My thanks to debraC for her beta.
"Mama's not going to be happy. Nope. Not happy at all," Blair told himself quietly. He tried to sit as still as he could and not think about his predicament. "It's not my fault, anyway."
A rock skittered down the side of the gorge beside him and he squeezed his eyes shut and prayed there weren't anymore rocks heading his way.
"Okay, so maybe it's a little my fault," he said, knowing that if he was about to meet his maker he probably shouldn't have just told a fib.
"But Mama'd understand. She's on safari, too. I was just following the cub. I wasn't going to hurt it or anything. I just wanted to take a picture of it, like mama's doing. Stupid ol' bear. He lied to his mama, he did. I wasn't going to hurt him."
Blair sniffed at the injustice of it all, trying very hard not to cry. After all, eight-year-olds didn't cry. At least, that's what Sharon told him.
"Maaaaaaaaaaaaaa," he whimpered, even though he knew she couldn't hear him, even though he knew she wasn't even on the same continent. "I want my mom." Tears stung his eyes and ran hotly down his cheeks. He clenched and unclenched his fists, knowing that hitting the dirt would be stupid; and if there was one thing he wasn't, it was stupid. Everyone thought he was really smart for an eight-year-old. Of course, no one would think he was smart if they knew he fell into a gorge because he was being chased by a lying cub's mama.
Maybe they'd never find his body.
That thought didn't give him much comfort though. He had read too many books to know what would happen to his body if it wasn't found, and that was just too gross for words.
He wondered if he'd starve to death before he fell.
Probably not. After all he had two snack bars in his front jacket pocket.
The bushes above him shook, making the leaves rattle.
"Go away, damn you!" he cried, not feeling the slightest bit guilty for saying damn. After all, given his circumstances, he was pretty sure God would understand. "I didn't touch your lying cub. Why can't you just leave me alone? Why can't you..." He trailed off as he started to cry again.
"Blair? Blair is that you?"
Blair rubbed his nose and blinked in surprise at hearing his name.
"Yeah," he answered quietly. He rolled his head back a bit and looked up the wall of the gorge. "Yes, it's me!" he shouted, but stopped when the dirt around him rumbled.
A male face peered over the ledge. "Jesus, Chief. How in the hell did you get down there?"
Blair frowned. "A bear chased me 'cause her cub lied to her. And mama says you're not supposed to blaspheme. Are you here to get me out? I'm not supposed to be talking to strangers, you know? But I'd really like to get out of here."
The man above him chuckled. "Yes, I'm here to get you out of the gorge."
"Yes, really." The man disappeared momentarily from sight.
"Okay," Blair whispered to himself, then frowned. "Hey, how did you know my name?"
The man peered back over the ledge. "Uh, people are looking for you."
"Okay." Blair sat for several moments, then frowned again. "I don't have to be back until five, and it's only three. How did they know I was in trouble?"
"Look, Chief, if you want, I can wait until six or so and come back to get you."
"NO!" Blair shouted, then flinched as dirt and rocks showered down around him. "No, I'm okay with you getting me out now."
The stranger chuckled again. "I thought you might be."
Blair tried to wait patiently for several minutes but nothing seemed to be happening. "I don't know your name," he said, tilting his head back so his voice would carry upward.
"It's... uh... Joseph."
A cold chill ran through Blair; he always knew when people were lying to him.
A rope was thrown over the side of the gorge, but Blair made no attempt to catch it.
"I need you to grab onto the rope, Chief."
Blair shook his head. "No."
"Why not? Are you scared?"
"Your name isn't Joseph."
"Oh for God's sake, Sandburg."
Blair blinked. Not-Joseph seemed aggravated, but he had that tone people get when they're really aggravated with someone they know. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," he said defiantly.
"For the love of--"
"Okay. Okay. Okay." The man above him let out a long sigh. "You're right," he said after several moments of silence. "My name isn't Joseph. It's Jim."
"So why didn't you just tell me that before?"
"Because it's complicated."
"I can't tell you because that would just complicate things more."
Blair frowned. "I don't understand."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"What do you want?" Blair demanded.
"All I want, Chief, and you gotta believe me, is to get you up here safely."
"But you're a stranger and you've lied to me. How do I know you're not going to hurt me when you get me up there?" Blair asked, trying really hard not to cry.
The man above him sighed again, but not angrily this time, almost sadly. Blair watched as the man laid on his stomach and looked over the edge.
"I never seem to be able to make a good first impression on you, do I, Chief?"
"I don't know. I've never met you before, have I?"
Jim smiled gently at him. "That's where things get complicated."
"You're not going to let me rescue you until I've told you the truth, are you?"
Blair dropped his head and gazed at his clenched hands.
A loud crack of thunder reverberated around the afternoon sky, although there were still no clouds overhead.
"Storm front's moving in," Jim said quietly.
As if he had cued it, a large of gust of wind blew through the gorge, making Blair whimper.
"Damn it, Chief, grab the rope."
But as scared as he was, Blair wouldn't do it. His mama had told him what happened to boys and girls who trusted strangers. He knew there were worse things in life, and death, than falling into a gorge.
"Okay, listen to me, and listen to me good," Jim said, his tone not quite angry, not quite desperate, or perhaps, a combination of both. "Have you ever heard of time travel?"
"Yeah," Blair answered softly.
"Well, I'm a time-traveler."
"Scout's honor, Chief."
"What year are you from then?"
"The year isn't important. What is important is that when you get older, you're going to save me."
"What?" Blair rolled his head back on his shoulders and stared incredulously at the man above him.
"It's true. In the future, I'll think I'm going crazy, but you'll show up just when I'm about to lose hope and show me that I'm not crazy at all. I just have gifts no one else has."
"Like what?" Blair asked, his curiosity getting the best of him.
"I have heightened senses."
"It means I can hear better than everyone else, see better, taste better. You get the picture?"
Blair nodded. "That's so cool."
"Yeah, so you've told me a million times."
"Yes." The man chuckled. "You have."
"So how do I save you?"
"You teach me how to use my senses, how to control them, so they don't go wonky on me all the time. You tell me about sentinels."
"Yes. You even show me a book by Richard Burton, who's an anthropologist."
"I know what that is." Blair smiled. "An anthropologist, that is."
"Good, 'cause that's one of the things you're going to turn out to be."
"You're also my guide, Chief. So you see, I really have to rescue you now, so you can rescue me later."
Blair frowned, but the frown disappeared as he looked up into the light blue eyes. He could see the concern in Jim's eyes and knew from the bottom of his heart that this man wouldn't hurt him. "Okay, Jim."
"Are you strong enough to hold onto the rope?"
"I think so."
"Okay, because I don't want you to try to climb or anything. I'm going to pull you up. You just hang on."
"Oh--" Blair flinched as a big raindrop splattered on his upturned face.
"We're going to have to hurry, Chief."
"Grab onto the rope."
Blair did as instructed, just as the heavens opened up and whooshed down on him.
"Hold on, Chief. Don't let go!" Jim shouted from above.
"I won't," Blair promised.
Seconds later, Blair found himself wrapped in a pair of strong arms.
"I got you. I got you," the man whispered, although he seemed to be talking more to himself than to Blair.
The ground shifted and Jim gasped, stumbling backwards several feet as the ledge disappeared.
"I...I...I..." Blair was too stunned to talk, realizing what could have happened.
"You'reokayyou'reokayyou'reokay," the man reassured him, squeezing him tight, and making his camera flash. Jim laughed, then shook as if trying to keep the rain off them. "We need to find somewhere dry."
"There's a hunting shack--"
"Yes, I know what you're talking about. I saw it on my way here." Jim turned and headed toward the shack, still carrying Blair in his arms.
It was on Blair's lips to protest that he wasn't a little kid and could walk on his own, but he found that he was really, really tired. Being rescued was hard work.
By the time they reached the shack, they were both drenched through and through.
Jim placed Blair on a small cot and moved immediately to the old cast-iron stove to start a fire. "Take off your shoes and socks, Chief. Let's see if we can get you dry."
Blair complied. "So, we're friends... in the future."
"The best." Jim opened the metal door, looked to the side of the stove and picked out several small branches which he stuffed inside.
"Where do we meet?"
"Cascade," Jim replied absently as he looked around for some matches.
"Hey, I usually live in Cascade."
Jim chuckled. "I know."
"And I save you?"
"Yes, many different times."
"Really." Jim smiled at him. The smile got bigger when he found a box of matches.
"Why many different times?"
"Because I'm a cop and you're my partner."
"I'm a cop?" Blair asked, blinking in disbelief. "Mama's not going to like that."
Jim struck the match and waited a second for the flame to grow bigger on the stick before tossing it into the stove. "She didn't, but she got used to the idea."
Blair yawned. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." When the kindling caught fire inside the stove, Jim turned and knelt beside the cot, gently pushing Blair down. "You need to get some rest, kiddo. You've been through a lot."
"Being rescued does make a soul tired," Blair admitted.
Jim smiled tenderly at him. "Yeah, it surely does, Chief."
"Will you be here when I wake up, Jim?"
"No, I'm afraid not." He gently pet Blair's hair. "But you'll be okay. Peter's looking for you, even now."
"Yep. But Blair it's important you don't tell anyone about me, okay?"
"But I'm not supposed..."
"I know, kiddo. But it would be better if you didn't. I'm not going to do anything you need to lie about. I would never intentionally hurt you, Chief. Okay?"
"Okay," Blair whispered back, his eyes struggling to stay open.
"Just remember, my bark is worse than my bite. Okay?"
Blair hummed contently. "Okay."
"Sentinels. Anthropologists. Cascade. Senses. Guide," Jim whispered from his side.
"Gotta save you."
"Yes, and you will. We save each other quite a bit."
Blair stared down at the yellowed photograph in his hand and gently traced his finger over the lines of Jim's face. The sentinel in the picture still looked fifteen years older than Jim did now. In many ways, he found that reassuring.
"Just remember, my bark is worse than my bite. Okay?"
"Sandburg?" Jim called to him from the living room.
Blair smiled tenderly as he put the photograph back inside his book.
"We save each other quite a bit," he mouthed silently, knowing that everything was going to be okay.
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