"Okay Matty, the door is about eight feet in front of you and there are three steps so be careful." Jack Murdock kept a watchful eye out for anything that might present an obstacle to his son while pulling two large suitcases from the trunk of the cab they had splurged on for the ride uptown.
"Geez Dad, which is scarier, the door or the steps?" Matt smiled at Jack and shook his head a little. He knew that his dad usually worked very hard at suppressing his urge to overdo it in the helping department, but this was a big day for both of them. He could be excused for feeling the need to be a little more attentive than usual.
Jack knew that comment, or something similar, was coming before Matt even opened his mouth. The fact of the matter was that his son was perfectly capable of getting around on his own, and Jack knew that Matt found his mother hen tendencies to be a little annoying at times. He just couldn't help himself. Jack was nervous, and he knew that Matt was too, whether he would admit to it or not.
"I'm sorry kid, I'm just trying to look out for you." Jack handed the driver the fare and picked up the suitcases he'd left waiting on the sidewalk. Meanwhile Matt had made it to the front door and was holding it open for him.
"I know you are, Dad. You sure you don't want me to take one of those bags?" Matt heard his father's slightly labored breath and rapid heartbeat as he felt the heat and mass of his body move past him through the entrance.
"Well here's how I see it. I was never much good at helping you out with your homework, so let me just do this. Make your old man feel like he's at least good for something."
"Come on Dad, that just sounds depressing. Like you're a pack mule or something." Matt let the massive door close behind him and followed his dad into the lobby of the building. The area was full of people coming and going in all directions, and Jack had stopped to let Matt get a little closer. It was as if he had subconsciously picked up on his son's aversion to large crowds over the years.
"You want to take my arm?" Jack casually glanced over at Matt before taking a look around for some additional information about what floor Matt would be on and where they might be able to get a key.
"Only if you let me take one of those bags. I think that's a fair deal." Matt smiled, pleased with the way he'd just blackmailed his dad into giving up his exclusive load-carrying privileges.
"All right." Jack put down the lighter of the two bags on Matt's right and waited for him to pick it up. He then took his cane, to keep it out of the way, and gave Matt a couple of seconds to latch onto him before moving in the direction of the registration area he'd just located. "I think this is where we get the key, Matty."
"Okay, if you say so." Matt took a few seconds to try to get a better feel for the place. The lobby was quite large, with two elevators in the back and a reception area on his right, staffed by a couple of people. They were both young, probably students. He and Jack found their spot in line behind two other parent-offspring duos and Matt divided most of his attention for the next few minutes between listening to his father's nervously beating heart to his left and the near hysterical conversation between a girl and her mother right in front of him. He actually had to concentrate to keep himself from smiling as the girl, whose name turned out to be Molly, debated boyfriend visitation rights with the older woman whose dolphin squeak for a voice kept repeating "now you listen to me young lady" as if it were a mantra.
Jack saw how hard Matt was working at keeping a straight face while they waited, and he didn't need psychic abilities to figure out that his son was quite enjoying the show they were being treated to. He leaned over and whispered, "See, I'm not that bad after all."
"Shh. Dad, they'll hear you." Matt was almost cracking up. "Besides, I never said you were anywhere near bad."
"Yeah, I s'pose you're right. You're a good kid." The people at the very front of the line were finished and Jack took a step forward with Matt following right behind. Molly and her mother both appeared to have suddenly gone through a complete change of personality as their turn was coming up. They had buried the hatchet and joined forces in their common goal of charming the people behind the counter into handing over the much-coveted key to freedom for both of them.
"It's a nice place. Big. Stone walls, right?" Matt kept his sensory enhancements hidden from the world, but gauging the size of a room was no superpower and there was a very particular echo in the lobby.
"Yeah. I'm telling you, this place is much nicer than anything you'd see in Hell's Kitchen. The walls are some kind of red marble, but that could just be imitation I guess. Looks expensive. But you better watch out, they have some chairs here right in the middle of the lobby."
"Dad, give me some credit, will you. You need to stop worrying so much."
"I can promise I'll try. How's that?"
"Not good enough. If you're going to worry, pick something else to worry about." Matt hoped he didn't come across as too stern, but his own nervousness was bad enough without Jack adding to it. Of course, they didn't worry about the same things. Getting safely from point A to point B was not a major concern in Matt's book. Getting over the feeling of being a fish out of water, who wouldn't know a soul in this place the minute his dad decided to head back to the apartment, most certainly was. While Matt was looking forward to finally spreading his wings and taking the next inevitable step into adulthood, part of him felt like a little kid who had gotten lost at the mall.
Matt and his father were close. Jack Murdock was a flawed man in more ways than Matt liked to think about, but there was still a lot of good in him. The last few years had been the best and worst of their lives. While Matt had made a habit of hiding big portions of his life from his father, he had never felt as close to him as he had during the last couple of years. Maybe because he understood him better, or maybe because he realized how much alike they really were, in spite of everything else. And his dad's boxing career had started gaining momentum as well. They were far from rich, but these days his dad could afford to take him out to a restaurant every once in a blue moon, and Matt's wardrobe had received a much needed update in time for college; though he was relieved that his dad had allowed him to go shopping with a couple of friends instead of taking him personally. When you had to rely on other people for fashion advice, taking a parent to go shopping for clothes was a risky business.
There had been tough times as well. Jack had taken his son's accident very hard and Matt knew that he still felt bad about it more often than he let on. The last couple of years had been better though. While Jack knew nothing about the strange abilities his son had gained in the same accident that took his sight, Matt had somehow managed to convince him, through his actions and general attitude, that he was doing okay. He did very well in school, had a fairly active social life, and exuded the kind of happiness and confidence that usually helped put his father's mind at ease.
When it was finally their turn at the counter, Matt and Jack were greeted by a young woman whose voice was full of the kind of forced enthusiasm that seemed like just another garment she put on in the morning. "Well, hi there guys and welcome to Columbia! Can I get a name?"
"Yeah, I'm Matthew Murdock." Matt waited while she went through the pile of paper in front of her, listening to the loud rustle as the sheets where shuffled around.
"Hmmm… Murdock, Murdock… Oh here it is! Matthew Michael Murdock?"
"That would be me," Matt answered through one of his crooked smiles. "My parents obviously had a thing for the letter 'M.' Right dad?"
"Now you're riding my ass about the name too?" Jack laughed.
"I like my name, I'm just saying." Matt focused his senses on the girl in front of him. She was fairly short and squat and her hair seemed to lay flat against her skull. She smelled of something expensive, and he was yet again reminded of how different his own life had been compared to that of most of his fellow students. If he hadn't received a full scholarship, he could never have afforded to go to this school, and just paying for food and housing was going to take a huge chunk out of his father's budget. Matt had grown up in a household where there was always food on the table and a gift or two under the tree at Christmas, but there had been no excesses of any kind.
"Okay, here's your key," the young woman said, hesitating a little. She was relieved when Matt put his hand out for her to hand it to him. "Your roommate is Franklin Nelson. As far as I can tell he should be here already."
"So where do we go now?" Matt ran his thumb across the clunky key a couple of times before putting it in his pocket.
"Oh, sorry. It's on the third floor, just take the elevator, and there should be a note on the door. Also, the apartment number is on the key."
"Okay, then. I'm sure we'll manage. Thanks." Matt felt his dad lightly touch the back of his left hand. That was his cue to take his arm and was a routine that had become so ingrained that the thought of not complying didn't even occur to him. He didn't actually need to be guided anywhere, but he didn't particularly mind either. Especially not through dense crowds.
"You guys have a fantastic day!" the young woman yelled at their backs before addressing the next people in line with the same chipper greeting she'd offered them just a couple of minutes earlier.
"Franklin Nelson, huh? That sounds mighty fancy if you ask me." Jack pushed the button on the wall between the two elevators and studied Matt closely for a reaction. He could only hope that his son didn't feel as out of his league in this place as he did.
"I don't know. It doesn't sound like anything to me, I'm sure he's okay." Matt had no way of knowing one way or the other, and he was nervous about meeting the guy he was going to be living with for the foreseeable future. Most of all, he just wanted to get the first encounter out of the way. Ever since the accident, first encounters with new people had been a little awkward. Lots of people were unsure of how to act around him before they got to know him, and he always had to prepare himself mentally for that initial reaction.
"You're probably right," Jack said, reminding himself to not let his own insecurities shine through too much. "Here's the elevator, Matt." The doors opened and Jack moved his arm back a little so Matt would get behind him. There wasn't a lot of space to move around as it was, and the two suitcases didn't help. The elevator was empty however, which was a little surprising given the circumstances.
Matt got in and leaned against the side wall. Reaching out with his radar sense he could detect the buttons protruding from the panel next to the door on his side of the elevator and he reached out to touch them. There was actually Braille numbering next to each buttons which wasn't unusual for new elevators, especially not in a building like this one. He pressed the one for the third floor, and the doors were already starting to close when four more people decided to join the party and stumbled in, bringing even more luggage. Among them were Molly and her mother.
"What floor do you want?" Matt asked as he was the one who was squished up against buttons.
"Three, please," all four said in unison and assorted giggles followed.
"I guess that means we're neighbors then." Matt could sense that everyone was pressed up against the wall with most of the luggage on the floor in the center, so he knew that there was enough room to stick his hand out and introduce himself properly. "I'm Matt Murdock."
"Oh, hi! I'm Molly." Her small and well-manicured hand felt almost like a child's to Matt.
"Nice to meet you, Molly." As he released her hand from his grip, he could tell that a second person – a guy – had already put his hand out. Matt couldn't let it be known that he knew it was there and once more he waited for the other person to find his hand rather than the other way around. It wouldn't take a genius to figure out that he was blind and hence the source of his inaction.
"Eric Goldman." This hand was a more even match for his own and Matt could tell, using every sense at his disposal, that Eric was almost as tall as he was and probably quite the athlete too. He had a pleasant voice, and sounded like a nice guy. Matt responded by giving his own name once more.
"Well, I guess this is it." Matt felt the elevator slowly come to a stop and within a couple of seconds the doors opened. "I'll see you around then."
"Sure, bye!" Molly seemed to almost bounce out of the elevator and everyone else spilled out like a glass of milk tipped on its side.
Jack picked up both suitcases this time and held the elevator door open for Matt. With both of them out in the large hallway outside, he started to look around for the door with his son's name on it.
From the sound alone, Matt got a good idea of the size and dimensions of the room they were in, and as he let his radar sense fill in the rest, he could make out the indentations of several door wells along each side of the corridor. "Do you see it, dad?"
"Yeah, I think… Oh, it's left here, but the door is on the other side of the hall. Does that make sense to you?"
"Yeah, I think so." Obstacles could be felt as he approached them, whether Matt was actively focusing on his radar sense or not. It was a vague feeling of the air getting denser, and as he moved across the hall, he felt the distinct push of the wall against his face at about the same time as the tip of his cane came up against it, and he paused at the first door.
"Over here, Matty. Two doors down." Jack stopped in front of the door and put the suitcases down, giving his son another couple of seconds to catch up. "Are you ready to go in?"
"As ready as I'll ever be." Matt gave his dad a brave smile that belied how nervous he really was. "Time to meet Franklin Nelson."