New Arrivals
Author-Maj
Titles

Greater Love 2 - Hero's Return
by Maj

Summary: Sequel to Greater Love.

Disclaimer: All characters and plots associated with The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, UPN and Paramount. No infringement is intended.

The next day Blair woke early, not quite sure what had disturbed him. Then he realised he wasn't alone in his tiny room. He looked across at his slumbering sentinel whose once quiet snores now threatened to bring the roof down.

An evil grin crept across Blair's face. Picking a piece of straw from the floor, he leaned over and tickled Jim's nose. The snoring stopped for a second and then continued. He leaned over again. Jim swatted sleepily at his nose chasing away the imagined fly. Once more the snoring resumed. Once more Blair leaned over. Suddenly Jim gave a cross between a snore and a sneeze and opened his eyes.

Startled, Blair dropped the piece of straw and dived back under his blanket pretending to be asleep. Jim looked around, confused. He had definitely seen movement as he woke and there was a piece of straw on his face.

"Chief, you awake?" he squinted sleepily at his roommate.

Blair didn't answer, playing possum for all he was worth. Jim wasn't fooled for a minute, he could hear Blair's increased heart rate and the wheeze as he tried to suppress his laugh.

Without a moment's warning Jim leaped out of bed and using the blanket like a cocoon he soon had Blair wrapped and helpless.

"Jim! What are you doing I was asleep!" Blair continued the bluff, knowing he'd been caught out.

"I was having trouble sleeping. We have a pest problem in this room. I thought it was a fly at first, but now I realise it's something much bigger."

Blair looked up all wide-eyed innocence and suppressed mirth.

"Bigger than a fly? What do you think it was?"

"Possibly a cockroach, or a rat." Jim smiled. He flexed his fingers and looked back down at his helpless friend. "Or the lesser spotted SANDBURG! Except this time he was spotted. Ah well you know what they say about payback." Jim flexed his fingers once more and attacked. He knew from past experience that Blair was extremely ticklish and he soon reduced the younger man to a giggling heap.

The door to their room swung open and a sleepy Megan stood in the doorway. She had been given the room next door and their laughing had disturbed her.

"Is this a private party or can anyone join in?" She asked.

Jim looked up and smiled.

"Sure you can come in and help me with some pest control."

Blair gasped for air and appealed to Megan.

"Megan, it was self defence, I swear. He was snoring sooo loud I thought it would bring the roof down. He was sucking all the air out of the room."

She shook her head at the sight before her.

"Do I have to come in there and separate you two? I swear the children are better behaved than you." Her smile belied her words.

"Go back to sleep, both of you, or I'll fetch Brother Jeremy." She turned to go back to her room.

Jim climbed off Blair and helped his friend to untangle himself, muttering under his breath.

"Spoil sport."

"I heard that." Megan's reply echoed from the corridor.

Jim and Blair looked at each other astounded. Jim shrugged and climbed back into bed while Blair continued to stare at the door.

"How do they do that?" he asked "My mom could always do that no matter how quietly I whispered."

"It's a woman thing," was Jim's sleepy reply "Now go back to sleep before you get us in trouble with 'mom' again."

"Me!" came the indignant reply. "You started it with your snoring."

The only answer he got was a loud snore.

"Oh man! I don't believe this." Blair pulled his pillow over his head and tried to ignore the small earthquake sleeping beside him.

***************************

The next morning saw a heavy eyed, grumpy looking Blair queuing up for breakfast with a much more awake and refreshed looking Jim.

"Come on Chief, I'm starving. I slept like a baby after your little interruption last night, how about you?"

Blair threw a sour look in his direction and turned back to the food.

"I'm sooo glad you slept well. As long as you weren't disturbed." Blair muttered to himself sarcastically, knowing that Jim could hear him.

For his part Jim just smiled and turned back to his breakfast. Behind him Blair gave a surprised yelp. Turning he was just in time to see Megan glide past with a too innocent expression on her face. He looked at Blair who was now glaring after Megan whilst rubbing his left buttock.

"Problem Chief?" he asked

"She pinched my butt!" came Blair's outraged reply.

"So? I thought you quite liked that kind of thing." Jim was lost as to why this bothered his friend.

"I do, but were in a church!" Blair hissed.

Jim looked around.

"Uh Chief ... this isn't a church it's a dining room."

Blair scowled at his friend.

"You know what I mean. It's a church dining room ... besides I think some of the brothers saw."

Jim glanced over to where the brothers were eating their breakfasts. Several of them had their heads down trying to cover the fact that they were snickering to themselves and Brother Marcus was openly grinning at Blair's discomfort.

"Nah. You're imagining it." He said, patting his friend on the shoulder. "Come on, breakfast is getting cold and, if I'm not mistaken, Megan's saved us some seats."

Over breakfast it was decided that they would return to the city that day to arrange their flights home. They decided to stay for a few more days to allow Jim and Megan to recover from their travels before setting out again.

Jim wandered over to Brother Jeremy's office to ask permission to use the jeep. As he left he heard Blair give another surprised yelp.

"Megan! Cut it out someone will see!" This time he was rubbing his right buttock.

Several of the older women who had in fact witnessed the event giggled among themselves, whispering little comments in their own language. Blair didn't speak the local dialect, but the tones of voice were enough to give him an idea of what they were saying. Turning scarlet again he walked off.

***************************

They had just completed their travel arrangements and were returning to their jeep, when Jim heard his name called. Turning round he spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Don Haas, the news reporter who always seemed to dog their steps, was once again hot on their trail.

"Detective Ellison! I was hoping you'd still be here. My news channel has sent me down here to interview Mr. Sandburg as a follow up to the documentary. When they heard you were here too they authorised me to offer you whatever you want for exclusive rights to interview you too."

Blair felt sick. He had hoped to put all this behind him and return home unremarked. He knew that couldn't happen now. He looked around for a way to make a quick escape while Haas was busy with Jim. He felt a warm hand grab his and Megan smiled and shook her head, indicating he should wait.

Jim looked thoughtfully at the news reporter.

"Anything I want? Ok. Here's what I want. It's only me that you interview. Once it's over I want you to get back on the next plane and go away and leave us alone."

Don Haas could not believe his luck. He nodded his head vigorously. They stepped outside and the camera was quickly set up.

While that was happening Jim quietly slipped the keys to the jeep into Megan's hand and told her to take Blair and fetch the jeep.

"Detective Ellison, when you're ready." The newsman was eager to get his story.

Jim stepped up and listened whilst Haas recorded his introduction. Then turning the camera towards Jim he pushed the microphone into Jim's face. "So, Detective Ellison, does this mean that, after everything that has happened between you, you've forgiven your former partner for his fraudulent claims about you?"

Jim thought for a moment about ripping the head off the reporter in front of him, but then decided there were too many witnesses. Instead he smiled and looked into the camera.

"Well, Don, I think I speak for both Blair Sandburg and myself when I say ... NO COMMENT."

The last two words were yelled loud enough to make the soundman squeal and rip off his earphones.

At that same moment the jeep pulled up alongside them with Megan at the wheel. Jim jumped in and they sped off. As he turned back he could see Haas waving his fist and cursing at them. Jim knew the news crew couldn't give chase until they had packed up their equipment and by that time they would be long gone. The mission site was hard to find unless you knew your way around so he figured that was the last they would see of Don Haas.

***************************

Returning to the mission, they left the jeep in its usual place and went to see Brother Jeremy.

"We've arranged to travel on a flight three days from now. Would it be possible for Brother Marcus to take us to the airport that day?" Blair wanted a chance for a last goodbye with his old friend before leaving.

"Certainly." Brother Jeremy smiled. "I think I would have trouble keeping him away. Unfortunately, of all the vows he took, obedience seems to be the one he has the most problem with."

"Can't think who that reminds me of." Jim muttered, looking sideways at Blair.

Blair chose to ignore this remark and, after thanking Brother Jeremy, turned and left the room.

Jim added his thanks and took off after his guide. As he exited the office he saw Megan stroll up behind Blair and, after watching him for a few seconds, she reached out and tweaked his rear.

Blair gave out that startled yelp that was becoming so familiar and spun round.

"Megan, please stop that!"

She smiled back unrepentant. "I can't help it Sandy. You keep wiggling it in my face and I can't resist."

Blair had gone scarlet again and floundered for words. "WIGGLED!! I didn't wiggle anything! I was just walking."

Megan's smile broadened. "Oooh goody, you mean you always wiggle like that when you walk? I really have to walk behind you more often. It's very entertaining."

Blair was almost incoherent with embarrassment by this time. After opening and closing his mouth a few times he seemed to give up trying to reason with her. Looking across the compound he spotted Jim and knew by the huge grin on his face he had been listening in.

Blair glared at both of them. "You're a great help man. Why not encourage her?" He stalked off in search of the children.

Jim wandered over to Megan. "Don't worry, he'll get over it. I think he's used to doing all the chasing and he's finding it hard to adjust. You are being quite direct in your intentions."

"Yeah well, if I waited for him to get a clue, I'd be old and grey. This is just phase one. Wait 'til I get him off 'holy' ground." She grinned evilly.

Jim couldn't help but feel Blair had finally met his match. This was going to be fun to watch.

"Come on, let's go find our little bird and smooth his ruffled feathers. Try to keep your hands off him for a little while."

They found Blair in the play area helping Brother Andrew with lessons. Blair had been worried that his leaving would upset many of the children, especially the orphans who had taken to following him around. Fortunately Brother Andrew, who was only a few years older than Blair, had a wonderful way with children and was soon accepted by all. Blair had explained to them that he would be leaving in a few days, and while there had been some tears, Blair had no doubt that they would soon settle down with Brother Andrew.

Jim and Megan's arrival seemed to signal the end of lessons as none of the children could concentrate for trying to peer at the new visitors. Brother Andrew introduced them and then sent the children off to play, while he discussed their lessons with Blair.

***************************

It came as great surprise to everyone when, several hours later, a bedraggled Don Haas and his news crew staggered into camp carrying their equipment. He shot a baleful glare at Jim.

"I suppose you thought you could lose us. Well, it takes more than a bit of jungle to do that. Did you really think I'd give up that easy? You promised me an interview and I'm going to get it. You can tell me your story or I can report what I think is going on."

Jim stared at him silently for a moment. "Report what you like. I'll just sue your ass off afterwards. All that's going on here is me taking a holiday and visiting some old friends from St. Sebastian's."

"What about Mr. Sandburg. Does his presence here have anything to do with your sudden desire to visit?"

"This is beginning to sound like an interview. Why don't you save it for the cameras?"

Jim's temper was beginning to slip. Suddenly he felt a hand on his arm and he looked down into Blair's face. His guide gently pulled him to on side and spoke quietly.

"Jim, think about this. We could use this to our advantage. You could give a short interview. Give him a little of what he wants and use the opportunity to highlight the plight of these people. Show him that's where the true story is. If we can show the people of America what's going on here, maybe our government can put pressure on the Peruvian government to do something about it."

Jim smiled. It was so typical of Sandburg to try and turn a difficult situation to some good.

"What if he starts asking about you Chief? He could drag up the whole dissertation fiasco again."

Blair wasn't being put off. "He could do that anyway. At least this way we can have some control over the content. Meanwhile you keep him occupied while I warn Brother Marcus to stay away from the cameras."

Jim nodded his agreement and wandered back to Don Haas.

"Ok. I'll give you an interview, but I will have final say about what questions I answer. I will answer some of your questions about the past, but I'm more interested in the present. I can give you a story here that will make much better viewing than raking up old scandals. "

Haas stared to look interested. "Fine, we'll discuss it and see. Meanwhile do you have somewhere we can stay? Our van got a flat tyre about six miles back. We had to leave some of the equipment behind. Could someone help us retrieve it?"

"I'll speak to Brother Jeremy and see if anyone can be spared. Wait here." Jim replied

***************************

Later that afternoon, Brother Marcus and several of the older boys were dispatched to retrieve the news van and belongings. It seemed a good way to keep him out of sight of the cameras.

Haas and his crew had spent the time setting up what equipment they had. It was a little basic, but enough to get the job done. It had been decided that the interview would take place outside the little church building as they didn't have sufficient lighting inside.

Jim, Blair and Brother Jeremy had spent their time going over what information they wanted to get across in the news story.

Brother Jeremy had made some enquiries when he first arrived and it had soon become clear that the local police force was riddled with corruption. The bandits who had driven the people off their land were working hand in hand with the local law. Brother Jeremy was certain that if he could bring it to the attention of the world, pressure could be brought to bear on the government or military to do something.

Blair had his doubts, but was willing to try.

Everything was set, and the cameras had just started rolling, when a piercing scream split the air and a group of small children came running from the surrounding trees.

There was a short burst of gunfire and the sound of feet pounding through the undergrowth. Four men carrying machine guns burst through the trees and came to a stop in the compound. They started shouting in the local language and herding all the people together.

The filming party scattered, Jim, Blair and Brother Jeremy towards the men, Haas and his crew scuttling down behind a low wall to one side where they remained unseen.

The gunmen had now noticed the newcomers and pointed their direction. They indicated that they should join the natives and Megan, who had been playing with the children when the bandits arrived.

Brother Jeremy stepped forward. "What do you want? We have nothing here of value."

The lead gunman looked at him and sneered. "You have people, and we need workers." He indicated the youngsters.

"Isn't it enough that you've taken their land? Must you now take their children too?" Brother Jeremy refused to back down.

"Shut up you fool and maybe we'll leave the rest of you alive." He looked over at the older children and indicated to his men to gather them together.

Megan leaned close to Jim and whispered. "Is this all of them or are there more hiding out there?"

Jim tilted his head to one side and listened.

"I don't hear any more human heartbeats out there. I think these four are alone. If we can get their guns without bloodshed we should be ok. We'll have to wait for the right moment. "

"Ok. I'll be ready."

The lead bandit must have heard Megan's voice. His eyes landed on her and his expression took on a leering quality. Reaching out he grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him.

"We also need entertainment. Bring some of the younger women." He indicated a group of teenage girls who were huddled together

Suddenly the old Shaman stepped forward waving his fist in the bandit's face and cursing in the local dialect. The bandit laughed and knocked him to the ground with the butt of his gun.

"Hey!" Blair protested.

Stepping forward he knelt by the old man. He was still alive, but barely conscious. He grabbed Blair's arm and whispered something to him.

Jim couldn't quite make out what was said, but he did recognise certain words. 'Shaman,' 'spirit' and 'wolf.'

The bandit laughed contemptuously and pulled Megan against him.

"You better let me go you smelly ape, or you're gonna regret it." Megan tried to pull away.

The bandit's smile grew bigger. "Ooh she has spirit. I'm going to enjoy her." He nuzzled her neck.

Jim had been aware of a quiet growl coming from Blair from the moment the Shaman had spoken to him. This suddenly became much louder. The bandit holding Megan had also become aware of it and was looking uneasy.

Suddenly a snarling, curly headed bundle of fury erupted from the floor by the Shaman. Before he knew what was happening, the bandit found himself disarmed and pinned to the floor by a whirling force of nature. It took only seconds for Jim and Megan to disarm the rest of them. They were stunned by the turn of events and made easy targets.

Blair crouched over their leader, threw back his head and howled. He leaned forward and muttered in the terrified man's ear. Jim couldn't understand the words, but the intent was clear. The bandit went another shade whiter and wet himself.

Megan did a little happy dance. "Oooh my very own little Tasmanian Devil. See I told you you'd regret it." She crowed at the bandit, giving him a swift kick to the groin.

Throwing her arms round Blair and planting another lip lock on him she murmured. "I love it when you're forceful Tiger."

The natives then took over. None to gently the bandits were bound and thrown into a locked room until it was decided what was to be done with them.

The Shaman was carried inside and made comfortable. His head injury was slight, but he was old and would need some time to recover.

Don Haas came running from his hiding place.

"That was amazing. We got the whole thing on film. You were right you did give me a better story. I'll win every award going with this. Think of the film rights. I want Mel Gibson to play me...."

Haas was lost in his own little world. Jim soon snapped him out of it.

"We'll need the tape as evidence. You can have it back after that."

Haas was outraged. "You can't do that. By the time we get it back this will be old news. "

Jim stood his ground. "We'll let the authorities decide. We obviously can't go to the local police so someone will have to go into the city and contact the American consulate. They won't be able to cover it up if there's a danger of it becoming an international incident."

***************************

It was decided that Jim and Brother Jeremy should go to the city. Taking the jeep they set out. A few miles down the road they met Brother Marcus in the news van. They filled him in on what had happened and asked him to keep a watch on things.

There was great relief when he arrived at the mission. Everyone seemed to want to tell him their version of the story. Everyone except the main participants.

Blair seemed to have withdrawn slightly, shocked at what had happened. He spent his time sitting with the old Shaman. Megan, sensing that he needed some support, sat with him.

Don Haas and his crew immediately disappeared into their van to check their equipment and prepared to leave. Unfortunately for them Brother Marcus had kept the keys and wouldn't allow them to go until the authorities arrived.

It was several hours later when the sound of many vehicles could be heard approaching. Unsure who it was Brother Marcus ordered everyone inside the church. Picking up one of the bandit's guns he stood guard at the door. It was something he hopes he would never have to do again, but he was prepared to fight to protect these people. He was joined by Blair and Megan each carrying a gun. Together they peered out into the gathering gloom.

The first thing to greet their eyes was a jeep being driven by Jim. Help had arrived. He was followed by three large trucks full of soldiers and several jeeps containing fairly important looking people.

Everyone filed out of the church. The guns were handed over, as were the four prisoners. The official looking people were introduced as the local militia commander and two government representatives. There were also representatives from the American and Australian consulates. All in all it was becoming quite crowded.

"Jim! Good grief how did you get all this arranged so quickly?" Blair was amazed.

"Once we spoke to our people at the consulate it all seemed to happen at once. Next thing we knew we were on our way here with this circus in tow."

In short order the prisoners taken for interrogation. It didn't take them long to start telling everything they knew. A number of soldiers were dispatched to deal with the local law enforcement while the rest were ordered to go and deal with the rest of the bandits.

There was a small commotion when Don Haas was forced to hand over the tape of what had happened but, after making a token protest, he and his crew packed up and left on the first flight out.

The natives were delighted when they learned that they would be able to return to the homes. The brothers offered to go with them and help them resettle and were invited to stay indefinitely.

They were due to leave on the same day that Jim, Blair and Megan planned to return home so a celebration was planned for the night before. They raided their meagre supplies and, with food gathered from the surrounding area, a sizeable banquet was produced.

They also brought out a potent local brew that had been kept well hidden up to now. The Brothers chose not to partake but everyone else sampled it liberally and generally had a good time.

Jim and Megan were sitting together laughing at Blair trying to copy the local dancers and getting hopelessly lost when they heard a familiar yelp. Looking up they could see Blair, glaring around him, rubbing his behind.

"Hey! Who did that?" He asked, outraged.

A group of matronly women huddled together giggling. It didn't take a genius to work out who the culprits were.

"Look what you've started!" He called across to Megan. "It's open season on my rear end. That's the fourth time tonight that's happened. My butt is one giant bruise."

"Want me to kiss it better for you Sandy?" Megan smiled and blew him a kiss.

The group of women huddled again and the giggles got louder, joined by the snickers of everyone else who had heard the exchange.

Blair turned scarlet and sputtered.

"Megan! Please don't encourage them ... No respect, I get no respect." He groused backing away from his tormentors and sitting next to Jim.

"You're absolutely no help at all, oh great blessed protector." He swatted Jim's arm.

Jim, who by this point had been reduced to helpless laughter, was unrepentant.

"Sorry Chief, there's no way I'm following you around watching your ass. People talk enough already. I'll leave that job to Megan, although it's rather a case of leaving the fox to guard the hen house."

Blair gave up and stomped off to talk to the old Shaman, who had been trying to call him over for some time.

***************************

They all departed early the next day. There was a long tearful farewell with the children and many of the adults, including Blair, were more than a little hung over. The brothers soon herded everyone together and they set out.

Blair had time for a last minute goodbye with Brother Marcus. Both promised to stay in touch, but knew that it would be difficult.

Before they knew it they were seated on the plane and ready to depart. Blair was seated between Megan and Jim. Despite his hangover he was chattering away about the previous night. Jim had tuned him out and was just settling down when something Blair said had him sitting up taking notice.

"Did you just say you got a tattoo last night?" Jim was incredulous.

"Yeah, the Shaman did it for me. It's a great honour. Do you want to see it? It's way cool man. It's a bit red now but when it heals it'll look a lot different."

Blair pulled up his sleeve to show the top of his arm. There was a slightly red area around the stylised wolf that had been tattooed on his bicep.

Jim was horrified. Blessed protector came to the fore.

"Geeze Sandburg, how did you survive this long. Do you have any idea how unsanitary the conditions were when they did this? It'll be a wonder if you don't lose your arm. As soon as we get home you are going to see a doctor and get some antibiotics."

Blair was crestfallen. He looked at Jim with big, soulful blue eyes.

"But it's a great honour." He repeated, "I'm the first outsider he's ever done this for. I couldn't say no, it would have been an insult."

Megan took pity on him. He was so woebegone.

"Oh Sandy. It'll be all right. Won't it Jim?" She looked at Jim, willing him to get the message.

"Yeah. It'll be ok. Now cover it back up and settle down, we're about to take off." Jim settled back and closed his eyes, all the while monitoring his guide for further distress.

***************************

The flight landed on time and they made their way through passport control and customs. Blair thought he was seeing things but he was sure that he had caught more than one member of staff pointing at them.

"Ah ... Jim? Is it my imagination or are people staring at us?"

Jim had also become aware of the undue scrutiny.

"Yeah, stick close, both of you. I have a bad feeling about this."

As they passed in the arrivals area they could see Simon and Henri standing at the gate. Behind them there was what could only be described as a heaving mob of reporters. They were being held back by airport security and several of Cascade Police dept.

Simon stepped forward. "We tried to contact you to warn you about this. Don Haas turned up here two days ago with some very sensational footage. As you can see everyone wants to know what happened. Including me."

"Son of a b--. He must have made a copy." Jim was furious.

"J- Jim?" Blair's shaky voice came from behind him. He was looking pale and his heart and respiratory rates had shot up.

"It's ok Chief. Lets get out of here and Simon will explain what's going on." Jim soothed

"I've got a car waiting. Henri and I will escort you past the jackals out there and get you somewhere private." Simon indicated that they should follow him.

As they stepped through the gate Don Haas seemed to appear out of nowhere. Striding up to Blair he stuck the microphone in his face.

"Mr. Sandburg! How does it feel to leave the country under a dark cloud, branded a fraud, and to return in a blaze of glory as a hero? What are your plans?"

Blair seemed to shrink away from the man in front of him. He backed up and stepped behind Jim, using him like a shield.

Jim saw red. He growled and stepped towards Haas. There would have been a violent confrontation if Simon had not come between them.

"Get this trash out of my sight." He ordered one of the uniforms standing close by.

They were then hustled out of the airport with questions being hurled at them left and right. Jim, Megan, Simon and Henri surrounded Blair and shielded him until they were in the car.

***************************

An hour later, thanks to some fancy driving on Rafe's part, they had lost all the reporters following them and pulled into the driveway of the safe house Simon had assigned to them.

He led them inside and showed them to their rooms.

"You'll have to stay here until the fuss dies down. There are reporters hanging around the loft, the police dept and Megan's place. The Mayor and the Chief of Police both want to meet with you. You're the biggest thing in Cascade for years. Everyone wants to be seen shaking your hand."

Blair sighed heavily. "That makes a change. Before I left people wouldn't even get in the same lift with me. It was like I was a contagious disease. Maybe I should have stayed in Peru with the brothers. At least I knew where I stood with them. "

There was a profound silence in the room. Brown and Rafe looked down unable to meet Blair's eyes. Megan stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. Jim placed a hand on his shoulder offering comfort.

"Sandy. You know who your true friends are. They're in this room with you." She looked over at Rafe and Brown. "It just took your disappearing act to remind some people. You know that pair helped Jim practically take this city apart looking for you."

Henri cleared his throat and looked up. "Look Hairboy, were sorry for the way we acted. It was such a shock at first we didn't know what to think. Once we sat down and thought about it we realised what you'd done. You were just protecting your sentinel."

Blair looked nervously at Jim. Rafe spoke up.

"Hey we're detectives, we worked it out for ourselves. Actually a lot of things made sense after we thought about it. We've all seen Jim do things we couldn't explain."

"Yeah, well I'll get Blair to explain it all to you both later. For now I want a shower and something to eat." Jim stretched and headed for the stairs.

Blair and Megan both agreed with that and they made for their rooms.

Simon checked his watch. "Well, you'd all better hurry, the Mayor and Chief are going to be here in an hour. I think they want to set up some kind of press conference for tomorrow."

"NO!" Blair's voice rang out. "I will not be paraded in front of the cameras to get them good publicity and votes. I've had enough of the media. They almost destroyed me once and I'm not giving them another chance. All I want is to be left alone. I was hoping I could come back and put it all behind me. Find some kind of work and get on with my life."

During this speech his heart rate had soared. He could feel himself shaking and was beginning to hyperventilate. He knew he was heading for a panic attack of major proportions if he couldn't slow it down.

Jim stepped forward and got hold of the tops of his arms and spoke quietly to him. "Calm down Blair. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. No Mayor, no Chief and no press conference. It's entirely up to you."

Blair started to calm. He nodded his head and pulled away. As he did so Jim's hand caught his tattoo and he winced, reminding Jim of the need to see a doctor.

"Oh Simon, we need a doctor to take a look at Blair's arm. It would seem our young friend here got himself a tribal tattoo last night and I'm a bit concerned about infection. Not the best of conditions when it was done."

"A tattoo! Cool let's see!" Brown and Rafe both gathered round to look.

Blair peeled back his sleeve with a huge grin on his face. All thoughts of the press and local dignitaries were forgotten in the rush to tell his friends of his escapades.

Jim looked at Simon and rolled his eyes.

"Look at them, they're like a bunch of kids. I ought to kick his ass for doing something so stupid but, he's so proud of it, I haven't got the heart."

"Just as long as Daryl doesn't want one when he sees it." Simon turned to go.

"Well, I have to go phone the Mayor and the Chief and tell them their visit is cancelled. I'm sure they'll love that. I'll arrange for someone to come take a look at his arm. Brown, Rafe you can take first shift here. Catch up on things and keep an eye out. I'll see you all later."

***************************

Several hours later they were all sat around eating pizza. The doctor had been and gone. He had declared Blair's tattoo to be infection free but had still given him some antibiotics and a lecture on not getting drunk and getting any more tattoos.

Brown and Rafe had been relieved but remained behind to talk.

"So ... has Jim filled you in on what's been happening here while you were playing hide and seek with us?" Brown helped himself to another slice of pizza.

Blair looked at Jim. "Ahh ... no. Did something significant happen?"

Jim looked sheepish. "Well, I didn't exactly forget, it's just that things got so crazy I didn't get a chance to sit down and tell you."

"Tell me what?" Blair was started to look wary.

"Well, it appears that we weren't the only ones who thought that Chancellor Edwards was just a little too eager to get rid of you. Your old friend Eli Stoddard decided to do some investigations of his own. It would seem that the dear Chancellor has been turning a blind eye to academic fraud for some time ... if the price was right." Jim sat back and let Rafe take over.

"Apparently she knew all about Brad Ventriss. It wasn't the first time he cheated. Daddy paid her to keep quiet about the rest. Eli uncovered evidence that Ventriss senior paid her to keep the fuss about your dissertation going. He wanted you ruined the same way his son was."

Blair was dumbfounded. He looked back at Jim who nodded.

"Eli collected enough evidence to nail the witch and brought it to us. We have enough now to make a move. So this is the story we're going to present. We had you send out the fake dissertation and when it was brought to her attention you were to offer her money to keep it quiet. She saw it as her chance to do what Ventriss wanted and had it leaked to the press. You were forced to denounce it or risk her finding out about our case, plus there was the business with Zeller. We still needed time to put together a complete case so you left the country so it would look real and not alert her to our suspicions."

"Of course you nearly ruined the whole scheme by disappearing like that Sandy." Megan patted the stunned man on the shoulder.

"We'll be making our move in the next few days. The paperwork is all in place, signed and dated to read exactly as we want it to." Jim's smile was feral.

Blair took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing heart.

"Guys, I really appreciate all the effort you've gone to but this is against the law. You could all get into serious trouble if it gets found out that you falsified documents. I won't bring you down with me."

"The documents are genuine Chief. The only thing we've changed is some of the dates. She's just as guilty either way. No one will find out because the only people who know are us, Simon and Eli."

"But what about Sid. He knows the timing is all off? What if he challenges the evidence. If people look too close it could all fall apart. I can't let that happen."

Jim smiled grimly. "Sid will go along with everything we say. He knows that if he backs up our story there's no way he can be sued for publishing a stolen work. If not my father's lawyers have been at great pains to point out that there's a multi-million dollar lawsuit just waiting to knock on his door. As for Edwards, the evidence against her is overwhelming. We'll let her plea bargain to a slightly reduced charge if she agrees to plead guilty. If not we can bury her with what we have."

Blair shook his head.

"I need time to think this over. Let me sleep on it tonight, there's so much to take in. Now I don't know about anyone else but I need some sleep."

"Yeah, me too." Megan stretched and leaned over to whisper in Blair's ear. "Want me to tuck you in Tiger?"

Blair was beginning to get used to Megan's approach and so was less embarrassed than before. Time to turn the tables.

"Ok, but be gentle with me." He smiled as it was Megan's turn to blush.

***************************

The next morning brought Simon back to the safe house. He was not in the best of moods.

"The Mayor and the Chief were not very happy about losing their little photo opportunity. They really want to hold that press conference."

Blair thought for a moment. "I think we could use this to our advantage. Jim told me about the case against Chancellor Edwards. Make your move now. Arrest Edwards and Ventriss. Then we agree to the press conference and allow the Chief and the Mayor to break the news. Not only do they get their photo opportunity, we get to put our version of the story out there first. What ever comes out afterwards that's the version people will remember."

Simon was impressed. Grinning to himself he addressed the room.

"Now you're starting to sound like the Sandburg I remember. Ok lets get things moving. Jim you're with me, we need to see a judge about some warrants. Rafe, Brown, go to the university and keep a watch on Chancellor Edwards. Don't let her see you. I don't want to tip our hand too soon. Megan, you stay here with Sandburg. Try to keep him out of trouble until this is all over."

Megan was gleeful. She looked like the cat that ate the canary. Smiling at Simon she answered.

"I'm sure I can find something to keep him occupied." She looked at Blair and waggled her eyebrows.

Simon, who was already heading for the door, missed this little by-play, but Jim didn't. Grinning all over his face, he gave Blair a little wave as he followed Simon.

"Good luck Chief."

Blair had backed up against the wall with a 'deer in the headlights' look on his face.

"Jim! You can't just leave me here! "He hadn't taken his eyes off Megan.

"Don't worry Tiger, I'll take care of you." She purred.

"Jim!" Blair's voice could be heard faintly outside. Jim continued to listen in.

"What was that all about?" Simon asked

There was a short silence in the house followed by a surprised yelp and the sound of two bodies hitting the door.

"I think Sandburg just met his match. Megan's a determined young woman when she puts her mind to it."

"Oh for crying out loud! Can't he keep it in his pants just once!" Simon snorted.

"Well, in Blair's defence, she did jump him." He stopped to listen again. The tips of his ears went a little pink. "Although, by the sound of it, he's not putting up much of a fight."

***************************

The whole operation went off without a hitch. For once fate smiled upon the Major Crimes dept and the bad guys were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. Once arrested and confronted with the evidence, Chancellor Edwards confessed and accepted the plea bargain. Ventriss did the same leaving no need for a trial.

The press conference was a huge success. The Mayor and Chief of Police were delighted with the free publicity. Blair became something of a celebrity for a while, which he found very embarrassing. Especially when he found himself being mobbed by group of little old ladies, at the grocery store, begging for his autograph. Smiling politely he obliged, much to Jim's amusement. As he walked away he felt someone pinch his behind. He turned and glared at the group who huddled together giggling. The sound of his friend snickering drew his wrath away.

"Did you put them up to that?" He asked crossly.

Jim was crying with laughter.

"No Chief, it must have been your wiggle that made them do it."

***************************

Eventually life returned to normal. Blair returned to the university to complete his dissertation on closed societies and continued to work with Jim. No one was surprised when four months later Blair and Megan announced their engagement and bought the apartment below Jim's.

Two weeks after they moved in Blair and Megan arrived at the station looking slightly shocked. Megan immediately went into Simon's office and shut the door.

"What's up Hairboy?" Brown wandered over.

Blair looked at Jim, who had already been let in on the secret.

"You'll know in a minute." He answered, looking over at Simon's office.

Suddenly the door flew open and Megan shot out to stand next to Blair. Simon filled the doorway and glared at Blair.

"PREGNANT!!!" He bellowed. "You got one of my best detectives pregnant. How the hell did that happen?"

The whole bullpen went quiet and everyone looked at the blushing couple. Blair cleared his throat and looked up.

"Well, Simon. You see the man puts his...." He got no further as Simon interrupted

"Sandburg! That's not what I meant and you know it." Simon went back into his office and slammed the door.

"What?" Blair looked around with an innocent expression on his face. "I thought he wanted me to explain."

Everyone gathered round to offer congratulations. Jim sat back and watched his co-workers laughing and talking, He sighed with contentment. Ahh well, so much for normality, but then who needed normal when they had the 'Sandburg Zone'.

The End