The pain brought him back, gasping for breath and then groaning as his head seemed to explode into red stars and flares. He opened his eyes, then immediately closed them again as the pain worsened, so sharp it stole his breath.
Finally, he was able to drag air into his lungs and he lay there, simply breathing, trying to work through the pain. As it lessened to a harsh, throbbing burn, he carefully lifted a hand to the side of his head. He felt the wetness of blood, and hissed as he touched the gash that streaked from his temple over his ear.
The bullet had glanced off his skull, but had done enough damage to take him down and knock him out.
He had to wonder why no one had finished him off.
Carefully he opened his eyes again and, when his head stayed on his neck, he blinked into the dim light of the dirty alley and saw he was curled against a pile of trash bags. The heat made the stench even worse, and his stomach churned with nausea as his nose began to pick out individual odors.
Time to get up, get away.
Slowly he turned onto his stomach, used his shaking arms to lift himself to his knees. The world spun and darkness played at the corners of his eyes, but he used breathing techniques learned long ago to force himself to stay conscious and reach his feet.
Blood oozed down the side of his face, wetting the mask hiding his eyes, and he wiped it off the lense and started down the alley.
He swayed, blindly felt for the wall, and used it to hold himself up as he put one foot in front of the other and, through pure stubbornness, reached the street. His current apartment was three doors down, which was a good thing because he wasn't up for swinging from rooftops or even walking more than a block, and a taxi driver would ask too many pesky questions.
Like, why was he bleeding all over the Naughahide.
He smirked, then groaned as pain lashed through his head again, then forced himself to walk the rest of the way to the steps to his basement apartment. Only the railing kept him from tumbling down them as he slipped from dizziness and twisted one ankle. Cursing under his breath, he limped down and fumbled with his keys and elaborate security system and wished, for once, that he was just a normal guy and had only three bolt locks.
Not turning on any lights, he rearmed the security and made his way into the bathroom. Three of the four bulbs over the sink were burned out, the remaining one providing only enough light for him to see and not cause much more pain.
Wincing at the image in the mirror--the gory wound, blood-matted hair, and streaked face-- he peeled off the mask and dropped it in the sink, then pulled out his first aid kit and started to work on the wound.
The first touch nearly made him pass out, and only gritting his teeth and breathing harshly through his nose kept him from vomiting. He let the pain ease before he probed the wound again, then began to clean it.
Alcohol on sterile gauze sent him to his knees, biting back a scream, and he forced himself to deal with the wound as quickly as possible. He got it clean, only to have it continue to ooze blood, and he swore again as he realized he'd need to stitch it, which wasn't going to be easy with his shakiness.
Maybe there was something to be said for loyal retainers after all.
Pulling himself back to his feet, he gripped the edges of the blood-spattered sink and took several deep breaths, then took out a pack of sutures and began.
He was used to pain, but he wasn't enough of a masochist to enjoy causing himself any more than was necessary. The stitching was sloppy but would hold. With a trembling, heavy hand he wiped away the blood and stared at his reflection. The white streak of hair in the middle of his forehead lay limp from sweat, and he frowned.
It would just be fabulous if he had a matching streak on the side.
Opening the medicine chest, he took out a bottle of antibiotics and a second one of illegal painkillers. Popping the pills, he swallowed them dry, then let the exhaustion finally creep in.
Knowing he was near to collapse, he staggered into the bedroom and carefully stripped off his dirty, blood-stained clothing. The gun-belt went next to the bed, the nine-millimeter under the pillow. He knew he should clean it, but he didn't have the energy and he'd only used one of the bullets. Pulling his knife from his boot, he frowned at the encrusted blood, and then remembered using it on the creep he hadn't shot. With a good scrubbing it would shine again, but that, like the gun would have to wait.
Sleep and pain were both dragging at him, and he knew it was time to let himself go.
He knew he would wake in the morning. This wouldn't kill him.
It took a hell of a lot to kill him.
As he sank down on the bed and tugged the quilt over his exhausted, trembling body, Jason prayed his sleep would be dreamless.
But, he didn't hold out much hope.
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