Words With Friends

Words With Friends by Swellison, artwork by Lyn

by Swellison

artwork by Lyn

Please send feedback to the author and artist!

Blair Sandburg reached across Jim's desk to grab the ringing phone. "Major Crimes, Det. Ellison's desk."

"Oh." The answering female seemed disconcerted. "I was given this number to contact Blair Sandburg?"

"Yes, that's me." Blair didn't think the woman sounded like someone that he'd given one of his business cards with the precinct's number to impress, so that left... "Are you with the Sisters of Hope, ma'am?"

"Yes. I've got the van with the food down by the police station, but I'm not sure where to go. Your entrance appears to be boarded up, and a news van just took the last parking space on the street."

"Okay, you can park in the police garage and I'll meet you down there." Blair gave directions to the garage. "I'll see you in a few minutes. Good-bye."

"Good-bye and thank you."

Blair hung up, and then made his way out of the bullpen. Once beyond Major Crimes' doorway, the wide corridor became crowded with the homeless people that the police station was temporarily hosting. Only a few of their unexpected crowd of visitors had ventured into the bullpen itself, the majority content to walk the corridors, or stand or sit along the walls, talking and resting. Blair was sure the street people would appreciate a meal, and he was glad they'd be provided one soon. He stepped into the elevator, hit the button for the garage and waited for the elevator to reach his destination, tapping his foot. Not that he was impatient, just excited and full of anticipation. He only needed to make a handful of corrections to his dissertation introduction, print off a clean copy and it was ready for peer review, the first step in his major undertaking of documenting modern-day sentinels—well, technically one sentinel. Blair firmly believed that there were other sentinels out there, though; in a population of billions, Jim couldn’t be the only living sentinel.

Exiting the elevator, Blair entered the garage. His goal was easy to spot: an immaculate white van with a yellow sun and the words "Sisters of Hope" painted on the side paneling in big silver letters, outlined in red. As he approached the van, the driver's door opened and a woman in her early thirties stepped out. Dressed in blue jeans and a navy car coat with a white sweater showing above the coat's V-necked lapels, she didn't look like a nun. Perhaps she was a volunteer. "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg."

"Sister Charity." They shook hands, the nun continuing her explanation. "Actually, I'm Sister Catherine Charisma. I work with children a lot. They dubbed me Sister Charity and the name stuck." She smiled as she slid open the van's side door. "It resonates well with our order's name; helping to spread the Good Word."

Blair looked inside the van. The customary second row of seats had been removed, leaving a large cargo space, currently filled to the ceiling with boxes labeled tuna, ham, and turkey sandwiches, two huge silver urns, and a convention-sized coffee urn. Bags of Styrofoam bowls, cups, paper plates and plastic ware were also crammed into the space, wedged between the two bucket seats at the front of the van.

"Wow, this is an awesome amount of food, Sister Charity. Thank you!"

"I've worked with Social Services before, so I had a pretty good idea of how much food to bring," Sister Charity said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people are struggling nowadays. We do what we can to help."

"You do a lot, Sister. Please wait here; I'll get the large dolly from Evidence to cart the food upstairs. I'll be back in a few." Blair turned and strode determinedly toward the garage's access doors into the station.

He hustled to the evidence lockup, spotting Rafe and H unloading a table from the back of a van. "Hey guys, you're not using the dolly, are you? I wanna borrow it to take some donated food up to the break room for our homeless guests."

"Help yourself, Sandburg." Henri motioned towards the large dolly, parked against the far wall.

Blair waved his thanks, retrieved the industrial-sized dolly and made his way back to the garage. Working as a team, he and Sister Charity had the food and serving essentials transferred from the van to the dolly in neatly balanced stacks in under ten minutes. Then they trekked up to the break room on the sixth floor and Sister Charity helped Blair rearrange the tables and set up the soup and coffee urns to get their makeshift cafeteria up and running.

Blair surveyed the finished room. Wiping his hands on his khaki pants, he extended a hand. "I can't thank you enough, Sister. Your karma must be through the roof!"

"You did a lot of the work, too. Let me know if you need any more food. I hope and pray that the mayor and the striking workers resolve their issues soon." They shook hands. "You're a good man, Blair Sandburg."

Blair blushed slightly then escorted Sister Charity to the elevator. He returned to the break room to find his first customer waiting, a silver-haired elderly woman with a small dog at her heels. Blair crossed the room, stepping over to the other side of the serving table. "Hello, ma'am. Would you like a sandwich or some soup?"

The petite woman nodded, grabbing a saran-wrapped turkey sandwich from the first tray on the table. Taking a quick glance at Blair, she unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. Making a face, she swallowed it down.

"Is the sandwich all right?"

"It's... okay." The old woman said, doubt evident in her tone. She stooped down, opened the sandwich up and offered it to her dog. The dog, which looked like a cross between a Chihuahua and a beagle, sniffed the proffered food, then stepped back, leaving it uneaten. The woman rose slowly, re-wrapped the sandwich and stuffed it in a pocket of her coat. "Waste not, want not. Ah, could I have some soup, instead?"

Sandburg got her a bowl of soup—chicken noodle, he noticed as he ladled it out—and handed it to her.

"Thank you," the woman said quietly, and then she and her dog walked out of the break room. A couple of men entered as she left and Sandburg greeted them. "Hey, gentlemen. What can I get you?"


"I call it a violation of friendship and trust." Jim Ellison ended their discussion by turning and leaving.

Blair watched, dumb-founded as Jim strode over to the elevator and stabbed the UP button. He took a deep breath and hustled across the evidence garage's concrete floor. He reached the elevator just in time for the doors to snap closed right in front of his face. Knowing Jim was inside, he waited a few seconds for the doors to reopen, but that didn't happen. "Dick!" he said to the departed elevator, and then he turned to take the stairs. Propelled by anger, he climbed quickly. At the sixth floor, he strode over to the elevator and leaned against the wall next to it. When Jim emerged from the elevator a few seconds later, Blair couldn't resist a quick jibe as Jim walked past him. "Hey, you've also got a fear of courtesy."

Luckily, Simon Banks appeared a few seconds later. "Hey, Sandburg, got a positive ID on your 'angel.'" He handed Blair a file and Blair tried to focus on more immediate concerns. "According to records, his name is Harold Blake. He taught a semester of ancient history at Fordham."

"Ah, guess that would explain him knowing Aramaic." Blair scanned the file while they walked. "Unmarried, no family. His employers reported him missing two years ago. Never heard from again."

They walked into the bullpen, Blair making an effort to keep up with Simon's longer stride. "That is, of course, until now. You sure this thing's right?"

"Fingerprints don't lie," Simon said as they approached his office door. "I do wonder how he ended up in an alley living out of a cardboard box." Simon went into his office before Blair could say anything further.

Blair stared at Simon's closed door for a moment. He'd been that close to challenging the captain's assertion that fingerprints don't lie, ready to rattle off statistics about the Innocence Project, and sloppy police forensics departments... He snapped the file on Harold Blake closed and turned around. Noting in passing that Jim's desk was empty, Blair left the bullpen. As he stepped down the corridor, he glanced towards the break room. Through the open slats of the break room window shades, he spotted Ricardo doling out food to a line of people. Good, Ricardo was holding down the fort. Blair headed for the stairway. Opening the door, he slipped inside, heading up the stairwell instead of down. He needed to cool off before facing Jim again, and the rooftop would afford him the opportunity to do that, literally and figuratively.

Blair opened the door and stepped out to the roof. The night air was definitely nippy, and he lay the folder down on the ground before zipping up his heavy-duty blue windbreaker. Why did Jim have to be so stubborn about the diss? Surely he realized how important it was not to compromise the research?

This wasn't helping; he was just getting angry again at Jim, and the man—Sentinel—wasn't even here.

Blair tried to calm down. Deep breaths, Sandburg, he reminded himself, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply. His hands rose to above his head as he breathed in, hearing Naomi's voice, from when she first taught him meditation techniques. He held his breath for almost a minute, and then let it out slowly as he brought his hands back to his sides. He repeated the calming breaths four times before opening his eyes. Jim was way off base in his interpretation of Blair's words, why couldn't he see that? And what was up with him reading the intro in the first place, anyway? As roommates, they'd had clear boundaries on what was and wasn't off-limits for years now.

Oh great, he was getting riled up again. Blair closed his eyes and took another deep breath. Naomi's words accompanied him again, but they were different this time: I hear that. Only she didn't, because she wasn't here. No, wait, he was being too literal-minded, again. Blair half- smiled. Occupational hazard, for an academic. Of course, "I hear that" had a different meaning for Naomi, anyway. Mom meant that she would listen to and accept what was said without judgment.

Not that Jim would ever do that.

Okay, maybe he was being a bit harsh, there. Jim was an actions-speak-louder-than-words type of guy, and Blair knew that. And when he did speak, Jim used the most detached, professional words he could. So, what had Jim really said, in the garage?

"After I let you stay at my place. I get you a job at the department."

Sandburg easily translated that bit of Jim-speak. "After I let you into my life, totally and completely." And he had: Jim had lied to Captain Banks to get Sandburg's observer credentials, and then his one-week offer of shelter after Sandburg's warehouse digs blew up had morphed into an unlimited roommate situation at the loft. Tupperware coding and stereo restrictions aside, Blair had the best living quarters of any research fellow at Rainier, and he knew it.

"What does my sex life got to do with your project?"

Well, Jim was hardly the first man to confuse sex and intimacy. Add to it the abandonment issues that Carolyn had mentioned, and Blair could see how a man like Jim would get all defensive and huffy about that.

His talks with Carolyn had been informative about Jim's adult life, but she didn't know very much more than Blair about Jim's upbringing. Until he'd met Steven Ellison at the race track, Blair hadn't even known Jim had a brother. And it was only while they were reinvestigating the Country Club Strangler case that Blair had learned that Jim's father was alive and well and living in Cascade.

But the real bombshell about that old case was the revelation that Jim had had his heightened senses as a child. Blair understood how discovering Bud Heydash's body in the woods and William Ellison's lack of support would cause Jim's senses to go dormant. But what had activated young Jim's senses in the first place, and how old was Jim when he first acquired his senses?

All of Blair's research, plus Jim's experiences in the jungles of Peru, pointed to hypersensitivity being a combination of genetics and environment—the old nature vs. nurture argument. Hyperactive senses had to be a rare genetic mutation, born out of primitive tribesmen's constant fear of living in the extremely hostile jungle environment of the rain forests. Tribal members possessing augmented senses would naturally develop a high level of the fight-or-flight instinct, and might be outwardly perceived as cowards, reacting to and/or running away from invisible threats. Eventually, the tribal leaders saw that certain tribal members always knew ahead of time when danger was coming, or how the weather was changing, and sentinels became valuable assets to the tribe. Over generations, the native tribes tamed their environments and ceased to live in constant fear. Hyperactive senses became largely dormant, only triggered by a combination of genes, isolation and the adrenalin spike caused by fear. Blair surmised that the tribes' sometimes brutal coming of age rituals for their young warriors had been designed to trigger fear and create or expose sentinels. He had wanted to discuss this with Incacha, but the Chopec Shaman had died before they'd had time for a serious discussion.

"Threatened by you? I don't think so, Chief."

Okay, that one was harder to take, because the almost-sneer in Jim's voice had hurt. Blair knew that he was shorter and physically weaker than Jim—than most of the men on the force, not to mention Megan—but there was a deeper meaning here, too. Who had the power in the Sentinel/Guide relationship? The Guide. It was the most startling conclusion of his research, and it wasn't even mentioned in the introductory chapters, because Blair hadn't decided how to present that surprising result, or even if he should.

It had been difficult to wrap his head around the concept of Sentinel and Guide; Jim had accepted his role as Guide long before Blair himself had, but the incidents had mounted up until Incacha's appearance had cemented it. Blair was Jim's Guide, no two ways about it. And if that made Jim feel threatened—"territorially threatened to the point of paranoia"—well, Jim had a reason to feel like that. Blair could walk away from this Sentinel thing, find another area of anthropology or archaeology to explore, and lead a normal, healthy life. Jim couldn't—and that gave Blair the power in their relationship. Not that Blair ever would leave, and Jim must know that.

"I call it a violation of friendship and trust."

...or maybe not.

"You're a good man, Blair Sandburg," Sister Charity had said, earlier tonight.

But his best friend, his Sentinel, didn't agree with that assessment. He needed to talk to Jim, and fix this. He badly needed Jim to ask, "Are we okay, here, Chief?" in that easy-does-it-everything's-fine voice that Jim used to settle matters on calls and fractious interviews. Blair took a deep breath, then reached down to retrieve the file on Gabe—er, on Harold Blake. He would mull over what to say to Jim, but first he needed to communicate with Gabe.


Blair dropped the Harold Blake file on his desk, staring at the folder and reflecting bitterly that if he'd taken the time to lock up his dissertation and not leave it carelessly lying on his desk, perhaps he wouldn't be in this pickle. On the other hand, a locked desk drawer would hardly be a deterrent to a determined sentinel. And Jim was nothing if not determined. Maybe, if he hadn't tantalized Jim with that humorous bit in the truck, Jim wouldn't have gotten the itch to read Blair's introductory chapters.

"And pigs would fly," Blair muttered. He stepped away from his desk and out of Major Crimes. Walking down the still-crowded corridor to the break room, Blair found a small line of people waiting patiently for their food. Ricardo had the makeshift cafeteria well in hand, so Blair grabbed a wrapped sandwich—tuna, not turkey—and caught Ricardo's eye. "I'll be back in a little while. I need to talk to a witness."

"Sure, Sandburg, take all the time you need," Ricardo answered, then turned to fetch a bowl of soup for the next person in line. Blair stopped to pour a small cup of coffee, and then left the break room. He wasn't sure exactly where Gabe was, but the professor-cum-angel had to be somewhere among the milling throngs in the hallways. Blair rounded a corner and found Gabe seated in front of him, leaning slightly against the wood paneling underneath the windowed wall of Major Crimes.

Balancing the sandwich and coffee in one hand, Blair smoothly settled down next to Gabe, who had obviously been to the break room and was currently eating soup from a paper plate, three unopened packets of crackers balanced precariously on the hopefully-sturdy paper plate.

"Hey." Blair searched for the best way to start this conversation.

Gabe tapped his spoon against the plastic soup bowl. "The Lord said, 'Look, and I will send down food from Heaven for you. Gather what you need.' " Gabe paused to take a sip of his chicken noodle soup.

Blair recognized the simple but eloquent words and sought to get Gabe's attention. "Ah...that's from Exodus, right?" At least Gabe stopped eating his soup; Blair hastily continued, unconsciously pointing his sandwich at Gabe. "Y'know, Harold Blake would know that quote, because he taught Biblical studies in his course."

"He was gathered up," Gabe whispered, like he was telling a secret. "I use his body to walk amongst men." The timbre of his voice switched. "For He made His Angels spirits and His ministers' words were flaming fire." He turned towards Blair, voice dropping back to that confiding whisper and smiled. "I'm here to work a miracle." Then Gabe's face turned away from Blair and he concentrated on his food, stirring it before taking another sip of soup.

Blair floundered, trying to keep the conversation rolling. "Ah...do you need help with it? Your miracle?" Maybe if Gabe told him what he was planning, he could help out.

Gabe stopped eating and his restless hands stopped twitching. He turned to face Blair again. "My friend, there are troubled waters ahead for you. But hold fast to this: the light of the soul can never be wholly consumed from without."

Blair met Gabe's scrutiny uneasily. Those words sounded almost prophetic...Uncertain how to respond to that, Blair's gaze fell on his watch. "Wow, I need to get back to the break room, now."

He rose to his feet, still holding the uneaten sandwich and almost-full coffee cup. "I'll see you late—"

But he was talking to empty air. In the short time that Blair had gotten to his feet, Gabe had vanished.


After his unsuccessful attempt to get through to Gabe, Blair returned to the break room. He resumed his role as food supervisor, noting that the pile of sandwiches had shrunk considerably in his absence. He checked the soup and coffee—both still hot. Jim walked in a few minutes later.

Blair watched as Jim picked up a tray, then grabbed a turkey sandwich. A Guide's job was to protect his Sentinel from all threats, big and little, right? "Uh...I'd probably stick to the tuna if I were you," he advised Jim.

Jim put the turkey sandwich down and picked up two tuna sandwiches from the next tray. "All right. Look, Chief, uh...you know, uh, I...maybe I...maybe I overreacted."

"Maybe?" Blair's eye widened, he couldn't help himself. Talk about understatement.

"I know I shouldn't have read your dissertation, and I'm sorry for any transgressions but I'm...you know, I thought we were friends."


"It doesn't read that way to me."

Could he explain to Jim that the fear concept included so much more than bodily harm and physical prowess? "Jim, I said that most of your life choices are fear-based. It's not as bad as it sounds."

"Are you kidding me? It makes me sound like a coward."

"Well, that's the way you read it." Blair didn't think Jim caught his subtle emphasis on 'you,' though. Nor did he understand the complex, intricate relationship between genetics, environmental factors and fear necessary to create a fully-functional sentinel. That major point would take at least a third of the dissertation to delineate and analyze properly, how could he convey all that to Jim in a few sentences? But he had to try. "Come here." He lowered his voice as Jim approached. "You chose to be a sentinel. And the way that you deal with your fears, all of them, is based on that choice. Fear can be one of your greatest allies. Now, you can choose to bottle it up inside or we can work on it." Like the old days, just you and me figuring out another wrinkle in this Sentinel thing.

"After this?"

Jim's voice was full of skepticism and Blair started to realize how hard it would be for Jim to get past this. "So, what do you want to do? Just call it quits?"

Jim looked away, unable to meet his eyes.

So much for talking this through like reasonable adults. "Ah, maybe you're right. Maybe I've, uh...lost my objectivity. I'll tell you what—I'd rather just be friends." That way, he could still keep an eye on his Sentinel, and win back his trust. If Jim needed further proof..."So why don't I go destroy my notes? How about that?"

Blair wasn't waiting around to hear Jim say "Yes, destroy them all!" He couldn't bear the thought of Jim rejoicing as years of his blood, sweat and tears—his research—went up in smoke. Blair strode out the door. The ball was in Jim's court, now.

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