A/N: For the challenge on the episode The Boxer. With grateful thanks to Lynn, who faithfully persists in her quest for ensuring truth, justice and better grammar for all, despite pervasive internet issues. The characters aren't mine and no money is being made.

On the Ropes

by Jaz

***In the episode The Boxer, when Mark meets up with an old prison buddy turned boxer and his father, one-time Olympic hopeful Jack Calico, Hardcastle and McCormick go after shady fight promoter Frankie Kane. The sleazy Mr. Kane is determined to make Kid Calico sign a pro deal with him and then throw a fight, thereby destroying Kid's own Olympic hopes. In a move that makes perfect sense (in TV-land), the young fighter signs with Hardcastle instead, who then insists on bringing Kid and his father home for training, forcing Mark to pace him on a ten-mile run. Lest McCormick have the opportunity to out-do Hardcastle in the aches and pains department, when Jack Calico is kidnapped for leverage, the judge manages to leap from the moving Coyote onto the escaping bad guy (like he doesn't have enough problems getting in and out of that car...)

Then it was off to the boxing match already in progress, to present the rescued father so his son could step up and do the right thing, leaving our guys no time at all to wallow in their misery. I thought I'd give them a chance the next morning...


Hardcastle suppressed a wince as he opened the front door, feeling a jolt of pain shooting up his left arm. He'd done a lot of things over the years that some folks might call stupid, but jumping out of the Coyote onto Kane yesterday was probably near the top of the list. It's a wonder he hadn't broken a collarbone.

He pushed the door the remainder of the way with his backside and tentatively stepped outside, surprised to see the newspaper lying untouched on the steps. Apparently he'd managed to beat McCormick to it this morning. He smiled, which faded rapidly when he bent down to retrieve the daily and felt the twinge in his back. He wasn't looking forward to walking over to the gatehouse to rouse the young man from bed, even if it was normally the highpoint of his morning.

'That's what phones are for,' he thought to himself, brightening. He came upright slowly, rotating his neck and trying to work out the kinks. He turned and climbed back up the steps, reaching for the doorknob with his right hand this time and finding it made no difference. Pain seemed determined to follow him everywhere, and he was hopeful Sarah would have found what he'd sent her off looking for.

Hardcastle walked into the den, hearing the sonorous noise before he saw the young man sprawled out on the couch, an arm flung haphazardly over his face. The judge pulled up short, a vague memory inserting itself of McCormick crashing onto the sofa the minute they'd returned from the auditorium. Hardcastle had left him and gone to bed, but it seemed the ex-con had not followed suit. There was a blanket half-covering him, which Hardcastle recognized as one that usually resided in the suite of his stalwart housekeeper, though he had little hope of getting Sarah to admit to covering the kid.

He rubbed a hand over his mouth to cover his sudden grin as he walked behind his desk. It looked like he might get to engage in one of his favorite pastimes this morning after all.

He drew in a deep breath before letting out the bellow. "McCormick!"

Watching the young man snap bolt upright was everything he'd hoped it would be. The pillow went flying and the blanket tangled in Mark's legs, causing him to slide off the couch with his arms akimbo, banging his knee in the process. He sat there a minute, looking slightly stunned, before allowing his head to fall back against the leather cushions. There were no coherent words uttered, just a low groaning noise.

Hardcastle watched for signs of intelligent life, prepared to be disappointed. It took a minute or two, but the young man seemed to come around.

"Oww..." the word was carried out on several syllables. "What'd you do that for?"

"What did you spend the night on my couch for?" Hardcastle countered.

"Dunno. Seemed like a good idea at the time," he muttered.

"Probably not now, though, huh? Bet you're a little sore this morning," Hardcastle said gleefully.

"Don't act so happy about it. I hate to break it to you, but I was sore last night too. Which is why I didn't get up and head over to the gatehouse." He attempted to pull his shoulder blades together behind his back.

"Well, serves you right."

"Serves me right? How do you figure? You're the one who forced me out on an endurance run yesterday. 'Pace him, McCormick,' you said. What the hell for? You were driving alongside him the whole time in the pickup!"

The jurist huffed. "That was just to make sure you two were safe. You were the one he was out there to run against. When you weren't holding him back, that is."

"Layoff, Judge, alright? I think I may never walk again." He reached down and kneaded his thigh muscles.

"Yeah, well, I got twenty that says I'm just as sore as you are. I jumped out of a moving vehicle yesterday, but you don't see me moaning about it. That's the problem with you young kids today. No stamina. You get a little banged up, and all you want to do is roll over and complain about it." He puffed out his chest, ignoring the pain the movement caused. "Back in my day, you just dealt with whatever aches and pains you had. You kept it to yourself. No sense in whining, because there wasn't anything you could do about it.

"And you didn't end up with strained muscles just from a little hard work. We were made of stronger stuff," he finished with a flourish, confident he'd made his point.

McCormick looked ready to launch a counter-argument when Sarah bustled into the room with something resembling a milk carton in her hand. "I found it, Your Honor. I knew we had some around somewhere. Took a little digging, but here it is. Should take care of those sore muscles in no time." She placed the carton on the corner of the desk.

Mark's eyes narrowed and he gazed up at the older woman from his position on the floor. "Sarah," he asked, "what exactly is that?"

"Epsom Salts," she sniffed. "Good for what ails you. Put it in a nice, hot bath and it will do wonders." She turned and headed up the steps.

"Of course, avoiding jumping from a moving vehicle would probably work too," she added under her breath, but loud enough to be heard as she left the room.

A grin took root and spread over the young man's features, and he looked ready to cackle in delight. "No sense in whining, huh, Judge? Seems like you didn't do such a good job keeping it to yourself, unless Sarah's got E.S.P." His face took on a thoughtful look. "Although, come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if she did."

"Wipe that smirk off your face, wise-guy. I only told Sarah so she could find this for me. I wasn't whining."

McCormick merely raised an eyebrow.

Hardcastle resisted to urge to point out it was pretty hard to look superior when you were curled up on the floor. "Are you going to get off your butt anytime soon? You've got a lawn to mow, you know."

"Ju-udge. Seriously, do I have to do that today? I'd say I'm paralyzed from the waist down, but I can feel every single muscle I have. It's just that none of them want to work right now."

"It was a lousy ten-mile run, McCormick! Are you really that out of shape?"

"I'm not out of shape! I'm just not a big runner. Not enough to keep up with an Olympic hopeful."

"In boxing, not running," Hardcastle pointed out.

"Same difference."

"Not in my day."

"Ack! Don't start that again!" Mark pushed the blanket aside and used his arms to pull himself back onto the couch. From there he gingerly rose to a standing position.

"Fine, Hardcase. You're right, I'm wrong. Again." He moved tentatively toward the desk. "I'll get on the lawn right after breakfast."

Hardcastle watched the young man make his way stiffly across the room. He had to admit that the soreness looked real enough. Putting the kid to work now was only going to increase the moaning later, and the jurist wasn't sure he was up to that. He shook his head disgustedly.

"McCormick." He waited while the younger man turned to look at him.

"The lawn can wait 'til tomorrow. Grab a shower, and later this morning we'll head over to the gym."

"The gym?" he asked with a subliminal whine. "How's that supposed to be better than mowing the lawn?"

"Not to work out, you idiot. We'll go and see how the Kid's doing this morning."

McCormick nodded, pleasure obvious on his face. He stopped by the desk and picked up the carton, glancing at the label. "Does this stuff really work?" he asked.

"Yes," Hardcastle said shortly, holding out his arm. "Now hand it over."

Mark looked up and grinned.

"I'll fight you for it."