[Author's note: This is my very first fan fiction. I've just recently discovered this site, and am a huge HC&M fan.I haven't read everything yet, soI apologize if this has already been done. It has been a lingering question of mine, and a conversation that I have felt was missing between our two heroes. Hope you like it, and I look forward to learning through your reviews. Thanks toDeb for helping me figure this out!

Control

by Georgi1961

Takes place 3 weeks after the episode, If You Could See What I See.

00000

"McCormick? MCCORMICK!?!" bellowed the Judge with unmistakable concern in his voice. Dinner had been ready for over a half-hour, and when McCormick didn't show up as expected, the Judge went looking for him. He was not yet able to drive the Coyote—well, that is to say he was not yet supposed to be driving at all. Hardcastle was relieved to see the Coyote in its usual spot. McCormick had not been in the Gatehouse, and he didn't readily see him on the grounds.

Continuing his search, his calls increased in volume, "MCCORMICK! WHERE ARE YOU?"

Hardcastle headed to the walkway down to the beach. McCormick should not have been taking that steep walk yet—he still had a lot of healing to do, and if he slipped, he risked re-opening stitches, and his internal injuries, not to mention any other injuries. He stopped short, stunned, as he saw Mark sitting on the beach, holding his side.

Hardcastle started down the path quickly. The past three weeks had been very hard on McCormick. He had been somewhat withdrawn, feeling helpless and impatient with the healing process. He tried to help out around the estate, but the Judge was very strict in his care. He didn't want him overdoing it too quickly. And, if he were to be honest with himself, he himself was somewhat withdrawn. Now that Mark was on the mend, he had more time to think, and this thinking invariably brought him to what might have been. He came very close to losing Mark that night, and he will never forget the horror he felt when he saw Mark lying at the bottom of the hill—not knowing if he were dead or dying. The feeling in the pit of his stomach was the same he felt when he learned that his son had died, and after when he learned that his wife Nancy's cancer could no longer be treated.

"McCormick, what the HELL are you doing down here, alone. For that matter, what the hell are you doing down here at all?" the Judge hollered, not worrying about startling him at this point. But McCormick didn't respond.

"Hey, kiddo, what's going on? Are you ok?" the Judge tried softer, thinking maybe he overreacted in the first place. Mark was getting better, and he did have the right to try to get his life back to as normal as possible.

Hardcastle's concern grew when McCormick still didn't answer. He walked over to him, put his hand on his shoulder, and sat down beside him in the sand. "Talk to me" were the last words he said, searching McCormick for any signs of pain or injury.

McCormick spoke quietly, "Can I be done?" That was it. No follow-up.

Hardcastle, looking confused, responded, "Done? Done with what?"

"Can I just be done?" was McCormick's only response.

They sat in silence for several minutes as the Judge pondered the meaning. Was he asking for his parole to be over? Was he trying to say he didn't want to live with the Judge anymore? Or, more likely, was he trying to say that this last case proved to me the straw that broke the camel's back. He had been thinking the same thing—how could he justify his retirement quest in light of Mark's recent injuries. He could have died. He would have died if it weren't for Millie Denton. It seemed that the cases were getting more and more dangerous—and Mark was becoming more and more important. He had thought about throwing in the towel on many occasions, none more seriously than this last incident. Now, Mark was asking the same thing.

He thought carefully about his next words, certain that he was right. "Mark, you can be done when you say you're done. It's that simple" the Judge's voice cracked with emotion. "Is this what you want?" he continued.

Mark met his eyes for the first time, "If I'm done, is everything done?"

Again, the Judge looked confused. "Yes. I said you can say when. I'll respect that—and I think it's a good idea. You've done a lot of great work, but there is no reason to continue to put your life in danger. You know, that was never my intent."

Mark exhaled, looked down, and showing confusion and sadness in his expression. It was not a sigh of relief, though.

Hardcastle looked at him with some consternation, "Now I'm confused. Isn't that what you wanted, what you just asked for?" Watching McCormick's reaction closely, realization dawned on Hardcastle and he shook his head in disbelief, "No. That's not what I meant. Geez McCormick, is that what you think of me? I meant the cases can be done. This is your home. Period. End of statement. You can and will live here as long as you want to. The parole arrangements can remain the same, but your…uh…job description can change. I don't turn my back on family!" he continued before he could stop the words from coming out. There it was for the world to hear. McCormick is family—at least that's the way the Judge felt about him.

Hardcastle watched as the tension in McCormick's body drained next to him. The relief was evident and a new expression covered the face of his young friend.

McCormick finally spoke, "I feel the same way. I just wasn't sure what you really felt." Not giving time for the Judge to react, he continued, "I don't want to let you down, but sometimes I just need time to put things in perspective, to adjust to what happens in our lives. You…you seem to be able to take all this in stride—and move right on to the next case. You have a lot of police training that I don't have, and you've seen just about every case imaginable as a lawyer and a judge. Most times I feel like I'm just holding you back. If I get hurt—you have to put your next case on hold while I recover. And, what if I don't recover?"

"Mark, are you okay? Is there something you haven't told me?" Hardcastle asked, no longer trying to hide the fear in his voice.

"No. I'm fine, really. I just feel like I should bounce back quicker. I can't do my chores, I can't help with cases; I can't even get back up that hill by myself." McCormick sighed as he waved to the walkway back up to the estate.

Hardcastle studied his friend closely. "Mark, there are no rules here" he grinned at the expression of disbelief McCormick flashed him. "What I mean is there is no timeline for how we progress. We've been making this up as we go along, and so far it's worked okay. We've gotten to know each other, and our limitations. Sometimes I don't pay as much attention as I need to, and for that I'm sorry. I thought you were fine with all of this. It didn't occur to me that you still thought your living here and our friendship was tied to your involvement with our cases. I'm sorry I don't say stuff as much as I should" he waived off a comment Mark was prepared to make, "because this stopped being about parole requirements a long time ago." "Yep, we're done when you say we're done….so I guess we're done!"

Mark jumped in quickly now, "I didn't say I wanted to be done. I just asked if we could be. This may be hard to explain, but I'm going to try because it's important here, it's important now." After an introspective pause, he continued, "For a long time I've felt that my life is not really under control. What happened with Melinda and my car, what happened with Flip, hell, what happened to my mother and before that my father…nothing in my life seems to have been under my control. When I agreed to this arrangement, it seemed a better deal than Quentin, and the only way I was going to be able to get Cody. But I didn't really feel like I had a choice." He paused briefly, "does this make sense?"

The Judgesimply nodded, not wanting to stopMark from talking.

"So now I feel like I finally have a home—but I know it's not really my home. If something happens to you—or you just decide you're done, then I have nothing. Still not one thing to call my own—except my car. Do you see how it can feel like I am not in control of my life…but please, don't get me wrong," he continued quickly, "God, its not like I don't appreciate it…you've done more for me in the past three years than anybody—maybe with the exception of Flip. I don't know, this probably isn't making any sense to you…" his voice trailed off.

The Judge finally chimed in, "May I say something now?" Taking Mark's nod as an affirmation, he continued, "Well, kiddo, it so happens that I do understand, and I heard everything you said. I think I started taking this "agreement" of ours for granted, and I never acknowledged the relationship that grew out of it. I know I don't go in for emotions and all that stuff, but I wish I could have shown you before now that you do and should have control. I know I can be single-minded, and these cases have been important to me. They were the most important thing in the beginning—I'll admit that. But that changed quite some time ago, and now you are the important thing. The important person. Your future is what I am working on here—the cases are secondary. So, again, I say, we're done when you say so. Nothing else, and I mean NOTHING else will change—unless YOU want it to. And, since I'm being honest, I hope that nothing else will change. I've gotten real used to you, kid…" now it was Hardcastle's voice that trailed off.

McCormick was silent now. He hadn't expected so much to come from the Judge. And, for the first time since they met, he was speechless. All he could do was meet the Judge's eyes and smile. The first real smile he felt in weeks.

When he finally spoke, he said, "I really don't want it to be done. I guess I just wanted to see if I had any control. We don't need to decide now, it can wait until I'm feeling better…more like myself." He looked behind Hardcastle and said, "Besides, we've got bigger problems right now."

Frowning, the Judge asked, "What?"

"How are you going to get me back up the walkway?" mused Mark.

"The same way we do everything…together." With that, the Judge helped Mark to his feet, put his strong arm around his waist, and helped him up the steep hill back to the estate.

00000

One more week had passed, and Mark was making great progress in his recovery each day. Dr. Friedman had stopped out for breakfast to check on Mark's progress—and gave him the "ok" to drive again—being careful to indicate city driving, not racing!

After breakfast, the doctor left. Hardcastle got up and as he was walking away, said over his shoulder "wait here, I'll be right back."

Mark looked up with a grin—wondering what the donkey had up his sleeve.

The judge returned with a sealed envelope. It had the look of something official, but he couldn't tell what. The envelope was dropped on the table. It had Mark's name on it.

"What's this?" his young friend inquired.

The Judge's one word answer intrigued him, "control."

Mark opened the envelope, and removed the legaldocument. As he read, his mouth fell open and his expression went blank. "I can't…I mean…you…can't…I mean…what is this?"

The Judge smiled down at him before he took a seat across the table. "This is your life now, I guess you can say this is our life now."

Mark started again, still in shock over what he was reading, "This is your will. You're leaving the estate to me?"

"Sure" he replied. "I tried to before when I thought I was dying, but you wouldn't let me. Now, I guess I'm saying I don't need your permission to make this home, your home legally."

"But Judge" he tried to argue, and was interrupted.

"But nothing. You can eventually do what you want, but what I want is to know that someone I trust, someone I care about…" he paused, "someone I love will have control over what was mine. I told you once before that money can be an anchor. It can ground you, or it can drag you down. I already know you are grounded, so this is just my way of formalizing my wishes. Okay?"

McCormick took awhile to speak, not really knowing what to say, "Judge, I don't know what to say. I don't even know how I feel about this. I guess I'm not ready to think about a time when you're not here."

Hardcastle smiled again and said, "Me either, kiddo. This is just one thing I can do so I don't have to think about it anymore. Get it?"

"Got it" was McCormick's quick and simple reply.

"Good." The Judge said completing the conversation.

McCormick spoke again, wanting now to complete the conversation that was started a week ago on the beach. "Judge, I also want you to know that I am not ready—or willing yet—to give up working on our cases. I really do think they're important. I think last week I was still feeling a little out of control myself. I've thought a lot about it, and I'm just not ready to give it up…yet. I guess I just like knowing that we can stop when I want to stop" he smiled warmly.

"Unless I say stop, first!" The Judge smirked.

The two friends stayed by the pool, enjoying the sunshine. For the first time in his life, Mark finally felt he was home. His home. Forever.

THE END