A/N: Hoping there can never really be too many stories on the same theme, here's my little addition to Suzanne's challenge for the missing scene in 'Ties'. Thanks to L.M. Lewis for the beta. All remaining errors are solely because I'm an idiot.

Natural Silence

by Jaz

The silence in the cab ride back to the hotel might have seemed wholly unnatural to Hardcastle, if he hadn't already been living with it for the past week or so. At least now he understood where it came from, which was more than he could have said on the plane ride out here.

Other than a few more vehement protests that he did not want to meet Sonny for dinner tomorrow night, or at any other time or place for that matter, McCormick had clammed up once they'd left the dressing room. Hardcastle allowed him his space. He could imagine what was running through his young friend's mind at the moment.

Sometimes you needed silence in order to hear. He understood that, maybe better than most.

Still, as they entered the hotel room, he figured a token appeal might be in order. He cleared his throat and asked roughly, "You wanna talk about it?"

A quick, negative shake of the head, and Mark grabbed his bag, making a hasty retreat towards the shower.

They were both tired, and though it couldn't quite be considered late in their part of the country, Milt figured calling it a day might be the best option. He put on his pajamas and sat back against the headboard, allowing his mind to drift. If the kid didn't want to go into it, it was okay with him. Still, he knew him pretty well by now, and he figured it wouldn't be long before it came.

Mark eventually reentered the room, dressed in his pajama bottoms, a towel draped around his neck. The steam had barely evaporated from the newly opened bathroom door before he proved Hardcastle right.


Even though he'd been expecting it, Milt couldn't keep the surprise from his voice. "What for?" Nobody did guilt better than McCormick, but in this situation, it seemed a little misplaced.

Mark shrugged and came to sit on the edge of the other bed. "I don't know. Being such a pain this past week; dragging you out here. Stuff," he trailed off, keeping his back to the jurist.

"Hmmm," Hardcastle acknowledged. He rubbed a hand over his chin. "Yeah, well, like you said, what're friends for?"

Mark quoted, "Loaning you ten bucks, not flying across the country." He lay back, keeping his feet on the floor and resting his damp hair on his folded arms, not offering anything more.

Hardcastle watched him for a few moments. "I've been sitting here, trying to remember..." he ventured.

After a moment or two, there was a sigh from the direction of the other bed. "Remember what?" Mark asked, though there was no curiosity in his tone.

"My fifth birthday," Milt answered, watching closely for a negative reaction. There was none. No reaction at all, really.

Undeterred, the judge continued. "I can't remember anything about it." He saw a glimpse of a smile form on McCormick's face and smiled himself. "And no, wise-guy, it's not because of hardening of the arteries." He wrinkled his brow. "I think it's because it was just like every other birthday I had. I guess they all kind of blend together, because they were all good. My folks didn't have much, but they still managed to make the day special for us. That was all that mattered."

Mark closed his eyes, but Hardcastle knew without a doubt that he was still listening. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, you've got a right to be feelin' what you're feelin'. No kid deserves a memory like that."

This finally got a response. Mark twisted his head to look over at the older man. He sighed again. "I don't really know what I'm feeling, Judge. It all seems a little—I don't know—unreal, or something."

"That's okay too," Hardcastle nodded sagely. "In fact, I'd say it was pretty natural, given the circumstances. I'm sure that little scene back there wasn't exactly what you had imagined."

"Not hardly," Mark agreed bitterly. He stood up, drying his hair once more before tossing the towel on the floor. "I meant what I said, though. I don't want to meet the guy for dinner."

"So we're just gonna stand him up?" Hardcastle asked, wondering if he was pushing it too soon.

"Why the hell not?" Mark asked, reaching angrily for the covers to pull them down. "He walked out of my life without a backwards glance; give me one good reason why I shouldn't do the same to him."

Milt didn't have to think long to find an answer to this question. "Because you're a better man than he is," he said quietly.

The words stopped Mark, and he turned to face the man who'd stood by his side more than anyone else who'd shared his blood ever had. He sighed, dropping his weight back onto the bed. "I don't know, Judge. I really think seeing him again might be a bad idea."

Hardcastle nodded thoughtfully. Personally, he thought the kid might be right about that. "Maybe," he allowed. "Maybe not. I figure you've still got some questions for him though."

"Oh, yeah," Mark agreed resentfully. "A ton of them."

"Sleep on it, then," the judge suggested. "You can decide in the morning." He moved to rise, stopping to grab his toothbrush on the way to the bathroom as Mark settled himself under the covers. "Hey," he said, turning back as a thought occurred to him. "You said you were only five, right? So how'd you remember the car?"

Mark arched an eyebrow. "Judge, it was a Studebaker," he said, as if that explained everything.

Hardcastle nodded. He supposed it did.

There was only a small bedside lamp left on by the time the judge returned from the bathroom. Mark was curled up under the covers, his face to the wall. Hardcastle doubted he was asleep, but he still made his way soundlessly to his own bed, pausing only long enough to turn out the light. He lay there quietly, hoping sleep wouldn't be far off for either of them.

"Hey, Judge?" The tired voice came softly through the darkness.

"Yeah?" Hardcastle asked, knowing once again what was coming.

"Thanks." A shifting of blankets, and the silence returned.

Hardcastle smiled to himself. "Anytime, kiddo. Anytime."