Mark's first impulse was to run for the car. Perhaps he could get away and call for help. But then he reconsidered and just run away from Ed and the barn. He couldn't leave Ed behind – he didn't know what the brothers would do to him in his helpless state. With an angry growl Harry followed him. Mark was convinced that he could outrun the heavy man, but he didn't want to. Near the cars he stopped and turned around to face him. Perhaps he could fight at first Harry and then Fred...

Meanwhile Fred had come out of the lodge, too. He saw the two men fighting, but knowing his brother he supposed that he wasn't needed there. But what about the other one? He had underestimated him once, he wouldn't a second time. Entering the barn he saw even in the dim light that the injured cop was still lying there, motionless. He bent down to prove his bonds and was glad to notice that they were still in place.

Since Mark's leaving the barn Ed was struggling against the fog in his head and the pain in his ribcage. He heard the noise of Mark's fight with Harry and he was afraid. Mark could fight like a tiger, he had proven that. But even if he stood a chance against Harry, there was still Fred. Ed knew that he had to bar him from joining his brother and helping him. He had to protect Mark. But how? Ed recalled the short fight with Frank Vincent at Marion's bar. He had still his long legs, and what had worked with Frank would perhaps work with Fred, too... So, when Fred raised, he stretched out his left leg and kicked Fred with the other one as hard as he could. The attack left him breathless and coughing, but that didn't matter, because he had been effective: Heavily Fred fell down, his right arm twisted under his body.

Mark heard a loud cry out of the barn. It couldn't be Ed's, for he surely hadn't enough breath for that. But nevertheless Ed had to be in troubles. Mark lashed out and his next blow hit Harry's head hard enough that the heavy man went down.

Mark sprinted back to the barn – not a second too early. A furious Fred wanted to kick Ed again ... and he seemed to have a reason: His right arm was apparently broken, because he clasped it with his left hand. He didn't even put up a fight when Mark pulled him away from Ed.

Still Mark kept him with an iron grip. He wondered what he should do with him, because Harry probably wouldn't be out cold for long, and Ed needed his help urgently.

Chapter 6 Cavalry arriving

At that moment he heard the noise of arriving cars – two police cars and behind them, careening and wobbling, the old Paddy-wagon.

To his immense shame he nearly fainted, now that he could let go of the responsibility. Police officers took over Fred and Harry, who was just coming to.

Ironside eyed his aide solicitously: His bruised face, the bloody hands, the tired composure. But even so, Mark had never before looked more like the tough fighter he obviously was.

"You okay?"

"Yeah – and I'm real glad to see you, chief", answered Mark with true feeling.

Eve stepped by, too: "Hey, hero!"

Mark smiled at her, but then his face turned serious.

"I'm not sure if this title shouldn't go to someone else." With that, he headed for the barn. Ironside and Eve followed.

Mark kneeled down at Ed's side and started to loosen his bonds with his bruised hands: "Hey, cavalry's here. Everything's okay now. How are you feeling?"

Ed's answer was another coughing fit, rocking his whole body. Mark noticed that his face was lined with pain and turning bluish.

Ironside had seen enough. He called one of the police officers: "Tell that medical helicopter to come here at full speed, we need it!"

Ironside felt helpless as his Sergeant was put onto a stretcher and into the helicopter.

"How is he?" he asked the emergency physician.

"Critical. We have to hurry."

The chief wasn't used to getting such short answers and he didn't like them at all, and this one left him very worried.

But his other associates needed him. They were waiting quietly beside the lodge.

"Okay, can we go home at last?" he asked them in his usual grumpy voice.

"No!" That was Mark.

Stunned Ironside stared at him. In the meantime, Mark had washed his hands and his face, and his wrists had been bandaged. The bruises on his face would shine for a few days, but that wasn't for the first time. But there was definitely an angry look on this face.

"May I ask why not?"

"Because I want some food first! I haven't eaten in 24 hours, I have the right to be hungry, have I not?"

"Fine, go try to find something in the kitchen of that lodge, but leave a receipt, or else it's going to be considered as burglary!"

Eve and the chief smiled reassuringly at one another. At least Mark had found back to his old self.

Epilogue

Skeptical, Ironside watched his thin, pale Sergeant in the witness stand.

Only this morning had he been released from hospital, and perhaps this hadn't even been a good idea. His injured ribcage and the bad pneumonia were barely healed, and fever and pain had taken their toll on the young man.

But Ed stood there tall and uprightly while taking the oath. His answers concerning the Vincent-case were short, but professional, and nobody noticed the thin layer of cold sweet on his forehead.

When he stepped down, Ironside left the courtroom with him – Ed seemingly pushing the wheelchair, but in fact needing it as a support. Eve followed anxiously.

Mark was waiting outside the courtroom. He prevented Ed from collapsing.

Between them, Mark and Eve more or less carried Ed to the Paddy-wagon, which was parked right in front of the building. Mark drove them back to headquarters. But it was obvious that Ed was in no shape to walk up to the office. So Ironside was helped onto one of the back seats in the wagon and Ed was forced into the wheelchair. He tried to protest, but Mark shut him up: "You see, if you would have drunk my grandmother's tea in the first place...!" Ed could just hope that they wouldn't run into anybody on their way up.

Ironside generously waited his turn – for once even patiently.

Up in their office, Eve helped Ed out of the wheelchair and lay down onto the sofa. She covered him with a thick blanket. Mark went back down to get Ironside. When they came back, Ed was already sound asleep. For the first time in weeks, his face looked relaxed and boyish like before his ordeal.

Mark thought that at least something positive had come out of this whole mess: For him, "the fuzz" had definitely turned into his friend. It was good to have him in his team.

"He's just so skinny, isn't he?" Eve whispered.

The chief was very pleased to have his people back together – and he was quite proud of them, too. Of course he would never tell them.

"That's no problem at all", he answered, not too quietly, and grinning like a big old cat again. "We'll feed him up with lots of good, healthy chili!"

Author's note:

... just a short FF, my very first one. Next one will be longer.

Dear readers, thank you very much! I didn't expect that anyone would want to read this, and now I'm overwhelmed by your kind reviews.

Thanks especially to Sealgirl who encouraged me to post this, and to LuckyLadybug for her time – and to all the other reviewers.

Of course I still could use somebody who told me my mistakes before they are visible to everybody...