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Silent Thunder

by Kristine Williams

Part 4

It had started to rain. But it wasn't cold. Blair wasn't nearly as cold outside as he felt inside. Damn Jim and his prying! Why couldn't he leave well enough alone? Why couldn't he have left Blair to his internal demons? He'd have worked them out eventually. He was pretty sure. He'd never taken Dr. Stoddard's offer seriously, after all. But now...now it was beginning to look like his only option. Blair had managed to talk himself out of these feelings today, but now they were back, strong as ever.

He thought he was being paranoid, thinking Jim didn't want him around anymore, that he was keeping him on out of some misguided sense of obligation. Jim hated his Sentinel senses, and would just as soon set them aside. He never understood what that meant to Blair. He never realized how it hurt to have your entire life's work, your thesis, first embodied, then rejected by its owner. What he wouldn't give for five minutes' worth of Jim's abilities! What he'd been through, all these years---the ridicule, the scorn, the rejection---only to find what he alone knew to exist. And to have that very find reject itself out of scorn. Contempt of itself. Contempt of Blair.

In his dazed wanderings, Blair found himself in the park again, standing on the sidewalk gazing out over the bay. His head was pounding along with the rain, keeping time with the rush of blood surging through his ears. It was so loud, he didn't hear Jim until the man was standing beside him.

"What the hell's going on here, Chief?"

"I don't know, Jim." He couldn't meet Jim's eyes for fear of what he'd see. All his past worries, all that paranoid apprehension that he'd some day piss this man off, had finally come to fruition.

"Are you trying to end this?"

No! "I'm not sure."

"Cause if you are, this is one hell of a way to go about it."

Blair risked a glance, and his fears became stone. Cold, hard, and just as dangerous as the blue eyes gazing anywhere but at him.

"If you want out, Sandburg, then I can't stop you. You won't talk to me, you won't talk to anyone else as far as I know. You've shut me out, and I can't help you."

No, no, this was all so wrong! It never should have gone this far. Blair sank to the curb, heedless of the damp cement. The cold, hard surface matched the piercing pain in his chest that made inhaling an aching chore. His heart had fallen through one of his shoes to mingle with the drainage water flowing quietly out to sea. Just as well, his life had ended today. Three days ago, technically. It had been a slow, lingering death. And now it was over. Dear God, it was over! "Jim..."

"No, Sandburg. I've had enough." His voice held finality. His words cold and hard.

Blair let his head sink to meet the hands required to hold it up. Long, damp hair fell forward, hiding his eyes from the man who stood beside him. Jim's own eyes, still cold blue fire, looked right over Blair. They hadn't focused on him since he stormed out. Blair knew, the instant those eyes bored through his soul, it was over. No greater weapon could ever be invented than Jim Ellison's cold blue eyes. No sharper blade cut as deeply as the words Jim said. The truth known only to him, but so obvious now, was painfully bright.

Knowing it was finished, Blair waited for tears, but nothing came. What kind of animal was he? He was too exhausted to mourn the loss. He couldn't even cry. There was no effort, no running nose or heaving chest, no tightening in his throat. Not even tears. As if to some degree, it was a release. Fear, having been realized, could only cause pain now, not the slow, lingering suffering of worry. Maybe this was a good thing in some way. The inevitable parting that was a staple of his life. It was best he do the leaving, this time.

"I'm sorry, Jim."

"So am I, Chief." Jim stepped off the curb and into a puddle. "So am I."

The feet Blair could see remained in front of him. After a few minutes, he glanced up.

"I'm not going to leave you out here. Do you want a hotel room, or will you stay in the loft until you figure this out?"

Blair sighed deeply, forcing himself off the wet ground. He'd lost it. He'd lost everything that ever mattered. Somehow, where he slept no longer meant a thing. "I'll stay at the University. I can find a dorm room next week."

"I won't ask you to move, Blair. But if you stay, you'll have to talk."

He laughed slightly, then pushed soaking hair from his eyes. "I think I've said enough, don't you?" It was ironic, really, when you thought about it. Ironic that in trying so hard to prove everyone wrong, he ended up proving them all right. The cops who said he didn't belong there. The professors who said he didn't belong here. And Naomi, who said he'd never be happy staying anywhere for too long.

As they neared the loft doors, Blair dug into his pocket and pulled out his car keys. "I'll come by tomorrow night, to get some things."

"Fine. Call me, if you need anything."

He couldn't look up, couldn't see those eyes again, even if the voice was reflecting concern and regret. Blair knew the eyes would be cold, and very painful. As quickly as he could, he got to his car, started it up, and pulled away, not even checking the rearview mirror. He was sure Jim was standing there, and would stand there, until his Sentinel vision could no longer see Blair's black car in the rain. Blair was grateful then for his own limited vision.

At his office, the cot lay unused. Blair gazed over the campus, wondering if he'd ever be able to go back. There had never been any place he called home before. Not since being on his own. The great American dream realized! A place to hang your hat, kick off your shoes, grab a beer and unwind. A place you could count on to always be there. A place...Hell. He knew it was never the loft. A two bedroom renovation over shops on a busy street with some half-assed view of the city's backside? No. That was never home. Jim was.

He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, trying in vain to force out the anger and betrayal. What the hell were you thinking, Sandburg? What on earth made you think this man wanted you in his life? You move in, take over his life, lay claim on his God-given gift and presume to instruct him, and all this time you thought he wanted you here? Embarrassment and regret battled for first place inside his gut, while confusion and the deep need to take a flying leap out the second floor window fought for control of his mind.

Oh God oh God oh God! What had he done? The University, Borneo, Dr. Stoddard, suddenly nothing mattered any longer. Blair's entire life had flushed out to sea with that rain water in the park. Nothing else mattered anymore.

Sure, maybe in time he'd recover. Maybe when hell froze over, he'd get over this. For now, all he had to hold onto was a deep, echoing empty feeling inside. The sun was coming up before Blair realized he'd been standing at the window for hours. Numbly, he crossed the room and flipped on the radio, trying to flood his consciousness with some mundane news or sports report. What he heard stopped his heart cold.

"We return to our breaking news story. Police report a shooting in a residence on the 800 block of Prospect Avenue. We have at least one man dead, and an unconfirmed rumor of police involvement. Whether or not the dead man is in fact the police officer reported to live in the building is not officially known at this time."

Blair pushed his way through the small crowd, fear pounding his chest like a hammer. Two more people in his way. Once past them he be able to see. He'd know for sure if...if it was Jim who had died. If his friend had been killed with no one to watch his back. If he'd zoned out and never had a chance, because there was no one there...because Blair wasn't there. Please, don't let it be Jim. Anyone but Jim! Simon, Brown, Jenkins...just anyone but Jim! He didn't care at this point that someone was dead, only that it not be Jim.

"Ellison, we found another round in the living room."

Blair stopped, his entire body feeling the release. Breathless from panic, he could only sigh heavily as his eyes found Jim standing...alive! He was several yards away, near a plastic-covered body and two uniformed officers standing on the steps of their building. The crowd was moving, milling around with boredom as they slowly began to disperse. Air was finally reaching Blair's lungs after several gasping attempts to revive himself. Suddenly his situation became apparent, and as badly as he needed to see Jim, to know he was alive, he now needed to get away. No one had seen him yet, there was time to get out and get himself together before...

He looked up one last time..and found Jim's eyes. They held his as if waiting there all this time, perfectly level, knowing just when Blair would look up, and at what height he'd be. Knowing even before Blair did that he was there in the crowd looking for Jim. But that height wasn't going to last. His knees threatened to buckle as his exhausted body demanded an explanation for the anxiety level. Desperate to move away before his legs could give out and make a scene, Blair backed away, unable for a moment to pull his eyes from the gaze holding them. When he finally did break the connection, he turned and hurried several feet back. Dropping to the curb with little grace, he sat down hard, letting his head fall forward. With elbows on knees, Blair held his own head to keep from falling over.

Breathe, you idiot! You'll only pass out if you don't breathe! Blair inhaled shakily, rubbing his forehead with his fingers as he fought to return his heart rate to something closer to normal. It took some doing, getting his breathing under control, getting his adrenaline level back down. His heart pounded, but now it was deep inside his chest, not bursting through his throat. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings again, and the fact that someone was sitting next to him on the sidewalk. The crowd had dispersed completely now, leaving only one or two passersby to glance at the commotion in the entryway. His heart took a leap when he allowed himself to realize who it was. And just how long Jim had been sitting there beside him.

"Who was it?" Blair stared at the ground, lowering his hands but still unable to look up.

"Mrs. Walters killed her husband."

Blair sighed, letting out more of the pent up fear and frustration that had carried him all the way from the University in less than five minutes. He'd liked the Walters well enough, but all he felt now was the lingering relief that Jim was sitting beside him, not being placed into the coroner's van. "I was so scared, man. I heard about the shooting on the radio and I thought..." Blair sighed again, shaking his head. "I can't do this. I can't even get through the day without..." His heart jumped again, in fear this time. Fear that he had truly gone too far. Fear that he had no right at all to ask what he so desperately needed to ask. "Jim." Blair looked up, meeting blue eyes that looked deeply into his. "Can't we just black out these past few days and start over? I can't live like this. Not in Cascade, anyway. I can't listen to news like that and wonder if...I just can't."

Jim took a deep breath, gazing out over Blair's head somewhere. "No, Chief. We can't just black it out."

Blair's heart sank once again to the ground. How he could go through this kind of death twice and survive, he didn't know. "Jim..." A hand on his shoulder stopped the plea mid-throat. That arm quickly came around his shoulders and pulled him closer as Jim looked down.

"Blair, this isn't something we can black out. It's something we have to figure out."

Confused, and just a little hopeful, Blair looked up, seeing the softer blue eyes he needed so badly to see. Eyes that saw right into you, without looking straight out the back. Eyes that wanted to know you, not distance themselves.

"Listen, Chief, there's something wrong here. Something that neither one of us could control, or even see, until now." Jim shook his head. "I should have seen it earlier. I could have prevented this. Carl and Marlene had fights before, but never like this."

"I don't get it." As desperate as he was to believe there was some hope in this situation, Blair still didn't understand what the situation was.

"Neither do I, yet." Jim gave Blair's shoulders a gentle squeeze, hugging him to his side for a moment before he let go. He stood, looking down at Blair. "I talked to Simon. He's sending a HazMat team out here to go over the building. Whatever is going on, it's going on in there."

Blair stood slowly, still not willing to trust his legs. "What, like something in the air inside the building? But Jim, if anything was in there, you'd be affected."

"I don't know, Chief. I don't know." Cars approached then, Simon's patrol car and two large white HazMat vans. "Just hang out here for a minute, I'll be right back."

Blair nodded, slightly dazed by the adrenaline overdose. His head was spinning, and his knees threatened collapse, so he sat back down on the curb and watched as Jim spoke with the men from the van and Captain Banks. Every time he tried to think about what Jim had said, about the building being the cause of all that had happened these past three days, all he came back to was his friend telling him they'd figure it out. Whatever it was, they'd figure it out.

It wasn't too late. God, he was tired!

"Blair, come on, let's go."

Blair looked up to find Jim standing beside him, reaching down for his arm. "What now?"

"I'm taking you to the hospital, first. Then a hotel."

"Jim, I'm ..."

"Don't argue. We're both getting examined. Then you're getting some sleep." Jim had Blair by the left arm, and took no resistance seriously. "It could take them days to get results back, Chief. Until then, we stay out."

He didn't resist. He couldn't. Exhaustion was creeping in again, threatening to send him into blissful sleep even when the doctor was drawing yet another vial of blood. He'd just been examined thoroughly. Very thoroughly, giving samples of fluids, having x-rays and even a cat-scan. Five hours later he was given the results.

"Well, Mr. Sandburg, the only difference we can see between the pair of you, other than being very healthy men, is that you have a slight irritation in your inner ear. Possibly due to an infection, but more likely the result of using stereo headphones a bit too often, and a bit too loudly."

Blair rolled his eyes at the look Jim awarded him. If it weren't for his roommate, Blair wouldn't need the headphones in the first place.

"Other than that, you do appear to be suffering from a serious lack of sleep, which I recommend you remedy as soon as possible."

"Thank you, doctor." Jim motioned toward the door. "Come on, Chief, let's go remedy that situation."

Blair agreed, following Jim out to the parking lot. There were things he wanted to say, things he needed to ask, but he was too tired to do more than get into the truck and buckle up. Just staying awake during the cat-scan had taken all his reserve energy. He was afraid if he fell asleep, he'd move and they'd have to start again. So he held perfectly still, nearly sweating with the effort to stay awake, concentrating on the fact that Jim was still with him, and in control.

They were in the hotel room before Blair even registered getting out of the truck. "Jim, wait, what time is it?" All thoughts of the University, of his classes and Professor Kinyon's lecture had vanished the moment he'd turned on that radio.

"Don't worry, Chief. I called the University when we were at the hospital. Your classes were covered, and you're free for the rest of the week." Jim ushered Blair by the arm to one of the beds, not letting go until he sat down. "You need sleep, Blair. Until you can catch up, nothing is going to make any sense."

Reluctantly, Blair agreed, and kicked his shoes off wearily. The small voice inside his head, the one he'd been shutting up all this time, was nagging at him again, urging him to pay attention. Jim was in the bathroom, washing his face, when it all came flooding back. What he'd said, what he'd wanted to say but didn't. And the pills! He had taken one, and wanted to take the rest. He'd really wanted to take the rest! And what if there wasn't anything wrong at the loft? What if the HazMat people found nothing? What would that prove, that Blair had meant what he'd said? That he'd really wanted to end it all, whether that meant leaving Jim or killing himself?

"Jim?" Blair's hands began to shake. His heart was racing, he couldn't catch his breath. What if it was real? What if he really meant it all?


Oh God, what if he was losing his mind? "Jim!" Hands clutched him, taking him by the arms, lifting him to his feet. All Blair saw was a shirt, a chest, a body in front of him. He grabbed the man in front of him, desperate to hold on, to stop his hands from shaking so violently. Fear pressed his face into Jim's chest, fear and a deep need not to let go of the one thing that stood between him and insanity.

"Easy, easy." Jim's arms wrapped tightly around Blair's body, pulling them closer together. "It's all right, Blair."

"No, no, it isn't." Blair pressed his face in close, leaving just enough room to speak and breathe, but he couldn't get his lungs to relax. His heart continued to race out of control, his breath coming in spasms. He couldn't accept the fact that he'd nearly thrown his life away. That he'd tried to push Jim away. He held on to Jim as if his life depended on it, feeling the arms around his back holding him just as desperately. Blair's mind couldn't accept what he'd nearly done, what he'd come so close to losing. He thought at least now, if the nightmare returned, it would have to drag him away kicking and screaming. As long as he just held on.

And he did. He held on for dear life, trying to convey a fear he couldn't voice, trying to take comfort in that fear being diminished. Trying desperately to hold on, for fear Jim would simply vanish if he let go.

After some time, Blair's heart rate returned to something closer to normal. His breathing stopped its uncontrolled rushes, and his body's shaking reduced somewhat. Jim made no move to let go, so Blair remained there a bit longer, willing the grip he maintained on his friend's shirt to strengthen any cracks he'd created in their bond over these past few days.

When he felt he could control his voice, Blair pulled back just enough to speak, not ready to let go. "Is this what it felt like, when you thought you were losing your mind?"

"You're not losing your mind, Chief." Jim's hands moved to the top of Blair's shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze. "Any more than I was."

The blue eyes that met his when he looked up were soft, full of sympathy and understanding. Forgiveness. There was no more hint of the blue ice that had stung so badly the night before. "But I remember it all, Jim. Everything I said, everything I..." His voice gave out for a moment, recalling the pain he'd felt in the park when those eyes looked right through him.

"I know. I remember it too. Neither of us was in our right minds, Blair. If I had been, I'd have seen what was happening. Before you had those pills. Before Mrs. Walters killed her husband." He stopped, jaw clenching for a moment. "You weren't acting normal, I should have seen that, but I didn't."

Blair started to shake his head, but the hands on his shoulders pressed him down to the bed. His own hands let go of Jim's shirt with great reluctance.

"Come on, Chief, you need to sleep."

He nodded, not wanting to admit that his little emotional display had just cost him what little reserve he had. His body and mind were demanding a break from the hell they'd been through. In fact, they both conspired against him and started to shut down even before he remembered taking off his clothes.

Blair woke slowly, realizing as he did so where he was, and why. And the fact that his ears were ringing, almost painfully. The sound of running water alleviated a sudden fear that he was alone, giving him the courage he needed to roll over and look for Jim.

"Good morning." He was coming out of the bathroom, dressed and drying his hands on a towel.

"Jim, what time is it?"

"Don't worry about the time, Chief." Jim tossed the towel over the back of a chair. "I have to go in to the Station for a little while. I want you to stay here, get some rest. I shouldn't be too long."

"Wait." Blair shoved the blankets off his legs, fleetingly hoping he had his shorts on at least, since he still didn't remember getting into bed last night. He did. "I'll come with you."

"No." Jim crossed the room and stood next to Blair. "Sandburg, you've been awake for 72 hours. Whatever has been going on, it's kept you awake and let me sleep like a baby."

Blair ran a hand through his hair, nodding slightly. He was still exhausted, but right now he didn't like the idea of Jim leaving, even if it was just to the Station.

"Listen, I want you to rest up. The maid won't be in till this evening. Use room service when you get hungry and just take it easy." Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze. "I'll be back this afternoon, and we'll figure this out. All right?"

Blair looked up, resisting the urge to hold on to Jim's shirt and insist he either stay there or let him go to work too. "Yeah."

"Okay." He gave Blair's shoulder a pat then turned and gathered his gun and cellphone from the bed. "Call me if you need anything."

He watched Jim leave, then used the bathroom and went back to bed, suddenly too tired again to worry about what they had to figure out. Blair hadn't taken note of the time when he fell back onto the bed, but the next time he woke up felt like days later. It was probably only a few hours, judging by the sun still in the sky and the slight dampness of the towel Jim had used.

There was a new toothbrush at the sink, still in its packaging, and toothpaste as well as other morning necessities. After brushing his teeth, Blair's stomach demanded attention, even before he could shave. He gave in, phoning room service for breakfast only after he checked the time. Technically, it was still morning, and the menu said this hotel served breakfast until 1:00. He ordered, then shaved, promising his growling stomach it was being taken care of next. The shower could wait. His jeans from last night were on a chair, along with Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt. Blair didn't think he'd been wearing that yesterday, and when he picked it up, noting how clean it was, he was sure he hadn't. Someone must have collected a few clothes for them during the HazMat sweep. Or Jim had brought these out sometime yesterday.

Either way, Blair pulled on the sweatshirt, grateful for the warmth. He sat on the large, overstuffed chair beside his bed and hugged himself, pulling both feet up to the seat cushion while he waited for breakfast, trying to push out all memories of the past three days.

When room service came, Jim was right behind.

"Jim, did you find something?"

"Yes and no." Jim signed for the food, then set it down on the table and walked to the bathroom.

"What does that mean?" Blair had to wait until his partner returned, then he offered to share breakfast, but Jim shook his head and sat down in the chair opposite the table.

"I spoke to Mrs. Nielsen this morning, she added a new twist to her husband's death dive."

Nielsen? "Oh, right, that suicide? I forgot about that." Blair swallowed back against the feeling that he'd let Jim down on a case. What normally would have been interesting for him had seemed that day like fingernails on a chalkboard.

"His wife admitted this morning that she'd been seeing someone else, and that her husband caught them together." Jim reached out and snagged a piece of toast, then sat back in the chair again. "If he committed suicide, she'd get only half of what he was worth. Some kind of insurance stipulation with the company. But if he'd been murdered, she'd not only get his entire estate, but a share in the company."

"So, he did jump?"

"Looks that way. As shady as those partners seemed, I couldn't find anything to prove otherwise."

Blair nodded, returning to his breakfast.

"That leaves us just one mystery to solve."

His appetite was rapidly waning.

"The HazMat team found nothing inside, Chief. They tested the air, the water, everything they could think of and then some. They even inspected the new boiler for toxins. Nothing."

Blair let his fork drop to the plate. It landed about the same time his heart hit the floor, making much the same sound. "Jim, that means..."

"That means there's something there they couldn't find." Jim's voice was soft but commanding. "Blair, whatever was happening affected me as well. And the Walters."

"No, Jim, it didn't affect you." Blair looked up, meeting his partner's eyes. "You said yourself you were sleeping at night. And if there was anything in that building, anything that could affect me or the Walters, you would have sensed it."

"It did affect me, Chief. You were going crazy and I didn't care."

Blair searched Jim's eyes.

"Blair, if I'd been in my right mind, and you pulled a stunt like that--storming out and threatening to leave--I never would have stood there and let you go."

"I didn't mean any of that, Jim."

"I know. Just eat your breakfast, we'll figure this out."

Blair returned to the eggs and toast, finishing them even though he was sure he wasn't hungry. When he finished, he excused himself for a quick shower, promising he could think clearly once done.

Jim was on the phone to Simon when he shrugged out of his clothes and stepped into the large shower stall. As he unconsciously braced himself for an expected squeak of the cold water knob, he couldn't help musing about the ability a piercing, high-pitched sound had to set your entire nervous system on edge. Prolonged exposure could be just like Chinese...

"That's it!"

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Monday May 10 2010
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