A/N: Suggested by Sponge on the Gull's-Way board. This is a missing scene from "The Birthday Present".

Last Words

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

Mark didn't want to let the Judge's hand go, afraid that the older man would slip away if he did. The paramedics had other ideas.

"Sir, you have to step back. Please." The female paramedic gently pulled Mark to one side. "We'll take good care of your father, I promise."

"Carla, you'd better get on the horn. The guy's blood pressure is dropping fast." The male paramedic was frantically pumping the bulb of the blood pressure cup. "We need to boogie."

Mark was watching every move, listening to the conversation between the paramedics and the hospital, although he understood very little of the medical lingo. He was oblivious to Sandy's pacing and vehement rants.

The ambulance attendents pushed their way into the portable courtroom, quickly getting Hardcastle wrapped and ready for transit.

"Can I...can I ride along?" Mark asked Carla.

"Are you a relative?" Her partner asked as he followed the stretcher.

"Well, uh, not exactly. But I have to...please?"

Carla stopped her partner's reply. "Bob, let him come."

Bob looked at the ghostly pale man being loaded into the back of the boxy vehicle. "Yeah, it might be a good idea. Climb in."

Mark quickly obeyed, trying to squeeze past the gurney without brushing against the various wires and tubes connected to the Judge. He looked down and realized that Hardcastle was conscious. "Judge, you're gonna be okay. Just hang on."

"Kid...really bad," Hardcastle muttered.

"Yeah, but once we get to the hospital, the docs'll fix you right up." Mark looked to Bob for confirmation. When the other man frowned and looked away, Mark felt his heart stop.

"Not…this time."

"Please, Judge, don't talk like that." Mark was almost in tears. "You've gotta fight. You hear me, you can't just die." You can't leave me.

"Want you…to know…proud of you…"

"Don't." Mark was desperate to stop Hardcastle was confessing his feelings. "I won't listen to this."

"Have to…tell you…"

Mark leaned forward, reaching through the wires to touch Hardcastle's twitching hand. "Milt, I beg you, don't give up."

Faded blue eyes tracked around the back of the ambulance before locking with Mark's glistening eyes. "'kay…but…"

"No buts. You fight, Milton C. Hardcastle! I still haven't found out what the C stands for, so you can't just check out."

With a twitch of his lips, Hardcastle nodded. "Never…gonna…know."

"We're here, gentlemen," Carla announced as the ambulance backed up and the rear doors flew open.

Mark watched the hospital personnel pull the gurney out, disappearing through the automatic doors into a world he didn't want to enter. He climbed slowly from the vehicle, forgotten by everyone. With a quick swipe, he cleared his eyes of any telltale tears. Mark walked into the emergency room to begin his long wait.

January 2007