This is a work of fanfiction, for entertainment purposes only. The characters and concepts of Hardcastle and McCormick do not belong to me, but to their creators.

Author's Notes: It's not that I'm obsessed, really. It's just that every now and then I write something—honestly, just a tidbit, maybe a throw away line here or there—but then I find myself wanting to explore it. That's how it is that three years ago, a passing scene in one story finally led to another, and then a few lines last year brought me to a more recent fic, and so on. I've just been slowly building my own back story of what happened before, during, and immediately after "Rolling Thunder". Hm. Now that I think about it, maybe I am obsessed.

If you should be interested in catching up on the chronology (in a rather round about way) of my obsession, I think it would go something like this: Before the Thunder Rolled, Inside Voice, So it Begins, Epilogophilia: Rolling Thunder, Of Nightmares and Memories, Starting Slow, and finally, this one.

Any many thanks to Owl for being a sounding board and never once telling me it's time to let it be, already.

Off Limits



A strange two days. Isn't that what he'd told Sarah, standing right here in this very loft? But that had been almost seventy-two hours ago, and the intervening days hadn't gotten any less weird.

First there had been the dead-of-night basketball game with the man who had sent him to prison. And then the early morning attempted kidnapping, which had only been prevented by Hardcastle charging in, shotgun at the ready. Then the whole trip to Vegas to nab Martin Cody, with both Hardcastle and Barbara Johnson along for the ride. That had been followed by his solo return trip to LA, which had, in turn, been followed by an unexpected—and unexpectedly pleasant—dinner in the main house with the judge. And finally, today, the two of them had taken the old clunker of a truck over to his apartment and gathered up all of his belongings and moved them here to the gatehouse.

Now he descended the steps, grabbed a jacket off the back of the sofa as he passed, and continued toward the door, on his way to take the old guy up on his offer of "the best Mexican dinner in town". Really, he thought strange probably didn't cover it.

He was still trying to sort out the cosmic chaos that could have him move from hating somebody completely, to working, living, and socializing with that same somebody—all in less than a week—when he reached the garage. The door was standing open, and it appeared some rearranging had been going on, but the vintage dark blue Corvette still sat inside, looking no worse for the wear after the high speed chase a few days ago.

When Hardcastle had dragged him home from the lock-up last week, he'd been surprised to see the judge driving the dilapidated GMC pickup; he supposed he'd been expecting something more traditional, more staid. But he'd been equally surprised the next morning when they'd thrown open the garage door to reveal this beauty. At least in terms of automotive choices, Hardcastle wasn't playing to his type.

Stepping inside to admire the car more closely, McCormick admitted to himself that, so far, Hardcastle hadn't lived up to many of the preconceived ideas he'd had of the man, though he hadn't yet decided what he thought about that.

He had leaned over the door to get a closer look at the interior, when a gruff voice startled him.

"Whatever you're thinking, McCormick, don't even think about it."

Forcing the grimace from his face, McCormick straightened slowly. "What I was thinking, Hardcastle, is that this is a great car. Just one more piece of evidence that there's very little justice in the world."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hardcastle asked huffily. "You mean just because I worked hard and managed to buy myself a nice sports car?"

"No," McCormick told him stonily. "Because you got to keep yours."

"So, what, then? You're thinking you could even the score a little?"

Running a hand lightly over the chrome, McCormick cast a long, appreciative gaze over the 'Vette. Then, feeling this might be a bad time to discover he'd been right about even one of the judge's traits, he decided to let the man off the hook. Mostly.

"It would make a nice prize," he acknowledged earnestly. Then he flashed a quick grin. "Except that I'm not a thief, Hardcase. Jeez."

Hardcastle took a step closer to the car and arched an eyebrow at the younger man. "You're just puttin' me on? That's not funny." The petulance was mild, but apparent.

"Maybe not," Mark agreed lightly, "but damn, Judge, I was just lookin' at it. It really is a great car." He gestured in the general direction of the steering wheel. "Maybe I could drive us to dinner?"


McCormick recoiled from the sudden sharpness of the tone, unconsciously taking a step back from the Corvette.

"I already told ya," the judge continued, still firm but no longer as harsh, "no one drives this car but me."

"I am a professional driver, Hardcastle."

"You were a professional driver," Hardcastle corrected. "Now you're what I say you are, and I say you don't drive this car."


"It's not negotiable, McCormick."

Ten minutes earlier, McCormick wouldn't have cared one way or the other about the car. Even now, he couldn't come up with a single reason why it should matter, and yet, what came out of his mouth was a quietly reproachful, "I told ya I wouldn't steal from you, Judge. I thought we had settled that."

For a brief moment, Hardcastle seemed to be considering the reproach more than the young man would've anticipated, but ultimately, it didn't seem to make any difference. "We did," he said simply.

"Then why—?"

"Because I said so," Hardcastle said calmly. "I brought you here; this is your home now; but I still make the rules. Now, because I know you wouldn't steal from me, I'm not gonna lock up the car, and I'm not gonna lock you up. I'm just gonna tell you that the rule is, you don't drive this car. Okay?"

McCormick stared at the sincere face before him for several long seconds. The car didn't matter, really, except that—for no reason he could define—he didn't want the judge to doubt him.

But then he thought again of the past few days. His first night at the estate, Hardcastle's strongest admonition had been along the lines of "don't take off"; Sarah had been scarier.

And yesterday, when the judge had put him in the Coyote and sent him back across the state line alone, the man hadn't even uttered that much of a warning. True, McCormick had been convinced that little escapade was a test, but there was no denying that Hardcastle could never have known it was a test without risk.

He decided maybe there wasn't that much doubt, after all.

There was a small smile on the young man's face when he said, "Okay, I got it; I don't drive the 'Vette. No problem." He strolled around to the passenger side. "But you're still taking me to dinner, right? You promised me enchiladas."

Hardcastle looked at him quizzically as he moved slowly to the driver's door, then didn't get in, just continued to stare across the garage at the other man.

"What?" McCormick demanded good-naturedly.


"Your rules, Judge," Mark replied with a shrug.

"Been my rules for the past few days," Hardcastle groused, "but I'm pretty sure you've argued about 'em anyway."

"Not all of 'em," McCormick told him. He waited for a slow light of realization to dawn in the blue eyes before him, then completed his thought. "Not the important ones."

"The important ones, huh? That's the way you see it?"

McCormick shrugged again and didn't answer; he could recognize grumbling for the sake of grumbling. Hardcastle didn't seem inclined to push it, and after a couple seconds gestured the kid into the car.

"Anything else around here you need to tell me about, Hardcase?" McCormick asked as he slid onto the seat. "Anything else off limits?"

Hardcastle appeared to be giving that some thought as he turned the key in the ignition to fire up the engine, and McCormick suddenly found himself thinking maybe he'd been overly confident. He really didn't want to be confronted with a list of things he couldn't be trusted with.

But as the judge shifted the car into gear, he finally answered, "Nah, I think that might be it. I'll let you know if I've forgotten anything." Then he pushed the accelerator to the floor and tore down the driveway, with just a glance of satisfaction as his passenger unexpectedly pressed against the seat.

For his part, McCormick just laughed aloud, and kept his thoughts to himself.

One of these days, I'm gonna show you how to do that right.