Notes: This was betaed by Xasphie and Lyn (sorry for forgetting you on SA, my memory keeps going…). Thanks for making me make more sense (-; ! Nothing graphic, but be warned that this story deals with child abuse though the main focus is on - well, look at the title…

Redemption

By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

"Oh God, what have I done? I should have never listened to you! This is all your fault. Can you live with it? Can you, Detective?"

Security personnel stepped nearer to take care of the distraught woman, but Jim waved them aside. He was friendly, if distanced, but Blair knew that inside, he had to be feeling the same shock. As them all. "Mrs. Henry, I'm sorry. We did all we can to--"

"But that was not enough!" she screamed, her voice breaking. "My baby. They gave him my baby..."

Somebody had called an ambulance, and within minutes, two paramedics arrived and took over. When they led Ellen Henry away, Jim and Blair also left the courthouse, an uneasy silence between them. There wasn't anything to say. Nothing would have undone the unbelievable that had just happened.

After some long minutes, halfway on the way home, Jim finally spoke. "She was right, Chief. We should have just let her take the kid away, end of story."

Even if he felt the same, Blair made an attempt to protest, knowing this case would haunt his friend for much longer. "We agreed to do this by the book. No one could know..."

"What, that everybody would believe the renowned attorney more than his addict wife? Well, no, nobody could have expected that," Jim said sarcastically.

"And what if we had just let her run away? She would have been on the run for the rest of her life!"

"You think she's better off now?"

Blair sighed. "No, of course not." It was too complicated, trying to save Jim from his self-reproach while his own emotions were still dancing on the edge.

Ames Henry had come out of the trial as the proverbial hero, the one people tried to put down, but wouldn't succeed in the end. He was idealistic, taking on near impossible cases where he took the side of the poor and powerless, a man too good too be true. A man who was, according to his wife, abusing their four-year-old daughter.

Henry was smart, and he was charming. He had no problems convincing the jury that his wife, a longtime abuser of sedatives (and of course, he, always working so much for those who really needed him, hadn't noticed how serious it was), was out for revenge.

In the end, Ellen Henry had had to face a libel suit, and Henry got full-time custody of their only child.

Listening to the judge, Blair had felt like he'd been catapulted into a very strange and disturbing universe. It felt unreal. Sure, he'd seen thugs walk on a technicality, and he sure remembered some of the problems with evidence they would have never gotten their hands on if it wasn't for Jim's senses - but this? How could they all be so blind?

"This sucks," he said aloud. "And there's nothing we can fucking do about it."

Jim gave him a long thoughtful look then. "Well, I'm not too sure about that."

***

Ellen Henry might have been an addict, but she hadn't lied. That was something Jim knew for sure; he'd had extensive opportunities to test her, and she never varied in her statements, never contradicted herself, and the patterns of her heartbeat had always been the same.

Her accusations had struck, no denying that, but the image he'd never get out of his head was, when he'd seen Henry walk off with little Michelle, who was clinging to her father's hand. The so-called experts had overblown the fact that she didn't act scared around him - which didn't mean crap, because little children would love their parents, if only to survive. At that age, they couldn't simply decide that their family sucked, and walk away. They had to make sense of what was happening to them, any way, and would most likely end up blaming themselves.

There was something very true in Ellen Henry's words - how *could* he ever live with the knowledge, Sentinel, protector of the tribe?

He couldn't.

That was the only answer Jim could come up with, time after time.

***

It was just past midnight; a full moon lighting up the loft, as Jim restlessly prowled the space between the stairs and the front door. Sleep was a faraway illusion; he'd been haunted by images of what could happen. Sure, he'd lost before, such was life, but the Sentinel within couldn't let go of the fact he'd made a terrible mistake.

It couldn't be undone, but it was possible to do some damage control. Only he had to act soon.

Before he left the loft, Jim had opened the French doors, stepping inside his friend's room quietly. He wouldn't have to be that quiet - Blair was sound asleep, and would be for a while longer.

No need to bother him now.

***

"Thank you, Dad. You're doing me a great favor."

"Always, Jimmy."

Secretly, William Ellison wondered what would bring Jim to him, at the dead of night, asking for that amount of money. He didn't ask though. They might have missed out on a lot, but in the last few months, and especially the case that had brought them closer together again, had taught him some facts about his son.

He might have had a different career in mind for Jim, but he had come to realize that it would have never worked. Some of the earlier suspicion and worry was still there, but he was only just beginning to understand what, *who* his son really was. A true protector. And even if he didn't know what the money was for, William was sure that was the background of why it was needed.

***

Josie Clement looked just like Jim remembered her - gorgeous, with long red hair, sharp green eyes, all dressed in black. It had been a while since they had shared secrets both of their lives depended on, but she had immediately agreed when he'd laid out his plans to her. She knew whom to contact, and had promised to come up with arrangements within a few hours.

Josie was as good as her word, still.

She flipped through the bills, nodding to her contact she'd brought with her. Smiling at Jim, Josie said, "Still the hero, aren't you?"

Jim just shrugged.

The other man had the papers; they were almost flawless even to a Sentinel's eyes. Nobody would suspect anything. They wrapped up the deal, then said goodbye. In a few hours, everything would be over.

***

As Ames Henry yelped with the pain of yet another punch, he distantly wondered how everything could have gone downhill so fast.

"You'll be watched. If you ever touch a child again, you're dead."

The voice of the black-clad man with the facial mask was flat, devoid of emotion. Henry believed him. There was no use in denying it.

***

It was for a reason that Jim had asked Josie to help him out; he trusted her to protect Ellen until they had reached their chosen destination where the young mother would start a new life. As they both stood and watched Ellen scoop up her child, tears running down her face as she still couldn't believe what was happening, Jim felt profoundly relieved.

He could have just as easily killed Henry, but that wasn't the ultimate goal anyway. To take Michelle away from him, and reunite her with her mother. Give them another chance.

Besides, Jim didn't want to risk her being suspected of the murder of her husband. He hoped that the warning was enough; and indeed, he planned on keeping an eye on Henry in the future.

Ellen Henry looked up at him, a genuine smile on her face. "I don't know what to say. Just... thank you so much."

"It's okay. We got it wrong the first time."

He patted Josie on the shoulder, after she'd promised to keep him updated. Then Jim turned and got into his truck, driving home.

***

Just another rainy day in Cascade, Blair thought dejectedly as he woke to the sound of rain pounding against the window, gray clouds a visible promise that it would very much stay that way.

The last few days, it had felt like Groundhog Day, the scenes from the courthouse always immediately on his mind when he woke up.

Jim had been quite withdrawn, immersing himself in work. He seemed already up, guessing from the sounds from the kitchen. As Blair got up to join him there, he was surprised to find Jim preparing breakfast, his mood relaxed as he hummed along to a song on the radio that was playing in the background.

"Good morning, Chief."

"Not too sure about the 'good' part, man. I feel like I partied a little too much last night."

Jim looked at him worriedly, before he handed him a mug of coffee. "Headache?"

"How could you know? Just a bit, nothing wild," Blair hurried to assure his friend. He took a seat at the neatly set table. "So, what's the occa--"

The song was interrupted by a newsflash that said the famous lawyer Ames Henry had, despite the court's decision, given up all parental rights to little Michelle Henry's mother Ellen. Rumor had it, they had already left the country.

"Now that's strange. What do you think?"

Looking into Jim's face, Blair was startled by the contented, knowing smile. He knew at once it had been no coincidence that Jim had been so busy all the time. And last night - they had had dinner together, and Blair remembered all of a sudden how he'd become tired. He'd slept through until the morning, so he wouldn't really know if Jim had left...

Obviously, Jim could read much of his internal debate in his face, because he said quietly, "I'm sorry, Chief. There's so much that could have gone wrong, and I wouldn't have wanted you to take the fall."

"So you... drugged me?"

It was still hard to believe. Yes, Blair had been disgusted about the course of the Henry case as well, wishing the catastrophic ending of it could have been undone. But what about his choice to be Jim's backup? "You didn't trust me?" he added softly.

"No. I do trust you. It's just that I let her down. I had to make it right. I'm really sorry."

"Right. You know, I... I've got to think about this, okay?"

"Chief."

"Give me that time, will you?"

He shut the French doors soundly behind him. There was actually a part of Blair that could even understand Jim's actions; they hadn't been very rationally motivated even though they had required lots of rational planning. It was the Sentinel within who had demanded that redemption.

So far--

Not good.

He could try and rationalize all he want - it still hurt. The fact that Jim obviously hadn't needed him, hadn't even considered it important to initiate Blair into his plans. Then there was the small matter of drugs. Jim had gone to great lengths to keep him out of this.

A shadow crossing the doorway made him look up. Jim was outside, hesitating. Blair didn't call him in. It was much too early. He couldn't imagine talking things through yet.

***

When he was sure Jim had left the loft, Blair left his room to get himself another coffee. As he sat at the kitchen table, warming his hands on the mug and wondering what to do, he finally decided to check some sources in his books and on the 'net.

It was always good to research Sentinel behavior theoretically, when he had a hard time understanding Jim's actions.

They'd have to talk this through once more; and Blair would maybe need a while to come to terms with all of it - but he sure felt relieved knowing that Michelle Henry was safe with her mother in another country, where they both could hope to heal.

***

When the letters began to dance in front of his eyes, Blair took off his glasses with a sigh. As always, the few pieces of literature available was ambiguous. What he actually *felt* was that he wasn't supposed to let Jim keep him out of the loop in such important matters.

It might have been a Sentinel thing, easily put to action with Jim's covert ops background, but a Guide couldn't deny his responsibility either. His place was at the Sentinel's side, even when, at times, it overrode the Sentinel's instinct to protect the person closest to him.

***

Jim had brought lunch with him on his break, the peace offer symbolism unmistakable.

"You don't think I let you off the hook that easily?" It was meant to be a joke, but Jim certainly didn't take it as one, the way his expression became guarded.

"You know I wouldn't have done anything to endanger your life. It was absolutely harmless."

"But that's not the point, Jim! You know that I would have backed you up in this. No matter what."

"Beating up on someone?" Jim asked, his tone intentionally hard.

"Well, maybe I don't approve of such things in general, but we're talking about a guy who's molested a four-year-old girl, his own daughter. If that's the worst you can come up with, I still don't understand you."

Jim studied him for a moment. "If I had told you everything, and asked you to stay at home during all of it, would you have done it?"

Whoa, busted.

"Yes... no... I'm not sure," Blair said finally. "Look, I don't claim to have all the answers here. What I'm guessing is that it won't be the first time that the police detective will have taken a backseat to the Sentinel. With cases like this - absolutely okay with me. But next time you might need me, and you should know that you don't have to coddle me. I chose to be where I am, right?"

Jim's answer wasn't quite what he had hoped, but it was a beginning at least.

"You asked for some time to think about it. I'd like to do the same. And - I'm really sorry I took the decision out of your hands. It was wrong to do that - but there will still be situations when I'll have to ask you to stay out of it. Please understand."

They'd had lunch in silence after that, both men still contemplating what this new development would mean for the future of their relationship.

They would come to an agreement eventually, Blair had no doubts about that, because what they had was too important, too precious. He knew it would take a while to rebuild the trust again, even though it had been for a good purpose that Jim had crossed the line here. Anyway, this time, and with this case, it was over and done with - and something good had come out of it in the end.

That was more important than the slight disagreement they'd still have to work out.

"You still comin' with me to the station?" Jim asked then.

"Sure. And Jim... the girl can now grow up without fear. That's because of you - and it's all that counts at the moment. With the rest, we'll deal."

Jim's smile at those words was hesitant, but genuine. "Thank you, Chief," he said.

It would be alright now, even if the next challenge might wait at the next corner. In this, they had won - just like Michelle and Ellen Henry.

The End