Justin saw the sedan make the turn, accelerating to get through the gap in traffic. The driver didn't see him and Kate in the street, directly in his path.
He had seconds.
She was holding his arm, and he used that as a lever to spin her and fling her back to the sidewalk. She yelped in outrage. But then there wasn't time to do more than take a single step backward and watch it come at him.
The car's brakes squealed, and he glimpsed the driver's horrified face. Kate yelled somewhere behind him.
Next thing he was on the sidewalk, looking up at the gray sky.
After another moment, his mind stirred back to alertness, ordering himself: Get up. You can't go to the hospital. You have to get up. Move. Move or Justin Patrick has to die.
The reminder was enough to make him try moving. First his arms and then he lifted his head. Pain sliced through him like a sharp blade - skull, torso, back, everything hurt.
He lay back down, hissing oaths until he caught his tongue between his teeth to make himself stop.
"Stay still, mister," someone told him.
"I'm okay," Justin insisted and had to reopen his eyes, not realizing he'd shut them. Shit. Stay alert, idiot. You've got to get up. At least no one's screaming, so you're still intact. Move.
"You don't look okay," the young college kid kneeling at his side told him.
That stirred Justin to push himself upright. Another flare of pain burned his back and in his ribs. "Oh, damn," he muttered and felt the back of his head. Hair still there. Good. "Really," he insisted. "I'm okay. I got out of the way, mostly. Thanks for your concern."
"Justin!" He heard Kate's voice and glanced up, white sparks cascading across his vision at the movement. "Oh my god, don't sit up."
She seemed to be limping, he noticed with concern. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously. "I didn't mean to throw you so hard."
"I'm fine. I lost a shoe," she said impatiently, waving it off, as she knelt on the other side and put a hand on his shoulder to push him back down. "But you - my God, that idiot hit you. Lie down."
"He barely touched me." He resisted her push. "I'm okay, nothing's broken," he reassured her. Which wasn't true - he was pretty sure at least two ribs were broken, if the pain in his chest was any indication, but there was nothing he could do about that.
"I'm calling the ambulance. We'll have a doctor check you-" Kate pulled her phone from her bag but he wrapped his fingers around it, stopping her from calling anyone.
"No, I don't need it."
"No," he repeated emphatically. "I'm fine. I need to change clothes - " Since he could feel blood on his back, that was for sure, and he had to evaluate the damage in private. "Patch some scrapes. But that's all I need. I have court at 1:30."
Clenching his jaw tightly, he pushed to his feet, ignoring Kate's hovering hand.
Standing upright, his vision grayed out and he blinked it away, staggering a step before he caught his balance again. When had he become so fragile? Damn it, he should be tougher than this.
"Court?" Kate stared at him, incredulous. "Are you kidding me? Justin, you got hit by a car. You need to see a doctor."
"No, no doctor. I'm fine." Briefly he considered giving in, claiming he was going to the ER, and then sneaking away, but knowing Kate, she'd insist on staying with him the whole way. He had to get the hell away from here.
Patting his pockets to check he had his phone and wallet, he told her, "I'm going to my place to change clothes."
Kate still was looking at him as if he was speaking another language, which he really hoped he wasn't doing by accident, but he was having trouble pushing the pain away.
Whose brilliant idea was full skin grafting, anyway? Oh, that's right, it was yours, idiot.
Then speaking to him slowly as if he was a small child with a brain injury, Kate said, "Justin. You need to get the driver's information and report this to the police. And go to the hospital."
It was a tidy list of the things he didn't want to do. But even he could see the irony of avoiding exactly what he would advise any victim do and what the law required in an injury accident. It irked him that he would have to let the driver get away with the carelessness.
He rubbed at his eyes. "You know what? You do it, if you want. I'm going home."
Walking took every bit of concentration and energy he had. All he had to do was make it back to his apartment, repair the damage and eat, and he'd be fine. He just had to make it home first.
Wondering worriedly how hard he'd hit his head, Kate watched Justin walk away. His steps were slow but steady, but the back of his suit jacket was a shredded, bloody mess. He was most certainly not okay.
She accosted the driver, who'd crashed into a parked car after hitting Justin and was looking at that damage as if the smashed up side of his Honda mattered one bit, when he'd hit an actual person. "You. Your information now. You almost hit me, and you did hit him. What the hell were you thinking?"
The middle-aged man seemed a little dazed himself, and her sharp words made him jump. "Is he okay?"
"No, I don't think so, so hurry up and give me your information."
"I didn't see you - I'm so sorry. I just... didn't look," the man stammered and his hands were shaking as he tried to open his wallet. "I didn't mean to hit him. And, my god, that sound it made... I've never heard anything like it... "
She put the license and insurance information into her phone, handed Simon Travers her card, and snapped some photos of the accident and the blood smear on the sidewalk where Justin had ended up. She looked for her other shoe, but didn't see it in a fast glance around, and decided to hurry after Justin barefoot.
She kept thinking of her client who'd been in a similar car accident. He'd suffered enough brain damage to change personalities. Admittedly Justin seemed like his normal work-obsessed self, and he was walking away, so he couldn't be that badly injured, but still, if he'd hit his head or had internal injuries, he could seem fine briefly, but then collapse and die.
The way to his building was thankfully lacking in fallen Justins, but she noticed a reddish smear on the wall approaching his door. And his front door was left wide open, something he never did.
"Justin?" she called, shutting it behind her. There was no answer.
In the bathroom, Justin stripped off his jacket slowly, gritting his teeth. The back had been ripped to ribbons by the pavement. His hands were shaking so much it was difficult to undo his tie and unbutton his shirt.
He stared into his reflection, trying to calm his rapid heartbeat and regain his control. You are stronger than this. Pain is a primitive instinct; control it with your mind as you were taught.
Those lessons felt like a very long time ago and applied to a different him.
They would say this is what I deserve for embracing weakness, he said silently to his then he chuckled once, amused in spite of himself. Yeah, screw them. Let's see how they'd feel getting hit by a car.
When he peeled off the shirt, it took skin with it, so a section as large as two hands hung loose down his back, welling with pain and blood that trickled down to his pants.
The wound burned like fire, and worse, when he turned to look at it in the mirror, it was deep enough to expose the tissue underneath.
"Shit." He bent his elbow, reaching up his back, trying to put the skin back, but it wouldn't stay.
Then he heard Kate call his name, and he leaped for the bathroom door to slam it shut and lock it before she could see anything.
"Justin, open the door!" she demanded.
"I'm fine, just cleaning up," he called back.
"I can help you. I saw you're bleeding - c'mon, Justin."
She hit the door hard, making it rattle in the frame. "Open the damn door!"
"I'm fine!" he snapped irritably, wondering what he had to do to make her go away. He couldn't let her in; he couldn't let her see. He would have to wait her out. He took out his phone, planning to get Leo to draw her away with some excuse.
Then the liquid gathering in his lungs made him cough and he turned hastily to vomit in the sink. Internal blood from his injury spewed boldly green against the white porcelain, and he held his chest with one hand as the ribs shifted inside, spiking through him.
His reflection looked haggard and desperate - this was getting worse.
Kate heard him throwing up violently, and felt horror and panic racing through her in an instant. He was hurt, badly, and he'd locked the door. He needed help.
She glared at the door and settled herself by inhaling a deep centering breath. Then, remembering her lessons, she kicked the door as hard as she could.
The bathroom door crashed open, tearing the latch right through the frame. She watched, smiling proudly at herself. "Hell, yeah! Check that out!"
Justin turned, his expression startled.
He was shirtless, and while that would normally be something she'd enjoy seeing, her eyes strayed to the reflection in the mirror.
His back was a bloody mess of scrapes and tears with a scary, big flap of skin hanging loose. "Oh my God. Justin. You need a doctor, stitches - you probably need x-rays - and - " Then she saw it and her voice died in her throat.
Where the skin had been, there was something else. Something not muscle. Something greenish-yellow. Something wrong.