believed Foggy would actually free him.
Somehow, this means that even the day at court and likely fine for assault that Foggy knows is coming his way doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
It’s about a week after their visit at the clinic when Foggy gets sick.
“Matt. You don’t have to do this.”
Matt, in between heating water for a new hot water bottle, cooking chicken soup, figuring out the Braille on the lozenges and pain killers he got from the campus drug store, and apparently trying to brew three different head cold teas for Foggy at once, shoots him a consternated expression. “You do know that this is what I’m here for, right?”
Foggy groans and rolls his head into the pillow on the other side, hoping that this one might be marginally less painful. “I thought we went over this. Matt, you know to me you’re just my friend, nothing more and nothing less.”
“I know, Foggy. That’s what I just said,” Matt replies, and when Foggy’s feverish brain finally manages to make sense of that comment, he wonders whether it’s just his high temperature making him feel this warm.
At least, not as bad in comparison as he feels when the second formal letter this semester lands on his desk (The court invitation or whatever it is going to be, hasn’t arrived yet. Because why get something over with when dragging it out is so much more fun.) By now he also suspects Matt has some sort of dog genes in his lineage somewhere, because once again he seems to pick up on Foggy’s emotional state the minute he steps into the room, back from Spanish class.
“Okay, how do you…oh, never mind,” Foggy says, feeling too tired to get worked up about yet another strange habit of Matt Murdock’s. “Awesome news, fantastic news, I’m so sorry.”
“Does it have something to do with the new, mandatory, slave preparatory classes being held?”
“What…okay, how do you know that? I literally just got the letter,” Foggy says, shaking the sheet of paper for emphasis. It does indeed state that, starting with this year, all registered slave study aids at Columbia will have to attend a total of three mass lectures to ensure ‘basic behavioural standards at lectures’, ‘basic behavioural standards on campus’ and ‘basic behavioural standards at dorms’, the latter of which Foggy can already imagining Matt sarcastically terming a lecture on ‘AKA how to avoid making noise when getting fucked or beaten after 10pm’.
“I overheard students talking about it,” Matt’s lips are a thin line. “You will have to tell me the exact dates, though.”
“Is there no way around this?” Foggy grimaces. “I mean, it will look weird when the two of us are attending, right?”
“It’s not going to be the two of us,” Matt shakes his head, tone dry. “It’s slaves-only. I’m expecting it will be a gala event, obviously.”
“Fuck,” Foggy mutters, expressing what they’re both thinking. “At this rate, we’ll have to get you a more comfortable public collar after all, huh? Fuck,” he repeats again, for emphasis, and also because he doesn’t think there really is a more appropriate word.
(They go shopping the next weekend, riding public transit to a mall far, far away from campus. After the disaster of a collar he got Matt with and knowing about the sometimes peculiar attitudes to tactile sensations his roommate exhibits, this time Foggy insists on having Matt feel every single one of them. Most of them are also expensive models, lined with silk, or rabbit fur, or high-tech synthetic fabrics designed to cause absolutely no irritation. But the way Matt’s posture tenses and then sags when Foggy puts them on him, he suspects, has absolutely nothing to do with them being comfortable or not.)
“You leaving? Do you want me to guide you there?”
“No, I think I should be able to manage on my own. See you later tonight,”
“Liar,” Foggy retorts automatically, and is pleased to get at least a small twitching of the lips out of Matt. His slave has exchanged the tighter, more stylish clothes he usually likes to wear around campus for more comfortable, grey and worn sports wear – “I don’t want to stand out” – is the curt explanation he’s given Foggy (even though he hadn’t asked) but Foggy wonders whether the different clothing is also a way for Matt to mentally separate the role he now again has to fulfill from his everyday pretend life. The new collar they have bought is tucked securely into his hoodie pocket to be put on at the last minute when there will hopefully no free people they know around to recognize him.
“Come back right after, okay? I’ll order from that Chinese place you like,” Foggy says, and the small, lop-sided smile Matt gives him in return means that he has understood that what Foggy was really saying is please come straight back after and don’t do anything stupid, but Matt replies “Yes, Foggy,” anyway, and it’s Foggy’s one small consolation that he can at least be fairly sure now that Matt says that out of his own free will.
It doesn’t help the knot in Foggy’s stomach much as he sees Matt setting off.
To be continued...
Whelp, it takes a while, but here you go :p Some warm 'n fuzzies to make up for the last chapter, at least^^° Hope you enjoyed and if you read, please review! :D
Chapter 16: Rising
Hey, thanks to everyone who is still here and still reading - I got some really great reviews that pushed me to finish this story again after some *heavy* editing, so hope you enjoy! Updates should be coming somewhat more frequently now :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Matt doesn’t have much trouble finding the auditorium where the slave lecture is being held.
He supposes he wouldn’t even need his heightened senses, because the stench of fear from the attendees is reeking to high heaven.
The lecture has been scheduled in the old, barely-used gym, five minutes down the block off-campus, where by now only the less prestigious sports clubs hold their training. It suits Matt, mostly because it decreases the chance of running into anyone he knows. Five minutes before it’s supposed to start, he ducks around a corner of the building, listens intently for any heartbeats close-by and then grits his teeth and puts the black, too-snug-for-his-liking collar on, inserting the chip from his red one into the new holding space. They already chose the widest they could, but collars for males, evidently, are not made to be whimsical or playful.
When Matt rounds the corner of the building again to join the throng of waiting slaves outside, he can feel his cheeks burning and he turns his hood up and face down, not wanting anyone to see him. He has discarded his collapsible cane behind some trash cans for the afternoon - the sunglasses should mark him as visually impaired to cover up anything he misses with his radar sense and that way, people might be less inclined to connect any random slave dressed in baggy grey sweats with Matt Murdock, blind star student and sharp-dressed shark of the mock trial court.
And then, his head flies up and his blood freezes in his veins at the next thing he hears.
“Mr…Matt? Sir? Are you lost, can I hel-?”
He whirls around like a cat.
The girl immediately stumbles backwards at his hissed address, perhaps mistaking his shock for anger, heartbeat skyrocketing. “I-I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to – please, punish me as you see f-“
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Matt hurries to tell her, voice low, anxious to get her to calm down and stop attracting attention from any bystanders. “Calm down. Please.”
“Th-thank you.” She stammers and swallows. Matt can sense she already seems even worse for wear than the last time they met her. Thinner, too thin and jumpy and…
Matt’s fist clenches.
Now she swallows, her head turned down again, cowering. “Uh, um. Are you lost? Only this is a slave…a slave lecture, so…”
Matt grits his teeth. Swallows. But there’s really no point delaying the inevitable.
“Em. I’m not lost. I’m attending.”
Her head rises up again, slowly. “You’re…what?”
And if Matt could, he would be looking back at her right now, but his mind’s eye (and Foggy’s remembered description) supply what he would be seeing anyway.
Em, staring at him, green eyes wide and uncomprehending, right until they’d snag on the collar around his neck, accompanied by the little gasp she makes, and then one hand comes up, pointing,
“W-wait, is…is that…? But why would you, you’re not-”
Matt reacts in a split second.
“Don’t point. Keep it quiet,” he hisses immediately, already moving into her space to block her pointing hand from the sight of anyone else. In reaction, she flinches into the corner like a frightened animal, cowering in instinctive fear from his height and decisive movement, a small wail escaping her mouth as she brings her thin arms up to cover her head, and Matt relents, just a little.
“Hey. Hey, it’s okay,” he whispers, again, cursing his over-reacting and reaching out to pull one of her arms down, trying hard to let his grip feel firm, but gentle. Around him, he tries to gage whether any other slaves are noticing their display, and he hopes they won’t. He hasn’t engaged with any other slaves for a while now, not as one of them, but he prays that they are the sort that mind their own business.
“I…but why…?” Em stammers, and Matt tries to speak as quietly as possible for any normal human to still understand him. This is going to be the first time he has to tell someone.
“I’m…I’m not a free person.” The words taste like bile. “I’m a slave. I belong to Foggy.” That last sentence came easier. He swallows again. “Em. You need to swear that you won’t tell.”
And now Matt wishes his own voice sounded firmer during that last plea.
Em blinks but then nods, then seems to realize her mistake and adds. “I – yes. I mean, yes. I promise. Please let me go,” she pleads, weakly tugging at her wrist he still holds. Matt releases his grip. She shrinks back a little, but makes no move to flee.
“So you’re…but you weren’t wearing…” she stammers, outwardly still reeling from Matt having passed over from one mental category into another. Matt wonders whether she was perhaps born a slave, a state that means the categories ‘owned’ and ‘free’ can seem a lot more cemented in a person’s worldview than in others’.
“My usual collar is hidden. Foggy does not approve of slavery, so he doesn’t make me wear a visible one. I try to slide under the radar,” he explains quickly, aware that they have precious few moments before they’ll be called in, probably.
“I…right. Right,” Em swallows, trying to wrap her head around the concept. “That’s why…why you asked him to let me fetch myself a blanket,” she says wonderingly, “because you know-“
“Yes. I know. Believe me, I know,” Matt says grimly, and then a man steps out of the gym and starts barking orders at them and they rejoin the throng of the other slaves, filing into the building in line.
The gymnasium is already half-filled when they enter, though there aren’t any chairs set up – instead there’s old vaulting boxes and wooden crates set up and people – slaves – are already kneeling behind some of them. No pads, of course. Matt can hear almost a hundred of nervously beating hearts, the atmosphere charged and tense. He turns toward a crate further off to the side, head still cast down to avoid attracting attention and kneels down behind it. Em follows him, sinking down behind the box next to him and he isn’t surprised. He’s shown her kindness. It would be more surprising if she wasn’t following him like a scared animal.
He guesses they aren’t allowed to talk, though, so all he can do is turn his head towards her and give her a small nod before he settles behind his crate and tries to attract as little attention as possible.
When the lecture starts, it starts as expected. Proper behaviour on campus apparently entails not leaving your dorm unless ordered, not sitting down in the cafeteria and not taking up space on the lawn of the campus – but they’re not legally binding rules but really suggestions, so Matt feels free to roll his eyes behind the privacy of his sunglasses, letting the usual rhetoric of condescending and dehumanizing language roll over him without trying to listen too much.
He knows he would get angry again if he did.
Instead, he tunes in to the various slaves in the auditorium – about 400, he’d guess – (guess, hah, Stick would have his head for using that word, so Matt distracts himself by listening properly and comes up with 407 heartbeats beside his own, and another one for the lecturer).
He is, therefore, as startled as anyone when Em manages to knock down her writing pad from her desk, flinching along with the rest of people around her.
Unfortunately, it seems to not have gone unnoticed.
“What? What was that?” The lecturer interrupts himself, looking around. “I said, who was that?” the teacher repeats the words, and everyone in the gym, including Matt, tenses up. Matt can hear the heart of Em racing like a jackrabbit, and her whole under-nourished body is trembling with fear.
“I said, who! Was! That!” the lecturer shouts the words now, hitting the podium with the manual three times. “Each and any of you know the punishment for lying as a slave.”
Everyone else has their head cast down, too afraid to speak, probably desperately wondering whether the consequences of blabbing or remaining quiet would be worse, while the heat of the teacher’s probably reddened face increases each second.
“I asked you a question! If I don’t get a guilty party, I will have you all whipped-!”
Matt grits his teeth. Then he draws a breath and opens his mouth.
“It was me.”
Heads turn. Next to Matt, Em gasps, but he ignores it.
“What?! Who? Stand up!” The lecturer barks and Matt rises. He stands straighter since he got given to Foggy, he notices, even if he is not looking forward to what comes next. It makes sense, he tries to think. He’d get whipped either way, probably, and of all the ragged, under-fed and trembling people in this place he is the one in the best condition to take it.
The only one whose owner would bend over backwards for them and try to do everything they can to help them recover afterwards.
“You. Right. Come onto the stage.” The lecturer snarls, and Matt complies, walking down the hall with his heart pounding, but his face is set. He’s walking carefully, touching a few of the desks as he goes past, hoping that he gives the impression of somebody not completely blind but visually impaired – it would help to explain the sunglasses which he is grateful are hiding his face along with the hoodie.
“Right. Bend over. Hands on your knees,” the teacher snaps as he makes his way upwards, thankfully apparently not very interested in Matt’s attire or pecularities.
Matt only hesitates a second before doing so. He isn’t sure whether he should be afraid, exactly – surely the teacher shouldn’t be able to do anything more than hurt him physically, and Matt can take that. He is in better physical shape than he has been in years. The only thing that reasonably should worry him is if this had any consequences for Foggy, or for his stay at Columbia. But surely they couldn’t expel him just for reportedly dropping a writing pad?
He bends forward, just a little lower than strictly necessary to get his hands on his knees, in the hope that this will appease the lecturer. In his experience, people who punish slaves in a grandiose fashion like this for petty mistakes appreciate extra grovelling.
“Interrupting class like that. I don’t know why anyone ever thought you were worth bringing here.”
Matt stays silent. He has gotten used to replying when spoken to, even initiating conversations and talking back, but he still knows the protocol as a slave. No talking whatsoever unless directly ordered to.
“Fine, then. Let’s get this over with.”
Matt’s eyes fly open as the next thing that happens is the lecturer violently grabbing a pen, yanking Matt’s hoodie up to expose his back, and then the sharp stench of sharpie hits his nose just as the tip of it hits his skin.
For a moment, he is too surprised to even pay attention where exactly the pen goes as it smears across his back, the scrawl of the lecturer large and irregular across his vertebrae and kidneys.
“There.” The man steps back, sounding disdainful as he puts the cap back onto the pen. Matt’s back is tingling where the ink is now drying and seeping into his skin. Branded, flashes across his mind, not quite silenced by the voice that goes nonsense, if this were a brand you’d be screaming, and then he can already hear the lecturer stepping away from him, back to his stand, and scribbling something else on paper.
“Here.” He rips the page from whatever he’s scrawled it in, folds it, and Matt’s still so dazed he barely can sense it coming before the lecturer whips around and slaps the folded paper across his face.
“Take this. Give it to your owner to read and sign. And now straighten up, pull your shirt back down, return to your seat and don’t disturb the lesson again.”
Matt slowly uprights himself, not quite making a show of fumbling to grasp the paper in the lecturer’s hand, pulls down his hoodie (even though it still feels like the letters, whatever they are, are now burning into his skin) and tries to leave the stage as quickly as he dares to move. He can already feel the rage starting to simmer inside himself, its familiar fire beginning to burn through the shock and the shame, and his hand has clenched around the paper he is supposed to give to Foggy, crushing it in the middle.
“I’m…I’m so sorry,” is what Em whispers when he sinks to his knees behind his crate again, but he shakes his head.
“It’s okay.” He grits his teeth. “What…what does it say?”
When she only blinks, he prompts, “The words on my back.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I, I couldn’t look –“
“It’s alright. Doesn’t matter, really,” he interrupts her again, trying to calm her as well as himself. “Foggy can tell me later. Let’s try and make it through this lecture without giving him any more excuses,” he says darkly and can hear her nod next to him, Em at least managing to keep her composure well enough.
Later on, he is walking back to the dorm, letter firmly shoved into his messenger bag. The black collar is gone, too, buried deep beneath everything crunched on top of it. Matt can feel his fists clenching around the cane he picked up again, muscles yearning to turn the stick into a weapon. He tries to banish the sensation from his mind as he arrives back at the dorm, calming himself for a moment before he enters.
“Foggy? I’m back.”
“Yeah? How did it go?” Matt supposes something has to be showing on his face because Foggy immediately adds, “…oh. That badly, huh?”
“I got a letter. From the lecturer, for interrupting class.”
“Oh fuck. What kind of letter?” Foggy’s voice is a mixture of concern and dread, and Matt hands the paper over.
“I don’t know,” he lies. “He wouldn’t tell me.”
Matt knows by now what the letter says. He supposes the lecturer took pleasure in the thought of him being terrified because he would have to deliver the note to Foggy without knowing its contents and being twice as scared sick because of it. Matt had, pretend-absently, run his fingers over it back at his seat, though, figured its contents, and concluded they were survivable. Not that he was looking forward to giving them to Foggy, though. There is the crumple of the paper being unfolded again and Foggy standing still as his eyes are likely darting across the page, until there is a gasp and -
“He wants me to whip you?” Foggy, bless his heart, somehow still sounds incredulous at what any other slave owner by now would know as standard protocol.
“It is a fairly common punishment.” Matt shrugs. “I’ll survive.”
“Like hell are you gonna-!” Foggy starts protesting but then catches himself. “Wait, what does that mean? ‘See back for details’?”
Matt hears Foggy turning the letter over, sounding confused and he supposes that scene could even be funny if the rage wasn’t still burning so hot.
Well. Actually, with Foggy here, there is actually a small part of him that apparently considers this still a little bit funny. Matt stops the edges of his mouth from twitching because he is pretty sure Foggy won’t find this remotely comical, but he clears his throat anyway.
“Foggy. Stop. He didn’t mean the back of the letter.”
Foggy wants to say something, but before he can, Matt turns around and crosses his arms in front of his torso, lifting his hoodie halfway and baring the skin of his lower back.
“…dude. What the fuck,” is all Foggy manages after a second and Matt drops the hoodie again. “He wrote on you?”
Matt doesn’t say anything, because what do you reply to that.
“It…didn’t hurt?” he tries, at last. “What does it say?”
“It says ‘fifteen lashes. Hard.’,” Foggy replies, tonelessly. “That guy is sick.”
Matt can feel his eye brows drawing together. Fifteen lashes weren’t the most he had ever received but that would still hurt quite a bit.
He doesn’t know whether Foggy giving him them will make it better or worse.
“That is…a bit,” he manages, keeping his voice even with effort. “But if you’re careful, you can spread them out –”
“Matt, are you insane?” Foggy asks, incredulously. “I’m not going to whip you.” He roughly straightens the paper and slams it on the desk instead, grasping a pen to scrawl as furiously across it as the lecturer had across Matt’s back. “There. First account of bearing false witness, I guess. Lawyer career already off to a great start.”
“The next slave lecture is next week,” Matt points out. “He will likely check. Make an example out of me,” he adds, cynicism dripping from his words. “You could get in trouble for not ‘disciplining’ me.”
“Seriously? What an asshole,” Foggy curses under his breath. “But, wait.” He reaches out to grab Matt’s arm. “Guy doesn’t know about this very special skill set I was famous for in High School.” He turns his head and favours Matt with what sounds like a very broad grin. “I’m going to make you bleed, Matty.”
To be continued...
There, hope you liked! More coming soonish, and if you read, please review :D
“What did you interrupt class with, anyway? Breathing?” Foggy asks later as they are walking back to their dorm from a lecture together.
“Kevin’s slave. Em.” Matt says, grimly. “She knocked something down, sounded like a writing pad. I said it had been me.”
“So the lecturer thought that a blind person had knocked something down and they still….” Foggy grits his teeth. “Assholes.”
(Matt thinks there is also a ‘Martyr’ and maybe even a ‘idiot hero’ in there as well, but they’ve had this discussion, and Foggy knows by now which battles aren’t worth fighting.)
Right now, Matt is very aware that his back is still unscathed and he can move as fluidly as ever, even though the next lecture is in a week. Foggy hasn’t shared his plans yet with him, but, somehow, Matt finds he can’t worry altogether too much. It’s a curious side-effect of being with Foggy that makes him worry…less, he finds.
(And besides - he is far more worried about Em…)
“10-4-1964! I mean the clumsy ass from last time! Down here!” the lecturer barks his number the next week and Matt slowly rises and walks very stiffly down the aisle toward the teacher.
“I hope your owner did his homework,” the lecturer greets him as he ascends slowly the three stairs to the small teaching stage. “Have you brought the signed letter?”
“Yes, sir,” Matt says, voice carefully level as he holds out the paper that Foggy signed as acknowledged in a furious scrawl. (Matt had perhaps enjoyed running his fingertips over that signature afterwards a bit too much.)
“Right.” There is a rustling of paper as the lecturer unfolds the letter, looks at it and then tosses it onto his desk. “Then bend over. Ass to the audience. Legs straight, hands on your knees.”
Matt tries not to look too nervous as he does. The lecturer strides around him, apparently not in a great hurry. He addresses the auditorium instead.
“Alright. Now, any of you who might have escaped punishment like this before, I’m going to show you what disobedience like that looks a week later. Here,” he calls out, and then roughly yanks Matt’s hoodie up, exposing his back to their audience again, and Matt’s cry of pain mingles with a few gasps of the other slaves in the front rows. Young ones, Matt assumes.
“Yes, looks painful, doesn’t it? And not all of your owners will be so kind to let you treat it afterwards, either,” the lecturer drawls. “I assume he didn’t want you to ruin any of the shirts. Get back to your place, boy,” he adds to Matt – right before his flat hand lands with a wet smack on Matt’s back. “And do it quietly,” he snaps, just as Matt yells out.
Matt gets back to his seat next to Em, who smells suspiciously of salt water.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispers. “I never meant for this to happen.”
“It’s not your fault,” Matt whispers back, equally quietly as he sits down, gingerly and stiff. “All that matters to me is that you kept your promise. Thank you,” he says and means every syllable. She nods briefly, furiously.
“Of course,” she breathes. “If there is anything I can – I can –”
“Don’t let them break you,” Matt replies to the question hanging in the air. “And don’t worry about me,” he gives her the slightest smile. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
He knows it won’t convince her, but it’s all he can afford.
“Did they buy it?”
“Hook, line and sinker,” Matt announces with a quiet smile as he strides through their dorm room, Foggy’s tension-fuelled heartbeat having guided him back for the last ten minutes.
“Hah! I knew that extracurricular would pay off!”
“I concede the majesty of your drama club skills,” Matt replies, evenly. “But now please help me take it off, or the itching will drive me insane.”
“Philistine. No appreciation for art,” Foggy says, but he rises and steps around Matt, lifting the back of his hoodie and beginning to peel off the bandage. “Uh, gross. I know we went for realism, but that fake blood has by now started to congeal like real stuff. And smells about as appetizing.”
“Yes, Foggy. I’m the one who had to walk around with it,” Matt says dryly, and Foggy snorts.
(Foggy still remembers putting it on earlier this morning. He had returned with the necessary shopping the previous day, the bag full of liquid latex, brushes and a make-up palette meant for Halloween heavy in his hand. And then watched youtube-tutorials with headphones long after Matt had already dozed off in the night, somehow relaxed in the presence of the person who was technically supposed to whip him bloody in the morning.)
“Necessary for complete deception, though,” Foggy says as he pulls the rest of the extremely large compress off that covers the majority of Matt’s lower back (but deliberately not all of it). It’s stained both with fake and with real (pig’s) blood (it never hurt to have friends in the agricultural department), and it looked apparently real and disgusting enough that it convinced the lecturer of the severity of the wounds beneath.
(“Alright,” Foggy had said only six hours ago, making sure his voice sounded confident. “Let’s do this.”
Matt had tilted his head at him, as if considering. “Foggy,” he’d said, “If you’re worried this might not work, we could-“
“Yeah, no,” Foggy had cut him off. “I’m not going to let this fucker turn us into what he wants us to be.”
And Matt had smiled. “Alright,” he’d said. “How do you want me, then?”
(And oh, how Foggy had had to concentrate on the most disgusting images from the tutorials at this point.)
“Get a towel, put it on the bed and lie down on it. I’ll need access to your lower back from about the middle down.”
Foggy had sat on the edge of the bed and laid out the make-up tools as Matt had gotten the towel out and slipped off his shirt, lying down on his front, head cushioned sideways on his arms, managing to avoid bumping into Foggy or the make-up stuff with his usual uncanny accuracy around their dorm. Foggy had shifted down to sit next to his hips, noticing in passing how Matt hadn’t actually bothered to remove his collar for this, the band of leather a thin red line across the back of his neck.
“Okay,” he’d said (proud how he thought he actually sounded fairly even) “I’ll start with wiping down your skin with soap to make it easier for the latex to stick.”
“I appreciate the commentary, but you don’t have to describe every step, Foggy. I trust you and I trust you know what you’re doing.”
Matt’s voice had almost sounded amused, but it still took more effort than usual to shoot back with “I’ll comment as much as I want to, Murdock, otherwise how will you know to be properly impressed with this work of art I’m gonna be producing here,” although it at least let Matt chuckle like this was one of their average Saturdays.
After that, Foggy had mostly let his mouth run on autopilot, talking about some of their classmates, his views on last week’s episode of Agents of F.I.E.L.D (a series about a secret agency investigating mostly agriculture-based mutants and meta-humans in a rural setting in Kansas) and his plans for lunch tomorrow, trying to ignore how his hands were touching his best friend like they hadn’t for almost two years since the day he’d gotten him.
There were differences, of course – the back that Foggy was working on now was relaxed under his ministrations, not stiff with pain and tense with wariness like it had been back then. Also, Foggy couldn’t help noticing how Matt had definitely grown stronger, shoulders noticeably broader and muscle filling in the spaces that had looked malnourished and scrawny when he’d been given to Foggy.
At this, Foggy had almost felt a surge of irrational pride rearing up within him, that this was what he had accomplished, this was his work of a beautiful and trusting slave on his bed, and then crushed that feeling immediately with extreme disgust and prejudice. This is what this system does to you, he’d reminded himself. Don’t give in.
“You gotta let me in on your workout regime some day, buddy,” he’d said instead, trying to sound light-hearted and impressed. “That’s some serious muscle you’ve put on.”
Matt had let out an amused huff. “Gotta tell you right now, it involves a whole lot of hitting the same thing over and over again and not much in the way of intellectual stimulation.”
“Urgh. Why can’t our bodies be made to put on muscle while watching Netflix? That too much to ask?” Foggy had sighed mournfully while Matt had snorted. After that, Foggy had tried to focus more on the still faintly visible scars on Matt’s back from previous whipping injuries and thought about how he was technically supposed to add more to them and that had definitely helped to suppress any feelings of possessiveness, instead replacing them with much easier to handle emotions, like white-hot anger for all pro-slavery assholes in this world. Maybe he should work out with Matt if only to lower his blood pressure.
Matt’s nose had twitched as the latex milk had been opened and again when the paints and fake blood liquids had come out – Foggy had supposed not for the first time that his slave’s sense of smell must be quite strong, so he’d offered a sympathetic apology for the olfactory qualities of the procedure.
“Considering the alternative, I think I’m quite well-off, thank you,” Matt had said, dryly, “I just didn’t think it’d take this long.”
“Like I said, creating art here, buddy,” Foggy had replied, and carefully continued to paint pain on his friend’s skin, adding hurt and indignity and breaches of trust with every stroke of the brush. Hands steady with a soul raging, their modus operandi from day one.
As he'd painted, he'd also wondered - had Matt really thought Foggy would be capable of hurting him, when suggesting they do that whipping punishment in earnest? There is a part of him that hopes that this is less of an indicator of Matt still thinking of him as a potentially violent owner and more of an indicator of Matt simply being the kind of person that suspects he is always going to wind up hurt anyway and therefore willingly throws himself into it. Maybe even if he had never been a slave, Foggy would like to think.
Then he'd sighed and gotten up.
“Alright, lie there for ten minutes to give the colours some time to dry, then I’ll put the bandage on. Just hope the pig's blood hasn’t congealed yet. And I’m glad I helped out in a butchery because if I hadn’t, this would be seriously gross.”
“An artist needs to be committed to his masterpiece,” Matt had said, solemnly, and then uprighted himself on his elbows, head tracking Foggy through the room where he was rummaging for the tube of pig blood. “How do I look?”
Foggy had turned his head for a moment, gauging the scene from a few metres distance – his slave, prone and half naked with a back that’s been mutilated like it’s 1000 B.C, but still smiling at him, like a friend – “like my worst nightmare,” Foggy had replied with a bit of a swallow, and then added with a lop-sided smile, “but we’ll fool them like no tomorrow.”)
As it is now, six hours after applying the latex, Matt’s skin underneath the bandage is sweaty and sticky, and still has the (very, very faint) last bits of sharpie colour on it that even extensive scrubbing in the shower hadn’t gotten off (and oh, how Matt had tried), but it’s also smooth and unhurt and whole, and the fact that Matt can snicker as Foggy lightly flicks him on that spot, telling him ‘Alright, Murdock, now go grab a shower and wash that gunk off so we can go out and celebrate another week of sticking it to the system!’ almost lets Matt forget his anger and the memory of Em’s fear.
They almost settle into…a normalcy after that, Foggy thinks you could call it. The third slave lecture passes without much happening, besides Matt being tight-lipped as usual about it.
(Matt doesn’t tell Foggy about how he’d after the lecture let Em in on the fact that most of the restrictions the lecturer had placed on them were effectively legally bullshit; the university, as a public institution, can’t forbid slaves from going anywhere - like walking or sitting on the campus lawns for instance - where normal citizens would be allowed to go. It’s a safeguard in the legal system to ensure that slave owners can send their slaves for errands anywhere they please, so it’s the most grotesque of anti-discrimination laws that ensures slaves possessing the necessary permits have to be served in stores and be allowed access to all places citizens can go – the only person able to legally prevent them from doing so is their owner. Em had looked at him, her voice in slight awe.
“You…how do you know all that?”
Matt had shrugged. “I’m Foggy’s study-aid. He’s interested in slavery law, so even if I weren’t interested in the subject myself it’d be my job to learn about details like that. And even if Foggy weren’t interested, it’s fairly surprising what you can learn whenever your owner puts a law textbook in your hand and isn’t looking over your shoulder half of the time. They do grow laxer the longer they own you,” he’d pointed out.
“I…that could be true, yeah,” Em had said, voice sounding slightly less shaky than two weeks ago. The third slave lecture had ended ahead of schedule, so they were able to take their time to return to their owners (or at least that was a consideration for Em – Foggy, of course, wouldn’t punish him if Matt spontaneously decided to go on a city expedition to find New York’s best kebap and return at 2am (though he’d likely complain for Matt not getting one for him), a privilege Matt was always sharply aware of, but even more so in her company.
He had already managed to exchange his visible collar for the invisible one behind the gym, listening to Em’s faint ‘Oh’ at the sight of a slave so easily taking off what for her had to be a something almost physically part of a person. Matt had found out by now that while she hadn’t been born into slavery, her father (apparently a college professor?) and older sister had died in an accident when she was two and her mother had then died of an illness when she was three – but since she was so young and therefore still malleable, she’d been groomed to be a slave from the start, albeit one specifically slated to become a study aid since demands for them were rising. (Probably a result of her father having been a college professor, Matt supposed. Slave merchants were always a big believer in ‘genetics’ and ‘breeding pedigree’, hence why his price as the son of a boxer had been so ridiculously low he’d been so surprised to end up as a study-aid still).
That said, it explained why Em had been so shell-shocked at learning that Matt even as a slave was capable to pass as a free person, interacting easily with everyone else in their group project, even Kevin, adding arguments of value to any discussion and cutting down even free people with superior arguments of his own. But it did speak for her general intelligence and resilience that she seemed to have mostly overcome that shock now and managed to talk with Matt despite it.
“I’ve had a couple more years experience than you,” Matt had said, gently, “Owners’ vigilance around you almost always slips with time.”
“Ah, yeah, you’d know,” Em said with what sounded almost like a bit of a hopeful smile in her voice. “I’m glad you’re better, too.”
“It’s in your owner’s interest to let you heal up quickly,” Matt had deflected, before adding, “Plus, Foggy has no upper-body strength for whipping to speak of.”
Em had burst out in an almost nervous giggle then, which Matt had counted as a success – making fun of Foggy in front of others is not his favourite thing, but if it teaches Em that owners aren’t gods, that they have flaws that can give you an edge, if he can take at least even a bit of her fear away, then even Foggy would probably consider this worth it.)
The trial about Foggy’s assault comes and goes, earning them a fine and a lecture from Foggy’s birthmother (who at least seems pleased by the way Matt conducted himself during the process, saying he might turn out to be a fine investment at some point in the future. Matt and Foggy both studiously avoid telling her that Matt will likely turn out to have been the biggest money sink in the Nelson family history.) The group project from hell with Kevin continues, with Matt being inexplicably somehow both more twitchy and protective of Em in Kevin’s presence, even though he almost always hides it in some frankly terrifying pro-slavery rhetoric, and while Foggy is glad that Em at least doesn’t seem to get worse during the semester, both of them can feel their powerless rage at her treatment and none of them quite know how to deal with it, either. Foggy is fairly sure that he is far better at repressing and compartmentalizing this stuff than Matt is, he just isn’t quite sure whether that makes him a worse person.
Foggy also doesn’t know whether this was how his mother ever thought it would go when she bought him a blind house slave to make his stay at university easier. Like, he knows Matt does his best. He is trained as a house slave, so he cooks on the weekends, and he irons and makes beds, and he washes Foggy’s clothes (well, washed them. In their first semester. Once. And then Foggy’s whites were all very fetching pinks, and he gently persuaded Matt that he’d rather do their laundry on his own. And as soon as he will be able to forget Matt’s broken whisper of ‘Please don’t sell me’ when that happened afterwards, Foggy thinks that maybe one day, that memory will even be funny.) and he cleans their room as best as he can.
They don’t sit on top of each other every day – Matt goes out to the gym, or Mass, or walkabout every other week or so, and, later on in their third semester, a devil wearing Prada sits behind Foggy in corporate law and whispers ‘Hey’, and he spends about a third of the following nights at hers.
One day, when Matt comes out of the shower, he is too blissed out to pay attention to much, having released his habitual focus on his senses for a few minutes of relaxation. He finds the towel to wrap around his waist by touch and memory, his ‘world of fire’ no longer sharp-edged but a blurry, non-helpful mess of sounds around him. But it’s fine. He doesn’t have to focus here, in their dorm. He’s with Foggy. He’s safe. Safe enough, even, to walk around with his collar on display, which is hanging loosely around his throat as he opens the door of their bathroom, planning to grab the fresh clothes from his bed – when suddenly, the other door in the room also opens and a wave of perfume smashes into him just as a voice cuts in right after, “Hey Foggy! I think we’re about due for some study-time…?”
And then there’s a cry of “Matt! SHIRT!” from Foggy, leaping up from his chair, Matt’s heart jumping into his throat as he rears backwards, for a second horribly disoriented, which isn’t helped by Foggy throwing a shirt into his face as he staggers back into the bathroom, Foggy slamming the door shut in his face just as Marci’s poking her head forward and sounds like she’s frowning.
“What the hell, guys?”
“It’s uh, it’s, uh, just…Matt. He wasn’t…decent. He’s a bit…shy. Yeah,” Foggy says, cautiously, as Marci is walking into the room.
“Uh, yeah, I am. Sorry,” Matt says, now poking out of the bathroom. He has scrambled into the T-shirt (it’s one of Foggy’s, so it’s ridiculously large on him, and an old training pants from the basket with the unfolded laundry, but his collar is well-hidden now and that’s all that matters).
“Are you,” Marci says, non-plussed. “well, from what I saw, I don’t think you’ve got reason to be, but hey,” she cuts herself off. “You don’t have to worry about me up and ravishing you anyway, Murdock. I’m here for Foggy-bear only.”
“Oh,” Matt manages.
Then there’s a pause, where he slowly turns his head toward his owner.
“…Wait. Did she just say Foggy-bear?”
“Get dressed, take your books and go to the library,” Foggy manages without actually separating his teeth as Matt’s lips start to dangerously twitch, threatening to erupt into a serious giggle fit as Foggy snaps a “and that’s not an option!” at him after that. But Matt is still grinning as he works to quickly obey, and Marci raises an eyebrow when he’s changed and ready to leave them not five minutes later, stating “Wow. I wish my roommate would listen that well.”
“Yeah, me and Foggy have an arrangement that works pretty decently,” Matt states cheerfully in passing, figuring it’s more the adrenaline high that he’s riding now, but he’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts.
(It lasts for about another quarter of an hour is what he figures out later, when he is actually sitting in the library as ordered (well, not technically ordered. Foggy has no experience whatsoever and the order was only to go to the library, not stay there, but since Matt is in a good mood and had pretty much been planning to do this anyway, he doesn’t mind obeying the spirit as well as the letter of the command, and therefore looks for a place to sit and try to concentrate on torts again).
It would be nice if he hadn’t been ordered out of the room so abruptly, since his hair is still slightly damp which doesn’t mix well with the cool air in here, but hey, he figures, if these are his current problems, his life is actually going exceptionally well, considering. He also gets a text after about half an hour, mostly stating ‘Non-optional order rescinded, go anywhere you want – call me ‘Foggy-bear’ again and consider yourself permanently exiled’. Matt snorts and, hair dry by now, stays at the library for another hour anyway.)
He senses Em coming in later, sitting down at a table with a pile of books and evidently writing some sort of paper for Kevin, who, thankfully, is nowhere to be sensed. She smells bruised but not bleeding, but apparently still able to work with concentration, judging by the way she types and leafs through the books with determination and precision. Matt hopes it’s an indicator that Kevin is using her for more cerebral work by now at least, illegally letting her write his papers and understands that for them to be good, she needs at least adequate food and sleep. Matt makes a decision and gets up.
“Hey,” he whispers quietly as he sits down next to her, placing a water bottle and a snack from his bag on her desk. “You have a few minutes?”
She flinches for a moment as he invades her space, but closes her mouth before she can make a sound. They’re in a fairly secluded part of the library – Matt isn’t surprised, both of them instinctively always gravitating to spaces with less people around – so they should be able to get away with a whispered conversation without attracting the ire of other students or librarians.
“I…yes,” she whispers back. “Is that...are those for me?” she asks, probably looking at the food and drink he brought.
“Yeah. They never feed you enough, do they?” Matt asks, the question rhetoric and matter-of-fact. She silently shakes her head – Matt thinks that after the slave lectures she’s assuming that he is mostly only vision-impaired, which makes for a convenient explanation of how he’d have been able to recognize her walking past his desk in the library.
“Thank you,” she says and it sounds honest. “Are you…better now?” she asks, tone still terribly guilty.
“Ah, yes. Actually, Foggy used some trickery. I was never hurt that badly,” Matt admits. Over the past few weeks during the group project Em hasn’t had let anything slip pertaining to his true status, so he figures she can keep a secret.
“No,” she breathes instead. “Really? My god, he must be a dream owner.”
“He is,” Matt agrees. “I’m sorry about Kevin,” he adds more quietly. “I’ve had owners like him.”
“And you survived. That gives me hope,” Em says, and her voice is equal parts brittle and cynic. Then she sighs. “It’s actually gotten a bit better. Since you kept reminding him to keep me efficient, there’s more food and sleep now.” She briefly pinches the skin above her nose. “Except now I also have to write his papers,” she sighs. “Does your owner make you do his, too?”
“No,” Matt replies. “I occasionally did it for my last owner, though. It’s usually a good thing. Makes you more valuable.” (And he really doesn’t know how to feel about this – he can’t talk about things like this with Foggy, because anything reminding his owner how Matt is really his property first and anything else second makes Foggy incredibly uncomfortable, so Matt usually avoids any conversational topics that have to do with his own thoughts about his status. Talking like this with Em, who understands, is both…freeing and utterly depressing at the same time.)
“That would be nice,” Em sighs. “At least he isn’t so…focused on me anymore. Now he is chasing some girl called Jessica. And we’re spending the next semester abroad. Maybe it’ll at least be warmer there,” she says, quietly.
“Abroad?” Matt asks. “Where are you going?” He feels a bit apprehensive that he won’t be able to check in on Em any more, but then again, he knows that if anything were to happen to her here he would be just as powerless as when she is overseas.
“Barcelona, Spain. I think it were the last few papers that I wrote for him that got him that scholarship to go there.”
“Do you speak Spanish?” Matt asks. “Foggy let me take some classes. Maybe Kevin will let you, too? It’s useful if you can become his translator – lets you guide some conversations, sometimes.”
Em huffs. “I know one important phrase, at least. Viva la revolución, right?” she says, and it’s gallows humour with barely any fighting spirit behind it, but Matt knows that in some circumstances, that’s all you have.
To be continued...
Here you go! :) Hope you like, if you read, please review (always interested to hear what you liked or any questions), and Happy early Easter! :D
Their fourth semester starts off strong. The group project from hell has finished and, incredibly, their grades are still good.
(Em is abroad with Kevin now, and, while Matt sometimes thinks of her with his stomach screwing up with worry, he knows that you simply can’t let yourself start caring about other slaves too much, because what inevitably happens to them is what lets other slaves that cared about them walk onto the middle of highways at night. Neither him nor Foggy ever developed a relationship with Kevin that would make it plausible to shoot him an email about how it’s going and casually inquire about Em, so Matt mostly just hits harder against sandsacks at night and hopes she makes it back next semester.)
Marci is still swanning in and out of their dorm room and so far doesn’t suspect a thing about Matt – is, in fact, fun to be around and if she does give Matt accidental orders, Foggy usually manages to deflect them with a casual, “Matt, you know you don’t have to do that – yeah, she’s a girl, but she’s not your boss. Let chivalry be dead for once,” that doesn’t sound too out of place.
(In fact, Foggy had even found Matt at some point not long after having sent him to the library for some private time with Marci, and had made awkward, fragmented small-talk for an entire fifteen minutes until Matt had interrupted him, asking what the hell was up - had Marci somehow gravely wounded him in a private place and now he needed help? - and Foggy had gritted his teeth and managed,
"I'm...sorry for giving you an official order. That was...probably not that cool."
Matt had studied him for a moment. Foggy had sounded contrite and awkward, and it once again struck Matt how incredibly odd this entire situation was - his owner - his owner - standing in front of him, by the position of his head not even quite comfortable looking at his face, and apologizing. For sending him to the library.
Matt huffed out a laugh.
"No, it isn't."
"Um. Yes. It is. What are you gonna do, give me another official order not to contradict you?" Matt had asked, a small smile tugging at his lips as Foggy's head had finally snapped back up at his teasing tone, wide-eyed by the stretch of his ocular muscles, mouth slightly open.
"What - but - Matt, that isn't supposed to be funny, here-"
"I know," Matt had said, easy tone surprising even himself. "But making incredibly not funny things funny is the one thing we're good at, so."
(Humour, he knows, is the one place systems like the one they're in can't reach. Their first moment of connection was a single, stupid joke, after all. And, by now, even Foggy using his ultimate power over him, had felt less demeaning and more...amusing he thinks with slight wonder, simply because he felt so sure that nothing bad could ever come from it...)
"So yeah," he says, "I thought it was funny."
"But - Matt, I did that because I was horny."
"That made it funnier."
"You're impossible," Foggy runs a hand over his face. "I feel bad enough as it is. Please, just accept the stupid apology."
"And would that be an official order, sir?"
"Oh for fuck's sake, Matt.")
However, it’s not long after the term has started that Foggy starts catching Matt having trouble speaking and/or breathing whenever a certain Greek girl is around, so Foggy watches this for two weeks until he corners his roommate and tells him that if he doesn’t take his collar off for the night and goes over to talk to her, Foggy will cuff and leash him and drag him to her himself.
(Actually, when he does that, Matt looks into his direction so utterly shell-shocked that Foggy for a moment curses himself and then immediately verbally scrambles backwards.
“No! No, shit, Matt, that was a joke – no, you know, let’s go back to our dorm. Maybe this is a conversation we should have in private,” he says, gently pulling at Matt’s arm and Matt latches on automatically, trusting, so Foggy hopes it’s not that bad yet when he guides them back to their room, away from the tables in the cafeteria where they had been sitting while Matt had been busy making his equivalent of heart eyes at the mentioned girl. Foggy doesn’t even know how he knew where she was.
“Alright, sit down,” he says as he closes the door and watches Matt walk and perch uneasily on the edge of his bed. Foggy is glad he knows that Matt by now refuses orders he doesn’t like, so the fact that he does sit hopefully indicates that he isn’t so uncomfortable that he’d rather up and run than have this conversation. Which, Foggy realizes more and more, is something that is likely an absolute minefield considering what Matt has probably been through.
But still, they need to have this talk, so he steels himself and takes a breath.
“Okay. We can stop this if it makes you feel uncomfortable. But I think we need to talk about…” he swallows. “Do you or do you not want to have sex with people?”
He can hear his own heart beating in his chest like he’s just been running a marathon (well, okay, no. If he had just run a marathon, Foggy would be dead. But his heart is still at least pumping like he’s just run from his dorm to the lecture hall at the other end of the campus, which he knows he can do, and when he does, it feels like this) and apparently Matt can sense that, too, or maybe he heard the tremble in Foggy’s words, because when he speaks it’s in his ‘calm-irrationally-scared-owner-down’-voice, and Foggy is a bit embarrassed that this is apparently a thing enough that he can already recognize Matt’s signature tone for it.
“Foggy,” he says, swallowing, and then he pauses, taking his glasses off and rubbing the bridge of his nose, before ‘looking’ at Foggy again, uncovered and unfocused brown eyes slightly off to the left of his face. Foggy doesn’t say anything, but he feels that this might mean something, and he doesn’t know how to react. “Foggy, I know you’re not going to use me against my will,” Matt says, and Foggy can hear how he’s deliberately keeping his voice calm, as if he needs to hear this as much as Foggy does. “And yes, I was expecting you would at first – before I knew you. And I’m grateful you never did,” he says, and his lips twitch in a smile as he holds a hand up when Foggy opens his mouth to automatically protest, that this isn’t something anyone should need to be grateful for, when it’s basic human decency to not rape people, but Matt’s smile says he already knows that this is exactly what Foggy wants to say, and it’s okay. He knows.
Foggy’s mouth snaps shut again.
“I’m not scared of you, Foggy,” Matt says, still that same calm tone, even though this is actually another risk for him – Foggy guesses that this phrase alone could be an invitation for an owner to feel like he is being slighted, how a lack of fear would usually be interpreted as a lack of respect, but Matt doesn’t look like he’s scared of this at all. In retrospect, Foggy considers that Matt has often shown himself to be insanely bold and fearless in his trust in Foggy, and he’s always amazed anew at the bravery.
“You looked pretty deer-in-the-headlights when I made that stupid joke about gift-wrapping you and giving you to her, though,” he points out, swallowing. “Matt, I would never-“
“No,” Matt says quickly, “I know you wouldn’t, Foggy. I wasn’t scared when you said that, I was surprised that you would…want me to do that. Or allow me to,” he licks his lips, briefly, obviously trying to figure out how to word the next sentence, gaze unfocussed, but serious. “I know you’re not using me, but the idea that you wouldn’t mind anybody else doing it instead was…unexpected.”
“Well, I don’t want anybody to use you,” Foggy tries, the phrasing feeling horrible and wrong in his mouth. “I want…I want you to feel like you can do whatever you want with your body, including getting your rocks off. Um,” He grimaces, very glad that Matt can’t see him. “Not just by yourself but with a partner, too.”
Matt blinks at him. “Uh. You mean you don’t mind me…taking care of myself?”
“Wait, what?” Foggy croaks. “Matt, I’ve owned you for more than a year, now. Please don’t tell me you haven’t –“
Matt swallows. “Well, no.”
When Foggy continues gawking instead of saying something, he quickly adds, “It’s fine, Foggy. Just, uh, a little bit of a strain…sometimes. But I didn’t mind that much – don’t forget, I grew up in a Catholic orphanage,” he tries to joke, but it comes out awkwardly.
“Jesus,” Foggy finally mutters. “Matt, I didn’t know that. I’d have assumed you’ve been, well,” Foggy waves, desperate to be somewhere else right now, “having fun.”
Oh. No. Matt is actually looking embarrassed now. But he doesn’t look scared which is an achievement. His slave shuffles a bit on the bed before he replies. “Um. Most owners don’t want you taking care of yourself.” His expressions darkens. “It keeps you on a hair trigger and almost glad when they use you, which is what makes them feel more impressive when they do. I didn’t…I didn’t know…what you expected of me,” he says, and then tilts his head toward Foggy in what has to be the most heart-breaking way possible. “I didn’t want to…um, make things awkward.”
“Oh well I'm sure glad that didn't happen," Foggy mutters under his breath, before adding "Jesus, Matt," more loudly. His friend must have the self-denial of a saint, that’s for sure. “I don’t…” he starts off, then swallows. He absolutely has to get this right, and he doesn’t want to scare Matt. Unfortunately, Matt also seems to somehow have a knack for knowing when Foggy is telling the truth, so Foggy can’t say he doesn’t want to have sex with Matt, because he does. And every day that Matt acts more like a free person, smiles at Foggy, uncoerced and carefree, just makes it worse.
“I’m all for you doing whatever you want. With whomever you want,” he stresses, while Matt’s eye brows continue to rise. “And as for me, I’d never, ever have sex with someone who isn’t very enthusiastically willing to,” he says instead, hoping it makes it clear enough. When Matt actually cracks a smile at his serious tone, though, his answer is slightly surprising.
“I know, Foggy.”
Matt gives a small shrug. “You might not remember it, but there was a night where you were very, very drunk. There were even people propositioning you to loan me out for the night. You told them to go fuck themselves because you wouldn’t force me to do anything.”
“…I did?” Foggy asks weakly, because he doesn’t remember this night at all.
“Yup. And I knew that was true because you were absolutely pissed and couldn’t tell your arse from your ears, but you still knew that,” Matt says, and now his smile is actually turning into a grin, and Foggy is torn between sputtering in protest, and wanting to draw Matt into a hug, because there is so much fondness and trust radiating here that he doesn’t know how to deal with it.
“Right!” he says instead, “Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean at all that you have to go without, uh,” Foggy says. “Because that would be cruel. I mean, uh, you don’t have to – I mean, do you…do you want to? Not with me, obviously. But just. In general?” Foggy manages and only halfway wants to stick his head in the oven, so that is an improvement.
“Eloquent, councillor,” Matt says, grin just a little bit wry now, which Foggy takes as a cue for an exasperated huff. Someone should give him some credit, he thinks sourly, because he feels like he’s on a pogo stick on a mine field. But it is undeniably progress that Matt still doesn’t look that tense, or scared, like he’s thinking one wrong answer is getting him fucked at the first opportunity. When Foggy remains silent, his grin vanishes again, face turning slightly softer.
“…yes. I think I’d like that. I remember sex feeling good – before.”
Before. Matt’s shorthand for ‘before I got collared and sold on my 18th birthday’, and Foggy never enquires about anything from that timespan that Matt doesn’t volunteer information about by himself.
In the present, Foggy tries not to think too hard or memorize this image of Matt sitting on his bed, smiling, saying I remember sex feeling good.
“Cool. Cool cool cool. That’s…that’s good. That they didn’t ruin that,” Foggy offers.
“I don’t think I’d want to have sex if it means someone else finding out I’m a slave, though,” Matt says, pulling a face. “There’s…too much potential for that to go wrong.”
“Well, don’t tell them. It’s worked so far.”
“I’m informed clothes generally come off during sex. I don’t think I could hide this without a shirt,” Matt says, dryly, tracing the line of the collar beneath the fabric covering his chest. It really is invisible each time until his fingers point it out, but Foggy supposes Matt is aware of its exact position every single second, because he finds it without fault each time.
“Well, excuse yourself to the bathroom before they grope you or rip your clothes off. Just stuff it into your pocket, go back out there and…have fun. Put it on again in the morning or before you leave and none will be the wiser!”
“You…really? You’ve thought about this,” Matt says, wonderingly. “And you honestly wouldn’t mind? Someone else getting to have me when you…“ now he’s the one groping for words, like he still can’t quite wrap his head around the concept.
“No, Matt,” Foggy says patiently. “I don’t think of it like that, I think of it as you having fun, which is what it should be, and I’m always fine with that. Just use protection so we can all spare ourselves a second visit at the doctor’s office, and don’t get anyone pregnant, and you’re fine.”
Matt flinches at the idea of a repeat STD test, and nods quickly.
“Alright.” Foggy breathes a sigh of relief. “Cool. Do we also need a permit? Is there some sort of thing like a sex permit?” he asks, feeling slightly horrified again.
“…no,” Matt says, slowly. “Being used as a fucktoy is sort of in the job description. You don’t need a permit to let your slaves walk around your house or beat them, and you don’t need one for yourself or other people to use them. Which this would be, legally,” Matt pulls a face, clearly not happy at thinking about this like that, either. “The only permit you’d need is if you wanted to breed me with someone.”
Foggy moans something which sounds like ‘I don’t want to live on this planet any more’ before he says, louder, “Well, I don’t. No breeding involved. For anyone. Which is why I’m going to place some more emphasis on the condom issue. You do know how to use them, right?” He says, standing up to rifle around in his nightstand to dig out some foil squares and putting them in Matt’s hand.
Matt’s fingers close around them and he hesitates, briefly, fingers feeling out the circular ridge inside the packaging, lips briefly thinning. Foggy becomes abruptly aware that his dialogue just now was a bit reminiscent of the opening lines in a porn movie, that for someone who could be forced to have sex with Foggy in a heart beat this entire conversation could have been incredibly scary and unsettling, and if Matt says ‘no’ now, all he’d do is give Foggy a perfect, innocent opening to –
But then Matt swallows and says, “No, Foggy,” and then adds, “The nuns weren’t that big on teaching us about protection,” with a small, entirely unworried smile, and Foggy feels like a huge weight has just fallen off his chest.
“Well,” he replies, “Alright, let me go raid the fruit section of the cafeteria, and I’ll be right back…”
(Half an hour later, shortly after Foggy arrived with a bunch of very specific yellow fruit and the announcement of “Alright. Let’s go…bananas,” they’re already ten minutes into a very entertaining practice section involving various items, including a waterbottle, an unfortunate stuffed penguin and a cucumber, down about twenty terrible innuendo-containing puns, and Matt is currently betting him he can get one of those things onto the next helpless item using only his teeth, and Foggy laughs and laughs, and thinks yeah, this could go alright.)
The first morning a very-obviously dishevelled Matt comes back to their dorm, grinning like a loon, Foggy does congratulate himself (although he may regret it just a little in the following months as the Matt Murdock Dating Adventures continue – even if Matt never tells any of his partners about his status and none of his relationships consequently ever last long.)
The only exception to this is Thurgood Marshall, on whom Matt develops a (what Foggy terms) man-crush - “It’s not a crush, Foggy,” Matt protests, “Our love is cerebral and pure.” – and subsequently keeps quoting him at Foggy at every available opportunity throughout their fourth semester. At some point Foggy actually threatens to make use of the muzzle gag Matt came with, which, sadly, by now utterly fails to intimidate Matt who proceeds to quote Thurgood some more.
The only thing that mildly worries Foggy is that Matt seems to have found a particular fondness for the quote ‘You do what you think is right and let the law catch up,’ sometimes sitting with his Braille book open and just staring into the distance as his fingers play over the same line over and over again, but, since Matt does not as of yet seem to be planning to overthrow the entire slavery system by planting a bomb underneath parliament, Foggy mostly tries to be happy that Matt has people he looks up to and that there have always been people who fought the slavery system on legal grounds, like they soon will, too.
When it’s time for Matt’s annual health exam again, Foggy actually calls up a vet, and asks for a letter of health to be mailed to the bureau without Matt having to go again. Before his friend can celebrate, though, Foggy tells him he is still going to have Matt’s teeth checked at the dentist, and promises that when Matt is free the first thing he’ll do is drag him to the dermatologist to get checked for melanoma (‘You’re Irish, Matt, you burn when standing in front of a painting of a sun’) and because Foggy is also there at the dentist's, threatening lawsuits to each and everyone who touches Matt beyond what’s medically absolutely necessary, Matt bears it, with gritted teeth.
But despite Matt working hard to be as independent as he can and trying to take on as big a workload of their chores as he is able, these days, Foggy finds himself often quite busy when it comes to helping Matt getting all the course materials in accessible formats, each semester having to take a trip with him to the Dean’s office to register him for classes and exams, spending about half an hour extra trying to convince Matt when he wants to go out with him, guiding him to new places he needs to get to, washing all their clothes and buying all their groceries, yelling at the bathroom door that Matt has been in there for a hundred minutes, he needs a shower, too, we are both gonna be late, Murdock, and-!
When he can ignore the fucked-up system they’re living in, Foggy has actually never been happier in his life.
This works actually incredibly well until their fifth semester when Em returns.
To be continued...
Well, there you go! It's my birthday, so I thought I'd celebrate it Hobbit-style, which means, *I* give presents to everyone else! (which, because of my birthday mood is also a huge pile of fluff. Let drama resume next chapter) :p Hope you like, and if you read, please review! :D
It’s a slow Saturday afternoon with both of them in their dorm room during the start of their fifth semester (Matt isn't even sure whether Kevin and Em are back yet - it's only the first week, people are still arriving), mostly on-and-off-debating through the bathroom door which movie to watch tonight and which food to order from where, when there is a knock at the door. Matt can feel his breath catch as he realizes he doesn’t recognize the heart beat nor the shape of the visitor. Who would visit them un-announced?
“Matt?” Foggy’s voice comes from the shower. “Can you go see who it is?”
“On it,” Matt calls back as he rises from the writing desk, grabbing his glasses to put them back on. He doesn’t really like opening the door to strangers (no slave does) but he has already figured out that Foggy seems a lot happier the more Matt manages to act like a free person, so figures he can pull himself together once in a while. (It’s not that hard, most of the time. But there’s always, always reminders of what he is not.) He opens the door.
“Hello?” By now, Matt can already sense that the newcomer is young, more like an older teenager than an adult, his statue slim but toned. And there’s also…something really strange about him that he can’t pinpoint…
“Hi. Are you Franklin Nelson?”
“No,” Matt shakes his head. What is someone who sounds like they belong in High School doing on campus? “I’m his roommate.” (Not a lie. ‘Roommate' is not a legally binding nor slave-status contradictory term, they checked.) “Did you want to talk to him?”
“His roommate? There’s three of you living in here?” the kid tilts his head and is apparently peering past Matt into the dorm room. “Wow, I had heard college life was tough, but this-“
“Can I help you?” Matt cuts him off, now just getting slightly uncomfortable (and impatient). What is this kid talking about? “I can take a message for Fo- Franklin, or-“
“Matt?!” Now the water has stopped running in the shower and Foggy calls out. “Who is it?”
“Oh, hello! Franklin Nelson?” the teenager calls out, tilting his head into the direction of the bathroom. “My name is Peter Parker, I’m doing a report for the Bugle on slave study aids and-woah!“
Matt had mostly reacted on instinct, but somehow, things haven’t quite worked out the way he intended. His hand had shot forward to grab Parker by the front of his shirt, his intention mostly to pull him inside and slam the door shut before anybody else heard what he had been saying, but Parker has somehow reacted even faster, moving to block Matt’s grip with an uncanny speed and strength even as he gives a surprised gasp at his own reaction. The result of this is that Matt has now managed to awkwardly grab onto Parker’s upper arm instead, shifting his weight onto the wrong foot and now Parker is lacking the stance to support himself adequately, which mostly means a combined ‘AGH!’ from the both of them, and so when Foggy, halfway dressed, finally pokes his head out of the bathroom, what greets him is a tangle of two completely disoriented people flailing on top of each other on their dorm room floor.
“Oh god, oh god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to fall on top of you, oh wow, also I just noticed that you’re blind, seriously, how can I be screwing up my interview this hard already, why-”
Matt has mostly managed to resist the reflex of using their fall as an opportunity to put Parker into a choke-hold on the floor, but now his situation isn’t technically that much better and he is also wondering why Stick’s training hadn’t exactly ever included situations like this.
“Shit. So sorry. So sorry. Oh god, I hope my camera isn’t broken. Uh, I think your glasses are on my foot now. Here. Sorry.”
Parker is now shifting on top of him and Matt notices something touching his hand, which is evidently the boy attempting to hand him back his sunglasses.
“Thanks,” Matt answers, at least verbal reflexes working. “I’m…sorry, I must have tripped, there. If you would also let me up, please…?” he tries, and Parker reacts immediately.
“Uh, yeah. ‘course.” He scrambles off Matt, (Matt noticing only in passing how heavy the kid is for his statue, mostly hard muscle, then) and then holds out a hand to help him.
“Hand at two o’clock, Matt,” Foggy supplies, bemusedly, before turning to Parker himself.
“Uh, you said you were here to do what?”
“Oh, um, yeah. Right!” Parker seems to brighten up again. “Actually, I was hoping I could interview you and maybe your slave about the living conditions of study aid slaves. But he’s not here right now, is he…?” Parker asks, turning his head like he’s surveying their little kingdom (all 20 sqm of it, most of it occupied by their two beds, two desks, the cupboard, the kitchen niche and the TV already) and then the muscles in his forehead pull together like he’s frowning. “…oh. Right. He wouldn’t have a bed, would he?”
The tone of the teenager sounds strange, controlled, Matt can’t really tell what the emotion was behind that sentiment. What he can sense is that Foggy is getting ever more fidgety, though.
“Most slaves don’t, I’m told,” Foggy says curtly. “And I’m sorry, but you wanted to do what? Interview me? Who sent you?”
“Uh, no one,” Parker says, shuffling slightly like he’s feeling uncomfortable under Foggy’s scrutiny. “I mean,” he clarifies, “I work for the Bugle. I wanted to do an article about the living circumstances of study aid slaves. I thought interviewing people with direct experience would be best.”
“You work for the Daily Bugle?” Foggy asks, tone still suspiscious. “What, are they hiring straight from middle school, now?”
“I mostly sell them photographs, okay?” Parker snaps back, sounding slightly defensive. “And I also write for the newspaper of my school. My High School,” he stresses, trying to suppress a definitely offended undertone in his voice, before he evidently manages to get his temper under control again, continuing more earnestly. “But I also figured if I had a really good article around, maybe one of the editors at the Bugle I know would want to print it. And this should be printed.”
“A regular Clark Kent, huh?” Foggy asks, still sounding unimpressed.
For some reason, the laugh that Parker gives at that sounds just this side of nervous. “Oh, uh, no. I’m not…Superman.”
“Yeah, I know someone else who says that,” Foggy mutters under his breath, before evidently getting back to the topic at hand, voice businesslike once he’s managed to collect his thoughts. “So. School paper or Bugle or whatever. Why did you come here asking for me?”
Parker blinks. “I called up the student office of your university. I asked for a list of the slaves enrolled here, checked who their owners were and you were one of them. Aren’t you?”
The teenager’s heartbeat has been strange from the beginning, but now it skips a beat. “That’s a lie,” Matt says. “That information isn’t available to the general public.”
He is bluffing. Actually, he (and neither does Foggy, judging by the racing pulse of his owner) doesn’t really know how easy it would be to accidentally stumble upon the fact that Matt is enrolled here as a slave and that he is Foggy’s property, but he does know that at least some part of what Parker was saying wasn’t the truth.
There are a few moments of silence…
“…it is, if you know where to look,” Parker hedges. “I mean, I’m a reporter. Or...going to be. Gotta have some skills, right?” he says, attempting what sounds like a smile, but Foggy’s face doesn’t move. The teenager crumples a bit. “Um, okay. Not really getting the impression this is going well. And, er, if your slave isn’t even here right now, maybe I should come back later? Or…” he tilts his head toward Foggy’s face with a wince, “…never?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that last one sounds good,” Foggy says, coldly, and Matt wonders whether he is imagining the slight side-step Foggy takes between Parker and him, which almost feels…protective? “And for your information, my study-aid is currently staying with my family, so he won’t be around this semester.”
“Oh, right. Okay. Um. I…I guess I should leave, th-”
“Wait,” Matt interrupts Parker who already has his hand on the doorknob (Five lashes or no food for the night for interrupting, the voice in his head reminds him, but Matt ignores it out of habit by now. He’s taking a risk here, but he is getting used to the feeling). “Why do you want to write a report about study aid slaves?”
“Oh. Well. It’s…” Parker fumbles with the camera in his hands a little, head tilted downward, so not really looking at Matt or Foggy. “Most of us in my year are about to graduate and enrol in college, so there’s quite a few flyers around, from places you can buy a study aid from, so it’s on a lot of people’s minds. They have been getting more popular.”
“Evidently, judging from my mother’s impulse gift buying decisions,” Foggy adds flatly, and, though Matt knows it’s meant as a joke, he still sometimes can’t fathom the sheer terror of the idea of not having been given to Foggy. He tries to shake off dark visions of himself, lashed, paraded around and fucked raw in some other owner’s hands – Kevin, for instance – and has to make an effort to focus on the conversation again. He’s here, standing safe and clothed and comfortable next to his own bed. He shifts just slightly closer to Foggy, though.
“Yeah,” Parker nods, “so, supply and demand, when you’ve created a market, you need to have study aids to sell. But the more popular ones are obviously the young and pretty ones, so the slave trader lobby has been pushing for reforms of the prison system – like, get more youth offenders sent straight into slavery, especially if their parents can’t be bothered to protest. Or scrap the foster care and adoption system entirely and start straight up selling all the kids taken in by the CPA because their parents are abusive or criminals or junkies or just…not equipped to deal with a kid or too poor. They’re claiming that anyone who comes from that sort of background isn’t likely to turn into a productive member of society anyway,” Parker says, and now there’s anger behind the words, “Have you heard that they’re lobbying for them all to be turned into wards of the state immediately, and then be sold off? Maybe lower the selling age from 18 to 16, too. That would be younger than me,” Parker says, and he sounds seriously unsettled. He swallows.
“Their main argument is that life as a ‘study aid’ is supposed to be decent. You get to go to college, you earn a degree that makes you valuable, you’ll be able to do proper work, be housed and fed.” The voice of the teenager is dripping with disdain. “Doesn’t take a genius to see through that bullsh-crap, sorry, but apparently still more brain cells than half of my class mates have. They’re all in favour of those reforms, probably because none of them ever ventured even a little out of their bubble.”
Foggy raises an eye brow. “And you have?”
“Maybe,” Parker replies, tone evasive. “I mean, I already lost my parents, so if my aunt and uncle hadn’t taken custody of me…and now that my uncle-” he breaks off, swallowing. “So, anyway, I figured I might be able to talk to some slaves and slave owners and…provide a more balanced picture. Show that even if you’re enslaved as a study aid life isn’t all roses.”
(“That’s one way to put it,” Foggy mutters.)
“So, um, yeah,” Parker finishes his lengthy explanation, sounding faintly embarrassed by the way the words have poured out of him. “Sorry for having bothered you for nothing. I’ll see myself out-“
“-wait.” Parker turns. Foggy does, too. This is mostly because Matt has called out and taken a step forward. Now he is fairly sure that both of them are looking at him, and Foggy’s heart has skipped a beat.
“Matt-“ Foggy begins, but Matt holds up a finger,
“That…that article. Were you planning to write it with pseudonyms? So one wouldn’t be able to figure out the identity of the slave or slave owner?
“Ah…yes. Of course. I mean, if I’m hoping to get any kind of criticism of the system then I’m much more likely to get it that way, right?”
“Yeah,” Matt agrees. He takes a breath. “I think I might-“
“Matt.” Matt doesn’t quite manage to suppress a flinch at Foggy’s tone. Reluctantly, he closes his mouth and turns his head toward his owner, but he can’t help a slight frown already on his face.
“Matt,” Foggy says, a little more softly. “Maybe…maybe we need to talk. If you could wait outside for a moment, please, Peter? Maybe get yourself a coffee from the vending machine. Kids, uh, drink coffee these days, right?”
“Uh…sure.” Parker sounds a bit dubious now, Matt imagining his eyes darting between them, but the teenager then steps toward the door again, opening it.
“We’ll…we’ll call you in a minute, right? Just need to talk about something,” Foggy says, managing to keep his voice admirably even just until the door closes again, and then he turns.
“Matt,” Foggy’s tone is wavering between the pleading, exasperated, and understanding. It shouldn’t be possible, but Foggy has had a lot of effort combining these three sentiments. His slave has that set to his jaw, that shouldn’t look so damn attractive and make arguing with him so much harder.
“It’s anonymous, Foggy.”
“And you think you can trust him on that? He’s been lying about the information thing, too.”
“Yes, and I caught him out on that. He was telling the truth about the anonymity.”
“They shouldn’t have been selling you as a study aid but as a lie detector,” Foggy grumbles (and it’s only a small part of him that notices Matt go just slightly stiff at the quip – it strikes Foggy as a bit strange, because they have been making morbid jokes about selling Matt ever since their fourth semester, and it never seemed to have bothered him before. Maybe he should cut back on those, he thinks, or maybe it’s because their conversation right now is too serious for jokes). He takes a breath. “Matt. Do you really think this is a smart idea?”
“…I think this is the right thing to do.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt Murdock in a nut shell, Foggy’s inner Foggy supplies, and Foggy groans.
“Yeah. Why can’t these two things ever overlap.”
“I might be able to help, Foggy. We might be able to help.” There is a bit of silence. “You can officially order me to not talk to him. I think you’re one overdue, anyway.”
“I’ve been owned by you for almost two and a half years, now,” Matt says. “And I’ve only had one official order in the first two, each.”
“Did you?” Foggy asks, remembering what the occasions were – and yeah, there was the time he stopped Matt from rushing off, and the time he ordered him to the library, although that had been more of a mock retaliation.
“Ah, not true,” Foggy holds up a finger. “There was that time when you were running a fever and I ordered you to stay in bed instead of going to class. I think you were pretty pissed about that.”
“Ah. Yeah,” Matt says, sobering up and appearing slightly embarrassed. Matt’s health has always been a difficult topic for the two of them, probably the only one where Foggy really has trouble to not infringe on his slave’s autonomy, so they’re both pretty happy that apparently Matt is one of the sturdiest guys they know.
“Which apparently means I’m all out of official orders. Guess I’ll have to let you talk to the kid, then.”
Matt’s head snaps back up.
“Yeah.” Foggy sighs. “I mean, let’s face it. Fact is, this is exactly what I have been wanting to do for years – doing something against the system, getting this out there – but I just would have wanted to do it with you out of the crossfire. When you’re free.”
“I appreciate that,” Matt says, earnestly. Then he smiles. “But thanks to you, I don’t even have to wait until then to do what’s important to me.”
And that, really, is nothing Foggy has any arguments against.
“Foggy and me we…talked. And came to a conclusion.” Matt takes a breath. “I might be able to give you an interview.”
“Uh, sorry?” Parker, having been called back into their dorm room, blinks. “Do you own a slave, too? I didn’t see you on the list-”
“No,” Matt smiles, and it’s utterly without humour. “No, I don’t. But...” he swallows. “Foggy’s slave isn’t at his family’s. He’s here.”
“Is he? Where exactl-?”
Matt can sense when it clicks as he breaks himself off. Parker is apparently not the slow kind.
“Oh. Oh.” Parker pauses. “So you…”
Now Matt is tense. He had forgotten the tension that came with standing in front of someone who knew who you were, knew what you were. He feels bare and naked, his clothes hiding the collar not protection enough anymore. He wishes he could hide better for a moment, vanish into the darkness, vault from the scene, wear a mask so no one would know who he was -
“But…you…” Parker stammers and pulls Matt away from his musings.
“A collar isn’t required at your owner’s home,” Matt says, smoothly and not interested in explaining about all the workarounds they’ve devised. He’s interrupting a free person now, and a free person who knows he’s a slave, but he hopes Parker doesn’t care. “But Foggy does have my ownership papers if you’re not convinced.” Probably covered in cheeto dust somewhere, is what he doesn’t add. “I would like to help you with that interview.”
“Okay.” Parker clears his throat, clearly trying to slip into ‘professional reporter’ mode. They have settled down on opposite beds now, Foggy sitting next to Matt, Parker across, a notebook in the kid’s hands. “Let’s start with the bad. I’d have to say, looking at you, you wouldn’t be exactly a helpful example for my article,” he says, then flinches, presumably because of a flicker of expression Matt sensed on Foggy’s face. “I’m sorry, but I mean, at first glance your life seems pretty okay…?” Parker asks apologetically.
Matt takes a breath, wondering how to phrase this. “It is…and it isn’t.” At Parker’s sound of consternation, Matt waves a hand. Talking about a multifaceted subject convincingly to argue his point, this is something he can do. “Like you said, I don’t look like it’s a bad life. Foggy doesn’t beat me, my collar isn’t uncomfortable, I’m studying a subject I enjoy, I have my own bed and I’m fed and clothed. I’m allowed to talk to people. I even have hobbies.”
“Hobbies? Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt,” Parker immediately apologizes, and Foggy snorts.
“Hobbies? His hobbies are guilt and workaholism.”
“I work out,” Matt stresses, sounding peeved but inwardly feeling warm – despite the strange situation, they’re both managing to relax a little, Foggy teasing him as usual. Like a friend.
Steadier, he adds, “And I like to read, go for walks and try new Delis. Y’know. Normal stuff.”
“Oh,” Paker perks up again. “So you can-?”
“Leave on my own, yeah,” Matt explains. Beside him, Foggy shifts, once more aware of how many freedoms he’s granting Matt he might not even notice any more. Had maybe never noticed at all, barring the day he had to get the certificates for them. “Technically, I’m free to travel anywhere in NYC state,” Matt adds, “But, you have to understand none of this is normal.”
“No?” Parker sounds wary, but also interested.
“No. If you ask any other slave on campus – if you get to ask any of them,” he mutters under his breath, “ - most of them will not be able to leave campus, or their owner’s dorm. Most will be undernourished and mistreated. And, of course, raped.”
“Will they.” Parkers voice sounds tight. There is a slight creaking and Matt can sense the muscles in the teenager’s fingers contracting, pressing on the plastic of his writing pad with what sounds almost more force than a human should be able to use.
“Yes,” Matt replies. “The kind of people that tend to buy slaves…well, they won’t only use them for studying.”
“All of them?”
“Most of them, probably. Of course, for exact numbers, you’d likely need to contact the medical centers.”
“I’ll…I’ll make a note of that,” Parker says. Now his voice sounds a bit shaken, but determined. “But, um, about you,” he fumbles with the pen. “Like, you’re saying you’re the best-case scenario?”
No, I’m the Foggy-scenario, which is…which shouldn’t exist, really, Matt thinks. Aloud, he says, “Well. Yes. But I don’t think you’ll ever find any slave in any position even close to this. I’m in the 99.9th percentile.”
“Right,” Parker is writing something down and then takes a breath. “But you said it’s…still bad?”
Foggy next to him fidgets again. Matt wonders whether Parker’s eyes might have darted over to him during the last sentence, wondering.
Matt snorts, utterly humourless. “It’s slavery. Of course it is,” he says. “There’s things not even Foggy can protect me from.”
Parker swallows. “Can you elaborate? What…what would you say is the worst thing?”
Matt doesn’t have to think twice about that. “The lack of control. Over anything. If Foggy wanted to, he could make me kneel on the floor the very next second, instead of sitting here, talking to you. Or strip me. Or hurt me.”
(“I wouldn’t,” Foggy says next to him, quietly.)
“He wouldn’t,” Matt agrees. “But he could. Or an accident could happen to prevent him from being in the position of owning me any longer. And that’s what’s terrifying. Living a slave’s life is living with that awareness, that fear, every. Single. Day.”
His voice has become unconsciously harsher he notes now, some of the fury he lives with bubbling to the surface. Parker is quiet for a moment, before clearing his throat.
“You…strike me as someone without fear, actually.”
“I’m not. There is no such thing,” Matt says, and he hopes his voice sounds hard and sharp instead of wistful.
“Replace that with ‘someone with no survival instinct’ and you might have a case, though,” Foggy mutters, and Matt elbows him, and with that, the tension of the moment is thankfully broken. Matt clears his throat, relaxing his shoulders again.
“I can tell you about my previous owner, Mark. It…might be better if you didn’t hear that, Foggy,” he adds, somewhat hesitantly.
“Do you want me to hear it?”
Matt turns his head away.
“Alright.” Foggy rises. “I’ll be back sometime later.”
“Thanks,” Matt says, nodding at him as he leaves, sensing how Parker turns to look after him.
Foggy returns about two hours later, having left to go to the library to work on a paper instead (as if he had been able to concentrate, hah.). He figures that Parker should be done with Matt now – he had felt a bit worried about leaving Matt with someone who knew he was a slave, but had figured that if Matt trusted Parker, then Foggy could, too. It’s a bit of a surprise when he turns around the corner of their dorm’s building and finds Parker standing right next to the entrance.
“Hey. Still hanging around here, working? I think I had paid internships where I slacked off more.”
“Hey.” Parker gives Foggy a small, lop-sided smile where he is leaning against the wall of the dorms. “Yeah, I have to head back soon. But I was actually waiting for you.”
“For me? Why? Is anything wrong?” Foggy can feel the familiar worry tugging at his insides. Matt is fine, right? He would have called if anything had happened, right?
“No, no,” Parker raises his hands in a calming gesture. “Just, I mean, got Matt’s side of the issue. I kind of would like to hear yours as well.”
Foggy’s eyebrows rise. “My side. For the article?”
“Maybe, yeah.” Parker looks to the side. “Maybe I just want to hear it. What it’s like from the other end.”
“Right.” Foggy thinks for a moment, trying to find the right words. “It’s…actually, it’s terrifying. The power you suddenly have over someone. I don’t think that’s a responsibility most people are ready for. Or are able to shoulder without fucking up.”
Parker raises his head. “You think you’re fucking it up?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. He seems happy, for…Matt-standards. Sometimes there’s things I’d like to ask him, but I don’t. It wouldn’t seem fair, with the…power imbalance. He’s wearing the collar I gave him, for fuck’s sake. This just isn’t right.” Foggy drags a hand across his face.
“No,” Parker says, slowly. “It isn’t. Believe me, the interview I just had sure told me that.”
“Right,” Foggy says quietly, deliberately not asking what Matt told him. “Then what’s your plan now?”
Parker shrugs. “Find other slave owners on campus. See whether I can get some more interviews. Write an article that changes the entire slavery system and abolishes everything. Y’know, easy stuff.”
Foggy snorts. “I can see why Matt trusted you, the two of you have obviously similar outlooks on what can be done and should be done all on your own.”
“’m just trying to do what I think is right,” Parker mumbles, a bit abashed, looking slightly more his age when he is insecure.
“And I think that’s great,” Foggy replies, earnestly. “If you need any more help, drop on by, okay? After all, even Clark Kent needs some support sometime, right?”
“Still not Superman,” Parker shoots back, but there’s a grin on his face now and Foggy at last feels that yes, they are doing the right thing. And then he remembers something.
"Oh, wait. Peter?"
"Yeah?" Parker turns around, looking slightly wary again, but Foggy gives him a grim smile that isn't meant for him.
"You want an example of a bad situation?" he asks, lips pressed together. "Try asking Kevin Thompson for an interview."
"Oh. Uh, right. Thanks? I guess?" Parker replies, giving him a slightly worried smile. Foggy snorts without humour.
"Yeah, wait after you're done and thank me then. Only...if you do meet them..." he pauses. "Do you think you could tell me how his slave is doing?"
"Uh...sure," Parker nods. "If they'll let me talk to them."
"Yeah, no worries." Foggys replies wryly. "One thing that guy does like is showing her off, so..."
"Oh. Right," Parker grimaces, looking slightly sick for a moment, but then that expression at once transforms into one of grim determination and he nods, and Foggy at this point thinks that yes, he and Matt would like each other, and they'll probably be equally terrible influences on each other without even trying.
To be continued...
Well, here's a surprise guest star for you! :p I originally didn't plan on having that happen either, but the idea wouldn't let go :) That said, hope you liked, would love to hear what you think, and if you read, please review!
Chapter 20: Many Happy Returns
It’s the next Monday after the Parker kid dropped by and Matt and Foggy are making their way through the lunch chaos in the cafeteria, surrounded by a bunch of other college kids too hungover from the weekend to properly function yet.
The two of them are actually somewhat included in that - this weekend had found them, still gloriously project-free this early in the semester and midterms a wonderfully long way away, out dancing at one of the many back-to-school parties. Foggy had managed to find one where the music was somewhat tolerable - Matt and Foggy happily living in a time where dubstep hadn’t been invented yet - and Matt had even found he had only been half-deaf after dancing as far away from the speakers as possible and didn’t have to worry about falling over fire hydrants on the way back.
After the disaster his relationship with Elektra had turned out to be - but damn, what an amazing disaster it had been in between - being at the club, surrounded by dancing girls and Foggy’s audiocommentary during pauses at the bar, music and heat and the scent of bodies pounding his senses almost as intensely as she had, was, in some ways, a welcome relief.
Or it had been, right until there had just been that single ping on his senses, a combination of a certain chemical scent, one heartbeat much too slow for this club, and another one, excited, one figure dragging another toward an exit…
“Huh? WHAT?” Foggy had yelled back over the music, and Matt had schooled his face as best as he could, hidden the rage and his own pounding heart behind a lopsided smile, “I think – I think, it’s just a bit too loud, I might go for a breather – will you stay here?!” he had shouted, secure in the knowledge that asking for permission wasn’t necessary for small things like that anymore and barely able to wait for Foggy to remember that he needed to shout back a ‘Sure!’ to accompany his nodding.
“Alright, be right back!” Matt had said, and then was already gone, Foggy probably too light-headed and distracted to notice his precise movements, inappropriate for the supposedly unfamiliar interior of the club.
And then, when he had slipped out of the back exit of the building, right into the back alley where the guy had been busy dragging the roofied girl over to lay her over some trash cans and hike her skirt up, all caution was gone when Matt had slammed the door shut hard enough to make the scumbag jump and whirl around.
“What the-?!” is all the guy had managed before Matt’s fist had landed straight in his face and the next couple of minutes that followed had probably been more stress-relieving than all of the alcohol and the dancing of the night put together.
A part of Matt knows he is doing this only because he misses Elektra, he misses the thrill, and he is becoming reckless, but he studiously ignores it.
Afterwards, Matt had been pretty sure at least that he hadn’t been caught on any cameras, the guy hadn’t properly seen his face and the girl - as horrible as it sounds - likely won’t be able to remember the details of this night at all, thanks to the Rohypnol he’s smelling on her breath. He had pulled her clothes back into order and taken her back to the club, stammering something incoherently to the two bouncers, who had sworn and sounded genuinely upset as they set eyes on the girl - enough time for Matt to drop her into one of the two guys’ arms and vanish into the club’s interior again before they had gotten the bright idea to ask for his name.
Instead, he had found Foggy at the bar again, apologized for taking so long and told him they should do this more often. Foggy had seemed to find that a fantastic idea, and, listening to the relieved cries of the drugged girl’s friends apparently having just found her with the bouncers, so had Matt. The Sunday after that is spent mostly nursing hangovers and in the evening letting Foggy ‘teach’ him to play pool at the otherwise empty rec room of the dorms and enjoying how excited his friend gets whenever Matt allows himself to get a shot right.
That said, it explains why Matt and Foggy are also a little drowsy, their Monday morning classes having started much too early - it wasn’t even that long ago that they were staying at the Nelson’s over two weeks for summer where they could sleep in every day, Matt finally also feeling vaguely at ease now in the Nelson household. His progress there seems to have taken him from ‘slave’ to ‘household help’ to ‘Foggy’s...friend? I guess?’ over the past two years and when they do ask him to help now, it actually feels a lot less like an order and more like a household member asked to contribute. The first time Foggy’s mother had made them both sandwiches for a day out Foggy had planned for them, Matt had found himself completely unable to deal with it. At least Mrs Nelson had also seemed a bit awkward, but hey, Foggy had been beaming so that was probably a good thing?
Now, though, they’re both back in the reality of college society, and it comes with a giant canteen full of noise, moving bodies and a plethora of smells Matt is trying not to let ruin his appetite. It’s lunch period, so the place is packed, nearly all of the tables occupied with loudly talking and laughing students - Matt concentrates on subtly letting both of them be jostled toward a quiet space in the chatter he can sense two rows down, hoping for Foggy to also turn his head and notice it -
"Oh hey, there! Matt, I think I just spotted two empty seats!“
"Foggy Nelson, Eagle Eye of the canteen,“ Matt replies, not having to fake his humour as Foggy leads him to the seats until his hand finds the back of one of them.
"Here, you guard these two with your life, and I’ll get us our food. You know what you want?“
"The roast beef, please,“ Matt replies, sitting down, knowing that Foggy will likely think he’s looked the menu up beforehand, instead of (correctly) assuming that he’s smelled it from two tables away, compared it to the scent of every other menu, and decided on that one. Sometimes he wonders what it would be like not having to hide things from Foggy all the time. Like he hadn’t from Elektra.
Yes, and we’ve seen how that ended, Murdock, didn’t we? the voice in his head that always sounds like a weird, wrong combination of his own and Stick’s together, asks spitefully, and Matt tries to push that thought away. Yes, keeping up the charade is exhausting, but there is simply no other way. Too risky.
Instead he smiles when Foggy replies „Oooh, roast beef? Okay, gotcha. Be right back. If any one tries to take those seats, fight them!“ and listens to his owner disappear into the crowd after.
His owner - that reality, of course, is also reasserting itself firmly again as soon as they’re back in the regular world, no matter how carefree weekends, evenings and summer holidays may try and blur the lines. Around him, Matt can hear (whether he wants to or not) dozens of conversations, and certain key words also immediately let his attention snap to them when uttered - kneel being one of them, that one right now having just been snapped at someone two rows down. A slave having fetched their owner’s meal, probably, and now being told to stay on the floor until their owner and his friends have finished eating. Nothing unusual in a crowded cafeteria where seats were sparse.
What is, of course, unusual, is a slave sitting at the table and his owner fetching his meal, Matt is aware. Roast beef, even. He thinks Stick would probably be laughing his head off at the absurdity of it all.
The next minute, however, there is another scent and heartbeat sound that reaches him and he almost jumps out of the chair Foggy had asked him to guard. He does snap his head around, though, wondering whether he should call out or not, but before he can decide -
"Buenos dias, Matt,“ Em says, „Made it back all in one piece, how about that?“
"Em!“ Matt manages, but then doesn’t know how to act - he can’t ask her to sit down with him, not with the (purple, Foggy has told him) leather choker he scents still clinging to her neck, he’s already scanning the soundscape of the cafeteria for any signs of Kevin being around -
"It’s alright,“ she says, apparently able to read his tension on his face, "Kevin’s in his room, he’s ordered me to fetch him his lunch. With the cafeteria crowded like this at this time of day I can take a few minutes more before I have to go back. It’s like you said,“ she says, and Matt thinks her voice sounds like there might be a bit of a lopsided smile in there, "they do let their guard down the longer they own you.“
"I’m...glad you’re okay,“ Matt says, and knows this is a bad idea, it had been a bad idea all along to form any kind of attachment another slave, but when you were living with Foggy, a man who wasn’t wearing his emotions on his sleeve but had rather rented a giant billboard at Times Square for them, it was next to impossible to clamp down on your own feelings for others. "How was Spain?“ he asks because the Bible is full of people walking knowingly into their damnation, so why not.
"It was...really something, actually,“ Em says, and beneath the cheerful tone there is also something...almost brittle in her voice, or perhaps bittersweet. "I don’t know whether it has something to do with Europe never having had as big of a history with slavery as the US did, but it’s a bit...different over there. They almost treat you more like a servant than a thing - most of them, anyway. Like shopkeepers and such,“ she says, and Matt is listening, genuinely interested and glad to hear that Em’s life seems to have been marginally better for a while. A part of him is also keeping an ear out to hear whether Foggy is already returning and is a bit surprised to find that he hopes he won’t quite yet - as much as he knows Foggy would be happy to see Em still alive, this is something he knows the two of them can only really share with each other.
"And they have that thing, too, where nobody other than your owner can order you around more than any other free person,“ Em continues, and sounds almost wistful. „I took your advice and learned as much Spanish as I could so he’d send me on errands more often.“ She pauses, drops her voice and, Matt thinks, bites her lip before she continues in a whisper, "Matt, walking the streets there, being allowed to talk to people, it...I sometimes thought that that was how it must feel like to be you.“
Matt doesn’t know how to reply to that, only feels a rather big knot swelling in his throat at Em’s shy tone.
"I’m...that’s, that’s good,“ he manages. „I’m glad you got time away from your owner to experience that.“
"Yeah,“ Em nods. "He was mostly holed up in his room, cyberstalking that Jessica girl. Maybe frustrated because he didn’t bother to learn the language and couldn’t talk to that many people. His ideal world is probably one were everyone obeys him no matter which language they speak,“ she says, and Matt can hear the faint trembling of fear, but also rage under the bravado of her sarcasm. Underneath the table, he closes his hand so hard around his walking stick his nails must leave bloody half moons on his palm.
"Also I think he’s gotten interested in some really weird substances or something, I think. Something to enhance the human brain? I hope he doesn’t actually find something that works, I...I really need him to need me for writing his papers,“ Em says, now sounding fearful again, because there it is, the constant paralyzing dread of wondering what day you become worthless, free to be abused or discarded to a worse fate again, that complete lack of control over anything -
"He won’t,“ Matt says, earnestly. "Any drugs that would help enhance the human brain won’t be able to help you in law school when you have been doing zilch for two years, like he has,“ he states, trying to sound more confident than he feels. "And if he hasn’t started treating you worse yet, I think he knows that.“
"No...he hasn’t,“ Em says, hesitantly, and at least sounding not quite as anxious as before. "The only time it got worse was for two weeks when another student at the university in Barcelona asked him to buy me from him. He got...really...possessive...after that for a while,“ she says quietly, turning her head a bit away from him. Matt is really glad Foggy isn’t here right now because his owner has gotten worryingly accurate at identifying what he calls Matt’s ‘murdering face’ and Matt would really like to keep that part of his temper hidden from Foggy.
"I’m sorry,“ he says instead, and he hates it’s all he can offer.
"It’s...okay,“ Em says. „I survived. And he seems to have forgotten about it again.“
"Let’s hope it stays that way,“ Matt says, wishing he could do more. But the only thing he can do - "Ah, right. There’s a kid running around at the moment doing a report on study aid slaves. Our living circumstances, that sort of thing. They might come calling round to you, Foggy mentioned you. I hope that’s all right, otherwise we can try and tell him to not contact-“
"Ah, no. That should be fine. Maybe Kevin will let me. I miss talking to people since we’re back,“ Em says, and it sounds a little sad. "I’m glad you’re still here, though. I have to get back now, but thank you. For not letting me lose hope,“ she adds, and then turns, disappearing with Kevin’s lunch back into the crowd.
Matt still sits there, listening after her in silence, trying to get his thoughts (and feelings) in order, when there’s already food being dropped in front of him, accompanied by the noise of 180 pounds of Foggy hitting the seat next to him.
"Oh man, lunch rush is insane. Sorry to keep you waiting, buddy, hope you didn’t get bored.“
"Ah...no. Thanks for the food,“ Matt says, glad that Foggy seems to happily then take over the conversation, talking about his plans for the current semester (Most important item apparently getting Marci to Be Exclusive with him), the latest episode of The Returners, a new series about a bunch of superhero kids who are trying to get back home to their parents but constantly get distracted, and whether he should try to grow his hair out so it would be long enough for a ponytail. To his credit, Foggy keeps this up until they have already finished their meal and are on the way back to their dorm room, until he asks,
"So...okay. What’s bothering you?“
"Er. What?“ Matt asks, knowing he is doomed already when he feels that awful telltale guilty expression flit across his face before he manages to hide it. The idea of Foggy being a regular owner, and one he couldn’t manage to lie to, is terrifying.
"Matt, I slipped the idea of dying my hair pink in there, and you didn’t pick up on that. And I know you haven’t forgotten what colours look like,“ Foggy says wryly, before switching to a softer, more earnest tone. "So. Something’s wrong. Wanna talk about it?“
"I...don’t know,“ Matt says, and at least that’s honest. But he can’t forget what Em said and he doesn’t know why, but he keeps wondering-
"Would you ever consider selling me?“
"Depends,“ Foggy replies without missing a beat, "Are you going to let me copy your notes from the last torts lecture or not?“
When Matt only reacts with silence, lips pressed together, Foggy also sobers quickly, though.
"What ? No of course not. Matty, why - wait. Do you want to be sold to someone?“ Foggy asks now, tone changing to one of slight wariness, bordering on hurt - and Matt doesn't know what makes him press on (except of course he knows exactly what, Em’s voice saying, ‘He got possessive after that’ and his own constant paranoia and apparent masochism)-
"What if...yes?“ he manages, and waits. Around them, the sounds of the september wind rustling through the last leaves of summer and of people enjoying the Indian summer is a strange contrast to the tension inside him.
Then: „Well...I wouldn't be happy about it, I can tell you that much,“ he says, sounding like he says he feels. "Mostly because your emancipation process is like, so comparatively close to through now and any other owner would have to start it all over again,“ he adds, then pauses as if mulling something through, but then continues, "And like...listen, Matty, I know how this is going to sound, but I...I don't know whether I could trust anyone with you. I'd be worried for you,“ he says, sounding honestly pained as runs a hand through his hair before then turning his head away, sighing.
„Man, that doesn’t sound great, does it?“
Matt can sense that lump in his throat again, but he tries to push past it. "No, Foggy. I wouldn’t say that.“
Foggy seems to take a breath in relief at how Matt is taking his stance on the issue, because next he turns his head to look at him again "Okay, but...who do you even want to be sold to?“ he asks. "Do I know this person? Oh god,“ he then immediately adds, "please don't tell me it's that Greek girl. It is that Greek Girl. Is it that greek Girl? Matt, she - listen, don't take this the wrong way, but that woman is reallyreallyhotbutkindofinsane and I’d really rather see you run off with her after you got emancipated-“
"Foggy,“ Matt finally manages to interrupt the verbal waterfall, "Foggy, we broke up.“
"Er. What?“ To his credit, Foggy at least now doesn’t sound sad or panicked anymore, just kind of non-plussed.
"Elektra and me, we're...not together anymore,“ Matt clarifies. "She moved before the end of last semester. We broke it off rather than go long-distance.“
(He doesn't tell Foggy about the real reason, of course. How meeting Elektra and Going Out at night with her, sparring with her had been exhilerating - until it had been terrifying. Until the car had been stolen and they'd nearly killed someone and he suddenly, with ice cold certainty, had realized what kind of person Elektra really was and what it would mean if the police caught them.)
(Or at least he tells himself this.)
Elektra, at least, had never had any idea he was collared.
"You never told me any of that!“ Foggy now exclaims, and it sounds half shocked and half accusing, but it’s Foggy, so Matt only feels a twinge of faint guilt, not any trace of fear at the tone.
"It...didn't seem as important at the time?“ he hedges. "We were buried up to our necks in finals, remember?“
"Well, yeah. But that still would have given us at least an excuse to go out and get hammered for at least one night during that time,“ Foggy argues with put-upon resentment, and Matt at least can feel one corner of his mouth twitch a little.
"Sorry. We can always go this week, if you want to?“ he asks, putting a bit of a peace-offering in his tone.
"Hmph. Taking you at your word for that, Murdock,“ Foggy replies, at last starting to walk toward their dorm again. It takes a few moments of silence to pass between them before the mood has turned a little less silly again, and Foggy asks, quietly, "So...who do you want to get sold to?“
"...no one, Foggy.“ Matt sighs, glad that he is able to tell the truth at least in this. "I don't even know why I asked. Sorry.“ He grimaces.
„Hmm. It does weird things to your head, too, huh?“ Foggy asks, somberly, and leaves it at that.
Later on, when their topics have changed to easier ones during the course of the day (and have also included some actual bickering now about the relative attractiveness of male ponytails and whether or not Matt should grow one as well) and they are actually preparing to go out and drink now, again, („It’s basically Hair of the Dog, Matty, it’ll be fine!’ -‘Foggy, neither of us are teenagers any more!’ - ‘Yeah, but you promised, dude, sorry’), Matt reflects again on their earlier conversation. He has told Foggy now about briefly seeing Em during lunch and hearing that she was still hanging in there had cheered his owner a bit up as well. Matt hasn’t told Foggy about Kevin having only gotten weirdly possessive of her the moment it was mentioned someone else could be interested in owning her.
But still. Foggy...Foggy had sounded like he would even consider selling Matt, if that was what Matt wanted. Somehow, the thought fills him both with a swell of emotion he doesn’t know how to deal with, as well as a feeling almost bordering on panic or vertigo, the idea that he could choose to leave Foggy somehow feeling a lot like standing in front of a gaping abyss, feeling the cold, unfamiliar air from below, the sound swallowed up by a ground too far away to reflect it, leaving the yawning fissure before him like a black hole in his world of fire.
But he doesn’t have to. He could jump if he wanted to, but right now, he can also stay at Foggy’s side, leaving with him for Josie’s and arguing about which corner of the bar smells the least terrible, aware of the collar beneath his shirt but able to bear it for the moment. Right now it still feels good to sit here with him, let the sounds of the city blur into an indistinct background noise just for a while and then, on the way back, pretend to be just a liiittle bit drunker than he is, so he has an excuse to lay an arm around Foggy’s shoulders, and lean on him at his side.
Just about a little more than a year now until his emancipation date. Matt tries to ignore the cries for help from the city, the memory of Em’s fear and the rush from fighting back against those who deserve it, and wonders whether this is one way he can hold on.
He manages to believe it until Peter shows up again, at least.
To be continued...
To Matt, it’s a cloud of perfume, expensive shampoo-conditioner-combo and irritated female pheromones that settles itself with a whoomph in an empty chair at their table at Josie’s, a week after the interview. It takes a moment until it forms itself into Marci’s shape and when it does, she’s slouching across the table’s surface in resentful exhaustion. He raises his eye brows – it takes a bit to get Marci to set foot in a run-down establishment like Josie’s and if she’s come here with the likely express purpose to vent and drink, it must be bad.
As it turns out, he is exactly right.
“Uh…hey, Marci-“ Foggy tries, but he doesn’t even get a greeting in edgewise.
“How did you survive that group project last year? Now I’ve got one and working with Kevin is the worst. He’s got this slave and…ugh, I can’t even talk about it without getting pissed off.” She grabs Foggy’s beer and swigs it down with only a minor, helpless ‘hey!’ from its previous owner. Then she sags back in her chair. “God, this world is fucked up.”
Foggy nods. They don’t share any classes with Kevin this year, which Matt thinks of as a mixed blessing - but Marci might be a way to get regular updates on Em’s condition, so that could be a good thing. From Peter, there hasn’t been a peep yet.
“Not in support of the slavery system?”
“Huh?” Marci turns her head toward Matt, who already curses himself for having asked that question. It’s not a topic he relishes to discuss with people who aren’t Foggy, but the words had come out without him intending them to.
“What do you think of the system?” he repeats his question instead, because Marci is a shark, and backing down now would be suspicious. Her face muscles crease in what Matt suspects is a scowl.
“I don’t like it. Idiots get credit for work they didn’t do. And,” she adds, voice now quieter, “the shit you go through as a woman already. I don’t want to know what it’s like when you’re a slave, too.”
“Amen to that,” Foggy says, and signals something to the waitress, presumably a replacement for his drink. “We actually met a kid on campus who wants to write an article to discourage people from buying study aids. Maybe it gets published.”
“Here’s to hoping,” Marci agrees. “Although, mind you, it would be nice to have someone who had to give you shoulder massages on command,” Marci muses, then snips her fingers theatrically. “Oh wait, I do have that. Boyfriend!” She jerks a thumb at her own back. “Heel.”
“Wait, what-?! You can’t just-!” Foggy sputters in protest, but Marci only laughs.
“Oh please. I’m the one with the power in this relationship and you know it. And now, less talking, more massaging.”
“I thought we were against the slavery system!”
“Oh yeah, we are. This is just my very personal exception. Now. Shoulders. Get to them.”
Foggy stutters, while Matt is already laughing far too hard into his beer. Even if he did get ordered to the library for this (and he knows he won’t), it would be worth it.
“You’re in favour of it though, aren’t you, Murdock? The system?”
Matt’s grin abruptly vanishes. Marci’s question hadn’t sounded like anything more than casual interest, but this really was a topic where nothing good could come out of talking about it when the questioning was turned around toward him. “What, me?” he asks instead, trying to deflect.
“Yeah, you,” Marci shoots back. “I heard about that speech you gave in your exam last year. Hell, people in the year above us heard about it.”
Matt abruptly pretends to be interested in his beer glass. “Some of the arguments in favour of it are well-supported by studies,” he says, hoping Marci has somehow lost like 30 IQ points in the last twenty minutes and won’t recognize someone deliberately not answering a question.
“By bullshit studies, yeah,” Marci snorts and takes another swig of her drink. “Please. I’m not a bleeding heart arguing for immediate repeal of all slavery like some people here – sex offenders can go straight into the collar, for all I care - but I still recognize bullshit justifications when I see them.” She puts her commandeered drink down. “So. Are you in favour of slavery or not?”
“I’m…thinking it’s got some advantages when people think you are,” Matt finally says, voice carefully measured.
“Do you,” Marci replies, sounding calculating. “Well, that’s probably the smartest position to have. Wouldn’t have thought you cared about career building this early, Murdock. Good on you,” she says, and pats his head, oblivious to Foggy’s cringing behind her.
“Still, Kevin can go to hell,” she mutters afterwards and they all agree.
Two days later, it’s a sunny day after it has been windy and overcast yesterday and the day before that, so Matt is taking the long way back to their dorm on campus. He has his jacket slung over his shoulder, shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows and relishes the feeling of the sunshine on his bare forearms, the ability to show bare skin without it being seen as an…offer of some sort. It’s also nice how that niggling insecurity, that he isn’t supposed to draw anything out just because it feels nice, how it’s his duty to return as soon as possible to await new orders, has all but vanished now. He’s never told that to Foggy, but he thinks it would make him happy if he knew - Foggy is all about bizarre concepts like ‘Self-care’, which he has tried to explain to Matt several times now, which nevertheless Matt still feels like he never quite gets the point of. He makes sure he eats and he sleeps, right? What else is there?
Nevertheless, he has an inkling that Foggy would likely approve of him walking in the sun, which is an odd, but nice thought.
Matt stops in his tracks when he hears a certain heartbeat on the other side of the campus lawn. He’s only heard this particular heartbeat once, but its strange, just-slightly-too-fast rhythm isn’t one he’s likely to forget.
That, and what he still isn’t quite sure is possibly some radiation emanating from that kid’s blood when you stand too close, definitely help to remember.
Matt pauses and thinks. And then makes a decision.
When he walks right up to Peter – he had become Peter sometime during the interview - on the bench, he still sweeps his cane across the ground in front of him, but Stick would have his head for how unconvincingly he moves right now, right until he stops right in front of the bench with pin-point precision and says, very calmly, “Hey.”
Peter raises his head, only Matt has the feeling the kid has already sensed him coming from a hundred yards away. There is a moment of silence while Matt figures Peter is silently staring at him and he can basically hear the thoughts in his head.
When Peter then only replies with a very deliberate, but firm “…hey,” of his own, Matt can feel some tension in him dissolve.
(He hasn’t told Peter anything. Not even when he mentioned his stay with his last owner and the sudden, violent and bloody end that had had. But Peter hadn’t asked how Lester had suddenly had an ‘accident’ that left him with fractures all over his body, and neither of them had spoken about their brief tussle at the beginning and Matt thinks this is a part of the reason why he is doing something as monumentally stupid as what he is doing right now.)
“You still conducting research?” Matt asks, shifting the jacket on his shoulder. “Mind if I sit?”
“Yeah, I am,” Peter says, sounding tired. “And no, go ahead – if you want to, I mean,” he quickly adds, and Matt stops a faint feeling of surprise from showing on his face – neither he nor Foggy had told the kid about their workaround that stops Foggy’s normal turns of phrases from becoming commands, but apparently, Peter had done some thinking or research on his own.
(Matt does also notice how the kid doesn’t ask where his collar is.)
“How is it going?” Matt asks. “You almost sound like it isn’t tons of fun.”
Peter manages a humourless snort at that. “Y’know, usually I’m the one with the jokes and the commentary.”
“Hm-hm. Not really feeling it today, though. Managed to interview another slave.”
“…fuck,” Peter says, and puts his head right back in his hands.
“Ah,” Matt replies grimly. Slave protocol entails that he is technically forbidden to touch any free person without asking for permission first, but really, he just feels a bit too awkward to put a consoling hand on Peter’s back anyway.
“She’s barely older than me. I think she’s not even nineteen, how sick is that?”
Matt can feel his breath slow a little. “…she?” he ventures.
“Her owner calls her ‘Em’. I don’t even know whether that’s her real name, not like Matt is yours, he wouldn’t let me be alone with her. Mostly just bragged about how it’s such a good system to see who has status, who should be noticed,” Peter says, both contempt and fury riding on his words and Matt can feel himself relax. These are emotions he knows how to deal with.
As Peter speaks, a hand of his also closes around the wood of the bench. This shouldn’t be noticeable, but Matt thinks this is probably the first kid where the wood creaks under his fingers as loudly as this.
“I see you have met Kevin.”
“Yeah,“ Peter turns his head to look at Matt. “Now I get why your friend suggested him,“ he says wryly. "Such a controlling, creepy asshole.”
“Yes,” Matt says, because that’s all there is to say to that. Then he grits his teeth. “How is Em?”
Peter raises his head. “You…you know her? Are you guys like…friends?” he asks, stumbling over his words and sounding remarkably awkward like Foggy had during their first year whenever it had been anything to do with Matt’s status.
Matt mulls this over. “You can’t, really. Be friends with other slaves. There’s too little chance to see them if they don’t belong to the same owner as you, and becoming friends with someone who could have the worst happen to them at any time, it…”
“I get it,” Peter says quietly when Matt doesn’t continue. After a pause he adds, “She…seemed to be holding up. But her owner…” The rage in Peter’s voice returns with a vengeance. “Can you…somehow get a slave away from someone? Kidnap them and take them across the border?” he asks, but it sounds more desperate than an actual plan.
“Not a good idea,” Matt says. “Getting a slave who is registered as stolen across the border is next to impossible. And it’s only very unstable countries that wouldn’t return a runaway slave to the US if discovered.”
“Fuck,” Peter repeats and it sounds defeated.
“Of course,” Matt continues on, voice carefully light. “It’s an entirely different thing if their owner voluntarily decides to sell them. I mean, in theory,” he says, aware of how Peter has lifted his head again and is now facing him, probably staring, “if you weren’t a student any more, you wouldn’t need a study aid…especially because keeping a slave that’s not registered as a study aid is vastly more expensive in fees for someone who is a college drop-out.” He clears his throat. “Like you might become if there were an article written about how there’s an epidemic of students cheating by letting their aids write their papers for them, and you were one of those students.”
Peter doesn’t say anything and just continues to presumably stare at Matt, so Matt feels the need to add, “Of course, the contents of this conversation are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem-“
“-Matt!” Peter finally bursts out, tone somewhere between laughter and awe. “You…you really think that would work?”
“It might,” Matt says truthfully. “Might not.”
“If such an article were published…” Peter says, voice now carefully measured. “How would that go for Foggy?”
Matt throws him what would have been a wry glance if not for the sunglasses.
“You’ve met him. How do you think it would go?”
“…fair point. Stupid question.”
Matt hmms lightly. In truth, this entire conversation seems surreal to him, which is possibly why he is even allowing himself to think up such mad and impossible schemes. He is talking, freely and almost unconcernedly with a kid he has met once, a kid who knows he is a slave and who also could technically order him onto his knees in a heartbeat, strip his dignity away…and they’re making easy banter, almost. Like equals. Like it had felt with Elektra, a bit. And Matt isn’t quite sure how to feel about that, except wondering whether he should worry that this, whenever he can’t feel the weight of the collar around his throat for a moment, it always fills him with almost manic, giddy energy to do something, be reckless.
He clears his throat.
“So. Like I said, if someone ended up…expelled, because it turned out they haven’t written a paper on their own in their lives, then, well…”
“Strike at your enemies along the legal way,” Peter sounds like he is grinning, a little. “You are going to be a lawyer, clearly.”
“I try. If I spend my time learning that stuff I have an obligation to use it to do the right thing, I figure.”
“…that actually sounds a bit like something my uncle always said. About…responsibility.” Peter says with what sounds like a small smile in his voice. Then his tone becomes more sombre again. “What if they still didn’t sell he- them, I mean?” he swallows. “What if the law isn’t enough?”
Matt lifts his face to deliberately stare into another direction. He can feel his own heartbeat picking up, not sure where this conversation is going, and at once nervous and desperate to know where it’ll end up. “…I don’t know.”
“What if you did know, though?”
Matt turns his head again. Studies the presence of the boy next to him, whose heartbeat is too quick, whose statue too heavy, temperature just slightly too high and whose fingertips against the wood sound like sticky-tape adhesive.
Who managed to block the grapple of a blind man that had been faster and more accurate than most MMA pro fighters’ would have been.
Matt can feel his jaw harden. “Then maybe your uncle was onto something.”
There is another pause where Matt feels like he can almost sense Peter’s gaze travel over his unfocused gaze behind the sunglasses, his cane, and the scars on his knuckles.
“Maybe…yeah. Maybe he was,” Peter says finally, and when they part ways later, Matt feels buoyed in a way that is both fascinating and terrifying in its intensity.
“Matt?” Foggy asks two days later. “I have a lengthy email here from Parker asking me stuff about how to buy a slave from someone and registering them as a study-aid for yourself. What the hell, man? Are you planning to leave me? Or did our domestic idyll here convince Parker that he is on the wrong side of the subject?”
Matt suppresses a snort at the absurdity of either option. “Neither. But I think he’s planning a rescue mission for Em.”
“Oh good god. He is Clark Kent.”
“Nothing wrong with vigilante justice in my opinion,” Matt says cheerfully, and it’s only years later that Foggy thinks that it was approximately this point where it had been too late for anything anyhow.
There is another email to Matt, from Peter. This one doesn’t have any questions pertaining to slave holding per se, but is rather asking whether Matt might know a way how to meet up with…well, the email actually only ever says ‘her’ and Matt is slightly impressed that this apparent High School kid is smart enough to avoid putting any incriminating evidence on digital paper. He writes back that he’ll check what he can do, and, a couple days later, has actually managed to catch Em in the library again.
“Say, I…met Peter again, the other day. The High School kid, who does the slave interviews?” he clarifies, but Em’s nodding before he even added the additional info.
“Oh? Really? You know him?” she asks immediately in a whisper, and even though there’s no one around in this part of the library to see them, Em’s tugging a strand of her hair behind her ear and straightening her skirt as she asks.
“We talked a few times,” Matt says, suppressing an eye brow raise at the unbridled enthusiasm and also tries to ignore a sense of habitual unease. “Foggy suggested he interview Kevin and you. I was hoping to hear more of how you are, too. Did the interview go…well?”
Did Kevin punish you afterwards, is what he is really asking and they both know it. But Em fortunately really seems fine as she replies,
“Yes, actually. I don’t think Kevin really noticed the way Peter – I mean, Mr Parker,” Em corrects herself hurriedly, clutching the books she’s fetching for Kevin closer to her chest, “phrased a couple of his questions, or the way he…seemed angry at Kevin’s replies. I think Mr Parker is a, um, really talented journalist.”
…oh, Matt thinks. Oh no.
Nevertheless, he is here with a mission, and he will carry it out. “Yeah, Foggy and I also thought he had some hope,” he says, not surprised in the least by the immediate protesting scowl he hears forming on Em’s face. “And, well. He was a bit disappointed he couldn’t get to interview you without your owner in the room, the way he could talk to me. He asked me to ask you whether you would be willing to risk a meeting with him away from Kevin.”
“Wha – yes, yes, of course!” Em nods quickly. “I mean – anything for the article, I mean-“
Matt sighs internally as she stammers. Well. Not like this isn’t his fault as much as Peter’s. “Em,” he says quietly. “The reason why he wants to talk to you isn’t just for the article. I think he also wants to ask you whether he can buy you off Kevin.”
There are a few moments of silence, which Matt presumes is Em staring at him with her mouth hanging open. Then:
“What, really?!” It must be testament to her excitement because for the first time Matt can remember Em almost breaks a rule (if only one for volume restrictions in the library). “Oh my god. Oh my god,” she whispers again, “That would be – Matt, that would be-“
“Owners aren’t saviours,” Matt says, cutting her off sharply. He hates to stomp onto her joy, and he hates his own cynicism, but still feels compelled to point this out, offering what protection he can. “Owners aren’t saints, Em. Even with the best intentions, anyone can change when you’re their prop-”
Her voice is level, and Matt is so surprised to be cut off by Em, by Em talking back (even if only to a fellow slave) that he shuts up mid-sentence.
“I mean, I’m assuming he hasn’t. You’re still walking around on your own and pretending to be free, so…”
“…no,” Matt has to admit, even if this small, niggling fear remains, that he can’t ever speak about this aloud, lest it somehow disappear. “He hasn’t.”
“So maybe Peter won’t.”
“Maybe,” Matt admits, grudgingly. “But Em-“
“And he has to be better than Kevin.”
Well. Yes, Matt thinks, because you’d have to be owned by Jack the Ripper or Victor von Doom to be worse off than with Kevin. “But still, Em, don’t…don’t hang your hopes up on him,” he says, and he can already feel his voice carrying far more pleading than it should.
“Too late,” she whispers, and now Matt thinks he can also sense her heart beating faster and her face heating up a little and yeah on second thought he really, really shouldn’t be surprised.
Matt sighs. Well, at least Peter had always seemed sincere in his desire to help slaves – and apparently, that bird here in particular, a voice that still sounds uncannily like Stick points out in his head – so maybe this isn’t going to be the total disaster he fears it will be.
After all, who would be such an idiot to entertain romantic notions with their *owner*, he thinks despairingly, and then finds out from Em when she thinks she might be sent to the library again so Peter could meet her.
To be continued...
Aaaand here we are again! Massive hiatus hopefully over (I actually genuinely wasn't very happy with the last chapter, it seemed to tell-y, reworked a few passages and now I like it a tiny bit better, but yeah, that was mostly what had taken the wind out of my sails for a while - buuut the last few lovely reviews helped right along to rekindle it, so :p) That said, hope some of you are still reading and if you did, hope you liked! Looking forward to hear what you think of it :)
It’s two days later, when Matt and Foggy are silently sitting and working on another paper due next week, when Matt hears something and automatically lets his head snap up.
“Matt? Something the matter?” Foggy seems to have also raised his head, sounding quizzical.
“Uh, no, just…just remembered something. Be right back,” Matt fumbles and leaves without another word, as quickly as his usual charade permits him. He can basically feel his owner’s eyes on his back as he does and is on some level still aware how crazy it is he can just up and leave with barely any explanation, but there is no time to dwell on it. He just about manages to catch up with Em outside the library – by now his hearing is attuned to her gait in conjunction with her heartbeat and following her movements around campus is easy when she’s allowed outside.
“Em!” he exclaims, and has to ignore the warm feeling inside when she doesn’t even flinch at hearing her name called by a male voice, instead instantly recognizing and turning to him, replying, “Matt, hey,” in such a warm and hopeful voice that he wants to turn the actual world into a ‘world on fire’ for ever doing anything to her that made her become such a wreck as when he had first met her.
“Hey,” he manages instead. “Foggy saw you outside,” he lies, wondering by now how much Em suspects at this point. “Is this a good time to call…?”
“Yes. Yes, please,” Em replies immediately. “I’ve been sent to the library to do some research and write an exposition, I think I can take an hour or two at least until I have to get back. So if Pet – I mean, Mr Parker could come, that would be…”
“Alright. If you sit at the usual table, I’ll tell him where to find you,” Matt quickly says before he can decide not to, and Em whispers a thank you as she disappears into the building. Matt shoots Peter a text message next, and even though the kid would have to have been in school at the other end of New York at this time, he somehow manages to get here in fifteen minutes.
“Matt! Is she…? Am I still in…?” he calls out, coming to stop in front of Matt, breathing hard, hands on his knees, face tilted up toward him and also sounding so hopeful, that Matt wonders what he has done to the universe for getting saddled with not one, but two teenagers so heartbreakingly like this.
“Yeah. I’ll take you to her, come on,” he says instead, choosing not to question how exactly Peter managed a feat he thinks anyone bar Thor or Iron Man would have trouble with.
(Even Matt would need an hour at least to get to Queens from here and he wonders if he should be jealous.)
Of course, instead of being jealous, he merely excuses himself after taking Peter to Em and then takes up a seat closer to the front gates of the library, texting Foggy he might be a while and listens intently whether Kevin might come looking for his property so he’d have some time to warn them.
He also tries not to overhear what Peter and Em are whispering to each other, but it’s hard to mistake the sound of tightly clasped hands so he gets to spend this afternoon battered by equal feelings of ‘heart-warming’ and ‘utter dread’.
“Oh, wow! Matt, look he- I mean, shut up!”
A week later, Foggy laughs at Matt’s familiar expression that predicts some sort of inane joke is incoming and instead loudly waves the newspaper in front of him to ‘illustrate’ what he was talking about. “There’s a huge critical article about slave holding and slaves as study aids. Several universities, among them Columbia, are now launching investigations whether the study aids haven’t been writing the papers and doing the homework for their owners, checking writing styles and everything. It’s not Parker’s name on it – it’s by some guy called Urich – but this is definitely his work. This could be huge.”
“It won’t cut down the use of study-aids completely,” Matt points out, but he can’t help feeling his lips stretch into a smile.
“No,” Foggy agrees. There are still enough students also using study aid slaves for their intended purpose – menial tasks surrounding dorm life, note taking, style editing, researching, tutoring, fact-checking, secretarial-type work or simply help with revision for tests – hell, Matt actually does most of those tasks for Foggy anyway (but then again, Foggy also does most of them for Matt). “But it’s a start. Anything that curbs demands for slaves is a step in the right direction.”
“Yeah. It is,” Matt concurs, and he has to stop from extending his hearing two storeys up in their dorm building where Kevin and Em have their room – he’ll start walking into walls if he lets himself get distracted like that and it would be foolish to hope to hear Kevin exclaiming something about whether he’s getting expelled like a comic book villain would.
As it turns out, all that’s necessary for them to find out whether Kevin is getting expelled or not is Foggy running into him when he, like all the other slave holders, has been called in for a review a week later and runs into Kevin going into the opposite direction on his way there.
“Uh…hey. Kevin?” Foggy asks because he thinks he almost doesn’t recognize the kid storming along the corridor, head bent and hair dishevelled.
“Huh? What do you want, Nelson?” Kevin asks tiredly, looking like someone who has just had his life fall apart and is for the moment too out of energy for further raging.
“...I read about that slave holder investigation they’re launching,” Foggy says, voice remarkably casual. “Are you and Em alright?”
Kevin looks up with a glare at him, but, like most people, fails to find anything but honest, sheep-like innocence and concern in Foggy’s face when he doesn’t want them to.
“…no,” he says at least. “Might as well tell you. I think they’re going to expel me. Arseholes,” he mutters, “If you don’t put them to work, what do they think slaves are for?”
“Seriously?! Oh man, that sucks,” Foggy says sympathetically. “Do you think you’re going to keep her, then?” (And damn, Matt would be proud of how even his voice is at that last part!)
“…what? Why, you want to buy the bitch?” Kevin asks, irritably, running a hand through his hair. “Nah, probably gonna keep her for a bit yet. Need something to hatefuck now in any case.“ With that, he turns and leaves Foggy standing in the corridor.
Foggy remembers to move after a few moments, he can’t be late to his own appointment where they discuss his ownership of Matt. He is kind of glad there is nothing much to discuss, they mostly only inform him that his and Matt’s papers and test scores have been analysed and found to belong to two entirely different people, so he’s in the green and should only take care that it stays that way.
Foggy nods his way through the appointment without throwing up and then later informs Matt about what Kevin said. Matt, terrifyingly, doesn’t say anything much in reply, but only gets a sort of frightening expression and leaves their dorm to ‘go to the gym’. Foggy doesn’t feel better at this development at all, but lets him go, because what else is he supposed to do?
Matt at least returns two hours later already, and now looks merely contemplative. There are no fires outside and no ambulances stopping in front of their dorm where Kevin lives a couple floors above, so Foggy has tentative hope that Matt really didn’t do anything stupid – instead, he lays a hand on his slave’s shoulder as he sits down on his bed and manages,
“Matt. We did…we did everything we could.”
“Yeah. Maybe we did,” Matt replies, and Foggy isn’t even sure anymore whether he wants the seeming resignation in that statement to be real or not.
(Two hours previously, after leaving the dorm and heading for the library, Matt had hesitated, but then still written an email. It contained nothing much, certainly nothing that would catch the attention of anyone looking at this mail later. In fact, it was mostly a summary of a comic book recommendation for Peter about a story where Superman tries to go after an illegal trafficking ring as Journalist Clark Kent, but when that doesn’t work he still has to put on the costume last minute and fly in there, intimidating the criminals into handing the slaves over to the sellers they were stolen from. He includes some more text, mostly a rant about how that slave owner living in a very specific room in his dorm is always so loud and never goes to bed until a very specific time, which is annoying. He had sent it, and then he had gone to the gym and trained until his muscles were sore and he felt ready to collapse.)
After Foggy tries to awkwardly console him when he gets back, his owner also suggests going out to get drunk over the injustice of the world. Matt declines, though, glad that he doesn’t have to lie about being too sore to be in the mood for much of anything tonight and instead suggests Foggy spends the night at Marci’s, half-jokingly claiming he won’t be great company tonight.
That, too, isn’t a lie.
In the night, when the screaming starts, Matt is wide awake at once. There is one yelp from Kevin, another shriek from Em, and then there is some banging and strange noises Matt can’t place, until everything settles into two frantically beating heartbeats of people too scared to speak, and a third voice, hissing and growling into someone’s ear, speaking of threats that sound like music to Matt’s soul.
The whole thing hasn’t been going on for a minute, though, before there’s already movement of waking people in the rooms adjacent, and someone opening doors to knock at Kevin’s and then another girl screams at what she sees inside, and Matt can hear the shouts to call 911, and he knows they will usually be here quickly – which is why when his head snaps around at a frantic knock at his own window (his own window on the 3rd floor, actually, what?) and then a very familiar voice says –
“Uh, Matt? I’m assuming you can hear me, dude, and in case you can’t actually see me, I’m hanging around outside here and if you could let me in before the police arrive, that would be really neat, there are entirely too few swingable buildings on this campus…“
“MATT! Are you alright?! Uh, sorry, didn’t mean to startle you…!”
Foggy’s tone turns immediately from agitated to apologetic as he realizes his bursting into their dorm at 7 in the morning must have jolted Matt wide awake in his bed, his slave now sitting up and staring wildly into his direction for a moment.
“…Foggy?” Matt manages. “What’s wrong?” he asks, even though he can wager a fairly good guess.
“Someone was assaulted at the dorm last night, Matt! This dorm, in their room! It’s all over the news and social media. Are you alright?!” Foggy asks, even though both of them likely realize this question, with Matt sitting safe and dressed in comfortable pyjama pants on his own bed is a bit inane. It’s still a very Foggy question to ask, though, so Matt answers.
“Uh…yeah, I’m fine. Who was attacked?”
“Well, I don’t know whether it’s true yet, but some say it was – Kevin?”
“Kevin?” Matt manages some appropriate fake surprise in his voice but it’s curious how this tastes slightly bitter – it’s different from lying to Foggy about his powers, somehow. He doesn’t like it, but then again, there are secrets that aren’t his to tell. He can understand that. “By whom? Is Em okay?”
“I don’t know, they didn’t say anything about her but, like, half of the people on this campus likely wouldn’t care about a slave, anyway – but, like, the weirdest thing I’ve heard?”
“The weirdest thing?” Matt dutifully asks, although he is genuinely curious – what did Peter do to put the fear of god in Kevin? They hadn’t actually had much time to talk last night – when he had let Peter back in, there was only enough time to hustle him straight out of his mask (a sort of…ribbed spandex material? But then again, Matt’s sense of fashion as a teenager had basically been non-existent, so…) and into Foggy’s pyjamas and bed when campus security had already come running, checking any dorms for a fleeing intruder. And then Peter had had to leave before his aunt noticed him missing…
“They found him stuck to the ceiling.”
“Wait, what?” Matt asks, now at least genuinely baffled.
“Yeah! I know what it sounds like, but that’s what everybody’s saying. Stuck there with some non-identifiable sticky substance, and yeah, I’ve already heard all the jokes about it, believe me.” Foggy runs a hand through his hair. “I also heard he’s refusing to talk, though, or say who it was. I don’t know, but they seem to have done a number on him. Not saying he didn’t deserve this, but…man. That’s super creepy to think that there’s someone going around just assaulting people.”
“But…what did they want? Somehow I doubt they just beat him up for the fun of it.”
“Are you sure? I mean, it’s Kevin,” Foggy points out wryly, but then sobers again. “No, nobody knows. Like I said, they must have intimidated him into not talking. Like if this were some fucked-up gang thing, I don’t know.”
“Well, they didn’t kill him,” Matt points out. “That’s something in their favour, right?”
There is a bit of silence when Foggy is presumably favouring him with a look.
“Matt, not killing people in midnight hit runs shouldn’t be our standard for justice. We’re studying law of all things.”
“Still, as you said, you can’t argue that he didn’t deserve it,” Matt repeats. “And as Thurgood Marshall would say…”
“Spare me,” Foggy says, sounding weary and waving him off. Matt obeys because he can see that this argument might be difficult to win with Foggy. Still, the slight disappointment that his friend and owner can’t see where the ends might justify the means where the law can’t reach is small compared to the exhilaration he feels at the thought of maybe, just maybe having helped to accomplish something good for someone other than himself.
Only now the big question is whether their little moonlight adventure had success. Did Peter manage to convince Kevin to sell Em? Matt had heard bits and pieces of the growling and hissing, most of them along the lines of ‘not deserve her’ and/or ‘will find and kill you next time’ (which Peter, babbling and shaking with adrenaline had mostly put down to watching and imitating some footage of that other lunatic occasionally running around New York, that so-called ‘Punisher’ guy), voice mangled into gravel and threat by some kind of modulator he had apparently built. (Matt is by now starting to wonder what else Peter does in his spare time).
Foggy is outside right now, standing around in the lounge area of their floor, talking to other students also speculating about the reason for the attack on Kevin.
Neither Em nor her owner are in the building anymore, the police having carted them off for questioning this morning and neither of them have returned yet even though it’s already almost dinnertime. Matt is inside their dorm room, and not knowing whether Em is currently maybe already on the market or not and if yes, whether Peter can manage to find her, is killing him.
Matt first texts and then tries to call Peter, but no one replies or picks up.
Foggy wakes up after a night barely spent sleeping and feels as exhausted as Matt currently looks. His slave is lying on his bed, still out cold and with dark circles under his eyes, having gotten back late and then tossing and turning in his bed almost as much as Foggy himself had. They’re both worried about Em, of course, and Foggy also feels like the attack last night has shaken him a little, even if he hadn’t even been in the building – he does not approve of vigilante justice or whatever that was, while Matt of course, doesn’t seem to see the problem with that at all.
They had had a discussion about it, actually, when Foggy brought up the idea that it could have been an abolitionist attack even, which Matt had seemed indifferent (if not downright sympathetic) toward. Foggy had then also pointed out that if it were an abolitionist attack, what was to stop those people from targeting him next, at which Matt had admittedly flinched a little, but then also mumbled something about how he really didn’t think Foggy needed to worry about that, and that cryptic ending to their conversation was that.
Sometimes, Foggy wonders whether he is deliberately ignoring things he shouldn’t, but then sleep had finally claimed him and that thought had drifted away, too.
Now he is awake again, though, grey early autumn light filtering through their window and letting Matt’s face look even paler than it usually does. Foggy silently gets up and decides to get them doughnuts and coffee from the cafeteria, because if they spend another day fretting over Em and trying to reach Peter, they might as well do it with some sugar and caffeine as a basis.
As he leaves the dorm building, though, he almost stops in his tracks as he sees someone else approaching.
Kevin raises his head and stops as well. His brown hair looks greasy and ill-kempt and his face probably even more ashen than Foggy’s or Matt’s, like he hasn’t slept much last night, either. “Yeah. What do you want?” he asks flatly.
“I, uh – are you okay? What happened?” Foggy asks, stopping himself from jumping straight to asking after Em.
“What happened? Freaks running amok in New York and nobody stopping them, that’s what happened,” Kevin snaps at him. “If this is what it’s gonna be like for anyone without powers, I would’ve-“ he starts, but then stops himself. “Nevermind. Forget it. Not gonna stay here any longer anyway.”
“…right. Sorry that you have to go,” Foggy says, even though the glint in Kevin’s eyes is seriously giving him the creeps now. “So, moving, huh? Are you taking your slave with you, then, or…?”
Kevin favours him with a look that makes Foggy’s heart jump a little, but whereas Matt gets a lot of results in mock-court by being either delightfully charming or fucking intimidating in turns, Foggy is the unbeaten master of the I’m-so-innocent-and-dopey-please-answer-this-innocuous-question - act. After a moment, Kevin’s gaze shutters again and he gives a curt shake of his head.
“…no. Sold that bitch after all. Wasn't...worth it.”
“What-?! I mean, really? That was quick,” Foggy catches himself, trying his best to sound casual. “Who to?”
“The hell do I know? Got some online repo service to pick her up from the station yesterday, no idea where they take stuff,” Kevin grunts, then raises an eye brow. “Are you that desperate to buy her or what? Way you get handsy with that roommate of yours shoulda figured you had a thing for red heads,” he gives a leer, but without much humour. “Anyway. Gotta pick up the rest of my stuff. Maybe go back to England for a while. Some stuff with my parents I wanna take care of now...”
Well and if that doesn’t sound vaguely threatening, but Foggy really only has time for one saving-people-subplot in his life, so he barely waits until Kevin has disappeared into the elevator inside before bursting back into the building and racing up to their dorm room, and very likely giving his slave the second heart attack in two days as he yells him awake for the second time in a row.
This time, Peter picks up almost on the first ring.
“Peter? This is Matt and Foggy, you’re on speakerphone,” Matt says, hoping Peter gets the message that they probably shouldn’t talk about anything concerning the night before with Foggy listening. “Did you get my messages yesterday?”
“Ah, yes,” Peter says, voice a bit hushed and from the background sounds Matt is picking up it sounds like the kid is calling them from a High School toilet. “Sorry for not getting back to you immediately, I was…”
What follows next is that Peter says a lot of weird word combinations which Matt and Foggy gather may have something to do with writing some sort of program for sifting through various sites on the internet very quickly and continuously, which is apparently what Peter has been doing for the last day (and by the way he is slurring some words, also for the last night. Matt concludes that whatever powers he has, they apparently do not include being immune to sleep deprivation.)
“…okay. So that means, if she shows up anywhere online, you’ll get an automatic notification,” Foggy tries to summarize. “But if she doesn’t…”
“Our most likely bet is that she wasn’t entered into any database with specific enough information. A lot of the stores don’t do that with the ones they expect to be sold off quickly anyway,” Matt finishes, eyes narrowed behind his sunglasses. Neither Foggy nor Peter ask him how he knows that, and Matt is glad for anything that doesn’t make him relieve those times in the shops, listening to conversations going on about their ‘wares’, but now at least it pays to know a little about the business. “It would even be probable they took her to a store or warehouse closeby. Usually those repo services work together with local traders.”
On the other end of the line, Peter swallows. “So we…we actually physically have to go to the stores?”
“Do we have another choice?” Matt asks, grimly. Almost apologetically, he turns to Foggy. “I’m sorry. Of course, you don’t have to-“
“And let you go window-shopping in all the slave stores in between Sugar Hill and Midtown by yourself? Now why would I want to miss out on that kinda fun,” Foggy says wryly and for a moment, Matt is unable to reply, because it’s one thing for Matt to throw himself onto a wild goose chase after barely sleeping and go and visit some of the worst places he’s ever been to, but he knows Foggy hates the stores almost as much as he does, and now for his owner to offer to shoulder that quest with him and help…
“Thanks, Foggy,” is all Matt manages, but the way Foggy pats his back maybe means that he gets the extent of Matt’s feelings regardless.
They have a mandatory organizational meeting for a seminar later on that they can’t miss or else they won’t be able to take the class this semester and another non-optional meeting where they, along with all other slaves and slave-owners who haven’t been expelled are expected to listen to a lecture about conduct and afterwards sign another contract explicitly about their classwork on their own. But after taking the train toward the shopping streets, they still have about half an hour to check out a few stores downtown before they’ll have to head back so this is what they’ll do.
Whittling down the array of shops first by phoning them and asking about whether any of them had gotten new shipments in recently had helped, of course, but there is still quite a list to go through. For their first attempt they’ve chosen a mid-sized store fairly close to the campus. Matt is holding on to Foggy’s forearm as usual as they make their way down the pavement and right now he is also trying to control his breathing, because he can hear the shop from here-
Foggy maybe senses just the tiniest slowing of Matt’s step, because he pauses.
“Okay. We’re almost there. Do you want to wait outside?” he asks quietly, even though both of them hate it when Matt has to. There are (luckily very few) businesses that have a ‘no slaves allowed inside’ policy for whatever reason – though mostly to do with insurance, they understand – and with their own strategy of always staying just this side of legal while hiding Matt’s status, Foggy has usually left him outside on those occasions. Even if of course, it was never physically a hardship exactly to have to sit around on a park bench or take a stroll around the block while waiting for Foggy to finish up inside, it…was still always a reminder.
But slave markets of course would be the last places a slave isn’t allowed in, and Matt also would throw himself in front of an approaching tank before he permitted himself to freeze up from something this world is trying to throw at him, so he just shakes his head and adjusts his grip on Foggy’s forearm.
“No. Let’s go inside.”
There’s no ‘just don’t sell me’ joke attached, but Foggy at the moment wouldn’t feel like laughing anyway – or potentially rather throwing up if he did. He hasn’t been to any slave markets ever (in fact, him very empathically not wanting to go there had played not a small part in his decision not to sell Matt the day he was given to Foggy, a memory Foggy nowadays mostly tries not to think too hard about it and will maybe someday make a therapist very rich). But, he also reasons, if Matt manages to go in there, disguised as a free man or not, he really doesn’t have any ground to chicken out now.
They go inside.
Matt walks in and for a moment feels like he’s been hit in the head with a sledgehammer.
The sounds. The smells. Matt feels far removed from reality for a moment, his ‘world of fire’ an incoherent mess. Foggy could sell him here if he wanted, a part of his brain screams. Within a minute Matt could be treated again like the property he is, his bed a cage and Foggy out of his life forever. The thought feels surreal and for a moment his head feels like he’s underwater, the world cold and featureless with nothing to cling to, nothing to swim to, nothing but…
Matt breathes in deeply. Foggy’s heartbeat. Elevated with stress and fear and fury, next to him, pulse under Matt’s hand fast but steady. That isn’t the heartbeat of an owner who intends to sell him, that’s the rushing blood of a partner who would tear this place apart faster than Matt if he could, and Matt is surprised how immediately that lets his world snap into focus again. He is here with a mission. They will carry it out.
He doesn’t say anything as he lets Foggy guide him into the store, presumably toward an employee there, and instead lets his senses expand a little, take in the entirety of the market, secure in the knowledge that Foggy won’t let him walk into anything painful.
The shop…is quite something.
It’s similar to the store Matt had been in when he was sold on the second-hand market for the first time, and it’s easy to visualize the different areas by sound and smell. There’s the large display windows that have younger, slimmer slaves sitting and leaning in them (an area they’d never put a blind slave in, of course), while the area they are in now has two beds where a collared and tied-up man and a woman, respectively, dressed in thin leather outfits lounge on the covers, presumably trying to look attractive – probably the current luxury goods of the store. Most slaves here are in larger, see-through plastic boxes toward the back, holding up to twenty men or women, ventilated by a separate system so the smell of too many humans in too small a space won’t penetrate the store.
And then of course, the classic metal cages in the back room, which hold the…cheaper merchandise, wire boxes not even tall enough to stand up in. Matt knows those.
Next to him, Foggy brings them to a halt and Matt forces himself to focus on the situation again. In front of them approaches a woman which he assumes must be a shopping assistant judging by her clean scent, accentuated by a hint of perfume and a tinkle of earrings. Foggy clears his throat.
“Ah, hello, excuse me. I was…looking to buy a slave?”
“I figured, honey, ‘cause we’re not a fruit stand,” the woman says, and her voice sounds a bit elderly and warm, friendly teasing. “First time?”
“Er, uh, no,” Foggy says, presumably to curb any explanations they don’t need nor have time for. “I already have one. I was thinking of getting a second one, maybe this time a…girl though,” he manages almost smoothly, Matt thankful that neither of them usually have trouble with words. He squeezes Foggy’s forearm in encouragement, and it helps, Foggy just ever so slightly relaxing next to him.
“A girl, hm?” the seller asks. “Yeah, they are generally a bit less trouble. No illegal breeding with your stud, though, alright?” she asks, grinning and wagging a playful finger at the pair of them.
Foggy’s series of convulsive coughs sound happily in-character for a young inexperienced slave owner, and Matt manages to clamp down on his shock quickly enough (she didn’t mean him, she doesn’t know he’s Foggy’s…stud or otherwise) to help Foggy out by patting him on the back and stepping in a little.
“Ah, no, of course not,” he manages. “My friend was thinking more along the lines of a household help, maybe a study aid. We live together and y’know, I thought I could use some help for running errands, too,” he supplies, wearing a smile so self-deprecating he wants to murder somebody, but it has the desired effect. The woman nods vigorously.
“Ah, of course, of course, I understand. Anything in particular you were looking for, then?”
“Uh, yeah,” Foggy seems to have recovered and steps in again. “Maybe like…around 19-ish? I was thinking maybe something exotic. You know, still white, but maybe, hm…you don’t have any red heads by chance?” Foggy wonders, magically sounding almost casual while Matt can hear the vein on his temple bulge and thinks one probably doesn’t need super senses for that at this point.
And then a particular scent hits him and once it does it takes only a second to pick out her heartbeat in the back.
“Hm…” the shopping assistant sounds like she’s frowning as she thinks. “No, I’m sorry, love, I don’t think we have anything quite like that at the moment. Maybe I could interest you in some lovely blondes…?“
“Ah, no. Thank you. We might come again later, th-“ Foggy starts, but shuts his mouth as Matt squeezes his arm not at all very gently and takes another half-step forward.
“Are you sure there aren’t any?” he asks. “Only, we called this morning and heard there had just been a new shipment, so maybe there were any in there…?”
“Ah, hm. That could be, actually. Let me check,” the seller says and disappears into the back. Foggy turns his head and Matt is pretty certain he is on the receiving end of a thoroughly quizzical stare.
“Matt?” Foggy whispers. “Do you know anything I don’t, dude?”
“Just making sure we’re thorough,” Matt deflects and fortunately, the shopping assistant chooses that moment to return to the front.
“Wouldn’t you know, you’re in luck! There is one girl who I think you’d definitely like. I can’t unchain her until my colleague gets here, but I brought her data sheet with a picture,” she says, and hands Foggy a piece of paper. Matt doesn’t need to hear Foggy’s subtle intake of breath to know that it has to be Em’s foto on there, but it’s nice to get confirmation.
“Uh…yes. Yes. I think she would definitely be suitable. Let me just call another friend of ours, he might be interested, too,” Foggy says, almost dropping his cellphone in his haste to write a text to Peter. “Can we…can we see the rest of her papers, meanwhile?” he asks, maybe hoping that the more documents they have in their hands the higher their chances of actually getting her before someone else does.
“Sure thing. I’ll get you her file,” the shopping assistant says and walks toward the back office again. “And by the way, you’re really in luck, because she’s actually due to be shipped out to another state tomorrow, new store branch opening there. Talk about happy coincidences, right?” she sounds like she’s smiling at them before she disappears and Foggy mutters ‘Great. Of course she’s due to be shipped out. Just great’ under his breath.
Peter, of course, arrives not ten minutes later while they’ve started to leaf through her file to appear like Serious And Normal Customers, Definitely Not Abolitionists. At Foggy's comment of ‘wow. That was fast,’ Peter claims he was actually just in the area anyhow, looking at completely different stores than he was supposed to. Matt can hear his heart skip a beat like a faulty pogo stick and fervently hopes Peter’s face is more adept at lying than the rest of his body.
The store clerk seems a bit surprised at the High School Kid joining Matt and Foggy’s perusal of the papers, but fortunately only offers once to show Peter a selection of beginner’s study aids and doesn’t bother them again when he declines.
“Hmm, yes, I think I would like to purchase that one,” Foggy declares airily when they’ve dutifully thumbed through the papers. “What’s the damage?”
The seller tells them the price.
“…how much?” Peter and Foggy ask when she does.
“Well, honey, she’s got a bachelor’s in theatre, speaks Spanish fluently and, as you specified, is a natural redhead,” the woman points out. “The female ones always go for a bit of money,” she says, then steps behind a desk with a computer on it and Matt hears her tapping away on the keyboard. “Of course we could also give you a discount if you’ve got any slaves to trade in…?” she asks, and thankfully, neither Peter nor Foggy can hear Matt’s racing heart or his fingers gripping his cane tightly enough to hurt as they shake their heads.
“Well, uh, no, no model to ‘trade in’, but…” Foggy casts around a bit. “You sure we can’t talk about that price a little? Or maybe…a payment or a leasing plan…?”
“Okay, this is bad,” Peter whispers to Matt, both of them having stepped aside a little while Foggy tries to haggle with the seller. “I’m a high schooler. I sell pictures to a newspaper. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Neither do I or Foggy,” Matt’s lips thin. “We get an allowance from his biological mother, but neither of us have any savings as of yet.” He cocks his head at Peter. “Haven’t you ever used your powers to steal any money?”
“What? NO! Did you?” Peter hisses back, incredulous.
“Of course not. If I ever were caught with stolen money…” Matt doesn’t continue the sentence; they both know how a scenario like that would play out for a slave. “But you – I mean, you’re a free person. You could even have made semi-legal money with your civilian identity with those powers of yours. Like boxing. Or cage fights. Wrestlers even get to wear masks.”
“What? Matt, that is insane,” Peter points out and Matt knows this, but –
“Well, I tried,” Foggy interrupts their conversation. “But I don’t think there’s much we can do about the price. Fuck,” Foggy curses and Matt’s thoughts are racing, knowing that Em is somewhere in the back, probably desperate and here he is again, powerless…
“Okay,” Peter says at this point, swallowing. “If it’s like this, I don’t think I’ve got another choice. Damn, she’s going to kill me,” he mutters, sounding much more like a teenager again, before pulling out his phone and nervously running a hand through his hair as he dials. Matt can hear him swallowing before a woman picks up on the other hand and Peter goes,
“Hey, aunt May…uh, so about that girl I told you about…”
Matt and Foggy barely make it back in time for their class and even when they get there, it’s not like either of them can actually concentrate, either for the class or for the lecture afterwards. They had to leave before whatever relative Peter was calling could get there and now Peter doesn’t call or reply, again. When their university stuff is over and by the time they get back to their dorm, the shop has also closed for the day, so they can’t reach anyone there to ask about Em, either.
“Why isn’t he picking up this time?” Foggy runs a shaky hand through his hair. “I swear I’ve probably gotten more gray hairs in the last three days alone than from any exam phase we’ve been through.”
Matt grunts in agreement. This waiting and not knowing is worse than any stress he ever had while running around with Elektra, even. It was so much better to be out and doing something, like Peter had, laying into Kevin and having success where everything else had just not been quite enough…
He gets up and heads for a shower eventually, hoping the downpour of water will at least be able to drown out his racing thoughts (at the moment mostly centered around a midnight break-in at that store), but then, literally just as soon as he’d turned the water on, his hand freezes in its motion for the shampoo.
Because there’s two very distinctive heartbeats moving toward the dorm and for a moment, he can’t believe it’s true until there’s a knock at their door.
“…Hey,” Peter’s voice says through the wood. “Mind if we come in?”
“No. way,” Foggy breathes as soon as he has opened the door and immediately moves aside to let Peter and the girl at his side step into the room. “Em. Is that really you? Matt! Come out here! They made it! He bought her!”
“Um. Yes. Hello,” Em nods, voice sounding shy and a bit overwhelmed. Even in the other room, Matt can hear how Peter moves to stand next to her, but it has a more protective than controlling vibe to it – it’s hard not to compare him to Foggy in this moment, and Matt swallows as he hurries to get dressed.
“Yeah. It took a lot to get aunt May to buy her, but she did in the end,” Peter says and ducks his head. “I’m sorry for not texting you immediately but…also kinda wanted to surprise you,” he says, sounding sheepish.
“Surprise…Jesus, dude,” Foggy says, huffing out a breath of air. “Do you know how much stress-aging we did here because of you and Em?!”
“Uh. Sorry again?” Peter tries again, and then also sucks some air through his teeth. “Oh and actually…” he turns to Em. “Do you want to tell them?”
“Tell us what?” Matt asks, finally stepping out of the bathroom, and hears Em suck in a gasp at seeing him again, exclaiming ‘Matt!’ with enough happiness that it kinda even makes up for the hellish past day.
“Hey, Em,” he replies back, smiling. “What was that?”
“Heh.” A hand of hers comes up to card through her hair as she ducks her head a little – Matt can also sense that she smells freshly-showered now and her clothes are new ones as well; it’s a bittersweet memory of his first week in the Nelson household and he isn’t sure how to deal with that. Em takes a breath as if to steady herself before raising her head again.
“Actually, it’s…it’s Mary. My name is Mary-Jane.”
“…oh. That motherfucker,” Foggy breathes as he realizes.
“Yeah.” Peter nods. “Turns out it wasn’t ‘Em’ so much as ‘M’ as in, the letter, he was calling her. Couldn’t even be bothered to spell the entire name out.”
“They do that. It’s nice getting your own back, though. Hello Mary-Jane,” Matt says, finally stepping closer.
“Matt!” Mary-Jane finally calls out and steps forward to throw her arms around him. “Thank you so much for everything! Peter told me all about what you did.”
“Nothing, really,” he turns his head slightly to Peter with a meaningful glance (or what he hopes is one). The one positive thing he notices is that even with Mary-Jane still clinging to him and pressing her face against his chest, there doesn’t seem to be any hostility or jealousy whatsoever spiking Peter’s heartbeat, so he feels a small hope maybe, just maybe, things could really turn out okay, even with an owner who isn’t Foggy.
As Mary-Jane releases him again, Peter clears his throat. “Uh, yeah, you did. You and Foggy. Both of your interviews helped a bunch and who knows whether I’d have found her in time without you.”
“Always happy to help,” Foggy replies cheerfully. “And there’s definitely less slaves around on campus now. Baby steps, but the right direction. Speaking of which, what are you guys gonna do now? I’m noticing you’re not wearing a collar, Mary-Jane…?” he asks and Matt feels a small wave of something not unlike pride when Foggy actually addresses her directly and without any awkwardness, despite not really having been able to talk to her normally before.
“No, I am,” Mary-Jane’s tone is a bit bashful as Matt can sense her hand reach into her shirt in a way he is rather familiar with, but she doesn’t sound resentful or embarrassed by it. “Peter got me the ‘Foggy-and-Matt’ model,” she laughs a little awkwardly, tugging at something that smells like the band of leather around his neck had when it was still new.
“We’re actually moving away,” Peter said. “My aunt just got a new job in Washington, so we’re renting the house in Queens out for a while. She says it’s good to…get some distance. After my uncle and all,” he shakes his head. “It’ll be a fresh start for MJ, too. Nobody there will ever have known her as anything but a free person.”
Foggy raises a bit of an eye brow at the shortening of her name to its initials – wasn’t that literally what Kevin had been doing, seriously – but the way Mary-Jane turns and lights up at Peter as he said that, it looks like she doesn’t mind that form of being addressed.
“Yeah so,” Peter continues, “plan is, I’ll finish up my last year of High School there, with her as my registered study-aid at home and she can have some time to recover. Also, District of Columbia has literally the loosest emancipation laws anywhere in the US. With any luck, MJ will be free in like two years.”
“That’s…oh wow, that’s really great," Foggy says, blinking. "Maybe we should move there, huh, Matt?”
“And start the whole paperwork process all over again there? No thanks,” Matt shakes his head, but he is also unabashedly grinning at the news. Mary-Jane, even swathed in the new hoodie and jeans Peter has gotten her seems to be so intensely glowing at the moment that he wonders whether that’s somehow even perceptible to anyone without super-senses.
It’s much later now. Peter and Mary-Jane have already left again, Peter’s aunt coming to pick them up and meeting her, Matt can definitely see where Peter gets his kindness from. He’s not that surprised that she would have helped her nephew buy a girl he wanted so desperately to free and now support them in their emancipation attempt. She’s excessively kind to them, even bringing cookies for ‘being great role models for Peter’ (which Matt only squirms a little about accepting, given what kind of ideas he’s put in her nephew’s head, but May then also demonstrates where Peter got his stubbornness from and Matt and Foggy end up with several boxes before she leaves).
Now their smell in the darkness is pretty much the last hint of all the insane events of the day. It’s at least a little bit comforting, but…
Matt keeps remembering the shops and he can’t sleep.
“Can you sleep?”
“…well, not after you just asked that question, no,” Foggy’s answer comes with some retardation, sounding dry. “What’s wrong, Matty?” he adds more softly and Matt has to take a breath before he can trust his voice again.
I remembered being sold, Foggy. I could feel it happening.
…is what he wants to say, but he can’t. That would be showing to Foggy how damaged he still is, how weak, might make Foggy reconsider freeing him altogether because Matt can’t keep it together even during so simple and yeah, okay, that is an absolutely ridiculous thought, Murdock, and you know it, Matt forces himself to curb that train of thought. That’s at least something he’s gotten better at over the last 3 and almost-half-a year.
Foggy will free him. Foggy doesn’t think he’s broken. Hell, Foggy just spent the entire day running around trying to free somebody else and even Matt has to admit Foggy taking him to an auction house instead is something that would only make sense if Peter were Clark Kent, they were all stuck in the DC universe, and Scarecrow had hit Matt with a dose of fear gas.
No. Matt rationally knows that he doesn’t have to fear anything from Foggy. He won’t get sold. But…
“…would you mind sharing the bed? Just tonight,” Matt says, quickly, and then also adds, “The break-in may have rattled me more than I thought after all,” because that sounds like platonic and also completely reasonable Free-Person-Thinking, right?
There’s a moment of silence and Matt counts one, two heartbeats, already opening his mouth to rescind the request after all, but then –
“…sure. Wanna come here or shall I come over?” Foggy asks and Matt is already rising before he has finished the sentence.
Climbing into his owner’s bed voluntarily is something he would never have thought possible in his life before, but maybe tonight is an exception. At least it’s definitely something different when he is free to return to his own bed at any time, though, and Matt knows it. There is one last, small part of him that insists that this is the greatest reward he could hope for, being allowed here, but Matt crushes the thought ruthlessly. What he wants to feel toward Foggy isn't submissiveness, but trust, plain and simple.
He brings his own blanket, at least, and Foggy doesn’t say anything much other than ‘Alright. Goodnight, Matt’, or try to touch him even when Matt lies next to him. Foggy does drop of first, though, and when he turns over, and flings an arm across Matt’s chest, much like someone not intending of letting go but also not a grip that feels smothering or frightening at all, just a soft, reassuring weight that means safety, Matt finally, finally feels himself drifting off to sleep.
(He wakes up before Foggy does, the next morning and leaves to get them breakfast. They don’t talk about that night or repeat it, but Matt thinks he won’t forget that memory for a while.)
An almost as nice memory is when over Christmas break, they get a card from Peter and Mary-Jane from Washington. Peter is likely about to graduate from High School with one of the highest exam scores in the entire district and is already being flooded with scholarship offers from a lot of universities. They do say they’re going to be staying in the District for at least another year, though, until MJ’s emancipation is through. There is a lip-stick kiss pressed to the card and she’s also scribbled a small paragraph about how she’s doing a lot of online volunteer work raising awareness currently and wants to go into the documentary business after she’s freed and how this is her most wonderful Christmas yet, thanking both of them again so much. Foggy reads the card out loud to Matt and they’re both wearing such incredibly stupid, dopey grins that Foggy bursts out laughing when he realizes how alike they look right now and how sometimes there is good in the world, dammit, if you only look hard enough.
Matt laughs and smiles as well, and later on also smiles in private again when he is running his hands over yet another newspaper article talking about the ‘vigilante, web-swinging hero’ that has been showing up in Washington more and more during those last few weeks. And he wonders…
Their bar exam is only a few months away. They already have signed up for a year-long internship at Landman and Zack's, a top law firm straight afterwards. Matt will be a free man long before that one is even over.
Really, sometimes, the future couldn't seem brighter if it tried.
To be continued…
Well, here we go! About to enter the canon time line! Some fluff before we evidently descend into the total clusterfuck of Matt Murdock's post-college life, who's excited? :D Just wanted to say, I was really over the moon with all the wonderful comments I got, that's what keeps me writing! So, hope you all enjoyed and if you read, please review!