No matter how far you run, your past will always catch up with you...
Author Note: If you're a M.A.S.K. canon purist, you may want to look away now. I'm playing a little fast and loose with one or two canon elements. I hope you can forgive me. This is also the set-up for a much longer story, so all questions will be answered. Eventually ;)
With many thanks to Jonath, Ganeris and Nessa for editing, feedback and patient hand holding.
Matt paced his office, a frown set heavily on his face.
On the one hand, they had been extraordinarily lucky in San Diego. Had it been anyone but Buddy in the Sunset Motel, MASK would have lost an agent. As it was, they had nearly lost an agent anyway. Julio's assessment of Buddy was that he must have fallen at least four storeys when the building collapsed and that, frankly, Buddy was lucky that all he'd suffered was a broken shoulder and serious concussion.
Not that Buddy would feel all that lucky.
On the other hand, as much as Matt hated what had happened and worried about the long-term effect on Buddy's health, he couldn't help but guiltily feel a small sense of hope blossom from the whole mess.
It hadn't just been Buddy trapped in the Sunset Motel's basement garage.
Matt liked to think that all of his agents would have done the basic, humane thing and helped to safeguard the life of anyone trapped with them, but asking them to save Vanessa Warfield might have been stretching a point with some of them. She was one of VENOM's most competent agents, and a frequently vicious opponent. She was also, not that many people realised it, MASK's best hope of ever finally cracking VENOM and bringing them down.
And that was entirely due to one thing: She was Buddy's adoptive sister.
From the moment he'd learned of Vanessa's connection to VENOM, Matt had been trying to make use of that relationship. He figured there was always the chance that Buddy might be able to talk her round, and so, whenever it the opportunity arose, he tossed the job of taking on Vanessa in Buddy's direction.
It had arisen, big time, in San Diego.
And as much as he regretted the fact that Buddy had been injured, Matt knew he wouldn't have changed his mind about who followed Vanessa into the Sunset Motel. Even knowing it was a trap and particularly considering that Rax and Mayhem had clearly double crossed Vanessa.
She'd been an opponent for so long now that he knew damn well that she wouldn't have agreed to Mayhem's plan if she'd known she was potentially signing her own death warrant. Was she tough? Yes. Was she willing to do whatever it took to succeed? Hell yes. Was she suicidal? Not a goddamn hope.
The real question was, what would she do about it? Was Mayhem's duplicity enough to push her into finally walking away from VENOM, or would she convince herself it had just been a one time deal?
At that point in Matt's thoughts there was a knock on the door. He paused mid way through his circuit of the office and turned towards the door in time to see Julio enter.
"Thought you'd like to know, Buddy's awake," said the doctor by way of a greeting.
Matt smiled, feeling at least a small amount of his worry evaporate. "Can I go up and see him?"
"Sure." Julio smiled. "Though go easy on him. He's liable to be groggy for at least the next day or so."
"Will he be all right?"
"His shoulder'll take six to eight weeks to heal. What I can't say is how his head's gonna do. There could be complications. Only time will tell." Julio snorted. "Of course, anyone who can fall four storeys and not do more damage to themselves is probably lucky whatever way you turn it."
Matt grinned faintly. "Buddy's always been lucky."
"He's like a cat," Julio observed. "Always lands on his feet." Then the doctor grinned puckishly. "Metaphorically, at least."
It was a bad joke, but Matt chuckled all the same.
"Anyway," Julio continued, barely stifling a yawn, "I'll be back this afternoon. You just need to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't try to do anything stupid. Gloria's with him now; she's got all the details. I'll stop in at the gas station on my way into town to let Cassidy know what's going on." He hesitated. "Any particular cover story you'd like Cassidy to use?"
Matt frowned for a moment. "The simplest stories work best. It had better be a work related accident."
"A jack giving way, then," said Julio. "That's the most likely."
"All right." Matt smiled faintly. He couldn't imagine anything less likely to happen to Buddy; the younger man was one of the most careful and cautious mechanics Matt had ever met. On the other hand, most people who asked after him wouldn't know Buddy that well.
As the doctor headed for home and some much needed sleep, Matt headed up to the apartment that had once been Buddy's home and that was now being used as a sick room. Buddy would probably complain about being here; he was fiercely independent and hated being reliant on others, but there hadn't been another choice. Julio had issued a fiat that Buddy needed to be somewhere where people could look after him and since VENOM would probably know what injuries to look for, if they chose to scour the hospitals, that meant the mansion.
Waiting at the top of the stairs was Gloria, who offered a welcoming smile. "Good," she said softly. "I can go on a supply run now."
Matt blinked. "Uh?"
"Julio said to not leave him on his own," she answered, "and you have no chicken soup or crackers."
For just a second, Matt was reminded of Sarah. She'd sworn by chicken soup and crackers any time she had dealt with an invalid. "I see."
Gloria gave him a look that suggested she didn't believe him, but simply said, "I'll see you later."
Then she was off, down the stairs. Matt shook his head. Someday, he'd ask what the deal was with chicken soup. Dismissing the matter for the time being, he headed into the apartment and made for the bedroom.
Buddy was not so much lying on the bed as sitting, propped up by a stack of pillows. His whole arm and shoulder were immobilised and heavily strapped, and between that and the pallor of his face, he looked about as bad as Matt had expected.
"Don' s'pose y'got the number of the truck tha' hit me?" Buddy slurred, squinting to Matt's right, suggesting that either he was seeing double or was simply having trouble focussing. Matt wasn't sure which to put his money on.
He smiled faintly in response to the question. "Sorry; guess it drove away before I could write it down."
Something that might have been a smile flickered across Buddy's face. "Figures." He coughed, then winced. "Ugh." He shifted and winced again. "Concussion sucks."
Matt chuckled. "You're telling me that?"
Another might-have-been smile crossed Buddy's face. "Right. Forgot."
Silence fell. Matt took up a seat on the chair that someone - Julio, presumably - had pulled up to the edge of the bed. There were questions that he wanted to ask, but he wasn't sure how to phrase them, or even if he should ask them.
"S'when d'I get t'go home?" Buddy asked presently.
"You'd have to ask Julio," Matt replied. "Not for a while, I guess."
Matt lifted his eyebrow. "Any thing wrong with staying here?"
"Don' wanna be trouble."
Matt rolled his eyes. As if he couldn't have predicted that answer. "And how much trouble would you be if you were at home, on your own right now?"
"Sometimes it's good to let other people help, y'know?"
"Pot. Kettle. Black."
Matt grinned ruefully. "Yeah; you've got a point."
Another might-have-been smile. "I know."
"I should warn you," Matt continued, "Scott comes home from school tomorrow."
"How's he done?"
"Pretty good." Matt smiled. "Only in trouble twice all semester."
Another faint smile. "Gotta be a record."
"Yeah." He shook his head. "One of those times, he was rescuing a friend who'd fallen into the school pool and couldn't swim."
Buddy actually huffed with laughter at that, although he winced afterwards. "Sounds 'bout right."
"Yeah; I guess it does."
The conversation lapsed for a few minutes. The questions Matt wanted to ask loomed large once more. As much as he wanted to put them off, some of them wouldn't wait. He sighed. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Some." Buddy swallowed. "'S 'Nessa OK?"
Matt hesitated a moment. "I don't know." He regretted the honesty a moment later as Buddy attempted to sit bolt up right and promptly turned ashen. "Buddy, just relax; lemme explain."
"Shit, tha' hurts..." Buddy sagged back against the pillows, his face grey from pain.
Matt waited until a little colour had returned to Buddy's face. Once he was reasonably sure the younger man wasn't about to pass out he explained: "Vanessa didn't stick around yesterday."
"Y'mean I wen' t'all tha' trouble an' y'let her go?" Buddy was trying to make it into a joke, but Matt could tell it was a struggle.
He sighed. "You're right; we should have kept a better eye on her, but you were the one who needed proper medical attention right then and I'm not going to make any apologies about making that choice."
"I know." Buddy sighed. "I jus'---" He closed his eyes. "Figured she'd stay."
Matt winced. "Maybe---"
"Don't," said Buddy. "Jus' don't."
"For what it's worth," said Matt carefully, "if there's one thing I've learned about Vanessa, it's that she does what she does on her own terms. Sticking around yesterday---"
There was another long, drawn out silence. Matt began to wonder if Buddy had actually gone back to sleep.
"She was like she used to be," Buddy murmured. "When we were kids." He reopened his eyes and squinted in Matt's direction again. "I miss her, Matt."
That, more than anything else, told Matt just how bad Buddy felt. Under any normal sort of circumstances, the younger man wouldn't have made that admission no matter how obvious it was. "I know, Buddy." He thought of Andy. "I know."
Gloria's return spared them either of them any more awkward conversation.
"You got what you wanted?" Matt called.
"Yup," said Gloria, appearing in the bedroom doorway, a paper sack of groceries in her arms. If she noticed the tension in the atmosphere, she made no comment. "Oh, I stopped in at the gas station, on my way back. Cassidy asked if you could give her a call; something about the accounts."
Matt smiled faintly. "Guess I'd better see what the problem is."
"'S prolly Moses wanting t'know when I'm comin' in f'the parts I ordered," Buddy murmured.
"Could be," Matt agreed. "We'll fix it, if it is." He stood up. "I'll see you later."
As he left the apartment, he heard Gloria offer Buddy some of the newly bought chicken soup. Matt shook his head. Someday, he really would ask what the deal was.
As he neared his office, though, the frown returned to his face. What did Cassidy really want? He'd picked up the accounts only a couple of days earlier, so it couldn't be that and he doubted it was due to Moses Abrahams getting antsy about Buddy collecting an order of parts. On the other hand, if it wasn't either of those things, why would she lie to Gloria about it?
Matt could think of only one reason.
God but he hoped that was it.
Quickening his pace, Matt entered the office almost at a run. At least Buddy was too out of it to have thought of this. At least if he was wrong, he was the only one going to be let down.
He picked up the phone and punched the phone number for the gas station, then waited while it connected.
"Boulder Hill Gas and Service Station, how can I help you?" Cassidy sounded bored.
"Cassidy; Gloria told me you wanted to speak to me," Matt answered.
"She sure must motor," Cassidy observed, "I only spoke to her five minutes ago."
Matt chuckled. "Coming from you, that's a compliment."
It was Cassidy's turn to laugh. "Yeah well." She hesitated a beat, then continued, "I didn't like to say it to Gloria, but, I had the strangest thing happen a bit ago. Someone showed up, looking for Buddy."
Matt dropped into the seat behind his desk. "Someone?"
"Did they give a name?"
Cassidy chuckled. "A fake one, sure. I guess she doesn't remember meeting me back in the day. I don't ever forget a face."
Matt closed his eyes and breathed out a sigh. "What did she say?"
"Not a whole lot. She was looking for Buddy. Kinda think whatever happened yesterday shook her up pretty bad."
"And when you told her Buddy was hurt?"
"She put it all together. Poor kid," Cassidy added. "It hit her hard. I don't figure you're gonna have any more trouble with her."
"I hope you're right, Cassidy."
The conversation over, Matt hung up the receiver and leaned back in his chair, two questions now buzzing in his mind: What would Vanessa do now? Should he tell Buddy?
The latter question was easy enough to answer. There was no way in hell he was going to tell Buddy until he was sure of the answer to his first question. Vanessa had hurt Buddy enough. There was no point in getting his hopes up.
But maybe there was enough there for at least some reason to hope.