Groundswell, n. A broad, deep undulation of the ocean, often caused by a distant storm or an earthquake.

"Jimmy?"

Jim flinched, then raised his eyes. "Carolyn, hi." 

"Hi, Carolyn," Sandburg said, cautiously polite. "How ya doin'?"

Her eyes flicked over to regard Sandburg for a moment, then returned to Jim. "I was wondering if you'd like to go to lunch," she said.

Jim looked at the files they'd been cross-checking. "I think we could take a break," he said, rising. "What do you think, Chief?"

"Yeah, sounds good," he replied, standing up and reaching for his backpack.

"Jim, I meant-- I wanted to talk to you about something," Carolyn said, looking pointedly at Blair, who picked up on the hint immediately. 

"Oh, hey, no problem," he said. "You two go ahead, I'll get a sandwich next door. I need to finish this anyway." Jim opened his mouth to protest, and Blair laid a hand on his arm, lowering his voice and drawing him a little away. "Look, man, when your ex wants to talk alone you can bet you aren't going to want me around to hear what she says."  He patted Jim reassuringly. "I'll be here when you get back," he said, at normal volume, and gave Jim a little nudge in the direction of the door. "Have fun, guys."

Casting a helpless look behind him, Jim trailed Carolyn out of the bullpen. 

It was a little over an hour later when he returned, bearing a damp and wrinkled brown paper sack. 

"Hey, Chief," he said quietly, dropping the bag on the desk in front of Blair. "I brought you a sandwich."

"Thanks, man," Blair replied absently. "Jim, look, I think I found something in the DeLuca file--" he looked up at Jim and stopped abruptly. "Hey, man, you OK?"

Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm fine," he said, taking his seat.

"Are you sure? You look--"

"I said I'm fine, Sandburg. Can we just get some work done here, please?"

Blair subsided, and started talking about the connections he'd drawn between Ronnie DeLuca and Starfield Enterprises while Jim was having lunch. Jim looked over the files, interested. A call to one of his sources confirmed what Sandburg had found.

"Good catch, Chief," he said, and he felt almost normal, if a little tight around the edges. Almost.

They worked in silence for a while, then Jim looked at his watch.

"You have a class at four, right?"

"Yeah," Blair said. "I should probably leave now, actually." He started gathering his things.

"Carolyn's moving to San Francisco," Jim said quickly, feeling as though he had to push the words out before he could change his mind.

"Oh." Blair stopped. "Is that what she wanted to talk to you about?"

"Yeah. That and-- other things. She got a really good offer. In California."

"Well, that's good for her, then, right?" Blair's voice was gentle.

"Yeah. Just-- yeah. Really good," said Jim, and he felt suddenly weary. "So, you'll be home around seven?" 

"More like quarter to," Blair said, slinging his backpack over one shoulder.

"Maybe we'll get dinner," Jim said. "Or something."

"Yeah, that'd be good, Jim," said Blair, clapping him lightly on the back. "See you then."

Jim nodded. "Be careful out there," he said. "It's raining."

Blair grinned at him over his shoulder as he walked away.

Jim turned his attention to the DeLuca files, but it was harder to stay focused without Sandburg there to keep his mind from drifting. He left the station at 4:52, telling himself he'd put in enough overtime to leave early every day if he wanted. The rain was still falling, quiet and steady, putting a chill in the air. 

He didn't turn on the lights when he got home. He didn't need to anymore, since Sandburg had shown up, had shown him how to use his eyes; now he found the dimness oddly soothing, sometimes, like swimming in cool water.

He wanted to hide here, to wrap himself in the security of this space that had always been a refuge from the world outside, too busy, too noisy, too smelly, too much. But today somehow Carolyn was there, today her laughter and love noises were floating down from the loft, her subtle and devastating recitations of his flaws were echoing out of the kitchen. Suddenly he couldn't breathe.

The balcony doors opened easily, and the wet cool air tasted of freedom. 

He could smell the plants on the balcony, wet and green; some of them Sandburg's but most of them Carolyn's, abandoned when she moved out. He had kept them alive out of a strange furtive fellow-feeling. 

When he was in the Army he had broken a rib, once, and the medics had wrapped him so tightly he had been sure he'd suffocate. It had to be tight, they said, to help. He was feeling those bandages again now, ghostly pressure around his chest as Carolyn's voice whispered, "I could get more out of my toaster..."

The railing was wet and gritty under his palms, and he let himself drift on the feeling. Behind him, the loft was very empty.

He became aware, slowly, of another presence on the balcony. Sandburg. Now that he was paying attention, he could feel a strong, square hand on his back, not moving, not trying to gain attention, just resting there, letting him know that he wasn't alone.

Jim turned around. Sandburg let his hand drop, looking up at him with a worried expression. He must have been standing there for a long time before Jim had seen him; his hair was hanging limp and draggled around his face, and his flannel shirt clung damply to his body. He was shivering.

It hit him, then, that Carolyn would never have known what he needed, would never have stood silent and shaking while Jim straightened things out in his own head. If he hadn't had the sense to come in out of the rain, she would have scolded him from inside, perhaps, or left him to his own devices. But Sandburg knew, somehow, what it was that he needed, that the silence wasn't a sign of mistrust, that Jim would come to him eventually if he waited.

And he stood in quiet support behind him and slightly to the left, with rain on his glasses.

Jim felt the tightness around his chest ease, and the smell of rain and damp wool flooded his nose, strangely sweet. "Looks like you need windshield wipers, Chief," he said, smiling a little. 

Blair pulled off his glasses and swiped them across his shirttail. "Did you know that a Japanese student invented clip-on windshield wipers for glasses in 1987? They never caught on, though. The battery pack was too much trouble to carry around. Plus," he added, his eyes dancing, "the focus groups all felt like dorks wearing them."

Jim snorted. "I think you make up three-quarters of the things you tell me," he said.

"Ah, but which three-quarters?"

"Therein lies the eternal mystery of Sandburg," Jim said gravely. "Tell you what, let's go change and we can go out for dinner. My treat."

"I am all over that," Blair said, moving into the loft. "Dino's OK?"

"Sounds great," Jim agreed, snagging a towel and tossing another one to Sandburg, who caught it without looking and started blotting his hair.

"Hey Jim," he said, pulling back the curtain to his room. "You all right?"

"I'm fine," Jim said, starting up the stairs. Halfway up, he paused.

"Hey Blair?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"No problem," Blair said easily, and the best thing, Jim thought, was that he meant it.
 

~END~

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