That said: read at your own risk. *eg*
The heat of the afternoon sun pressed down on Charlie’s head and shoulders. He tried to pick up his speed, but Larry seemed to be in a thinking mood, and didn’t keep pace. With a sigh, Charlie slowed again and tried to concentrate on what his friend was saying, rather than the thought of the air-conditioned lecture hall they were headed for.
“It’s not that I don’t see her point.” Larry transferred a stack of papers and files from underneath one arm to the other, and scratched his head with his free hand. “Given the opportunity to see a film that affected an entire genre, it makes perfect sense that she would want to share the experience with someone who could properly appreciate it.”
Charlie grinned in spite of himself. “You just aren’t sure why that couldn’t be you.”
“Well . . .” Larry scrunched up his shoulders. “Isn’t that what relationships are about? The chance to have new experiences and learn from each other?”
They turned down the sidewalk next to the Physics building, and sunlight flashed from multiple windows. Charlie turned from the glare to squint instead at the grass to their right, where students lay sprawled on blankets, napping or poring over notebooks. “Maybe you should just aski Megan about this, if it’s bothering you so much.”
At his left shoulder, Larry sighed.
Charlie could never remember which sound his ears registered first: the crack of a rifle shot, or the explosive ring of shattering glass. The window just ahead and to their left disintegrated, and Charlie cast an automatic glance over his right shoulder. Larry grabbed his arm. “Charles, what--?”
Another crack, and Larry’s grip tightened almost painfully. Charlie grabbed his friend’s arm in return and pulled him forward into a stumbling run. “We have to get down. Come on, Larry, move!” Behind and to the right. Ahead and to the left. Charlie’s brain spat out a possible trajectory for the shots, and he looked for anything near the building that they could duck behind, anything that would block shots from behind and to the right.
A third crack, and Charlie heard students screaming, shouting, running. There. A brick planter full of roses, with enough space between it and the building to hide. At his side, Larry stumbled, panting.
“Come on, back here, hurry.” Charlie pulled his friend along with him, ducking as they moved behind the planter, not stopping until they were well back. Charlie dropped down, back to the warm bricks, and turned to make sure that Larry had followed suit.
The older man had stopped halfway down, one hand braced against the edge of the planter, the other clutching the front of his shirt. “Charles . . .” The single word was small, a gasp, and Larry’s eyes were wide and startled.
“Get down,” Charlie repeated, reaching for his friend, before he noticed the stain on the pale linen shirt, spreading like a dark flower. “Oh my god, Larry.” He grabbed Larry’s sleeve and put his left hand under his friend’s raised arm, easing him down into a sitting position against the planter. Larry’s legs crossed and tangled, and he tried clumsily to straighten them himself.
“Ow.” The sound came out airless, voiceless, and Larry blinked slowly, not focusing on anything that Charlie could see. He wouldn’t move the hand that was knotted in the fabric of his shirt. Charlie tried to pry his fingers loose, to see the damage, to assure himself that it wasn’t much (it couldn’t be) and that Larry would be all right. The strangled, “Please,” that met his efforts was too much, though, and Charlie pulled back.
He could still hear students screaming, crying. Surely someone would call the campus police soon. Surely. . . . Charlie scrabbled in his pocket for his phone, and found it there. In an emergency, his brain told him, a lesson learned long ago, call an ambulance and the police and. . . . Thanking the summer heat for making him leave his jacket in his office instead of carrying it and probably dropping it and his phone when he ran, Charlie let his fingers dial and push send.
Charlie pulled back the phone to see what number he’d dialed; it must have been #1 on his speed-dial rather than 911. Oh well. He put the phone back to his ear, just in time to hear Don demand, “Charlie, is that you? Charlie.”
“Don.” Charlie tried to pull his thoughts together into some kind of coherent statement. There were sirens now, and he could hear Larry breathing raggedly, in short gasps, and the sound of shattering glass still echoed in his head. “Uh, can you call 911 for me?”
“What’s going on, Charlie? What happened?”
Charlie closed his eyes and tried to shut out the noise, the bright sunshine, the smells. He had to give his brother the most important details, and quickly. “Someone was shooting. At me, Don. Here at Cal Sci.” His mind and stomach rebelled at the words, at the very idea. Gunshots weren’t for the university; they were for Don’s work, Don’s office, Don’s stories.
“Are you all right? Charlie, were you hit?”
Charlie shook his head. “No, no, I’m fine.” He raised his head to listen. “I don’t think I’ve heard shots for a minute or so. And I think someone called the campus police, I hear sirens.”
Don’s voice had gone quiet. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah.” Charlie took a deep breath and looked over at Larry, who had curled both arms around himself and seemed completely focused on every hitching breath. “Larry’s not, though. I think--“ His voice broke, and he had to try again. “I think they hit him instead of me. There’s a lot of, a lot of blood, Don.”
Don swore. “Where are you, Charlie?”
“At Cal Sci--“
“No, where exactly are you, Charlie?”
Oh, right. Charlie rubbed a hand across his face. “Just outside the Physics building, on the west side. Behind that planter with the roses in it.”
“Good.” There was a moment of silence, some background noise on the line. “Charlie, when the cops reach you, flag them down. Do not come out until they get there. The shooter might still be nearby.”
That sounded wise, if they had a lot of time. “But Larry needs--“
“Stay put, Charlie.” Don’s tone was as firm as Alan’s had ever been. “I’m on my way, Megan’s called an ambulance and I’m going to let the cops know we’ll be there soon. You just stay put, got it?”
Something damp was soaking through Charlie’s slacks. He looked down, annoyed at the campus sprinklers, and found blood pooling on the bare ground between himself and Larry.
“Don, please tell them to hurry. Please. He’s losing--a lot of blood.” Charlie switched the phone to his left hand and reached over to check on Larry again. This time, when Charlie pried at his fingers, Larry’s hand fell away easily. Shirt and flesh alike were stained red, and it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Hang in there, buddy. We’ll be there soon.”
Charlie set the phone on the ground and turned all of his attention to his friend. He’d been afraid that Larry was already unconscious, but at his touch Larry’s eyes fluttered open. “Careful, Charles,” he said, the words thick and barely audible.
Charlie looked at the red smear on his own hand, at the pool on the ground which he was now kneeling in. Stop the bleeding. Right. Ignoring the part of his brain trying to calculate the amount already lost, and whispering that it might already be too late, Charlie stripped off his button-down shirt and folded it into a manageable pad.
Wincing at the thought of how much pain this would probably cause, Charlie moved to cover the wound. Before he could, Larry’s eyes snapped open, staring right at Charlie. He coughed slightly, and managed words on his second try. “Tell Megan . . . I’m sorry?”
Charlie stared back at him for a moment, then made himself move, made himself press that pad of cloth across Larry’s abdomen. The older man gave a strangled gasp and stiffened. “Sure,” Charlie said, trying to distract him. “I don’t know what you think you have to be sorry about, though.”
Eyes still closed, face still taut, Larry sucked in a breath. One hand moved in a vague gesture in front of himself. “This?”
“Shut up.” Charlie put both hands against the pad. It was already warm, already damp against his palms. “You’re going to be fine.” Five liters of blood in the average human body. That was at least one (probably closer to 1.75, given the absorbency of the soil) on the ground and in his clothes already. “You’re going to be just fine.”
Larry didn’t answer. His hand had dropped back into his lap, and his head lolled against the brickwork.
A shout interrupted his rising panic. He hadn’t even heard the cars arriving, hadn’t realized when the screaming stopped. “Professor Eppes?” someone called. “Charlie Eppes?”
“Here!” Keeping one hand on the makeshift dressing, Charlie raised the other one as high as he could, and waved. “Over here!”
A burly man in the gray uniform of Cal Sci security appeared at one end of the planter. “Are you hurt?” he asked.
His practiced gaze, taking in the whole scene, reminded Charlie a little bit of his brother. “I’m fine,” Charlie said.
“Your buddy isn’t, though.” The cop turned and shouted back to the others. “He’s here, with Professor Fleinhardt. Where the hell are the medics?”
“Coming down the road,” someone called back.
The cop edged in behind the planter and knelt on Larry’s other side. “Good dressing,” he said, nodding at Charlie while his hand checked for a pulse under Larry’s jaw. “Keep the pressure on it, just for another minute, okay?”
Charlie nodded, kept both hands pushing down. More sirens, more shouting. Larry’s face looked so white against the rusty bricks. No, not white, almost gray. . . . Someone grabbed his arm, and the cop was pulling him to his feet, pushing him backwards. “Come on, Professor, we’ve got to give the medics some room.” Charlie tried to look over his shoulder, but there were two people in white bent over Larry, and he couldn’t see him. He put a hand up to brush his hair out of his face.
The fingers, the palm, the wrist were streaked with bright red.
The world tilted, sunlight flashing from the still-intact windows. Strong hands pushed him to a seat on the edge of the planter, and shoved his head down between his knees. Several breaths later, the world had mostly stopped spinning, so Charlie sat up carefully. The medics were working around a stretcher, hustling it towards the ambulance parked on one of the broad sidewalks nearby. “Larry!” He tried to get up, to follow them, but the cop grabbed him.
“Hang on, they’ve got him, let them do their job, huh?”
Charlie tried to shrug off the cop's hands. “You don’t understand! The guy was shooting at me!”
The cop hung on. “Yeah, well, you probably saved your friend’s life. So how about you chill, sit down, and let us contain the scene. Your brother’s supposed to be here any minute. Sounded like he was planning to run his lights all the way from Wilshire.”
Five liters of blood in the human body. Charlie sat abruptly down on the edge of the planter. He could wait for Don. There wasn’t anything he could do for Larry, not right now, not. . . . He swallowed, and allowed himself to watch as they loaded the stretcher into the ambulance and sped away, sirens wailing and lights flashing pale in the afternoon sunlight.