Mark McCormick was passing by the den mid-afternoon when he heard the judge and Sarah talking.

"I'm sorry, your honor, but I just don't think the young man is working out."

Mark froze, his blood running cold...he was the only young man around Gull's Way.

"I was afraid you were going to say that, Sarah."

"I really tried, but his work just isn't up to par."

"I know."

'The judge agrees with her,' Mark thought, suddenly feeling sick.

"And…well…I know he's one of your special projects, but I just don't trust him."

"I understand, really I do. How about we give him a little more time to prove himself?"

"I don't know, judge. I doubt it will make a difference..."

"I promise, if by the weekend you aren't satisfied, I'll take care of the problem."

Mark hung his head. 'I didn't know I was a problem.'

"Well, okay. But I hope his attitude improves...he has been quite rude to me."

'Rude?' Mark was genuinely surprised. He thought he had been nothing but polite to the older woman.

"Now, now, Sarah. Don't go getting all upset. A couple of days...that's all I'm asking."

Mark turned and headed for the door; if he only had two days to prove himself he figured he better get to work. He never heard the rest of the conversation. If he had it would have saved him a world of trouble.

Mark stood skimming the pool in the hot sun wondering what he had done to make Sarah and the judge unhappy with him. Stopping a moment he looked at his reflection in the water.

"You really messed up," he told his mirror image. "Took the one good thing you had going for you in a long time and managed to ruin it."

It had been almost three months since Hardcastle had come to his jail cell in the middle of the night and taken him back to the lavish residence. And though it hadn't always been smooth sailing, Mark had finally begun to feel at home.

"Maybe that's the problem? Maybe you've been feeling too at home?"

He thought back over the past few weeks at how many times he had complained when the judge asked him to do something.

Or how many times he had to be reminded by Sarah to pick up after himself.

Or how he lived more than comfortably in the gate house without really ever saying thank you.

"You're a fool…you deserve to be sent away." He dragged the pole through his reflection. "You weren't good very good company anyway," he said to his now distorted likeness.

"You talking to yourself again, McCormick?"

Mark jumped at the judge's voice. "Geez, you almost gave me a heart attack, Hardcase." He inwardly cursed himself for his choice of words and sarcastic tone…another reason the judge wouldn't want him around.

"Well when you're done talking to yourself and when you get over your heart attack, maybe you can attack the bushes along the driveway." The jurist started to walk away, but then turned back. "By the way, tomorrow morning I'm taking Sarah to her Cousin Ethel's house. I'm going to visit an old friend and spend the night. We won't be back until late morning. Looks like you're on your own…try to stay out of trouble, eh?"

Normally the ex-con would have answered back with a comment like 'I always try to stay out of trouble, but somehow it manages to find me'. But, instead, he just nodded.

"Oh, and see if you can manage to leave some food behind for the rest of us when we get back." With that the judge left.

Mark cringed; yet another thing he did wrong. 'I eat too much…I'll have to change that as well.'

He decided to start with dinner that evening. After finishing with the pool, he made his way toward the kitchen.

"Hi, Sarah," he said forcing a smile. He felt awkward in the housekeeper's presence now that he knew what she thought of him. "I'm going to skip dinner tonight.

Sarah narrowed her eyes. "You….skipping a meal? That's a first," she teased.

Mark shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah…well…um…the judge's truck needs an oil change and some other repairs. I'd like to get them done before he takes you to see your cousin tomorrow."

"Why how thoughtful of you, Mark. Would you like me to fix you a plate for later?"

"Thank you, but I'll just fix myself a sandwich or something if I get hungry."

"Okay, dear."

Mark forced another smile before heading toward the garage. He worked late into the night making sure both of the judge's vehicles were in as good condition as he could get them to be. When he finally crawled into bed his growling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten anything. But exhaustion outweighed his hunger and he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

His Friday morning wakeup call was the usual 6 am dribbling by Hardcastle.

" can't be morning yet," he groaned pushing his curly hair out of his eyes.

He lay there a few more minutes listening to the familiar sound that had greeted him almost every morning for almost three months. At first it had enraged him, but now he found it almost comforting. He looked forward to the gorilla basketball sessions; they are what first helped start form a bond between the two men. Or at least he thought they had bonded, but now he wasn't so sure. Whatever the case, this could quite possibly be the last time he would play with the judge and he didn't want to miss the opportunity.

Mark opened the door and stood there for a moment just watching the judge. He never had the opportunity to play sports with his father who had abandoned him at the age of five. This was the closest he figured he would get to experiencing that feeling. 'God, I'm gonna miss this...I'm gonna miss him.' His heart sped up and his palm began to sweat; if the judge asked him to go for twenty now he would surely lose.

"You gonna stand there gawkin' or are ya gonna play, McCormick?"

Mark jumped slightly as the words brought him back into the present. Not trusting his voice to speak without revealing the emotion he was feeling, he said nothing but walked over to the judge, held out his arms and motioned with his finger for the ball.

"Game on, kid." Hardcastle smiled, throwing the ball in his direction.

Elbows were thrown, feet were tripped and both men found themselves down on the ground or in the bushes more than once. By the end they were sweating and breathing hard.

Mark was bent over, his hands resting on his thighs. He had given it his all, but lack of food and not enough sleep had taken its toll and he came up short. "Good game, judge."

Hardcastle walked slowly over and patted the younger man on the back. "Any game I win is a good game, McCormick." The jurist eyed up his opponent critically. "You okay?"

"Fine." Realizing that he must have let his guard down for the judge to ask, he stood up straight and quickly added with a strategic wink, "I let you win."

"Nice try, kiddo. Now, how 'bout you get cleaned up and meet me at the house? I've got a list of chores for you to get started on."


Hardcastle did a double take. "What was that?"

"I said 'sure'."

"That's strange."

"What's strange?"

"You agreeing to work without givin' me grief about it."

Mark chuckled gamely but on the inside his stomach was churning. 'Have I been that bad?' he thought.

A quick shower and delicious pancake breakfast provided by Sarah later, Mark stood with the judge next to the truck.

"You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine, why?"

"'s just that you've been awfully quiet."

"Can't a man be quiet once in a while?"

"A man, yes…you, no."

"I'm just thinking is all."

"Don't hurt yourself," the judge teased. When Mark didn't say anything, but frowned and looked down at the ground, he asked gently, "Anything you wanna talk about?"

"Nah…it's nothing. Now go ahead, Sarah's waiting."

Mark waved at Sarah and watched them pull away and down the driveway before sitting down heavily onto the stairs lost in confusion. If they were so unhappy with him, then why were they acting as if everything was fine? Sarah had even given him a big hug before getting into the vehicle and told him to take care of himself. It just didn't add up.

"Unless, they're testing me…waiting to see what I'll do while they're away," he said out loud to himself. "This is one test I'm gonna pass with flying colors."

Mark worked nonstop out in the hot sun completing the items on Hardcastle's list. And when it grew dark he moved onto the inside jobs. Every time he was about to take a break or get something to eat he would become distracted by a new project. Before he knew it, the grandfather clock was striking midnight and the adrenaline that had kept him running for almost fifteen straight hours suddenly dissipated.

He didn't know how he was going to get on his feet let alone make it to the gate house. So instead he decided to stay where he was in the main house and managed to make it to the sofa in the den where he immediately fell into a deep, yet troubled, sleep.

Mark tossed and turned restlessly, but couldn't seem to wake up from the continuous dreams.

"Please…no…don't send me back. I'll try harder…I'll do anything. Why…why are you kicking me out? This is the first place that felt like a home…please…don't make me go. I can't go back to prison…I'll die…can't take it."

He woke up covered in sweat and trembling. At first he was relieved when he realized that he had only been dreaming. But that relief was short lived as it struck him that in a matter of hours those dreams could become his living nightmare.

'Pull yourself together…the judge isn't really gonna send you back…he wouldn't do that,' Mark tried to convince himself. 'Then again, you didn't think he would send you up for stealing your own car either.'

He stood slowly feeling his muscles protest from the prior day's hard labor. He stopped in the kitchen on his way outside and chugged a glass of orange juice. He knew he should eat, but his nerves were wreaking havoc with his appetite and he wasn't sure he could keep anything down.

Pulling the now crumpled list out of his pocket he figured the only thing he could do at this point would be to finish it…and pray.

Milton Hardcastle's mouth began to drop as they drove up the driveway toward the estate. By the time he and Sarah were getting out of the car it was hanging all the way open.

"You might want to close your mouth, your honor, before you start collecting flies," the housekeeper quipped on her way inside the house.

A short time later the tables had turned, and the judge found Sarah standing speechless in the kitchen.

"Watch out for flies, Sarah," he teased, throwing her words back at her.

Sarah blushed and snapped her mouth shut.

"Look at this place…just look at it!"

"Mark must have worked so hard." She pointed out the window. "And, look, he's still at it."

The jurist beamed swelling with pride at the sight of the younger man mowing the sprawling lawn. "Do you know what today is? It's the three month anniversary of McCormick becoming Tonto."

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "Tonto?"

"Um…I mean…he came to Gull's Way exactly three months ago today." Hardcastle paused and rubbed at his chin. "You know what I think we should do? I think we should have a party." Feeling embarrassed at showing such excitement he lowered his voice. "You know…to celebrate the fact that we haven't killed each other yet."

The housekeeper wasn't fooled by the judge's last comment. "He's really grown on you."

"Yeah…like a fungus."

Sarah rolled her eyes. 'Men,' she thought. "I think it's a wonderful idea. I'll bake a cake."

"Perfect. But let's make this a surprise and act like we haven't noticed any of the work he has done." Hardcastle rubbed his hands together. "This is gonna be fun!"

Mark could see the judge and Sarah watching him from the window. He pretended not to see them and just kept right on pushing the mower back and forth.

'I wonder what they're talking about?'

Actually, he knew what they were talking about; they were talking about his future. The only real question was where would that future be…at Gull's Way or San Quentin?

A short while later Hardcastle came stomping outside all geared to put on an act. "McCormick!"

Mark didn't hear him at first as his back was turned.

"McCormick!" he yelled louder.

Mark turned his head and when he saw the judge he cut the motor. "Oh…hey, judge. You're back."

"Gee…I can't pull the wool over your eyes. Must be 'cause you're used to that curly mop coverin' them anyway."

A lopsided grin made its way to Mark's lips. 'He's joking around still…maybe that's a good sign.'

"Listen, Mark…I have something very serious to discuss with you. Meet me in the den at three o'clock sharp."

The grin faded and his stomach dropped. 'He used my first name…and that's a bad sign.'

"I'm going to the dry cleaner's for Sarah. Remember…three o'clock sharp."

"Sure, judge," he said to the retreating figure. Once the judge was out of range he added, "It was really nice while it lasted."

At 2:55 Mark placed his suitcase next to the front door of the gate house. It hadn't taken him long to pack; everything he owned had fit into the small square container. Except for the Coyote, but he didn't need that where he was going.

There was a time when the thought of losing his red pride and joy would have hurt more than anything. But now that paled in comparison to losing Hardcastle. He had taken a chance, let his guard down and let the older man into his heart…and now he was being thrown out.

'That backfired…you'd think I'd know better by now. Everybody I care about leaves me one way or another. I won't be making this mistake again…ever.'

He took one last look, turned off the lights and shut the door.

Mark McCormick was standing in front of the closed den door at exactly 3:00 on legs that were shaking so badly he swore he could hear his knees knocking. 'Oh, wait…that's my hand knocking on the door,' he realized feeling somewhat detached from his own body.

"Come in," Hardcastle bellowed roughly.

Mark took a deep breath and pushed the door open. He never in a million years expected the sight that met him.


The judge was wearing a big smile and Sarah was holding a cake. 'Are they having a party to celebrate getting rid of me?'

Hardcastle saw Mark's face drain of color and his eyes darting back and forth between himself and Sarah. "Hey, kiddo, we wanted to congratulate you on your three month anniversary with us," he quickly explained.

"Yes…we are very proud of how hard you have worked," Sarah praised.

'They're not sending me away,' Mark thought. 'I can stay.' The relief was overwhelming. But then the stress of the past couple of days came crashing down upon his shoulders. His vision began to blur and he was finding it hard to catch his breath.

The judge took a step forward when he saw Mark start to sway. "Kid…you okay?"

The room was beginning to spin and his knees started to buckle. "I…um…I…"

"Mark!" Sarah cried, nearly dropping the cake onto the floor.

Hardcastle lunged forward just in time for Mark to fall into his arms. The judge stood there for a moment holding the limp form and trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened. It was only when his arms began to shake from the exertion that he snapped out of it and dragged the unconscious man over to the couch.

"Should I call an ambulance?"

Hardcastle opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by Mark's weak voice mumbling, "No…m'kay."

"I've seen some old John Wayne black and whites with more color than you, McCormick."

Mark opened his eyes and attempted to push himself up only to fall back with a groan.

"Stay put and rest a minute," the judge ordered. Turning to Sarah he asked, "can you get a glass of water, please?"

"Yes, your honor," she answered. But as she exited the room they both heard her mutter, "crazy, macho men…never learn…I should call an ambulance."

"She's right, you know?"

"About which part?"

"Probably all three. You just did a nosedive into my arms, kid…don't you think you oughtta get checked out."

Mark shook his head and instantly regretted it as it did nothing to stop his world from turning. "Nah. I just overdid it is all. Too much work, too little food…and maybe I just wanted a hug."

"Cute, McCormick. But what isn't so cute is you workin' yourself to this point."

Mark couldn't help the laugh that escaped his throat. "Oh man…do I wish I had that on tape."

"Well, it's never been a problem until now. Geez…I left you a list to get started on…not to try and finish in two days!"

Sarah reentered the room and saved Mark from having to respond. He didn't know what he would say anyway. Now that it was clear the judge wasn't kicking him out, he sure as heck wasn't going to bring it up.

"Now you drink this slowly, Mark. You don't want to make yourself sick."

"It's water…not whiskey," Hardcastle chastised earning him a stern glance from Sarah.

Mark drained the glance and then ran a shaky hand through his unruly curls. "I'm real sorry about this. I mean…the cake and all…that was really great. I didn't mean to mess things up." Again, he tried to sit up but the judge put a hand onto his shoulder to keep him down.

"Not yet, kid. I don't wanna have to give ya another one of those 'hugs'."

"I'm fine."

Hardcastle rolled his eyes and retorted, "And I'm Frank Sinatra…we're gonna do things my way. You stay on that couch until dinner, you hear?"

"I hear," Mark sighed. He smiled as Sarah walked over and covered him with a blanket. "Thanks."

"And don't fret, dear, that cake will keep. It will make for a perfect dessert."

The pair left Mark alone and adjourned into the hallway.

"I'm gonna go get a few things from the gate house for McCormick. I think he should sleep in the main house tonight."

"Good idea, judge. I'll make up one of the beds in the guest room." The housekeeper's lips turned up into an amused smile.

"Wha-at?" the jurist grumped.

"You're worried about him."

"No I'm not," he protested too quickly. "But I knew that you would be and I didn't want you goin' over there in the middle of the night by yourself to check on him."

"Yes, sir, whatever you say." Sarah began to walk toward the kitchen. "As if you wouldn't be there before me," she muttered.

Mark had drifted off into his first peaceful sleep in days safe in the knowledge that his place at Gulls Way with the judge was safe. Less than half an hour later that would all change.


The door slammed open causing Mark to startle awake and nearly fall off the couch. He blinked his eyes trying to clear his vision.

"What in the hell is the meaning of this?"

As his sight improved, he almost wished it hadn't. The judge was standing there, red faced, and holding his suitcase.

"Um…let me explain, judge."

"Don't bother…I have eyes McCormick. You were all packed up to leave. Just like that…without sayin' a word."

"No…judge…you don't understand."

"You're right…I don't. Is that why you worked so hard to finish the list? Was that your parting gift to the old donkey?"

'If I was gonna take off I sure as heck wouldn't have bothered with that stupid list,' Mark thought, but instead answered. "That's not true. Except for the part about you being a donkey."

Hardcastle pointed to the door. "I want you out."

Mark's eyes widened.

"I'm giving you what you wanted."

Mark stood slowly to meet the judge eye to eye. "Judge…c'mon…I didn't…you don't…" he stuttered.

"Go, McCormick. We're through here…I'm through with you."

It was like a knife to the gut; there was nothing more he could say. He took the suitcase that was held out to him. With one last look into the blue eyes of the judge, Mark nodded his acceptance of the situation and walked out of the room.

The judge was surprised by how empty he felt when he heard the front door close.

Mark drove down the long driveway unsure of where he was going and not particularly caring either. Hot tears burned in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. The last time he had cried was when his mother died almost fifteen years prior. Not even when he went to prison or when Flip died had he allowed himself the release.

'I'll be damned if I let some old judge like Hardcase bring me down…I won't give him the satisfaction. I don't need him.'

Now if only he could get himself to believe it.

A short while later it became obvious that his blurry vision was no longer being caused by the extra moisture in his eyes. Mark was exhausted and finding it harder and harder to focus on the road. He was about to pull over when a cat darted in front of the Coyote. He cut the wheel sharply to the right and narrowly missed hitting the creature.

Unfortunately, what he didn't miss was the large tree on the side of the road. Slamming on his breaks at the last second, he reduced some of the impact. But still his body was thrown forward and his head connected solidly with the windshield.

Mark's last thought before everything faded to black was, 'I need you, Hardcase.'

Hardcastle had been unable to sleep after his fight with Mark and was still awake and sitting in the den when the phone rang just before midnight.

"Yeah?" he answered gruffly.

"Milt…it's Frank." The police lieutenant took a breath before adding, "I'm calling about Mark."

The judge snorted. "Didn't take the kid long to get in trouble again, did it?"

"Milt…it's not what you're thinking. There's been an accident."

Hardcastle sat up straight in his chair, his stomach heart dropping into his stomach. "How bad?"

"I don't know. I just found out about it now when the responding officers turned in their report at the station. He's at Huntington Memorial."

The judge hung up on Frank and was on his way out the door less than a minute later. He peeled out of the driveway and sped along the highway at a speed that would be envied even by McCormick.

"McCormick," he mumbled out loud. "God, please let the kid be okay. I'll never forgive myself."

Any anger he had felt earlier was replaced by fear. Fear that he wouldn't have a chance to make things right. He had thrown Mark out of his house and out of his life as so many had before him. And why? Because he found a suitcase?

If he was honest with himself he would have realized that he wasn't angry that Mark was planning on leaving…he was hurt.

"I shoulda tried to talk to the kid first. But…nooooo…I just go and toss him out on his skinny behind." Hardcastle slammed his palm against the steering wheel. "He's right…I am a donkey!"

By the time he was pulling into the visitor's lot of the hospital his heart started beating faster. And as he walked up the front desk and inquired about Mark it was practically pounding out of his chest. So much so that he almost didn't hear the nurse when she told him that he was still being evaluated by the doctors.

The judge took a seat in the waiting room and did just that…he waited. And later when they moved the still unconscious man to a private room, he waited some more. Mark lay pale and completely still, sporting a bandage on his forehead and more wrapped around his cracked ribs

It wasn't until close to noon the next day that the injured man began to show some signs of life. He began to whimper and moan, his head tossing from side to side.

"Please…help me, judge. Don't send me back. I don't wanna go…feel safe with you. I'll try harder…can't go back to prison…you don't know what it's like. I'm sorry…tried…tried so hard. I need you, judge."

Hardcastle took Marks hand, wanting to provide some kind of comfort, but at the same time feeling extremely awkward doing so. He was an ex-cop and a retired judge; what did he…"Hardcase" Hardcastle…know about feelings?

Even with his son Tommy, who he had loved more than life itself, it was Nancy who had handled all the emotional aspects of raising him and had taken care of their boy when he was sick. They were a team and that's why they worked so well together; they filled in each other's weaknesses.

But Tommy and Nancy were gone now, and after the deaths the jurist had buried his feelings even deeper. It wasn't until recently when he brought Mark home that he began to open himself up a bit more. The ex-con had gotten to him quickly and worked his way into his heart.

Mark continued to struggle. "Please…sorry…tried…help…please."

"Shhh, kiddo. It's okay…you're safe now. It's okay."

Mark stilled and his eyes slowly fluttered open. Hardcastle was worried when they were unfocused and showed no recognition at first."Do you know who I am?" he asked anxiously.

"Trust me, judge…yours is one face I could never forget," Mark smirked weakly.

"How're you feelin', kid?"

"Like The Jazzmasters just got through playing a concert inside my brain." He grimaced and shut his eyes. "I'm real tired...head hurts."

"Go back to sleep." The judge felt Mark squeeze the hand he was still holding. "Don't worry…I'm not gonna leave ya."


Hardcastle had to swallow past a lump that had formed. "Promise."

The jurist made good on his word, and when Mark woke later that evening he was in almost the same exact position.

"You stayed."

"I promised ya, didn't I?"

"Yeah." Mark licked his dry lips.

"You want some water?"


Hardcastle poured some water into a cup and brought the straw to Mark's lips. "Not too fast…you don't want to make yourself sick."

"It's water…not whiskey, remember?"

The judge couldn't suppress a smile. "Yeah, I remember, smart guy."

Once he was done drinking, Mark asked, "So, what's the damage?"

"You've took a pretty good knock to the head and got some busted ribs."

"No…I meant to the Coyote."

"You and that damn car," The judge muttered.

"Well…how is she?"

"A lot better than you I'm sure."

"You mean you don't know?"

"No, I don't know!" Hardcastle's voice was rising in exasperation. "I've been too damn worried about you to care!"

Mark winced and put a hand to his head.

"Damn…I'm sorry, kid."

His voice was husky both from pain and emotion. "I didn't realize."

"Didn't realize what?"

"That you care that much."

"Neither did I," Hardcastle sighed. "But when Frank called and told me you had been in an accident, I got real scared…and I don't scare easy."

"I'm sorry." The judge looked as uncomfortable as he felt. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"I know ya didn't, McCormick."

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, each man avoiding the others eyes. Finally Hardcastle blurted out, "Why, kid? I need to know why you had a suitcase packed and were going to leave."

"I was only going to leave because you were going to throw me out."

"What in the hell are you talkin' about?" Seeing Mark wince again, he lowered his voice and added, "Maybe you hit your head harder than I thought."

"No…I heard you and Sarah talking in the den a few days ago." Mark blushed. "I…um…I was just walking by and…"

"And you heard what exactly?"

"Sarah said something about me not working out and my work not being up to par…and you agreed."

"I did?"

"Yup, and then you told her to give me a few days and if it wasn't better you would take care of the problem. That's all I needed to hear."

Bells went off in Hardcastle's head as he recalled the meeting with his housekeeper.

"I'm sorry, your honor, but I just don't think the young man is working out."

"I was afraid you were going to say that, Sarah."

"I really tried, but his work just isn't up to par."

"I know."

"And…well…I know he's one of your special projects, but I just don't trust him."

"I understand, really I do. How about we give him a little more time to prove himself?"

"I don't know, judge. I doubt it will make a difference..."

"I promise, if by the weekend you aren't satisfied, I'll take care of the problem."

"Well, okay. But I hope his attitude improves...he has been quite rude to me."

"Now, now, Sarah. Don't go getting all upset. A couple of days...that's all I'm asking."

"I'm not upset…yet. But if Mrs. Hardcastle's tablecloth comes back looking as bad as it did when I took it in last week, then I'll take care of the problem myself. Who ever heard of a dry cleaner that sends laundry back in worse condition than when it went in?"

"Considering that he used to launder money, I thought laundering clothes was a step in the right direction."

"I sure hope he was a better criminal."

"That he was, Sarah…until he met me…and went clean. Get it…went clean…where do I come up with them?"

"I don't know, your honor. But if I did I would be sure to take care of that problem as well."

"It isn't funny," Mark protested as the judge began to laugh.

"Oh…oh yes it is. It was the dry cleaner."

"Huh? Maybe I did hit my head too hard…what are you talking about?"

"Next time you decide to eavesdrop, McCormick, make sure you stick around and listen to the whole conversation," the judge lectured. "We were talkin' about our dry cleaner Manny."

"You mean you never were thinking of throwing me out?"

"I'm seriously considering it right now after all you put me through," Hardcastle muttered.

"I'm sorry, judge, really I am."

"Yeah, well…you should be."

"I think you made out pretty good in this mess," the ex-con countered. "You got a lot of work done around the house."

Hardcastle cocked his head to the side. "Yeah…I guess you're right… no real harm done."

Mark snorted. "I have a really bad headache, broken ribs and a busted car. If this is no harm done, I'd hate to see myself if there was harm done."

"Serves you right for stickin' your ears where they don't belong."

Those same ears started to turn red with embarrassment. "I said I was sorry," he muttered dejectedly. "I didn't mean to listen."

The judge softened his tone. Mark was hurting enough; he hadn't meant to add to it. "Why didn't you just talk to me in the first place, kid?"

Mark shrugged, wincing at the pain the movement caused. "I dunno… I heard you and Sarah and assumed the worst. I guess it's just that I don't have a heck of a lot of experience at being wanted."

The older man's heart ached at the sad tone of Mark's voice. "Well…Sarah…she wants you around." He coughed as he added in one quick breath," and so do I."

The injured man suddenly felt a whole lot better. "Thanks, judge…that means a lot. And, from now on, I promise to ask before I assume."

"Now we're cookin'."

"We're cookin'?" Mark questioned.

"When Sarah finds out the mess we managed to make of things, the only thing she'll be fixing for us to eat is crow. If we don't wanna starve to death, than we're cooking."

"You know…I still have that suitcase packed…maybe I should stay at a hotel while I recover?"

"Oh, no you don't, McCormick." The judge crossed his arms defiantly. "You're not leaving me alone to fend for myself against an angry Sarah. We're a team…we're in this together."

Mark practically beamed at the use of the word. "Together," he repeated softly. "The Lone Ranger and Tonto."

The judge smiled back. "And the Lone Ranger will have no problem in using Tonto as a shield against a flying rolling pin."

Mark winked. "That's what Kemosabes are for."

The End