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Title : When the Music Stops
Fandom: 24, Castle, [ profile] milliways_bar 
Characters: Jack Bauer, Kate Beckett
Pairings: Bauer/Beckett
Rating: PG
Summary: She hadn't realized how much of her life was scored by the music of rattling subways, honking horns and bleating sirens until the orchestra stopped.   Post-disaster, picking up pieces.
Spoilers: none
Challenges: from a fic prompt by [ profile] austen : Jack Bauer/Kate Beckett, quiet night.

She had to think that she was never going to get used to this kind of silence.  Even at night, when the darkness hid the grim cleanup process--not that it ever stopped, New York was still the city that never slept--there was no hiding the disaster's effects.

If anything, it was more noticeable, more eerie.  She hadn't realized how much of her life was scored by the music of rattling subways, honking horns and bleating sirens until the orchestra stopped.

Now even with the bustle of trucks and vans, the movement of the city was relatively soundless.  The commandeered vehicles didn't need sirens to carry the dead, and while ambulances ferried the barely-living to skeleton-staffed hospitals, few of them bothered to rush.  Whether they sped through the near-empty streets or drove at a more leisurely pace, the outcome was usually the same.

Beckett turned her eyes away from the street to the sky, but there was no comforting familiarity there, either.  No matter where she was in New York, the comforting beacons--Empire State, Chrysler, Rockefeller--were dark, empty, the occupants fled or dead or dying.

Her own circle had been spared, a last-minute evacuation into the bar the saving grace for the people she cared about.  At the moment, she had to wonder if that might have been a mistake, for herself at least.  Survival was not the gift it sometimes seemed.

Bedclothes rustled behind her, footsteps padded across the floor.

"We've got to be up in a few hours," the whispered voice said behind her.  It's only a few words, but Beckett can hear the weariness in his tone, the dread of going out there again and continuing the grisly cataloguing of the dead, the same as they had the day before, the same as they would be doing a week from now.

"Can't sleep," Beckett said, not turning.  "It's too quiet."

Warm hands slide down her arms, wrapping around her waist, stubbled chin scraping the skin at the back of her neck as she feels the press of his lips on her shoulder.

"Yeah, it is."  She can feel the breath of his sigh on the back of her neck.  "But not sleeping isn't going to change that."

"So what do we do, then?  Pretend it never happened?" she asks, wishing she could weaken the acidity of her tone as soon as the words leave her mouth.

"No one could do that, even if they tried," he says, and she can hear the weight of past losses in his voice.  "You grieve, you mourn, you never forget.  But you don't stop living.  All those people are past knowing or caring what we do."

She knew that already, in her head at least.  Over the years she'd immunized herself to death, one body at a time.  But hundreds of thousands of dead was beyond that capability to compartmentalize and salve with the thought of justice.  There was no humor black enough to take away the sting.

She turned toward him, the dim light outside illuminating the scars etched into his skin.  He'd already seen and felt so much pain in his life, pain that she can barely imagine.  "You don't have to be here.  This isn't your tragedy to deal with," she said, softly, as she wrapped her arms around him.

"It's yours, though.  Your world is mine, which means your world's problems are mine, too.  And I can't just sit back and do nothing."

"I know," she said softly, pulling back, looking into his eyes as she stroked one hand across his cheek.  "I know you can't."  It was the reason she worried about his being here.  Despite what he'd said, she knew it wasn't any easier for him to cope with than it was for her.  He was just better at bottling it up, and she knew at some point the cork would pop.

But when that happened, she'd be there, to wrap her arms around him, and speak soft words in his ear or just to listen.  He'd spent so long coping on his own already, there was no need for him to do it any longer.

She leaned in, kissing him tenderly, a kiss of all the things left unsaid.

"Come on, let's get back to bed and try and get some sleep," she said, finally, pulling back and nudging him toward the bed.

They crawled between the sheets, his arm wrapped around her, his back pressed against hers as a warm, reassuring presence.  She closed her eyes, listened for the sounds she wouldn't usually hear.  His breathing behind her, the creak of the floor settling, the distant sound of a plane overhead.  It took a while, but slowly she let this new, sad city lullaby coax her to sleep.

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