Struck - J. M. Griffin
In his memory, the day was so bright the sun hurt his eyes. Warm for April, the very air seemed to thrum with violence. The roses planted in front of the school were dying on their stems. How odd that everyone else remembered an ordinary day, with no hint of the menace in the breeze.
Cascade High School was humming with excitement. It was Career Day and teachers and students alike were milling in the halls before the first session started. Carolyn Plummer's room was filling fast. The speaker was a friend of a friend, a highly regarded professor of anthropology who had recently published a ground breaking discovery of a here-to-fore unknown tribe in the deepest jungles in Peru. It seemed inconceivable in this day and age that there could be an unknown people. Hadn't every part of the world been explored and exploited? It seemed not. Everyone wanted to hear Blair Sandburg speak of his find.
"Dr. Sandburg, can I get you a bottle of water or something." Ms. Plummer asked the short, but oh so intriguing, man leaning against her desk.
"Just call me Blair, please. And, yes, I think I would like some water, thanks."
"I'll go get it. They have some stashed in the teacher's lounge just down the hall." She turned to one of her students, a senior with common sense, a rare combination, but not unheard of. "Paul, you hold the fort until I get back."
God, the professor was cute as they came, Carolyn thought as she hurried to the lounge. The man had intensely blue eyes and lush lips and for all his prettiness, a very masculine jaw. Carolyn knew herself to be a sucker for men with blue eyes. Her ex-husband had pretty blue eyes, though Jim had looked nothing like this young man. Too young for you, Plummer, she told herself sternly. She ducked into the teacher's lounge, only to find the two parent volunteers in a sea of bags and boxes of goodies.
"Water?" she asked.
"Oh, in the cooler over there. You'll have to dig it out from under the cokes."
Back in Ms. Plummer's room, Professor Sandburg wandered over to the lectern and idly checked his notes. Not that he really needed them, but they were a security blanket of sorts. And a reminder that he had only 50 minutes with each group and not to get too far off the beaten track.
The Chopec had been an inspiring group of people, and it gave Blair great pleasure to bring some of their wisdom to the people in his hometown. However, he had not given out the location of the tribe. Nor had he told of the most incredible part of his discovery, that the tribe had within its people a sentinel, a tribal guardian and watchman; a man who could see farther, smell more, touch, taste, and hear better than any normal person. Sandburg had read about such tribal guardians in a monograph written by explorer Sir Richard Burton, but to actually find such a person had been a huge dream of his. The Chopec sentinel had been very old, however, and when he had died six weeks after the professor had made contact with the tribe, Blair had mourned along with the tribe.
The bell rang and a few students dashed into the classroom to stand in the back. The senior left in charge started arguing with them. "Hey, Ms. Plummer said the audience was limited to the number of seats available."
"Awww, man, that is so gay . . . ," one tall kid whined.
During the ensuing uproar, Sandburg picked up his paper and cleared his throat. He was wondering what was taking Ms. Plummer so long when there was a loud whoosh and a funny pop that did something to the eardrum without really being an audible sound. The following "Blam," was heard, however, and the building shook, a girl screamed, and nothing was ever the same at Cascade High School again.
The people that were gathered across from the school breathed premature sighs of relief when they saw the tall, black man step out of the SWAT van. Here was safety. Here was know-how and experience. Everything was going to be fine.
Captain Simon Banks and his well-trained SWAT team knew better.
"All right, people," Banks growled. "We're going to follow the book here. No bumbling, no messing around. Move quickly and quietly. A kid on a cell phone says the shooters are on the second floor." Banks scanned his elite squad and made some quick decisions. "Ellison, you and Brown take that back stairwell to the second floor. Connor, McAllen, and Rafe, you'll be checking the out buildings. Ricardo and Simms, get to the room on the first floor where the pipe bomb blew."
His team nodded. They had been over it all in the van; the primary goal was to halt the assault and seize the shooters. Everyone had the diagram of the school memorized. No one was likely to freak out and rush things or be too cautious. This was not going to be a repeat of the horrible Columbine bumble.
"Okay, people, go."
Jim Ellison was well aware his ex-wife's classroom was on the second floor. As he and his partner, Henri Brown, raced quietly up the stairs, he could tell Brown remembered this.
"Jim," Henri hissed as they neared the top of the stairs, "No heroics, right?"
Jim nodded tersely, then he opened the door to the hall a crack and used one eye to gaze down the hallway. No one was there. He did not tell Henri he could hear the heartbeats of the scared students in the classrooms that lined the hallways. He did not tell him he could smell the acrid odor of recent gunfire and the high, sweet smell of copious amounts of blood.
He signaled for Henri to follow him as he slipped out of the stairwell and into the hall.
Moments before Jim got to the top of the stairs, a young man in a long black trench coat opened the door of Carolyn Plummer's room and waltzed in. He slipped his hand inside his coat in a manner not unlike the guy on the show "The Highlander." But instead of pulling out a sword, he brought out a shotgun.
Someone hissed, "Oh God."
The teen in the coat walked over toward the sound and pointed the gun in the terrified speaker's face.
"What did you say?" He curled his lip in a sneer as he looked down at one of the boys who sat at the lunch table across from him five days a week. One of the ones who called him 'fag' and 'loser.'
"Who's the loser now, Creep?" he asked as he cocked his weapon.
"Hey." Blair stood up from behind the podium where he had been crouching. The trench coat swirled around the skinny, jean clad legs of the shooter. The shotgun was now aimed at Professor Sandburg's chest.
"They used to call me 'loser,' too. And 'fag.'" The part about kids calling him 'fag' was true. By the time he was this kid's age, however, Blair had been in college and sixteen year old freshmen were rarely called 'loser.' Still, he knew what it was like to be different, to be the outcast. "You can't listen to them; it will mess with your head and you'll turn out as fucked as they are."
The shooter cocked his head as if he had heard some truth in the professor's words. Then his face once again resumed its mask of indifference.
"Hey, it's true." Blair said quietly. "Right now you're the person doing the scaring. That feels good for a change, huh?"
The kid with the gun gave a long sigh.
"But if you shoot someone, you'll be the one that gets fucked."
"The bomb in the woodshop took out a teacher and three kids. There ain't no going back even if we wanted to." For a moment the kid's face held a thousand sorrows, a million regrets. "Today, Carl and I are the big men on campus." He gave a weird, wired smile and the girl cowering between him and the professor let out a strangled gasp.
The shotgun swung down and centered on the girl, caressing her right temple. She looked up with big dark eyes that were amazingly void of tears. Softly, softly, she began speaking, saying the rosary in a stream that seemed to pour almost silently from her mouth.
The shooter's eyes narrowed and he began a slow steady squeeze of the trigger. The girl closed her eyes.
Outside, Jim nodded his head at Henri. "There. In there," he said with no words. Henri nodded. They positioned themselves in the proscribed manner, one to the left, the other to the right. "Gun," Jim signed and "No time." Henri was used to his partner's excellent hearing and sixth sense for things going on where they couldn't be seen. He did not question the information he was being given.
Together, they made their move.
Something slammed against the door of the classroom stopping the shooter's finger in mid-squeeze. There were gasps and hissed exclamations from the kids. The slamming sound came again and this time the door flew open. The kid swung the shotgun up and fired. He hit the black cop full in the chest and knocked him back on his butt. His partner, coming in from the other direction, was hit in the arm by a spray of ricocheting shot. It didn't stop him from moving so quickly it would have made Blair's head spin if he hadn't been focused on the bright arterial blood that spurted from the cop's outstretched left arm and arced down to spatter on the floor.
But the tall cop was anything but paralyzed from his wound. He took aim carefully and shot. The trench coat billowed out as the young man slowly fell into the arms of the girl who had been praying at his feet.
Then the cop staggered and went to his knees as the blood continued to pump from his arm.
Blair was out from behind the lectern and over to him in a flash. He went to his own knees and reached out a hand to touch the cop on the chest. To his great surprise, he found himself looking into the soul of the man. There, a black panther slumbered, quiet and fierce as the jungle where it slept.
Blair jerked out of the vision to shake his head and whip out of his vest and tear off the cotton shirt he wore underneath. Now dressed in his tee, he bunched his shirt up and held it against the cop's arm. Under his fingers, he could feel the man's arterial pulse and he applied fierce pressure for long moments until he felt it stop.
"Here," the senior who had tried to corral the other kids was at Blair's side offering him a big green bandana. Sandburg used it to tie the bandage tightly. He looked up into the eyes of the man to whom he was ministering. Pale blue eyes gazed at him with a quizzical expression. "Who are you?" the cop asked him in a whisper. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped into Blair's arms.
"Who has a phone? Call and get help," Blair ordered the kids.
"I already did," a girl with red hair and a bright orange top said. "I told them where we are and what just happened."
"Then help should be here soon," the senior added. Blair nodded just as screams erupted in a room down the hall, followed by a hail of gunfire.
A boy near the door grabbed the black cop's feet and pulled him into the room. A couple more kids closed the door and quickly pulled the heavy teacher's desk in front of it. The girl with the red hair went to crouch over the fallen cop.
"He's alive," she whispered to Blair. "He has on a kevlar vest. I think maybe he isn't hurt too badly."
The room got very quiet as the gunfight down the hall escalated. There were more shouts and screams and the kids in Carolyn Plummer's room huddled together and held each other and shook. Looking at the dead boy on the floor, Professor Sandburg didn't realize he was speaking until he heard himself whispering.
"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?"
The red haired girl took up after him:
"We are the music makers.
We are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams;
We are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems."
Next, the praying girl spoke:
"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail shaking,
And the grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking."
And then the senior boy:
"There's sunshine in the heart for me,
My blood sings in the breeze;
The mountains are a part of me,
I'm fellow to the trees.
My golden youth I'm squandering,
Sun-libertine am I;
Until the day I die."
When he said 'die' all eyes went to the dead body on the floor, then to the black cop who was beginning to moan and, finally, to the other cop slumped in Blair's arms.
There was sudden inexplicable silence down the hall, then one last ringing gunshot and a choked scream. Next came another brief bit of silence and then the very walls of the school seemed to hum and murmur as people began to speak again.
"We wait, we wait," someone said.
"Yes," the professor nodded his head. "We wait."
The students began to move out of their huddled mass in the center of the room and into little groups where they talked in muted tones. Blair suddenly remembered the senior boy's name was Paul as he watched him take off his sweater and cover the shooter's blank face with it.
The man in Blair's arms came back to consciousness with a jolt.
"Shh, you're okay. The paramedics will be here soon," Sandburg told him.
The man peered into up into the professor's face and frowned. "Wolves don't have blue eyes," he said thickly.
At the strange utterance, Blair felt himself jerk upright as if he too had been struck by something. He stared down into the face of the handsome man in his arms.
Several hours later, Blair watched as Carolyn Plummer climbed into the back of the ambulance to ride to the hospital with her ex-husband. The professor tried not to mind that he wasn't the one escorting the cop to Cascade General. He sighed heavily, knowing it was a tiny thing in the scope of all that had happened, but he had felt an intimate connection to the police officer he had held cradled in his arms until a group of cops and paramedics showed up at the classroom door.
Feeling oddly bereft, Blair swiped at his face wearily.
"Hey," A very tall black man in a "SWAT" team jacket said to him. "Is any of that blood yours, or does it all belong to Ellison?" The man's voice seemed gruff, but his expression was caring and kind.
Not having the strength to speak, Blair merely shrugged.
"Are you all right?' The black man asked, now genuinely concerned.
"I appreciate what you did for my officer. Hell, Jim is more than just one of my team, you know. He's a good friend."
Blair nodded wearily and began walking to his car.
A day, a week, a month and then two went by. Sometimes Blair dreamed he was looking down the barrel of Larry Demmings shotgun; other times he stared into the light blue eyes of another man. He would wake with the roar of a jungle cat ringing in his ears.
His life was ordinary. He went to work, came home, went out with friends. They were solicitous of him, knowing he had gone through an ordeal. The media had been much less polite. And though he had refused to give interviews, his face was splattered all over magazines and newspapers. "Teacher Saves Cop's Life" and "Professor Keeps Cop From Dying."
It didn't seem right to him to celebrate when a teacher and five kids had died and another teacher and two cops had been wounded.
Jim Ellison, that was his cop's name. Once they'd whisked him away in the ambulance, Blair hadn't seen him again. The news reports stated Officer Ellison had been hospitalized for a day and then had gone home. He was bound to back at work by now. Blair ached to pick up the phone and call the man. But he couldn't think what he'd say and he was sure the cop wouldn't want to hear from him. So he lived day to day in a sort of haze, feeling like he'd gone through the crucible and come out the other side with his heart scoured and empty.
He wondered what it would take for him to feel his life was complete again.
"Hey, Jim, good to have you back, man." More than one person stopped him on the way into the police station and shook his hand. Jim did his best to be polite, though he suspected his best was pretty poor. Still, no one lost their smile.
Truth was, though Ellison was thrilled to be back at work, he still didn't feel one hundred percent. His wound had been relatively simple, but after he'd gone home he'd developed an infection and that had landed him back in Cascade General for a much longer stay. Which was why he was just getting back to work two months later.
He should be happy, he should be fine. He should have been able to shake this hollow burned out feeling in his chest. He couldn't figure why he couldn't.
When he got inside headquarters, Henri wrapped him in a bear hug. "Hey, partner, long time no see."
Jim just gave his friend a sour look. It wasn't like they hadn't seen each other in ages. Henri had missed a few days of work due to his own injuries, but then he'd spent a lot of time in and out of Jim's place while his partner got well.
Despite the warm welcome, Jim found his first day back to be grueling. He'd been certified fit to work by his doctor, but felt woefully out of shape. So he spent most of the day behind his desk getting updated on what had gone on while he was out of commission. Still, he was tremendously relieved when quitting time came.
Friday couldn't come soon enough for Sandburg. When he finished his last class, he made it out of Hargrove Hall faster than a bat out of hell. He put on his helmet and mounted his Silverwing with a sigh of relief. Before, he'd loved every minute he spent in the classroom. Now he was beginning to think it was time to dream up a new expedition and get out of the halls of academe for a bit.
He found himself humming as he contemplated going back to Peru and the Chopec people. In that other world so many thousands of miles away he'd be safe from the random violence of Cascade. There he'd be safe from....
Slowing as he came up to a light, he didn't see the red Honda until it loomed in his rear view mirror and by then it was too late. The bumper of the car came too close and though it only tapped his motorcycle, Blair went down with astonishing speed. As he slid sideways along the road, the left leg of his jeans burned off right down to his boot.
He came to a stop practically under the bumper of the truck across the intersection. Caught under his bike, Blair looked up to see shiny grill work with a Ford logo in the middle.
The driver was already out of the Explorer and running toward Blair.
"Damn! Are you all right? I can't believe that idiot in the Honda just drove away!" A tall man with blue eyes exclaimed as he crouched down beside Blair. Pulling out a cell phone, the man dialed 911. When he'd reported the accident, he shoved his phone in his pocket and put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Okay, how badly are you hurt?"
Blair felt his mouth open in order to reply, but he couldn't get any words out.
"That's okay, Chief. Don't try to talk. You're gonna be all right. An ambulance is on its way."
Blair shook his head and found his voice. "No, man. No, I think I'm okay. Help me get my bike up."
The cop's eyes narrowed. It was him, of course; the SWAT officer from the school. Blair would never mistake those blue eyes for any other.
"Are you sure? You slid all the way across the intersection."
"I have on motorcycle boots. I think that saved my leg from being torn to shreds."
The cop ended up helping him slither out from under his bike, first. He stood up with relief, leaning against the grillwork of the SUV as he pulled off his helmet.
"Shit," the man in front of him said as soon as Blair had gotten the thing off and started to shake his hair free. "Shit, it's you."
Blair knew his smile was absurdly bright, but he couldn't hold it in. "Yes."
"Damn," Jim Ellison breathed. "You're Blair Sandburg, the professor from the school," he said slowly. "I believe I owe you a thank you."
He limped up the stairs to his loft, thankful to have the muscular arm of the other man to lean on.
"Are you sure your okay?" Jim asked him gently as they stood in front of his door and Blair scrambled for his keys. "Here, let me do that for you."
Jim opened the door and stepped in first. Then he stopped moving and Blair plowed into his back.
"Shit," they said simultaneously, but for completely different reasons.
Blair ended up having to walk around the cop who was standing stock still peering around his home. "I... um.... I mean...," Jim stuttered.
Blair shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, I know it can be a lot to take, but it's home to me."
"It's beautiful," Jim breathed, as he walked into the center of the big room and stared at the large stone carving of a jaguar resting on the mantle. The walls of the room hung with native masks of various jungle animals. The furniture was wicker and quite unique, obviously not from Pier One. A hand-woven blanket was slung over the back of the couch and the coffee table was a big brass bound trunk. If the place hadn't been so spacious, the decor might have seemed cloying or silly, but it simply made Jim feel he had entered some wondrous space where he felt perfectly at home.
Blair walked into his kitchen on shaky legs. He turned on the tap and began to rinse his skinned hand under the cool water, hissing involuntarily when the cool water hit his raw left palm.
"Hey," Jim was suddenly at his side, taking Blair's hand in his own and examining it. When he was satisfied with his inspection, he peered into Blair's face. "Come sit down on the couch and let me pull your boot off. I can smell more blood."
Blair walked over to the couch, feeling a bit lightheaded. It might have been due to the accident, but he didn't think so. As he watched, Jim sat down on the big trunk in front of him and cradled Blair's extended leg in his big capable hands. Blair let out his breath slowly. He couldn't remember the last time he'd brought a lover home to the loft. It was all so close, so strange, so wonderful to have someone this far inside his personal space.
Jim began to gently work the boot off his foot and Blair found himself hissing again at the slight torque of his knee.
"Damn," Jim said as the boot slid off and he pulled the shredded jean leg up and began to examine Blair's skinned knee. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be much more than that and maybe a slight sprain. Blair slumped back on the couch and closed his eyes, lost in the sensation of Jim's hands on his skin.
"Blair. Blair Sandburg."
"Yes," Blair's eyes flew open as he felt the couch shift on either side of him. Jim was on his knees straddling him, arcing his body as he cupped Blair's face in his hands and kissed him gently. Blair opened his mouth eagerly in response. He loved the warmth of Jim's mouth, his smooth even teeth, the delicious taste of him. He didn't want the kiss to end and when Jim made to move away, Blair groaned and let his arms encircle the shoulders of the broader, taller man. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.
"I dreamt of you." Jim whispered, as he cupped Blair's face in his hands, then slid them up to bury them in Blair's long hair. "I dreamed you were a wolf...running beside me in a vast jungle. And then I...I read your book."
Blair licked along Jim's stern jawline before he answered. "You did?"
"Yes. I couldn't get your face out of my head after the shooting. And since I was cooped up in the hospital for almost a month, I had to do something."
"Almost a month? I thought your wound was relatively minor." Blair was horrified at the idea of Jim being so badly hurt and he not realizing it.
"It was. I got blood poisoning and had to go back in the hospital."
Blair looked at the older man closely, seeing that his face was slightly leaner than before and noting the toll the illness had taken.
Jim shook his head. "I'm fine now."
Blair smiled. "Then let's take this upstairs," he whispered.
"What's upstairs?" Jim asked, but he smiled back, because he'd seen it was Blair's bedroom. Before Blair could answer, Jim scooped him up into his arms.
"Hey!" he protested.
Jim stopped where he stood, holding Blair over the couch. Blair looked up into the vivid eyes of the man holding him and grinned. "What? Did I say something?"
Jim just shook his head and headed for the staircase.
There was sex and there was making love. Blair decided he had never made love before he had Jim in his bed, in his arms, in his body. He'd had sex with both men and women, but there had never been this exquisite meshing of bodies, this entwining of souls.
Jim worshiped Blair's body with his hand and mouth, taking his slow easy time as he catalogued all of Blair's body bit by bit. It made Blair shiver with delight, to be so desired. Jim's touch on his cock was both light and sure and Blair had never felt anything like it, though he'd both given and received such in the past. Jim's lips wrapped round him, his tongue laving him, suckling him, absorbing his essence as he climaxed, was so fantastic it was almost more than Blair could take. He stayed still for a bit in the aftermath, Jim's head pillowed on his abdomen.
"I love you," he said quietly as he stroked the bigger man's fine stubble of hair. "How can I love you after knowing you for less than a day?"
Jim gave a soft sigh against Blair's belly. "Less than a day? It isn't possible. I've looked for you always, my blue-eyed wolf."
Blair squirmed in pleasure, curling his body in order to take Jim into his own mouth, to elicit groans of delight from his lover. Jim's body was beautiful, nearly hairless, sculpted like a Greek statue and Blair caressed the flat planes and muscled mounds as he explored it, not leaving out a single nook or cranny. Jim moaned in delight, a most sensitive lover... a sentinel...
In the midst of their lovemaking, it flashed in Blair's mind that this was what the man was. Like Incacha, the aged Chopec sentinel he hadn't had enough time with, but who had told him he would find his sentinel, his destiny, far from the Chopec tribe. The old man had been right.
But Blair didn't let the realization break the rhythm of Jim's body beneath his hands and mouth and when Jim climaxed, Blair eagerly gulped his seed, hearing the satisfied roar of the black jaguar of his dreams in his lover's shout.
They slept then, curled around one another, and nothing at all, not nightmare or dream or even the phone, disturbed their new-found peace.
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Acknowledgements: For Patt, because she asked.