Someone was saying his name. Someone he knew. The voice sounded miles away, as if it were yelling to him through water. There was something addictive holding him underneath the surface of reality, and Neal didn’t want to leave it. The pain was wavering between burning agony and numbness.
“Neal, come on, look at me.”
His mind was murky. It would take effort to try to dig himself out of it. But that voice, that familiar voice, was getting concerned. Scared, even.
And suddenly the murkiness was thinning, the desperation of the voice breaking through to him. Everything suddenly felt real. The pull of unconsciousness was wearing off and Neal realized it was Peter talking to him. Neal searched for his voice.
“Wake up, Neal, wake up—”
“P-Peter?” asked Neal cautiously, cracking his eyes open. Peter was right in front of him, kneeling on the ground, with a certain fear in his eyes that Neal had never seen before. Neal saw Peter visibly relax.
“Neal,” he said, sighing in relief. “Don’t do that!”
“Don’t… don’t do what?” asked Neal. The fluorescent lighting in the room was hurting his head.
“You stopped responding to me.” said Peter, and from his tone, Neal realized Peter must have been trying to wake him up for quite some time.
“H-how long was I…?” asked Neal.
“I don’t know,” said Peter. “Maybe ten minutes?” Seeming satisfied that Neal was still breathing, yet still a little shaken, Peter stood and looked at the ceiling. “While you were out, I found an escape.”
“You did?” asked Neal, not even attempting to follow Peter’s gaze. Any movement of his head doubled his headache. Instead, he stared at the ground, watching his blood hypnotically drip to the floor. He’d almost forgotten he’d been shot. After the pain in his head receded a bit his leg fought for his attention. It burned steadily. The bullet hit in in the thigh, and Neal couldn’t tell if it was a through-and-through or not. He couldn’t tell how much he’d bled already thanks to the dark, dusty floor, but he figured at the rate it was bleeding now it wasn’t good.
“There’s an air vent up here. If we use the chair, we can climb through and find the nearest room, get out and run like hell. I’ll call Diana the minute we’re safe and we’ll get you to a hospital.”
Neal tore his gaze away from the blood, and looked at Peter. Peter was not going to be happy. “That’s… That’s a great plan, Peter, but I can’t… run.” Neal shifted gently in the chair, wincing as it sparked flashes of pain behind his eyes.
“What do you mean, ‘you can’t run?’” asked Peter, shifting his gaze from the air vent to Neal. He raised an eyebrow. “Before I caught you, you ran for fifteen years straight.”
“I mean, I can’t physically run.” explained Neal, seeming as if he didn’t want to say the words.
“What do you mean?” asked Peter nervously.
“I… Well, Maverick covered all his bases.” said Neal, and Peter watched as Neal slowly straightened his leg, and Peter noticed the blood dripping to the ground. How could he have missed that?
“Neal…” breathed Peter. Suddenly he was angry. “Neal, I told you to tell me if you were hurt!”
Neal looked away, lacking the strength to argue and Peter didn’t have the heart to chastise him. “Neal…”
“He told me not to run.” said Neal. “But I did anyway.”
Peter pulled off his tie and bent down again, starting to wrap Neal’s leg with it to stop the bleeding. He pulled it tight, and Neal winced.
“Neal, are you hurt anywhere else?” asked Peter, as he tied the makeshift bandage.
“Head, side, leg…” whispered Neal, seemingly to himself. “No, I think that’s it.”
Peter rested his hand on Neal’s uninjured leg. Neal was in worse shape than he’d been led to believe, and it was bad to begin with. Peter looked up at Neal’s face, and noticed that Neal’s eyes had slipped shut again, his chin falling back to his chest.
“No, Neal,” said Peter firmly, shaking Neal’s good leg. Fear snaked through Peter’s veins. It took a moment for Neal’s eyes to flutter open. “Stay with me, here. You can’t let yourself go into shock.”
Neal shut his eyes again, and said, “It’s… It’s getting harder to stay awake.”
“No!” Peter shook Neal’s leg again. Neal reluctantly opened his eyes. “Neal, come on, keep your eyes open!”
“What’s in it for me?” asked Neal weakly.
“What’s in it for you?” asked Peter incredulously. “You’ll stay alive, that’s what’s in it for you!”
“I guess that’s… worth it, then.”
“Neal,” said Peter, though he knew the answer. “Do you think you can climb through the air vent?”
“I think I’d pass out in the air vent.”
Peter sighed again. Neal was horribly bad off. He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed his friend had been fricken shot. Back in the car with Mozzie, Peter had been under the impression that aside from a few bruises, Neal was perfectly fine. But now... the kid could hardly put two thoughts together. Even as Peter watched him now, Neal’s gaze wavered on him. He kept blinking fast, his eyes dilated and messed up. Blood was still trickling down his forehead from a cut hidden in his hairline.
Somewhere in that concussed head of his, Peter knew Neal was aware of how badly he was injured. And that passing out meant far worse than simply passing out. The last thing Peter wanted to do was leave him. Neal had already blacked out once! If Peter hadn’t been here to wake him...
Peter’s hand throbbed. He opened his eyes and quickly realized he’d pulled it into a tight, painful fist. He released it and tried to slow his heart. They didn’t have many choices. They had to get out of this place and they had to do it now.
Peter sighed. He was going to have to switch to plan B. He didn’t like plan B.
“Alright,” he said. “Neal, I’m going to go through the air vent, and you’re going to stay here. I’ll get out of here, unlock the door and get you out.” Peter paused, looking into Neal’s eyes. Neal was staring at the ground. Peter suddenly wondered if Neal had even heard a word that he said. “Okay?”
Neal nodded slowly, though he stopped the movement abruptly and winced. “...Okay.”
“You have to stay awake, Neal,” said Peter firmly. “You can’t pass out, do you hear me? Understand?”
“Yeah.” said Neal softly. He shut his eyes again, but not for long. He seemed to be fighting to keep them open.
Fear twisted Peter’s heart. “Neal, I’m serious.”
“I know, Peter.” Neal’s gaze was stronger this time, his voice a fraction steadier. It was clearly taking all of his effort to do so.
“Alright,” said Peter reluctantly. “I’m going to need this chair.”
“Take it.” said Neal, and he started to slowly sit up. Peter put an arm around him, sharing his weight, and Neal cried out. Peter released him immediately, and realized he pressed into what must have been broken ribs.
“Neal,” whispered Peter. “Are you-”
Neal breathed hard, blinking his eyes back open. “’m fine,” he said brokenly, though his fingers still ghosted his ribs protectively. Peter felt a sharp stab of guilt.
Peter swallowed hard, an icy chill slipping down his spine at the amount of color that drained from Neal’s face after inches of movement. “Slower... this time,” he said quietly. Neal nodded and Peter slipped an arm around his upper torso, doing his best to avoid his ribs. He tightened his hold and ever so slowly started to pull Neal to his feet. Neal clenched his teeth, grunting as he put pressure on his leg, and Peter quickly took more of his weight. He kept a sharp eye on Neal’s face as he led the younger man to the wall, and helped to sit him down on the ground in front of it, lowering him as gently.
“Are you okay?” asked Peter, looking carefully at his partner. Neal rested his head back against the wall, and slowly straightened his leg. He hissed as he did, trying to alleviate the pain from the gunshot wound, but grimaced sharply and jerked back, his hand rushing to his abdomen.
Peter’s hand shot to his shoulder, watching helplessly as Neal rode the wave of pain, the agony flashing across his features. He breathed hard through his teeth, his muscles taut under Peter’s fingers. It took a terrifyingly long time for Neal to begin to relax, his eyes cracking open. He caught his breath hollowly. “Shit,” he whispered.
“You’re going to be okay, Neal.” assured Peter after a moment, but his voice came out shaken and unsure. Neal blinked heavily, then, and fear rushed down Peter’s spine. “Neal,” said Peter, “you have to stay awake—”
“I know, Peter,” snapped Neal weakly, doing his best to force his eyes to stay open. “I heard you the first three times.”
But both of them knew that it was only a matter of time before staying awake was completely out of Neal’s control.
Neal shivered, and Peter suddenly wished he hadn’t left his jacket in the Municipal Utilities van.
Peter gave Neal’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, wishing he could do something for Neal. Anything. But it seemed that the only thing Peter could do for him right now was get him out of the bank. Hating the idea of leaving him alone, Peter reluctantly stood. “I’ll be right back, Neal, I promise.”
“I’ll be here.” said Neal. He gave him a weak smile Peter stood on the chair, removed the ceiling tile to the air vent, and pulled himself through, disappearing out of sight.