Written as per a request from the awesome Debwood-1999 – hope you like it! I don't think it's quite what you (or I) had in mind but I asked my brain for something and this is what I got in return!

One more tumbler full of whiskey had started the descent into the state of mind that Hunter knew he had to achieve if he was going to go through with his plan. The plan had come to him in the dark of another night alone in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering just what was going to become of him and them. The idea had grown and changed as he pondered over it and the past two weeks had seen his fuse shorten with every passing day. There was going to be one chance at this and if it didn't work he wasn't sure just what else he could do.

Half a bottle had been enough to start the buzz but there was just under a quarter left when he picked the bottle up and rolled it idly between his hands. His tolerance of hard liquor was a blessing and a curse to Hunter. Sometimes he kept the fact hidden and staggered out of awkward situations when in truth he was probably close to being sober as a judge. Other times he used it to drink rookies under the table when they came for a bite at the big dog.

This situation was different again though. He needed that third quarter to sink fast to hit his system nicely before front door opened and then slammed shut again. Matt was due home soon and if his last ditch attempt was going to work before he had to say if he was willing to hit the road on promo for Mania then the edge had to come off his control and reality.

Gone was the leather and denim that usual clad his body when there was no suit and tie he had to wear. His hair was scraped back behind his ears and looked more ruffled than tousled, the mane of gold dulled to look like little more than strands of straw. A t-shirt clung to his body where it touched, as did the old grey work out pants that had come from the back of the drawer after he got out of the shower. Gone was the master and back was the ordinary man from Nashua who had more quiet countenance than command and control.

After a few minutes the slim figure of his slave, pet and lover came into sight, dumping his bag and coat on the table and cursing about Shannon's driving. Matt had never been a good passenger but since his numerous DUI's there had been no chance of him getting back on the road. Instead he attended the various meetings and counselling sessions after being chauffeur driven there by any one of their friends or extended family.

"How was it?"

"Same as always Hunner – a load of people sat around feeling sorry for themselves, talking about how much more fun they had before they stopped taking pills. I told you before, I'd be better off not going."

"So you stopped going, right?"

"No I did not. I went, same as yesterday, same as the day before. You told me I gotta go, so I go."

With a wry smile Hunter picked up the glass on the table and drained it, knowing that when he came to stand that there would be a slight wobble in his legs if his head was just that bit fuzzier than he expected.

"Don't bullshit me kid. I know you didn't go. They called me. They always call me. I just wondered how long it'd be before you stopped telling me a load 'a lies."

The cup of coffee that Matt had just poured himself to try and warm up his cold insides seemed suddenly fascinating and he stared into the swirling blackness as he stirred and stirred at it. He had no idea that Hunter knew he hadn't been going to the sessions. Last time he had a break from them there had been a big bust up during which he admitted that the drinking had started again. A threat to take back his collar had been enough to make him go back to the sessions again only days later.

Just like last time Matt had just had enough of people trying to talk to him about what made him drink, take pills, smoke and snort whatever anyone put in front of him. Talking wasn't easy and made him feel even more like hitting his old haunts so he had made the decision to try and go it alone. What he wouldn't be able to admit was that the second he didn't have to go and sit in that dingy room he would've been in the local bar if it wasn't for Shannon who had agreed to drive him around town until it was time to go home and pretend the meeting had gone ahead as planned.

"I don't want to lie to you Hunner but I don't want to go to those meetings. They're not for people like me. I'm not like that. I can say no to all the stuff I shouldn't do, I just choose not to."

With a loud snort Hunter made his thoughts on that statement clear.

"You don't wanna say no? Shit, Matty, that's rich. You didn't want to say no to a trunk full of pills that almost got you hung out to dry in jail for a couple of years. You didn't want to say no to the quart of vodka that saw your new car wrapped around a tree for fun. Hey, I guess that means you didn't want to say no to the coke that I found in your wallet. I take away all the fun stuff, huh?"

The slightly slurred words that came from his master's lips were more worrying to Matt than the thought of any punishment that he might face for lying. He longed for the pretence of the last two weeks when he would come home, take off his pullover to reveal the thick leather collar that encircled his neck and kneel at the feet of the man who was all he had left. He would curl up in the wide lap when permitted to, nuzzling at the soft cotton of another open dress shirt or just sit stroking the cool leather of the trousers that always looked so good around the thick thighs.

As he caught sight of his hand Matt realised that he was visibly shaking as he continued to stir nervously, not knowing what was coming next. From behind him he heard the drag of a kitchen chair across the floor tiles and then a hand appeared at the bottom of his back, pulling at the sweater and then tugging it upwards.

"Hunner, what are you doing?"

Hunter leaned in close and spoke in nothing more than a whisper straight into Matt's ear.

"I'm taking back my collar, cutting myself loose of being responsible for you and then I'm going to get so drunk that I don't know what day it is tomorrow. See kid, if it works for you then I'm gonna give it a try too. What we've got.." Hunter stopped himself and got his thoughts in order before continuing. "Sorry, my mistake. What we had wasn't enough to stop you from getting fucked up so I figure it's got to be pretty great."

The rough tugging of his clothes made Matt drop his spoon onto the counter top and with only minimal resistance, he lifted his arms to free them of the tightening twisted fabric. A cool chill ran over his skin but soon turned into a shudder as fingertips ghosted up his spine towards his neck. The touch was sensual and thrilling and reminded him of a session a long time ago before he lost so much weight. Back then he enjoyed the way Hunter's insistent hands had worked at his flesh, loosening the tension in his back before tugging on his collar, reminding him who was in charge in a way only his master could. This time the hand kept going until the buckle of the collar was grasped firmly and Matt felt the tab being deftly slipped from under the loop that kept it tidied away.

"Hunner, don't do this. Please."

A cold laugh rang out in the otherwise still room. Hunter couldn't stop himself. It was like threatening to take a toy off a kid and being reduced to that angered him even more. They had both made so many sacrifices for one another and yet he was starting to wonder if it was the collar and the status of slave that meant more to Matt than he did.

"Please... Sir."

"Sir? You think you still have the right to call me that Matty?" Hunter's grip loosened on the collar until his hand fell by his side and rummaged in his pocket. "Hang on there a minute and I'll show you what kind of guy I am and it's certainly not one that's fit to be a master to anyone anymore."

When Matt felt the heat of the body behind him disappear he went against his better instincts and turned around to see Hunter stood there with a small bag in his hand that had an assortment of pills in it. There were some he thought he recognised and some that he didn't but around 15 all in all. A sense of shock kept him rooted to the spot as Hunter opened the bag and tipped them out into his hand.

"C'mon Hunner, quit fooling around, okay?"

"Fooling around? You think I'm playing with you kid?" Hunter picked up the first one that he knew was the weakest of them all and slipped it into his mouth. A dry swallow later and it was gone. Next came the second one of the same pill. A third followed not long after. All the time he kept as much eye contact with Matt as he could, noting that the younger man's eyes were wide open and that a look of fear had settled in them.

"Don't – don't take any more Hunner. Please. No more."

With a surge forward Matt knew he had to stop whatever had started before somehow he was left cradling a body that was doing nothing more than slipping out of consciousness. He tried to upend the open hand that contained the pills but wasn't quick enough. It snapped shut and out of his way just as he got close enough to try. Inside his heart was beating hard and fast and his brain swirled with thoughts of how they had come to this. In his heart Matt knew that Hunter had only ever tried to help him. The very best of rehab, of counsellors, nurses and addiction specialists had all been offered but Matt hadn't wanted to stop.

For the longest time he thought he could have the best of both words; friends to get buzzed with and a master at home who gave him the security missing in his life that had driven him to the edge in the first place. Slowly it had dawned on him that the drugs and drink that he kept hidden were doing him more harm than good but when Hunter had to go away on the road his life would be one wild party until he had to try and sober up all over again. His life was on a rinse repeat cycle that he knew couldn't last. Matt had sensed that for the last few weeks something wasn't right between them and he suddenly knew why. What he couldn't figure out was why the man he loved and adored was nothing more than a wreck in front of him.

"Why are you doing this Hunner? You don't take shit like that. You're not like me."

"I guess I got nothing left to stop me Matty. Gotta be something to fill the gap that other things leave behind and I'm trying to find mine. My collar ain't enough for you so being a master with no sub leaves me some spare time on my hands. Maybe I'll go give Shannon a call, get him to take me down town. You wanna come? We go get a few drinks, maybe a hook up or two. I haven't felt this good in years Matty."

Hunter could feel the glaze on his eyes but it was nothing to do with the pills he'd taken. The sheen on his eyes was a thin veil of tears, something he hadn't experienced in front of anyone for years. Hunter cried rarely and when he did it was always alone. Luckily the pills he had swallowed so far were little more than a cheaper version of Advil that thankfully looked like something more sinister. He had compared them to the bag of somas that he found in Matt's backpack after last week's missed meeting and went shopping for something that looked vaguely similar to that or the OC's that he knew were something else Matt had more than dabbled with again lately.

The overly affectionate sub that clawed at him had been the dead giveaway that the drugs were making a comeback. Gone was the respectful and beautifully subservient man that had taken to training like a dream so long ago. Gone was the man he tied up and fucked into mind shattering orgasms as they grew together in a way other could only dream of. Instead he had spent months nursing that same man back to some kind of sobriety and sanity, just to watch it all slipping away again. Hunter had tried everything he could think of apart from shock tactics and although it had crossed his mind to take the real thing it didn't seem the wisest thing to do in the end. The truth was that he himself had taken enough of those in the nineties until he saw Shawn and Scott get as hooked as Matt was now. He didn't want it for them back then and he certainly didn't want it for Matt now.

"Hunner, just come with me. Let's go and sit for a while. We can talk. We can do anything, whatever it is you wanna do, I promise. Just stop this, this isn't the man I know and it scares me."

The uncertain tone to Matt's voice tore deep into Hunter's heart and for a split second he wanted to admit that the pills were fake, no matter how real the veil of drunkenness was. One of the only things that scared him in life was hurting Matt, a thing he knew the younger man had experienced plenty of before he came on the scene. He had accepted from day one that those scars ran deeper than he would most likely ever know and vowed that their depth wouldn't stop him from trying to make the future different and better. What he had never accounted for was that even when things were going well there was still the chance of a relapse out of the blue. It had probably taken them both by surprise but hit Hunter the hardest as he was sober through it all.

Matt soon found himself staring into familiar caramel coloured eyes after Hunter strode across the kitchen towards him. The creases at the corners seemed somehow deeper and he saw all too clearly the moisture that gathered on the lower lids. The strong and sour tang of whiskey smelled awful as it stung his nose when Hunter exhaled and he was torn between wanting to cling to his master and the urge to press the rapidly cooling cup of coffee into the big hand that wasn't concealing half of a pharmacy in it.

"You're scared?" Another chuckle broke the tense silence. "You're scared because just once I drank a bottle of liquor, took a couple of pills and want to go riding round town looking for a fuck. You're scared? Matty, I come home and you're buzzed to hell and back, and so many times I found you climbing the walls for more pills. You go out to meetings that I trust you to go to and you're telling me a pack of lies so you can go do whatever with whoever.-"

"I never once cheated on you Hunner, you gotta trust me..."

"It's not about the sex Matty, you know that. It's about me and you, the deal we cut. The collar around your neck, the responsibility I got for your wellbeing. Master and slave, dom and sub, me and you. And the love..." Hunter choked hard on the growing lump in his throat. "The love we said we had for one another. You know you've always been more than my slave, more than my pet. I never wanted anything from you other than just you. Didn't I always say that we can go back tomorrow to just being together or just being friends. All I wanted was your honesty Matty, that's all..."

Unable to mask the sadness in his body language Hunter rubbed his free hand across his face and down over his hair, seeking the small comfort that the warm touch would bring him. Part of him wondered if he had gone too far, the rest of him convinced that he hadn't gone anywhere near far enough to make any impact at all. Slowly he backed away and then headed towards the kitchen door, pausing only to speak once more.

"You got one last night to think this through. Tomorrow, if you don't wanna go to meetings and you don't wanna get better then we're done. This is slowly killing both of us and I'm not gonna watch you fade even further Matty. If you want this, and I mean really want this, then we're gonna work hard at it. You have to give in to me absolutely and let me build you back up from this shell that you're turning into. I'll carry you on my back Matty every day for the rest of my days if I can look into your eyes and know you want this and want me."

With that Matt could do little than watch Hunter pinball off the door frame and head up the stairs, surely taking twice the time and double the distance it usually would. Every step up saw one stumble backwards and he barely resisted the urge to go after his master and ensure that he was tucked up in bed safely, the rest of the pills flushed away so neither of them could be tempted to take them.

On hearing the bedroom door close somewhere above him in the house he grabbed his backpack, the coffee that he had poured and a pack of matches from the shelf above the stove. Quietly he slipped out of the back door near the porch, heading out into the woodland at the back of their house. The moon shone boldly in the sky and provided just enough light for him to safely navigate the route to a familiar spot where a final decision might be made.


In the morning Hunter awoke with a start, his face glued to the pillow by the drying sweat and what he thought to be tears that had run down his face in the night. He could smell the stale liquor on his breath as it bounced off the pillow and immediately sat up, reaching for the bottle of water that was always by the bed. He drank deeply from it, fully expecting the dehydration but thankful that the trick of taking the painkillers with the alcohol had dulled the inevitable hangover to little more than a mild ache above his eyes.

A quick glance around the room revealed that Matt was nowhere to be seen. It was as much as Hunter had expected though, knowing him as he did. The sub in him would never have expected to get into bed with a master who he had angered. A visit to the bathroom and quick change out of the sloppy clothes which he had ended up sleeping in saw Hunter in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and wandering around the first floor of their house. It didn't seem as if Matt had been in any of the spare rooms and the ground floor seemed undisturbed too. His heart skipped a beat for all the wrong reasons and for a second he wondered if all he had managed to achieve was driving Matt away, something that he didn't really want to do.

The only clue to Matt's whereabouts was that the latch wasn't fastened on the back door and so he headed down to the cabin they had built months ago for Matt to work in. The padlock was still soundly secured on the outside and Hunter was running out of ideas. He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and pressed the necessary speed dial. The cordial recorded message stated that the phone he was trying to contact was turned off and that was the moment that panic set in. Matt never turned his phone off, even if he didn't always answer it. If anyone was scared of missing something good happening it was Matt and his phone was like an umbilical cord.

Hunter didn't have much of an option but to start searching the woodland that covered the rest of their property. He had already begun to suspect the worst no matter how he told himself how ridiculous an idea it was. Matt had never tried to kill himself deliberately before and Hunter chastised himself for believing that his stunt might have seemed a good reason to do so now after everything else Matt had been through. That said, he wasn't sure that he wasn't going to find something tragic if he ended up looking around for hours on end.

For the first half hour of the walk there were no paths, just much weaving in and out of trees as they towered above him. A cold sunrise was slowly turning into a warm one and giving more light as the sun moved up in the sky. Ironically those clear mornings before the heat became unbearable were his favourite kind and often found him drinking coffee on the porch as the stars faded and the sun appeared for the day. Soon enough though he saw a plume of white smoke rising from a gap in the trees ahead and it became clear just where Matt was.

Matt heard someone approaching as the small twigs and leaves broke down beneath the heavy steps. He didn't move from where he sat on a felled log, preferring to stay staring into the fire which he had watched most of the night and all of the morning. Logs glowed in the shallow pit and the remnants of notes and letters written to the world and those no longer in it blew around in the form of ash. Despite having been shirtless all night he felt a sense of warmth beyond that thrown to him by the dancing flames that at one point had been as high as any he'd seen. He hadn't touched the fastening of the collar that still sat around his neck despite feeling absolutely aware that it wasn't as secure as it was before. His nightly ritual of cleaning it had gone awry as all the things he needed were back in the house; a house he wasn't even sure if he was welcome in any more.

He assumed that the visitor was going to be Jeff or Hunter and he didn't mind which. Matt knew he owed them both an apology for what had been happening. One night of clear headedness had left him feeling ashamed of what he had been doing in the face of all the help both men had offered him. At the bottom of that fire pile was another secretly obtained bag of assorted pills and Matt hoped that they had long burned into the ground. Lately he had only been using them to take the edge off rather than losing himself to the effects and although he felt a little shaky he knew that the need and desire for them had passed as he'd waited out the dark hours.

Hunter walked around the log and then perched on it mere inches from Matt, unable to stop himself from looking over the bare skin with more than a little lust in his eyes. The way the light caught Matt's dark skin made the collar stand out even more starkly than usual and Hunter reached out for it, fingering it softly as he started to speak.

"You been out here all night?"

"Yeah, I guess I had a lot to think about. Couldn't help but wonder if you were okay Hunner but it didn't feel my place to be at your side last night."

"It's your home too, remember that." Hunter sighed and thumbed at the downy hair that ran down along the nape of Matt's neck. "I guess you did as much thinking as I did sat out here on your own. We can't carry on like this Matty, this isn't what we signed up for. I want to give you everything and I will but you've gotta give me something back. Be honest. Even if you don't wanna get clean I just want to know, okay."

"Of course I want to get clean. I've got to or... well, you know why. I want us and want you more than anything. D'ya think without you I'd even be here today? Jeff got lucky and had Ruby. I got lucky and met you just as it got real bad. Hunner this is everything I want and I'll do whatever it takes to get well and make this right, I promise."

There was a pause that was comfortable but still seemed to go on forever. Hunter knew that Matt meant his words, the sincerity in them was clear. He leaned closer and lifted his other hand and slowly re-buckled the collar securely. As he moved his hands away and rested one on the small of Matt's back, Hunter felt the start of the small goosebumps prickling to life all over Matt's body. For a moment he was unnerved, not knowing if it was the cool morning air or his last gesture that had caused such a reaction.

"Hunner, I..."

"Just listen kid. Don't let me down this time but remember this is a collar, not a choke chain. Let's say six months. I know you can keep clean, I know I can keep you clean. We get past that then we're good. We don't make it, well, you know what that means. We call it a day."

Matt closed his eyes and nodded, well aware of what would happen. The one thing he wanted more than anything was to keep Hunter in his life. He slowly slipped away from the arm curled around his back and dropped to his knees before his master, bowing his head in the deference that gave him a peace he had missed over the course of one of the longest nights of his life.

"Forgive me, Sir."

"Nothing to forgive and, well, let's skip the kneeling for now."

"But Hunner, I really am sorry."

"Hey kid I know that. I know. It's just that we need to get back to normal before we go back to our normal y'see." Hunter paused and reached a hand down, stroking it over the stubbly cheeks and chin before tilting Matt's head up to face him. The earnest look in the big brown eyes was enough to make any resolve that Hunter had melt away into nothing. "Now c'mon, let's go up to the house, get cleaned up and I'll make you some of those God awful pancakes you like. My mouth tastes like a litter tray this morning and I really need some good coffee."

As he rose to his feet Matt grabbed his belongings and tore out a page of his notebook, passing it to Hunter before taking it back, screwing it up and tossing it onto the fire. A small smile flickered on both faces and they started on the journey back up to the house. Matt tried to walk behind at first but was soon gathered under a thick arm that draped around his shoulder.

The two figures disappeared into the undergrowth as the ball of paper caught light on the fire and was soon nothing more than blackened remains. On it had been two words that Matt had spent the night repeating and then drawing out ornately on a page, giving him something to concentrate on to try and keep himself sane. He wasn't one for tattoos but it had even crossed his mind that it wouldn't make for a bad one. Two words that if he said them often enough and actually meant them for a change, gave him a real shot at starting over.

Never again.

A/N: Well that's the first time I've been able to get those two to work together for the longest time! Thanks to Dark Kaneanite for just being awesome and very much the yin to my yang! It's an odd spin but I kinda like it. All reads and reviews appreciated as always.