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Terminus

by ljc

3/05



Summary: AU. Everyone agreed. It was too late for them to meet.



Warnings: a few bad words. Rated PG.



Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. All stories are written with the love of the show in mind. No money is being made. All stories are property of the author.



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Definition from WordWeb:

terminus: n., a place where something ends or is complete



The Professor was coming. He moved slowly and carefully through the hallway of Hargrove Hall. There was a small, quiet, and reverential eddy around the Professor. Classes had just been dismissed and the students were anxious to start enjoying their semester break, but for all their enthusiasm there was a palpable sadness in the air. The Pdrofessor was an empath, an unbonded guide. They knew he could feel their warm thoughts for him, and they tried their best to keep the grief muted. Everyone knew his time was short. Blair was their beloved teacher, and he was slowly fading; his body weakened and his movements exhausted. Any undue effort left his breath laboring. The student body and the faculty had rallied their best efforts for several years to help him. They'd tried without success to find a companion, a sentinel for Guide Sandburg. They'd felt it was a shame that someone so talented and caring and so beloved would be leaving this earth so young.



Most guides and sentinels connected at or near puberty when empathy and senses, respectively, came online. Blair Sandburg had struggled for more than a decade with overtaxed empathic barriers. It took all his energy lately to maintain those barriers, and the physical toll was overwhelming him.



<>



Blair knew the students feared this semester would be his last here at Rainier. He was being pressured by Chancellor Edwards to accept early retirement, and Ge. Prof. Sandburg couldn't spare the effort to fight her any longer. Truly, he had little energy left for anything. Privately he felt it was nearly time to give up the struggle. Only his mentor, Prof. Eli Stoddard, knew his decision. He had his resignation prepared, ready to be delivered near the end of the summer term.



He was grateful to Eli and to all his students. Their feelings of appreciation touched him deeply. And he saw their respect in their never failing efforts to bolster his barriers. They'd even instituted counseling sessions on keeping strong emotions in check, and they never, ever, touched him physically. He'd never have made it this far without their help and encouragement and the warm feelings that buffered him throughout the day.



But although Blair may have been out of energy he wasn't without hope. Occassionly a latent sentinel came online. Stranger things had happened. Anyway, he didn't need to burn all his bridges. He loved teaching. If the summer break renewed his spirits and his energy, then perhaps he could continue for another semester or two.



He was well aware that he had outlived any other unbonded guide by more than two years. When Sentinel and Guide bonded fully, one's talents would bolster the other's. Even when sentinel and guide were not totally compatible, they could forge some minor connection that allowed them to function nearly normally. His future depended on a miracle. He knew it. He'd had years to prepare himself, yet that small kernel of hope kept him going.



It was time to pack up a few things in his office. He wouldn't know until the end of the summer if he'd be coming back, so he'd leave all but the most personal things to pack up in August.


<>-<>



“Blair, my boy. I came to give you a hand with the things you want to take home. You just sit at your desk. I've brought a few boxes and paper for you to wrap things with. You get to direct your old professor on this 'field trip'. Let's see what we can unearth in the recesses of these 'ruins' we jokingly call your office. Now where shall we start?” asked Eli. He tried to sound cheerful but his heart wasn't really in it. He loved Blair like a son. The next months were going to be very hard indeed.



“Thanks Eli. I'm not really looking forward to packing up. But you know that. Sorry.” Blair's voice was choked with emotion. He never thought it would come to this. He'd been at Rainier since he was sixteen. This office was as much home as anywhere. And Eli was family. He was glad for the help, and more grateful for the company. They set about the task quietly and even though Blair's movements were slow, they were finished in short order.



“Come on Blair, let me take you home. You said your mother would be arriving tomorrow. It's been ages since I've seen her.” Eli tried desperately to keep his anger in check, knowing it had been ages since Blair had seen her, too. He'd like to get her alone for just ten minutes. He'd like to tell her a thing or two.



<>



Blair knew what Eli thought of Naomi. He always caught a blast of anger from Eli, before he could dampen it down, every time Naomi's name was mentioned. He'd had to deal with his own regrets about his mother's wanderings. If he'd had a child, he'd never have left that child when he knew he was dying. But still, she was his mother. And he loved her and he missed her. And she was coming to visit finally. It wouldn't do any good to be angry. It would just push her away when he needed her most. He ached for her company and the comfort that only a mother's presence good give. “Would you like to stay for dinner Eli? I made some soup last night. There's plenty for us both. On the way home we can stop at the bakery and pick up some fresh bread to go with it.”



“You were always a better cook than me, Blair. I'd be glad to join you. I can help you put these things away, too,” Eli agreed readily. He didn't want Blair to be alone too much right now.



<>-<>



Blair woke the next morning by ten o'clock. He rarely slept in that late, but his fatigue grew daily. He worked his way through his morning routine. Naomi would arrive for lunch, so he had plenty of time. Mom said she'd take him out to that nice little Italian restaurant they'd visited last time she was here. He couldn't wait to see her. It had been so long.



He straightened the spare room for her arrival. It didn't really need tidying, just a little dusting. He opened the curtains and the window to freshen the air. He inspected his cupboard and refrigerator, planning what he could make for dinner and tomorrow's breakfast, making a short grocery list of fresh produce and dairy items. He checked the time and called the restaurant for a reservation for one o'clock. Then he called the deli down the street. For Blair, they made deliveries. He collected his mail. When that was sorted he went to the window over the street. He was just anxious to see her.



With a sigh he went to the bookcase and took down a paperback. He sat down to read, near the window. One chapter, then two. He was still tired even though he had slept in. He nodded off, curled into his big corner chair. The phone rang and rang again. Blair slowly came awake and startled upright when the answering machine came on. He meant to move to the table where the phone was sitting, but the caller's message could be heard from his chair. “Blair, it's Naomi, dear. I'm sorry I couldn't make it sweetie. I had this unbelievable opportunity to go to Australia. There's a workshop on “Sacred Journeys of the Dreamtime”. Oh, I wish you could go, sweetie, but I know how busy you are with classes and research and your dear friend Eli. I'll tell you all about it when I get back. Sorry I have to rush. I'm between planes. Bye.”



Blair eased back into his seat but gripped the arms till his hands shook. She's not coming. She's not coming. Mom ....



<>-<>



Eli received the message when he got home on Monday. “Eli, I'm sorry to tell you this way ... I've closed up my apartment and moved into the Hospice I discussed with you last month. I can't do this anymore Eli. I'm so tired, and at the Hospice they'll take care of everything for me. I'm sorry I didn't discuss this with you first. It was a sudden decision and I hope you'll understand. Oh, by the way, I am restricting visitors at first. Just until I get settled in, you understand. I'll call when you can visit. If you need anything, you can call and leave a message. Please Eli, I need some time to get adjusted. Please understand. I'll call when I can. Thank you my friend. I couldn't have done any of this without your support.” Eli understood. Blair was cutting himself off from his friends. He'd given up. He had just said goodbye.



<>-<>



Blair awoke to blue jungle. Blue light, blue flora, and quiet. Not a breath of a breeze. Not a flick of a leaf. Not a bird call. No wilting heat or humidity. Blair uncurled on a moss covered patch of no noticeable tactile impression. He wondered, shouldn't it be black and white, or gray? Wouldn't that better imply lifelessness? What did the blue mean? Did that mean there was a potential for life? Like a life halted, or in limbo? Was he in limbo? What was he waiting for?



<>-<>



“ELLISON! MY OFFICE,” Simon was in no mood for wasting time. The Switchman wasn't taking a holiday. The brass were on his back to bring the bomber to justice. He needed his best detective in top form.



Jim sighed and stood at attention before his Captain's desk, “Yes Sir?”



“You told me you underwent some tests at the hospital Detective. Did the doctors have an answer for your problem, Jim, or was it what we suspected?” Simon sounded more brusque than he'd intended but he was concerned. Jim was his friend, as well as being his best detective.



“They weren't sure. They'll call when they've received and analyzed all of the results. They should be in this afternoon,” Jim answered. He'd heard them talking. He'd focused in on their conversation two rooms away. That was part of his problem. His senses were screwed up. He heard them, and their eager surmises were upsetting. He didn't need freaky sentinel senses. They had to be wrong. The tests had to show something else. They had to ... teenagers became sentinels not ex-Army Rangers and Detectives. His life was just the way he wanted it. He didn't need to drag around a guide, for God's sake. He could just see his future, Detective Ellison and his pimply-faced guide. No way, no way in hell.



“Was there a problem with the tests, Jim? The specialists didn't say anything? You know if it's true that latent sentinel senses have come online then that could pose a big problem.” Sigh, he really hated to say this, “Look Jim, guides come online pretty young. You're one of the best cops in the state. I'd hate to lose your expertise and keep you on desk duty till your guide grows up, but if that's the case, we'll just have to work things out. But this could end your field duties for years. Just remember that young S/G pairs work in supervised venues all the time. They can be very useful .... ” said Simon.



“Useful? Kiddie cops? Simon, this can't be happening. I went through military training and the Academy and now I'll have to take on a 'baby' guide. What kind of sense does that make?” Jim fumed as he paced back and forth in short, choppy steps, just the length of Simon's desk.



Knowing that this had to be a touchy subject with Ellison, Simon tried a different tack, “Is there anything the doctors can do for zones, Jim? That's my biggest worry. Putting you on desk duty would be a big loss but it's better than letting you zone and get killed by a perp. It's not worth losing a friend Jim. Let the doctors help. If you're an online sentinel now, you'll need a guide. And a guide needs a sentinel. And we didn't need politicians to make a law to make it any more true. I have to admit I wouldn't want that situation myself for any amount of money you could name, but it's still a situation that has to be dealt with appropriately. I'll help in any way I can, and so will the rest of the Major Crimes Unit. They're good men and women. Just let us help you Jim,” Simon said sincerely.



Jim stood with eyes closed and fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He had one hell of a headache. And it was only going to get worse. That was a given.



<>-<>



Jim sat ramrod straight and unmoving, jaws clenched and bulging. Dr. Bay wondered if the man was zoning. He reached out slowly to touch his arm ....



“Don't,” Jim snapped.



Dr. Bay didn't. He cleared his throat with a little cough to cover his discomfiture, “Sl. Ellison, we checked all known online guides in the city proper. There are none above the age of fifteen years eight months. They're not out of high school yet of course. We've set up a meeting with them and their parents for this weekend. As you might suspect, the parents weren't too thrilled. But your zones are not at a life-threatening level, as yet, so you have some time to investigate possibilities in other locales too. I've sent inquiries to S/G Institutes out of state too, trying to locate an older guide for you. I must admit the possibilities are limited. I had heard of a young man several years ago, he was twenty then. If he didn't bond there's little chance he would even be alive by now, but I have made inquiries about him, too.”



“Let me get this straight, the oldest possible guide would be twenty-three?!” asked Jim.



Sigh, “I am sorry Detective. That young man had not bonded, and even at twenty, his chances of finding a compatible sentinel were small. His only chance then, was a latent, like yourself, who might find it difficult if not impossible to bond with and accept a teenager into his life as his guide.”




Jim stared at the floor for a moment, then nodded in acquiescence, if not total acceptance. “Do what you can Doctor. If you need help finding him, let me know. I am a Detective after all.”



<>-<>



Eli couldn't believe it. Was this the miracle? Please, God! Dr. Bay was contacted immediately.



<>-<>



Jim and Simon arrived at Cascade Hospice the next morning. They'd been concerned that the guide needed hospice care, but there weren't many viable choices. The doctors convinced them that with Jim buoying the guide's empathic barriers his health would improve immensely. Jim had then insisted they give it a try. A twenty-three year old guide had to be better than a teenager.



Simon had picked Jim up at his loft apartment. Simon had clenched his unlit cigar in his teeth. It was unlit in deference to his newly online friend. They sat in the parked car until the agreed time for the meeting. “Jim, are you okay? You seem pretty focused on that building. Are you nervous or do you 'sense' something? I always wondered how a sentinel picked a guide, or vice versa. Does the guide pick the sentinel?”



“Damned if I know Simon. I just can't seem to tune out a funny noise. Come on. Let's get in there before I change my mind,” Jim griped.



Simon nodded, but he was thinking that maybe it would be the guide that would need help from him and the other detectives, and not Jim. Jim could be cold, abrupt, stubborn ... all that and more. It didn't sound like this kid was up to taking him on.



<>-<>



Simon couldn't believe these people. He and Jim had been taken to see the guide. Jim hadn't said a word, but he could swear he heard him growl. That couldn't be good. This Sandburg was dying. What were they thinking?



He was a sorry sight. He couldn't weigh a hundred pounds. He looked like a drug addict, or a street person, only cleaner. He laid on the bed in a fetal position. His hair was a matted mass of dense curls that had been shorn close to his scalp. His hospital gown didn't do much to hide the skeleton-like shape beneath it. The kid had signed a Living Will and there was a Do Not Resuscitate Order. He'd slipped into a coma the day after his arrival and showed no signs of coming out of it. Simon was disturbed at the pitiful sight.



THIS was their ... Jim's, best choice? Not hardly. He had to get Jim out of here. There was the meeting in two days with the youngsters at the Sentinel/Guide Institute and their parents. They wouldn't be a 'good' choice, but one of them had to be better than this Sandburg. He felt sorry for this young man but he had to do the best he could for his friend. He turned at Jim's deep growl. “Jim? What's wrong, Jim? Maybe we should leave.” Simon reached toward Jim, but Jim was faster. He grabbed Simon's wrist.



“Leave.”



“Sure Jim. We can leave now if you want. I think it would be for the best,” Simon answered.



“No. You. Leave.” Jim wasn't up to sentences but he got the message across. But Simon wasn't agreeable. Jim could tell. He pulled himself together, “This guide is MY guide. Leave Simon. Or stay. But leave us alone.”



Simon tried again, “But Jim, look at him. He's too ill. It's too late. I'm sorry Jim. There will be other choices for you.”



Jim's very visible anger caused Simon to backstep. When Dr. Bay also cautioned Simon, he decided to keep his thoughts to himself. From what the doctor had suggested Jim was deep into 'Blessed Protector' syndrome. It seemed Jim had made his choice.



Several doctors gathered with Simon at the window to the guide's room. Simon thought them ghouls for their wish to observe this bonding. Simon honestly thought the young man would die, and his friend would be hurt. And these doctors looked on like the sentinel and guide were an exhibit, or an experiment. But he couldn't leave Jim. And if by some miracle, they both survived, they might need a friend.



<>-<>



Jim prowled the room, measuring with his eyes, deciding what comfort he could give the guide. The closet provided blankets and pillows, and the chairs had thick cushions. He went about building a nest for them in a corner of the bedroom, pulling various oddments of furniture into place to hide them, to protect his guide from prying eyes. His guide was too cold, he needed to warm him. He gently gathered up his guide and settled him in the corner, leaving room for himself.



The sentinel settled into the nest to wrap himself around his guide. He needed to warm and soothe this devastated young man. He seethed at the frailty of the guide. He didn't understand his intense attachment to him but didn't question the need to protect and nurture him.



He knew the doctors and Simon still waited. He didn't care as long as they stayed away. He waited for the guide, for Blair, to awaken. To come home to him.



Blair still breathed, and although he was unresponsive to the sentinel on a physical level, his empathy had not suffered. Jim felt a peace emanate from the guide. He embraced it, leaning down to catalogue the guide's essence, to make him a partner and guide, to this sentinel.



As the bond deepened, the peace grew, until he felt the world slip away. His strength was like a buttress against a great weight, supporting and protecting the fragile peace that emanated from the one he held. He heard the sounds of birds first. Then came the redolence of a wild and earthy place. Then he felt the warmth of the air and the light breeze on his face. He let himself wake when he felt the gentle fingers of his guide run through his short hair. It was safe now for the sentinel to come home to his guide, to a blue and vibrant jungle, alive with possibilities.



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finis