Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me and no money is being made.
Author's note: A response to the Gull's Way challenge for the missing scene of Mark's return home from the hospital in the episode If You Could See What I See. Thanks go to Owl for doing her beta magic.
"That's what I like about you, Hardcastle – you put everything in the right perspective."
– Killer B's
Mark looked down with distaste at the small wooden box that Hardcastle had placed at the open door of the truck and tried not to sigh. "Is that really necessary?" he asked sullenly.
Hardcastle hovered nearby, ready to lend a hand the moment it was needed. "What's wrong with the box?"
The sigh escaped. "Nothing. Just kind of makes me feel like Aunt Zora."
Hardcastle nodded sagely. "Well, the doc said you were supposed to take it easy. And Frank got tied up at work and couldn't get away to pick you up in the sedan, and I figured if the choice was between getting you out of the pickup or the Coyote, well . . ." He didn't finish the thought.
Mark shifted his leg onto the box and gingerly stepped down, holding on to the door with his left hand. When his weight was balanced firmly on the ground, he let go and reached for the cane that Hardcastle held out. He took a few tentative steps and stopped, looking longingly at the gatehouse.
Hardcastle followed his train of thought. "Uh-uh. No stairs. You know that. It's the main house for now, kiddo."
"There's stairs in the main house," Mark argued half-heartedly.
"Not where you're going – I've got you set up in Sarah's old room off the kitchen."
"Oh. Okay." He paused again as a thought occurred to him. "Hey, I meant to ask - how come you didn't give that room to Millie when she moved in?"
"Oh, there's a good answer," Mark said, resuming his slow shuffling gait.
Hardcastle hesitated for a moment before answering. "It just didn't seem, I don't know, right somehow."
Mark was surprised by the honest admission, but he didn't let it show. "Yeah. I guess I know what you mean. You okay with me being in there?"
"Of course I'm okay with it!" Hardcastle huffed. "It's the only place that will work for you right now, and besides, it's not like you're some total stranger moving in. And Sarah would have my head if I didn't do everything I could to take care of you. It was all I could do to convince her not to come down until next week."
Mark half-smiled at the thought of her upcoming visit, but as he neared the cement steps to the front door, it slipped away. He paused. Between the bum leg on his right side and the bullet hole on his left, he was not looking forward to climbing even the six steps necessary to gain entrance.
Milt waited by his side, uncertain whether to offer his assistance or back off. He finally settled on just moving in and taking the younger man's good arm. If the kid bit his head off, so be it. Wouldn't be the first time since this recovery period began. He knew better than to take it personally. It came with the territory, but he still hoped the kid would work himself out of this funk before much longer.
They paused on the small landing after completing the first three steps. McCormick eyed the ones remaining as if he were considering climbing Mt. Everest. "You'd think they'd make sure you were up to snuff before they threw you out of the hospital," he complained.
Hardcastle gave him a look of disbelief. "You're kiddin' me, right? You've been whining non-stop for the past week about wanting to be home, and now you want to go back?"
"I never said that," McCormick replied, looking affronted. He attempted the next step. "And I don't whine," he added under his breath.
Milt snorted, refusing to justify that with an answer. He managed to hold open the door while never letting go of his rather moody burden. "So you want to set yourself up on the sofa or the bed?" the retired jurist asked congenially as they paused at the entrance to the den.
Mark sighed again, taking note of the blanket and pillows already laid out waiting for him. "Sofa, I guess," he said wearily.
Milt knew that it didn't really matter where the kid ended up – he fully expected him to be asleep within minutes.
Millie entered the den just as he'd gotten McCormick settled. She came and immediately began fussing over him, tucking him in and generally mothering him. Milt gladly relinquished the role and stepped over by the desk, watching. McCormick seemed to be more tolerant of the older woman's ministrations. McCormick was putting up a good front for her, and Hardcastle was struck with the notion that it's really only those you're closest to who get to see you at your worst. The thought immediately brought a smile to his face for reasons he wouldn't admit aloud. He raised a hand to cover the grin, lest the kid see it and give him hell.
He recalled the comment McCormick had made on the hillside that still sent chills down his spine. The young man had such faith in him. Mark had just known that the jurist would find him, no matter what it took. Milt let out a slight cough – they wouldn't be discussing the method of that search any time soon.
Millie bustled off with the promise of cookies in the oven, and Milt moved over towards the couch. "Need anything?" he asked solicitously. "Got the remote, or do you wanna take a look at some of the magazines Teddy brought?"
"No. I'm fine. Now stop hovering."
Hardcastle felt his patience stretching, but he took a deep breath. "I'm not hovering," he responded. "That's Millie's job. I'm just making sure you don't wind up back in the hospital, or I'll never get my lawn mowed."
The sigh again. Third one in the last ten minutes.
"Going to be a while before that happens, Hardcase," Mark muttered.
"Yeah, well, just give it time. You're in a lot better shape than you were a week ago."
"Hmmph," the young man snorted, his disbelief obvious.
"Well, you are," the judge countered. "But you've been doing nothing but complaining for the last few days." He held up a placating hand to halt the argument he knew was coming. "I'm not saying you don't have a right. But maybe you could try and focus on the good stuff for a bit?"
"Yeah, I know – all that 'glad to be alive' crap that everybody keeps shoving at me," Mark agreed bitterly.
"You telling me you're not?"
The question stopped Mark cold. He turned deliberately and held the older man's gaze. "You know better than that," he said quietly.
Hardcastle sighed and walked over towards the couch, pulling over the ottoman to sit close by McCormick's head. He laid his elbows across his thighs and clasped his hands together, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. "Yeah, kiddo," he replied, "I do know better than that. But maybe sometimes you just need a little reminder, huh? Kinda put things back in perspective?"
Mark was quiet as he contemplated the judge's words. He knew Hardcastle was right. The reminder did help, as much as he didn't want to admit it. He was just so sick of being – sick. He looked over at the judge perched next to him. The older man's shirt was open just enough to allow a hint of the scar on his chest to show through, and the memory was sobering. He lifted his eyes to meet Hardcastle's. "Was it like this for you?" he asked, indicating the now-healed bullet wound with a nod of his head.
Hardcastle's lip curled into a smile. "Worse, I imagine. I didn't bounce back as fast as you are."
"Hah – you were running laps inside of two weeks. Nothing slowed you down."
The judge winked. "Maybe," he allowed, "but I was only recovering from being shot. You got tossed off a cliff on top of it all. Face it, kid, you're a mess."
Mark recognized the judge's attempt to use humor to distract him, and for once, he didn't follow suit. "You were shot in the chest, Judge," he said seriously. "You nearly died. And all kidding aside, I know how difficult your recovery was. Especially now. I'm sorry if I didn't make things easier for you."
"Oh, no you don't," Hardcastle jumped on him, "no apologies. Not necessary. You did everything possible to help me out." He paused, raising an eyebrow at the injured man in his care. "Ya think maybe you could try that now? I know this whole thing has been tough on you . . ."
"And I'm making it tough for you, huh?" the young man offered quietly, finally understanding.
"Well," the judge patted McCormick's leg gently, "I'm not saying you ain't been a peach, or anything."
Mark chuckled. "Yeah, I'll bet," he nodded, chagrined. "Sorry, Judge. Really. I'll try and watch the whining."
"Now that might be too much to hope for," Hardcastle answered, his eyes twinkling. "Maybe you could just try to look on the bright side. You are alive. You're home from the hospital. There's no hedges in your immediate future."
"There's fresh cookies," Mark chimed in, beginning to get into the spirit of things.
Hardcastle nodded. "There's fresh cookies," he repeated, smiling. "And if you're good, maybe tomorrow you can spend some time recuperating out by the pool, working on that suntan you're always moaning about."
McCormick frowned briefly. "Gonna be some funky tan lines, what with the sling and all."
The retired jurist raised his eyes to the heavens, saying a brief prayer for patience.
"But still," the younger man continued thoughtfully, "I guess it's all in the way you look at things, right, Kemosabe?"
Hardcastle smiled. There was hope.
"Now you're cookin'."