PRESUMED GUILTY

                   By: Lyn                     

 FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

SUMMARY: Blair learns the hard way that helping somebody else is not always in his best interests.

CATEGORY: Drama

RATING: PG - 13 (V) (L)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: A while back, I helped a little boy find his mommy after he got lost in a shopping complex. When we found mommy, she treated me as though I was on Interpol's Most Wanted List. Seems mommy had wanted to shop in peace, so had left her 3 year old son alone at a child's ride while she went off. It got me thinking. Thankyou so much to all who have written regarding my first Sentinel story - "Hang on". You gave me lots of warm fuzzies, and have encouraged me to continue writing. I hope you like this one as well.

DISCLAIMER: All characters and property of The Sentinel belong to Di Meo and Bilson and Petfly. The story and storyline belong to Lyn. This story has been written purely for the enjoyment of fans and no profit has been made.

Detective Jim Ellison extended his Sentinel hearing into the loft at the same time as he fished in his pocket for his keys. The action was an ingrained habit that he'd begun within weeks of Blair Sandburg moving in. Blair Sandburg, anthropologist, partner, guide, best friend and trouble magnet. Wherever Blair seemed to be, he appeared to have an uncanny knack of attracting the worst possible attention to himself.

Jim didn't know if Blair was aware of his checking on him before he opened the door, but he suspected he did. The mutter of "Blessed Protector is fine, nobody said anything about Mother Hen," had reached Jim's sentinel ears more than a few times.

Trouble? The heartbeat was rapid and Jim searched for additional heartbeats. There were none. He let himself into the apartment just in time to hear a metallic clunk as something hit the hand basin in the bathroom and then a muffled curse.

"Shit."

"Sandburg, you okay?" Jim called into the emptiness of the loft.

"Shit. Um, yeah Jim, fine," Blair answered.

Jim waited a moment but his roommate did not appear. Shaking his head, Ellison moved to the bathroom, knocked once and opened the door.

Blair jumped a mile in the air, and then turned to face him, hands behind his back. "God, Jim, scare a guy, why don't you?" he said shakily.

Jim's eyes narrowed. "What's going on, Chief?"

Blair's gaze shifted to his shoes. "Nothing."

"That's nothing?" Jim queried, pointing to the spots of blood dripping slowly to the floor behind Blair's back.

"Nothing much?" Blair replied in a hopeful tone.

Jim took two steps into the bathroom and pulled Blair's arms from behind him. Blood dribbled slowly from a myriad of cuts covering the young man's hand and forearm.

"Christ, Sandburg, what happened here? No, wait, first things first." He ushered Blair out to the dining room after wrapping the injured arm in a towel. "Sit."

Returning to the bathroom, he gathered up a bowl of water, disinfectant and bandages. Sitting next to Blair, he took the cut hand in his and began to gently clean and disinfect the wounds, checking the severity of the cuts at the same time. He looked at Blair. "Talk."

Blair sighed and brushed his errant curls behind his ear with his good hand. "I was coming back from returning that book to Jerry over at the University. I walked past a car parked on Fifth near a bar and I could hear a child crying. I looked around and realized the kid was in the car. She's about two years old, strapped in a car seat, all the windows up and she was crying real bad, man. I was about to run into the bar to see if anyone knew where her folks were, when she started throwing up. Man, it was awful because she was strapped into the car seat and she was choking. She was turning blue."

"Breathe, Chief," Jim interrupted, placing a steadying hand on his friend's shoulder.

Blair took a deep breath and then continued. "I had to do something so I picked up a piece of house brick that was lying in the gutter and smashed the front window. I guess I cut my arm reaching in to unlock the back door." He shrugged. "I didn't even feel it. Anyway, I got the baby out and that's it."

"That's it?" Jim asked, taking Blair's chin in his hand and turning it to the left, revealing the beginnings of a spectacular black eye.

"The mom came out and started yelling that I was trying to kidnap her baby and hit me a few times. I couldn't exactly protect myself, I was holding the little girl and she was crying. I just gave the baby to her and left," Blair said quietly, "and that's definitely it," he finished.

"Not quite, Chief," Jim replied, patting Blair's head. "You did good, but at least two of these gashes are gonna need stitches."

Blair jumped up, knocking over his chair. "Oh no, come on, Jim. It's not that bad."

"Yes, it is, Sandburg," the detective said firmly. "Let's go."

~o0o~

Two hours and ten stitches later, the two men returned to the loft. Blair walked over and sank tiredly onto the couch. The events of the day were rapidly catching up with him and his arm was beginning to ache in earnest as the local anesthetic wore off.

Jim pulled a beer from the fridge and put water on to heat for tea. On his way into the living room, he pulled a bottle of painkillers from his pocket. He sat opposite Blair and took a long swig of the beer. Blair sat, hunched forward, his eyes closed, unconsciously rocking slightly to and fro. His left arm, supported by his right, was cradled to his chest.

"Hey, Chief," Jim said. No response. He sat forward and touched his partner's knee. "Sandburg, you with me here?"

"Huh? Oh yeah, right." Blair's head shot up and he emitted a hiss of pain as his arm protested the sudden movement.

"What say you take a couple of pills for the pain and I'll make you a cup of tea?" Jim suggested.

"No, I'm fine really," Blair answered through gritted teeth.

Jim said nothing but continued to hold out the bottle of pills. Blair sighed and held his hand out for the pills. Jim patted his partner's shoulder and stood up to make the tea.

"Tomorrow, I want you to report this to Social Services."

"I don't know, Jim," Blair answered

"Just let them look into it, Chief. It's probably nothing, but it won't hurt."

Blair nodded "Think I'll skip the tea and just crash, man."

Jim had already left for work by the time Blair stumbled out of his bedroom. Moving to the kitchen, he put the kettle on to boil water and picked up the note lying propped up against the tea caddy. It was from Jim telling him to stay home and relax.

"Yeah, right Jim, like I have nothing better to do," Blair grumbled.

Blair snagged a slice of cold toast to eat on the way, grabbed up his backpack and headed for the door. He opened it to see two dark suited men standing in the doorway.

"Blair Sandburg?" the older of the two asked.

"Yeah, that's me," Blair answered "What can I do for you?"

"We'd like to ask you a few questions regarding your whereabouts yesterday."

"Oh, you're here about the little girl in the car. Did Jim call you already?"

The two men exchanged startled looks, then the older man spoke again. "Look, Mr. Sandburg, why don't we discuss this downtown. I'm Agent North and this is Agent Sanders," he said as both men showed him their badges.

"FBI? Um, well, I don't know," Blair stammered. "I don't want to cause trouble for anyone. I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding."

Agent North smiled as he took Blair's arm. "Then it shouldn't take long to clear up."

"Maybe I should ring Jim," Blair said.

"Jim?" the agent asked.

"My partner…" Blair began.

"You can do that downtown."

With that, Blair nodded, shut the door to the loft and followed the two men down the stairs.

~o0o~

"Hey there, Jim," Police Captain Simon Banks called. "You want to join me for lunch?"

"Sure, Simon," Jim answered "I might give Sandburg a call at the loft, first. See how he's feeling."

Simon nodded. "Have you heard from Social Services?"

Jim shook his head. "Not yet, but you know how it is. They're backed up, they'll look into it and get back to us."

"Let's hope it's before it's too late for the kid," Simon said "There aren't a lot of Sandburgs around prepared to break into a car to rescue a child in distress and then get accused of kidnapping."

'You're right there, sir," Jim agreed, picking up the phone. "Give me ten minutes and I'll be with you."

~o0o~

Blair sighed and rested his head in his hands. "I've told you three times already what happened yesterday. It was a misunderstanding on the lady's part. The baby was in the car, she was crying and choking, I broke the window to get the baby out. It was really hot in the car, and all the windows were wound up."

Agent North leaned into Blair's face. "And the lady says she stepped away from the car and into a shop for a brief minute, she returned to see you taking the child from the car and when she tried to stop you, you ran. You dropped a book, that's how we identified you." North waved the notebook in Blair’s face.

"No!" Blair shouted, "She's mistaken."

Agent Sanders grabbed Blain's chin, turning his head to the light. "Where did you get the bruises, Blair?"

Blair twisted from the agent's grasp and stood up. "I want to make a call and I'm not saying anything more until I speak to my partner."

The anthropologist folded in on himself with a gasp as North's fist connected with his stomach. He collapsed to his knees, fighting waves of nausea and struggling to breathe. The agent bent and hauled him to his feet by a handful of hair. Blair's hands went automatically to his head but North grasped them, pinning them painfully behind his back. Blair moaned as he felt stitches pop open in his injured arm, then the agent slammed him face first against the wall.

"Listen, you little creep," he whispered menacingly. "The lady whose baby you tried to snatch is the daughter of one of the University's biggest benefactors. You think we don't know what happened between you and the University. You figure it was a way to get back at them, huh?"

He slammed Blair's head again into the wall, eliciting a groan as the young man began to slowly sink to the floor. "Or do you just like little girls, you hippie freak?"

He helped Blair the rest of the way to the floor with a vicious kick to his back. Nodding at his partner, he straightened his tie and jacket, panting heavily. "Put him in the holding cell until he decides to tell us the truth."

The younger agent shifted nervously on his feet. "Shouldn't we let him make his call, I mean he's entitled to a call?" Sanders said.

"What are you, a walking rule book?" North growled.

"No, it's just…" Sanders shrugged helplessly "I mean his partner's a cop."

"Exactly," North answered "That's why he's going to holding to think for a while. We don't need Cop of the Year Ellison here covering his butt. The little creep is guilty. Now get him to holding."

~o0o~

Blair grunted in pain as he was pushed roughly into the cell. His head was pounding and his stomach muscles cramped, threatening to eject the morning's breakfast. He hauled himself into a corner, aware of several pairs of curious eyes upon him. He noticed the guard call one man over to the door, whispering and nodding in Blair's direction. He tried to get his thoughts in order, so he could figure out what to do, but was suddenly aware of a pair of large boots in front of him. He looked up to see a heavily built man with a shaved head towering menacingly over him.

Blair groaned and stood up, using the wall for support, not entirely sure his legs could do the job. "Can I help you with something?" he asked.

~o0o~

Jim and Simon strolled back into the bullpen after an enjoyable lunch.

"H., did Blair call while I was out?" Jim asked the affable detective, Henri Brown.

"No, Jim, I haven't heard from him. Problem?"

"No, it's probably nothing. I'll try the loft again."

Just as he was about to lift the receiver, the phone rang. "About time, Sandburg," he muttered. Picking up the phone, he answered. "Ellison."

"Detective Ellison, my name is Agent Tom Sanders. I'm with the FBI field office here," the caller said.

"How can I help you, Mr. Sanders?" Jim asked.

"I believe you know a Blair Sandburg?"

Jim sat up straight in his chair. "Yes, of course, he's my partner. What's going on, Agent Sanders?"

The FBI agent sighed. "Look, I just think you should get down here. We pulled Sandburg in for questioning over an incident with a child yesterday."

"You did what?" Jim roared. "He saved the baby's life."

"So he says, Detective. Unfortunately, the mother claims that your partner tried to kidnap the child. It's just, look, my boss thinks he did it and the kid is the granddaughter of Richard Merrick, the museum and University big wig and they want action now. Just get down here," Sanders said.

"I'm on my way," Jim replied. 'Damn it, Chief,' Jim thought as he hung up the phone and went to brief Simon. 'What the hell have you gotten into?'

~o0o~

Blair sidled along the wall, keeping his eyes on the menacing man in front of him. As his back bumped the far corner of the cell, he decided to try reasoning with the man. Holding his hands out to the sides, he fixed what he hoped was a friendly smile on his face. "Hey man, I don't want any hassles here, okay? I'll just stay over here and not bother you."

He was aware of a snicker of amusement that passed around the circle of men surrounding him and the behemoth threatening him. The large man said nothing, merely advanced slowly on Sandburg. Blair decided he had nothing to lose and opted to go with Plan B.

With a yell, he launched himself around his tormentor, heading straight for the cell door. He'd managed three or four paces before he was brought up short by rough hands grasping him by the hair and arms. Before he could yell again, a dirty cloth was stuffed in his mouth, causing him to gag violently.

‘Oh man,’ he thought. ‘Are you going to get it. Jim is gonna be so pissed.’

A hard fist to his gut stole all coherent thought. The man delivered another right, then a left to Blair's midriff and then, as the young man folded up, he sent another crushing blow from his knee into Blair's face. Blair screamed hoarsely past the gag as white-hot agony exploded through his head. The hands left him and he slammed into the ground, barely registering the first of several cruel kicks aimed at his semi conscious body.

~o0o~

Jim entered the Federal Building at a run and raced to the reception desk. He pulled out his badge and showed it to the young woman seated there. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison. I'm with the Cascade P.D. I'm here about Blair Sandburg."

He heard footsteps behind him as a voice called his name. A tall thin man approached with his hand outstretched. As they shook hands, the man introduced himself. "I'm Agent Sanders, Detective. Please follow me and I'll fill you in on the way up."

As they exited the elevator on the fifth floor, Jim exploded in rage at the story he'd been given. "So Sandburg voluntarily comes down to give a statement and without even booking him, and I might add, without any evidence, you throw him in a cell."

"Please understand, Detective. Mr. Sandburg admitted being there and there was eyewitness evidence from the daughter of a well respected Cascade businessman."

Jim spun and shoved the other man up against the wall, his face inches from the other, fingers gripping the man's shoulders. "Listen to me, you son of a bitch, you also have the account of Blair Sandburg, well respected by all who know him and on top of that, you denied him his basic rights. I'll have you and your partner's badges for this, you bastard. Now take me to my partner. From now on, you talk to him through his lawyer."

Sanders swallowed convulsively and pushed Jim's hands from his jacket. "Holding cells are in the basement but…"

Jim was no longer listening. He ran past the elevator and headed for the stairs, leaping down them two at a time, at the same time, extending his hearing to find the heartbeat of his guide. As he hit the second floor, he heard it, hammering rapidly.

"Hold on, Chief, I'm coming," he said. As he pushed through the basement door, he pulled out his badge and ran for the desk.

~o0o~

Blair came to as he was hauled to his feet and slammed once more into the wall. The large man, who'd started the attack, leaned forward and grabbed a fistful of curls and dragged Blair's head back roughly. Blair groaned and squeezed his eyes tightly shut; unaware of the tears that coursed down his cheeks.

"So, you hippy freak," the man said. "Like little girls, do you? Let's see how rough you like it."

"No, don't," Blair screamed, struggling frantically against the hands that now held him captive. "You don't understand."

"Oh, we understand, you little pervert," another voice said "Teach him a lesson, Jackson."

As Blair yelled again, a filthy hand was pressed against his mouth and he fought to catch his breath. He felt hands pulling at his jeans and tried to push them away. As the darkness threatened to overtake him once more, he heard the voice.

"Get your hands off him, you asshole, before I break your neck."

Blair choked back a sob. "Jim."

The hands moved from his arms and he turned to face his Blessed Protector.

"Jim," he said again as he slid slowly to the floor. Jim rushed forward to catch him and knelt at his friend's side. "It's okay now, Chief, I'm here."

Blair reached out a hand and gently touched his partner's face. "You're here," he whispered.

"Take it easy, buddy. I'll have you out of here in a second," Jim said softly. Looking up, he glared at the agent standing next to him. "Get a medic in here and then get out of my sight."

~o0o~

Blair sat on the hospital gurney and rested his head wearily on his sentinel's shoulder, hissing through clenched teeth, as the doctor probed the bruises on his back.

"I can't feel any fractures, but we'll get some X rays," the doctor said. "I'll have to resuture the wounds in your arm." He pushed Blair down onto his back roughly and the young man groaned in pain and curled up on his side.

"Look, Mr. Sandburg, I can't examine you like that. Please lay flat on your back," the doctor said impatiently.

"Can't. Hurts," Blair moaned.

Instantly, Jim stood and bent over his partner. "Blair, what's wrong?" He could hear Blair's heartbeat beginning to race and his skin felt cold and clammy. Blair shivered slightly. "Doc, there's something wrong here."

"That's obvious, Detective, but I can't find out what if he doesn't lay flat."

Jim straightened to his full height, his eyes flashing. "I think I'd like Blair to see another doctor."

"Don't be foolish," the doctor said.

"I said I want another doctor," Jim shouted.

The nurse quickly slipped from the room and returned with a tall, bespectacled young man. The two men still stood glaring at each other on either side of the gurney.

"Have we got a problem here, people?" the man asked.

Jim turned to look at him "Who are you?"

"I'm Doctor Edwards, I'm in charge of the E.R."

Jim nodded and replied "Blair's been beaten, he's going into shock and I don't like the way this doctor is treating him." He threw the first doctor a disgusted look.

Doctor Edwards looked questioningly at the other man. "What's going on, Doctor Johnson?"

Doctor Johnson shrugged. "I may have to treat him, but I don't have to like it. He's suspected of hurting a child."

Jim stepped around the gurney but Doctor Edwards placed a restraining hand on his arm. "None of this is helping your friend, Detective. Get out, Johnson, I'll talk to you later."

The doctor pushed by Jim and stalked from the room.

Doctor Edwards didn't give him a second glance as he leaned over Blair. "Hey there, I'm sorry for the way you've been treated, Blair. Will you let me take a look at you?"

Blair curled further in on himself and mumbled. "I didn't hurt her, Jim. I promise I didn't hurt her. Just trying to help."

Jim stroked Blair's head gently. "I know that, Chief. We'll get it sorted out. Let the doctor take a look at you first."

Doctor Edwards spoke again. "Blair, I'm going to ask Jim to help you roll onto your back. After I've taken a look at your chest and stomach, I'll give you something for the pain. Okay?"

Blair looked groggily up, trying to focus on the doctor's face. "Okay."

Jim gently rolled Blair over, apologizing for the pain he knew the movement caused. He swore softly as he saw for the first time, the evidence of the beating inflicted on his friend. Black bruises and grazes covered Blair's chest and stomach. The doctor ran his hands carefully over Blair's ribs, then moved down to his abdomen.

Blair shifted under his touch and tried to push away his hands as he pressed gently in several places. "No, stop. Hurts too much."

"It's alright, Blair. I'm done now. I'm going to get you something for the pain and I want to speak to Jim for a minute, okay?" the doctor said, but Blair had already curled back on his side, lost in the pain.

Jim followed the doctor out of the small cubicle. Doctor Edwards didn't waste words. "I strongly suspect your partner has a ruptured spleen, Jim, probably caused by one of the kicks he received. He's going into shock from the blood loss and he's continuing to hemorrhage internally, so we need to get him up to surgery immediately.

"Oh God," Jim said, reeling back "Will he be okay?"

"If we stop the bleeding now, I think he'll be alright. He's a fit, healthy young man. It'll take a while till he's back on his feet and I'd suggest some counseling while he's recuperating. What he's been through must have been incredibly traumatic."

The doctor laid a gentle hand on Jim's shoulder. "For what it's worth, very few of our doctors think like Doctor Johnson and he will be dealt with."

Jim nodded gratefully. "Can I go sit with him. I don't want him to be alone right now?"

"Sure, I'll organize a surgical team. The orderlies will be in to get him shortly."

Jim moved back into the cubicle and sank tiredly into the chair the nurse offered him. Blair was sleeping, but his hands still clutched his stomach and he shifted restlessly on the gurney.

Jim reached out and took his hand. "You're going to be fine, Chief. You let me take care of everything."

Blair mumbled incoherently and Jim bent his head close to hear his words.

"Sorry, Jim. Big mess. All my fault."

Jim squeezed his hand. "It's not your fault, buddy. You tried to help someone, that's all. Get some rest. They're coming to take you to surgery soon. Seems that asshole caused some internal damage, but you're going to be fine."

~o0o~

Jim walked yet another circuit of the waiting room. It had been three hours since Blair had been taken into surgery and there was still no word. A nurse called him over to the phone and he picked up the receiver.

"Jim, it's Simon. How's Sandburg?"

"He's still in surgery, sir. The doctor thinks he'll be okay."

"Good. I've got some more good news for you. Social Services called back. Seems Ms. Merrick has been reported before for this kind of thing," he said.

"You're kidding?" Jim exclaimed.

"I don't kid, Jim. Seems the lady has a drinking problem and Daddy's managed up till now to use his position and money to keep things quiet. Anyway, he's washed his hands of the whole thing and the baby is in foster care, pending an investigation," Simon explained.

"So Blair's off the hook," Jim sighed.

"Yes. When you see him, tell him that everyone here's going to be in to see him as soon as he's up to having visitors."

"Thanks, Simon. I've got to go, the doctor's here," Jim said and turned off the phone.

Jim turned to the surgeon. "How did it go, Doctor Hanson?"

The surgeon shook Jim's hand and smiled. "He's going to be fine, Detective. He'll be walking around minus a spleen, but people cope very well without one."

 Jim smiled. "Can I see him?"

 "Yes, of course, give the nurses some time to get him settled. He'll sleep a lot for the next few days, due to the blood loss and the morphine pump to reduce his pain. He's a remarkable young man. He was more concerned with your wellbeing than his own prior to going into surgery."

"That's Blair," Jim grinned, then sobered. "That's what got him into his mess in the first place. Trying to help someone else." Jim smiled grimly. "Can you get a message to Doctor Johnson, the guy who saw him first in the E.R?"

"Ah yes." Doctor Hanson grinned back. "The hospital grapevine has been fairly buzzing with the good doctor's, and I use that term lightly, exploits."

Jim nodded. "Tell him that it shouldn't have mattered, but Blair's been cleared of any wrongdoing."

"I'm happy to hear that, Detective. I'll pass the information on and you're right," Doctor Hanson said.

"About what?" Jim asked.

"To a doctor who takes his oath seriously, it shouldn't matter."

Fin

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