There was a sickening thud as the car slammed into the stumbling man’s knees and the car continued to roll forward for another couple of feet before jerking to a halt. Jasper shoved the gearshift into park while throwing open his door. He distantly registered the other men scattering, but didn’t spare them a glance as he fell to his knees beside the body in the street.
At first glance, in the glaring light and stark shadows of the car’s headlights, the man appeared to be dead. Jasper found himself babbling under his breath as he frantically searched for a pulse: “No you can’t be dead I can’t have killed you I wasn’t going that fast and I’m going to win the Reed Award someday but not if I’m in jail comeonwakeuppleasebealive – ”
The man gasped slightly and his eyes slowly blinked open. Jasper gratefully gave up his fruitless search for a pulse, hung his head, and murmured, “Oh, thank god.”
Taking a deep breath, Jasper looked at the man’s face for the first time. He was thin, too thin, with wild hair and a scruffy beard, but there was still an undeniable beauty in the angles of his face and the softness of his lips. In the uneven light the man’s eyes were like bottomless wells and Jasper had to look away before he could force a question from his suddenly dry throat.
“Are you all right? No, of course you aren’t all right. Are you in pain? Oh, god, what am I – of course you’re in pain. I’m sorry, I don’t do this very – Listen, just relax, okay? I’m going to call an ambulance.”
Suddenly a bony hand latched onto Jasper’s wrist with a surprisingly strong grip. “No!” the man on the road croaked out in a rough, desperate voice. “No hospital!”
Jasper blinked. “You’re hurt,” he said cautiously. “You need medical attention.” He switched the phone to his other hand and started to dial 911. “Besides, we need to report this to the police.”
“No police!” the man gasped, sounding panicked, and, in an act of extraordinary stupidity, he started to climb to his feet. Jasper made an inarticulate sound of protest and leaned forward to stop the man, but there was no need. The moment the man put weight on his leg he folded back to the ground, his face white in the harsh glare of the headlights and his teeth buried in his lip in an obvious attempt to hold back a scream of pain.
“Oh my god that was – are you mentally deficient?” Jasper snapped, his voice trembling. “How could you – why would you-”
“No hospital,” the man murmured pitifully. Dark fluid pooled on his lower lip and Jasper realized with a distant horror that it was probably blood. The man moaned softly. “Please, no hospital. Please.”
Jasper hesitated for a moment, but if this was the reaction to merely dialing 911, Jasper most definitely didn’t want to see what happened if he actually hit send. “Okay,” he said softly. “Just … stay calm, okay? I won’t take you to a hospital.”
The man’s entire body relaxed. “No police?” he asked hopefully.
Jasper founded himself suddenly furious. “Oh, come on!” he exploded. “Those men tried to kill you!”
In response, the man flipped himself over and tried to crawl away. For a moment Jasper was too stunned to do anything but stare, but then he reached out and grabbed the nearest body part. Which happened to be the man’s leg. The man made a sharp, strangled noise that almost sounded like a scream and collapsed back down to the asphalt. Jasper snatched his hand away as if burned.
“Oh, fuck,” he said desperately. “I didn’t mean- I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
The man didn’t respond.
Jasper frowned and inched forward until he could reach the man’s neck. Having declined every one of Michael’s invitations to learn basic first aid, Jasper didn’t know how to interpret what he felt – though the beats seemed to be coming at consistent intervals, which he assumed was good – but at least the man was still alive. Alive, but unresponsive. Jasper frowned thoughtfully. This might actually be a good thing.
It took several minutes to haul the man up off the street and to shove him into Jasper’s car. By the time he had him strapped into the seat Jasper was drenched in sweat and trembling with an emotion that he couldn’t clearly define, though he was overwhelmingly grateful that the stranger hadn’t woken during the move. His legs had already started to swell under his ragged jeans, and Jasper didn’t want to think about the damage a car bumper could inflict upon bone, even if the bumper was decelerating at the time.
Jogging back to his side of the car, Jasper climbed in and turned on the ignition. Without even thinking about it, he turned his car in the direction of Michael’s office, at the same time pulling out his cell phone. He had promised the injured man that he wouldn’t call a hospital; he’d said nothing about plastic surgeons.