A/N: Hello all. Sorry for the terribly long delay; it's scholarship and scheduling time and things just keep piling up. Here's the next chapter, extra-long and pre-edited by girlwithoutfear.
"Now once more. You hold the cane--"
"I told you, I know!" Matt interrupted his orientation and mobility instructor for the third time. He hated these lessons. "How many times do I have to hear it?" He could feel his blood pressure rise and hear his own heart beat faster with every step. Less than two weeks into rehab and he already hated it.
"Until you realize you need it," Dave Bryant, Matt's instructor responded smoothly. Matt wasn't the first teenager he'd taught to live without sight, so he was used to the fight.
Matt snorted. "As I've told you, I don't need it!"
It was Dave's turn to snort, "Okay, show me." He pulled the cane out of Matt's hand.
"Fine." He concentrated. If anyone asked him what he was concentrating on, Matt wouldn't have been able to answer. Matt himself didn't know how he did what he did; he only knew that he could do it.
Slowly but surely, Matt started steering through the obstacles around the room. Instinctively, he knew where everything was. It was almost like seeing, but not quite. If Matt had to put the feeling into words he would say that it was like when you know that someone is behind you. That prickly feeling of being watched, except he knew it wasn't his brain playing tricks on him. He'd first noticed it a few days after the accident and had been experimenting since.
Dave was surprised, but not shocked; Matt wouldn't be the first to pick up echolocation so quickly. Matt was about to turn around and gloat when he tripped over something. In an instant, the man was beside him. "See what I mean, Matt?"
Matt pulled away from the man's helping hand, his ego wounded. "I can still get up by myself!" He wanted to run again, run like he had the day of his accident. Run as if nothing could stop him. But he knew he couldn't; there was nothing he could do.
"Come on, Matt. Let's get back to work. You almost have it." Dave was trying to be helpful, but it didn't help. If anything, it just made Matt even more depressed.
Matt snatched the cane from Dave's hand. Dave smiled, mistaking Matt's gesture as resolve rather than anger.
Matt hadn't planned on sneaking out while Jack was sleeping, but now that he was here, he wasn't going to leave. The memories of a hundred fights swirled around him, and for the first time in a very long time, Matt smiled. He dropped the white cane; he didn't need it here.
The gym was a second home to Matt. He remembered coming here after school to see his father in the middle of a skirmish or lifting weights. Matt took a long, deep breath. His smile reappeared as he smelled the adrenaline of a hundred boxers, the sweat of a hard workout, and the faint, but unmistakable smell of blood. Yes, this was home.
Matt headed to the heavy punching bags. He was about to throw a punch when he suddenly realized that his father would notice his fists. He walked to the locker room, searching for some tape to wrap his knuckles. It didn't take very long.
Matt had watched his father wrap his hands for as long as he remembered, though Jack had never let him help. But that didn't matter; Matt wrapped his hands as if he'd done it a hundred times. Now he was ready.
He walked slowly back to the bag. Matt felt it, as if proving to himself it was still there. Then without thinking, he threw a punch. The bag made a soft smack as his fist connected.
"He'll never see again…" SMACK!
"For bravery, I now present this certificate…" SMACK!
"You promised me, Mattie." SMACK!
"I'm sorry…" SMACK!
"Leave!" SMACK! SMACK!
Matt punched harder. Tears he hadn't realized he'd been shedding were coursing down his face. He tried to make them stop, but he couldn't. Every emotion he'd been bottling up was pouring down his cheeks. He smashed the bag over and over again, not daring to stop because if he did, the world would fall apart.
Matt didn't stop until he realized he could hear the city that never sleeps come alive. He pulled the tattered tape from his fists, listening to the hotdog man set up outside. He felt deflated, but a little less alien than before.
Jack looked at his son. He was proud of the progress Matt had made at his lessons, but he knew something was wrong. He wanted to sit him down and have a nice heart-to-heart but he knew that was impossible. Though he and Matt had always been close, they'd never been the kind of family that cried into each other's arms. No, they would cry alone into the pillows, trying to hide it from the other.
Not that they hadn't talked. A few weeks after the accident, he and Matt had had an argument. Jack hated to remember it. It had been over a trivial thing, something about Jack leaving Matt alone, but at least it had helped to remove some of the awkwardness that enveloped their small apartment. There were still some kinks to work out, though.
It had been five months since the accident, and today was the first day of school. Jack didn't want Matt to start school again so soon, but he knew it was now or never. Matt had worked through the last few months to salvage as much of his old life as he could and Jack was not about to stop him now. He only wished that he could do that without having to interact with his classmates. If only Jack had continued with school, he might have been able to afford to send his son to a private establishment, but now it was too late.
"Ready to go?" Jack asked. He tried to sound cheerful, but sending his newly disabled kid to high school was not on his list of exciting things.
Matt could hear the doubt in his father's voice, but he decided to ignore it. "Yeah. I'll be fine."
"You sure you don't want me to come with you?"
Matt wanted to snort in response, but he knew his father was just being a parent. "No, they made sure to explain my classes and stuff."
"Can I at least walk you to the bus stop?"
"Yeah, sure." Matt reached out to grasp his father's upper arm. "Let's go then."
Matt had tried to conceal as much of his nervousness as possible from his father. It wasn't getting around; he was fine with that. He'd spent a good chunk of the summer with his instructor on that. What he was really nervous about was the attention.
He'd always been the brain of the class, but even then, he'd managed to slip under most radar. Now the white cane stuck out like a lighthouse in the dark. Add that to the news about his accident and the mayor's commendation, and he stuck out even further. Gone were the days when he could blend in with a crowd. Matt took a deep breath, and walked off the bus.
Matt headed to his homeroom, English Literature. The first bell hadn't rung yet, but Matt wanted to get there early to grab a seat in the back. He'd decided to find a seat that was as out of the way as possible and hibernate for a while.
He'd only just walked in when the bell rang for the start of school. Matt flinched at the razor-sharp sound cutting through his already tense brain. The sound of hundreds of dragging feet didn't help the matter, either.
"Mr. Murdock?" his new teacher asked tentatively. "They said you were coming." Matt could tell his teacher was almost as nervous as he was. "My name is Mr. Dighton."
Matt didn't know whether he should shake the man's hand or something, so he compromised by just saying, "Hi. It's Matt."
"Ah, yes." The awkwardness was back. "Is there something you need?"
"Just a chair," Matt replied, his radar sense (as he'd decided to call the strange awareness) telling him Dighton was leaning in to grab his arm, something Matt hated.
The teacher looked at him for a few seconds, obviously about to say something else when another student caught his attention. Matt sighed in relief, heading for a seat in the far corner.
"Um, Matt. I--um--heard about your…" Matt's 'friend', Brice, didn't finish his sentence.
"Accident?" Matt finished, turning around to face the friend who'd never once called to ask how he was. He tried to face Brice's eyes, but he wasn't sure if it worked.
"I meant to call, but – " Brice stammered.
"I don't really care." Matt continued his journey to the back of the room. His anger went up a notch. No one had called him from school in the five months of his rehab. He'd never been Mr. Popular, but he'd thought he'd had friends. Now he didn't bother fooling himself.
Matt could hear everyone turning in his or her seats or stopping at the door to look at him. He understood their curiosity; he was, after all, the only blind guy in their high school. And those who knew him remembered him to be the class genius, or in a meaner sense, geek. But as usual, knowing the reason didn't make it any easier to ignore. He gritted his teeth and sat down.
The class wore on with Matt constantly having to play blind and deaf to the endless whispers and badly, if at all, hidden gestures. Matt's patience was in shreds by the time the bell shrilled for second block. He breathed a sigh of relief; nothing could be as bad as the last hour and a half.
Matt headed to American history, perhaps one of his favorite courses. He was about to walk up the extremely crowded steps when someone stopped him. "Do you need some help?"
Matt held back a grimace. He was about to respond with a resounding "NO" when he realized he should at least try and be civil. "No thanks, my class is only up these stairs and twelve steps to the right."
"Wow. How do you do know that already?" The girl seemed genuinely interested, and for some reason Matt couldn't stop himself.
"I got my schedule last month, and they made sure I knew where I was going." Matt explained, wishing he could shut his mouth and sink into the floor. Unfortunately, physics had to rear its ugly head.
"You're lucky. I'm completely lost." The girl was fidgeting, but to Matt's surprise, it wasn't because of him. "I can't find my next class."
For some reason, Matt found himself pitying the girl. "Well, what is it? I might have it too."
"American history with Ms. Gardener or something."
Matt laughed. "Looks like this is your lucky day. I'm in American history with Ms. Greener as well." Matt stopped in front of the room. "My name's Matt Murdock."
The two students walked into the class, but before Matt could head to the back of the room again, he heard the teacher say: "Go to the bulletin board. In this class, you have assigned seats." She sounded so happy about it, as if she were giving the whole class a gift or something.
"Typical," Matt muttered under his breath. Tory, who was standing right beside him, heard.
"You want me to tell you where you are?" she asked, understanding immediately.
Matt shelved his pride and replied, "If you wouldn't mind."
"Yeah, sure." Tory came back a few seconds later saying, "You're right in front of me." She made to grab his arm, but Matt stopped her before she could.
"I take you, not the other way around." It came out harsher than he'd meant, but Tory didn't seem to take offence. She just shrugged and let Matt grasp her arm.
Matt jumped when the bell rang for the start of the period. The whole class went silent, watching the teacher to see how strict she was going to be.
"Good morning class," Ms. Greener's voice had a no nonsense tone to it, "Welcome to American history. I have some forms I would like you to fill out." She held up a stack of papers. "Follow the directions."
Ms. Greener walked down the rows, dropping the usual first day of school information sheets on everyone's desk. She stopped at Matt's desk and stage-whispered, "I've already got yours, Mr. Murdock." She patted him on the back and moved on. Once again, Matt found his teeth clinching.
The period inched on, only getting interesting in the last twenty minutes with Ms. Greener saying, "To get into the mood of things, we're going to have a short discussion." Matt sat up; he was good with discussions.
"First question: Who was the first person to record landing on American soil?"
Matt's hand jumped up faster than lightening. Ms. Greener looked around before finally calling on him. Matt took a deep breath. "Leif Erickson in 1001."
Greener was surprised, but she hid it well. The sniggers and attention doubled ten-fold. No one had expected the blind boy to raise his hand, let alone be right. Ms. Greener continued with more pop questions, but Matt forced his hand to stay down. He decided showing off once in this class period was enough. He was happier than he'd thought he would be to hear the shrill bell again. Matt left the classroom as fast as he could.
Lunch and third period passed the same way as the first two. Matt gritted his teeth as people pointed and whispered.
Fourth period trigonometry was different, however. It started out fine, until Matt heard a familiar voice. Richard Kelson was sitting right in front of him, and unlike most people, the glasses didn't at all intimidate Rick.
"Hello Daredevil. Where ya been?" Rick seemed to have forgotten his match with Matt almost five months ago.
"Kelson," Matt acknowledged roughly. Some part of him blamed Rick for his accident, however irrational that was. Matt couldn't help but think of what might have happened had he not fought the bully.
Later, Matt stood up to give his review sheet to the teacher, ignoring everyone's offers to turn it in for him. He pulled out his cane, tapping like his instructors had instructed, but Rick was too fast. Matt's radar told him too late that the foot was there.
Matt landed flat on his stomach, his foot tangled on Rick's leg. The class went quieter than the grave. "Mr. Kelson, may I see you outside for a moment?" the teacher asked, almost whispering in anger.
Someone leaned down to try and help Matt up, but Matt pushed the hand away. "I am fine, I don't need help!" he growled. Matt had had enough; he grabbed his cane, pushing his sunglasses back on his nose, trying not to listen to his teacher bawl-out Kelson.
When the bell rang for the final time, Matt left as fast as he could, his face ablaze with embarrassment and anger. He didn't bother waiting at the bus stop, he knew Hell's Kitchen like the back of his hand.
"Hey Mattie! How'd it go?" Jack asked as soon as he opened the stiff front door.
For a second Matt contemplated telling him the truth, which was that he'd just had the worst first day of school in his life and he just wanted to kill himself. But one listen to his father's heartbeat told him he couldn't. "It was okay. My teachers seem nice."
Jack was too relieved to notice the fake under-tone in his son's voice. "I knew it would be fine!" Jack hesitated, "Let's go celebrate." He knew going out to eat would be a strain on their harsh budget, but he wanted to do something special for his son's first day.
Matt was thinking the same thing, but he couldn't bring himself to disappoint his father, especially after he'd just lied to him again. So twenty minutes later he and Jack were sitting down in a plastic-covered booth.
Jack picked up the laminated menu, scanning for something good. "Well Mattie, what would you like? They have burgers and the sandwiches look good."
Matt was having trouble sorting out the different smells from the overall stench of grease and cheap deodorant. "I think I'll just take a burger," he answered after a minute.
As soon as Jack finished ordering, Matt started on an edited version of his first day of high school.