Note: This is part three of a trilogy of journal entries, starting with "In the Beginning" by Lizabeth S. Tucker; "…A New Beginning" by Rowena G. Warner, and "Now, and Forever" by Lizabeth S. Tucker. Although there are other journal entries regarding various subjects from both Mark and Milt, these three in particular should be read as a whole and in order.

Now, and Forever

(Journal Entry)

By Mark McCormick (as found by Lizabeth S. Tucker)

Oh, God. I never wanted Hardcase to see that Journal. I thought it had been destroyed years ago. How can I explain it to him?

I needed that hate, then, that anger. I never would've survived in prison without it. A snappy line doesn't go that far with cons; and my thirst for revenge against that judge who threw me to the wolves, undefined as it was, kept me fighting for survival.

But after that meeting in his chambers, when I was arrested for stealing the Coyote, my preconceptions were thrown out of kilter. And by the end of my first night at Gull's-Way, the hate was gone, leaving confusion and reluctant respect in its stead.

You see, though my mind was calling me an idiot, my heart had him pegged as one of a rare breed: a good-guy. Old-fashioned and out of date, he was a man who valued honor and loyalty above personal considerations.

Hardcastle reminded me of the heroes of my childhood: Sky King, John Wayne, and the Lone Ranger (yeah, really). They were people you could rely on; you always knew where they stood on the issues.

I've already written about how I was afraid for my personal safety that first night. And, of course, I was way off base. But later, there was another fear. You see, too soon, I felt like I was at home. I figured it would all go wrong somewhere along the line, but the Judge's gruff manner seemed so…I don't know, right, I guess, that I got scared again.

Stupid, I know, but as Hardcastle knows only too well, rejection is something I've come to expect in my life. Somehow, some way, I knew this was my last chance at belonging, and I wasn't gonna screw it up.

Things began to change inside me; the respect turned to deep affection, then love. I can still remember the shock, the all-pervading agony, when I thought he had been killed back in Clarence. There was something more: guilt. I shot, and missed. I was so excited, and worried, and out of breath…that I missed. I hit the light on the police vehicle, but missed the men who were the real threat. And while the Judge was in that police car, fighting for his life, I was racing around the countryside. I should've stopped them. I should've helped him.

I learned then what real hate was. Not the hot rush that keeps you warm, but the icy cold that freezes your soul. I wanted the people responsible, and I didn't much care what happened to me afterwards. After all, I was one of the guys responsible, too, wasn't I?

When Hardcastle walked out onto that porch while I was struggling to memorize every wonderful moment in our short lives together, I couldn't breathe. For a second, everything went black except for that mulish, lovable face…like when you stare at something for a long time without blinking.

I know I overreacted, "slobbering" all over the Judge like "an overgrown puppy" as he puts it; but that was the moment that I knew for sure: I was home.

It took longer to sink in that the feeling was mutual. Oh, sure, I knew he tolerated me, put up with my smartass remarks, even grew to like me; but love? Nah, I figured that was asking too much.

I had a glimpse when I went undercover as a cop and soon, I began to look even harder for the signs. They were there; still, I wasn't sure. But long before I was shot, I had proof. What other man sneaks into a funeral parlor after hours to save a crazy man from getting into trouble? Not to mention actually going to the funeral itself, when he didn't even know the deceased.

And then there was…well, the evidence is overwhelming. But if I ever had any doubts, what happened after I was shot and thrown off the side of the ravine got rid of them. Every time I managed to fight my way out of that suffocating darkness, the Judge was there. My eyes would fly open, my heart racing with terror, and his calming face, lined with fatigue and worry, would be looking at me.

I had nightmares then, all jumbled up in my head, thinking they had killed Hardcastle. I can vaguely remember crying out, sobbing his name. Then somehow, I'd know he was safe, very near me, and I'd drift off again.

What worries me now is how to tell the Judge that I haven't felt that hate since that first night while I was sulking in that jail cell, torn up about Flip's killer getting away, and he suddenly showed up with Cody's file, his 'new deal', and telling me, in his roundabout way, that he believed me about Flip's death not being accidental. I did a lot of attitude adjusting that first week. Nothing that's happened since has caused me to change his mind.

I didn't mean to hurt him. I'd sooner cut off my right arm first. I do wish that I'd have known that he believed me about Melinda and the Porsche. And about the protection while I was inside, that would've been nice to know about as well, but maybe he's right. I was so angry then, I wouldn't have been able to resist showing him that I was capable of taking care of myself – that I didn't need his help. Yeah, sure.

I didn't give the Judge anything when he thought he was dying; I was selfish. I didn't want to give him up any sooner than I had to; I wanted my old, cantankerous Hardcase back again. Most of what I do is out of selfishness, but I'm changing. I wanna be like him so much. Oh, most people see the gruff, unapproachable man that Hardcastle shows the world. But underneath all that 'meanness' is a lovable pussycat. A hefty amount of money goes to various charities every month and, though he doesn't know that I know it, he works hard to enact laws to protect abandoned and abused children, even though he's retired. Not to mention the work, on the sly, with the committee that is trying to get bulletproof vests for all police officers. He gives me this song-and-dance about going to his club, or seeing a few old buddies from the bench, or some other lame excuse. I followed him one time. I thought he had a woman stashed somewhere and that he was ashamed of me…or her…or both of us. Boy, I felt stupid when I found out the truth.

Forgive him? For doing his duty? I can think of better ways of meeting Hardcastle. And I won't lie and say that I'll ever forget prison and what it could do to me on dark, lonely nights; but I've grown up a lot since then. I can understand honor and duty and obligation. And even with the preliminary reading that I've done into the law, I know he had no choice, not really. Forget? Never! Forgive? Yes. That forgiveness happened a long, long time ago.

However, knowing that another judge would've hung me out to dry does not make me feel better about prison. Nice try, Judge, but no sale. And I am not a kid! I grew up on the streets, ya know. Joy-riding at 16, remember? Innocence is something you cultivate for important occasions, when you're really in deep shit, and only a little-boy outlook can save your hide. /That line doesn't even convince me. I doubt if it'll have much weight with Hardcastle./

I think I'll lay this little essay on his desk in the den so he won't miss it. All of this is too heavy for us to talk about face to face. It's not us, is it, Judge? I know you get embarrassed when I try to tell you this, but – I love you. And I always will, Milt. I just hope I'm worthy of your affection. This is one relationship I don't want to screw up, 'cause it's the best.

In you I've found a father, a teacher, and, best of all, a good friend.

Thank you. Now, and forever, I'll always feel the same.

/Originally printed in Back to Back Supplement #4/