New Arrivals
Author-Lorelie
Titles

Family Persuasion
by Lorelie

Disclaimer: The Sentinel and all related characters are the property of PetFly Productions. Originally published in The Sentry Post 1.

Blair Sandburg watched his students file out of the classroom. He had just finished passing out the results of the test he had given a few days earlier.

"Alan, hold up a minute, will you?" He called to one of the students. Alan stopped and turned, walking back toward Blair's desk.

"Yeah?"

"Alan, is everything okay? I mean this is the third test in a row that you've failed, in my class alone. And according to some of your other professors, you're having trouble in their classes also."

Resentment showed on the student's face. "You've got no right checking up on me like that man! Everything is just fine, okay, just keep you're nose out of my business." Alan turned and stormed out of the room.

Blair sighed as he turned and started gathering up his books. He couldn't figure out what was going on with that kid. When Alan Reynolds had started at Rainier University as a freshman last year, Blair had had him in an introductory psychology class that he had been asked to teach when the original professor had gone out on family medical leave to care for her mother, who had suddenly been taken ill. Blair and Alan had hit it off immediately. Alan had been an Air Force brat, the son of a career military man. He, like Blair had never spent too much time in one place. Alan had lost his parents in a car crash when he was fifteen, and had spent the last few years living with foster parents. In addition to the similar backgrounds, Blair and Alan also shared several interests, including computers and anthropology. Blair had been happy to help Alan adjust to life at Rainier.

Of course as time went on, Alan found other friends closer to his own age, and he and Blair drifted apart. Still, Blair couldn't help but worry that something was definitely wrong. Alan had been an A student in his freshman year. Now, he wasn't even pulling a C average.

Blair was still lost in thought as he walked out of the classroom, almost running headfirst into one of his students, a young woman.

"I'm sorry Denise, I didn't even see you there." Blair apologized.

The girl smiled. "Actually, I was waiting for you Professor Sandburg. I wanted to talk to you."

Blair looked at his watch. His classes were finished for the day. He was suppose to head over to the police department, but Jim wasn't expecting him for another hour.

"I have some time now, if you want." He said to Denise. "Why don't we head back to my office."

"Well, I thought maybe we could grab a cup of coffee somewhere instead."

"Sure, if you'd rather, but it might be easier to talk about any problems you may be having with the curriculum in my office."

Denise sighed, "I really don't want to talk to you about me. I couldn't help hearing what you said to Alan earlier. I'm really worried about him myself, and I thought maybe we could talk about that."

Blair and Denise walked to a Starbucks not too far from the campus. After they had ordered, and sat down, Blair looked at her expectantly.

"Okay, lets see, where do I start?" Denise gave a small smile and sighed. " Alan and I started seeing each other last year right around Christmas. Everything was going great, at least I thought it was."

"What happened?" Blair said quietly.

"I'm from San Francisco, so when the spring semester ended, I went home. Since Alan doesn't really have any family, he stayed up here and sublet an apartment. He worked this summer to save money for this year's tuition. When I came back to school this year, Alan was like a different person. He had lost all interest in the things he enjoyed last year. He's always in a miserable mood, always on the defense. The way he spoke to you today is his normal attitude. And no matter how many times I ask him, he never wants to talk about it."

A feeling of guilt washed over Blair, he had been so busy working with Jim that he hadn't even realized that Alan had stayed in Cascade for the summer.

"Does anyone know what may have happened to him over the summer? I mean have you spoken to any of his friends who may have been around?"

"No one knows for sure. All anyone can tell me is that his whole attitude changed when he started hanging around a couple he met while he was working in a small restaurant in the warehouse district over the summer. They run some group called Common Humanity.

Blair recognized the name, "I've seen their flyers posted around the campus. They're suppose to be some type of self help group or something, aren't they?"

Denise gave him a wry smile. "Suppose to be, but I don't know. Alan tried to get me to join, and I went to a couple of meetings, but I just didn't feel comfortable there. Something felt weird, you know?"

"Like what?"

"I can't really describe it, I guess it was like there was something else happening, something I couldn't see. When I told Alan I wasn't interested, he told me that if I couldn't accept the group, then we were through."

Blair gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze and Denise continued, "Professor Sandburg, I know there isn't anything you can do about it, but I just didn't want you to blame yourself for Alan's attitude. I guess he's made his choices, and doesn't care who he hurts because of them. It's just so hard, you know? I really care for him." She looked at her watch. "I'm sorry, I've kept you long enough, and I have another class in fifteen minutes. Thanks for listening."

"Don't worry about it, Denise, I just hope that Alan comes to his senses. You seem like a very special lady."

Blair walked her back to campus, then drove to the police station to meet Jim.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hey Sandburg, you're late." Jim Ellison called to him as Blair walked through the door to Major Crimes.

"Sorry about that Jim, I had an unexpected meeting with one of my students."

Jim noticed that his usually exuberant partner was subdued. "Anything wrong Chief?"

"No, I don't think so, just one of my students having some trouble."

Jim smiled and slapped him on the back, "Great, cause I'm starved, let's grab a bite, and when we get back, there's a load of paperwork on my desk with your name on it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ringing of the telephone woke Jim from a sound sleep. "Damn," he thought to himself, as he looked at the clock next to his bed. It read 2 a.m. As he fumbled to reach the phone, his enhanced hearing told him that Blair had already answered it.

He roused himself out of bed, figuring that the call was probably Simon needing them to come in to the station.

As he descended the stairs to the living room, he heard Blair say, "Oh, God, I can't believe it. Listen, are you okay to drive? You sure? Okay, I'll meet you there then."

Jim could sense Blair's rapid heartbeat as he hung up the phone. He turned to Jim, tears in his eyes.

"Chief, what's wrong?" Jim asked, concerned.

"That was Denise Hilton, a student of mine, you remember Alan Reynolds, the kid I spent quite a bit of time with last year?

Jim nodded, Blair and Alan had been close for a while.

"Well. Denise was Alan's girlfriend, kind of. Anyway, she just got a call from the cops that Alan's dead. He was killed in a car accident. She was listed as the emergency contact on his college records, so they want her to come down and identify the body." Blair looked at Jim, "She wants me to meet her at the coroner's, she's not sure she can do it." He sighed, "I'm not sure I can either."

Jim gave Blair's shoulder a pat, he knew how much dead bodies bothered Blair, even strangers. "You want me to come with you?"

Blair gave him a small smile. "Do you mind. I'd really appreciate it, man."

"Of course I don't mind. But we'd better both change our clothes, or they won't even let us in the building."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair arrived at the morgue ahead of Denise, and identified themselves to the night clerk. Since they were with the police, she was happy to provide them with the Coroner's report.

As they quickly scanned the summary, Blair felt his heart sink. Alan had not just been killed in a car accident, it appeared he had deliberately driven his car into a bridge embankment, killing himself.

"I don't believe it," he said to Jim. "Alan wouldn't commit suicide."

"Come on Sandburg, you said yourself that he's been acting strangely," on the drive to the morgue, Blair had explained his earlier confrontation with Alan, as well as his conversation with Denise.

"I know, but he just wasn't the type of kid to do something like this, he always loved life."

"Chief, I know you were close to him at one time, but it's been over a year since you really talked to him, and people do change, you know."

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Denise.

"Professor Sandburg, thanks so much for meeting me here. I know I couldn't do this on my own." she looked as if she had been crying on the entire drive over.

Blair took her hands, "I'm glad you called me. I wouldn't want you to have to go through it by yourself." He turned to indicate the larger man standing next to him. "I want you to meet a friend of mine, Jim Ellison. He's a detective the Cascade Police Department. Jim, this is Denise Hilton."

Jim held out his hand to the girl. "Nice to meet you, sorry it had to be under such circumstances."

"I just can't believe that he's dead. I mean, we were having problems, but I thought we would work it out, now I guess I'll never know."

Blair squeezed her hand, and looked at Jim. If he didn't say something about the accident, he knew Jim would have to. Better it should come from him. "Denise, Jim and I have looked at the Coroner's report. I'm sorry, but it looks like what happened wasn't just an accident. The report states that it appears he deliberately caused the accident."

"You mean to avoid an animal or something?"

Jim sighed, "No, Ms. Hilton, I'm sorry, but it looks like your friend killed himself."

Denise's face went white as a sheet. "You mean suicide? No, I can't believe it. Alan wouldn't do something like that." She looked at Blair, "Professor, you knew him, you know it can't be true!"

"I'm having a hard time believing it myself," Blair agreed, looking at Jim. And I promise you, tomorrow, Jim and I will talk to the officer's who were on the scene. Right Jim?"

Jim nodded. "Sure."

The night clerk approached them. "Excuse me, but whenever you're ready, I can take you in."

Denise started crying again. "I don't know if I can do this."

"It's okay, Denise. Blair comforted her. "I'll be right next to you." He nodded to the clerk.

As they started to move toward the viewing room, Jim grabbed Blair's arm. "You want me to go in with you Chief?"

Blair smiled at him. "No, but thanks for the offer, I really appreciate it."

Blair and Denise moved into the room with the clerk, who quickly found the tag with Alan's name on it and pulled out the drawer. She moved back and let the other two see the body.

"Oh, God." Denise sobbed.

Blair looked at the clerk and nodded. "That's him, Alan Reynolds."

He put his arms around the distraught girl and led her out of the room.

Jim looked up at them as they approached. Blair knew he didn't have to confirm to the Sentinel that the body was in fact that of Alan's. Denise's tears, and the fact that he knew Jim had probably heard everything that had gone on in the viewing room would be proof enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You want to talk about it, Chief?" Jim asked as the two men finally returned to the loft. Denise had insisted on driving home, but Jim and Blair had followed her to make sure she got home safely. Blair had been extremely quiet since they had left the Coroner's office.

"No, I'm okay Jim. It's just kind of hard, you know. I mean maybe if I had spent more time with him, insisted on getting together to go to a game or something, whatever happened could have been prevented."

Jim's voice was sharper than he had intended. But ever since Denise had first called, he had been afraid that this may happen. "Blair, stop it, this is not your fault."

"Jim, the first time I'd spoken to him on over six months was when I confronted him about his grades. I should have sensed something was wrong earlier, tried to do something."

"I'm the one with the heightened senses here, remember, and even I can't always tell if someone's having a problem." He grabbed Blair's shoulders. "Listen to me. I know this is hard. Alan was a friend, and it's always hard to lose someone close to you. Especially in this way, but I seriously doubt that there was anything you could have done to stop it from happening. Tomorrow, we'll go and talk to the investigating officers, and then, you are going to have to put this behind you. Stop beating yourself up over it, okay?"

Blair smiled halfheartedly. "I'll try, but it's not going to be easy."

"It never is. "Jim thought to himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jim, I heard about Blair's friend, how's he taking it?" The question had come from Captain Simon Banks, Jim's immediate superior, and friend of both men.

Jim turned to look at Blair through the windows of Simon's office. Blair was sitting at Jim's desk, working busily on the computer. "Pretty hard, actually. He hadn't seen Alan in quite a while, but he has himself convinced that if he had been around more, or done something, he could have prevented it."

"The old Sandburg guilt kicking in again, huh?"

"Yeah, you know Blair. I think it's going to take some time." Jim sighed, "It wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't killed himself. I think that's what's hitting the kid the worst."

Jim and Blair had spoken with the two officers who were on the scene of the accident. They confirmed what had been in the Coroner's report. They had actually seen the accident happen. They were just about to turn onto the street when Alan's car had passed by them at a high rate of speed, slamming into the embankment of a bridge a block ahead. Alan had been killed instantly. The force of the impact so great, even his airbag hadn't done any good.

Listening to the two officer's story had finally convinced Blair that the accident had been intentional, but he still had a funny feeling about the whole situation. It may have been a while since Alan and he had been close, but he just couldn't see this kid taking his own life, not without some reason.

He remembered his conversation with Denise at the coffee shop a few days ago. From what she had said, everything about Alan had changed when had started attending meetings of the group, Common Humanity. He knew that Jim would probably kill him. He just wanted Blair to drop it, to accept that Alan was gone, and had chosen to take his own life. But Blair figured if nothing else, he could at least ease both his and Denise's mind.

He had just finished his last e-mail requesting information about the group when Jim approached the desk.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Come on Sandburg, this is ridiculous. You've got to let it go. Do you really think that going to this meeting is going to help you figure out Alan's death?"

It had been over a week since Alan's death, and Blair had not had any feedback from the inquiries he had sent out requesting information about Common Humanity. He had seen a flyer posted on campus about the group, and had decided to attend the next meeting, to be held tonight. Unfortunately, he and Jim had already had plans to go over to Simon's to watch a ball game, so he had no choice but to tell Jim his intentions.

He looked at Jim and said heatedly, "All I know is everyone tells me Alan changed when he joined this group. And when Denise went with him, it made her very uncomfortable. Maybe I won't find any answers, but it can't hurt to go. "

Jim sighed, "Fine, but I think you're wasting your time. They're probably a bunch of whiners, sitting around complaining about how unfair the world is to them."

"It's my time to waste, thank you." Blair shot back as he walked out of the loft.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Blair drove downtown, his resolve began to weaken a little, the meeting was to be held at the offices of the group, which Blair now realized were in the warehouse district. Not a very cheery place in the evening hours. He found the address, parked his car and got out.

"Not exactly Park Avenue." He thought to himself as he opened the door of the nondescript brick building.

As he walked inside, he was greeted by a woman about forty or so, who came up to him and gave him a hug, as if he were a long lost relative.

"Welcome, thank you for joining us tonight. My name's Janice Cummins, and this is my brother, Frank. We're the founders of this group."

Even Blair, who himself was the sometimes the poster child for exuberance was taken aback.

"Uh, hi, my name's Blair Sandburg. I saw your flyer at Rainier University."

Janice took his arm. "Oh yes, we get quite a few members from Rainier, although we have members from all walks of life. Come with me and I'll show you around."

They walked into a large open room, filled with thirty or so people. "This is our main meeting room. We meet every Tuesday, to talk about our lives and problems. Sometimes, we'll have special meetings, like around the holidays. A lot of these people don't have any one else to turn to. Some of them are like you, on their own, some are older people, who have no one else, others are yuppies who have spent their entire lives focused on their careers and now realize they never established any type of personal relationships. That's what this organization is about. Family. For people who don't have anyone or anything else.

She showed Blair to a seat and then moved to the front of the room, to begin the meeting.

As the night went on, Blair began to understand Alan's acceptance of this group, as well as Denise's uneasiness. Janice had said it all, that was exactly what this group was going for, family. Alan had not had a family, so he had let this group take the place of one for him. Denise had one, so this group had seemed too devoted, too attached. Blair understood the need for family, even if it wasn't blood. He had spent way too much time without one as a kid. Everything that the siblings said in the meeting hit home to him. These two people were offering to become family to everyone in the room. He looked around the room at the other people who sat entranced, listening to Janice and Frank, and then to other members of the group.

As Blair drove back to the loft, he couldn't help but think of those people, and their reaction to the brother and sister team. Many of them had been crying by the time the meeting was over, willing to give up everything for someone to call family. But Blair also heard the rest of the message, the unspoken one, from the speakers. The group would be family, mother and father, sister and brother, son and daughter, but they were also the heads of the family. No questions asked, or you were out.

He thanked the gods above that he had already found a family, or at least a brother, in Jim. He had never had someone care about him before the way Jim did, watching over him. Sometimes the ex-Army man acted more like Blair's mother than Naomi did. At first it had been disconcerting to him, Blair had learned to take care of himself at an early age, and the idea of having to report in had been hard to get used to, but now, although he would never tell his partner this, he kind of liked it. He felt bad that the other people in that room tonight didn't know that feeling.

The object of Blair's musings sat quietly in the dark watching television. Jim had gone over to Simon's to watch the game without Blair. As soon as he had arrived, Simon has asked him Blair was, and Jim began to vent. Telling Simon the whole story.

"Can you believe it Simon? I mean what is he trying to prove. I know that he and Alan were friends, but he's got to let it go."

To his surprise, Simon's did not agree with him. "Maybe this is his way of getting over it, Jim. You and I both know that he feels guilty over the whole situation. Maybe he just needs to prove to himself that there was nothing he could have done. And maybe, you're just a little bit jealous that he cared so much about Alan." he added.

"What's that suppose to mean?" Jim asked sharply.

"Well, think about it, Blair knew Alan before he new you, or at least before you two became so close. Maybe, deep down, you feel that Blair cares more about Alan, or his memory than he does you."

Simon, that's ridiculous." Jim objected.

Simon took pulled a cigar out of it's case and placed it in his mouth, preparing to light it, "Is it?"

Now, several hours later, Jim sat in the darkness, with nothing but the flickering of the television on, thinking about the conversation. Simon was right, he was jealous, he hadn't realized it before, but the more he thought about it, it made sense, Jim knew that Blair thought of him as a big brother, just as he thought of the younger man as his kid brother. But somewhere, deep inside Jim a little voice still couldn't help but wonder how close Blair and Alan would have been if Blair hadn't started working with Jim. After all, the two of them had had much more in common than Blair and Jim had.

His Sentinel hearing heard Blair's car as it approached the loft. He heard Blair's footsteps climbing the stairs and then the key in the door.

"It's okay, Blair, I'm still up." Jim said, letting Blair know that it was okay move around normally.

The younger man started. "Geez, don't scare me like that." He walked over and dropped down on the chair opposite Jim.

Both men sat in silence for a moment, then both spoke at once.

"How was the game?"

"How was the meeting?"

Both men laughed, then Jim went on. "Game was okay. The Jags won."

He thought to himself, 'Would have been more fun if had been there, though.'

"Meeting was okay too, though kind of sad."

Sad? How do you mean Chief?"

"I don't know, there were just all these people there, looking for something. Something that I know they won't find there." Blair sighed. "It's kind of hard to explain, I guess."

"Actually, I think I understand. Listen Blair, I want to apologize for what I said earlier. I know that Alan was your friend, and if this is what it takes to help you deal with it, then go for it."

Blair looked at Jim, his face silhouetted by the flickering television. "I guess I'm just trying to figure out what happened, you know, why he did what he did. But I'm sorry too, man. I said some things that were out of line." He got up and walked over to the couch, placing his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Listen, I want you to know one thing, how much I appreciate everything you do for me. I mean letting me stay here, and work with you, study you. It really means a lot to me."

As Blair turned and walked toward his room, Jim called to him. "Blair, that goes both ways you know. "

The anthropologist smiled to himself, he did know it, but was nice to hear it once in a while.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two weeks later, Blair and Jim attended a memorial service for Alan. His body had been flown to his hometown, to be buried next to his mother and father. Blair had told Jim that it wasn't necessary for the police officer to go, but Jim had insisted, stating he wanted to be there for him. Blair had to admit, he had been glad to have Jim there. The turnout was small, Blair wasn't sure if it was because Alan had alienated many of his friends or because many of the students were preparing to leave for spring break. Either way, only a handful of students and professors had attended.

Denise had been there, and she, Blair and Jim had gone for coffee afterwards. She would be leaving the next day for California, to spend the break with her family.

As the two men dropped her off at her dorm, she said goodbye to Jim, then turned and gave Blair a hug. "I just want to thank you both for everything you've done." She looked at Blair, "I guess we'll never know what Alan was thinking when he the night he died, but I do know that he had a good friend in you."

Blair gave her hand a squeeze, "He had a good thing with you, too. It's too bad he didn't realize it ."

As they drove back to the loft, Jim said. "You're too quiet Chief, what's on your mind?"

Blair turned to look at him. "I was thinking about Alan and Denise, Denise mostly."

"Oh really?" came the reply.

Blair heard the tone of Jim's voice. "Oh come on, get real, she's way to young for me. But she is a really great girl, and she and the Alan I knew last year would have been great together."

"Sometimes, people just change. Blair, there's nothing any of us can do about it."

I know, but I just can't believe that he would throw it all away for a group like Common Humanity. I just don't get it. I mean there are some really nice people who go to those meetings, and I think it's sad that they don't have enough self esteem to see what exceptional people they are in their own right."

"You mean you're finally ready to give up on your newfound family?" Jim asked in jest.

"Cute Jim, real cute. Actually, I was trying to figure out what to get Janice for Mother's Day. What do you think, perfume or candy?" Blair shot back. "As a matter of fact, I'm going to go to one more meeting, to kind of say goodbye to some of the members." Blair had attended a couple more meetings of the group, and had gotten to know some of the people there. They had been drawn to him, his exuberance and upbeat personality.

As they pulled into a parking space near the loft, Jim said. "Good, because it's no fun watching the Jags games with just Simon."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two days later, as Blair sat in his office finishing up the last group of tests he had administered prior to spring break, he received a surprise phone call.

"Blair, I'm so glad I was able to catch you," came the sweet voice he recognized as Janice Cummins. "We were all so sad to see you quit the group, are you sure you won't reconsider?"

Blair tried to hide his astonishment at the call. "Uh, no, thanks for calling Janice, but I just have too much work here at the University right now."

"Well, don't forget we're here if you need us dear. Listen, I do wish you'd attend at least one more meeting, though. We're having a special meeting tonight. it's a surprise for Kelly, it's her thirtieth birthday, you know."

Blair remembered Kelly, she was a special education teacher at the local high school, who really seemed to care for her kids, but she had no family in the area. He also remembered that she had been really down at the last meeting because she was turning thirty and would be all alone.

'Oh, what the hell," he thought, "what's one more meeting?'

"Okay, Janice, I guess I can make it." he agreed.

As he hung up the phone, he said out loud. "Of course, now I have to break it to Jim." He looked at the phone, leaving a message on the answering machine was the cowards way out, but he figured that Jim would forgive him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jim, you want to step in here for a moment?" Simon called to Jim from his office.

"What's up?" Jim asked as he entered the room.

Simon handed him several sheets of paper. "This fax just came in from a Captain Winters in Center City, Texas. It's in response to an inquiry you made about the group, Common Humanity."

Jim looked perplexed as he took the documents. "Simon, I never made any inquiries about that group." He began to read, "In response to your request of March 23... that was over three weeks ago," Suddenly a thought came to him. "Wait a minute that was just after Blair's friend was killed. I'll bet you he made the inquiry, and used my name, to make it seem official."

"That's what I figured." Simon said, "You'd better read the rest of it."

Jim quickly skimmed the rest of the report, not liking what he was reading. The group had operated in Center City for over a year, and while they had been there, ten people associated with the group had died. Two had been suicides, the other eight had been found dead from a stab wound to the heart. No evidence could be found to link the group to the deaths, but they had closed up shop and moved out of town anyway, before the investigation had gotten close. The murders had stopped after the group left.

"I guess Sandburg wasn't so far off was he?" Simon said after Jim had finished reading.

"Yeah, thank God he decided to quit going to the meetings."

"I'm having records run a report on any bodies found in the last year or so that fit the same profile, death by a single stab wound to the heart. Just to see what they come up with."

"You think we have a cult on our hands?"

"I sure as hell hope not, Jim" came the reply.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All the way home, Jim rehearsed what he was going to tell Blair about the situation. He knew that the kid deserved to know that there might be more to Alan's death than originally thought. But he almost hated saying anything, and not only because he didn't want to dredge up bad memories. Blair had begun to accept what they had thought was the truth, and had given up on the idea that Common Humanity had anything to do with Alan's death. Jim feared that if he knew this new information, he would want to continue to go to the group, to try to obtain evidence against them. That, Jim had decided, was much too dangerous.

As it turned out, he didn't have to worry. Blair wasn't even home when he walked into the loft.

"That's strange," he thought. Blair had told him he would be home early, since the students were still on spring break. And since Jim had gotten stuck at the station anyway, it was past seven now. He spotted the answering machine, and it's blinking red light. He walked over and pressed the button, as he listened to Blair's words, his heart began to sink.

Quickly he picked up the phone to call Simon. When he answered, Jim's voice was strained. "Simon, we've got a big problem here."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Blair parked his car and walked toward the building housing Common Humanity, he thought to himself, "Not too many cars here, must be early." Then he was struck by another thought. "Janice said this was a surprise party, most people probably parked on side streets so Kelly didn't get suspicious."

As he stepped into the building, he realized that there were very few lights on. He moved into the meeting room, calling, "Anyone here?"

The minute he entered the room, he knew something was wrong. The room was lit only by candles, which were all over the room. At the front of the room, where the lectern usually stood, was what looked like a large table, draped in black.

Something inside him screamed at him, GET OUT, NOW!!!! He turned to escape, and ran right into Frank Cummins, also dressed in black.

"Not so fast Blair, you wouldn't want to leave the party so soon." He said menacingly.

"That's right honey," came Janice's voice from behind him. Blair turned to see her, dressed in robes just like her brother, only hers were deep red. "After, all, we went to a lot of trouble to arrange this little party for you."

"Look, I don't know what's going on here, and I really don't care. I'm just going to leave now, and forget I ever saw this place, okay?" Blair tried to move past Frank toward the door.

The larger man raised his hand and backhanded Blair across the face. "Shut up! Just shut up, you little twerp. You're not going anywhere."

Blair shook his head, trying to shake off the effects of the blow. 'Oh God, I'm in trouble now,' he thought. How the hell had this gone wrong so quickly. One minute, he was on his way to a surprise party and suddenly, he was at the mercy of a couple of cult leaders. Thank God he had left that message for Jim, he only hoped that his Blessed Protector would get here before it was too late.

"Look" he said, trying to reason with the two siblings, who were now both standing in front of him. "I know you guys don't want to do anything crazy here. I mean come on, I thought we were suppose to be friends."

"Friends? Friends? I think not, my dear," answered Janice. "You know it's too bad really, we could have used someone like you to help draw more people to our little group. Everyone seems to like you. But you see, that's the problem, they like you too much. You've become a liability. So, Frank and I have decided that you'll just have to die. See, this way, we kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. We get rid of a problem, and honor our Father and Mother with a sacrifice.

'These two really are crazy,' Blair thought. Sacrifice? God, he'd expect this in the deepest, darkest Africa, but in downtown Cascade, Washington. If he wasn't so scared, he would probably find the total irony of the situation.

He figured his only hope of survival was to try to get away from these two, so he began to slowly edge his way away from them, hoping to catch them off guard and run past them, toward the exit, but Frank had anticipated this. As Blair began to back up, he moved toward him, grabbing him by the neck.

"Not so fast junior, you're not going anywhere. It's time to get down to business."

"Oh, God, this is it," Blair thought to himself, as he watched Janice pull out a syringe, and begin to roll up the sleeve of Blair's shirt. "Jim, now would be a really great time to come crashing through that door."

He felt the prick of the needle in his arm, and then everything faded to black.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim brought the Ford to a screeching stop outside the headquarters of Common Humanity. Several other police vehicles followed suit.

He jumped out of the truck and began to run toward the front door. Simon's voice stopped him.

"Jim, hold up a minute."

He turned a distraught face toward the Captain. "Come on Simon, we've got to get in there. I just know that something isn't right. I can feel it."

Simon placed a hand on Jim's arm. "I know, but we can't just go in there like gangbusters, we have to move slowly. Otherwise, we could get the kid killed."

That statement was all Jim had to hear to stop him in his tracks. Simon was right.

"Can you hear anything?" Simon asked him.

Jim focused his hearing on the building. "I hear voices, a man and woman's" He strained harder, then sighed. "I don't hear Blair's, though."

"That could be a good thing, Jim, maybe he's left."

Jim looked up and down the street. "I don't think so sir, there's his car over there."

Simon sighed, he knew that that was a hope too good to be true. "Okay, lets get ready to move in, but slowly" he barked into his radio.

The officers moved into the building quietly, letting Jim and Simon take the lead. Jim opened his hearing up, hoping to find some clue of Blair's whereabouts. He could hear nothing but the same voices he had heard while outside. There was no sign of his Guide.

They moved silently through the entry, following the sound of voices into the meeting room.

There, Jim's eyes were met with a horrible sight. Blair was laid out on the table in the front of the room. Two people whom he took to be Janice and Frank Cummins were standing over him. Frank holding a dagger in both hands, above Blair's chest.

"Dear God," Simon thought as he took in the sight. He could tell that Jim had begun to zone on the spectacle.

Simon raised his gun and trained it on the man holding the knife.

"Police, drop the knife, now!" he yelled.

His voice brought Jim back, and he too aimed his weapon on the man standing over Blair. "You heard him, drop it now. You're not going to pull the same thing here you pulled in Texas."

Frank began to laugh, "Nice try, I suppose you think you can stop us, right?"

"It looks that way to me," Simon answered, as the rest of the police with them moved in to surround the pair.

Janice gave them an evil smile. "You may have caught us, but I'm afraid it's too late to save our latest victim." She gestured to Blair.

"Put the knife down, Cummins." Jim growled.

Janice continued, "You don't understand. The knife is just a ceremony. You see, he's already dead." She held up the syringe. "A little evil potion did the trick."

Jim heard her words, and immediately focused his hearing on the body laying on the table. He was having a hard time hearing anything over the pounding of his own heart he was feeling all the way to his head. With a growing feeling of despair, he realized that he could not identify the familiar heartbeat of his Guide among all the other sounds in the room.

Simon looked at Jim, saw the hopelessness in his eyes, and realized the truth himself.

This is going to kill him," he thought.

His anger flaring, Simon looked back at the two standing over Blair. "I'm not going to say this again, drop the knife now!"

Frank, realizing it was over, dropped his arms to his side, preparing to give up.

Janice however, was not ready to surrender, not before the sacrifice to their deity had been offered. "No," she screamed, "Not yet." She grabbed the dagger from her brother and raised it, ready to plunge it into Blair's chest.

Simon, his attention focused on the brother, was slow to realize what Janice was doing, she had already raised the knife when he fired, taking her down, but she had been able to thrust the knife into Blair's body before she fell.

The next few minutes were a flurry of activity, for everyone but Jim Ellision. Frank watched his sister fall, and immediately dropped to his knees, giving up. The other officers in the room moved in to handcuff him. Simon had gone over to check the body of Janice Cummins, confirming that she was indeed dead. He stood and noticed the dagger, still where Janice had placed it.

He looked at one of his officers, and said quietly, "Ryf, do me a favor will you, and take the knife, bag it for evidence."

Jim had moved slowly to stand beside Blair's body, not uttering a sound. He gently placed a hand on the younger man's forehead, slowly brushing back the hair that had fallen there. His other hand took hold of Blair's and squeezed it. Still no sound came out of his mouth, but tears began to stream down his face.

Simon moved to stand beside him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. He knew that there were no words that he could say that would make any difference, but he had to say something. He had to make sure that Jim didn't zone out.

"Jim, are you with me?"

The ex-military man, survivor of eighteen months alone in Peru, turned to his friend and broke down, sobbing.

Simon tried to comfort him, not really knowing what to do. So he just stood there, hugging his detective.

Ryf had watched the display, feeling the same sadness. He slowly removed the knife from Blair's chest, getting ready to place it in a clear evidence bag. As he removed it from the body however, he was surprised to see blood on it, bright red blood. He looked down at Blair, and was amazed to see a spot of red spreading on the white shirt. He lifted the shirt and saw that the knife wound was beginning to bleed, rather profusely.

"Captain, I think you should take a look at this." Ryf said, as he searched around to find something to stem the bleeding. He found an towel lying near the table and began to apply pressure to the wound.

Simon looked up toward Ryf and caught his breath. "What the hell?"

Ryf looked at him. "He's bleeding Captain, I mean not just a little bit, his heart's got to be pumping to make him bleed like this."

Jim, completely lost in his grief, had not heard any of the exchange. Simon tried to get through to him.

"Did you hear that Jim? Blair's alive! Jim, come on man, snap out of it, Blair needs you."

The Sentinel heard the last words, the fact that his Guide needed him. But how could he, Blair was dead. He turned to see at what Simon was looking at, and gasped at the sight of Ryf, holding a blood soaked rag to Blair's chest.

He moved quickly to stand beside Blair, taking over for Ryf. He concentrated again on trying to find Blair's heartbeat, and was rewarded with the sound, although faint.

He heard Simon call for the paramedics, who had been waiting outside since the police had arrived.

When Simon moved to stand beside him, Jim gave him a faint smile, "I can hear his heartbeat Simon, he's alive."

Simon gave his shoulder a squeeze and then led him out of the way, so the EMTs could go to work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Mr. Sandburg is a very lucky man, the knife missed any vital organs."

Blair had been brought in to the emergency room four hours ago, and Jim and Simon were finally being updated on his condition.

"We've repaired the damage done by the knife, and there should be no permanent scars." The doctor went on.

Jim sighed, "Thank God. But I don't understand. We thought he was dead. I mean we couldn't find a heartbeat."

"It appears that he was given an injection of something like a anesthetic agent. One that slows down the body functions to almost nothing. We haven't been able to identify it, but it appears to be all natural, believe or not." She went on, "We'll be moving Mr. Sandburg to a room in a few minutes. As soon as we do, I'll let you know, if you'd like to see him."

Jim smiled, for the first time all night. "That would be great. Thanks a lot Doc."

They watched her walk off, then Simon said, "You know, I bet you they used the serum to knock their victims out. They wouldn't want to have them thrashing around."

"Yeah," Jim answered grimly. "Those sick bastards."

"Jim, he's going to be okay."

Jim looked at Simon, pain in his eyes. "I know, but we almost lost him. I mean if we had been a few minutes later, Frank would have already stabbed him."

Simon patted Jim's shoulder, "The important thing is, we weren't."

They were interrupted by a nurse, advising them that Blair had been moved to his room.

Simon looked at his watch. "Jim, why don't you go in alone, I have a pile of paperwork to get done. Tell Blair I'll stop by and see him tomorrow."

Jim moved into the hospital room quietly, not wanting to wake Blair. He was taken at how pale he looked. But he could hear his breathing and heartbeat, sounds he had only hours ago thought he would never hear again.

He sat down in the chair next to the bed, and gently took his Guides hand, careful not to disturb the intravenous tubes

Blair stirred, and opened his eyes to look at Jim.

"Hey Jim," he whispered.

"Sorry Chief, I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay,"

"How are you feeling?"

"Tired, and sore, but the doctor says I'm going to be fine. I just need a few days of rest. Thanks for coming after me." Blair saw Jim's blue eyes cloud over. "What's the matter Jim, are you okay?"

Jim smiled, "I'm fine, Blair. Do you remember what happened?"

Blair shook his head. "I remember Frank grabbing me, and then Janice gave me a shot of something. The next thing I know, I'm in the emergency room."

Jim took Blair's hand again as his eyes began to tear up, remembering the scene in the warehouse earlier. "That shot they gave you slowed down your vitals so much, I couldn't even hear your heartbeat. I thought you were dead, I thought I had lost you."

"You should know that you can't get rid of me that easily, Jim." The younger man said, trying to lighten the mood. When Jim didn't smile, he said. "Listen Jim, I'm sorry, I really didn't think that those two were dangerous. I just thought they were a couple of people preying on the insecurities of others. "

"I know Blair, but you did have a feeling about them, and I just blew you off. I should have listened to you."

Blair could feel the pain killers he had been given taking affect and yawned. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open, but he tried to answer Jim, who had noticed the drug's affects also.

He shushed Blair, then said. "Listen, you're going to fall asleep in mid-sentence if you keep talking. Go to sleep, we can talk about this in the morning."

Blair started to say something, then thought better of it, and closed his eyes, quickly falling into a deep sleep.

Jim settled into the chair next to the bed, and let himself be lulled to sleep by the comforting sounds of his Guide's lifesigns.

Finis